If your dream holiday is an African safari, chances are you have already heard about the Great Migration, when approximately 1.5 million wildebeest 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 Wildlife Show on Earth’, this annual mass movement of animals is an absolute marvel to behold and quite rightly, on everyone’s bucket list.
Photo credit Shaun Mousley
Perhaps you are very tempted to experience the largest animal migration in the world, but not sure where to start, so 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.
The best time to see the migration from Kenya, is between July to September, when the wildebeest 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 and you should be prepared to handle a range of your own 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, which triggers a breath-taking stampede in a matter of seconds.
On the other hand, you might be extremely lucky and arrive to find all 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.
Photo credit Governors’ Camp Collection
If you have been on safari before, you will know that patience is the number one factor while you observe 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 – whether it’s your humble mobile device or a lens that a space station would be proud of. Whatever you plan on using – don’t run out of battery!
Our in-house photographer, Will Fortescue, who is back with us at Governors’ Camp offers some further valuable advice: “The migration is, without 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 1000’s (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 bought new camera equipment specially. This might sound simple, but make sure you know how it works. So many times, I have seen guests wait hours for a crossing only to then ask how their camera works as the wildebeest finally cross. Practice a little at home before you fly, as a little familiarity with your equipment goes a long way when that magic moment comes.
Photo credit Will Fortescue
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 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 flight with Governors’ Balloon Safaris? The adventure begins just before dawn, from the launch site at 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!
Governors’ Balloon Safaris – fly over the migration
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 the game drives on top, 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.
Elephants are frequent visitors at Governors’ Camp – Photo credit Shaun Mousley
Another important factor, especially at the moment, is to make sure that your preferred lodge has its Covid-compliance license to operate in all departments.
If you are travelling with your little ones, find somewhere that is clearly family-focused in terms of accommodation options and 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. At the start of 2020, we launched the Governors’ Mongoose Club which is designed to keep our younger guests happily entertained whilst on safari with us, providing them with lifetime memories.
Governors’ Camp Family Tent – Photo credit Will Fortescue
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, or Il Moran, also located on a picturesque bend in the Mara River, accepts children of eight years and over. These two properties are located within the same stretch of riverine forest as Governors’ Camp, sharing the same exceptional wildlife location and the perfect base from which to witness the Great Migration.
Dinner for two at Little Governors’ Camp
Luxury accommodation at Governors’ Il Moran Camp
Our Mara 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’re keen as a bean!), or 45 minutes if you are happy to meander your way over, 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’ is the secret to success here.
Our game drive 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 a holiday anywhere, will be a little trickier than usual, during this pandemic, that’s for sure. Thankfully, Kenya’s International Airport opened up to overseas visitors from 1st August 2020 and airlines such British Airways, Kenya Airways, Qatar, KLM and Emirates are now offering flights back into Nairobi with some obvious precautions and protocols. But it is certainly possible and we encourage you to make the most of what will most likely be the quietest migration season ever – in terms of less visitors to share the experience with.
Kenyan residents are lucky enough to have this spectacular wildlife destination on our doorstep and many of us are determined to catch a glimpse of the Great Migration after four months of a partial lockdown. If you don’t book it this year – you never will! Why not turn the second half of 2020 into the best year ever and treat yourself to a few days away from the city.
“Taking a safari to the Masai Mara is a wonderful way to reconnect and immerse yourself in the fresh air and sunshine that we enjoy for so much of the year – this is natural social distancing in a wild environment” says Dominic Grammaticas, MD of Governors’ Camp Collection. You can book flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi direct to the Mara with Governors’ Aviation, which has its Covid-Compliant license to operate safely.
Governors’ Aviation flies to the Mara daily from Wilson, Nairobi
There is never a better time than right now to do anything. Send us an email or contact your preferred Tour Operator or Travel Agent for best rates and availability. All our Kenyan properties including Governors’ Camp, Little Governors’ Camp, Governors’ Il Moran, Private Camp, Loldia House (on Lake Naivasha) and Governors’ Mugie House in Laikipia now have Covid-Compliant licenses, allowing us to safely provide the ultimate safari experience.
The Governors’ Camp Collection comprises seven award winning luxury safari camps and lodges. We are in the heart of the best wildlife viewing areas of Kenya and Rwanda, set in some of East Africa’s most spectacular scenery.
By Jessica Savage, Governors’ Camp Collection.