How to plan a migration safari in Tanzania or Kenya
- Each destination is good at completely different times of the year - generally the migration is active in the Serengeti for 9 months; it’s active in the Masai Mara for 3 months during August/September/October.
- Plan on either Kenya or Tanzania. Don't think of combining or switching at the last moment on the cheap.
- Logistically it's best to handle the Serengeti from Arusha and the Mara from Nairobi - this will help with decisions on beach breaks or other safaris into southern Tanzania or elsewhere in Kenya.
Here're some tips and guidelines on how to plan a migration safari....
- The migration itself involves around 1,5 million wildebeest, gazelle and zebra on the move. Resident game (predators and other mammals) are generally fixed to territorial areas and don’t follow the migration much beyond their own ranges.
- Resident game can be found in their home ranges year round.
- If you're interested in seeing specific resident game species (eg elephant, wild dog, leopard etc) then destinations other than the Mara or Serengeti could be better.
The migration is a major draw card and it deserves to be on the wish list of everybody going on safari in East Africa but there are some big bugs that should be dealt with:
With the exception of a short period during the "long rains" around April/May visitors are always busy looking for the migration. Unfortunately this can apply to some areas even when the migration isn’t in the vicinity - what kind of safari is this!
We're familiar with one spot in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor that’s on the migration path for about a week each year, "maybe" around June, has poor resident game, has a lousy road network, is a 2 hour bone-jarring drive from the Seronera circuits but enjoys a 9 month “high season” and is practically full for 10 months of the year. (That makes no sense at all!)
- So when the migration is “on”, space is at a premium, prices are relatively high and advance bookings are essential.
- If you’re too late to get available space when you originally intended it’s better to postpone your safari plans to get the right space.
The Mara and Seronera areas in particular have some big hotels and lodges so crowd density can be a problem. These hotels and lodges are generally full even when the migration is happening in a completely different area, but when the migration is in full swing everybody converges to where the action is on.
The really great thing about these big outfits is that they work to a formula – same circuits, same timetables to ensure that their tourists "see the migration" then the tourists get fed, watered and to bed in time for the next day’s action – all at the same time!
The trick is to work with smaller outfits with the flexibility and real interest to get out into the bush before the hordes arrive, are happy to typically hold breakfast under a tree when the minibuses are doing their rounds and then spend some time looking for quieter spots to catch the afternoons and early evenings without crowds.
The smaller outfits are without doubt a far better bet in both the Serengeti and Mara – in some cases more expensive but definitely better value for money.
People make the real difference to safaris and by our standards good professional guides who are dedicated, reputable, experienced and prepared to go out of their way for the better photograph or game encounter are more important than creature comforts.
Not that we believe in sacrificing creature comforts but from experience titivating camps and lodges is a quicker and cheaper way of covering up weaknesses in other areas. Employing and retaining the best hosts and guides as part of the team is the bigger and more important challenge for any operator.
So when we see rose petals in the bath on safari we ask questions because that’s out of place. When we come across a great guide or host it’s generally safe to assume that the creature comforts have been taken well care of already and the price tag is more often than not realistic by comparison with the "veneered" options.
People make the difference on safari!