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Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

California
Level Contributor
14 posts
15 reviews
Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

Greetings,

First time travelers to Africa. My understanding is the two major iconic wildebeest crossings are at the Grumeti and Mara rivers, with the Mara being the major of the two (I think there's another river in Northern Massai Mara too). The Grumeti crossings are located in Western Serengeti in Tanzania. My question is, do the animals cross the Mara river in a) Kenya only or b) Kenya AND Tanzania? From looking at a map, the Mara river is located in both countries, but unsure if the animals actually cross the river at any parts in Tanzania. The second part of my question is what are the 'typical' time frames when the herds will have moved to Kenya in that it would not make sense to be on the TZ side of the Serengeti as you won't see enough. Or, are the herds large/long enough that there will always be some remaining herds in TZ. Would hate to travel to the TZ Serengeti only to find out the animals have left the country. Also, given the difficulty in crossing borders, its not like we can just hop over.

I've asked multiple tour operators and the response has been conflicting with some saying "they don't cross in TZ, only Massai Mara (KE)" vs "they cross in TZ every day in August". While the timing and number of animals crossings is guesswork, I would think it's either a fact or not whether the animals can cross in TZ or not. I've done quite a bit of research in this matter and I completely understand the disclaimers of nature is unpredictable and 'it depends'.

The context of my question (and dilemma I'm having while planning) is:

Our only time windows to visit E. Africa for 7-10 days is late Aug, late May, or possibly early July 2016.

We know we'd like to do the N. circuit in TZ to the see the crater and neighboring parks.

If we're going to be in E Africa at the time of the river crossings, it only makes sense to make an effort to attempt see it (completely understand we may not end up seeing it but gotta try, right?)!

I read up about crossing KE/TZ borders and sounds too time consuming and pricey; we want to avoid that as much as possible. Our itinerary preference would be just do the Northern circuit and see the herds and river crossing in TZ. However, I've asked the TOs about our time frames and just got too varied of an answer to make a decision. We're not opposed to going to Massai Mara if it comes down to it, but with the conflicting answers, its making it hard to plan or book any flights.

For late May, most TOs said the migration does not have Grumeti river crossings- Is this generally correct? We know this is the low season.

For late Aug, this is where I get the most varied answer. We are likely going to travel at this time so would like a better idea of how to best plan an itinerary.

For late July, sounds like staying in TZ only so I don't have to worry about planning to Kenay. Are there any river crossings at this time of year?

Any insight is much appreciated, thanks ahead of time!

Arusha, Tanzania
Level Contributor
4,383 posts
3 reviews
1. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

In short Grumeti River is Western corridor of the Serengeti national park as may to june great migration are there for 3 weeks only as meeting season and start slow move to Northern circuit of the Serengeti in Mara River so by July to November still have chance to see while the crossing from Serengeti national park to maasai Mara in Kenya or back to Serengeti national park from maasai Mara.

If you visit Serengeti in may is better to go western corridor of the Serengeti but ultimately destination for great migration is Norther Serengeti from July to November

I recommend northern part of the Serengeti for great migration crossing as the same time there is other wildlife such as leopard, lion,cheetahs, rhino, hippotamus, crocodiles,gazelle, impala ,buffaloes, waterbuck, bird of prey topi,eland etc

Los Angeles
Level Contributor
2,719 posts
45 reviews
2. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

There are Mara River crossings both in Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania, they occur in the Kogatende area in the far north roughly between August and October. Some of the animals move into Kenya; others stay in Tanzania during this period -- but there's a lot of action most days and your chances of seeing a crossing are reasonably good in either country. Be aware that it's frequently necessary to sit for many hours nearby an assembled herd, waiting while they meander about aimlessly trying to decide whether or not to actually cross. They crossing itself may take a mere 10 minutes, but it is an exciting 10 minutes and the chance of seeing it once is worth the investment in a safari of 10 days or more. For a short safari, I simply wouldn't want to make that investment of time and money for a 10-minute reward. I found the other wildlife at Kogatende rather sparce last year (we were there at the end of August and saw two crossings).

