Choosing when to go on a Masai Mara safari is something that should be carefully considered in order for the experience to meet your expectations. Whether you are planning a guided safari or self drive in Kenya, it is important to know the best times to go on safari in Kenya.
For general game viewing, there’s no real ‘best time’ to go. Thanks to its abundant resident wildlife and temperate climate, the Masai Mara is widely regarded as a fantastic year-round safari destination. It is wide and open plains mean there is virtually always something to see – no matter what time of year you visit.
Masai Mara Safari: High vs Low Season
The Masai Mara is also great between January and the end of March. The weather is usually mild and dry, and most of the safari crowds are absent.
When to See the Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara
Many visitors come for the Wildebeest Migration every year. The best time to visit the Masai Mara for this world-famous spectacle is from about August to November. Although, due to varying rainfall patterns, the exact timing varies from year to year. Some years, the rains might be early and the herds will arrive and depart sooner. Other times, the late rains mean they’ll arrive later and you’ll still find ‘stragglers’ (the last of the migrating wildebeest) hanging out with the Mara’s ‘residents’ (those wildebeest who stay put year-round and don’t migrate at all).
November’s short summer rains trigger the last leg of the Migration, when the wildebeest move south to their Serengeti calving grounds. Calving season for the Mara’s resident animals happens between December and January. It’s a time when surface water is plentiful and wildebeest, zebra and antelope give birth to their calves, foals and fawns. With so much easy prey around, it’s also a good time for predators to raise their cubs and pups, making for wonderful photographic opportunities.
The Wildebeest Migration is a year-round, circular journey and the Mara River crossings cannot be predicted, although they generally occur from about May to August. Sometimes the herds stay put for two weeks, other times they could cross four times in one day.
Month-by-Month Migration Guide
As the Great Migration’s movements depend on the annual rains, so too can your safari be influenced by the weather conditions. It’s therefore important to take note of Kenya’s two distinct rainy seasons:
- April to May (the ‘long rains’)
- November to December (the ‘short rains’)
The long rains, as the name suggests, are far heavier, and a few lodges and camps may close over this period to attend to general maintenance and refurbs, and to give their staff a long and well-deserved break. Dirt roads turn to sticky mud, rivers flood their banks, and the almost persistent drizzle never really allows for a sunny gap for game viewing. However, predicting rain is the most inexact of sciences and you may find that one year May is washed out, while the next is dry and the very first of the migrating wildebeest are arriving from the Serengeti. It’s this unpredictability of nature that makes a safari so intriguing. If you want to visit the Mara during this time, we recommend a fly-in safari.
The short rains are usually expected in November and break the dry mid-year winter, which is considered peak safari season. Clouds build up during the mornings – which can be very sunny and humid – and break in spectacular, but generally short-lived, downpours in the late afternoons. These showers have several benefits:
- They wash the air of dust.
- They cool everyone and everything down.
- They trigger the growth of fresh grazing.
- They help to fill near-moribund rivers, attracting animals to drink.
During this lush green season, migrant birds return and baby antelopes drop in their thousands. It’s a fantastic time for photographers, because you’ll often have massive tracts of land and sightings all to yourself, especially in the Mara’s private conservancies. A Masai Mara safari during the Green Season is well worth considering – game viewing is still great, the peak season crowds are absent, and you can take advantage of lower rates.
The short rains don’t really interfere with game viewing, even if you may occasionally have to enjoy ‘rain downers’ inside your safari vehicle rather than the more traditional ‘sundowners’. Your guide will also be very familiar with the concept of ‘localized rain’ – it may be pouring heavily in the distance, but he or she can usually ‘drive around’ the rain to keep you warm and dry.