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The Serengeti Wildebeest Migration

Without doubt one of nature's finest spectacles.

Itinerary photo - safari
Itinerary photo - safari

The Great Migration is the stuff of safari legend, and probably the first footage that most people ever glimpse of the vast and mysterious continent that is Africa. The daily fight for survival, set against the backdrop of some of the most iconic vistas on the planet, is what awaits those who travel to this area. Probably the most important factor in planning a Tanzania safari is the time of year and thus the location of the herds.

Consisting of roughly 2 million wildebeest, a couple of hundred thousand zebra and innumerable gazelles, the Migration herd is more than the sum of its parts and is the ultimate in the survival technique of safety in numbers. With these sorts of figures it is no surprise that the herd is forced to stay on the move, following the small pockets of rainfall and continually seeking the new shoots of grass as they appear across the savannah.

As the herds move between the grasslands of the Masai Mara and the Northern Serengeti to the southern plains of the Ndutu region, in the Serengeti, they must be continually on the lookout for the marauding predators that lie in wait, eager to get their once or twice yearly fill.

When considering which safari camp to stay in in the Serengeti, there are quite a few factors that are important to take into account…the most important of these being the time of year and the movement of the herds. As a brief overview of the migration patterns of the herds in recent years please take a look at the below.

January to March

The Migration herds reach the southern plains for the calving season.

Moving back down through the Serengeti from the Masai Mara, the Migration herds form into long lines that stretch as far as the eye can see!

The Ndutu Plains – The Southern Plains - come into life as the “short rains’ of November trigger the herd movement back south from the plains of the Masai Mara. This fertile region of the Serengeti provides the wildebeest with much needed nourishment and this period is when it is possible to witness the herd calving…lots of cute baby wildebeest….and predator action on a Serengeti Safari.

The Maswa Reserve – South west of the park - located over to the west of the Serengeti itself, this region does get good numbers of the herds at this time of year and so it is definitely worth considering for a Serengeti safari. The great thing about staying here (and in Ndutu Lodge) is that you are officially outside of the park and so have much more freedom to explore a little.

The Central Serengeti – in all honesty, there is not really a bad time to head to this area of the Serengeti, although, if you want to see the front end of the Migration herds, then try to go here as late as possible in this period.

Recommended lodges: Alex Walker's Serian, Ndutu Lodge, Nomads Serengeti Camp, Olakira Tented Camp

April to Mid-June

The main rains offer much needed rest for the herds who mingle in the centre of the park.

Traditionally this is the wettest time of the year to head to the Serengeti for safari and so many people choose not to venture to the Serengeti at this time…but it is still a fantastic time to come here…there are no crowds, the rain comes in spectacular storms that rage and blow out…and the game is as happy as it can be!

The Central Serengeti – the two areas where most of the herds and predators will be gathered is in the central western region, called the Grumeti region, and across the central band, called the Seronera. These two areas of the Serengeti offer game in abundance and, while we tend not to overly recommend staying around here during the drier months due to the concentration of larger lodges, at this time of year it works well. If you have the money, then take a look at Sasakwa as this is real safari in style!

Recommended lodges: Dunia Camp, Pioneer Camp, Nomads Serengeti Camp, Grumeti River Lodge, Sasakwa Lodge

Mid-June to July

As the long rains end the Migration herds run the gauntlet north to the border.

As the rains start to falter, the herds start to move northwards in the Serengeti again to sit out the sweltering Tanzanian summer by the permanent Mara and Grumeti Rivers in the north. This is probably the busiest time of the year for a Serengeti safari in the central region of the park and so we tend to recommend lodges that are a little more out of the way.

Central Serengeti – as mentioned above these months are the busiest times to head to the central Serengeti. Part of the reason, however, is that there is good game. As the herds move through the Seronera river valley they run the gauntlet of predators; lions, leopard and crocodiles in particular....great safari!

Northern Corridor – while this region doesn’t have a name and can be a bit of a chance as to whether you will see the herds through the thicket scrub, the area that connects the Seronera with the Lamai wedge, has a few really good properties and it would be a mistake to ignore it altogether.

Recommended lodges: Olakira Tented Camp, Migration Camp

August to October

The dry season in East Africa and the herds are located right in the north of the Serengeti.

Around the end of July the herds have usually found their way up to the very north of the Serengeti and tentatively start to cross over the Mara River and move up into the plains of the Masai Mara.

Lamai Wedge – as with the Ndutu Plains in the very south, the Lamai Wedge and the region around the Wogakuria Kopjes, in the very north of the Serengeti, really comes into its own for safari in this period of the year and can lay claim, arguably, to some of the best and least disturbed safari viewing in Africa! The herds tend to mill around on the northern bank of the Mara river for the next three months until the short rains trigger their movement south again.

Central Serengeti – for those that are on more of a limited budget for their Serengeti Safari and can’t head to the Lamai Wedge, the central Serengeti has good populations of plains game and predators year round and so this is still a treat for most. If it is possible, we always recommend that safari clients head further north however.

Recommended lodges: Sayari Mara Camp, Nomad's Lemai Serengeti, Lemala Kuria Hills, Olakira Tented Camp, Alex Walker's Serian

November to December

The migration herds head back to the southern plains as the short rains arrive.

Traditionally this is the season of the short rains in the Serengeti. So called as they are no way near as torrential as the main rains in April/May, they do, however, trigger the herds’ movement back down to the southern plains of Ndutu. As the herds spread out again it can be hit or miss as to seeing them in their millions, but it is still a good time to safari in the Serengeti.

Loliondo Concession – set out to the east of the northern Serengeti, the Loliondo concession was once a favourite for the herds as they headed south. These days, however, through satellite tracking, it seems that the herds have shifted their pattern to head more centrally. Care needs to be taken when booking here!

Northern Corridor – as when the herds are moving to the north of the Serengeti in the June to July period, it can be a little tricky to predict when this area will have the full herds, but it is definitely worth having a look at staying here as, with good vegetation and plenty of dry riverbeds, the predator action and safari can be incredible.

Recommended lodges: Migration Camp, Nomads Serengeti Camp, Olakira Tented Camp

When to go to the Serengeti National Park:

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    At a glance...The Serengeti NP

  • Size 5,700 square miles
  • Location Northern Tanzania, NW of Arusha
  • Recommended time 3 to 6 nights
  • Time to visit Year round
  • Safari Activities Walking, driving, ballooning
  • Topography open grassland/Acacia scrubland
  • Main species Wildebeest, gazelle, zebra, big 5, cheetah, hyena, giraffe
  • Further reading...

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