The Great Migration
The spectacle of the herds of close to two million wildebeest completing their clockwise lap of Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara is billed as the greatest wildlife show on earth.
Joining this party are also vast numbers of zebra and gazelles, all under the watchful eye of the big cats.
Knowing where to see it in all of its glory but also avoiding the ‘madding crowd’, is partly luck and partly good planning. We can help stack the odds in your favour, including what to see, when.
“The Great Migration is not one single moment, rather a series of movements of millions of wildebeest as they traverse the plains of East Africa, often with predators following their wake.”
JANUARY - MARCH
The start of the year is time for the herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle to sweep onto the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti. Their population explodes with calves; Mother Nature is often at its most brutal during this season with the big cats, hyena and wild dog preying on the defenceless new-born calves.
Thankfully there is such an abundance of food all the way up the food chain that after the initial flourish, the antelope literally hit the ground running and a more leisurely pace of predation takes place. If you travel in March, the huge dark storm clouds will be pilling up in the afternoons, threatening to soak the savannah, creating incredible light shows and a golden hour that can last all day. Migratory birds from Europe and even farther north will have arrived, escaping the northern winter and adding yet more flashes of colour to the landscape.
STAY: MWIBA LODGE
Mwiba is set in a 130,000-acre private playground which lies adjacent to the southern Serengeti. This Maswa area has prolific game year-round but when the migration passes through it is unlike anywhere else in Africa. With no other people stealing a march on wildlife sightings, the herds and predators are yours alone to enjoy. The lodge itself has a commanding position high up on boulder strewn river with the rooms arranged to maximise the views and epitomises style, world class service and unrivalled safari.
JUNE - AUGUST
As the grass in the southern region becomes depleted, the herds move slowly north into the Western Corridor into an area known as Grumeti after the river which flows into Lake Albert from the centre of the Serengeti. The Grumeti is reputed to have the largest crocodiles of any river in East Africa. These huge slumbering beasts depend on the herds crossing the river once a year – leading to some dramatic interactions.
Whereas crossing points in the Masai Mara can be awfully congested with tourists which ruins the spectacle, the private Grumeti Game Reserve is 350,000 acres of private land – meaning you only need share the view with your driver guide
STAY: SINGITA SASAKWA
Singita pioneered exquisite luxury whilst on safari; Sasakwa boldly lives up to that claim in one of the most luxurious wilderness properties imaginable. Almost inconceivably, a lavish Edwardian manor house stands grandly in the savannah with views that stretch to the horizon in the 350,000-acre Singita Grumeti Reserve in the Serengeti. Inside a traditional yet airy design greets you where the formality of candelabra and antique furniture fuses with tribal décor.
AUGUST - OCTOBER: IN TANZANIA
Traditionally these months are thought of as the time to be over the border in Kenya on the Masai Mara; however, the migration is a moveable feast which doesn’t follow one true path and frequently backtracks and can cross and recross the rivers many times in a season.
Being on the Tanzanian side of the imaginary line means far fewer people and arguably more scenic landscapes than in the middle of the Masai Mara. The plains here become rolling and broken with rocky kopjes, patches of woodland and thicket. Camps are set up high on huge monolithic boulders giving views over this varied terrain. Whilst the migration frequently steals the limelight, life away from the river crossings carries on as usual and this area is fantastic for leopard spotting.
STAY: SONGA LEGENDARY CAMP
High amongst the Kogatende boulders is the sister camp to Mwiba. A hark back to authentic bush camping with the continuation of excellent guiding and superb attention to detail found at their other properties. The camp is now permanent and carries all the charm of a small outfit, whilst retaining a sense of adventure. Days always finish around the campfire and Songa allows you to feel truly comfortable in the depths of the wilderness.
AUGUST - OCTOBER: IN KENYA
The best way to experience the migration in Kenya is to stay in one of the conservancies which lie just to the north of the publicly accessible plains of the Masai Mara. Only the guests from the small handful of camps there are allowed to traverse this area meaning you get all the wildlife but none of the mini buses and the crowds which have tainted the area around Musiara. Not only do the herds sweep through this area but the resident population of big cats is most impressive.
STAY: OFFBEAT NDOTO
Just four tents share this hidden valley in the heart of the Mara North Conservancy. The area has such prolific wildlife that the local lion pride is named the Offbeat pride and as the migration rolls into the area, the predators do extremely well. Offbeat has been honing it’s safari hospitality skills for years and the latest addition to their small portfolio is testament to that. Expect exceptional game viewing, a wonderful small camp atmosphere and being in the middle of the action.
OCTOBER - DECEMBER
To the east of the main Serengeti Plains, far from the nearest lodge is Namiri Plains, perched on a bluff overlooking an area which has been protected for cheetah and big cat monitoring for some time. From October through until the Christmas the wildebeest herds erratically traverse this area on their way south looking for fresh grass.
As the short rains start to fall in November, the wildebeest begin to move back towards the southern most areas of the Serengeti, many heavy with pregnancy.
STAY: NAMIRI PLAINS
Namiri Plains has made a name for itself due to the prevalence of cheetah in this area and your chance to get to see these speedsters hunting on the open plains. What also characterises this area is space. Huge open plains under enormous skies and apart from the occasional Maasai grazer with his cattle passing through, no other humans at all. With no pressure from tourism, the wildlife can move at its own pace and game viewing here is extremely rewarding.
By taking our advice you could have ringside seats of the Great Migration, further away from the main tourist routes, other vehicles on game drives or at the busier river crossings.
Using private concessions that are not open to the public, you can enjoy this spectacle without competing for space against other safari-goers. This is one of the true luxuries of booking a safari with Bailey Robinson.
"Although we’ve given you an outline here of when and where to see The Great Migration, call me to discuss the finer details. It would be my pleasure to use my expertise to design your trip to witness the unforgettable spectacle of the Great Migration"Ben Oxley-Brown
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