Imagine a herd of wildebeests, unforgiving currents, and ruthless predators. That is the Great Wildebeest Migration: the greatest show on earth!
Every year more than a million herds of wildebeests cross the River Mara from Serengeti to Kenya. They must fight the rapid currents in the crossing and then deal with awaiting crocodiles. Worse still, other predators like lions and cheetahs wait on the other side.
Can you think of anything better than this ultimate Kenyan Safari?
If you plan to watch the Great Wildebeest Migration, this blog is for you. We’ll go through details on what happens when it happens and other helpful information.
I bet you didn’t know that the great migration is an endless year-long treacherous journey.
Let’s get you started.
When Does the Wildebeest Migration Happen?
The notion that the wildebeest Migration happens between July and October is wrong. This four-month period is actually when the animals cross the Mara river. It coincides with Nairobi’s high season giving the illusion that this is when the migration occurs.
Interestingly, not even the Wildebeest Migration River crossing can be predicted, not even the animals. Some cross the river on arrival, while others linger on the Serengeti banks grazing before crossing. Hundreds of thousands of other grazers like impalas, zebras, and antelopes usually join the herds.
You’ll need an extended African safari to experience the Wildebeest crossing fully.
Interesting Fact: Around 250,000 wildebeest die during the clockwise migration loop due to fatigue, drowning, and predators. According to NatGeo, the ones that die in the Mara River help rejuvenate the ecosystem.
Best Time to See the Great Wildebeest Migration
The wildebeest migration has no definite starting and ending as it happens all year. It is believed the animals follow the rain patterns to find enough water and pasture. However, the best time to watch the great migration in Kenya is during the Mara crossing (July to October), when the wildebeests must fight the water currents, crocodiles and steep banks. On the Kenyan side, predators such as lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas and leopards wait to prey on the tired herds.
What You Will See in the Different Months
Here is a breakdown of what, when and where it happens on the year-round migration route.
January to March
The first rains in southern Serengeti pull herds towards the Ndutu area. The mothers are heavily pregnant in this period and ready to calve in early February. The green pastures make it ideal for giving birth since the calves need food. There’ll be around 8,000 daily births before the herds proceed north towards Moru and Simba Kopjes.
Expect to see lovely little calves wobbling, trying to get balance. The predators also take advantage of the babies and tired mothers and strike at this period. Be ready for an action-packed African safari.
April to June
As April approaches, the herds pass Simba Kopje towards Moru. The rains are heavy during this period making the area green. These green pastures are important since the calves are growing and need more energy. You’ll also need rain jackets and appropriate vehicles for the weather.
The lions also come out to hunt during this period. Any wildlife photographer will find the best action shots in this area between Moru and Mokoma.
As June approaches, the calves are stronger and bigger, meaning they can move faster. Coupled by the abated rains and depleted pasture, the animals move northwest towards Western Serengeti onwards Lake Victoria, where food and water are abundant.
July to October
Perhaps the busiest tourism months for Kenya and Tanzania. In early July(mating season), the herds move from Grumeti River across the Grumeti river headed for Kogatenge near Masai Mara National Reserve.
By August, the herds have reached the Mara River, ready for the great Mara crossing. Here the herds of wildebeest, zebras and antelopes will face several challenges. They must jump off steep banks into a swollen river with near-zero visibility. As a result, they can’t see the waiting crocodiles that are ready to hunt. Many drown and get killed in the process.
Luckily, this means food for birds and fish.
Carnivores also take advantage of exhaustion and injuries to win a meal. This abundance of action pulls a huge number of tourists who want to watch one of the world’s great wonders.
The herds move into the Mara ecosystem, where they graze lazily until early October when they have to make the dangerous journey back into the Serengeti.
November to January
In most years, November beckons short rains in the Serengeti, moving the migration into the Lobo and Seronera Valley areas. The herds break up into groups and graze as they slowly move towards south Serengeti for the Calving season and start the upward journey North.
Best Tips for the Best Wildebeest Migration Experience
Here are tips to help you plan a Wildebeest Migration Safari in Kenya.
1. Know what part of the migration you want to see. The great migration is a continuous journey, and it’s essential to know whether you want to see the river crossings or watch them graze and give birth. It will help you know the period for your African tour.
2. Book the guides and accommodations earlier. The river crossing periods are high seasons with huge numbers of tourists. So, if you plan to visit during this period, booking everything you need is recommended to ensure you get all the benefits.
3. Check the weather season. Africa experiences dry seasons and wet seasons. Don’t make assumptions, and pack for one. On the contrary, research the weather on the ground and pack the appropriate clothing.
4. Carry all you need. Have a checklist of what you need on the safari. Pack your cameras, binoculars, insect repellent, hat, and comfortable clothing.
4. Use a reputable tour company. An interesting Kenyan Safari starts with the right guide. You’ll want someone who knows the best viewing spots and times and is partnered with the best accommodation service providers. You can check our Destinations Kenya partners to choose one within your budget and requirements.
5. Don’t Assume, ask. If you have any special requirements like mobility challenges, it is important to ask your tour company if they provide for your needs. Assuming may put you in a situation where you can’t go on safari.
6. Listen to and engage the guides. On the safari, listening and following the guide’s instructions are vital. They know the areas well and are in charge of your security. It also means they are a repository of information, so asking questions can help you learn.
Accommodation during the great wildebeest migration safari would fall widely into two categories, luxury safari lodges to mobile tented camps. Each has unique amenities, and it all depends on the kind of experience you want and your budget.
The safari lodges will usually provide most things a hotel would. They’ll include flush toilets, running hot and cold water, bathtubs and outdoor showers (in some cases). You’ll also usually access wifi, solar or generator power, and in-room charging.
Conversely, mobile tented camps may offer flush toilets, bucket showers, and solar or generator power. You’ll usually not find a wi-fi connection or running water.
However, mobile tented camps mean you can freely move within the ecosystem without returning to a stationary place for the night. You also get a night safari experience.
Book Your 2023 Wildebeest Migration Safari
On normal days, the wildebeest is an interesting animal to watch. However, they create a beautiful phenomenon in the masses and on the move. That’s why they put on a show for any Kenyan safari enthusiast when they are centre stage during the great Mara migration and crossing.
Watch as crocodiles hunt them in the waters and lions, hyenas, and other big cats wait on the shores.
If you are planning a Wildebeest Migration Safari in Kenya, our Destinations Kenya African Safari partners have the best deals for you. Check out our website for tour deals and our blog page for more interesting information about Kenya.