The Masai Mara is the jewel in Kenya’s wildlife crown and many travellers come to Kenya just to see it. Now the 8th Wonder of the Natural World, it is a great example of African savannah and the wildlife viewing is superb with large quantities and varieties of animals and birds found throughout the year – including the big five. The Masai Mara is the northern extension of the Serengeti plains and is located on the Kenya/Tanzania border, 275km southwest of Nairobi. It covers around 1510sqkm and is between 1500 and 2100 metres above sea level.
The Mara (as it is affectionately known) is particularly famous for the migration of the wildebeest, which occurs annually from around July to October, and is quite a spectacle. Watching hundreds of thousands of bleating wildebeest and zebra milling on the shores of the Mara River before they take their chance against the crocs, lions, hyenas and other predators that lay knowingly in wait. They cross from the Serengeti to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara in June/July and then in October once the green grass has diminished, they run the gauntlet again, back to the Serengeti. Timing and their route often vary from year to year.
Many animals can be seen year round including lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, jackal, elephant, ostrich, hippo, crocodile, mongoose, bat eared fox, warthog, baboon, vervet monkey, thompson’s gazelle, grant’s gazelle, impala, topis, cokes hartebeest, wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo and zebra. There are black Rhino here in small numbers but they are very hard to spot as they hide in the bush throughout the day. Bird life here is also abundant with vultures, eagles, guinea fowl, falcons, crowned crane, bustards and many more species are regularly seen.
The Masai people are a colourful and interesting tribe who have embraced tourism, but still manage to hold onto their traditions customs and life. Many rely heavily on tourism to make money, inviting tourists into their manyatta (village) for a fee. If you want to stay longer and live with a Masai family to experience their life and learn about their customs, it is possible to go walking through the Masai Mara Conservancy or the Loita Hills with a Masai Moran as a guide.
During the high season, the Masai Mara can be a white minivan circus and so choosing the right time for you to visit is important. Although many books and websites may tell people to avoid the rainy months, it often only rains in the late afternoon and overnight, and so shouldn’t impact on your safari too much (except the roads may be boggy). With weather patterns becoming more and more unpredictable, these ‘unpopular’ months, may be the best times to come to enjoy a less crowded park and take advantage of special accommodation offers.
With road conditions as they are, flying to and/or from the Masai Mara is a good option for those with limited time or those who want to maximise their game viewing options. Distances in Kenya can be long and flying can be a quick and convenient way to hop between the prime game viewing areas. We would also recommend staying in one of the Mara Conservancies to maximise game viewing and minimise tourism impact in this precious habitat.