Kenya vacation plans virtually always include the best times for wildlife safaris. These safaris make up the largest segment of the Kenya tourism industry, which is the number one foreign currency earning sector in the country.
Those who travel to Kenya want to witness one thing above all else: the great migration of the mega-herd of wildebeest, other antelope, and zebras that make their way between the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and the vast Serengeti plains in Tanzania. The first question most prospective visitors ask is: “When is the best time to see the migration?” The misunderstanding almost everyone has about this incredible wildlife spectacle is that it happens one time a year. The migration is a constant year-round quest for water and greener grasses, and the herds are in a continuous, counter-clockwise journey around the Serengeti ecosystem. You can see the migration any time of year, so long as you travel to the right part of the two different parks at the right time of year.
The mega-herd (consisting of millions of wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras and other antelopes) will travel to Kenya in June or July when the Serengeti (which does not have permanent water) dries up and the April and May rains cause the Maasai Mara to quickly become lush and green. They have to cross two rivers—the Mara River and the Grumeti River—to reach their objective, and these are the dramatic National Geographic scenes you see in documentaries. They stay here, chomping their way from west to east until sometime around September or October, when the short rains begin turning the Serengeti back into a lush pastureland. They must again dramatically cross the two rivers to get back to Tanzania. Many African safaris will visit both parks during the two river crossing periods in order to ensure they catch the crossing, which cannot be predicted with 100 percent accuracy. During the time that the herd is in Tanzania, it chomps its way in a counter-clockwise direction around the Serengeti. Two other remarkable events occur during this period. One is the calving in February or March, when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and other herbivores drop their calves during the same short period of time, thus ensuring the survival of the species because there are simply too many young for the predators to gobble up. The other event is the rut, which usually occurs sometime in June. This is when hundreds of thousands of bull wildebeest fight with each other and collect harems of females who will carry their seed back across the two rivers into Kenya.
The Maasai Mara has permanent populations of wildebeest and other herbivores because it has a good supply of permanent water. As a consequence, this park is an excellent place for a Kenya vacation at any time of year. In both countries, you can witness the “mini migration” in a number of parks. Even in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater where the wildlife rarely leaves the enclosed caldera, they make the same basic circuit around it. This is also true in Lake Nakuru National Park and Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Kenya tourism also relies heavily on the indigenous peoples who still live traditionally. In the north, around Samburu National Park, are the colorful Samburu people. This tribe is closely related to their more famous cousins, the Maasai, who can be found just south of Nairobi all the way south across northern Tanzania. A Kenya travel package is quite apt to include a visit to a traditional Maasai or Samburu village.
Many people, especially Europeans, travel to Kenya for nothing more than an exotic beach vacation. There are numerous resorts along the Indian Ocean coast, which boasts magnificent Kenya beaches and some of the best deep sea fishing and scuba diving in the world. Malindi is particularly popular with Italians, and there is a large Italian ex patriot community here. The city of Mombasa, the most important port in East Africa and Kenya’s second largest city, has even more resorts. Getting to these places by air from Europe takes only a few hours, and a large number of European visitors come for a week on the pristine beaches and never even go inland to see the country’s wildlife. The historic town of Lamu is full of Kenyan culture that dates back to the 15th and 14th century when mariners from China stopped in to trade. Later the slave and spice trader from the Middle East and India arrived to reap the riches of the country. For visitors from the United States, who come primarily for wildlife safaris, a coast extension of two or three days is often added on to their safari. Kenya tourism on the coast is best done during the summer months when it is hot but not nearly as hot as the winter when temperature hover above 100° Fahrenheit almost every day. It is also very humid here, exacerbating the heat. This region is tropical and subject to the monsoons, receiving much heavier and longer rains during April and May and again in November. It is apt to rain briefly most any time of year, which is often a relief from the heat.
Many people apply this “rainy season” rule for a Kenya vacation in the interior of the country. While April and May (the long rains) is not a good time for many areas, traveling on the cusp of these months brings much lower rates, less dust, and far fewer tourists. The short rains of November can be a good time for wildlife safaris throughout the month. Other than the rainy times, the weather in Kenya remains fairly constant throughout the year because the country is right on the equator. Variations in temperature depend more on elevation and ecosystem than season. It is generally warmer during the North American winter and cooler during the summer months. At high elevations, like Mount Kenya where lodges are at an elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level, it can be quite chilly in the mornings and evenings.