One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, when is the best time to see the Great Migration? Since the giant herds consisting of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle are constantly on the move in a year-round circuit, there really isn’t one definitive answer.
The migration is driven by rainfall patterns and the subsequent grazing potential on the nutrient-rich green grasses it produces. Each month of this circuit offers visitors a look at one of the unique and dynamic facets of the migration, whether it is calving season, the rut, or river crossings – there is always something interesting to see!
Read on as our safari consultants, Bryan, Emily and Andrew reveal their perspectives on the migration and share their experiences, photos and favorite times of the year to witness what has been called Nature’s Greatest Show on Earth.
Although the dry season river crossings have been well documented on many nature films and are touted as being the highlight of the migration, I much prefer seeing the herds together in the largest groups during the calving season from January through March. During this time, the wildebeest are clearly in a “safety in numbers” mode as they birth their babies and graze on the grasses of the southern Serengeti. As they follow the light rains, about 2 million wildebeest move together in herds with almost 200,000 zebras mixed in. The first time I witnessed this, it was like the animals had melted together in a sea of brown – it took a minute for my brain to fully process the amount of animals I was actually looking at! The most amazing part is that they can sense where the rains are falling and seem to move in a hypnotic trance in that direction. This is an ideal time for predators too and the potential for action is high. Spring in the Serengeti was a definite highlight for me and, I think, a great time for safari travelers to visit Tanzania.
Click to enlarge Bryan’s photos
I find it extremely difficult to pick a favorite time of year to see the migration, but I do love visiting the Serengeti in May and June as the migration makes its way to the western corridor through the central Serengeti and collides with the big cat populations that reside in this region year round. The opportunity for a big cat kill is at its peak during this time. The best part is that our central Serengeti camp is right in the heart of this area. During my Signature Safari in May, I had the opportunity to stay in this camp; the proximity to the wildlife and the Great Migration was incredible. We would drive a mere mile away from camp and the wildebeest and zebras were everywhere!
May and June is also a time of year known as the rut when the wildebeest mate. To add to the drama of this period, males try to attract the attention of the females with various displays of aggressive behavior. Guests often capture incredible photos of male wildebeest sparing and fighting to win the affection of the nearby females. Some of my best photos of the migration were a result of the many drawn out fights that took place.
I wouldn’t hesitate to travel back to Tanzania in May again to experience the rut, the mega-herds, and of course, all of the amazing permanent wildlife that resides in the Serengeti year round!
Click to enlarge Emily’s photos
I was on my most recent safari back in November and had an unbelievable time with my guide Casmir. Many folks will read that November is a month when the “short rains” return to Tanzania and so they will opt not to visit at this time. Well, they are missing out! November is an absolutely gorgeous time to be on safari. If anything, the little bit of rain I encountered added to the experience. After all, water is life in the Serengeti!
November is one of the only months on the calendar when travelers can enjoy both dry season and green season wildlife viewing on the same trip. The predators are active, the herds are vast and you (and the wildebeest) will also enjoy the first green grasses and wildflowers of the season. I was lucky to catch the migration in both the northern and central Serengeti at this time of year. So, if you are considering a safari to Tanzania and you are available to make the trip in November, go for it. You’ll enjoy unbelievable scenery and wildlife viewing and you’ll have most of the bush all to yourself. (Flight prices are also at their lowest in November!!)
I always say that anytime is the best time when you travel with a company like Thomson Safaris who makes it a priority to always use seasonal camps. Whether you go in the summer or fall when we bring guests to our camp in the northern Serengeti to catch the migration during the peak of the dry season, or the winter and spring when our guests have the opportunity to see the migration in the Southern plains, our guests will have the opportunity to see all of the great facets of the migration because we make sure they have the best access to it all.
Click to enlarge Andrew’s photos
Author: Thomson Safaris
Thomson Safaris has been providing photographic Tanzania safaris and Mount Kilimanjaro treks for over 35 years.