Stages of the Great Wildebeest Migration


The Great Wildebeest Migration is without doubt one of the planet’s most incredible wildlife spectacles. Each year around 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras migrate around the Serengeti National Park in search of pastures green. By following the rains, the herds must battle raging rivers and avoid lurking predators in order to complete this annual cycle.

Although nothing is certain in nature, below is a rough outline of the main points of the wildebeest migration and some of the best places to stay to witness this incredible phenomenon. Tanzania has been open for tourists for a number of months now, and with some great special offers as well as very few visitors, there hasn’t been a better time to visit the Serengeti.

Calving season

As the new year dawns, the majority of the wildebeest have started congregating on the Ndutu Plains in the South of the National Park. Some also spill over into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but this is the time when the herds are concentrated in their greatest numbers.

As February begins, so does the birthing season. For a three-week period approximately eight thousand wildebeest calves are born every day giving rise to even more black dots on the endless plains. The abundance of ungulates of course attracts plenty of predators, from the lightning fast cheetahs to the sly hyena, it is a time of plenty for both prey and predator.

Migration camps such as Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp or Asilia’s Ubuntu provide the perfect opportunity to sit among these vast herds. With their camps moving up to three times a year, you can be sure of a front row seat to this awesome spectacle as well as beautiful luxury accommodation.

In limbo

After the births of the wildebeest calves, slowly the herds start to split up. Although the general direction is North, splinter herds form and the wildebeest are in limbo. Some of the herds head straight towards the Grumeti area in the West, whilst many of the wildebeest travel into and around the Seronera region of the park.

Even when split up, the herds still number in their thousands as they make their way through the centre of the Serengeti. April and May brings the long rainy season to Tanzania, but this also provides an excellent chance of some brilliant game viewing at lower prices.

Asilia’s Dunia is a wonderful camp at this time of year. Its location is perfect to catch the migrating wildebeest and explore the variety of habitats that is host to a large number of the big five. If you can, branching out to Namiri Plains is also very worthwhile to get some incredible big cat sightings.

The Grumeti

As May progresses into June, the herds are still in their splinter groups. Whilst some will head directly North from Seronera towards the Mara River, others arrive in the Grumeti region of the park. Here the famous Grumeti River meanders through beautiful riverine woodlands.

Although the Grumeti is certainly not on the same scale as the Mara River, there are some small river crossings that do occur and the Grumeti area is a beautiful place to explore.

June is without doubt the best time to visit here with Singita occupying their own private concession. Home to outstanding lodges like Sasakwa and Faru Faru, the level of hospitality, guiding and service is second to none. With their own private concession comes the freedom to off-road, walk and night-drive without any restrictions as well as a very limited number of vehicles which allows a truly immersive and personal experience. Even when the migration isn’t in this area, combining a Singita lodge with another camp somewhere else in the Serengeti for the migration makes for the perfect all-round Serengeti experience.

Mara River crossings

From early July through to early November, the Mara River is the best place to see the wildebeest migration. Located in the Kogatende region in the North of the Serengeti, the herds start arriving here from the middle of June onwards and this is where the second largest congregation occurs.

Contrary to popular belief, the River is not the border between Tanzania and Kenya and only about a quarter of the wildebeest enter the Masai Mara. Most of the herds tend to stay in the Serengeti National Park, but cross over the river multiple times in search of the best grazing. The scenes that unfold here are worthy of any wildlife documentary, with huge crocodiles lurking in the shallows as well as lions and leopards waiting in ambush on the banks, the wildebeest really are against the odds. Thousands fall victim to the predators as well as the current, but many make it through the hardship and are rewarded with lush green grass on which to graze upon.

Whilst the migration camps follow the wildebeest up to the Kogatende region, if you want to have an extra luxurious experience then staying at one of the permanent lodges should certainly be considered. Asilia’s Sayari as well as Nomad’s Lamai provide the best permanent lodging in the North and with beautiful views from all across the camps, you can be sure of a safari that is not only filled with extraordinary wildlife sightings, but also some of the best accommodation in Tanzania.

The journey south

After the adrenaline fuelled river crossings, the wildebeest start their journey South again. From the start of November onward, the wildebeest head back towards the Ndutu Plains, completing their annual cycle. Some of the herds splinter into the central regions again, some stray East and some head directly South. Again they are in limbo, but will all congregate on the Southern plains by the end of the year.

Choosing where to stay during November can be tricky as it is a month of transition for the migration. At the start of the month, you could be lucky and witness the last few river crossings in the North, or you could head to &Beyond’s Klein’s Camp in the East and enjoy a private concession which sees the wildebeest pass through throughout the month. No matter where you choose to stay though, the resident game around the lodges in the Serengeti is always fantastic.

