The best times to see the Great Migration in Tanzania and Kenya
Why is the Great Migration such a big focus of safaris?
The Great Migration of wildlife between the plains of the Southern Serengeti and the Mara River landscapes that separate the Northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara is often referred to as the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth. This movement of wildebeest, zebra, topi, gazelle and other animals attracts safaris goers from all over the world, and for very good reason: the abundance of wildlife is incredible. Not only are do safari goers witness the activity of the herds, such as the famous Mara River crossings, they are also extremely likely to encounter big cat predators and migrating vultures that take advantage of the wealth of prey and carrion available. Some of the highest predator densities in the world occur in the Serengeti/Ngorongoro/Maasai Mara ecosystems.
When is the best time to see the Great Migration?
The wildebeest follow a circular pattern throughout the year, spending the vast majority of months in Tanzania. In July, August and September, the herds are in both Northern Tanzania in the Serengeti National Park and in Southern Kenya’s Maasai Mara, crossing back and forth over the Mara River. The herds cross back and forth looking for good grazing and witnessing the spectacle of a herd of thousands of wildebeest, often accompanied by zebra, thundering across the river is breath-taking.
The other popular time to visit Tanzania to see the migration is January, February and March. During this part of the year, the wildebeest herds congregate on the Southern Serengeti’s short grass plains and the females give birth to their calves. About 500,000 calves are born during this time and gather their strength from the nutritious grasses before migrating north again. Although the Southern Migration in Tanzania does not have the drama of the Mara River setting, the spectacle of seeing a just-born wildebeest take its first steps is, for some, just as inspiring.
Can I see the wildbeest at other times of the year?
Absolutely! The wildebeest migration is fluid and always moving. The reason why the January to March, and July to September, periods are most popular is that the herds settle in the South or North and the pace of the geographic migration slows. Seeing the herds in other locations while they are in a northbound or southbound march is not an exact science and recent unpredictability in climate has resulted in the herds sometimes showing up earlier, or later, than in prior decades.
However, with millions of wildebeest in the herd, there are some excellent times and places to see them, outside of the peak seasons. During the months of March, April, June, and July, the wildebeest begin to move north from their calving grounds along the western corridor of the Serengeti National Park. In this time of year, the rut takes place, which means that males jostle for position in order to have the best opportunity to mate with females. They will typically travel along the Grumeti River and cross into the Grumeti Reserve, a 350,000 acre conservation area privately managed for the benefit of preserving the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem.
Some of the most exceptional safari camps in all of Africa have their home in the Grumeti. The reserve has good game viewing all year, so staying in the Grumeti in May, June, or July, and combining a safari with a Northern Mara River camp, gives safari goers an excellent chance at catching the Great Migration. However, visiting the Grumeti in other months is usually extremely rewarding as well due to resident game, and contributes to the conservation of this vast tract of wilderness.
Similarly, when the wildebeest migrate south during the months of November, December, and January, they often move down the Eastern corridor of the Serengeti, or through the center of the National Park. Many of the female zebra give birth at this time and safari goers have excellent chances to see very young zebras.