The Wildebeest migration of some 1.5 million Wildebeest accompanied by a supporting cast of around 1 million Zebra is one of the biggest natural events on the planet and almost certainly the best known. The journey is not only annual but fairly constant throughout the year, below we have outlined a bit of information about the seasonality of the migration and our tips on getting the most from your trip. The Serengeti and the Masaai Mara are beautiful places and it is important not to forget that, it is easy to lose perspective when trying to wade through the endless information on the migration.
This is an iconic part of the Wildebeest migration and it is important to get it right if you are hoping to see a crossing. The Mara River, while giving its name to the national park in Kenya, makes a long journey through Tanzania and we recommend the northern sector of the Serengeti and a handful of camps in the Masaai Mara to make the most out of a migration trip. This is not because the Masaai Mara is not a good safari destination, it does have some of the highest density big cat populations in Africa and there are areas in this part of the ecosystem that we rate very highly. The reason for us preferring the Serengeti and selected camps in the Masaai Mara for river crossings is simply down to the number of other people in the vicinity. The greater Masai Mara area has thousands of beds during the migration and that leads to a lot of people from across the park and the surrounding private concessions congregating at known crossing points, this does not lead to the best experience of the migration and depending on where you are staying can involve a very long day travelling to the crossing point to sit with large numbers of other vehicles all jostling for the best positions. In the north of the Serengeti there are very few camps and those that exist here are mobile tented camps (with a couple of exceptions), which we love, as well as generally having excellent guiding teams, similarly with the camps that we would suggest in the Masaai Mara if your goal is to see a river crossing.
The Wildebeest migration is dictated predominantly by the rain, if the rain comes early the herds will move early, if the rains are delayed then the herds will stay put, this makes an exact location hard to predict, HOWEVER, there are certain times of year where the chances of predicting accurately are greater than others, and there are areas along the migratory path that give, in our opinion, a better experience than others.
It is important to note that while the route varies little, the exact timings of the migration is different every year and dependent on the rains, among other factors, and as such the below is a good guideline but may be overwhelming, for more information or to talk through any of this give us a call.
The herds start to congregate in the southern part of the Serengeti and in the Ngorngoro Conservation Area, In January and February the Wildebeest calve with an estimated 4,000 young being born. During this time the herds are spread out over a large area and are not generally on the move, but the sight of lots of Wildebeest calves running around and animals as far as you can see is pretty special.
This is the long rains in this part of East Africa and it signifies the start of the Wildebeests long journey, they move into the western part of the Serengeti known as the Western Corridor, there are a number of both mobile and permanent camps in this area and visitor numbers are low because of the rains, while a reasonable experience can still be had we tend to avoid this time of year. If you want to see Africa in the wet season there are better places to go.
The herd breaks up into several parts and starts to head north, usually one part will head up through the private Grumeti area while another will head along a more central part of the park. This is a good time of year to see the herd on the move but it can be difficult to predict the best time for which camp and due to a number of bigger, permanent, lodges in the central areas it can also be one of the busier times to be here. That said, towards the end of July if the herd has made its way to Kogatende then there can be some amazing and very exclusive game viewing to be had.
Making their way towards the short grass plains of the Masai Mara the herd must negotiate the famous Mara River herd movement is completely undpredictable up here and sometimes groups will cross back and forth several times before continuing into the Masai Mara and others will never reach the northern limits of the migration, instead finding enough food in the northern reaches of the Serengeti. This is our favourite time of year for viewing the migration, generally preferring the early season in the Kogatende/Lamai areas in one of the quality tented camps.
The migration starts to head its journey south towards the Ndutu area in the southern Serengeti. This is a difficult time to catch the migration, there is not a lot of accommodation along their route and the herds move south very quickly once they get started.