Africa > East Africa > Kenya > Southern Rift Valley > Maasai Mara National Reserve
Maasai Mara National Reserve is in the southwest of Kenya. The Maasai Mara is not a National Park, but rather a National Reserve belonging to the Maasai people and administered by the local county councils. It is one of the best known and most popular reserves in Africa.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve (also Masai Mara) is each year visited by thousands of tourists, who come here to watch the many different wildlife and birdlife species in the reserve. The reserve is especially famous for the high amount of predators, such as lions, cheetahs, and leopards, and the 1½ million wildebeest which migrate through the Mara and cross the crocodile infested Mara river.
It is notable that Masai Mara is one of the few wildlife reserves in Africa where it is possible to see not only the "Big Five" but also the "Big Nine" Animals within a day's game drive. The "Big Nine" are the lion (Panthera leo), the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), the leopard (Panthera pardus), the African (Cape) buffalo (Syncerus caffer), the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), the zebra (Equus quagga) and the hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius).
The best kept secret of the Mara is the Mara Triangle, the north western part of the Maasai Mara which is managed by the Mara Conservancy on behalf of Trans-Mara County Council - the rest of the reserve falls under Narok County Council. Although one third of the Mara, the Mara Triangle has only two properties within its boundaries (compared to the numerous camps and lodges on the Narok side) and has well maintained, all weather gravel roads. There are several camps that lie outside the reserve but close to Oloololo Gate of the Mara Triangle, which means in turn that guests staying at these camps will normally be brought into the Mara Triangle area for their game drives. The conservancy rangers patrol regularly which means that there is almost no poaching and therefore excellent game viewing. There is also strict control over vehicle numbers around animal sightings which means a better, more authentic, experience when out on a game drive.
Though the Mara has good numbers of wildlife all year around, it is more lively during the annual Great wildebeest migration when it is estimated that close to a million plus animals migrate into the reserve from Serengeti National park in the south. The migration does not start exactly at the same time each year. It typically starts off some time between July to early August and begins to tail off by mid September when most of the splinter groups within the large wildebeest herds will have crossed over into Masai Mara. Although animals can be seen at any time of the year in May/June it's difficult due to the rainy season with muddy paths.
It is advisable to avoid booking Safaris that have too many destinations or parks to visit within single itinerary. This is often the case with the one-week safaris offered by the major international tour operators. With too many parks and too little time, one has little time left to fully explore the location or really observe the amazing wildlife in each of the parks and reserves as much time is lost traveling from one place to the next.
Check “hot offers” particularly intensely because their program might be completely firm and the accommodations often outside the parks. A good location of the lodge is very important in the Mara. They often use mini buses instead of Jeeps packed with 6 persons, which is the maximum number of seats in a mini bus. You can imagine how packed you are if everyone has a small bag plus photo equipment.
Arrowheads and pottery discarded by Neolithic man 2,000 years ago have been found in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Since the 17th century the Masai people have occupied the area - of course together with the wildlife, who are the true landlords here. The Maasai Mara National Reserve as it appears today was established in 1961, and covers 1,510 km² (583 sq miles).
The Maasai Mara is characterized by four different kinds of topography: sandy soil and small bushes to the east, the Siria Escarpment forming a spectacular plateau as the western boundary of the reserve, lush grasslands and woodlands around the Mara River and open plains with scattered bushes making up the largest part of the reserve. The landscape is very varied and has a romantic feeling to it, as can be witnessed in the film Out of Africa, which was filmed here in 1985.
Flora and fauna
When visiting the Maasai Mara you are likely to see the famous Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Especially lions are common here, and have grown relatively accustomed to their two-legged visitors, which makes them easier to spot. The Mara Plains are teeming with wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, impala and Thomson's gazelle. Also cheetahs, hyenas and jackals are seen regularly in the reserve. In the Mara River large amounts of hippos and crocodiles are enjoying their lives - the crocodiles are especially happy in July and November when thousands of wildebeest migrate across the river causing a sumptuous feast for the hungry crocodiles.
Birdlife in Maasai Mara are abundant and diverse. Species such as eagles, ostriches, storks and vultures are among the more than 50 different birds of prey.
Maasai Mara is 1,500-2,200 m (4,900-7,100 ft) above sea level, which makes the climate slightly damper and milder than in other similar regions. Highest temperatures in daytime is 30°C/85°F (warmest in December and January, coldest in June and July), at night the temperature rarely drops below 15°C/60°F.
