The migration of the wildebeest in East Africa is the most celebrated wildlife spectacle in the world. Deservedly so: I will never forget my first evening in the Serengeti, gazing from the roof of a Land Rover at countless thousands of animals grazing, grunting, the calves gamboling, a tide of black backs moving on inexorably. Estimates vary, but each year, around 2 million animals make the circular trek in search of water and fresh grass.
There are two periods in this annual cycle, however, that are more dramatic than others. In January, the wildebeest give birth on the short-grass plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. This prompts the arrival of lion prides up to 25 strong, as well as numerous leopard and cheetah. The southern plains are like a vast natural pool table, about 50 miles wide, and this unique topography means that it is possible to see thousands of animals in a single glance. (At this time of year, my recommended lodge is Sanctuary Kusini.)
For a while, the wildebeest remain in one place. By March, however, the grass has been cropped close and the herds begin to break up, moving off in long, straggling lines. Sometime in late July, they reconvene 200 miles to the north, on the banks of the Mara River. This flows southwest through Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve and across the northern Serengeti in Tanzania before emptying its muddy water into the expanse of Lake Victoria.
Kenya and the Mara have become almost synonymous, and even experienced African travelers are often unaware that the river flows for half its length through Tanzania. The remote area north of the river but south of the Kenyan border is known as the Lamai Triangle, a 300-square-mile expanse of fertile grasslands. Here, the new Singita Mara River Tented Camp is scheduled to open on September 29 this year.
The first Singita lodge debuted nearly 20 years ago in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Reserve. Since then, Singita properties have become established Harper favorites, fixtures on our annual Reader Survey. And for good reason: They set the benchmark for luxury wildlife lodges throughout the world. The company’s new venture will comprise six tents (two of which have been designed to accommodate families), an enclosed lounge/dining area, and a plunge pool. It will complement Singita’s three other lodges and camps in the Grumeti region of the western Serengeti.
Nothing in the course of the Great Migration is more dramatic than the crossing of the Mara River, during which the desperate wildebeest are assailed by gigantic crocodiles on every side. It is a spectacle beloved of wildlife filmmakers and one that draws thousands of visitors each year. However, nearly all of them stay in Kenya and as a result, in August and September, the Masai Mara can be severely overcrowded.
In contrast, the stretch of the river in Tanzania is virtually deserted. If you want to witness this extraordinary sight minus the crowds, the new Singita camp presents a unique opportunity.
Personally, I’ve seldom been so excited by the opening of a wildlife property and plan to be on a plane to Tanzania as soon as conveniently possible.