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Tanzania and Kenya’s Top Great Migration River Crossings With all the Action

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Lana Goodwin

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Dramatic river crossings are integral to The Great Migration, as over two million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles make their way across the vast East Africa plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

It’s a journey for survival that draws close to half a million tourists worldwide. While the annual migratory pattern is somewhat predictable – it’s not always possible to know exactly where to see the mega herds in their full concentration. Factors like rainfall and flooding can impact the timing of a herd’s river crossing and where you can experience the best view.

This is why Discover Africa developed the free-to-use HerdTracker App, which helps ensure guides and guests can better plan a Great Migration safari.

The herds navigate steep jumps into the river and are often at the mercy of strong currents in treacherous waters filled with floats of lurking crocodiles- not forgetting land-based predators like lions and leopards, all looking for an easy meal – all make river crossings a sought-after safari experience.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the well-known river crossings carved into the banks of the Mara and Sand Rivers and what makes each one worthwhile for your Great Migration safari experience. 

HT update 28 September 2023 | Photo credit: Wild Africa Photos
Moving within the safety of the herd in a cycle for survival. | Photo credit: Wild Africa Photos

When is the Best Time for Great Migration River Crossings?

The herds generally start the year in the Southern Serengeti and enjoy a feast provided by its short grass plains. February to March is calving season, after which the herds begin to move westwards towards the woodland regions. Mid-April to May, the herds are spread across the Central Serengeti, known to be the busiest area for safari-goers looking to catch a glimpse of them.

June heralds the mating season when the herds begin moving towards the Grumeti River’s western corridor. Here, crocodiles lie waiting to feast as the herds start crossing towards the Northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara.

Plan for Late July through September

This period is ideal for experiencing the columns of over a million thundering wildebeest making their way through these treacherous river crossings.

By October, the herds are fully embedded across the Lamai wedge of the Maasai Mara. Come November, the herds will start moving back towards the southern plains of the Serengeti, with many of the females now heavily pregnant, as they follow the seasonal rains towards the Ngorongoro region. The herd will be spread across this area for the better part of December through January, whereafter the cycle begins all over again.

Top Serengeti Crossings Explained

Witnessing a river crossing is a thrilling highlight, and you won’t want to miss a moment.  Safari guides, tour operators, and lodges are all part of a connected community contributing to the HerdTracker App to ensure guests experience unparalleled sightings of the Great Migration. 

These are some of their top River Crossing recommendations.  

“We use it (HerdTracker) to compare the previous year’s herd location to the same time of the current year to see if there are any changes to the pattern of the Great Migration. Whenever we do not have updates from our internal sources, we check our HerdTracker to see if there are any updates,” says safari expert George Joseph from Mawe Lodges in Northern Tanzania.

Over the years, Joseph says the Mawe team has been able to track changes in length of stay and specific hot spots.  Regarding the most popular areas for herd sightings, Mara: Crossing numbers 0-4, Makutano, and Wogakuria are the best.

Joseph also recommends Lake Ndutu, Masek, Kakesio, and Eden Valley. Weather patterns play a significant role in the movement of the herds, he says, as unexpected rainfall can cause flooding, blocking off some of the crossings. 

River Crossing #0

This river crossing, found at the start of the Mara River route, is steep and has a more open landscape, giving guests a wider angle to experience the herd compared to the other crossings.  This video shared by Mawe Lodges during the 2023 season shows how the herd has to navigate the steep rocks at this crossing. 

Safari vehicles can only view the migration from Tanzania’s Lamai side of this river crossing. They cannot be stationed on both sides, which means things can get slightly crowded at this spot, according to Joseph.

This crossing became deadly as crocodiles arrived to attack in the deeper water, as seen in this sighting.

Guests enjoy a wider view at this river crossing. There is no elevation, and while it’s not as steep as the other crossings, it is known to have a large float of about 40 to 50 crocodiles, which makes for a riveting experience as the herds navigate the dangerous waters. 

The Mara River is much wider at crossing three than the other crossings. The herds must wade through considerable waves and strong currents at this river crossing.  

The herd is often seen crossing in the thousands as they move in solidarity to hold against the strong currents, especially after heavy rains. It is thrilling to see how they navigate that current and waves. The extensive size of the herd can be seen in this video shared by traveller Pauline Churchy.

Visibility can be quite restricted at this crossing, with viewing only allowed from the northern side of the Mara River. The herd can often adopt a follow-the-leader bustle, sometimes confusing as they cross the river more than once, going in a circular direction.   

River Crossing number 5 is one of the more difficult crossing points for the wildebeest due to the rocks and stronger current. This video shared by Lemala Camps and Lodges shows how the herd navigates these challenges.

It’s important to note the impact of flooding on this particular river crossing. River Crossing number 6 has a small bridge to move from Southern side of the Mara to the northern side. I can become inaccessible due to flooding. The plains can be flooded quite quickly, creating a challenging river crossing for the herd.

Made up of River Crossing numbers 7 A and 7B, a rocky creek separates these two crossings. The allowed distances are also not the same, with safari vehicles needing 50 metres away at crossing 7B, compared to 40 metres away at crossing 7A.

