Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Show on Earth

Written by Thomson Safaris

It’s September, and here at Thomson Safaris that means something very important: it’s River Crossing season! And just because this year is a little different, doesn’t mean we can’t still get excited about one of nature’s most interesting spectacles.
So we sat down with Thomson staffer Hillary. This time last year she and her husband Will found themselves in the endless plains of the Serengeti, witnessing their first river crossing! Hillary shared some stories and details about what really happens if you’re lucky enough to catch the show.


How much of a priority was seeing a river crossing for you and Will? What about the rest of the group?

We really wanted to see it. I had been on safari before, but never while river crossings were happening. This was Will’s first safari and he wanted to just see everything! Most of our group wanted to see the river crossings because it’s what we you hear about when you research Tanzania.

Video: Thomson guest Anne and Katherine Farber


You were staying at the Thomson Northern Serengeti Nyumba Camp. How long did it take for you to get to the river, or to find a herd?

Not long at all! It was maybe 10 – 15 minutes to get to the river and there were wildebeest everywhere.


How many river crossings did you see while on safari?

Just one! We saw so many herds along the river, and they seemed interested, but most decided against making the journey and turned around.

great migration river crossing in tanzaniaHillary and Will’s view of the Great Migration river crossing


What did you do while waiting in the vehicle? Did you see any other animals while waiting?

We saw giraffe and elephants while we waited. We also got to just observe some of the wildebeest. We were sitting across the river from all of the herds, and suddenly we heard this little cry – it was a baby wildebeest stuck on our side of the river! He cried and cried and ran down toward the river. The little guy worked up the courage to finally attempt to cross. The current kept taking him a bit, but after a while he FINALLY made it to the other side. The riverbanks, however, are dusty and hard to get up. The poor baby was down along the water while the rest of his herd was up on the banks. He was running and kept trying to get up. Then we realized there was a crocodile sitting along the river’s edge, right where the baby was running back and forth. After what seemed like forever, the wildebeest found a path that he could get his footing on and made it up to the rest of the herds! The whole thing lasted maybe 45 minutes or so. What a nail-biter! I guess that is nature for you!

exhausted wildebeest calf on banks of mara riverWildebeest calf on Mara River banks


How long did you wait for the crossing?

It took us a couple of hours find a herd that actually ended up crossing. We waited a while and it looked like the herd was going to turn around and move on. All the wildebeest in the back were already walking away. The other vehicles that were waiting with us left, but our guide said, “I know they are going to cross. We just need to be patient.” Sure enough, not even 10 minutes later, the first wildebeest dipped his toe in the water and the flood gates opened. They all came charging across toward us, and we were the only vehicle there.

hillary and will wait for the wildebeest to cross the riverHillary and Will wait for the crossing at the Mara River


So exciting! How long did the actual crossing last?

About half an hour.


Any casualties?

None – phew!


Can you describe what it was like?

When the first wildebeest crossed, our vehicle shot down closer to the river’s edge and the wildebeest just started whipping past us. It was dusty and noisy and there’s just a lot of commotion. Everywhere I looked there was something different happening: a wildebeest getting swept up in the current, a few jumping from the high banks down into the river, zebras trying to cross among the swarm of wildebeest. So exhilarating!

motion blur of wildebeest crossing the mara river


How did it feel to finally see one?

It totally surpassed all our expectations. I wasn’t sure how patient I would be, but the anticipation just builds and the longer we waited, the more invested I became. It was VERY much worth it. It truly is the greatest show on earth.


Any tips for anyone interested in seeing a River Crossing?

Definitely stay in the Northern Serengeti Nyumba – you won’t have to spend valuable time driving from a further camp. And opt for later in the dry season – maybe September or October in order to avoid the summer crowds.

thomson northern serengeti nyumba campThomson’s Northern Serengeti Nyumba Camp


If you’re interested in catching a river crossing like Hillary and Will, we recommend checking out these itineraries, which all include time at the Northern Serengeti Nyumba Camp during the Dry Season:

founders of thomson on safari in tanzania most popular safari in tanzania see tanzania wildlife on this popular safari fly to southern tanzania safari parks

or start planning a custom adventure!