What is Great Wildebeest Migration
The Great Migration is an ongoing event in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park where a huge herd of 2 million big grazers (wildebeest, zebra and various antelope) make their way around the park following the rainfall in a roughly circular route in search for fresh pastures. It is often heralded as the most spectacular natural event on the planet today.
The wildebeest begin their journey from December – March in the south of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Ndutu) for calving season.
In April – June they begin to make their way up the western corridor (and some move through the central Serengeti Seronera region), and by July they are usually expected up in the north (Kogatende/Lamai) where you get the Mara River crossings in the Serengeti all the way through to October/November when they begin their descent south again in time for calving season. And so the cycle repeats itself!
Wildebeest Migration Map
Where to Witness the Great Migration At Its Finest
The Great Migration is unlike other natural events you might find elsewhere in the world. The unpredictable journey’s timing and exact locations are constantly changing, evolving based on current conditions.
Rain (and the lack thereof) is the main ingredient that dictates where and when the herds will be during a specific period of the year. The only thing you can rest assured of is the fact that the event will take place across Tanzania and Kenya.
But let’s explore some of the many East African National Parks and reserves that offer the best chance to see this natural spectacle:
Ngorongoro Conservation Area In Tanzania
Located in Tanzania’s north, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the place to see newborn Wildebeest and Zebras during calving season. The abundance of young prey also means you might have a greater chance of experiencing Lion, Leopard, and other predator attacks during your visit.
Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
This is definitely one of the best places to witness the Great Migration, as large herds of Wildebeest and Zebra begin to congregate. The Grumeti River makes for an imposing barrier which the animals need to gather up the courage to cross. It is also here where the Wildebeest will begin to mate, hopefully offsetting their population losses during the migration.
Mara River (Tanzania & Kenya)
Animals that survive the Grumeti River crossing now face an even more daunting task. Crossing the turbulent Mara River will give them access to the fertile grasslands of the Maasai Mara. But the threat of crocodile attacks here increases considerably, often causing great panic among the herds. This makes the Mara River a great place to witness dramatic attacks, as well as the triumphant herds that manage to make it safely to the other side.
Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
The animals that make it to these feeding grounds can now fatten up before returning to the Ngorongoro to give birth again. But they also face one of East Africa’s greatest densities of lions. The survivors will make their way south in a few months, leaving behind the big cats that preyed upon them to defend their home territories. The Maasai Mara also offers excellent sightings of Elephants and Giraffes, as well as rarer species such as the Topi.
Misconceptions of Great Wildebeest Migration
There are a few common misconceptions surrounding The Great Migration which we should clear up before going into detail about the different areas and times of year to see the herds.
1. The Mara River is NOT the border between Tanzania and Kenya
The wildebeest never cross the river from Tanzania into Kenya as the Mara River is not the border between the countries. They only ever cross the river from TANZANIA TO TANZANIA (Kogatende to the Lamai Wedge) or from KENYA TO KENYA (Masai Mara to Masai Mara).
2. The Migration is not a single mass movement crossing the Mara River and returning months later
The Migration is not a single mass movement of wildebeest marching in side-by-side in the same direction. It is slightly more chaotic than this! Although they generally follow the same routes, the herds tend to be somewhat dispersed at certain times of the year.
As a rule of thumb, they become more concentrated when the park is drier and for calving season (July – October & December – March) and then disperse when there is plentiful grass (November & April – June). It is important to understand that even when they are concentrated, although they all head in a similar direction, they still zig-zag along the way and can be late or early, making it difficult to predict their exact location at any given time.
3. The wildebeest’s movements from July – October
Most people think that the Wildebeest Migration only takes place between July and October, but it’s actually a year-round phenomenon – with various but equally exciting events that occur at different times of the year. The river crossings usually coincide with safari’s high season (July to October), hence the perception that this is the only time of the year that the wildebeest are on the move or can be seen.
Best Time for Serengeti Wildebeest Migration Viewing
July – October
This is when the wildebeest are in the northern Serengeti plains, and you have a chance of seeing up to thousands crossing the great Mara River. As the sight of the wildebeest crossing the so dramatic, it is considered by many the most desirable time to see the migration.