Marc Harris is Managing Director of Tanzania Odyssey. Tanzania Odyssey is a leading tour operator that has specialised in Tanzania since 1998.

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Comments (13)

  1. Gerald says:

    One of the reasons I retired a little early was to pack in some of the world’s great travel adventures before my body decided that it wasn’t up to the strain, so this year has been an annoying hiatus. This piece reminded me that the Great Migration is still one of the spectacular sights yet to be ticked off my list.

    • Marc Harris says:

      Hi Gerald,

      Yes unfortunately the world has come to a standstill surrounding travel at the moment, but thankfully Tanzania is open ad welcoming visitors with open arms!

      Fingers crossed to a more adventurous 2021.

  2. Nick Dougill says:

    With my rational hat on I struggle to understand why the wildebeest would cross a river more than once with crocodiles lurking in the water and lions waiting on the banks. Then again, hunger is a big driver. If there are too many wildebeest and too little grazing I suppose that they have little choice.

    • Marc Harris says:

      Hi Nick,

      Yes food is what drives them on this annual quest, but who really knows for sure their motifs for each crossing they take.

      Either way, it is a spectacle to be marveled at.

  3. Alison Williams says:

    Before we went on holiday as kids my mother always used to say, “I’ll only leave the comfort of my own home if we are going to stay somewhere better.”

    You wouldn’t expected that to be true in the middle of the African bush but that picture of the bedroom in the tented camp looks way more spacious and comfortable than our bedroom at home.

    • Marc Harris says:

      Hi Alison,

      Yes the luxury tented camps in the Serengeti are fantastic. They come with every amenity one could wish for as well as ensuring you have the most comfortable stay that makes you feel like royalty.

  4. Bob Brown says:

    If there around 1.5 million Wildebeest at the start of the Great Migration I wonder if any researchers have ever tried to calculate how many of them survive.

    It sounds like a brutal migration, probably only the fittest survive. Any one got any idea of what the fatality rate is?

    • Marc Harris says:

      Hi Bob,

      According to sources around 250,000 wildebeest die during the migration – of course this is off-set by the huge number of births in February.

  5. Kathy Evans says:

    I know the wildebeest migration often features on nature documentaries on tele and I’ve read a bit about it as a tourist adventure on the blog before, but I never really knew the ins and outs of what happens so this made for interesting reading. I wonder how many try to see the birthing as opposed to the migration per se. It’s staggering to think that 8,000 new little ones are born within 3 weeks. I think I’d avoid being there then given the likelihood of other prey massacring a lot of them, which would break my heart. I know it’s all part and parcel of nature but I just can’t deal with that sort of stuff. It’s so sad to think how many don’t make it too, but it’s still incredible that this happens every year and with a decent amount of structure. They don’t have clocks and maps like us and yet it happens without fail.

    I knew the Serengeti National Park was a big place for the migration but I actually thought the Masai Mara was too. Probably just as well as it sounds like the river is a huge danger itself with the current and crocs. I love the look of some of these camps and lodges. I’m getting claustrophobic at home so getting out in the open like this would be a breath of fresh air.

    • Marc Harris says:

      Hi Kathy,

      I am so glad to hear you enjoyed the post. The wildebeest’s journey never ends and it really is a spectacular phenomenon to see.

      If you would like some more information about the migration and some of the camps then please contact me at info@tanzaniaodyssey.com and I would be more than happy to chat about the different options.

      Have a lovely day.

  6. Janet Gordon says:

    This was the year that we planned to make our safari debut. Lucky we didn’t book.

    Anyway Covid -19 (and the sequels Covid 20 and Covid 21) permitting it’s looks as if it will have to be next year.

    Whatever – you’ve given us plenty to think about.

    • Marc Harris says:

      Hi Janet,

      Yes there is a lot to consider when choosing your safari lodges, camps and destinations, but I would certainly be willing to assist.

      Please let me know if you have any questions or queries.

  7. Rhona A. says:

    I’ve heard about this natural phenomenon and I must say, it is quite extraordinary to see the congregation of animals migrating from one place to another, and I think it is also spectacular if you see it in person. Events like these are just the ones we watch on wildlife channels in our televisions but an opportunity to see it face-to-face can be an unforgettable experience. The Grumeti looks very peaceful and would be less crowded as it is less popular and has only small crossings, but that would make any encounter intimate and memorable. It’s always a great adventure to visit the Serengeti. Hope that I can visit it soon. Planning faraway vacations really are a pain these days because there’s always that chance that the situation will change.

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