The Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and other plains game in search of fresh grazing between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara is the largest overland migration in the world involving over 1.5 million animals.
Catching up with the Great Migration is a spectacle on many people’s bucket list. The first image that comes to mind for many may be the river crossings, particularly the dramatic crossing of the Mara River, the last obstacle before reaching the Masai Mara (July-September time). However, being on the Serengeti’s southern plains in the early part of the year for calving is another excellent time to see the migration .
The migration is not one super herd but a collection of herds moving in different directions and at different speeds. The herds move in search of fresh grazing and so their progress is dictated by rainfall. With rainfall becoming increasingly erratic the path and timings of the migration has become a little more unpredictable in recent years but you can expect to see the migration in Tanzania for around 75% of the year and in Kenya for 25%.
The annual cycle is punctuated by a number of key events – calving being one of them.
Calving season on the Serengeti’s southern plains
The migration arrives and stays on the Serengeti’s southern plains and on the edges of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between January and March annually.
During these first few months of the year the wildebeest are grazing on the nutrient rich short grass following the short rains in November. This is the perfect arena for giving birth to their young – the grass is still low enabling them to see predators more easily, and the new shoots are soft and full of goodness, thanks to the fertility of the volcanic soil in this region.
Remarkably virtually all the wildebeest calve within a 3 week window which usually falls between late January and late February. Around 8,000 calves are born each day at the peak of the calving season.
Compared to the rest of the year, the herds are fairly sedentary while they feast and calve so this is an excellent time to observe them.
Predator density at this time on the southern plains is said to be higher than anywhere else in the world. Many predators also raise their young at this time, with young wildebeest the perfect target for young cubs learning survival skills.
What to expect
-Epic views – short-grassy savannah studded with rocky ‘kopje’ outcrops – sometimes punctuated by the occasional Serengeti leopard or cheetah.
-Noise! Wildebeest have the nickname ‘gnu’ and this is the sound you will hear.
-Fabulous wildlife sightings with the chance to see predators and predator/prey interaction – short grass means good visibility.
When should I book if I want to visit during calving season?
If you have your heart set on a specific week, particularly in February and around school half term, then you should try and book a year in advance – camps are small and it is high season offering good weather and excellent wildlife sightings so the earlier you book the more likely you are to secure your dates and preferred camp.
If you are flexible then 6-9 months in advance is ideal.
Where to stay and for how long
We recommend lodges around the Ndutu area in the first three months of the year.
There are a number of excellent mobile camps including the Serian Mobile, Lemala Ndutu and the Asilia mobile camps. Sanctuary Kusini, Lake Masek Tented Camp, Ndutu Lodge and the new Ndutu Kati Kati tented camp are permanent options in this area. Depending on the position of the herds and the timing of your visit we also recommend the high quality Lemala Ewanjan and the excellent Elewana Pioneer Camp in the south-central area.
2-3 nights at one camp is the minimum amount of time we recommend – you could easily stay longer. It is great to combine a stay in Ndutu with a camp in the south/central or central area of the Serengeti for a contrast (these areas have excellent resident wildlife), or how about combining your Serengeti experience with a visit to other parks on the Northern Circuit? (Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire).
Tented camps are very comfortable offering walk-in tents, ensuite bathroom and an outdoor seating area. Camps vary in size, luxury and budget.
You can expect a 7 or 8 day safari trip to Tanzania including the Serengeti to cost anything from £2,040 per person plus international flights (Small Group Escorted Tour) to over £4,500 for a luxury private safari. (Please note: during the migration months these prices rise).
What will the safari day look like?
Custom safari 4×4 vehicles are used to view the migration. You rise just before dawn, and have a snack before heading out with your professional guide on your morning safari for 2-3 hours before returning for a hearty breakfast in camp. In private concessions you may head out with a picnic breakfast.
If you fly-in to your camp, camp vehicles are usually shared with other guests (there are a few exceptions). If you are enjoying a drive-in safari with a private vehicle and driver/guide then you have the luxury of your own space.
You have the day to relax at camp, enjoy lunch and view wildlife as it comes and goes. Some camps offer additional activities during the day.
After a light afternoon tea you depart on the afternoon game drive, usually at about 330pm until sundown around 6/630pm. In private concessions your vehicle can stay out beyond sundown and you can night drive. It is also possible to off-road in the private concessions of the Serengeti.
Can I combine a migration trip with the beach?
Yes – December to March offers lovely weather for the beach, and good water visibility for diving/snorkelling. Zanzibar is the most easily accessible destination from the Serengeti and offers a wide range of lodges.
Here’s an example luxury bush and beach combination.
See our Tanzania page for inspiration.
For Migration safari inspiration specifically please click here>>
By March the plains have usually started to dry out and food is depleted so the herds start to move north and west on their epic journey to Kenya, pausing only as they reach the rivers that block their path.
This is the next phase of the migration…
If you are thinking of a wildlife holiday to Africa please contact us on 01603 964 730 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find further information about the sub-Saharan destinations we visit on our website.