THE GREAT MIGRATION
The annual wildebeest migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the most spectacular wildlife events on the planet. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth', The Great Wildebeest Migration is a movement of approximately 1.5 million wildebeest throughout the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems. 400,000 zebra and 200,000 gazelles accompany them along the way, making a total of over 2 million migrating animals!
Despite the wealth of maps and illustrations showing the path of the migrating herds, as with anything in nature, the actual day to day movement is entirely unpredictable. Wildebeest have no natural leader and subsequently herds split up, go this way then that....often heading off in a completely different path to the one they chose yesterday. We are also not helped by the fact that it is only in the last 50 years that any studies of the herds have even been done!
The easiest way to try and comprehend the Great Migration is as one mega herd, with a number of smaller splinter herds. It is the mega herd which all maps and illustrations display. If you were to include the splinter herds then it soon becomes evident that the entire Migration can often cover half the entire Serengeti!
If you want your safari at the heart of the Great Wildebeest Migration, then there is a lot to be said for travelling with the Serengeti’s famous mobile camps. To read about these camps have a look at the accommodations on the Serengeti page.
A general guide to the Wildebeest migration based on the movement of the mega herd over the last ten years.
From as early as December the Migration starts to move into the Ndutu region of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The short grass plains here are rich in nutritious grasses, providing the herds with the best conditions to raise their newborn. Mid February is calving season when approximately 8,000 wildebeest are born every day for a period of approximately 3 weeks. The area around Lake Ndutu itself is the place to be at this time of year. The best accommodations are Ndutu Lodge or the mobile camps run by Nomad Tanzania (the Serengeti Safari Camp), &Beyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas, Asilia’s Olakira Camp, Alex Walker’s Serian Camp and Sanctuary Lodges' (A&K’s) Kusini Camp.
From April to May, the herds migrate North with a split occurring when some wildebeest head directly up across the plains of the central Serengeti and the mega herd starts to push out to the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. This is the best time to stay at Asilia’s Dunia Camp, Nomad Tanzania’s Serengeti Safari Camp, &Beyond Serengeti Under Canvas and the larger central Serengeti hotels, such as the Serena and Sopa.
The central splinter herds then continue North to the Mara with the very first herds crossing the Mara River in late June, early July. The mega herd meanwhile, is concentrated by the Grumeti River at the end of May/beginning of June and it is here we suggest people stay. &Beyond and Nomads run the only mobile operations at this time of year but some of the Serengeti’s most famous luxury lodges are found in the area, specifically Grumeti River Camp, Singita’s Faru Faru, Sabora and Sasakwa. Mbalageti and the Serena’s Kirawira Camp are also good options for anyone travelling in June. It is worth pointing out here that even though the Migration does cross the Grumeti River in this area, the river crossings are not the famous ones documented by film makers and wildlife documentarists. The Grumeti runs very shallow so the herds hardly get their feet wet! The Mara river is where the impressive crossings happen.
As early as the 1st July the very first crossings of the Mara River begin, with the front runners of the mega herd pushing through. These river crossings are fantastic. For the beginning of the month we still recommend staying in the Western Corridor but there is much to be said for splitting your time between the West and the northern Mara river area (Kogatende) in the North. Towards the end of July, Kogatende is the place to be.
River crossings at Kogatende start to occur every day in August as the mega herd settles into the area. For August, September and October, game viewing up here is superb with river crossings pretty much guaranteed every day. There is no distinct movement as the herds tend to cross back and forth over the river, following the rains and subsequent fresh grasses. It is not uncommon to see different herds crossing in different directions on the same day! All the mobile camps are located in here (Serian, Serengeti Under Canvas, Serengeti Safari Camp and Olakira) along with Asilia Safaris' permanent Sayari Camp and Nomad Tanzania’s new Nomad Lamai Camp.
November sees the herds pushing South again with Mid November being a great time to be in the central Seronera area of the park. Kleins Camp can have good herds at the beginning of the month but again Nomads and &Beyond are the only mobile options that can guarantee great locations amongst the herds. Having said that, the Serengeti’s large hotels also have good locations and Asilia’s Dunia Camp can be good for travel from the 15th November onwards if the rains come early. In summary though, November and early December are the hardest months to predict due to the intermittent showers (or lack of) that occur across the park. The best answer is to go mobile!
Recommended lodges in this area:
The camps are well organised and each tent has been designed with cool and comfort in mind. With a bucket shower as standard this is still bush camping, but with the flamboyant extras that &Beyond seem to endow to all of their properties such as a flush loo and chandeliers.
Nomad Tented Camps have evolved from a true passion for guiding safaris here. The quality of guiding and positioning of the camps depending on the seasonal movement of the herds makes for an awesome safari experience. Even the 'light' camps are comfortable and designed with style.
Alex's Serengeti North operation has more to offer than its competitors - fly camping, walking and an amazing northern location. Alex has been running camps and guiding in Africa for a very long time and his expertise and knowledge are evident in the perfect safari atmosphere we think he has created around the camp.