The great migration: All you need to know

The Maasai Mara in Kenya is one of the world’s best safari destinations. The sheer volume of animals and in particular the cats (lions, leopards and cheetahs) that are here is unparalleled. The Mara itself is incredibly beautiful with its wide open spaces, lone acacia trees and astounding sunsets making it a photographers dream.

The Maasai Mara, though, is best known for the migration. Called the Great Migration, the Wildebeest Migration or the African Migration. The journey of 1.5million wildebeest, zebra, antelope and their incumbent predators is one of the great wonders of the world. Every year the animals travel from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. It’s a bucket list item that every person in the world should see and that no one will ever forget. This is nature raw and bloody. It’s hair raising, spine-tingling and completely dreadful and wonderful in its honesty.

maasai mara kenya

When does the Great Migration take place

The Wildebeest Migration is a cyclical process that takes most of the year. The migration is simply a continuous search for food. The animals follow the rains and a varying route from Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara. It is usually hard to predict when they will move and exactly what route they will take, as both are affected by seasonal weather changes.

The Great Migration: The Birth, January – February

What is known is that sometime in January and February the animals give birth to some 400,000 calves. The birthing is a natural phenomenon;, imagine 100’s of thousands of babies being born within weeks of each other. Wildebeest calves are a miracle. They are able to stand within minutes of being born, run with the herd after 5 minutes and outrun a lioness just hours after birth. Their fast adaption is a testament to the deadly race for life that they live from the minute they are born. The migration is a game of survival of the fittest. The plains of the Serengeti are awash with predators, lions, hyenas, leopards and cheetahs come to feast on a glut of wildebeest calves. The birth of so many new babies in one time is natures way of ensuring the species survival. Even with the high kill rates are still millions of animals ready to fight their way into the Maasai Mara in search of food.

The Great Migration: On the move, March-May

As the long hot summer presses on the plains run dry of water and the herd leave the Ngorongoro Crater and head towards water. Whilst some of the herd may split up and head north to Lake Victoria they all eventually end up needing to cross into Kenya and through the Mara river.

The Great Migration: The Rut, May –June

As the rains come to Kenya the herds follow them in search of water. Also in search of a mate. Known as the rut this is mating season for the animals. With fights between males frequently breaking out.

the rut great migration

The Great Migration: Crossing the Mara River, July – August

The Wildebeest instinctively aim to cross the Mara River into the Maasai Mara. No one really understands why or how they know which way to go. Perhaps surprisingly, Wilderbeest are terrified of water. The recent rains mean that the rivers are usually swollen with rain and running in torrential rapids. The Wildebeest are terrified of the water but seem programmed to cross every year. It’s not only the rushing water that presents danger. The Mara river is full of Nile crocodiles that lurk beneath the muddy rivers. Lions lie in wait in the bushes that line the shores and hyenas hang around in packs to prey upon exhausted calves once they have crossed. Nonetheless, every year, the wildebeest cross in their millions and many thousands die.

The Great Migration: Rewards and return, October – December

The Maasai Mara which is rich with vegetation after the rains. It is the ideal place for the Wildebeest and their companions to spend the Kenyan autumn fattening up and growing their babies. As the short rains arrive they head home to Tanzania through the river which is less fierce but by no means safe. Those that survive live to give birth to their babies and the circle of life starts all over again

masai mara sunset

When and where should I go to see the Wildebeest migration?

The migration crossing usually happens between July and August. Bear in mind that if your dream is to visit Kenya to see that elusive crossing then there are some considerations.

Firstly it’s hard to predict where and when the herds will cross. The crossings vary year by year and appear not to be defined by reason. Some years the animals will cross in a wide shallow area with little vegetation to hide predators. The next year they will choose to take a death-defying leap into a river full of crocodiles. We have all seen photos of wildebeest falling down steep cliffs and dying in their 1000’s. I would recommend hiring a ranger either through a lodge or by going to a park gate. A ranger will give a higher chance of being in the right place at the right time But nature doesn’t work to anyone’s clock or budget.

An army of tourist safari vehicles

The other consideration is the huge number of tourists. If you manage to find a crossing you can guarantee to be accompanied by another 25 safari vehicles full of tourists with cameras. Consider heading to the Mara outside of peak season for a little more intimate time with the animals.

I would recommend going to the Maasai Mara at any time in the year, with the possible exception of April/May. During this time the rains mean you may spend half your time digging yourself out of muddy crossings. Having said that, I am planning a camping trip to the Mara this May. I’ll let you know how it goes on my return!

