May heralds the end of the wet season, which lasts from about the beginning
of November to mid May. By mid May, the weather generally begins to
clear and all the parks begin their season of change. There is a chance
of heavy rain in the beginning of May and lighter showers can be expected
for a few hours every other day during the remainder of May. However,
when it does rain, it will usually clear in 1-2 hours and more then
likely the rain will be localized. It is rare that rain clouds will
settle over a large area for an extended period of time. May is the
end of the season of the so-called ‘long rains’, which simply
does not mean much of anything in the Serengeti and is more applicable
to other areas in East Area. There is a risk that the heavier rains
will pose an inconvenience on game drives especially during the beginning
of May. This risk is mitigated by the fact that it tends to rain less
on the Serengeti plains where the best wildlife viewing is located during
May. Additionally, we believe the month of May offers superb game viewing
opportunities. We strongly recommend longer duration safaris during
the beginning May. We view the extra night or two as insurance against
the potential of sour weather having a negative impact on any one day.
Rain falls in different amounts over various locations throughout Northern Tanzania. The Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire and Lake Manyara receive higher rainfall then many parts of the Serengeti. There is a steep rainfall gradient in the Serengeti from the dry southeast to the wet northwest. The winds that bring rain blow from the east. The Ngorongoro Highlands block much of the rain from reaching the eastern and southern plains of the Serengeti. However, the western and northern parts of the Serengeti receive a much greater amount (2-3 times more) of participation as compared to the southern and eastern Serengeti. The wetter western and northern Serengeti areas are affected by Lake Victoria. This means that in the southern Serengeti where you should ideally focus your May safari, the rains should not be an issue and it will rain substantially less then the other areas of the Serengeti and Tanzania.
Temperatures are pleasant with an average high of 81 degrees and an average low of 56 degrees. However, the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater can get quite cold at night and in the early morning. Visitor numbers drop off dramatically at the beginning of March and during April and May the parks are completely empty of tourists. April and May see the fewest visitors of any month and lodging costs are substantially reduced. There is hardly anyone around in the parks, wildlife concentrations are at their highest in the Southern Serengeti, and the landscape is a lush green. May is one of our favorite times to take a safari!
Seasonal Wildlife Highlights
Serengeti National Park
Northern Serengeti (Woodlands)
Not recommended during May.
Western Serengeti (Woodlands)
May Recommended Duration of Game Drives: 1 Day
May Wildlife Highlights: Possibility of the Wildebeest Migration in mid to late May, Giraffe, Impala, Crocodile, Hippo
The western corridor straddles the northward migration route of the wildebeest migration. Typically in mid May (the end of the wet season), the great herds will depart the southern and eastern Serengeti plains and begin their long journey around the Serengeti ecosystem in search of greener pastures. The northward wildebeest migration is divided between two main population groups that have two different northward migration routes. The first and largest group follows the Mbalageti and Seronera Rivers from the southern plains into the western corridor. These herds will remain in the western corridor until about July when the dry season completely parches the land and they must venture north towards Kenya and its greener pastures. The second main group heads directly north from the plains through the Central Serengeti and directly into the Northern Serengeti and Masai Mara without entering the Western Serengeti.
Given the critical fact that the exact timing of the departure from the plains is completely dependent upon when the rains end in May, it is a good idea to place yourself in several different locations throughout your safari to ensure that you witness the most amazing wildlife spectacle in the world. The migration will reach the Western Serengeti anytime from about early May to early June depending on when the southern plains dry up. We recommend spending one day in May in the Western Serengeti along with the Central and Southern Serengeti to give you access to the herds just in case they are already in the West. You will undoubtedly see them either in the West, Central or South Serengeti.
The Western Serengeti is also home to significant numbers of resident wildlife. There are large populations of resident wildebeest and zebra that do not join their migratory cousins as they pass through every year on their journey northwards. Other resident animals include giraffe, buffalo, eland, topi, impala, waterbuck and Thomson’s gazelle. These resident animals support large concentrations of predators including lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. The big cats are frequently sighted but not to the extent as seen in the central Serengeti.
Central Serengeti (Plains/Woodlands Border)
May Recommended Duration of Game Drives: 1 - 2 Days
May Wildlife Highlights: Leopard, Lion, Giraffe, Impala, Buffalo, Hippo, Possibility of the Wildebeest Migration in mid to late May
The Central Serengeti offers superb game viewing year round due to the abundance of resident animals. Specifically, the Seronera River Valley in the Central Serengeti is a ‘must see’ on every safari regardless of the specific month of travel. Game viewing is better during the dry season (June - October) but during the wet season and including May there is still plenty of resident animal action. Resident herbivores include impala, buffalo, hippo, warthog, topi, hartebeest and giraffe. Resident carnivores include lion and leopard.
There are 12 documented resident lion prides just within a one-hour game drive radius from Seronera. All these prides do shift east and south in their territories during the wet season but they are still reachable though not in the same numbers found during the dry season. The Seronera Valley in the Central Serengeti is also one of the best areas in Africa to spot the elusive leopard. You will likely encounter this majestic cat in the branches of the sausage trees that dot the banks of the Seronera River.
Heavy rains may be an issue in early May in the Central Serengeti.
In addition to the Western Serengeti, the Central Serengeti is located on the northward migration route for a significant proportion of the wildebeest herds. The Moru Kopjes (if camping) and the Serengeti Sopa Lodge are both in prime positions to catch the northward migration through the Central Serengeti in May.
