Great wildebeest migration map

By its very nature, the wildebeest migration is a continually moving phenomenon. Where you go depends very much on when you decide to travel. Use this quick reference to see where the migration will be during your chosen month(s) of travel.

The great wildebeest migration: month-by-month

Month

Where is the migration?

What’s the weather doing?

Where to stay?

January

Tanzania’s southern Serengeti (Lake Ndutu and Ngorongoro Conservation Area

“Green season” (between the short rains and the long rains)

Lake Ndutu Luxury Tented Lodge, Olakira Camp, Serengeti Safari Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas

February

Tanzania’s southern Serengeti (Lake Ndutu)

Sporadic showers (the long rains are beginning)

Masek Tented Camp, Lake Ndutu Luxury Tented Camp, Ndutu Wilderness Camp

March

Tanzania’s southern Serengeti (Lake Ndutu)

Long afternoon showers (the long rains are building up)

Masek Tented Camp, Lake Ndutu Luxury Tented Camp, Ndutu Wilderness Camp

April

Tanzania’s Simba Kopjes and Moru

Consistent to heavy showers (height of the long rains)

Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge

May

Western corridor of Tanzania’s Serengeti

Rainfall is gradually tapering off, dry season begins

Fours Seasons Safari Lodge

June

Northwest corner of Tanzania’s Serengeti

Sunny (dry season is in full swing)

Singita’s safari lodges, Faru Faru, Sabora and Sasakwa, Serengeti Tented Camp

July

Crossing of the Mara River in Tanzania’s Serengeti

Sunny (dry season is in full swing)

Kirawira Serena Camp, Mara Serena Safari Lodge

August

Crossing the border into Kenya’s Masai Mara

High season, sunny (dry season is in full swing)

Saruni Mara, Entim, Governor’s Camp

September

Kenya’s Masai Mara

Sunny and dry days, high season starts to taper off

Bateleur Camp, Basecamp Masai Mara, Fig Tree Camp, Mara Plains Camp, Mara Bushtops, Mara Porini and Porini Lion Camps

October

Straddled between Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti

End of the dry season, high season crowds have thinned

Serengeti Safari Camp, Lobo Wildlife Lodge, Sayari Camp

November

Northeast corner of Tanzania’s Serengeti

Sporadic rains, the short rains begin

Lake Masek Tented Camp, Ubuntu Camp, Serena’s Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp, Four Seasons Serengeti Safari Lodge

December

Southeast part of Tanzania’s Serengeti, toward Ndutu

Occasional rains, wet, height of the green season

Lake Ndutu Luxury Tented Lodge, Olakira Camp, Serengeti Safari Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas

Wilderbeest Nov Dec

November to December: The herd arrives at the Serengeti

Tanzania’s short rains begin in November, leading the wildebeest herds to move to the short-grass plains of the Serengeti. This means that at the beginning of November, you can expect the herds to linger around the northern Serengeti regions of Kogatende and Lamai before heading south for the second big migration of the year. Look for long trains of migrating wildebeest travelling at pace to the central Serengeti.

The herds then split, making it difficult to predict where the main group will be. By December, the wildebeest may be south-east of the central Serengeti region of Seronera, but some may have already made it as far as the Ndutu plains in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where they will be preparing for the calving season.

Is November a good time to see the great migration?

In November the rains start to fall in the Mara. The plains are back to their emerald green hue, and the migration is on the move southward, back to Tanzania’s Serengeti. Photographers revel in the heightened big cat activity and the stormy skyscapes.

The rains from November to March are quite random and usually don’t last for more than a few hours. There’s a chance of heavier rain during this period but expect less than in the heavy rains of April. If it does rain, it will usually clear in one or two hours, and it’s more than likely that the shower will be localised. November is shoulder season, offering a combination of lower accommodation prices with good wildlife watching.

What the wildlife is doing


As the herds head back across the border, the Serengeti once again becomes the migration hotspot. The wildebeest and zebras are on the move, and most of them can be found in the Lobo and the Seronera Valley areas. In their quest for nutrition-rich grass, they form long columns stretching all the way to the central parts of the Serengeti.

