Top 10 Best Wildlife Migrations in the World

Most of us have long been fascinated by nature and the animal kingdom and one such astounding phenomenon that dazzles us is the epic wildlife migrations of the world. These seasonal land, air and aquatic journeys undertaken by various animals are simply exceptional and the sheer numbers that take part can be mind-boggling. These wild animals (and insects) migrate for a number of reasons – in search of food, water or to breed – and often beat impossible odds to survive each year. These natural phenomena are a rare spectacle and as you journey into the wild be prepared to have one of the most magical experiences of your life. Find out which we think are some of the best wildlife migrations in the world, and the best time to see them for yourself, with our Top Ten…

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1. The Great Wildebeest Migration – Kenya and Tanzania

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About The Migration

The annual Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the world’s most epic events that takes place between Tanzania and Kenya. Over two million animals, wildebeest, zebras and antelope, migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya in search of greener pastures. This cross-country travelling marks the time of mating and results in the birth of half-a-million wildebeest calves. During the migration, a vast number of wildebeest and zebras fall prey to predators. Plus, the crossing of the Mara river is another incredible sight as these animals forge their way across while fighting off the crocodiles that lie in wait for them.

When To Visit

The Great Wildebeest Migration continues year round as the animals travel in circular motion around the Serengeti so there is always a point at which to see them. A visit from July to October would enable you to see tens of thousands of animals crossing the great Mara River. Alternatively, the calving season begins in December and lasts until the end of March. This is an amazing sight as thousands of wildebeest birth their young in a phenomenon called the ‘synchronized birthing.’ Check out our migration timeline for more details.

Nearby Attractions: You can combine a Masaai Mara Safari with a beach visit or a trip to Amboseli or other national parks.

Safaris to Consider

2. Zebra Migration – Botswana

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About The Migration

The Great Zebra Migration consists of several thousand plains zebra travelling around 1,000 km each year in Botswana. They travel along a relatively straight path between the floodplains of the Chobe River and its surrounds (including parts in Namibia) in the dry season (Jul-Nov) to the grasslands of the Nxai Pan National Park in the wet season (Dec-Feb). The distance between the areas is about 250 km which usually takes them 14-20 days, but may take them up to 30 days. The animals stay about 80 days in Nxai Pan before heading back to the Chobe in March. The northwards journey usually isn’t as direct (500-800 km) and takes longer (80 days) than the southward journey. The zebra arrive back sometime between April-July and stay there until December when the migration starts over again.

Another different migration that involves a smaller number of zebra was recently discovered in 2008/9. Here, the zebras travel a distance a similar distance of 250 km from the south-eastern Okavango Delta to the grasslands of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, at a similar time so they can spend the wet season in the pans.

When To Visit

Both the Nxai Pan Zebra Migration and the Makgadikgadi Zebra Migration start at the same time and cover a similar distance. The best time to embark on this Botswana safari tour is March to October.

Nearby Attractions: Along with this safari, you can also visit the Okavango Delta, Savuti and Chobe areas of Botswana.

Although the annual Elephant Migration may be one of the highlights of visiting Sri Lanka, the country has plenty more to offer, including its extraordinary marine life and birding adventures

Who to Book With

Planning a last minute African safari?

Our in-country experts will give you the best travel advice and assist you in creating your perfect safari for 2023.

3. Polar Bear Migration – Canada

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About The Migration

Polar Bears are often referred to as the ‘Lords of the Arctic,’ and the annual polar bear migration in Canada is a stunning wildlife spectacle that will leave you spellbound. Once a year, October to November, thousands of polar bears gather around the area of Churchill in Manitoba, known as the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’, waiting for the ‘big freeze’ before moving on to Hudson Bay for the winter seal-hunting season. This is an amazing chance to see them in the wild, as they play around in the snow, from the safety of an all-terrain tundra buggy. If you travel earlier in August or September, you can stay in the heart of polar bear denning territory and with luck see polar bear mothers and cubs.

When To Visit

The best time to see this large gathering of Polar bears is from October to late November.

Safaris to Consider

4. Yearly Elephant Migration – Sri Lanka

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About The Migration

The largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world, this is an annual event of lumbering giants where they gather at the Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka to enjoy ample water and lush green grass. This event known as ‘The Gathering’ brings together 300 elephants during the dry season and is a great time for these giants to socialise, play, eat, drink and mate. These pachyderms have been known to make this trip for centuries and come from all over to the shores of this man-made water source (the Minneriya tank) which provides them with a veritable feast of abundant water and fresh green grass.

When To Visit

This safari is best enjoyed between June and September.

Nearby Attractions: From Minneriya National Park you can go bird watching in Habarana (9kms) and visit the Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress (18kms).

