See also MigrationMeru Packages
GREAT SERENGETI WILDEBEEST MIGRATION GUIDE & BEST TIME TO SEE IT IN 2019-2020
The endless plains of East Africa are the setting for the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle – the 1.5+ million animal ungulate (wildebeest) migration. From the vast Serengeti plains to the champagne colored hills of Kenya’s Masai Mara over 2+ million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra and gazelle, migrate in a clockwise fashion over 1,800 miles each year in search of rain ripened grass.8+ Migration Packages
Across the vast Serengeti plains, a fantastic cast of wild fauna including impressive numbers of hooved herbivores, predators and avi-fauna.
The Great Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti is the largest single movement of wild animals in the world, deservedly listed as one of its eight Natural Wonders and an exceptional inspiration for a dream nature tour of northern Tanzania with DancingSimbaSafaris. Around 1.5 million wildebeests, with hundreds of thousands of zebras, elands, gazelles along with a trailing retinue of predators, leave their calving grounds in southern Serengeti, around March and April, heading for the next water source. Trekking via the south-central Seronera outskirts into the Western Corridor and Grumeti River arriving during the month of April to May and residing till June, and then finally towards the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya crossing the perilous Mara River around July or August onwards with a return via the same death-defying river, this time heading to the bearing of Lobo and Loliondo in eastern Serengeti around October to November. The white bearded wildebeest journey continues back to the southern Ndutu calving grounds with arrivals starting around December with temporary residence till March
The dates timing of the migration depends upon the annual rains and renewal of fresh pasture which may seasonally occur earlier or later in some years. But the spectacle is worth the effort to make a photo safari in Tanzania as multitudes of wild gnus pour across the plains, driven by instinct or necessity in such a way that they act as one entity, pursuing their destiny, to rut, mate, dare and die on this impossibly perilous journey, which, nevertheless, ensures the ultimate survival of the wildebeest and the continuance of the Serengeti ecosystem of which they are the mainspring. Their epic journey is one of violence and endurance as they battle onwards, past granite kopjes where cheetah or lion lie in ambush, through flood-swollen and crocodile infested rivers, over parched plains scorched by wildfires, to sanctuary in the north. Then, homing in on distant rains, they circle back again, daring greater hazards by the same water, by exhaustion and by predators, shedding a quarter of their numbers by the wayside. To appreciate the enormity of this phenomenon, you must take part, tracking and observing from 4x4 game-viewing vehicles, filming from the ground or in the air in a hot air balloon to zoom in on the action as if the unending grasslands were your theatre with your own cast of millions acting out their ancient ritual for you alone..8+ Migration Packages
Tanzania’s 5,700 square mile Serengeti National Park makes up 97% of the ecosystem whilst Kenya’s Masai Mara, the northern boundary of the Serengeti, makes up 3% of the ecosystem.
The Loliondo private community area borders the Serengeti in the east and the Grumeti Game Reserve borders the Serengeti in the west. The ecosystem can be divided into three areas: the southern grass plains, the Western Corridor and the northern Serengeti / Mara. The southern grass plains have endless, almost treeless, wide-open plains; the Western Corridor has rock kopjes and the Grumeti River, and the northern Serengeti / Mara is largely open woodland and rolling hills.
(and lodges and camps do little to dispel this belief as they would love year round clients rather than to be busy for only 2 or 3 months of each year when the wildebeest are “in town”). Over the past 20 years I have spent many days looking across the Serengeti’s vast grass plains spying little more than a solitary antelope or journey of giraffe. Even when I put myself where the migration should be, they were often not there. Guides would talk about how the migration had not yet arrived due to rain showers in a nearby region or how the megaherd “was just here a week ago”. There are typical movement patterns but they can, and do, vary month by month, year by year, as the herds follow the rains, and the new grass. The times that I have found myself in the middle of the wildebeest migration it has been simply amazing. I find myself smiling at memories of the sheer spectacle. The endless mooing of more than a million wildebeest can drive you mad… and when the herds move on the silence is shocking.
Is it worth it to travel ½ way around the world and gamble on catching the migration? My answer is an emphatic yes!