Although it’s the wet season, the Serengeti is still an amazing place to experience. Photographers love to capture the skyscapes as huge, dramatic thunder clouds roll in over the savannah. You can expect cooler weather, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The animals become more active during this time of the year, especially big cats.

THE SILVER LINING OF THE WET SEASON


Although the heavy rains are starting to fall, November is one of the best months if your intention is to see the big cats. As the wet season begins, plenty of predators seek out newborn herbivores, and the action can get very intense.

Photography also thrives. Many specialised photographic safari companies offer tours solely for taking pictures of the cats during this period. Watching the big storm clouds roll in can be a very moving experience, especially for photographers. The dark skies, the thunder and lightning all align to create beautiful dramatic backgrounds, and the light is ideal — particularly if you have a big lion hunting a zebra in the frame.

But storm clouds aren’t for everyone. If you do want to avoid the rains in November, your best option is to head down to Selous where the rains usually arrive later than other parks in Tanzania. The dry landscapes usually last until early December.

Is December a good time to see the great migration?

The annual “circle of life” migration is nearing completion. The rains have returned, and the wildebeest are on the move toward the rich grasses of Ndutu. With pregnant bellies, they’re looking for the best spot to calve in the coming months.

December marks the height of the green season in the Serengeti. It’s a wet period, so occasional showers can be expected throughout the whole month. The temperature drops, the evenings turn cooler and it’s a bit harder to spot the animals due to the plentiful water sources.

As far as visitors, December becomes a very busy month with the end-of-year holidays coming up, so you may want to avoid the hotspots around the Ngorongoro Crater and other popular locations.

What the wildlife is doing


In the last month of the year, the migration has reached the southernmost plains of the Serengeti, looking for better grass.

During this time of the year, a lot of other species give birth to their youngsters, so if your aim is to see cute babies, this is the time to go. The wildebeest are in the fifth month of their pregnancy and slowly start making their way back to the nutritious grass of Ndutu where they will soon give birth to their calves in January and February. The next generation of wildebeest is almost here.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SAFARI

Arabic and African cultures have been exchanging goods and ideas for centuries. Large caravans of traders would travel across vast territories to peddle their wares from one city to the next.

The word safari originated from the word safar, which is an Arabic verb that roughly translates as “to make a journey”. From there, you get the noun safariya, or “journey”. Safari is actually a Swahili synonym of the Arabic word.

In the 19th century, the ‘great white hunters’ from Europe started to use the phrase to describe their escapades into sub-Saharan Africa in search of game. Their accounts of spectacular adventures spurred others to follow in their footsteps, and soon the colonial settlers saw money to be made. They started organising and promoting safaris for affluent outsiders.

Wilderbeest Jan March

January to March: Calving season

The start of the new year sees the majority of herds congregating in the rich, fertile Ndutu plains for the calving season. By the middle of January, almost 8,000 calves are being born each day. However, more calves means more predators, and Ndutu is home to some gut-wrenching, awe-inspiring predator action during January and February. This is the prime time to see wildebeest and big cats in Tanzania.

The end of March brings the big rains, leaving the ground muddy. The wildebeest mega-herds disperse, heading west towards Maswa Game Reserve and the western Gol region.

Is January a good time to see the great migration?

A new year means new life, and the stage for the spectacle this month is Tanzania’s southern Serengeti. Specifically, Lake Ndutu and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are prime territories for viewing this phase of the migration.

The start of the year also marks the beginning of the ‘green season’, right between the short rains and long rains. The Serengeti plains form a beautiful palette of green colours, the air is clear from dust, and wildlife of all kinds is relatively easy to spot. As the grass turns green, it also attracts the wildebeest moving in from the north into the southern Serengeti, Ndutu, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Salei Plains.

Some afternoon showers can be expected, but they only last for a short period and usually don’t affect your game drives.

