Introduction

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.

Full grown male lion on the hunt

Adolescent lion blending in well with the surroundings

 Location

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.

Map of Kenya

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.

Watching the wildebeest migration from safari vehicle

Enjoying a picnic lunch while our guide kept watch

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

Osero Lodge Tent

Landscape

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.

Wildebeest Migration across miles of grassland

Watering holes attract many animals

Trees and tall shrubs usually are near sources of water

Once the Zebra and Wildebeest eat all the grass in one area, the ground is flat like a golf course green.

Many lions sleeping near bushes

Baby giraffe

Elephants grazing

Animals Spotted

“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.

Lion

Leopard

Cheetah

Hyena

Crocodile

Elephant

Masai Giraffe

Topi

Zebra

Hippo

Ostrich

Marabou Stork

Crowned Plover

Lilac-breasted Roller

Southern Ground Hornbill

Egyptian Goose

Unique Features

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!)

Wildebeest Migration

Wildebeest lining up in preparation to cross the crocodile filled river

Wildebeest cliff jumping into the river and feverishly crossing

Once one wildebeest starts crossing the river, hundreds urgently follow and hope not to be attacked by crocodile

Hot air ballon ride over wildebeest migration is a bucket list must!

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!

Lion hunting in the grass. They are great stalkers moving slowly and quietly until they pounce.

Pair of mating lions

When in heat, lions mate every 15 minutes, day and night, for three days. I had a pair of mating lions not far outside my tent one night. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep that night.

Lions fight to death for mating rights, as you can see from this lions jacked up face. I’d hate to see the other lion he beat up.

Vultures are everywhere and ready to eat anything in an instant. Once something dies, it does not take long for it to turn into a pile of bones.

My favorite animal to observe is the elephant. They stay in tightly knit social herds with grandma leading the way. Baby elephants love to play and are always curious, but never stray more than 1 meter from the mother.

 Conclusion

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.