Choosing when to go to the Masai Mara is something that needs to be carefully considered in order to meet your expectations. For general game viewing there is no real ‘best time’ to go; thanks to its abundant resident wildlife and temperate climate, the Masai Mara is widely regarded as a year-round safari destination. Its wide, open plains means there is virtually always something to see, no matter what time of year you go to Kenya (although do heed our warning below about visiting during the annual long rains in April and May).
As the birthplace of safari, Kenya always promises incredible scenery, exceptional guides and good general gaming.
However, many visitors come for the Wildebeest Migration and the best time to visit the Masai Mara for this famous spectacle is between July/early August and the end of November although due to varying rainfall patterns, the exact timing varies from year to year. Some years, the rains might be early and the wildebeest disappear more quickly; at other times, late rain means you will still find ‘stragglers’ (the last of the migrating wildebeest) hanging out on the Masai Mara with the ‘residents’ (those wildebeest who stay put year-round and don’t migrate at all).
Kenya has two ‘sets’ of rainy seasons. 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 morning, which can be very hot, sunny and humid, only to break in spectacular but generally short-lived downpours in the late afternoon. These showers have several benefits: they wash the air of dust; cool everyone and everything down; and, best of all, trigger the growth of fresh grazing and the filling up of near-moribund rivers that attract herds to drink. Migrant birds return and baby antelopes drop in their thousands. November is fantastic for photographers because you will often have massive tracts of land –and sightings - all to yourself, especially in the Mara’s famed conservancies.
The short rains don’t really interfere with game viewing, even if you may occasionally have to enjoy ‘raindowners’ in your game-drive vehicle rather than the more traditional ‘sundowners’! And you guide will be familiar with the concept of ‘localised rain’: it may be pouring heavily in the distance but he or she can usually ‘drive around’ the rain, keeping you warm and dry.
The next set of rains are conversely known as the ‘long rains’ and usually take place in April and May. As the name suggests, these are far more serious and many lodges and camps may close over this period because 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. Once again, predicting rain is the most inexact of sciences and you may find that one year May is washed out while the next, it’s dry and the very first of the migrating wildebeest are arriving from the Serengeti in Tanzania. It’s this unpredictability of nature that makes safari so intriguing.
Watch our Wildebeest Migration animation for a fun depiction of the timing and movement of this annual event:
Quick links to travel advice
- Read our month-to-month guide to the annual Migration: How the Wildebeest Migration Works.
Ensure you're in the right place at the right time: contact one of our African Safari Experts to help you plan when to go on a Masai Mara safari for maximum reward.