If your dream holiday is an African safari, chances are you have already heard about the Great Migration, when approximately 1.5 million wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of other plains game follow the rains and greener pastures between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’ Masai Mara. Also known as the Greatest Show on Earth, this annual mass movement of animals is an absolute marvel to behold and quite rightly, should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Photo credit Nick Penny
Perhaps you are very tempted to experience the largest animal migration in the world, but not sure where to start? Here is everything you need to know about the Great Wildebeest Migration.
You can catch a glimpse of the Great Migration at any time of the year as the herds are constantly on the move in a clockwise direction, between Tanzania and Kenya. During the months of January to June, the wildebeest are in the Serengeti, grazing in huge numbers out on the open plains with their calves, slowly making their way north towards the Masai Mara.
Photo credit Will Fortescue
The best time to see the migration in Kenya, is between July to September, when the wildebeests are crossing back and forth over the Mara River. The river crossings are considered to be the most sought-after moments as the animals launch themselves into crocodile-infested waters; be prepared to handle a range of emotions including anticipation, excitement and heartache for those who succumb to the perils of this treacherous journey, right in front of your very eyes.
Time is of the essence here and it’s no good being in a rush. It’s also best to keep in mind that the river crossings can never be predicted and may not happen at all for you, on a particular day. Sometimes, you could be waiting up to several hours before one courageous individual finally plunders down the embankment, triggering a breath-taking stampede in a matter of seconds.
On the other hand, you might be extremely lucky and arrive to find all of the action in full swing – perhaps even witnessing up to several crossings over a couple of hours, as they indecisively thunder back and forth, sometimes right into the open mouths of lions or crocodiles waiting in ambush on the other side.
If you have been on safari before, you will know that patience is the number one factor while observing any wildlife sighting. As we mentioned already, do be prepared to wait at the river’s edge for quite some time! Make sure you fully charge all your photography equipment the night before so that you don’t run out of battery!
One of our in-house photographers, Will Fortescue, offers some further advice: “The migration is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting natural events to photograph. As a result, it can be easy to get carried away, pointing your camera at anything that moves and leaving a crossing with thousands (yes, thousands) of images. As with most things in life, quality is better than quantity at a crossing.
It’s so important to show the ‘chaos’ in your images. To do this make sure you have a lens that can shoot wide. You do not need an enormous zoom lens to do the migration justice – some of my favourite images of crossings have been taken on a 24-70mm, allowing me to capture the entire scene and not just a select handful of wildebeest. A lot of guests come to the Mara purely for the migration, and may even have purchased new camera equipment specially. This might sound obvious, but make sure you know how it works. On many occasions, I have seen guests wait hours for a crossing only to then ask how their camera works as the wildebeest finally cross. Practice a bit at home before you fly, as a little familiarity with your equipment goes a long way when that magic moment comes.
Finally, and I think most importantly, take in the scene before you photograph it. Watching something ‘in real life’ as opposed to through a viewfinder is so different. A river crossing can be a once in a lifetime moment, so soak it all in. In turn, this will make your images considerably stronger as you identify the most interesting focal points within the scene. So, in short, get to grips with your kit, take it all in before you pick up the camera and don’t forget to zoom out” – Will Fortescue.
For an entirely different perspective of the migration, why not book a sunrise hot air balloon safari? The adventure begins just before dawn, from a launch site behind Little Governors’ Camp. Enjoy the sight of the inflating balloons against the night sky before gently taking off, just as the sun comes up. From here, you will have a bird’s eye view of all the wildebeest action below on the Mara plains, before landing for a delicious breakfast complete with bubbles!
Fly over the migration in a hot air balloon
There are many camps and lodges offering a base from which to explore this phenomenal wildlife event; but make sure you choose a package that includes game drives. While doing your research, you may notice that many properties offer full board rates with an additional charge for game drives, which can be quite confusing – or even disappointing – if this was not made clear to you from the start. It is also nice to choose somewhere with a water source which attracts a variety of wildlife passing through the camp.
Governors’ Camp possibly occupies the best wildlife viewing location in the Reserve – photo credit Felix Rome
If you are travelling with your little ones, find somewhere that is clearly family-focused in terms of accommodation and meal options, as well as other child-friendly activities besides game driving. Governors’ Camp is perched on the banks of the Mara River and offers specially designed Family Tent units which are perfect for keeping you all together under one (canvas) roof. Our much-loved Mongoose Club is designed to keep younger guests happily entertained whilst on safari with us, providing them with lifetime memories.
Kids absolutely love Governors’ Camp – Photo credit Will Fortescue
Honeymooners and couples might consider Little Governors’ Camp which looks onto a central marsh area and welcomes a high number of repeat guests. Il Moran, located on the picturesque banks of the Mara River, is our luxury offering and only accepts children of eight years and over.
Elephants are frequent visitors at Governors’ Camp – Photo credit Felix Rome
Governors’ Il Moran Camp is perched on the banks of the Mara River – photo credit Felix Rome
Governors’ camps offer up to three game drives per day (included in your nightly rate) and it is only a 25 minute drive to get to the main crossing points if you head there directly, or 45 minutes if you are happy to meander your way over at a slower pace, taking time to enjoy other wildlife sightings along the way.
Take note; July and August are the coolest months of the year in Kenya and temperatures can sometimes dip beyond 10 degrees. Having said that, this is also our driest time of year, so it’s best to pack wisely. Your morning game drives and early evenings can be on the chilly side – therefore lots of layers are the secret to success here.
‘Layer up’ for your game drives – photo credit Felix Rome
Our vehicles are open for optimal game viewing, although the clear sides can be pulled down should you encounter some unexpected rain. Strong wind on the open plains can certainly take you by surprise and yet the force of the midday sun will have you tearing off your sweater as the day heats up. Have a read of our recommended packing guide here.
How can I plan to see the migration?
Planning an international holiday anywhere, can be a little daunting and overwhelming at the best of times. However, there is never a better time than right now to do anything and despite July through to October being our busiest season, we do have some small pockets of availability left and we can organise your safari from start to finish. Please send us an email or contact your preferred Tour Operator or Travel Agent to make it happen.
Governors’ Aviation flies to the Mara and Laikipia daily from Wilson, Nairobi
The Governors’ Camp Collection comprises six award winning luxury safari camps and lodges. We are in the heart of the best wildlife viewing areas of Kenya, set amongst some of East Africa’s most spectacular scenery.
By Jessica Savage, Governors’ Camp Collection.