Masai Mara National Reserve is the most famous safari destination in Kenya. The reserve is situated in southern Kenya stretching along the border with Tanzania. Masai Mara National Reserve together with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park has a great ecosystem where the wildebeest migration happens every year. The national reserve was named after the Masai people who are the local inhabitants of the area.
The Masai Mara National Reserve covers a land area of 1510 square kilometers and includes the Mara Triangle and a number of conservancies. Some conservancies are privately owned but well managed with a number of wildlife species and have played a great role in wildlife conservation in the area.
There are 14 conservancies in Masai Mara covering a land area of 142,000 hectares. Some of these include Mara North, Mara Naboisho, Olarro, Motorogi, Mara Siana, and Lamek among others.
Masai Mara National Reserve is mainly covered by savanna grasslands and shrubs and has three main rivers. These include The Sand River, Talek River, and Mara River.
Wildlife In Masai Mara National Reserve
There are a number of wildlife species in Masai Mara National Reserve. These include safari’s favorite big five mammals and are present in large numbers. These are elephants often seen in large herds grazing, buffaloes, rhinos, leopards, and lions. Even though the rhino population greatly declined, Masai Mara is still a great place to see rhinos, especially the black rhinos.
Hippos are also found in Masai Mara and are often seen on the river banks of the Talek and Mara rivers. Other wildlife species in the reserve include giraffes, Nile crocodiles, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and wildcats, among others.
The major grazers in the reserve include wildebeest, elands, Thompson gazelles, zebras, and roan antelopes that are involved in wildebeest migration. These often attract the leading predators of the land, especially lions, leopards, and hyenas.
Masai Mara has over 450 bird species including crowned cranes, ostriches, falcons, and hornbills among others.
Activities in Masai Mara National Reserve
Safari Game drives
Game drives are the main safari activities done in Masai Mara in the Triangle and the different conservancies. The game drives feature the different safari animals, especially the big cats and big five mammals. You can enjoy full-day game drives in the park but the best time to have them is in the early morning hours and late evening. In the morning it is always refreshing to have a start catching up with the early risers and the normal routine of the wildlife.
The wildebeest migration being the major wildlife phenomenon in the reserve, game drives featuring the wildebeest are very adventurous and enjoyable. The best time to catch the migration in Masai Mara is from July to September and the Mara River crossings are the most spectacular.
Hot air balloon safaris are also commonly done in Masai Mara. These greatly supplement the game drives as they enable you to have a panoramic view of the park’s ecosystem and wildlife in general. Balloon safaris are highly recommended during the wildebeest migration season as you get to see the millions of wildebeest, gazelles, and zebras move in hundreds of thousands. They are also ideal for photography for those interested In Photography safaris.
The reserve having over 450 bird species makes it a birders’ haven. Birding safari adventures in Masai Mara are very rewarding as you get to see the different bird species the reserve has. Best birding experiences in the reserve can be enjoyed from November to May when there are migratory birds from as far as Europe. Much as the months of November, March, and April are wet, you can still enjoy a birding and big five wildlife safari in Masai Mara.
Masai Mara National Reserve was named after the local inhabitants of the area, the Masai people. They have lived in the area for years and are the primary guardians of the wildlife. Some were resettled as a way of ensuring wildlife conservation but live within the vicinity of the reserve and a visit there offers a great insight into their ways of life. Most of the guided safari walks in Masai Mara are led by the Masai people as they share vast knowledge about the area and wildlife in general.
Accommodation options in Masai Mara range from safari lodges to luxury-tented lodges. The reserve has some of the world’s leading lodges that offer first-class hospitality services. Some of these include Mahali Nzuri tented camp which is located in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Mara Serena Safari Lodge the only one located in the Mara triangle, Sand River Masai Mara, Sala’s Camp, Kichakani Mara Camp among others. It is very important to book the appropriate accommodation option depending on the places you plan to visit to avoid any inconvenience.
Mara Serena Safari Lodge being the only option in the Mara Triangle makes it one of the most highly demanded options. It is advisable to book here a couple of months in advance especially when visiting in the peak tourist season. The peak tourist season in Kenya is often from June to October and the festive season is in December.
Masai Mara can be accessed by road transport. It is about 140 kilometers and takes a 5 to 6 hours drive. This included en route stopovers for photography and major places of interest. African road trips are very enjoyable and highly recommended for a true African adventure.
In case you do not want the long drive then you can opt to fly to the reserve. There are over 10 airstrips that are evenly distributed in the different conservancies in Masai Mara. Some of these include Serena Airstrip, Siana Spring Airstrip, Mara North Conservancy Airstrip, Kichwa Tembo Airstrip, Narok Airstrip, Cottars Airstrip, and others. Air transport can work well for those who have limited time in Kenya but would love to explore the reserve. You can get to the reserve early enough to start your adventures, especially game drives.
Safaris in Masai Mara are possible any time of the year. The wildebeest migration however is the leading safari experience and it is recommended to visit when it is on from June to September. For general wildlife viewing any time of the month can work.