During the period January through March the seemingly unending short grass plains of the southern Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (not the Ngorongoro Crater), are inhabited by enormous herds of wildebeest and zebra. Pregnant female wildebeest are attracted to the calcium and magnesium rich grass which is good for milk production. Calving occurs late January through mid March when over 80% of the female wildebeest give birth over a period of a few weeks. An estimated 500,000 wildebeest calves are born during this period. I really like this time of year for the migration. Not only is the area gorgeous with its many flat topped acacia tortilis trees, the concentrated herds around the Ndutu and Salei plains attract the attention of lion, good numbers of cheetah (not normally found around lion as they are competitors) and hyena. In the woodland, giraffe, elephant and buffalo are pretty easy to find. To give you an idea of how good an area this is professional filmmaker Hugo Van Lawick (one time husband to Jane Goodall) set up his base here back in the day.
As things dry up throughout March the herds might split into smaller groups focused on areas with the best conditions. In late March the long rains begin.
During the months January through March the migration is best observed from a comfortable mobile camp – it is a bucket list experience to spend a few nights under canvas. We have run into problems with flies (the common household variety) at several mobile camps in this area over the years. Lake Masek Tented Camp is the only nice, high end, permanent property around. The simple, but personality packed, Ndutu Safari Lodge is a great value for those willing to compromise a bit on comfort. For those of you who must have luxury Mwiba Lodge is a great option this time of year. It is quite a ways from the wildebeest action but they offer private vehicles for all guests and a day trip from the lodge can be made to the Ndutu area to catch the migration.
From late March through early May Tanzania’s long rains are in full effect with regular downpours. It is considered off season for wildlife viewing and many lodges and camps close down. Grass can grow past the roof of your Land Rover and roads are often impassable. I remember one year standing outside my Land Rover which I had left in low gear. The wheels were slowly spinning but the car didn’t move an inch. The volcanic soil was as slippery as, and not unlike, chocolate cake frosting! With few spying eyes the wildebeest begin breeding at this time.
By May the depleted short grass plains are unable to sustain the endless herds. The migration sweeps west and north, to the Serengeti’s Western Corridor and almost to Lake Victoria, where there is long grass and more dependable water. Not all the wildebeest and zebra will follow the same route – whilst parts of the migration head to the Western Corridor and Grumeti before proceeding north, significant numbers simply head north via Seronera. We do not advise traveling during April or May.
During April you may have some luck catching the migration at Ndutu Safari Lodge. Kusini Camp would be a better bet although we have encountered some of the worst tsetse flies in the world here – we refer to them as flying teeth! During May the centrally located Serengeti Serena Lodge offers good resident game however we won’t touch it – they are known to overbook leaving guests without rooms. There is also considerable crowding in this area. I once counted over 55 vehicles at the airstrip and drove past over 100 vehicles lined up on the road trying to view a single leopard about 250 yards off in the tall grass (driving off road is not allowed here). No thanks… not for me.
By early June things are drying up. The herds continue westwards, towards the Grumeti River. The riverine forest harbors plentiful buffalo and elephant, while there are many hippo and huge, hungry crocodiles in the river waiting for the wildebeest as they come to drink.
A few other things to consider for travel during June – some parks, such as Tarangire, will still be “recovering” from the rains with tall grass and limited wildlife viewing. The crater is fine at this time. Insect wise the western parts of the Serengeti and Grumeti area are home to some pretty serious tsetse flies as well… Fortunately if you find yourself in the midst of the wildebeest megaherd the flies tend to focus on the animals more than tourists! When the migration moves on – watch out!
Singita Grumeti Reserve with the highly sought after luxury properties – Faru Faru River Lodge, Sasakwa Hill Lodge, and Sabora Plains Tented Camp – can be incredible for the migration during June. A big plus is the ability to partake in wildlife viewing walks, drive off road in open 4×4 vehicles, and do night drives in this private area. & Beyond’s Grumeti River Camp and Kirawira are also good options for viewing the migration at this time however you cannot drive off road, partake in night drives or walks from these properties.
