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10 Extraordinary Ways to Experience East Africa’s Great Migrations

PHOTO: Singita

How to see thousands of wildebeests, zebra, and antelope during this summer's great migration.

The great wildebeest migration—when more than 1 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and antelope make their yearlong circular journey in search of food, water, and a place to breed—takes over large swaths of the Masai Mara in Kenya and Tanzania’s Serengeti. Summer is widely considered to be prime viewing time for this incredible experience, thanks to dramatic river crossings involving hungry crocodiles. And while observing the wildlife from a safari truck is all well and good, why not go bigger? Safari companies are thinking outside the lines and offering ways to observe the migrations that are sure to never be forgotten. From hot air balloons floating high above the wilderness to specially outfitted photography trucks that allow people to capture the action to mobile-tented camps that follow the herds, travelers can tick off more than one item on their bucket list.

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PHOTO: andBeyond
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Photographic Safari

For those fully committed to preserving this remarkable experience, capturing high-quality images is a must. andBeyond’s East Africa lodges offer a way to do it without lugging around big, heavy, expensive camera equipment by hiring one of their photographic safari vehicles for the day (book a seat or the whole vehicle). These impressive vehicles provide unobstructed, elevated views, gas-lifted, 360-degree swivel chairs with special camera mounts, and electrical charging points to keep cameras at-the-ready. Guests can bring their own equipment, or use the vehicle’s top-end cameras and telephoto lenses.

INSIDER TIPSpecialist photographic guides will drive right up to the river and stay as long as guests want to ensure they get the best river-crossing pictures.

 

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PHOTO: 1. Four Seasons Serengeti
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From a Swimming Pool

Yes, lolling by the pool as wildlife strolls by is possible. At the Four Seasons Serengeti, the 82-foot-long infinity pool overlooks a watering hole and the plains of the Serengeti beyond, providing the perfect spot to observe the migrations and other wildlife—elephants are practically a guarantee. Bonus: there’s a full bar to take advantage of from sunrise to sunset.

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PHOTO: Li Hui Chen / Shutterstock
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With a Conservation Biologist or Zoologist

To get the ultimate scientific knowledge, book a trip with Smithsonian Journeys, whose trips to Tanzania during the summer migrations are joined by experts including Grant Nel who has a degree in zoology from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and conservation biologist Francisco Dallmeier, who is the director of the Smithsonian Center for Conservation and Sustainability.

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PHOTO: andBeyond
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With a Maasai Guide

Who better to learn about the migrations in the Mara than from those that have witnessed it every year, for centuries. The andBeyond Bateleur Camp trains and employs many guides from the local Maasai community, who live just beyond the camp on the Oloololo Escarpment. These guides breathe life into the migration and the land that is sacred to them and their people as they teach guests about Maasai traditions and ceremonies.

INSIDER TIPAsk for Massek James Ole Kipiko, a Maasai elder and skilled guide at Bateleur whose knowledge of wildlife and Maasai traditional rival each other for depth.

 

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PHOTO: Extraordinary Journeys
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On Horseback

Riding on horseback alongside the wildebeests and zebra as they cross the Masai Mara offers a chance to commune with wildlife directly. Offbeat Safaris are known for their safaris on horseback, which provide a true bush experience for experienced riders. Guests can even cross the river on horseback as they ride 150 miles over seven nights, from one end of the Mara to the other.

Book a Hotel

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PHOTO: Singita
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Hot Air Balloon

Take game viewing to new heights on a hot air balloon ride over the lush Serengeti. Visitors to Singita Grumeti in Tanzania can charter a hot air balloon for an unforgettable sunrise or sunset ride. Guests will skim above the grasslands and acacia forests filled with wildlife, and at other times ascend up to 1,000 feet to see the vastness of the reserve and the sheer enormity of wildebeest stampeding across its plains.

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PHOTO: andBeyond
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Helicopter

For a bird’s eye view of the massive herds, a helicopter ride is the perfect method. While Tanzania doesn’t allow helicopters from viewing heights, Kenya permits the aircraft as long as they don’t swoop down too close to the animals. Micato Safaris can arrange a helicopter ride over the Masai Mara with the doors off, allowing for prime adventure and superior photo ops.

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On Foot

Imagine walking on the same path that thousands of wildebeests just stampeded over. Instead of merely being an onlooker, guests on a walking safari are active participants in the world of wildlife. Very few companies are given permission to enter the Serengeti by foot. Extraordinary Journeys works with Wayo Africa, pioneers in walking safaris in Tanzania, to curate an on-the-ground adventure for guests that allows them access to remote areas where vehicles aren’t allowed and to experience the wildlife up close and personal.

INSIDER TIPVisitors can only be on foot in the park when accompanied by an armed and qualified walking guide from an approved operating company. An armed ranger from the National Park also joins every walk.

 

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PHOTO: andBeyond
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Mobile Tented Camp

Follow the herds as they move from place to place in a fully movable tented campground. Guests of andBeyond Serengeti Under Canvas are never far from the animals because these transient tents are moved several times a year in anticipation of the migration’s movements. These camps provide a more rustic experience, close to nature—and its robust wildlife—making it one of the best ways to guarantee observing the migrations, which can sometimes change course unexpectedly.

INSIDER TIPEven though these tents are temporary, they still have flush toilets and hot bucket showers—and a private butler.

 

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From a Treehouse

Put up your feet and take a load off as you observe the migrations crossing the Mara River from your very own wooden paradise atop a tree in the Masai Mara. The Nest, which is bookable as part of a larger safari experience through Micato Safaris, is a treehouse perched 12 feet above the ground on a limb of a Warburgia tree overlooking the mighty river. There are two nest-shaped double beds (plus room for cots), a flush toilet, and plenty of candles and kerosene lanterns. Guests will also find an infra-red spotlight and a night-vision camera for nighttime game viewing.