Whilst the crossing of the river is the big attraction, the Maasai Mara and Serengeti are natural miracles every time of the year. Even with the wildebeest gone the Maasai Mara has one of the highest densities of predators in the world. It is a stunningly beautiful place, an Instagram dream of acacia trees and orange sunsets.

giraffe and acacia maasai mara

Maasai Mara Park Fees

Fees for tourists are high. For a complete list of fees for vehicles/ filming/ballon, flights check out the parks page here.

Non Resident Adults Inside the park – US$ 70
Non Resident outside the park – US$ 80

Non Resident Children inside the park – US$ 40
Non Resident Children outside the park -US$ 45

Non Resident Student Adult – US$ 40
Non-Resident Student Children – US$ 20

Citizen Adults – Ksh. 1000
Citizen Children – Ksh. 200
Citizen Student – Ksh. 200

Resident Adult – Ksh 1,200
Resident Children – Ksh 300
Resident Student – Ksh 300

fly to the maasai mara

Getting to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi

International flights land into Nairobi from all over the world.

The Maasai Mara is a 5-hour drive from Nairobi or a short hop on a tiny plane from Wilson airport  – check out Travelstart for local flights

If you go on an organised tour then you will be driven from Nairobi to the Mara.

It is entirely possible to self-drive. Hire a car, the roads down to the Mara are tarmacked and safe the whole way. However, you will need a 4×4 vehicle in the park. You can either make sure to hire one or rent a tour guide at the gate.

cottars camp

Where to stay in the Maasai Mara

The closest big(ish) town is Narok and whilst you’ll find a couple of shops there to stock up on provisions you won’t find much in the way of accommodation.

The Maasai Mara is vast, and the options for accommodations are numerous. Choose from lodges to campsites. Self-catering houses to travelling camps.

Make no mistake a safari in the Maasai Mara is expensive. For the big hotels and camps, you will be paying 100’s if not 1000’s of dollars a night.

The cheapest way to go is to drive yourself and camp.

$$$ High-end hotels

Olarro Lodge – stunning 5* all inclusive lodge – for details click here 

Mara Serena Safari Lodge – award-winning hotel and the luxury of walls around you rather than canvas when you hear those lions roar – for more details click here

governors camp maasai mara

$$$ Boutique camps & lodges

Governor’s camp – award-winning luxury camp and lodge – for details click here 

Sarova – Spirit of the Maasai Mara – part of the Sarova group of hotels and award-winning lodge located in Siana Conservancy – for details click here 

Cottars 1920’s camp – the original and some would say the best. Award-winning luxury camp –for details click here 

$$ Mid priced camps & lodges

Mara River Lodge – good camp on the banks of the Mara river – for details click here

Sarova Mara Game Camp – a little outside the park in Narok but that makes the price more affordable and a reputable brand name – for more details click here 

$ Self catering & camping

Naserin Cottage is a self-catering 3 bedroom tented cottage a little outside the game park

Camping in the `Mara at one of the KWS sites is hair-raisingly fun. Check the KWS site for campsite details here.

2 hours outside of the Mara Triangle is Enonokishu Conservancy, a wonderful safe place to stay with lots of game.

enonokishu conservancy

Organised tours to the Maasai Mara

For people new to Africa, you could always consider a tour. An organised tour will arrange all the elements of your trips. This will include transport from Nairobi, accommodation in the Mara and accompanied game drives. You will be in the hands of professionals who understand Kenya and rangers who have been brought up with the animals of the Mara. do some great Africa focussed tours for groups travelling from abroad or book a short trip directly from Nairobi through GetYourGuide, the link is here.

Safety in the Maasai Mara

Even the best camps are usually unfenced. This proximity to wildlife is one of the greatest things about a safari. Whilst there are Maasai guards stationed at all camps and you can usually hire a soldier (askari) even if you camp wild animals do enter the camps. After entering your tent or hotel room never leave on your own after dark.
For a list of guidelines on keeping safe whilst on safari then read my post here.

Concerned about health and safety in Kenya.  Read all about how to keep safe here.

Word of advise – don’t forget holiday insurance.  Hospital bills can be horrific.  I use World Nomads – here’s a link to their site

Where to stay in Nairobi

You will usually fly into Nairobi if you are coming to visit the Maasai Mara.  There are lots of hotel options within the city.

To purchase this great guide click here

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