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East Africa is an all year-round destination – depending upon your interests. For many travelers to this vast region wildlife, beach vacations and mountain trekking are the major attractions. Here is a brief guideline to help you in planning your East Africa holiday
Spring: September – November
This season offers comfortable temperatures and is a popular time for travel because of summer holidays in the northern hemisphere. It can get very busy, so be sure to book well in advance. If you want to climb Kilimanjaro, September is the time to do it.
Summer: December – March
Game viewing in the Serengeti and diving in Zanzibar are excellent now. Summer in East Africa means pleasant warm temperatures with an average high of 28C and an average low of 15C. The short rains occur from early November to late March are sporadic and don’t last long. Heavier rain might start in late March. January, February and early to mid March are good months for climbing Kilimanjaro.
Fall: April – June
The long rains are from early April through early June, but don’t be put off: safaris are still good in the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and the Masai Mara. Wildlife concentrations are at their highest in the Southern Serengeti, and the landscape is a lush green. With less crowding, lower prices and abundant wildlife, this can be the best time to go on safari.
Winter: July – August
The weather is cool and dry. It is generally the best months for game viewing, especially in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. This is also the busiest time of the year in east Africa as July & August coincide with holidays in the Northern Hemisphere. Climbing Kilimanjaro is also superb during this season.
Where to Go for the Wildebeest Migration
The question of where to go for the wildebeest migration is an important one as, although the ecosystem is a single entity, the migration takes place in two different conservation areas in two different countries – Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
By far the smaller of the two conservation areas, the 1510 km² Masai Mara is the northern extension of the Serengeti plains. Located in southern Kenya with its southern-most boundary doubling as the international border with Tanzania, it’s where the wildebeest herds congregate between July and late October/early November after spending much of the year on the move in the Serengeti.
Most famous for the dramatic river crossings of July and August, the Masai Mara is a popular destination during the migration and visitor numbers are high. An alternative is to stay in one of the Masai Mara’s adjoining private conservancies.
Tanzania: Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti’s late October/early November rains trigger the wildebeest herds into moving south and out of the Masai Mara and into the Serengeti. Located in northern Tanzania and part of the famous ‘Northern Safari Circuit’, Tanzania’s flagship park is an impressive 14 763 km² and offers plenty of room to follow the migrating herds around.
The Serengeti’s south-central Seronera Valley and Southern Plains are where to go for the wildebeest migration if it’s the massed birthing of wildebeest calves that you want to see. From November to March, around 8 000 calves a day are born which means excellent opportunities for predators and virtually guaranteed action.
The focus then shifts away from the southern and central Serengeti. From April until June or July, the herds gather and migrate in long, massed columns to reach the western and northern Serengeti before they return to the Masai Mara in July and August via the perilous river crossings.