Every year, hundreds of thousands travel to Kenya from around the globe to watch what has been described as the “greatest wildlife show on earth." The Great Migration, where wildebeests move in a well-ordered, nose-to-tail convoy through the Mara in search of pasture, is an amazing sight to behold. National Geographic puts the number of wildebeests involved in this spectacular feat at 1.5 million per year. Part of this thrilling adventure is the incredible speed of their migration as they evade and avoid thousands of lions and other dangerous prey on their track. Floats of hyper-alert crocodiles wait to pounce on them as they cross the Mara River. In all these, they manage to offer tender care and protection to the many young ones that are born during the seasons they are on the move.
In this movie-like struggle for survival, between 200,000 and 300,000 wildebeest lose their lives.
The Place And Time Of The Great Migration
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, which unwieldy stretches to an area of about 104, 000 square kilometers, is the theatre of this incredible migration. This world-famous habitat is known for its high density of large mammals including about 5,000 lions, and many leopards, elephants, and buffalos. This area strides two countries of Kenya and Tanzania, and an equal number of famous national parks; Masai Mara and Serengeti. Contrary to what many think, the Great Migration of the wildebeests is not a one-time event. Instead, it’s an ongoing process.
Therefore, depending on where you are, travelers can always see the Great Migration throughout the year. The Great Movement starts southwards from Serengeti National Park. This park is Tanzania’s oldest, and one of the most popular parks in the whole of Africa. The animals move continually in a loosely defined geographic loop and in a clockwise direction— in search of grass and water and in anticipation of changing weather patterns.
However, since weather patterns are random and unpredictable, it’s hard to put the finger on the exact time and place of this impressive 800-km trek. However, because of previous migratory patterns, there are predictions with respect to time and place that are fairly reliable. For instance, between December and April, wildebeests are usually in the southernmost parts of the Serengeti. This is usually the calving season and travelers can easily witness these sociable animals delivering their little ones. At the end of March or beginning of April, these animals will most likely be in the western or central regions of Serengeti and on their northern trajectory.
Between May and June, when the rainy season gradually ends, travelers can see the migration at the Grumeti River. However, for the world-famous event at the Mara crossing on the Kenyan side, July to September is perfect. This is usually a thrilling and hair-raising event, where the intense struggle for life and safety cataclysmically plays out. Between October and November, the animals usually make their return journey back to Tanzania. Still, as we’ve advised here, these timings and predictions are not iron-clad. Changes and variations are known to take place.
- Best Time To See The Great Migration AT The Mara: The best time to witness the Mara crossing is usually mid-July to the end of August.
Africa can look wild, huge, and intractable. Making travel arrangements can seem daunting even to the most traveled. However, with some little tricks and tips, it can actually be a breeze. While visitors can witness the wildebeest migration from either the Tanzanian side (Serengeti) or the Kenyan side (Masai Mara), Masai Mara offers a better overall animal treat. This is because Masai Mara is way smaller and therefore animals are concentrated and easier to spot. For starters, there are many travel companies that give quotations based on the number of days that one intends to stay. Other cost factors will include the type of vehicle a traveler will prefer, and of course, the type of accommodation.
For a vehicle, a Landcruiser may have a better appeal as to comfort and convenience. However, Landcruisers are expensive. Moreover, a minibus will give you almost the same deal with respect to space, view, and comfort, and at significantly lower price points to boot. The type of lodge you’ll check into will also affect your cost. Of course, a luxury facility will come at a premium.
Another factor travelers should seriously consider is whether they’ll use travel agents or be personally in charge of their travel plans. This decision will depend on the traveler’s budget, desired levels of flexibility during the trip, and the traveler’s own preferences. While Travel Agents or Tour Operators may seem expensive, they can be a huge help with logistics. Also, they can quickly sort issues related to cases of canceled flights.
When traveling directly to the Mara, travelers should ensure the game drives are included in the travel package offered by the camp lodge. This is because game drives are pretty expensive if bought separately. But as a rule, direct booking is usually more expensive than using tour operators.
Still, if you choose to be personally in charge, then a good website would be bookings.com.
- Travel Tip: Instead of the main reserve, you can opt for private conservancies that, unlike the main reserve, offer night drives and guided nature walks. They are also not as crowded as the main reserve.