The great wildebeest migration is the movement of vast numbers of wildebeest (up to 1.5 million) between Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, accompanied by about 350,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 200,000 zebra and 12,000 eland. The animals move in an annual, clock-wise pattern which is fairly predictable. They migrate throughout the year, constantly seeking fresh grazing. The precise timing of the Serengeti wildebeest migration is entirely dependent upon the rainfall patterns each year. Despite the varying weather, putting together a migration specific itinerary is not as difficult as one may at first think.
Knowing the best location for specific times of year is of paramount importance. The exact route of the migrating herbivores depends on the weather and where the grass is greener, be it in Kenya or Tanzania. However, the migration does tend to follow roughly the same pattern year after year, which means that you can have a good idea of where to locate yourself. Each area is good at different times of the year; Serengeti National Park sees the migration for around nine months and the Masai Mara for just three.
The river crossings are the main events that most people wish to see; this is where thousands of wildebeest battle with each other, and the crocodiles, to move on to the best grazing plains. The first of these crossings is that of the Grumeti River in Western Serengeti, which happens around mid-May to June. The second, and the most famous, is that of the Mara River during August and September. The crossings are hugely exciting to witness, and a must if you want some action! However, the mass herds move through the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem throughout the year, and therefore travelling at any time will provide viewing of vast amounts of game. February, for example, is a fantastic time to travel to the Southern Serengeti as this is the time of year when the thousands of wildebeest begin to give birth; this is an incredible sight to witness.
Month by Month
January & February
Throughout January and February, following the “short rains” (November, December), the migration moves onto the Serengeti plains in the south, where the newborns graze along with the herds. This is also the time for the predators to fatten up. With thousands of young, it’s easy pickings for lions and cheetahs. The hyenas make the most of this abundance of food by picking up what remains of the cats’ kills, as well as making their own fresh meals. At this time of year, being located in the Ndutu area will give you the best access to the migration.
March & April
March through to April is when the heavy rains (“long rains”) set in and the migration begins moving through the Central Serengeti and towards the Western Serengeti, where the long grasses are new and the food is good. This is a beautiful time to travel: flowers cover the Central Serengeti and there are very few tourists around. However, as it is the rainy season you need to be prepared. Also, the roads get muddy and therefore access to some of them may be limited. During this time, staying in the Ndutu or Seronera areas will put you in the right place for the migration.
May & June
As the dry season approaches during May and June, the migrating herds begin moving once again, this time towards the Grumeti River, where the crocodiles wait for an easy meal. Seeing thousands of wildebeest crossing the river is a sight not to be missed and has to be one of the highlights of a Tanzania safari. Being located near the Grumeti River is ideal at this time. However, being in the Seronera and Western Serengeti area will also give you fantastic access.
July is one of the most exciting months of the great migration as the herds move further into the Northern Serengeti and toward the Mara River. At this time of year, you can witness thousands of wildebeest battling their way through the waters and trying to avoid the crocodiles. The best place to be is in the Northern Serengeti or across the river in the western part of the Masai Mara.
August & September
After the excitement of the river crossings, the migrating herds settle, for a while, in the Masai Mara in Kenya. The Mara is an amazing area of rolling savannah hills cut through with dark green riverine forest areas, making this the perfect habitat for a whole host of wildlife. The rich grasslands support the herds throughout August and September. Their arrival means a time of plenty for the big cats, and you are almost guaranteed some action. Northern Serengeti is also a good location (and has far fewer visitors).
As the rain clouds start to build, the wildebeest begin their journey south anticipating the rains. They slowly make their way east through the Masai Mara and back down into the Serengeti National Park. The ideal base during October would be in the south-eastern area of the Masai Mara or in the north-eastern Serengeti. This area comes into its own during the months of September and October, when the wildebeest move south through Lobo and down to the Serengeti plains. Lobo encompasses the Mara and Grumeti Rivers, which are bordered by acacia woodlands. It is less visited than other areas of the Serengeti, which means that you one can potentially spend a full day in the middle of the migration without seeing another vehicle.
As the “short rains” begin in November, the migration moves quickly south towards the Loliondo area of the Serengeti. The Loliondo area is part of the much larger Serengeti ecosystem, and is on land owned by the Maasai. The area offers a great mix of resident game, and is excellent walking country, with dramatic scenery of open plains, rock kopjes, and woodlands.
As December nears, the migration settles back on the short grass plains in the Southern Serengeti. At this time of year, the migration tends to stay around the Seronera and Ndutu area as there is a constant source of water for the herds. During December you have the privilege of seeing thousands of wildebeest and zebra gathering on the southern plains. This is a great time to see a huge variety of game as the big cats follow the feast. The Ndutu area consists of endless grass plains, which keep going for as far as the eye can see, and the plains are at their best during December as the grass is green and the wildlife is plenty.