The rainy season is April-May and November. In these periods some parts of the Mara will get very muddy and practically inaccessible. The dry season occurs from July to October. This is the best time to visit the Maasai Mara as a lot of herbivores indulge in the plants grown long and lush after the rains - and, in these months you will stay clear of heavy showers.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is accessible by regularly scheduled flight from Nairobi Wilson Airport year-round. Flights can often run from from Samburu, Lewa Downs, Nanyuki or Mombasa if sufficient demand. If you have a small group, a charter is also an option. The aircraft will land on one of the small Mara airstrips, and from here you need to transfer by car to your particular lodge. Many lodges and camps offer pickups. The flight from Nairobi takes around half an hour, but may land at several Mara strips. Frequency for all airlines depends on the season. Some flights only operate subject to minimum passenger numbers.
- Air Kenya. is a reliable state airline
- . Safarilink (in combination with Coastal aviation) also offers connecting flights from Tanzania via the land crossing at Migori/Tarime.
If you go by car from Nairobi the drive will take you five hours during the dry season, and up to seven hours in the rainy season. By car you can enter the game reserve through these gates: 1 Oloolaimutia. , 2 Sekenani. , 3 Talek. , 4 Musiara. ,5 Oloololo. and Sand River.
The roads in the reserve can become flooded or turned into mud puddles in the rainy seasons in April, May and November.
A lot of travel agencies organise safari trips to Maasai Mara. You can book a package tour, which allows you to put all transportation to and in the park in their hands.
Fees and permits
- Entry fee is USD 80 per person per night.
- You can book your tour of the National Reserve with a reliable tour operator that will usually bundle the park fee, the accommodation, and the safari car and driver fees to make sure that you can enjoy your adventure and not have to worry about the details.
- See also: Safaris
Moving around in Maasai Mara National Reserve must only take place by car - preferably by 4-wheel safari vehicles. Because of the wild animals it is absolutely forbidden to move about on foot outside the camp sites and lodges.
The main attraction of this game reserve is, not surprisingly, game viewing. Go on morning, afternoon and night drives over several days in order to see as many as possible of the resident animals, such as lion, leopard, elephant, zebra, giraffe, Thomson's gazelle, hyena, rhino, hippo and the thousands of migrating wildebeest that makes this park so famous.
Many camp sites and lodges offer game drives with experienced drivers and skilled, well-informed guides. These are well worth your money, as they will provide you with priceless knowledge and help you spot animals you wouldn't see on your own. And please catch as many sunuppers and -downers as you can.
Maasai Mara's most famous sight is the Great Migration, a great animal migration event that takes place in July and August every year.
There is a Maasai village near Oloolaimutiek gate of this game park. It is a good experience and will help you to deepen your understanding of the Maasai's culture and simple way of life.
- Game viewing. Go game viewing till you drop! You can bring your own car (with or without private driver), take a tour, or some of the lodges provide game drives.
- Hot Air Safaris. If this gets a little monotonous (which it probably won't), you can go on a much recommended hot air balloon safari early in the morning and see the sun rising above the wildlife and the magnificent landscapes. And do remember to take lots of photographs! Price is about 450€ (Ksh 45000 ) per person! The flights are mostly booked out by Chinese, so book ahead at times.
- Wellness. Some lodges and camps offer massage and wellness treatments making you able to combine wildlife watching with luxury.
- Maasai Village Visit. Your guide should be able to arrange a visit to the local Maasai Village. These are actual living villages rather than historical relics. You will probably have a charge around US$20 from the village, plus whatever conveyance cost you incur. Once in the village, expect to get the opportunity to buy many more handicrafts, etc, from their markets.
You can buy strings of beads or beads already made up into necklaces and other pieces of jewellery at the gate and outside the entry to the park.
If you want to support local communities do not buy trinkets from the camps and lodges and instead buy them from a local village - 'manyatta'.
- David Livingstone Safari Resort, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. David Livingstone Safari Resort is situated to the northeast of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Lemek Conservancy on a broad bend with hippo pools on the Mara River. The lodge is set in 40 acres (16 hectares) of tropical gardens with indigenous plants and botanical gardens it commands one of most spectacular views in the Serengeti- Mara ecosystem; the lodge lies on the Mara River at the edge of Maasai Mara National Reserve and overlooks deep pools where crocodiles and hippos bask all day. Accommodation 80 ensuite rooms and two deluxe suites.
