As wildlife spectacles go, watching approximately 1.5 million blue wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of Burchell’s zebra take the plunge into the Mara River and swim across to the safety of the Serengeti is hard to beat. Often depicted as an ‘annual’ event, the Great Migration actually happens continuously throughout the year and is driven by rains and the promise of better grazing. Considered to be one of the ‘Seven Natural Wonders of Africa’, witnessing the wildebeest migration should be on every wildlife lover’s bucket list!
Seasoned safari goer, Patrick Shah, shares six tips to help you properly plan the safari of a lifetime:
1. Know your ecosystem
The migration is a year-round event. It takes place in a huge area that is comprised of the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and the Serengeti, Loliondo and Ngorongoro conservation areas in Tanzania. This is one of the greatest ecosystems on earth, characterised by 31,000km² of short grass, interrupted occasionally by riverine forest, woodland and rocky outcrops called ‘kopjies’.
2. Know your migration
The migration is driven by rainfall patterns. The wildebeest prefer to remain for as long as possible on the southern plains of the Serengeti, but the eventual shortage of grass and water from May to October drives them north. Wetter conditions allow them to return to the southern plains from October to May.
3. Plan ahead
Depending on where the herd is at any time, accommodations become fully booked months in advance. A migration safari should be planned at least a year or more ahead so that you are in the right camp at the right time.
4. Choose the right accommodation
There is a considerable variety of tour operators and lodges to choose from, with widely varying standards of luxury. The western third of the Maasai Mara, known as the Mara Triangle is now a private concession, and is extremely well run and regulated. Personally, we believe that the best way to experience the migration is in a private mobile camp.
5. Budget the right amount of time
If this is one thing you are going to do next year, do it properly. There is so much potential for wildlife action, that three nights is required as a minimum, with five to seven nights being better. You can always split your time between two camps or lodges to break it up a little.
6. Patience is a virtue
Part of the magic of the experience is that this is wild Africa, which means things do not happen on cue. The wildebeest migration can be unpredictable, and in some rare, wet years it hardly reaches the Mara at all. The herds go forward, backwards and off to the horizon. They mill around, split up, join forces again, walk in single file or fan out.
River crossings are fleeting, and seeing them is a combination of lots of patience and sheer luck. Wildebeest are easily spooked, and often ponder a crossing for hours, only to turn around and disappear. Crossings, when they do happen, take place in a matter of minutes and are soon past.
Migration or not, this magical part of Africa always has something to offer the discerning visitor. The Maasai Mara is notorious for its proliferation of unregulated lodges and vehicles, and this can detract from the experience at certain river crossings. However, in this vast area, it is remarkably easy to get away from the crowds.
Be sure to choose a lodge or camp that trains its guides not to harass the animals when taking guests out, and one that respects the fragility of this area with a light environmental footprint. We feel that it’s always better to adopt a holistic approach to wildlife viewing, whether on foot or in a vehicle – relax and it will come to you.
Get in touch with us at Journeys Discovering Africa to plan the perfect itinerary for you.