Last updated 29 Mar 2020

The great migration is a year-round affair, with each season offering a different way to witness the wildebeest herds. Here’s how to plan your great migration safari.

Kenya or Tanzania?

If you’re on a budget, Kenya’s Masai Mara offers more wallet-friendly options for the average traveller, despite having a shorter viewing season. This is simply due to accessibility. Kenya has more flights, more types of safari accommodation and more tourists than Tanzania. This increased competition drives prices down — as does the ease of access to the Masai Mara National Reserve. Tanzania’s size means that travel outside the Northern Circuit normally involves taking a flight, so getting to southern parks like Selous, Ruaha and Mahale for calving season is more expensive.

Generally, Kenya is the better option for family safaris, those on a budget and those with less time to spend. If you want to splurge, have several different safari viewing options or want to experience more remote wildlife viewing locations, Tanzania might be your best bet.

Private safari or group tour

The main difference between a private great migration safari and a group tour is exclusivity. In a group safari vehicle, especially the less comfortable and more cramped minibuses, you sometimes have to fight for space and compete with the demands of other safari-goers. If you see something really interesting and want to make a photo stop, the other guests may not agree. However, it is less expensive going with others on a group safari tour and you will often meet like-minded travellers who you can share your safari experience with. It’s worth remembering that a great migration safari is likely to be a once in a lifetime trip so don’t regret not paying that extra money for the freedom of your own vehicle.

In a private safari jeep, you can design your own programme and stop wherever you want, for however long. Your guide will be able to give you a much more intimate experience, answering your questions and trying to meet your specific requests, whether that’s looking for a specific animal or simply staying longer at a chosen spot. With so much to see and experience, you might find it’s worth the extra money.

What to look for in a safari operator

Choosing from great migration safari companies can be overwhelming because there are thousands of them in the market.

Most people opt for word-of-mouth recommendations from others. Some of the best advice you can get about a company is from someone who has been on a safari with them in the past. There are dozens of websites that list safari trip reviews and journals written by previous travellers. Learn from them.

When contacting a great migration safari operator, make sure to ask the right questions. Find out how many other people will be on your trip. Make sure it’s clear what's included and what's not. Try to see the safari car before booking. Find out what their payment policies are. Get a clear explanation of their cancellation and refund policy, and find out exactly when payments need to be made.

How much to budget and when to book a safari?

For all-inclusive safaris, consider a starting point of $4,000 per person for a seven-day trip, and then head upwards from there for more days or more luxury. If you do not mind longer drives and moderate accommodations, you may be able to drop that price point to $2,500.

You can further reduce costs by travelling out of season. Head to the Serengeti during the heavy rains between January and March and you’ll find reduced rates on safari packages and a less crowded experience.

The more you spend on your safari, the more exclusive and diverse your experience will be. Fancy is not necessary, but the more expensive properties generally present more opportunities for unlimited activities such as night drives, walks and village visits.

Bear in mind that accommodation fills up quickly on great migration safaris, particularly in the high-end, luxury camps. It’s best to begin planning your trip a year in advance and book up to nine months ahead if you want to see the river crossings during the middle of the year.

Health and safety

The most important consideration in east Africa is malaria. It’s recommended that prophylactics be taken as a preventative measure, but don’t forget to wear pants and long sleeve shirts. Use a good insect repellent — especially at night when the malaria mosquitoes come out.

The only legally required vaccination for travel in Kenya and Tanzania is yellow fever. Without proof of this vaccination, you will not be allowed to enter either country. Medical facilities are limited and medical care can be expensive, so make sure you bring your health insurance card as well.

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