It’s another dangerous point within the river crossing due to the many crocodiles here.  The wildebeest generally relies on the safety of a gigantic herd to make it across the river safely, but some will undoubtedly fall victim to those powerful jaws at some point in the crossing.

This is one of the most significant river crossings, where the herd crosses en masse for extended periods of up to five hours at a time. The restricted distance to view the herd is 60m from the southern side. Fortunately, the landscape at this crossing is quite open, making it easier for vehicles to position themselves for prime viewing.

A mega herd of nearly 100,000 wildebeest was seen crossing the Mara River during the 2023 peak season. Heavy rains raised the river’s water level, making it more difficult to cross, as can be seen in this video shared by Ranger Safaris Tanzania. Viewing is restricted to the southern side, with safari vehicles restricted to 30m from the herd.

Like River Crossing 8, this crossing is situated further north along the Mara River. Similar to River Crossings number 7 and 8, this is where you can experience the wildebeest moving together in mega herds, with crossing sightings lasting hours at a time.

The gentle slopes at River Crossing number 10 are said to make it one of the easier crossing points for wildebeest. Viewing is restricted to the northern side of the River, with access via a bridge from the southern side. The bridge at this crossing is also prone to flooding.

HerdTracker’s Upgraded Map now also features markers for the  Great Migration River Crossings.

Top Kenya River Crossings Explained

The Maasai Mara River Crossings are among the most dramatic and sought-after spectacles of the Great Migration. The herds begin to crisscross the Mara River onto Kenya’s side in July, with its raw, untamed beauty adding to the incredible safari experience. These are some of the unique aspects to note about Kenya’s River Crossings.

River Crossing #1

The crossings in this southeast region are less dramatic as the Sand River tends to be generally dry during this time and is averagely shallow. This is according to seasoned safari guide Douglas Onsongo from Naked Wilderness, who explains that the first-to-arrive herds would have avoided going to the western corridor in the Serengeti and advanced straight north from Seronera onwards to Lobo into the Mara.

The migrating animals extend their coverage to Salas areas and closer to where the Sand River and the Mara River converge along the international boundary.

River Crossing #2

Here, the herd is being led into the Mara Triangle. According to Onsongo, the sheer number of animals seen at this crossing is breathtaking and can be viewed on a large scale.

“Animals are free to choose from several crossing points too: Purungat, Peninsula, Fig and U crossing, the three Look-out crossing points, and Miti Moja crossing point. The Look-out crossing points are particularly dramatic because the channels are narrow and up to six meters high, spacious enough to accommodate up to a hundred vehicles.”

River Crossing # 3: 

This crossing is known as the BBC Crossing point, having been featured by the UK broadcaster.

The magic at this crossing point is the fact that animals are funneled down to a highly eroded point into the river. This point has a wider exit and marks the end of the southern crossing points of the Maasai Mara.

“In this region, animal crossings are best viewed from the western bank of the Mara River—the Mara Triangle side—since animals are heading west. The southern region accounts for the highest number of back-and-forth crossings,” adds Onsongo.

River Crossing #4:

Entim Crossing(meaning forest), as it is known, is an isolated crossing point, centrally located and further away from most of the other crossing points. Onsongo points out that this crossing is characterized by “hours and hours of crossings, sometimes extending for three days with only short breaks.  Crocodile attacks are minimal at this location.”

River Crossing #5

Just south of the Serena Lodge, this crossing point is not highly trafficked due to the limited open spaces and small hills that can harbor danger.

“However, it is one of the easiest points for animals to cross,” says Onsongo.

River Crossing #6 

Mawe Mawe Crossing Point, whose name translates to “rocky crossing point” in Kiswahili, is the mother of all crossing points, says Onsongo.

“It is highly frequented by vehicle traffic due to its proximity to most camps and lodges in the Mara. Visitors are almost guaranteed to see action, particularly crocodiles going for kills, as the area is heavily infested with them.

River Crossing #7

This crossing is also known as the Cul de Sac or Kaburu Crossing Point.

Next to the main crossing is the Cul de Sac or Kaburu crossing point. Translating to “a point of no return,” animals are guided through a big thicket and finally channeled into the river by a small opening. The vastness of the Mara, on the other side, entices the animals to cross. Crossings here occur almost the entire crossing season, starting from the first crossing at this point.

River Crossing #8

This is the northernmost crossing point in the Maasai Mara. Close to it is the Mawe Mawe crossing point, which is the most used point for animals headed east, particularly those that have entered the Maasai Mara Triangle through the Ngiroare outpost and followed the foot of the Siria or the Olololo Rift Valley escarpment, says Onsongo.

The Pontoon crossing point, located next to Mawe Mawe, is characterized by narrow channels and deep and threateningly vertical banks prone to collapse, making it a dangerous crossing point. Crossings here often result in catastrophic stampedes, and it is accessible to only a handful of vehicles. 

Learn more about our HerdTracker Migration Safaris or speak to one of our expert Discover Africa consultants today.

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Copyright © Discover Africa Safaris | Tanzania and Kenya’s Top Great Migration River Crossings With all the Action | Last Updated: 16 May 2024