Temperatures reach an average high of 28°C (82°F) and a low of 15°C (59°F). January is a warm month, and other wildlife is easier to spot since the vegetation is less lush. Animals tend to gather around rivers and water holes.

What the wildlife is doing


At this time of the year, the female wildebeest are in their final month of pregnancy. As soon as the rain starts to fall, the wildebeest’s top priority is to seek new-growth grasses as sustenance for their newborn youngsters.

Due to the year’s end holidays, tourists abound, especially in the Ngorongoro area. But with good planning, the big lodges and crowds around the crater’s rim can easily be avoided.

THE SUBTLE BEAUTY OF ‘GREEN SEASON’

The ‘green season’ is another name for the rainy season, which stretches from late October to May. It’s easy to see where the imagery comes from — the thirsty plains soak up the water and spring to life. Parched chalky brown land becomes a luscious green, and the migratory animals are drawn to the fresh grass.

The rainy season is actually divided into two. From October to December the ‘short rains’ fall, and the months March to May bring the ‘long rains’.

Where does the moisture come from? During the green season, the dominant winds are blowing from the warm ocean to land and bringing with them evaporated water from the Indian Ocean. As the air cools over the land, the water condenses as rain.

During this time of the year, it rarely rains all day. You're still likely to see plenty of sun and wildlife. Lots of baby animals are born at this time — hundreds of thousands of them on the Serengeti Plains alone. As with any off-season, the crowds are fewer, adding to the benefits of a safari at this time.

Is February a good time to see the great migration?

In February the best migration action takes place in Ndutu in the heart of the Serengeti plains. Behold the classic image of endless plains, blanketed and dotted as far as the eye can see with grazing wildebeest and their newborn calves.

February is still the start of the rainy season (specifically, the long rains of the green season are beginning), but these sporadic showers rarely last all that long and do not usually pose much of an inconvenience while game driving.

What the wildlife is doing


This month is all about multiplying. In February, Ndutu turns into a stage for the same astonishing show that began in January — the annual wildebeest calving. Around half a million young wildebeest come into the world each February. During calving season, pregnant female wildebeest opt to give birth in this area due to the grass’s richness in calcium and magnesium, which is good for milk production. As a result, a vast herd begins to form. They can now be found grazing on the short grasses.

As soon as the calving season begins, so does the big feast for the cats. Lions, leopards and cheetahs can gain weight quickly and store energy for the future. For now, life is easy as they enjoy tasty morsels of vulnerable wildebeest calf. For that reason, February is also one of the best months for action photography and to watch the powerful predators hunt.

A CALF’S FIRST FEW DAYS

Wildebeest females give birth to a single calf in the middle of the herd, without seeking a secluded place as many of their antelope relatives do. Amazingly, about 80% of the females calve within the same two to three week period, creating a glut for predators. There’s strength in numbers, enabling more calves to survive the crucial first few weeks.

A calf can stand and run within minutes of birth. It immediately begins to follow its mother and stays close to her to avoid getting lost or killed by waiting predators. Within days, it can run fast enough to keep up with the adult herd. A calf eats its first grass at about 10 days, although it still suckles for at least four months. Even after weaning, it will remain with the mother until the next year’s calf is born. At that time, the young males are driven away, but the females often remain in the same groups as their mothers.

Is March a good time to see the great migration?

After a long period of grazing in the Ndutu region, the green grass is now so chewed up that there isn’t much left to eat for the wildebeest. The time to move on has come.

At the same time, the long rains are starting to build up, so expect some afternoon showers. You’ll hear rumblings of thunderstorms to the north and west, and soon the herds will be following their noses in search of rains and fresh grass.

What the wildlife is doing


By this point, the green plains are filled with white patches of bones and carcasses, and vultures and other scavengers are feasting on the leftovers. The wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle continue to give birth until mid-March. They still occupy the Ndutu and Kusini Maswa region, but due to the lack of food, they gradually start preparing for the next leg of the migration. Because of the newborn calves, they move slowly and predictably.

