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The thundering perennial mass of ungulates crossing the vast savannah grasslands of East Africa is known as the Great Wildebeest Migration and it has been immortalised in films such as The Lion King. Today, safari-goers from all over the world undergo a migration of their own to Kenya and Tanzania to see the Great Wildebeest Migration for themselves.
Wildebeest making their way down to a river to cross
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 traverse. We’ve already told you 36 things you should know about the Great Wildebeest Migration and now here’s all you need to know about seeing it.
While the name does give the main participants away, you’d be mistaken for thinking it’s only the wildebeest who undergo this annual trek. Estimates made in 2014 state that along with the 1.7 million wildebeest who migrate each year, around 260 000 zebra and 470 000 gazelles join them.
Zebra and gazelle also migrate along with the wildebeest
The Great Wildebeest Migration is in constant motion throughout the year but its precise location is determined by the annual rains. You’ll have to travel to different locations throughout the year to catch the Great Migration in action and where you go and when you go will depend on what you want to see.
The herds are found in the southern sector of the Serengeti National Park (near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) and it is here where they drop their young so that by the time the herds reach the northern Serengeti, the calves are strong enough to cross the Mara River. If you want to witness wildebeest giving birth and calves taking their first steps – this is a great time to go.
Big cat sightings are prolific when following the Great Wildebeest Migration
This is the start of the mating season as the herds move northwards in the direction of Lake Victoria before coming to a halt in the area around the Grumeti River. Rutting makes for a thrilling spectacle at this time, especially in the Western Corridor from May onwards and through to July.
During these months, the herds are hanging around the border of Tanzania and Kenya, near the murky waters of the Mara River. This is prime time to see Mara River Crossings, dramatic events which see hundred-strong wildebeest herds torpedo into the water, braving crocodiles and hippos along the way – all to get to the sweet grasses on the other side.
Chaos reigns supreme around this part of the year. While this is considered by many to be one of the most exciting times to visit, it’s also one of the busiest times coinciding with school holidays and tourists who travel specifically to witness river crossings. You’ll want to stay in the northern Serengeti, the Mara Conservancies and the Maasai Mara National Reserve around this time.
The long and slow journey southwards begins as the wildebeest leave the Maasai Mara and northern Serengeti in order to reach the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and southern sector of the park by the new year. Once there, they’ll give birth to their young and the cycle will start all over again.
From the air? From the ground? While camping around? Whatever your fancy, there are plenty of ways in which you can see the Great Wildebeest Migration.
A fly-in safari is one of the most convenient ways to see the Great Wildebeest Migration and make the most of your trip. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is incredibly vast but it is dotted by airstrips which makes hopping from camp to camp by light aircraft very easy. That said, convenience does come at a price.
There are numerous semi-permanent camps in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara that change their location based on the movements of the herds. Staying with a mobile tented camp affords you a greater opportunity of seeing the herds in action and often saves you time when getting to them.
There are roads throughout the park and reserve which makes a private safari by road an option with the added convenience of a personal driver and guide. This gives you flexibility when deciding where you want to stay and for how long – but remember, the road through the Serengeti is long and it can be bumpy. This is a great option if you have a lot of time and want to take to the park at your own pace.
A scheduled trip is one where you can join a group (of maximum seven people) who share the vehicle and driver-guide costs. This is the most affordable way of travelling but it is also done by a pre-determined road route and there is no flexibility. Here, you save on costs but are limited to a set itinerary and predetermined lodges.
That’s where we come in. You can browse a selection of our Great Migration Tour Ideas to get a notion of what’s possible and what you can do, or contact one of our African travel experts to start planning your trip straight away.
Read more about the Great Migration below:
The Great Migration and the Search for a Mara River Crossing Part 1
The Great Migration and the Search for a Mara River Crossing Part 2
The Great Migration and the Search for a Mara River Crossing Part 3
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Jozi-born, Knysna local, and recovering yachtie, Melanie decided that she missed being land-based after 18 months sailing the seas. Now that she lives in the most beautiful city in Africa (she is adamant about this fact), you will find her trying out new things around Cape Town, dreaming about her next holiday, and using Wikipedia to enhance her skills as an encyclopaedia of useless information.
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