The wildebeest rapidly deplete the grass and water in the Western Corridor and Grumeti and start to move on. The migration may still be found in the Singita Grumeti Reserve during July but the odds become slimmer as you move through the month. In a typical year the migration can be spread over huge distances, with the first zebra herds arriving in the northern Serengeti by early July and big herds of wildebeest following later in the month. In a dry year, the first wildebeest could be near the Mara River (the only decent permanent water in the eco-system) by early July; in a wet year, by mid-August. If conditions are very good, i.e. there is plenty of grass and water, the herds will be spread out all the way from Seronera to the Mara River.
Typically from late July to mid October the wildebeest reside in the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara. The dry season is well under way and the herds congregate near water, especially the Mara River filled with hungry crocs.
In terms of timing I would shoot for late August through late September to maximize my changes of seeing a river crossing… of course crossings, and recrossings, occur before and after this time period. The areas that the wildebeest cover are vast and finding a group on the brink of crossing is not a given. Crossing are often elusive, rapid experiences.
Mid to late October dramatic thunder clouds herald the onset of the short rains and call the migration southward. Wherever rains fall the change is dramatic with thousands of animals arriving almost overnight.
Most travelers are not aware that 80% of the Mara River is bordered by Tanzania on both sides. Only 20% of this river is located in Kenya. As Kenya’s Masai Mara now has over 7,000 beds we suggest clients stay in the northern Serengeti where there are only 11 safari lodges and camps. For all out luxury Singita’s Mara River Tented Camp is our favorite and it is also the closest property to the Mara River… Sayari Camp is a very close second with perfect tented rooms and a superb location only minutes away from a number of common wildebeest migration river crossing points. Bushtops has some really nice rooms but is more than an hour’s drive from the river – too far away. Nomad’s Lamai Camp and Lemala Kuria Hills are a hair closer. Migration Camp is worth considering (if you can’t get into Sayari or Singita) but the tsetse flies in the area can drive one insane! If you wish to save some monies a mobile camp in the Kogatende area works well – Olakira and Kimondo are client favorites right near the Mara River. Serian is also a great, close in, option. If you wish to stay in the Mara there are a few gems that are really worth considering. Cottar’s 1920s is in a superb private location sandwiched between the Serengeti and Masai Mara and has several of Kenya’s top guides. Governor’s Camp, made famous by the BBC’s “Big Cat Diary” has very good resident game and you might even have a cheetah jump on top of your safari vehicle!
As the rains continue during November the herds move south and east. Heading into December long lines of wildebeest can be seen moving back to the southern Serengeti and its short, rich grasses. The circle of life is complete as they begin to arrive late December into early January. Elsewhere in the Serengeti the grass grows fast and tall making wildlife viewing more difficult. We do not advise traveling at this time of year.
You might catch the wildebeest migration from Klein’s Camp… or not. This area, which has some jaw dropping scenery, is home to some pretty feisty tsetse flies. Namiri Camp is a great option with loads of lion and cheetah in the area, although, with the wildebeest on the move this time of year, you may or may not see large herds.
Disregard any pretty map you may have been shown that has a nice flow of animals going around in an annual circle. It is driven entirely by standing water, grazing, and local weather conditions. The wildebeest want to be in the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti but the water and grazing cannot support them year around. This is where they choose to give birth to their young (usually February to March), with the rich grass to support them. Within a relatively short space of time, perhaps 4 – 6 weeks, several hundred thousand calves will be born and this is where we see much of the dramatic predator action. The Migration will then move off in search of sustenance in response to periods of dry weather, but they will leave this area as late as possible and come back as soon as they can. This means that every year is different, and, in fact, every week can be different.
The Migration is not a continuously forward motion. They go forward, backwards, and to the sides, they mill around, they split up, they join forces again, they walk in a line, the spread out, or they hang around together. You can never predict with certainty where they will be; the best you can do is suggest likely timing based on past experience. You can never guarantee the Migration one hundred percent.
Serengeti permanent camps offer tented accommodations in different forms for different types of Serengeti safari experiences. All have pitched canvas or resin quarters on raised stone or decking platforms, and come with en-suite bathrooms - others with antique or yesteryear decor furniture
See also Serengeti Migration Packages