The Great Wildebeest Migration In Africa

The great wildebeest migration safari is one of the most spectacular shows on earth. Every year, over 2 million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move continuously across the plains of Tanzania and Kenya in search of fresh grazing, water, and breeding. The journey is 1,800 miles and tough and arduous, with many animals falling prey to Africa’s lion, leopard, and cheetah – not to mention the crocodiles which lie in wait each year for that first wildebeest to cross the Grumeti River and Mara river.

A commonly asked question is “which is the best location to see the Great Wildebeest Migration Tanzania or Kenya?”  The perfect answer is both destinations are phenomenal and offer year-round game viewing. When it comes to the Great Wildebeest Migration, you should know the practical advantages of each country. We recommend combining the two destinations the Serengeti national park and the Masai Mara game reserve and getting the absolute most out of your Great Migration safari.

The most important part of planning a perfect safari to Tanzania and Kenya is to understand the different stages of the migration. What time of the year is best for viewing these migratory herds and where within this vast ecosystem you can view the herds. Zaita Tours is a specialist at understanding these movements and has close long-term relationships with the surrounding camps and lodges in order to facilitate your unforgettable Africa’s great migration safari.

Wildebeest Migration Kenya

From September to November, the herds are most likely to be on the Kenyan side of the Mara River. If you are traveling at this time, the Masai Mara provides a number of cheaper safari options.

Firstly, the Masai Mara is far closer to Nairobi than the northern Serengeti is to Arusha If you are going on safari only to watch the migration it is easier to get to the Masai Mara by vehicle.

The other major highlight is the crossing of the Mara River. The Mara River is the natural border between Kenya and Tanzania separating the Masai Mara and the Serengeti on either side, The Masai Mara can be chaotically busy.

Great Migration Serengeti

Tanzania has the lion’s share of the action, with approximately 80% of the annual migration period spent in Tanzania. An exclusive highlight of the Tanzania migration safari is the calving season which occurs in February on the Serengeti Southern Plains (Ndutu). Another unforgettable spectacle is the tens of thousands crossing the Grumeti River between June and July.

Wildebeest Migration

Serengeti Migration Best Time

Although it is far from a definite science, the best time to plan your Great Wildebeest Migration Safari in Serengeti is six to twelve months before you intend to travel. The speed and predicted location of the migration are not certain as the herds’ movement depends on rainfall and grazing which can change from year to year.

A booking of 6 to 12 months allows for the best prediction of location for the Great Wildebeest Migration, yet still allows time to reserve accommodation at the best camps and lodges in the region.

It is important to remember that the Masai Mara and Serengeti ecosystems are some of the most prolific wilderness areas in Africa, and are both considered excellent year-round game viewing and birding destinations.

When to see the Great Migration

The annual Wildebeest Migration that takes part throughout the Serengeti and Masai Mara is one of the most spectacular events on the wildlife calendar. It has been described as “the greatest show on earth”. The migration route can change from year to year as the movements depend on rainfall and grazing. So predicting when to see the Great Migration can be a tricky science.

Fortunately, Zaita Tours guides on the ground in both Tanzania and Kenya have been documenting the migration dates over the last 10 years. During that period, there have not been many instances when the Great Wildebeest Migration has been in the exact same location during the same dates as the year before, as this is a natural phenomenon of the wilderness and dependent on numerous seasonal factors.

This means there is a lot more skill involved in booking an African wildebeest migration safari than simply replicating the dates of the previous year.

Below is a rough guideline of the movement of the Great Wildebeest Migration safari between Tanzania and Kenya throughout the year. Please use this information only as a guideline on when to see the migration.

Wildebeest Migration Map

The Great Migration Map

December to March
Depending on the rainfall in the previous year in the Masai Mara, the mega-herds will make their trek down into Tanzania and further south during December. By January, expect the migrating herds in the southern Serengeti plains or southern Loliondo in Tanzania, grazing on the green, lush grass recently revitalized by good rainfall.

Calving usually occurs in a 3 week period during the month of February, when over 500,000 young wildebeest will be born on the open plains, ready to join the mega-herd.

There is spectacular interaction at this time of year following the arrival of wildebeest newborns and predators lurking eagerly nearby. The wildebeest herds are constantly on the move and calving does not disturb this rhythm in the slightest. Upon delivery and within minutes, calves are able to stand and walk with the herd, and in a few days are even able to outrun predators.

Wildebeest Calving In Serengeti

The flowers in bloom on the plains during this period and the dust-free air, make it the perfect time for any passionate photographer to visit. By March the southern plains begin to thin out as the wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle move north towards Seronera and the western Ngorongoro area.

April and May
The long rains are falling in Tanzania and the herds begin to migrate to grassier plains and woodlands of the Serengeti Western Corridor. The rain can, at times, make it quite tricky to follow the herds during this stage of the migration as roads become sodden and difficult to navigate. A number of camps close for annual maintenance during this period. That being said, if you are on safari it is an incredible time to visit, and although it is wet, there are few tourists and you may experience the migration and have the Serengeti almost exclusively to yourself.