Predator activity is still very busy. Lions, leopards and cheetahs continue to revel in the easy prey. This also makes Ndutu unique because it’s one of the few wildernesses where lions and cheetahs can cohabit in peace, as there is more than enough food for all predators for a substantial part of the year.

THE MYSTIQUE OF NDUTU

At the heart of the southern Serengeti lies the world-famous Ndutu Lake area. Offering some of the world’s best wildlife viewing during the green season, Ndutu is strategically situated at the centre of the southern plains, in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Blanketed with a forest of acacia trees, this is where the wildebeest give birth, and during the calving season in February to March, the fields are dotted with millions of white little youngsters.

Ndutu is also one of the best places to see the six different species of cat — lion, leopard, cheetah, serval, caracal and wild cat. During the calving season, it’s also the top destination if you want to see cheetahs in action hunting the newborn. Year-round, the wet marshes provide for a huge amount of resident animals and wetland birdlife.

Since the 1960s, Ndutu had been a destination for many distinguished authors, filmmakers, and wildlife biologists. Researchers Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick used Ndutu as a base for much of their research.

Wilderbeest April June

April to June: Migrating north

April sees the beginning of the year’s ‘big rains’ and, with it, the scattering of the wildebeest herds throughout the Serengeti. The mega-herds will split in search of fresh pastures, and by May, the great migration north has begun with the ultimate aim of reaching the Mara River. Expect to see huge columns of wildebeest (sometimes up to 40km in length) barrelling their way up the Serengeti. By June, around a quarter of the wildebeest herd will be in the western Grumeti region, facing the first big obstacle of their journey — the Grumeti River.

The heavy rain and unpredictability of where the herds will turn to next makes this season a challenging one for safari-goers. However, those that do encounter a herd in June can look forward to rutting season, with male wildebeest clattering horns to secure the best spots around the watering holes, which attract females.

Is April a good time to see the great migration?

Big rains mean thicker vegetation and scattered herds, which makes viewing more of a challenge. But the rewards of the low season are lower prices and few other people as the migration makes its way north and into “big cat territory”.

This is the period of mvua za masika, Swahili for ‘big rains’. The vegetation becomes very thick and lush, making wildlife spotting somewhat difficult. An even bigger challenge is the roads. Some of the dirt roads get totally washed out and become almost impassable. The trade-off is stunning scenery on the empty plains, with unusual shots of thunder-strewn vistas. This is a challenging time to choose a great migration safari, but wildlife watching opportunities still exist.

What the wildlife is doing


Because of the plentiful water, the animals tend to scatter, which makes them a little bit harder to find — for both predators and safari-goers alike. Expect rainfall mostly at night.

The wildebeest leave the Ndutu region and head northwest past the Simba Kopjes and towards Moru. They continue moving slowly, as the babies are still small and learning to use their legs. Due to the difficulty of predicting where the wildebeest herds will be, the cost of safaris in Tanzania drops in April, with accommodation and tour rates at the year-round low. However, this doesn’t mean that animals can’t be found. April is one of the best months for lion activity as the wildebeest cross into the Simba Kopjes rock formation – known for its lion prides.

“I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AFRICA…”

For the animals and people living in the Serengeti and Masai Mara, the big rains mean the difference between life and death.

Throughout the whole drought season, the Masai tribes patiently await the rains to fill the rivers, water their crops and relieve their cows of thirst. Even today, many tribesmen perform rainmaking ceremonies. It’s called the mukwerera, and for a few days, all the members of the tribe gather around a holy muchakata tree to dance and pray to their ancestors for a generous amount of rain.

Unfortunately, global warming has taken its toll on the region. The droughts are now getting longer and the rains heavier, causing flooding. A recent study shows that the Horn of Africa is drier than at any other time in the last 2,000 years.

Is May a good time to see the great migration?

The big rains taper off and the herds are on the move, heading north towards Kenya. Routes diverge somewhat, but they’ll all funnel through a narrow corridor between two rivers in a dramatic spectacle.