We'll be returning to Tanzania for our 5th safari there (6th total, as our first was in South Africa), but will go again this time in February, to include the wonderful Ndutu during the spectacle of the birthing season on the short grass plains of the Serengeti. This spectacle -- though not hard-pounding in the way a crossing can be -- is, in my view, even more astonishing than the iconic Mara or Grumeti crossings, with loads of predators hoping to take advantage of the bounty of new calves, the plains still in deep green and wildflowers from the short rains in November/December, and the air fresh. Our favorite time in Tanzania, and, I think, the most beautiful.

If you're looking to May, I'd recommend late may -- perhaps even into early June. You'l likely encounter some very wet roads, perhaps some washed out and likely some very bad black cotton soil mud if you go in early May, but by .late May the sun may well have begun to dry up the surface water. You'll still have the green lushness and lack of the choking dust which sometimes curses July-September. But it's unlikely the migration herds will yet be crossing the Grumeti. They'll probably be spread out a bit from the central or Kusini area into the western corridor, though -- easy enough to find and certainly worth seeing in herds of many thousands -- you won't be able to count them, anyway -- and the'll be accompanied by young calves, sprightly and adorable and enough to make you forget you're "missing" one of those crossings.

Yup -- the north is pricey -- though there are a few "mid-priced" camps up there, but you sure don't want to be in Kogatende in May. In fact, I gather most camps are closed at that time -- it's low, low season up thataway, as the migration isn't in residence and the rains have left the area soggy and somewhat less appealing. The mobile camps are still located in the south and some of the permanent camps use this time to do maintenance, take vacations, etc.

My advice is to pick a time that's best for you and design your itinerary -- not around some iconic image you have of what "Africa" is supposed to be -- but, rather, around the high points of the northern circuit itself. Depending upon how much time you have (and your budget), you should try for Tarangire National Park for a couple of nights, perhaps Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater for a night each, and then a few nights in the central Serengeti and a few more in whatever area of the Serengeti is most likely going to be hosting the migration herds while you're around. If you have more time, add perhaps an extra day at Tarangire, or in the Serengeti, or wander off to more exotic parts of the country. Spend some time, perhaps, visiting locals schools or orphanages, villages, tribes . . . but I suggest you not think of the crossings as the focal point of your safari. There's no guarantee that even if you're in the right place at the right time, the animals will comply. We sat at one site for more than four hours before the herds began to retreat entirely, deciding they didn't want to cross, after all. It's a huge investment of time when you could be out seeing lots of other wonderful wildlife doing lots of wonderful things.

Olympia, Washington
Level Contributor
89 posts
11 reviews
3. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

I asked many tour operators also about the migration and received pretty much confusion and varied answers..so when I reached out here sandyleelee gave me what I needed to know!!! Her response has never changed so I am thinking she knows more on the subject than the tour operators!!!

Los Angeles
Level Contributor
2,719 posts
45 reviews
4. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

The more I think about your timing, the more I think you should aim for a 10-day safari early-June to include:

2 nights Tarangire

1 night Lake Manyara (stay in Karatu or nearby)

1 night Ngorongoro Crater (stay on the Crater rim)

3 nights central Serengeti

3 nights Western Corridor

Fly back to Arusha

If flying back doesn't fit into your budget, you might do it this way:

2 nights Tarangire

1 night Manyara

3 nights Central Serengeti

2 nights Western Corridor

2 night Ngorongoro Crater

drive back to Arusha last day.

Depending upon the rains, you might have a chance of a Grumeti crossing -- but, in any case, you'd see LOADS of wildlife, the terrain would be lush and beautiful everywhere, and the migration would be somewhere within reach of either the Seronera or the west.

Ten days are (just) enough to get you as far as Kogatende in the north if you are set on a Mara crossing try, but be aware that you'll spend the better part of a day to reach the area from the central Serengeti. It is a LONG way north, and you'd definitely need to fly back to Arusha from there. In 10 days it would be very difficult to work in Kogatende driving all the way. It can be done, but you'd be racing around and not seeing much.