The end of May marks the end of long rains in the Eastern Serengeti and Northern Ngorongoro, and as the rain ceases, the herds gradually move north. By this time the calves have matured and migration time starts again; scattered herds gather and the march westwards begins. Individual groups congregate and form larger herds and mating season begins. At this time, the western Serengeti is the best area to see the migration and to watch the action unfold.

June and July
See the arrival of the wildebeest to the Serengeti’s western corridor and onwards to the Grumeti Reserve. During this period, the herds reach their first high-risk hurdle, the Grumeti River. This is the first of the breath-taking river crossings you will see. The depth of the river due to the rain makes drowning a high risk for many wildebeest, not to mention the treacherous crocodiles ready and waiting to take advantage of the herd’s distress. Naturally, any camps and lodges along the river will make for an incredible safari experience to see the migration.

July to September
Both sides of the Mara River are important during this period. The herds begin to cross central Serengeti into the western corridor, then through the Grumeti River into the northern plains of the Serengeti. Come late July/early August, the grasses of the western Serengeti die and the herds move on north-seeking further grazing.

However, before they are able to reach the succulent grassy plains of Kenya’s Masai Mara, they are faced with the next dangerous river crossing, the Mara River. Wildebeest oscillate between the Tanzania and Kenya side of the Mara River. This is where the dramatic events unfold as huge Nile crocodiles wait while the herds bravely and boldly make enormous leaps of faith into the water to get to better grazing on the opposite banks. By September, the last of the herds will be crossing the Mara River.

October to November
At this stage, the herds move through the northern Serengeti and the Masai Mara plains should be scattered with large herds, naturally followed by their hungry stalkers. From October onwards, the herds will slowly begin their journey south, back to the Serengeti in search of better grazing.

December
This is a tricky month, if the short rains start early and if there has been raining in the south of Tanzania, then the herds would move down to the Serengeti quickly and there could be few wildebeest left in the Masai Mara. If there has been a lack of rain in the south of Tanzania, then the herds would opt for permanent water in the central Serengeti or Lobo areas and move less quickly to the southern plains.

Where to stay during the Great  Wildebeest Migration Safari?

The Great Migration covers thousands of kilometers during the course of a year so there is no particular ‘best’ lodge for viewing the migration for the entire year. You should also keep in mind that the Great Migration is dependent on rainfall and does follow the exact same route every year.

The trick then is to pre-book a lodge that will likely be in the vicinity of the Great Migration as it passes through the area more or less around the expected time of the year.

Wildebeest Migration Safari Lodge To Stay

When deciding on the best lodge or camp for the Great Wildebeest Migration, there are two types to consider. The first is a permanent lodge or luxury tented camp. A second option is a mobile tented where the campsite is moved several times a year to line up with the Great Migration movements.

Both styles of accommodation come with advantages and disadvantages;

Permanent Lodges and Tented Camps

Permanent lodges and tented camps tend to offer a superior service than the mobile camps. These permanent lodges and camps are fully equipped usually with kitchens, bars, swimming pools, laundry rooms, and other luxurious facilities.

Mobile Tented Camps

Mobile tented camps are non-permanent structures that can move their location according to the Great Migration route. Mobile tented camps may be smaller and have fewer facilities but are by no means lacking in quality and service. These camps will still have chefs and camp waiters to cater to your needs. These camps offer a more immersive experience

We strongly recommend spending time in both types of accommodation on your wildebeest migration safari.

Below is a list of some of our best Wildebeest Migration safari camps and lodges in Tanzania and Kenya together with suggestions for accommodation reservation times that will help optimize your chances of seeing the migration. (Please note that most of these areas also offer excellent year-round game viewing outside of the Migration periods, so should not be thought of as ‘migration only’ lodges).

Tanzania Northern Serengeti best migration lodges 

August, September & October

Tanzania Western Serengeti best migration lodges

June and July

  • Singita Sasakwa (5-star permanent lodge)
  • andBeyond Grumeti River Camp (5-star permanent lodge)
  • Mbalimbali Soroi (4-star permanent lodge)
  •  Mbalageti Safari Lodge (3-star permanent lodge)

Tanzania Central Serengeti best migration lodges

May and December

Tanzania Lobo Area best Serengeti migration lodges 

November and December

  • Klein’s Camp (5-star permanent lodge)
  • Migration Camp (4-star permanent tented camp)

Tanzania Southern Serengeti best migration lodges

January, February, and March

  • Mica Lodge (5-star permanent lodge)
  • Sanctuary Kusini Camp (5-star permanent tented camp)
  • Alex Walker Serengeti South Camp (4-star mobile tented camp)
  • Lake Masek Tented Camp (3-star mobile tented camp)
  • Ndutu Safari Lodge (3-star permanent lodge)

Ultimately, we would like to customize a safari for you once we have an idea of your time of year to travel, level of budget or luxury required, and any other wishes that will truly make this the experience of a lifetime.

It is also good to note that visiting Serengeti national park and Masai Mara is a bucket-list event, which means it is incredibly popular. Planning your African safari is best done far in advance as suitable accommodation (located in the right areas at the right times of the year) is pre-booked months ahead.

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