The world’s greatest wildlife migration, featuring up to 1.5 million wildebeest and thousands of zebra and gazelle happens every year in East Africa. One of the most sought-after travel experiences, viewing the great migration is a truly unique opportunity to see the power of nature at work, plus get a firsthand look at some of the most magnificent creatures on Earth.
Watching this incredible display unfold is a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience, but a little planning goes a long way in making sure you see these animals on their great reverse.
But what is the best time to see the Wildebeest Migration?
Whether you witness its beginnings during calving season in Serengeti, the spectacular river crossings on the Mara River, or the return journey from Kenya’s Maasai Mara, you are witnessing one of the wonders of the natural world – a migration that covers a huge distance and sees almost 250,000 wildebeest perish each year.
What is the Wildebeest Migration?
The Wildebeest Migration is an annual migration of wildebeest from the Ndutu region of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area/southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in southern Kenya.
It is the migration for which Serengeti National Park is perhaps most famous. Over a million wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras flow south from the northern hills to the southern plains for the short rains every October and November, and then swirl west and north after the long rains in April, May and June. So strong is the ancient instinct to move that no drought, gorge or crocodile infested river can hold them back.
Where to see the Wildebeest Migration
The exact timing of the Wildebeest Migration is completely dependent upon rainfall patterns, making it a difficult thing to predict with any certainty. Particularly heavy or light rainfall might completely alter the movement of the massive herd.
This can make planning your safari an occasionally complicated affair, so it pays to spend as much time as possible in the Serengeti so that you can adjust to the sometimes mercurial movements of the herd.
As unpredictable as the herd can be, there is a rough calendar that gives the Shadows of Africa team an idea of where the action will be at any given time of the year.
The beauty of our private safaris are being able to adjust on the fly, and our experienced guides will go above and beyond to give you every chance of seeing the herd in motion.
January to March: The Calving Season (Ndutu Region, Tanzania)
Each year, life begins for a huge number of animals on the fertile plains surrounding Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek. On any given day, more than 10,000 wildebeest come into the world and take their first awkward steps on the long road north.
Over the course of a few short months, more than 1,000,000 wildebeest will join the already vast herd and feast on the lush grass that springs up from volcanic soil well-watered by the rainy season.
The Calving Season is best spent in the Ndutu region of the southern Serengeti, and a number of tented camps and lodges spring up each year from December through until March to accommodate the demand for a front-row seat.
The calving season isn’t as dynamic as later months, as the herd has ample food and the relative safety of wide-open plains to help them spot would-be predators.
April to May: The Green Season (Central Serengeti, Tanzania)
As food becomes more scarce in the south due to the drier weather and the growing number of mouths to feed, the first zebra begin to make their way north.
And where the zebra go, the wildebeest inevitably follow,
The Wildebeest Migration begins with some 1.7 million wildebeest, almost 500,000 antelope, and a quarter of a million zebra.
Their first stop? Seronera in the very heart of the Serengeti.
The Seronera region offers excellent game-viewing throughout the year, but at this time of year, the big cats and wandering elephants are complemented by the passing herd.
Green Season is the perfect time to plan your safari if you’re on a budget. With the evening rains keeping the tourist crowds away, luxury lodges lower their rates to a level that makes them as cheap as camping out on the plains.
May to mid-July: The Western Corridor (Grumeti, Tanzania)
The Mara River crossing may be the most well-known highlight of the Wildebeest Migration, but the Grumeti River crossing in the Western Serengeti is no less spectacular.
Drawn towards the shores of Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria by the promise of rain and better grazing, the herd deviates into the west.
The only thing standing between the herd and the large freshwater lake? The Grumeti River.
Some of the most spectacular images of the predator-prey dynamic are captured in and around the river, with both the big cats and the Nile crocodiles seizing upon this opportunity to strike at the increasingly desperate members of the herd. The Grumeti is home to the largest Nile crocodile population in the region, and these opportunistic predators make the most of things.
July to September: River-Crossing Season (Northern Serengeti, Tanzania and Maasai Mara, Kenya)
During this period, the herd continues its movement north towards the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. There is no tight schedule that these animals follow, so tracking the herd’s movements becomes a day today prospect as the meander slowly but inexorably towards the next big the obstacle in their path: the Mara River.
The Mara River poses another deadly barrier for the herd, who must again brave swollen waters and the opportunistic predators if they are to find relative safety on the far side.
Photographers and documentarians from around the world gather to witness the death-defying crossing, but the surrounding landscapes are every bit as memorable as the life and death struggle taking place at the Kogatende crossing.
November – December: Low Season (Northern and Central Serengeti, Tanzania)
Things calm down considerably once the Wildebeest Migration has crossed back over the Mara River into Tanzania, with the herd able to be spotted in Kogatende, Lobo, or the Central Serengeti as it makes its way back south.
November is a great time to visit and take advantage of low-season pricing, while December segues nicely into the calving season.