Further Reading: Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka

Who to book with

5. Emperor Penguin Migration – Antarctica

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About The Migration

Referred to as the ‘March of the Penguins,’ the emperor penguin migration consists of thousands of penguins marching from the Antarctic coast, as the sea ice begins to thaw, inland in order to hunt for food and lay their young. Watching them undertake this long and gruelling trek year after year is a truly magnificent experience. You get a chance to observe these wild creatures in their natural habitat as they play, feed and travel along with their family. The crowning glory at the end of their journey is the hatching of thousands of chicks which is simply enthralling.

When To Visit

The best time to visit is November to December as its around this time the newborn penguins begin their first journey back to the ocean.

Nearby Attractions/Activities: You can experience the impressive scenery and widllife by sea kayak. There are also a few must-visit places, the famous being the Charles Peak Windscoop (great for blue-ice photography) and The Beach at Rossman Cove (a one-of-its-kind glacial beach getaway).

Who to Book With

6. Fruit Bats – Zambia

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About The Migration

A natural wonder like no other, experience the world’s largest animal migration on earth where 10 million (and probably more) fruit bats migrate from the rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the evergreen swamp forest of the Kasanka National Park in Zambia. It is estimated that these straw-coloured fruit bats travel up to 2,000 km every year to this national park, one of the smallest game sanctuaries in Zambia. The migration lasts for about 90 days. You’ll also see an abundance of bird species.

When To Visit

The migration begins in late October and lasts until mid-December.

Nearby Attractions: Combine a safari here with a trip to see the mighty Victoria Falls or with a safari in the Lower Zambezi or South Luangwa National Parks.

Who to Book With

7. Whale Sharks – Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

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About The Migration

One of the most incredible aquatic migrations in the world, the whale shark migration begins every summer off the coast of Holbox Island on the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Here whale sharks meet to feed on microscopic plankton, krill and other small fishes. The largest of the fish species, whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet long and weigh 20 tonnes. Owning to their gigantic size, they might look fearsome but are actually gentle giants who are known to swim very fast despite their huge size, and are harmless to humans. It’s estimated that the whale sharks come from all over and travel up to 6,000 km to reach the Yucatan Peninsula.

When To Visit

The best months to head here is July and August when the population of whale sharks is at its highest.

Who to Book With

8. Nenets Reindeer Migration – Arctic Siberia

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About The Migration

Journey to the end of the world and experience a rare cultural and adventurous expedition alongside the extraordinary nomad people of Yamal Peninsula – the Nenets. During their annual reindeer migration, the Nenets travel up to 1,000 km with their vast herds of reindeer moving them from their summer pastures (in the north) to their winter pastures (south of Arctic circle.) Battling the harshest environmental conditions, the Nenets start their journey from the city of Salekhard, which is the only city situated right at the Polar Circle, and cross the frozen Gulf of the Ob River to reach the village of Yale-Sar. From there, they journey onwards to their last destination, the Arctic Circle.

You may also get an opportunity to participate in the annual Reindeer Herding Festival at the Yale-Sar village. This festival includes unique traditions & traditional sports such as reindeer sledge racing, lassoing, sledge jumping, Nenets wrestling among others, and takes place in March/April.

When To Visit

March/April are the best months to spend time with the Nenets.

Nearby Attractions: A must visit along with this safari is the Shemanovskiy Yamal-Nenets District Museum located in Salekhard which displays the remains of the now-extinct mammoth that once roamed this region.

Safari to Consider

9. Desert Elephants – Mali

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About The Migration

From their home south-east of Timbuktu, the Mali Desert Elephants travel 300 miles every year to Lake Débo in search of food and water. Though the herd of elephants migrating is considered fairly small, a couple of hundreds not thousands, it is still a stunning sight to see these giants trek 35 miles a day to cross the arid Sahara Desert in order to survive sandstorms, water shortages and raging temperatures.

When To Visit

Between February and May is the best time to go on this safari.

Who to Book With

Contact SafariDeal.com to find a tour operator who arranges safaris in Mali

10. Monarch Butterfly Migration – Southern California and Mexico

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About The Migration

The Monarch Butterfly Migration is another spectacular natural event, where millions of monarch butterflies travel to Mexico and southern parts of California to beat the cold winter months of North America and Canada. The butterflies are unable to withstand the freezing weather so they make the journey of up to 3,000 miles each year to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico. They are the only insect known to make this strenuous upward journey each year and as such, it is one of the greatest events on earth worth witnessing.

When To Visit

The best time to visit the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is January and February when the Monarch Butterfly population is at its peak.

Nearby Attractions: If you are in Mexico don’t forget a trip to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History (1 mile from Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary) and the National Museum of Anthropology.

Who to Book With

Contact SafariDeal.com to find a tour operator who arranges this type of safari in Mexico/Southern California.


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About author

MD and Co-Founder. Born in Zimbabwe, Robin has a long history in Africa, and safaris in general, from running lodges to marketing. He is always on the look out for new ideas and products from around the safari world.

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