December – March
This time, the wildebeest are in the southern area of the Serengeti, more specifically in Ndutu which is actually in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and it is calving season. Along with the river crossings, this is a real highlight of the wildebeest’s journey and a fabulous time to see the herds congregate on the dramatic sweeping plains of the south. February is the only time of year when you are almost guaranteed to see the big herds all together as they always come south for calving season.
The rest of the year
In November, April, May and June the migration are “in-between” locations and as such these months are slightly transitional times to see the herds. November is the short rains, April and May are the long rains and as such the grass is green in these months across the Serengeti, so the wildebeest are more dispersed than in the prime time of July – October and December – March. Thus, you don’t get as many of those condensed big herds which people get excited about!
Although we try to be as comprehensive as possible, something that is quite difficult to express on paper is a lot easier to explain over the phone, so please do just give us a call for a simple overview of the Migration’s route.
Serengeti Wildebeest Migration Accommodation Options
As you will have probably already gathered, the migration is a moving feast (literally!), covering hundreds of kilometres. There are a few permanent lodges or permanent camps in each of the main areas through which it travels, while the alternative is to stay in a mobile tented camp that moves seasonally to be in the (hopefully) right location.
A common misconception is that these mobile camps quite literally follow the migration around day to day or week to week – they do not. They have set positions which are pre-planned, and set dates when they move to these positions and as such are not completely flexible! Most mobile camps move twice a year between Ndutu for calving season from December – March, and then to the northern Kogatende region for the river crossings from July – October.
Permanent camps and lodges tend to be able to over an elevated level of amenity, while mobile camps emphasise location as a priority. However, it’s safe to assume that in a mobile camp you will enjoy great food, good service, a comfortable bed and a hot shower (normally the safari-style bucket shower). Most camps also now have flush toilets, sometimes fully plumbed in and sometimes the short-flush “eco” variety which is better for water conservation.
For many people, the novelty and adventure of sleeping under canvas is part of the safari experience and they’ll opt for a tent every time. You may want to think about combining a mobile camp in one location with a lodge to both increases your chances of seeing the migration and enjoy the benefits of both styles of camp.
Month by Month Serengeti Wildebeest Migration Viewing
1. December – April: Southern Serengeti Plains and Ndutu, NCAA
December: This is a tricky month to predict exactly where the main bulk of the wildebeest will be at any one time as the November short rains make the grass a little greener everywhere, and as such the wildebeest disperse. As they are moving down to the south for calving season, some may be lingering in Namiri Plains, others may be to the south-west in Kusini, and by the end of December, many would have made it to Ndutu.
January: At the beginning of the month, most of the herds are settling in around the Ndutu area of the NCAA where life begins for half a million wildebeest during the calving season. Although not as concentrated as in February, this is a great time to avoid the crowds and still catch some very explosive predator action with vulnerable calves on the way.
February: We cannot stress enough that February is the best (and only) time of year you can guarantee seeing the herds if you base yourself in the right place – the rest of the year is not quite so easy to predict as the herds can often be late or early.
However, calving season doesn’t wait! So being in these green grasses around Lake Ndutu is crucial to catch the herds, as they linger here to give the young calves the best start in life. Go for a mobile tented camp in the Ndutu area and you will find yourself surrounded by millions of brown specks spreading across the sweeping acacia dotted southern plains (not to mention the biggest concentration of predators anywhere in Africa …)
March: As March is still calving season, the herds linger on this nutrient-rich grass, stretching from the southern extreme of the Serengeti National Park (SNP) and into the Ndutu area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCAA). They can begin to disperse a little if it begins to rain towards the end of the month, so February is generally considered a better time for those who don’t want to get a bit wet!
April: As the food resources are depleted, the herds venture very gradually west and north around as their epic journey begins. There is a chance of rain in April which can put people off, but it is in fact a very clever time to go, as the Serengeti is ghostly quiet, and you may get some phenomenal sightings all to yourself. Because of the chance of rain, it is slightly more difficult to predict where the big herds will be than in preceding months, but they are still likely to be south, if not moving north.
