The Great Migration: Where You Need to Be When

The world’s greatest wildlife migration, featuring up to 1.5 million wildebeest and thousands of zebra and gazelle, happens every year in East Africa. One of the most sought-after travel experiences, viewing the great migration is a truly unique opportunity to see the power of nature at work, plus get a firsthand look at some of the most magnificent creatures on Earth. Did you know that wildebeest can live to be up to 40 years old? Most only reach age 20.

Photo courtesy of Mara Plains Camp.

Here’s what you need to know to witness this significant natural wonder in person.

Where to See the Great Migration

The migration route is sometimes thought of as a set circuit that occurs between Tanzania's Serengeti plains in the south and Kenya's Masai Mara in the north between May and December each year. But that isn’t exactly the whole story. Don’t let orderly maps claiming to predict the pathways fool you. Since this is a completely natural process that depends on weather, environmental factors, and the animals themselves, the timing and route that’s well-known—from the southern Serengeti through the Western Corridor up to the Masai Mara then back to the start through the Loliondo and Lobo area—is more of an estimation than a reliable roadmap.

Photo courtesy of Asilia Africa.

Still, there are some general guidelines for when and where to visit. Even if you attempt to see the migration when it isn’t following its “normal” pattern due to an unusually dry or wet season, odds are high that you'll most likely see thousands of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles in any given area. There are millions of animals involved, remember? So you're sure to catch a few making their way across the vast region.

Photo courtesy of Naibor Camp.

Best Time to Go

The first animals usually start to set out across the Serengeti in search of more grass and a dependable water supply in April. Over the following months, they’ll encounter countless obstacles—from predators to river crossings—on their hundreds-of-miles-long trek. Here's a breakdown of their tentative travel schedule, so you can plan your own.

December to April

The southern Serengeti is the place to be during these four months when the wildebeest are mostly staying put. Depending on rainfall, herds can be seen between the Ndutu area and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is just southeast of Serengeti National Park. Around February, wildebeest mothers give birth to more than 500,000 calves in a two- to three-week period, so if seeing baby wildebeest or predatory action is a priority, this could be the best time for you to go.

Fun Fact: Within 10 minutes of birth, wildebeest calves are on their feet, so they’re ready to move when the herd decides to head out.

May and June

Once the rainy season is over, the south and east plains of the Serengeti dry out, prompting the beginning of the migration. This usually starts in April or May, and herds begin to move north and west, although not all as one group. Some will head to the Western Corridor and the Grumeti River (where you might spot a crocodile) before proceeding north, and some may also go up through the Loliondo area or through the Seronera area and into Lobo.

July to November

This is traditionally thought of as the best season to view the migration. Between July and August, the wildebeest move into Kenya's Masai Mara, crossing the Mara River in large numbers. These river crossings are among the most sought-after moments of the migration. If seeing a river crossing is at the top of your bucket list, this when you should plan your trip to catch a herd tromping through the water.

October to November

It's not over yet! The migration starts to work its way south into Tanzania, so there will be plenty to see in the southern Masai Mara in Kenya and in Northern Tanzania.

Plan Your Visit

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RELATED: Your Guide to Viewing the Great Migration

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Jamie Mehrotra