The Last Mass Herd Migration on Earth
No doubt about it, nature reigns in Kenya, and the annual wildebeest migration is its most spectacular show. Every year in June, more than a million wildebeest form a single herd and move from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park toward Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve in search of greener pastures. By August or September, most of the animals have arrived and spread out to graze in the Mara. They fertilize the plains before making their way south in late October. This awe-inspiring event, Earth’s last remaining mass herd migration, lures countless adventure seekers and nature lovers who come to witness masses of animals moving to their own soundtrack of pounding hoofs and guttural grunts.
It’s seductive. As you wait for it, watching, your heart beats faster, your eyes open wider, and your ears hear more clearly. Your body tingles with anticipation. You pass a lone baobab tree. White morning glories dot the earth’s green canvas. And then suddenly you witness it—pure natural wonder. Throngs of wildebeest gallop past, followed by zebras and gazelles. Elephants wave their trunks up and down, rhythmically splashing themselves with red mud (a natural sunblock and bug repellent). A lion and lioness cuddle in open grassland. Hippos pop their heads in and out of water. Warthogs mate. Florescent birds gloat above the earth. Buffaloes graze. A predator attacks a weaker creature, pointed teeth pulling apart flesh, before a hyena comes by for leftover scraps.
To get the best overview of the animal kingdom, fly into Nairobi and out the next day. Spend as much time as possible outdoors in Masai Mara (Kenya’s most well known and popular game park), but also consider spending a few days exploring Amboseli National Park and Tsavo West National Park.
During most times of the year in Kenya, it’s hard to plan or promise things—largely because no one can control what animals you’ll see on your safari. The country’s poor roads and oft-delayed flights also tend to discourage precise timetables. But during the wildebeest migration, you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles in the Mara. In fact, you’ll probably see most of the Big Five—elephant, lion, black rhino, and leopard—or even the Big Nine, which includes hippopotamus, zebra, giraffe, and cheetah, plus hundreds of birds.
The best kinds of accommodations for a safari in Kenya are tent camps on conservancies. Hearing hyenas howl at night, with just thick canvas separating you from them, is thrilling. Tents set on private land, often leased directly from local Masai communities, also have fewer restrictions than ones directly in the national parks, which means that you might be able to try a walking or nighttime safari.
After an adrenaline-packed afternoon of discovering animals in the wild, there’s no better way to unwind than with a sun-downer. You’ll head to a picturesque spot, maybe with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance to enjoy a gin and tonic, Tusker beer, or glass of wine while reminiscing about the breathtaking phenomenon that nature has just shared with you.
Kenya Tourism Board, Kenya-Re Towers, Ragati Rd. ( 866/44-KENYA; www.magicalkenya.com).
Tour: Gamewatchers Safaris ( 800/998-6634; www.porini.com). &Beyond ( 27/11-809-4314; www.andbeyond.com).
When to Go: Aug–Oct for the wildebeest migration, but May–July and mid-Dec to Feb are good times for other safaris.
Nairobi International Airport (also known as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport).
$$$ Mara Porini Camp, Ol Kinyei, and Porini Lion Camp, Olare Orok Conservancy ( 254/20-712-3129 or 254/20-712-2504; www.porini.com). $$$–$$$$ Kichwa Tembo, Oloololo Escarpment ( 27/11-809-4314; www.kichwatembo.com).