This is not an easy question to answer. I have been to the Mara at various times of the year and have never been disapppointed. To me, it is always fantastic !
So, rather than try answer this question, let me try and explain what you can expect at different times of the year and hopefully that will help you decide. Once you have decided, please see my Safari page for information about where we stay and forthcoming trips.
Mid July to mid October
This is peak season because it’s when one of the most amazing wildlife shows on earth, the “Great Migration”, usually happens. During the migration, around 2 million Wildebeest and 200,000 Zebra make their way across crocodile infested rivers from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara. It also coincides with the Northern Hemisphere summer holidays. So whilst witnessing the migration is absolutely amazing, you will be faced with dealing with the crowds as well as premium pricing. Weather during this period is dry and warm. Be warned that even though this is the migration season, you are not absolutely guaranteed to see a river “crossing”, which is an incredible part of the migration, or even the migration itself. The timing of the migration into the Mara is completely rain dependant. If the rains are late that year, the migration into the Mara may be late too. If the rains come early, the migration into the Mara can start as early as end of June or the beginning of July. Historically though, August would be the best month to witness the migration.
Mid October to end of November
This is probably my personal favourite time of year to visit the Mara. The crowds have largely gone, accommodation is cheaper and at least until mid November, the grass is low making game spotting viewing very easy. October is nearing the end of the migration season but the majority of the animals are still in the reserve so there is an abundance of wildlife to view. By November the herds are heading back towards the Serengeti but are still around, although in smaller quantities. November is also a good month for Birders as migratory birds begin arriving in the reserve. October is relatively dry but towards the end of the month the “short rains” typically start and continue into November. The “short rains” usually do not cause too much inconvenience and consist mainly of brief afternoon or evening showers and thunderstorms on some days. For photographers, you get beautiful light particularly after the storms, and there is also an opportunity to get beautiful wildlife images in the rain. Lookout for Lions shaking their wet manes!
December, January and February
The month of December is very much like November with the “short rains” continuing. It is also the start of “Toto Time”, the birthing season, so you are likely to see baby animals taking their first steps and maybe even witness a birth itself! It’s also a great season for Birders as all the migratory birds have arrrived in the reserve. The park is nice and quiet at this time of year and you are likely to have sightings all to yourself. Christmas can be busy of course, with lots of local visitors from Nairobi. January is one of the warmest months of the year and the “short rains” usually end. There are usually lots of baby animals around. February is similar to January with perhaps a touch more rain. Whilst the migration has ended by December, there are of course lots of resident animals in the reserve and so there is no shortage of sightings. Remember that the big cats are territorial and don’t follow the migration. They are always around. In this period, the Mara is greener with slightly longer grass than in Nov. I personally like the Mara in February and early part of March.
March is the start of the “long rains” and there is a good chance of some rain on most days, particularly in the second half of the month. Roads begin to get muddy and driving around can be challenging and slow. Some rivers may become impassable which may restrict where in the Mara you can travel to. Wildlife sightings are still top quality of course and there are still great opportunities to get photos of animals in the rain, like this one which was taken in March.
April and May
These months are right in the “long rains” season and you can expect quite heavy rain on most days and a lot of slipping and sliding around in the 4WD. The guides really earn their money at this time of year. Their driving skills are beyond amazing! Most people would tell you to avoid the months of April and May. Having said this, however, I recently returned from a 12 day trip to the Mara spanning end of April and beginning of May and whilst there was a bit of rain around, it was mostly spectacular late afternoon thunderstorms or overnight rain and did not affect us much at all. Remember, the weather has become unpredictable in recent years so one shouldn’t make decisions based on weather alone. If you only have these months available to you, do it !! Note though that many camps in the reserve close in May to give their staff a much deserved break before the crazy busy season that follows.
June to mid July
June is the coolest month in the Mara and is also one of the driest. The reserve is lush and green with lots of animals around. The grass is long though, so the guides have their work cut of for them finding animals, particularly cat, in the long grass. But they do ! The Mara is starting the get busy again now with the migration season about to begin. However, until mid July it’s not absolutely packed. Overall this is a good time of year to go in my opinion. You never know your luck, if the rains come early, the migration may come early too !