Where to stay from December – April?
Permanent Lodges: Namiri Plains | Mwiba | Kusini | Ndutu Lodge | Kati Kati
Mobile Camps: Olakira | Kirurumu | Serengeti Under Canvas | Lemala | Nomad Serengeti
2. May: Central Serengeti
So starts a period of transition as the herds start to move north heading ultimately for the Mara River. May usually sees the herds move into the Moru kopjes and central Seronera Valley areas of the Serengeti National Park, but depending on the rains, we may also see herds further south still, or approaching the western corridor.
We would recommend if you are set on seeing a big herd placing yourself in two different locations; in a mobile camp (see below) in Moru, and in a more permanent structure in the Seronera region (in which there are many). This will give you a nice contrast in accommodation, but importantly the best possible chance to see the migration.
If you are in Tanzania in May, the chances are you are a serious safari enthusiast (as the rains usually put people off!), so spending your time in two different landscapes is a welcome idea, migration or no migration… The resident predators and wildlife in Seronera are also phenomenal year-round, and if you go in May you will miss the crowds too which is a bonus.
Note: The below three mobile camps are the only ones which set up in three or more locations throughout the year, as opposed to all the rest which are set up only in the North and then down to the South to catch the “main migration events” of the river crossings (in the north), and the calving season (in the south).
These three are the only ones which venture to Moru and as such they get booked up quite far in advance. Give us a ring and ask us which one would suit you the best as although all mobile camps, they are all very different!
Where to stay in May?
Permanent Lodges: Dunia | Namiri Plains |Sopa | Serena | Kiota | Ewanjan
Mobile Camps: Serengeti Under Canvas | Nomad Serengeti | Legendary
3. June: Western Serengeti
The transitional period continues, with June frequently being a superb time to see the migration in the western corridor, and here the herds face their first major obstacle in the form of the Grumeti River with its mighty crocodiles.
Weather patterns at this time of year have a huge impact on migration movements and the herds can split up to follow diﬀerent migration routes, double back on themselves to Seronera and Moru, spread out and generally provide a challenge for our guides. If you do catch the migration though, this is a fantastic time to be in the middle of the herds as it is rutting season – which can get very noisy!
In very dry years, the approach to northern Serengeti can be accelerated with the first wildebeest arriving in northern Serengeti as early as late June. At this time of year we strongly recommend a combination of camps to secure the best migration viewing as with May, but maybe more so at this time.
Although the Mara River crossings are phenomenal, it would be a mistake to solely look at a camp in Kogatende in hope for a June river crossing – it is a risky approach! This is why we would suggest looking at two different camps; from June 1st – 15th focus on one in the Grumeti region and one in the central Serengeti Seronera region, and only in late June should you combine a northern Kogatende camp and one in either the west or central Serengeti.
It is a difficult time of year to predict! The good news is though that if you are focusing on a combination of camps, you benefit from two very different locations and landscapes, as well being in fantastic locations for The Serengeti’s exceptional year-round wildlife – it is not all about the migration!
Where to stay in June?
Permanent Lodges: Sasakwa| Mbalageti | Grumeti | Singita Faru Faru | Singita Sabora | Singita Serengeti House
Mobile Camps: Serengeti Under Canvas | Nomad Serengeti | Legendary | Singita Explore | Ubuntu
4. July – October: Northern Serengeti
The arrival of the migration to Northern Serengeti depends purely on weather conditions each year. When there is plenty of food and water the herds will take their time and spend longer in western Grumeti and central Seronera areas, arriving in the northern Kogatende and Lamai regions as late as early August.
If conditions are dry, the first wildebeest will forge north towards the Mara River, a permanent water source, and a reliable supply of green grazing, and arrive as early as late June or early July. In recent years, the wildebeest have been arriving a bit earlier, but this changes from year to year so going off this basis can be a mistake.
