Located in southwestern Kenya, the Masai Mara National Reserve is 580 square miles of preserved savanna wilderness full of lions, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, and wildebeests. The Masai Mara is one of the most popular safari destinations and considered the crown Jewel of Kenyan wildlife reserves. Home to the annual wildebeest migration involving over 1.5 million animals, the Masai Mara should be at the top of anyone’s safari bucket list.
The Masai Mara is located 280kms from Nairobi City and takes about 6 hours to reach by automobile. The country of Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park boarder the Masai Mara to the south.
When to Visit
The best time to visit is during the Wildebeest migration which usually occurs late July through September. However, due to climate change, this has become less predictable. When I visited in June, the migration was in full swing instead of only just starting. I suggest visiting the nearby Serengeti National Park as well to ensure you get a chance to view the migration.
The dry season from June to October is preferred since animals are easier to spot near the water holes and there are less insects. However, this is also the most expensive time to visit.
Places to Stay
Most lodging options are located in the area bordering the reserve with only a couple located within. The accommodation options vary from basic camp sites, to luxury camping, or to top end lodges like the Fairmont.
I stayed at the Osero Lodge located just outside the reserve which I would classify as luxury camping or “glamping” The tent had a large queen sized bed, desk, dresser, shower, and full sized hot tub. To my surprise, dinner was excellent considering it was prepared in the wilderness
Kenya has dramatically different landscapes throughout the country ranging from mountainous, desert, tropical, and grasslands. The Masai Mara has vast plains of rollings grassy hills with rivers cutting across with hippos and crocodiles. Imagine Tuscany with elephants. If you travel to one of the taller hills, you can see wildebeest and elephants for miles. Out of all the places I visited in Kenya, the cats camouflaged really well in the tall grass.
“Big Five” animals are all found in the Masai Mara which are the lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant. The Masai Mara is considered one of the best wildlife destinations in the world where there is a good chance to see cheetah, gazelle, hyenas, jackals, hippo, crocodile, waterbuck, zebra and over 400 species of bird.
While not unique to all of Africa, the following are unique compared to other reserves in Kenya.
- Wildebeest Migration
- Long rolling grassland plains
- Wildebeest river crossings
- Abundance of wildlife including 95 species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles
- Hot air ballon ride over the wildebeest migration (a must do!)
Animal Behavioral Observations
The best part of going on safari in Africa is not just seeing the animals in their natural habitat, but to observe their behavior. If you’ve gone to zoos or that Safari in Six Flags New Jersey, the animals just lay around all day and sleep. Not here. Millions of wildebeest and zebra are on the move, lions are hunting, stalking prey, or mating, and elephants are grazing and raising their young. There is always something going on to observe!
In conclusion, the Masai Mara is one of the greatest places to visit. Period. Endless plains filled with millions of animals in all directions make this a truly unique and special place. The wildebeest migration is one of the greatest natural spectacles in the world and must be seen to believe. If you are considering going on a safari, especially in East Africa, the Masai Mara surely should be at the top of you list.