Natural phenomena occur all over the world, but few can compete with the annual Masai Mara/Serengeti wildebeest migration. The numbers alone are hard to believe: up to two million animals – wildebeest as well as zebra and gazelles – move clockwise around this enormous ecosystem, driven by ancient instincts to find fresh grazing and water.
It’s drama on a truly epic scale: the migrating herds undergo all manner of challenges and hardships as they move from region to region, and are constantly under attack from predators, none more so than from Africa’s big cats and the notoriously huge crocodiles that lie in wait at various river crossing points.
You’ll need to plan your visit carefully: the wildebeest migration is a fluid, dynamic affair taking place between two countries – Kenya and Tanzania – and subject to the timing of that year’s rains. It’s also an event of different experiences: depending on where you are and at what time, you may see the wildebeest herds giving birth and courting, moving in great dusty columns, or funnelling across muddy rivers.
There’s plenty of well-located accommodation both in the Masai Mara and the Serengeti to enable you to experience the migration, and nearly all scheduled tours and safaris to either country include excursions into the two conservation areas. Click on our where to go for the wildebeest migration feature for information on getting your location right, and then to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time by checking our when to go section.
Alternatively, for a faultless wildebeest migration safari, work with our travel experts to create a tailor-made itinerary based on your requirements. Our knowledge and experience of the migration means you’ll be in safe hands to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Kenya: Masai Mara National ReserveBy far the smaller of the two conservation areas, the 1510 km² Masai Mara is the northern extension of the Serengeti plains. Located in southern Kenya with its southern-most boundary doubling as the international border with Tanzania, it’s where the wildebeest herds congregate between July and late October/early November after spending much of the year on the move in the Serengeti. Most famous for the dramatic river crossings of July and August, the Masai Mara is a popular destination during the migration and visitor numbers are high. An alternative is to stay in one of the Masai Mara’s adjoining private conservancies. Besides the exclusivity of sole-use game drive areas, you will also enjoy night drives and bush walks (unavailable in the Masai Mara) as well as game drives to the migration hot spots in the main reserve.
Tanzania: Serengeti National ParkThe Serengeti’s late October/early November rains trigger the wildebeest herds into moving south and out of the Masai Mara and into the Serengeti. Located in northern Tanzania and part of the famous ‘Northern Safari Circuit’, Tanzania’s flagship park is an impressive 14 763 km² and offers plenty of room to follow the migrating herds around. The Serengeti’s south-central Seronera Valley and Southern Plains are where to go for the wildebeest migration if it’s the massed birthing of wildebeest calves that you want to see. From November to March, around 8 000 calves a day are born which means excellent opportunities for predators and virtually guaranteed action. The focus then shifts away from the southern and central Serengeti. From April until June or July, the herds gather and migrate in long, massed columns to reach the western and northern Serengeti before they return to the Masai Mara in July and August via the perilous river crossings. There’s plenty of well-sited accommodation within the Serengeti National Park but for exclusivity and activities that are not permitted in the main park such as night drives, we recommend staying in one of the Serengeti’s private conservancies, particularly during the popular June – August period – the private Grumeti Reserves are particularly good.
With an abundance of wildlife all year round, the Masai Mara and Serengeti can be visited at any time of year but the question on everyone’s lips is: ‘when is the wildebeest migration?’ The answer is easy: the migration is an annual event and one that takes up virtually the entire year so from a safari planning point of view, it’s more a question of knowing where the migration is at a certain point in the year.
The migration begins in late October/early November. Wildebeest herds move out of the Masai Mara and head for the Serengeti via the north-east of the park to arrive on the well-grassed Southern Plains by late November to December.
From January to March the herds stay in large, loose groups in the southern Serengeti, Ndutu area and Ngorongoro Conservation area before the big push in April and May as the herds gather in huge columns and head in a westerly direction.
By June the herds are in the central and western Serengeti and heading north-west, reaching the western Serengeti and Grumeti Reserves in July. This is the time to go to the Serengeti for the infamous river crossings – the wildebeest have to cross several crocodile-filled rivers in July and August in order to return to the Masai Mara, which by September they have done. The herds disperse throughout the northern Serengeti and the Masai Mara in September and October.
Getting There: the Masai Mara is accessible by road (or charter flight) from Nairobi; access to the Serengeti is usually via a charter flight from Arusha Airport, located close to Mount Kilimanjaro International Airport. Most travellers overnight in the town of Arusha before flying into the Serengeti.
Book Early: the wildebeest migration is a popular event and accommodation and tours sell out quickly for each year’s migration. Indeed, lodges in prime locations are usually booked out a year in advance.
Right Time, Right Place: the wildebeest migration is a fluid, often unpredictable affair – use our where to go and when to go features to ensure your expectations are met.
Go Private: the Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park experience high visitor numbers and vehicles during peak viewing months. Private conservancies adjoining each conservation area offers exclusivity as well as luxurious accommodation and excellent game viewing in sole-use areas. You’ll also be offered activities not permitted in the main reserves such as night drives and bush walks.
Add on more: the Masai Mara and Serengeti combine easily with each other and each can also form the focal point of a larger safari experience. Combine the Masai Mara with Amboseli and the Laikipia Plateau or add on the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park and the Rift Valley Lakes to the Serengeti.