Although May is still considered to be the wet season, the heavy rainfall gradually decreases as the month progresses. Since the ground is still wet and muddy, driving conditions can be a bit of a challenge. But just like in March and April, tour and accommodation prices are still low and you can expect to find some good deals.

By the end of the month, the dry season is beginning and the migration starts making its way back north, seeking fresh grass and new watering holes. With pleasant temperatures and some amazing scenes of the vast herds pouring through the narrow central regions, this can be an excellent time of the year for a safari in Tanzania.

What the wildlife is doing


The wildebeest begin to make their way through the western corridor of the Serengeti. Some of them continue north to the Seronera region, but most of the migrating herds enter the Ndoha and Dutwa Plains that flank the Mbalageti River. At the end of the month, they pile into the narrow wedge of land between the forest-lined riverbeds of the Mbalageti and Grumeti, preparing for the first river crossing. Many lodges will still be closed, but all open camps around the Seronera region are still a good option.

HOW THE WILDEBEEST NAVIGATE

The wildebeest journey is dictated primarily by their response to the weather. They follow the rains and the growth of new grass. And, although there is no scientific proof to support this, it seems that they react to lightning and thunderstorms in the distance.

Instinctive knowledge plays a large role, hardwired into their DNA by hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection. That’s how these harshly titled ‘clowns of the plains’ know which direction to travel. Over the millennia, those that went the wrong way would have died of thirst or starvation long before they could reproduce. The successful ones were those who went the right way.

Is June a good time to see the great migration?

The skies are clear, the land dries out, and the herds gain strength and power as the calves mature. But June is no walk in the park. The wildebeest must overcome the obstacle of the crocodile-infested Grumeti rivers en route to Kenya’s Masai Mara.

By June the long rains have stopped, and the dry season is in full swing. It will stretch from the end of May to early November. The weather is sunny with some easing thunderstorms in the evenings.

As the skies clear up, the landscape undergoes a dramatic change. The plains turn dry and open. This makes game viewing a lot easier, as animal activity concentrates around the remaining sources of water.

What the wildlife is doing


The migration continues heading north towards the Masai Mara in Kenya. The herds are beginning to grow stronger and faster. Since the calves are growing up, the wildebeest travel collectively at their peak speed, covering up to 150km (93 miles) per day. There’s power, it seems, in numbers.

But now the first real troubles begin. Before entering Kenya, they first have to pass the hurdle of the Grumeti rivers. Rather than one big continuous river, Grumeti consists of shallow pools and swamps. Making their way through the swampy wetlands is a struggle, but even worse are the big, hungry saltwater crocodiles waiting by the shores. Unless you are fainthearted, look forward to some good action as nature takes its cruel course.

A FEAST FOR THE CROCODILES

After travelling for several weeks, the wildebeest have only one thing on their minds: a drink of water. But they’re completely unaware of the danger when they cross the rivers. Crocodiles lurk below the surface, waiting for the right moment.

Crocodiles are very fast over short distances, even on dry land. Their sharp teeth can tear and hold onto flesh. A crocodile will grab and hold onto the prey, dragging it into the water and drowning it.

Crocodiles go back to the time of dinosaurs. Their slow metabolism allows them to go long periods without food. The river crossing normally lasts about two weeks. During this period, the crocodiles can store as much as 150,000 calories — enough to survive until the next migration season.

Wilderbeest July Aug

July to August: River crossing

Get ready: July and August sees the start of the wildebeest migration’s big event, with the major river crossings taking place in July as the herds congregate at the Mara River. Thousands of wildebeest will fling themselves into the unforgiving waters, where hulking crocodiles lie in wait. However, don’t expect all the action to take place on one day. You’ll find crossings take place over a number of days, with some confused wildebeest even crossing the Mara back and forth.

By the end of August, the surviving wildebeest will have made it across the Mara and will be grazing in Kenya’s Masai Mara, where they will stay for the foreseeable future.

Is July a good time to see the great migration?