Eastern Serengeti (Plains)
May Recommended Duration of Game Drives: 1 - 2 Days
May Wildlife Highlights: Cheetah, Hyena, Eland Migration, Thomson’s Gazelle Migration
The Eastern Plains of the Serengeti are extremely seasonal. During the dry season, you will likely encounter only a few hearty Grant’s gazelle. However, the eastern plains come to life in the wet season including May and offer incredible game viewing for certain species of animals. A day trip at the minimum should be included in every green season itinerary.
The GOL Kopjes, located on the Eastern Plains, boasts the highest concentrations of cheetahs in Africa during the wet season. The majority of the cheetahs in the Serengeti are migratory in that many of them follow the Thomson’s Gazelle migration to the eastern short grass plains during the wet season and then back to the Central Serengeti (plains/woodland border) during the dry season.
The Eastern Plains are also the main wet season range of the giant eland migration. Additionally, you will likely find large clans of hyenas numbering up to 30 individuals in a single group. Hyenas are semi-nomadic and ‘commute’ to the Eastern Plains during the wet season from their den sites located in the Central Serengeti.
East of the Serengeti way out beyond the GOL Kopjes are the Eastern Plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Hundreds of thousands of migratory wildebeest range both the southern and eastern plains. You will likely encounter thousands of wildebeest from the GOL Kopjes, east through Angata Kiti and into the Salei Plains by the active volcano Mount Lengai. This is an extremely beautiful and remote area of the Eastern Plains and if you are adventurous enough to visit you will be rewarded with superb off the beaten track game viewing.
Southern Serengeti (Plains)
May Recommended Duration of Game Drives: 2 - 4 Days
May Wildlife Highlights: Wildebeest Migration and Zebra Migration, Lion, Cheetah, Elephant
The southern Serengeti steals the show in the wet season including May. The life giving rains that generally begin in mid November and last through early May trigger the great wildebeest migration into the plains of the South Serengeti and the northern Ngorongoro Conservation Area. As the rain subsides in May and the grasses have been reduced to stubbles, the great herds slowly begin to form and start their long march northward towards their dry season ranges. When the great movement begins is heavily dependent on rainfall patterns. The most likely scenario is that in the beginning of May the main herds will be located in and around the southern Serengeti. By late May they will have begun moving north-west towards the western corridor with a smaller group moving directly north. The end of May is also the beginning of the spectacular annual wildebeest rut, which is an amazing sight to behold. Predators will be abundant as some follow the migration and other resident ones shift in their territory to take advantage of this time of plenty.
The green season is a wonderful time to be on safari in the southern Serengeti and the northern Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Rain means game in the Serengeti and wildlife should be prolific on the Southern Serengeti Plains. The southern plains encompass a massive area so it’s best to locate yourself in more then one area if time allows. The wildebeest migration will most likely be spread across the now green plains of the northern NCA and the southern Serengeti. There should be thousands of young wildebeest calves on the green plains ranging from 3 - 4 months old. Along with the migration, predators should be abundant. There should be good cheetah sightings though not to the extent seen on the Eastern Plains. Lions should be easily visible, both resident prides and the nomads which have followed the migration from the woodlands. Elephants can also be found in the Southern Serengeti in the patches of woodland that dot the plains including the woodlands around Lake Ndutu and Kusini.
The massive wildebeest herds are usually located just south of the Serengeti border in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There will undoubtedly be smaller herds actually within the Serengeti proper but the main herds should be located in the extreme south. This makes Olduvai Camp and Ndutu Lodge in a prime position to catch the herds. Kusini Camp is also an excellent choice. More Serengeti National Park Information.
May Recommended Duration of Game Drives: 1 - 2 Days
May Wildlife Highlights: Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Cheetah
The Ngorongoro Crater, described as one of the wonders of the world, is an amazing natural sanctuary not to be missed. Game viewing here is among the very best Africa has to offer and is excellent at any time of year. The crater is very small at only about 10 miles across. With just one game drive in the Crater, it is possible to circumnavigate the crater several times and see all the main highlights. However, every safari we offer includes two separate game drives in the Crater over a course of two days including one early morning 6AM drive. The goal on the early morning game drive is to be the first person in the Crater that day. Animals are generally more active in the morning, which makes the early morning game drive option an excellent choice.
The crater is not a self-contained ecosystem and some animals do migrate in and out of the surrounding NCA but not in any significant numbers to warrant tailoring your itinerary. The main factors for planning are weather and visitor numbers. In May, the crater will be lush green and visitor numbers will be at their lowest. More Ngorongoro Crater Information.
Tarangire National Park
Not recommended during May. More Tarangire Information.
Lake Manyara National Park
May Recommended Duration of Game Drives: 0 - 1 Day
May Wildlife Highlights: Elephant, Baboons, Giraffe, Impala, Birding
Game viewing is generally fair to good in Lake Manyara at any time of year. However, Lake Manyara does not offer the abundance of wildlife nor quality of wildlife viewing experiences found in the other parks of Northern Tanzania. Similar to Ngorongoro Crater, seasonal wildlife patterns are not significant enough to warrant tailoring your itinerary.
Lake Manyara is a beautiful little park and is famous for its tree-climbing lions, elephants and large troops of baboons. The park is home to an amazing variety of birds and animals considering its small size. A short visit to this serene park will greatly diversify your safari experience as the lush green jungle habitat is of stark contrast to the other parks you will visit during your safari.
We find that a quick day visit to Lake Manyara before either heading back towards Kilimanjaro or on the way from the Crater to Tarangire is sufficient and ideal for most travelers. The park gate is just a few feet from the main road and this combined with the fact that the park is small allows for quick and rewarding forays into the park. A one to four hour visit to Lake Manyara makes a superb addition to any safari itinerary. More Lake Manyara Information.
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