When you spend the many dollars required for safari in the first place, your goal should be to maximize the value of every dollar spent -- and time really is money. You'll be paying for every minute you spend in-country, so you don't want to waste a lot of those minutes in racing to get to your next camp or lodge before dinner. You want to feel excited, but relaxed -- and certainly not rushed. For a first safari, in particular, I advise keeping your expectations in check as much as possible and anticipating that things might not go exactly as planned. Vehicles break down. Guides can get sick. Animals can thwart your dreams. Roads can wash out. And trying to drive from Kogatende back to Arusha to catch a flight home would require dedicating two full days to the process and not knowing, even then, if you'd make it in time.

Our own sojourn up to Kogatende (our first out of 4 safaris) was on an 18-day safari, giving us plenty of time to get there, spend three full nights (two full days), and fly out. And even then, our plane could have been delayed, our flight postponed till the next day. Hakuna matata: "This is Africa." And we love it.

Bengaluru, India
Level Contributor
1,571 posts
231 reviews
5. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

Here are a few pics of Central to Western Serengeti during late May 2014.

…blogspot.com/2014/05/migrating-herds-vultur…

And the amazing Serengeti in general:

…blogspot.com/2014/05/endless-serengeti-plai…

Enjoy..!!

Lancaster
Level Contributor
1,263 posts
57 reviews
6. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

We were in Kogatende area from 21st - 25th Sept and saw 7 crossings. This wasn't our main focus and when our guide asked us what we wanted to see, we said anything really and if we see a crossing, that's a bonus. After seeing 7, we were well and truly hooked! The landscape is awesome, the river, rolling hills, flat open plains and huge kopjes, loved the north and if truth be known, prefer it to central Serengeti. Can't wait to go back and envy anyone going this year. Enjoy.

nyc
Level Contributor
15,087 posts
7. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

While SandyLeeLee provided great info, make note that during the May/June period where she places emphasis on the Western Serengeti for a crossing, often the Grumeti doesn't have sufficient water for a crossing. Another issue, regardless which period, be aware that it can rain in the so-called 'dry' period, and if it does the game can and often does move from one side of the border to the other.... can be in No. Serengeti (Kogatende) or in the Masai Mara.

As animals and often dependent on weather can do strange things where and when they wish.

Los Angeles
Level Contributor
2,719 posts
45 reviews
8. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

That is so painfully true, Sandi -- it's why I tend always to suggest not basing one's safari on the expectations of any particular outcome -- including a crossing or being in the "right" place at the "right" time. Even prior to global warming, nature wasn't absolutely predictable, and these days it's becoming even more so, I think.

I read yesterday, I think, that the herds had left Ndutu and moved towards central and then a huge storm came in and the herds were returning to Ndutu. The rains control most everything and they aren't coming as predictably from year to year at the same time.

With safari, it's always best to try hard not to have specific expectations and to come with the understanding that nature will reveal to you what she wants to reveal, when she wants to reveal it. An open mind and heart are the two most important things to pack. Also, a sense of humor .

nyc
Level Contributor
15,087 posts
9. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

Even after 20yrs I've yet thought about least of all seen a full-blown crossing. Have I missed something? Maybe, but find that Nat Geo does a darn good job... and I've never bemoaned not having seen the migration. Granted, have seen a few wildies cross part of a river, but not sufficient to write home about.

Only last year did I see a large pack of painted dogs.... now that was a surprise and exciting. So, when it comes to nature, I plan nothing and am pleasantly surprised if something/anything happens as there is so much to enjoy.

California
Level Contributor
14 posts
15 reviews
10. Re: Migration Mara River Crossings...in TZ or Kenya?

Wholeheartedly agree! I spent so much time researching it just to try to figure out what was true since I didn't want to get duped by any TO's!

And agreed Sandy's responses have been so helpful!