This month is primetime viewing for what many consider to be the main act of the migration theatrics — the crossing of the Mara River. The herds will migrate from Tanzania to Kenya and into the golden grasslands of the Masai Mara. Head to Kogatende or Lamai for the best chance of viewing the crossings, but be patient — some days will see thousands cross, others none.

In July the weather is warm with hardly any rainfall at all. Sunny skies bring about beautiful mornings and evenings which are extraordinary for photography. As the land dries out, driving conditions are much improved over previous months.

But with the pleasant weather comes the big wave of tourists. Prices go sky high, and you need to book in advance to guarantee a bed. If you’re looking for a budget safari, try a different season.

What the wildlife is doing


This is when the famous river crossings through the Mara River begin, especially at the end of July. In search of fresh grass, the migration keeps pushing north through some of the most beautiful areas of the northern Serengeti. As the landscape transforms from lush and green to the iconic golden savannah fields, it gets easier to spot wild game of all kinds.

Elephants, giraffes and even smaller game can be spotted miles away. You will see the sort of beautiful landscapes you dream of, so it’s worth the struggle with the crowds.

THE DRAMA OF THE RIVER CROSSING

The wildebeest converge at the river, congregating on the banks awaiting the moment when the more fearless among them will take the plunge. Meanwhile, scavengers and predators await.

Driven by hunger, those on the frontline jump, then the rest follow. As they reach the other side, they learn that getting out of the river is just as dangerous as jumping in — sometimes the opposite bank wall is too steep and the rocks offer little grip.

Yet the wildebeest seem programmed to carry on with their journey. Some break their backs leaping from the steep banks, but what matters is to keep going. This is the last step of their long journey, and they must reach the opposite bank without drowning or being swept downstream by the river current. The ones who don’t get eaten by crocodiles make their way out — while some get trampled on in the process.

Is August a good time to see the great migration?

Welcome to the height of the high season. Everyone has the same idea of witnessing the most action-packed month for river crossings. Keep in mind that even in August, witnessing a crossing isn’t guaranteed, so try to take measures to avoid the crowds.

Just like in July, the weather is warm and sunny and there’s no need to worry about rain. The tourist invasion is bigger than ever, so ensure you book well in advance.

What the wildlife is doing


August is, without a doubt, the best month to see the migration. The wildebeest herds’ days are action-packed, as this is the peak time for those spectacular river crossings with the crocodiles lying in wait for wildebeest to stumble into their ferocious jaws.

Those that make the crossing flow into the Masai Mara, so for the next couple of months Kenya will be the favoured safari destination.

The most important tip for August is to manage expectations. Despite what astonishing wildlife documentaries will lead you to believe, you still have to be very lucky to see an actual crossing. Animals behave irrationally, especially wildebeest and zebra. Many times they just come up to the river, then wait for hours only to turn around. You have to be fortunate and patient to witness the rush across.

Often, safari drivers become stressed out because they want you to see the big five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino). But if your top priority is the migration with its river crossings, make sure to bring a lunch pack and tell your guide to make it an all-day drive.

BEATING THE CROWDS

The river crossing season is the busiest time to witness the great migration, but there are some small ways you can beat the worst of the crowds.

Avoid staying at a big lodge close to the river, which can house up to 200 people in high season, leading to long trains of vehicles in the morning. Instead, try to stay at comfortable mobile or tented camps. Here, you’ll get a ‘wilder’ experience, rarely seeing other vehicles or safari-goers. Don’t forget the importance of a good guide — the best will know how to plan the day to avoid crowds and avoid ‘big five’ fever.

Wilderbeest Sept Oct

September to October: Shoulder season

September and October are a time of plenty for the wildebeest. The survivors of the migration north break up into smaller groups, with some staying in the Masai Mara and others remaining in the north of the Serengeti. All are looking for fresh grass, but predators abound.

Before the rains come, the wildebeest are easy to find, huddling around the remaining water holes. By October, thoughts of migration start again, with the dry season coming to an end. When the rains hit the wildebeest move again, this time heading south through Loliondo and the Serengeti’s Lobo area, aiming for the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti.

