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Your guide to the Great Migration, nature’s grandest symphony

Every year millions of wildebeest and zebra surge across the Serengeti (Tanzania) and Maasai Mara (Kenya), driven by an ancient rhythm of survival and renewal. From thundering hooves to perilous river crossings, immerse yourself in the raw beauty of this awe-inspiring journey—the dance of life and death on the African plains.

The basics

The Great Migration is one of the most awe-inspiring wildlife events on the planet. It’s a massive annual movement of wildebeest, zebra, and other herbivores across the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya. The migration is driven by the search for fresh grazing and water, and covers a distance of approximately 1,800 miles in a circular pattern. As the animals cross treacherous rivers and vast plains, they face various challenges, including predators like lions and crocodiles. It’s a mesmerizing display of survival and natural instinct, making it a bucket-list experience for any wildlife enthusiast.

Where to see it

Wildebeests in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and zebras in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Wildebeests in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania & zebras in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: The Serengeti is the primary location for witnessing the Great Migration. The park's vast plains play host to millions of wildebeest and zebra – watched closely by scores of attendant predators.

The Serengeti, situated in northern Tanzania, sprawls over an impressive area of more than 14,750 square miles. It is one of Africa's most famous and ecologically diverse national parks. With its vast grasslands, open savannahs, and scattered acacia trees, this iconic park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. It offers incredible sightings of the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) and many other animal and bird species.

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya: The migration spills over into the Maasai Mara, usually between July and October, offering a chance to witness river crossings, where herds brave crocodile-infested waters.

Located in southwestern Kenya, the Maasai Mara is Kenya’s premier safari destination. Spanning over 580 square miles, it offers diverse landscapes, including grassy plains, acacia woodlands, and the Mara River. Visitors can spot numerous wildlife species, including lions, elephants, wildebeests, zebras, and giraffes. The reserve is also home to the Maasai people, known for their distinct culture and traditions.

When to see it

The Great Migration is a year-round event as the animals are constantly on the move. Here’s what to expect at different times of year:

  1. January - March: During these months, the herds gather in the southern Serengeti, particularly around the Ndutu area, where they give birth to their young. The calving season attracts predators, making it an excellent time for action photography.

  2. April - June: As the dry season sets in, the migration starts moving northward in search of water and fresh grazing. This period offers a different perspective on the migration as the herds spread out across the Serengeti.

  3. July - October: This is the time when the herds enter the Maasai Mara in Kenya. The river crossings at the Mara River are the most iconic and dramatic moments of the migration. Witnessing thousands of animals trying to make it past lurking crocodiles is a heart-stopping experience.

  4. November - December: The herds begin their return journey to the southern Serengeti as the cycle starts again. This is a good time to capture the vastness of the migration as the animals form long columns stretching across the plains.

A typical day in a luxury safari lodge

Luxurious tent room with ensuite bathroom in Offbeat Mara Camp at Mara Conservancy, Kenya
Your safari lodge will have all the sumptuous comfort needed for an amazing stay in the vast, remote plains. (Photo: Offbeat Mara Camp, Kenya)

You’ll be woken before dawn with a hot beverage. Then embark on an exhilarating early morning game drive in an open 4x4 vehicle with a knowledgeable guide. Many lodges serve “bush breakfast” in the wilderness. Back at the lodge, unwind at the spa or pool with a good book and/or a cocktail. Then indulge in a sumptuous lunch, followed by a traditional high tea. In the afternoon, head out for another game drive: a chance to observe predators at their most active. After stopping for sundowners at a scenic spot, return to the lodge for a gourmet dinner under the stars. Finally retire to your luxurious suite to rest up ahead of another day of unforgettable adventures.

What to pack

When embarking on a Great Migration safari, it's essential to be well-prepared:

  1. Clothing: Pack lightweight, neutral-colored clothing suitable for both warm and cool temperatures. Long-sleeved shirts and pants can protect you from the sun and insects. Don't forget a wide-brimmed hat and a sturdy pair of walking shoes or boots.

  2. Binoculars and camera gear: A pair of binoculars will enhance your wildlife viewing experience. Bring a high-quality camera with extra batteries and memory cards.

  3. Personal essentials: Include sunscreen, insect repellent, a refillable water bottle, and a small medical kit with basic supplies.

  4. Travel documents: Carry your passport, visas (if required), travel insurance, and any necessary permits.

  5. Electronics and chargers: Bring a portable charger for your devices as electricity might be limited in some safari camps.

  6. Safari bag: Use a soft-sided duffel bag or backpack as hard-shell suitcases can be cumbersome in safari vehicles.

  7. A sense of adventure: Lastly, bring an open mind and a sense of wonder. Witnessing the Great Migration is a unique and unforgettable experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Before you go

Remember that the Great Migration's timing can vary slightly from year to year due to weather patterns and other factors. It's advisable to book your safari with a reputable tour operator who can help you plan the best time to witness this natural spectacle and ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.

Zebras and wildebeests in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Have we convinced you yet? Tick the Great Migration off your bucket list with SA Expeditions. First, check out our most popular East Africa Tours that take you to the prime regions of the Great Migration. Then speak to a Destination Expert about curating the itinerary to meet your exact wants and needs.

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