Masai Mara (also known as Maasai Mara or simply “the Mara” as locals call it) is one of the most well-known national parks in Kenya and the world over. And to be quite honest, a Masai Mara safari is usually one of the top places on any Kenya safari itinerary and for good reason too!
It sits in southwestern Kenya and joins together with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. The national park spans an area of over 900 square miles and is named after the Masai tribe – Mara meaning spotted in Maa, the tribes language. ‘Spotted’ is actually an apt description of the Mara environment; all you can see are rolling savannah plains with small trees and shrubs dotted around. This makes game viewing very easy as there is little for the animals to hide behind while you’re trying to spot them.
The area was made a national park in 1961 by the British while they still ruled Kenya before its independence in 1963. Masai Mara was protected in order to preserve the incredible wildlife of the region but also had the negative effect of displacing a large population of the Masai people who used to graze their cattle on the rich land.
Today the Masai Mara is not simply the Mara Triangle as it used to be. The Mara North Conservancy and Naboisho Conservancy have been added to it, coming together to form a beautifully large connected area for the wildlife to roam freely around.
There are two ways to get to the Masai Mara, either by car or plane. There are daily flights from Nairobi that will have you landing within 30 minutes of take-off. Driving takes around 5 hours and on the way, you’ll get to pass by Mt. Suswa and drive along the rift valley. The drive does sound like a bit of a slog but it’s well worth doing it on one leg of the journey. You’ll get to see the real side of Kenya rather than just flying over it.
The Mara is full of amazing creatures and is home to elephants, rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, wildebeest, topi, zebra, giraffe, hippo, Thomson’s gazelle, jackal, hyena and more; the list is endless.
It’s known for its big cats and is one of the best places to see lions, leopards, and cheetahs. You may have seen the nature documentary called ‘Big Cat Diary’ which was filmed in the Mara. The show highlighted the lives of cats from the Reserve’s Musiara marsh, Leopard Gorge, Fig Tree Ridge areas and the Mara River. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching before you go.
Click here for a detailed list and photos of 21 types of wildlife to see in Kenya.
Every year between late July and early September, millions of animals migrate from the Serengeti into the Mara. This is known as the Great Migration and no doubt you’ve heard of it. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and other antelopes start moving to the Mara to find fresh grasslands to feed on. It’s one of the most impressive natural events in the world and it’s said that 1,300,000 wildebeest, 500,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 97,000 Topi, 18,000 elands, and 200,000 zebras all take part in the march together.
One of the most iconic safari experiences is watching the herds cross the Mara River, the wildebeest in particular. They’ll all sit above the banks, cueing nervously, waiting for the first of them to hop down and cross the river. Crocodiles lie in wait and you can feel the tension in the air. All of sudden, a brave wildebeest makes the first move, then chaos reigns as they all follow to try and get across without being eaten by the hungry crocs. It’s an incredible sight to see and will have the hairs on the neck standing on end as you urge the wildebeest safely across the river.
The reserve is also home to over 470 species of birds, many of which are migrants. You can hope to see vultures, marabou storks, secretary birds, hornbills, crowned cranes, ostriches, long-crested eagles, African pygmy-falcons and the lilac-breasted roller, which is the national bird of Kenya.
The Safari Experience
Waking up in your canvas tent and sticking your toe out onto the verandah to catch a view of the sunrise while you watch elephants move through the morning mist is something you will never forget. This is the kind of safari experience Kenya and the lodges of the Masai Mara offer.
The lodges are unfenced and as you arrive you’ll most likely be met by a smiling Masai who will help you with your bags, get you checked in, and escort you to your room in case you bump into some wildlife on the way. It doesn’t get much wilder than that.
Once you’re there be prepared for amazing food, incredible hospitality, early mornings, late evenings and days of adventuring around the savannah in a 4×4 with your own guide. It’s just mind-blowing and nowhere else in the world will you feel more connected to nature than on safari. You feel so very small and insignificant compared to the world you’re driving around!
If there is something I can recommend over anything else on safari, it’s going on a bushwalk. In the company of a ranger and a Masai, you’ll walk through the bush and come face to face with some of the safer animals in the park. There isn’t a better way, in my opinion, to really connect with or photograph the magnitude of where you are than walking amongst it. A bushwalk will be easily arranged, just talk to the reception at your lodge and book it in.
When To Go
If you want to see the migration then you’ll need to be in the Mara between late July and early September, with August being the peak time to be there. If the migration isn’t a concern of yours, then you can visit the park all year round, with the best time being December to April during the dry season. If you’re looking for a deal, May and June is a good time to try but you may have a very wet experience due to the rains.
Click here to compare prices on where to stay in Masai Mara.
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About the Author
Mike is addicted to both adventure and travel, so he decided to combine the two to form TheAdventourist. There he shares his journey from one adrenaline rush to another, always exploring new places as he goes. You can find him sharing his travels on Facebook.