- 1 Keekorok Lodge. Bungalows in single-storey blocks, restaurant, swimming pool, regular lectures on Masai lifestyle. It has a timber walkway stretching into the park, and next to the resident hippo pool. It is easy to spot hippos, crocs, buffalo, gazelle and elephant without leaving the lodge. They run their own game drives, and are 1 km from the airstrip, so you can book your own flights, accommodation and drives here without having to engage a tour company.
- Neo Classic camps Maasai Mara (Neo Management), 55950 (Nairobi), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 10:00, check-out: 12:00. This property located on the banks of Talek river. Tents with WC, Large double beds. Package includes game drives, BLD. 200.
- 2 Mara Serena lodge, P.O. Box 48690, Nairobi, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 73 individual rooms with private balcony and spectacular views, swimming pool, restaurant.
- Karen Blixen Camp, Nairobi, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Luxury camp with private masseuse and wellness treatments, 22 luxurious tents on raised platforms, located at the bank of Mara River with a resident hippo pod providing endless entertainment, restaurant, bar, swimming pool.
- Royal Mara Safari Lodge, Nairobi, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Six luxury guest suites built on elevated cedar and mahogany wood decks with private verandas and intricately hand-carved furniture, located directly on the Mara River, features over 200 resident hippos.
- [dead link] Kensington Tented Camp. Each of the camp's eight Suswa tents are carefully spread along the riverbank in this pristine 80 acres (32 hectares) reserve. Isolated and private, yet situated in the midst of a teeming corner of the legendary Mara park, guests will savor this close connection with nature.
- Kilima Camp, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Kilima Camp is an intimate eco-friendly camp and it consists in 12 tents. Kilima means "mountain" in Swahili and the camp is located on top of the Siria escapement, 15 minutes from Oloololo Gate. It benefits from an amazing view over the Mara river and the plains.
- Ngerende Island Lodge, ✉ email@example.com. A luxury safari lodge strategically located at the edge of the Mara river. The lodge comprises of only seven elegant suites, stylishly designed to guarantee guests great comfort and exclusivity while on their safari in the Masai Mara.
- 3 Mara Explorers (Addresses are informal in this area. Contact Mara Explorers), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Masai Mara is never cheap, but Mara Explorers is a great budget option for those travelling independent of a tour group. They can connect you with vehicles and guides to see the park. At night, men with spears and strobe lights will be on hand to chase out leopards and elephants. Family run, hot water, electricity, no Wi-Fi. US$16.
- Zebra Plains Mara Camp. A small camp in the Mara between Reserve and Olare Orok Conservancy. 4 tents small and very comfortable, approx. 20 minutes from the Olkiombo Airstrip and the Double Cross area.
- 4 Malaika Camp. Opened 2015, a private eco camp with 5 tents located directly on the Mara river and about 20-30 minutes from the Olkiombo Airstrip. Here you can find pure nature
- 5 Camp Oloshaiki. Nice camp at a good location at Telek river
- 6 Aruba Mara Camp & Safaris. Nice camp at Talek river near Talek gate. The camp has its own drivers, who are very familiar with the park.
- 7 Mara Intrepids Tented Camp. nice camp deep within the park near Talek River
- 8 Mara Eden Safari Camp. very nice camp directly at Mara river
- 9 Governors’ Camp.
Outside the reserve
- 10 Manyatta Camp. Located just outside the eastern Oloolaimutia Gate with beautiful views over the park. It's possible to reach the village of Oloolaimutia with public transport from Narok. The matatu is leaving Narok in the morning time and returning in the afternoon. Double US$120-180.
In the Mara Triangle part of the Maasai Mara there are both public and private campsites available to use. For full details of payment amounts and availability of campsites go to the Mara Triangle website.
- Camping at Oloololo gate. There is a public campsite next to Oloololo gate with shower and toilet facilities, and is very clean but basic, with great views over the Mara and the protection of the rangers camp nearby.
- Camping at Serena Hotel. There is also another public campsite next to Serena Hotel which has longdrop toilets.
- Camping at the river. The private campsites are located along the river and have a special booking fee.
- 11 Aruba Mara Camp Site. Small, cozy, family-run and located directly at the Talek Gate by the river.
If you're heading next for Lake Naivasha or Nakuru you can get off in Mai Mahiu at the junction of the Old Naivasha Road, so you can skip the Nairobi traffic jams. From there frequent matatus head north.