Planning a Wildebeest Migration Safari and Hope to See Mara Crossing?
Safari Tips to Fully Experience Wildebeest Migration Crossing at Mara River
I decided to write this post since very often many of my friends reach out to me to understand when and how to experience this. It has to be noted that I am not affiliated with any travel/tour operators and these thoughts are purely based on my observation and experience of visiting east African national parks multiple times.
One of the greatest natural spectacle is the migration of the wildebeest, zebra and gazelles in the Serengeti National Park. More than 80% of the park is in Tanzania and the rest in Kenya. The predators gets active in the area where these herds are.
The definition of migration can also vary between a large herd of these animals to the river crossings. Being there at the right time is an experience of life-time.
The fact is that these animals keep always moving as herds, millions of them split into multiple herds and they march on. They keep moving, looking for rain and fresh grass through out the year and their entire life time.
Typically they do not stay at a specific area for more than 3 weeks. When I indicate area, Serengeti is spread across almost 15,000 sqkms.
That’s 20 times as big as a country like Singapore. So being in the right area during the visit is important for good sighting experience. There are times, where I have seen huge herds during the evenings at an area and none the next morning. They keep moving all time, breaking as small herds or joining into bigger herds.
Coming back to wildebeest migration, if the definition one is looking for just seeing the huge herd, it’s not complicated and can be experienced within few safaris either in Kenya or Tanzania.
Also, some of the areas have resident animals that do not migrate. So, as a first time safari goer, it is relatively easy to see them. Where as if the definition is to watch Mara river-crossing, then it requires lot more planning and luck.
Best Time for Wildebeest Migration Mara Crossing Safari
When it comes to river crossings, large migrations happen across Grumeti river and Mara river during specific periods. To my understanding, it is not actually migration because they just keep crossing the river every few days on both sides depending upon the rain and fresh grass. The Grumeti one is of relatively shorter duration where as the Mara one extends for a few months.
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Historic data indicate that the Grumeti crossing happens between May and June while the Mara river wildebeest migration crossing is usually going on between July to September.
Since Mara river becomes the natural border between Kenya and Tanzania within Serengeti, many indicate migrations happens to Kenya. Once again, its not exactly migration, the herds just keep moving across the north west part of Serengeti and keeps crossing the river as they feel. What’s amazing is that there are specific points of the river and they cross only there.
Perhaps they remember these points. Also, the herds accumulate near the river in thousands and more keep joining in. Thirstily, they might remain near the banks for a long time waiting for the first one to take the bold step and the rest follows in a frenzy. The herd size can vary from 100s to many thousands.
Therefore, to watch wildebeest river-crossings, one has to be close to Mara river between July to September. The options are Kenyan side of the Masai Mara park or the north west part of Tanzania. Kenyan side is easily accessible and hence it could be very crowded during these months.
The north west area of Tanzania is one of the best kept secret of Serengeti. This area is called as ‘Lamai Triangle/Lamai Mara’. A place blessed with wilderness and the least crowd. I believe between July to September more than 70% of the herds remain here and its only the other 30% that crosses the river to the Kenyan side.
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I remember not seeing more than 5 vehicles the entire day here. This kind of exclusiveness is beyond words.
Long ago, tourist could enter here from Kenya through the park easily. However, Tanzanian government closed the gates lately. After this, accessing Mara river from Tanzania side involves a lot of effort. Since it involves a drive of almost 300+ kms over dirt-track, many tour operators will not even inform this to the regular tourist.
Perhaps, they don’t want to make it too rough for the tourist or due to choice of lodges. Of course, the few mobile lodges here are more exclusive and expensive too. But for those who do not have too many days to spare this is the best option without compromising on the whole safari experience.
It may be a good idea to do a fly-in from Arusha/Kilimanjaro to Kogatande airstrip and head to the camp in this area saving 2 driving days of the whole trip.
Some Tanzanian tour operators will organize the regular Ngorogoro, Central Serengeti (Seronera), Manyara/Tarangire safaris and call this as Migration Safari! It is sad, some of my friends have also fallen for this. It’s not that these are bad places to go on safari, but between July to September when one pays peak-season rates, these are not the places to be in Tanzania for the best experience.
The Best Place to Experience Wildebeest Migration Crossing Mara River
- Lamai Mara of Serengeti, Tanzania
- Masai Mara of Serengeti, Kenya
The choice could be based on the budget, trip duration, the appetite for wilderness and exclusivity. Most of all, crossing river is a natural event and no one can predict when the Mara river crossing can happen.
We have seen thousands crossing once and another time, we waited for several hours next to the river bank with a huge herd but as the crossing started it was interrupted when a baby crocodile came up on the river bank and then it was waiting for the whole day without events. Therefore, it depends a lot upon luck too.
Photo Tips Wildebeest Migration Mara Crossing Safari
For good travel photography on safari you will need a good zoom lens. Any reasonable long range lens would do. Most action would happen between 200 to 600 mm. High fps camera is preferred because when the crossing begins, action starts with full swing. To capture the scenes and not loose moments between the clicks.
I hope this short blog post helps the one who is keen to experience river-crossing by guiding to the right place at the right period and the rest is Good Luck!
Written by: Marzook aka Zookk – Nature and Wildlife Lover, Passionate Photographer, Selective story teller. See more of his safari photography on Instagram All photos in this post property of Zookk.
Which African adventure is your favourite? Have you been on African safari? Let me know in comments.