Is September a good time to see the great migration?

The September high season in Kenya’s Masai Mara has its obvious rewards. The skies are sunny, crowds are thinning somewhat, dramatic river crossings are still going strong, predators have hit their stride, and the ‘big five’ are all out in view.

After August, September is arguably the next-best month to visit the Masai Mara. Safari-goers can expect sunny, dry days with postcard-perfect sunrises and sunsets. The big crossings still take place, but the summer vacation crowds begin to thin.

Some even say this month is better than August, which in recent years has become a little more unpredictable.

What the wildlife is doing


If the lifecycle of the wildebeest follows its usual patterns, the last herds are now slowly heading eastward through the Masai Mara. They will wander around in search of fresh grass, so be prepared to see big herds of hundreds of thousands of animals filling out the vast golden fields on the Kenyan side of the park.

As the river crossings continue, there’s also plenty of predator activity. With a bit of luck, your chances of seeing lions and cheetahs in action are high. But keep in mind that only one thing is for certain — you will encounter a lot of animals. Some guides will even guarantee you the ‘big five’, and the most fortunate will see them all in just one day.

WHAT IS THE ‘BIG FIVE’?

The ‘big five’ is a group of five big game species: cape buffalo, African elephant, leopard, lion and rhinoceros. The term was coined by the colonial ‘great white hunters’ in the hunting heyday of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They grouped these five together for their difficulty to hunt and ferocity when cornered.

Considered a rite of passage for well-heeled travellers, everybody from American presidents to European royalty and heads of state came to Africa to shoot a large, dangerous animal. The ‘big five’ quickly became known as the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. The name stuck — although today, shooting is best done through a camera lens.

Out of the ‘big five’, the buffalo is the most aggressive. In the Masai Mara in August and September, you will have a great chance of spotting them all, but some sightings are rarer than others. The shy leopard is perhaps the most elusive, and the rhino is the most endangered.

Is October a good time to see the great migration?

The end of the high season means the crowds have (mostly) left and the ‘big rains’ begin. The migration is straddled between Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti. Both parks have their own advantages in October.

October means the end of the dry season, but there is still a lot of activity in the Mara — even some occasional river crossings. As the rainfall slowly begins to soak into the fields, the savannah goes from golden to green.

It’s not until the end of October or beginning of November that the actual rains begin to fall. The days are still very warm with pleasant nights.

What the wildlife is doing


At this point, the migration is quite scattered. Some wildebeest begin the long trek to the south back into the Serengeti, but some remain in the Masai Mara for the whole month. The southern region of the Masai Mara is still filled with lots of game.

By this time, almost all of the big tourist crowds have left, so it’s actually one of the best months for a safari. Expect many animals, fairly easy sightings — and you don’t have to compete with throngs of other vehicles and people.

The best place to be is in the southern and central regions of the Mara, as most of the wildebeest have left the northern parts. The animals will move slowly in their search for water and green grass. Another good area is the northeast Serengeti and Loliondo Game Reserve, where the animals are returning after their foray into Kenya.

MASAI MARA OR THE SERENGETI?

If you’re set on seeing the great wildebeest migration, particularly from November to end of June, then the Serengeti is your spot. The great migration herds tend to be in the Serengeti during this time, along with the other classic wildlife safari highlights.

The Masai Mara is excellent all year round. It’s also less expensive than visiting the Serengeti, so if cost is paramount, try Kenya.

The other factor to bear in mind is exclusivity. The Serengeti is far bigger than the Masai Mara, so it is easier to enjoy a more exclusive safari experience here. That being said, the central regions of the Serengeti can get very busy too, so selecting your camps carefully is key.

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Authentic experiences

We curate exceptional trips in underrated places, organised by the very best tour operators who live and breathe their destinations and are passionate about authentic, responsible tourism.

Give back to mother nature

We'll plant 50 trees for every trip booked via the Horizon Guides site in partnership with the International Tree Foundation, who carry out sustainable community forestry projects in Africa.