The Mara River crossings that take place over this period are the stuﬀ of wildlife documentaries and make for especially dramatic viewing. They can happen at any point during this time of year, as herds criss-cross back and forth chasing the clouds; but they are elusive, rapid and unforgettable experiences.
An experienced, patient guide is essential to give the best chance of catching a crossing as you could be waiting for the wildebeest to cross for hours as they mull around on one side of the river before one suddenly decides to take the leap of faith and the others follow.
We hope that our maps at the beginning of the guide have helped clear up common misconceptions about the river crossings. Although we try to make this guide and our website as detailed as possible, it really is best just to call for a chat with one of our experts – this is by far the best way of clearing up any confusion!
Where to stay from July – October?
Permanent Lodges: Lamai | Sayari | Kuria Hills | Singita Mara
Mobile Camps: Olakira | Kirurumu | Serengeti Under Canvas | Lemala | Nomad Serengeti | Serian | Chaka | Legendary | Ubuntu | Kimondo
Where to Stay in the Masai Mara from July – October?
Kichwa Tembo | Angama Mara | Mara Plains | Rekero | Governors | Serian
5 November: Central and South Serengeti
As the short rains fall, renewing more fertile grazing further south, the herds begin to move with it. November is another very unpredictable month when herds can be as far south as Ndutu or remain in the north as Kogatende for much of the month.
The herds will often split and take several diﬀerent routes to the south and central Serengeti/Moru can be an excellent base to reach sizeable herds. Combining locations over this period is often a smart way to keep up with the herds as when they decide to push for the south, they can often move quite quickly.
Again, when there is uncertainty about the herd’s location in a transitional month like November, it is a good idea to stay for a few nights in one of the mobile camps which move three or more times a year, and another may be a more permanent structure in excellent wildlife viewing location like Seronera to give you diversity in your locations and wildlife experiences. In these transitional months, we can not stress enough that although positioning yourself well for the migration is a good idea, to focus solely on this is a mistake.
Although the above map shows the herds congregating around the Lobo area (to the east) and central Seronera regions, huge river crossings have been known to happen in early November, so setting yourself in the Kogatende region can be a good idea (if you are not going there for the sole purpose of seeing a river crossing!).
See our video of an especially dramatic river crossing taken in November, which just shows that no matter how many satellites are taken or how many predictions are made, you can never tell on safari when or where nature is going to explode into action, which we think is part of the whole fascination with safari.
Where to stay in November?
Permanent Lodges: Kleins | Migration Camp | Kiota | Ewanjan | Namiri
Mobile Camps: Serengeti Under Canvas | Nomad Serengeti | Legendary
Tips for Planning Your Great Migration Safari
1. Book Early – At Least a Year in Advance
Lodges and camps fill up fast, especially for a Great Migration safari from June to October. Remember, this is safari’s high season and when the popular river crossings happen, but you can see the herds any time of the year.
2. Arrange Your Timing Carefully
The Migration is a fluid, often unpredictable affair. It’s important to know where to go and when to go on a Wildebeest Migration safari to ensure your expectations are met. Choose and arrange your timing according to what you want to see and experience.
3. Avoid the Crowds
The Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park experience high visitor and vehicle numbers during safari’s peak or high season (about June to October). The private conservancies adjoining the Masai Mara offer exclusivity, luxurious accommodation and excellent game viewing in sole-use areas. You’ll also be offered activities not permitted in the main reserve, such as night drives, bush walks and off-road game viewing.
There are camps in the Serengeti that are located a little further away from the Migration hot spots – meaning you can easily get to all the action, but also retreat to tranquillity.
4. Diversify Your Game Viewing
A Wildebeest Migration experience can get busy, noisy, smelly, and far removed from a general Big 5 safari. We highly recommend ending at a lodge or camp that’s located away from the herds to enjoy a bit of tranquillity and a diverse game viewing experience.
5. 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 itinerary. We recommend combining the Masai Mara with Amboseli and Laikipia or adding the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire and the Rift Valley Lakes to the Serengeti.