Visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve
Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kenya and of the whole Africa, a perfect spot for those who want to have a complete safari experience surrounded by wild nature and abundance of wildlife. Established in 1961, the reserve is located within the Great Rift Valley, in the southern part of Kenya (5 hours drive from Nairobi). It lies at an altitude between 1500 meters and the 2000 meters above sea level forming a single ecosystem with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania with which it is bordering. The reserve owes its name to the indigenous Masai (or Maasai) population of Kenya who called this land “Mara” that means “spotted” (spotted land) because of the way the acacia trees and wildlife dotted the plains. The Masai Mara NR is mainly dominated by grassland savannah, but acacia woodland, riparian forest and rolling green hills intersperse the plains. The Reserve has the largest concentration of African lions, including the black-maned lions. It also boasts leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, black rhinos (rare), giraffes and big herds of buffalos, elephants, zebras, gnu, wildebeest, gazelles, antelopes, and along with the river banks hippos and crocodiles. It features over 500 species of birds including 16 species of eagle, plus many hawks and falcons, 6 species of vultures, 8 species of storks, Kori bustard, Rufous-bellied heron, Sooty chat, Secretary bird and Usambiro barbet. Click here for more information about Masai Mara NR.
Things to do in Masai Mara
1. Game drive
The best way to enjoy the wildlife is by the vehicles with hatch rooftop guided by a professional guide that will lead you around beautiful wilderness drive and loop of the Reserve providing closer encounters and spectacular photographic opportunities. These vehicles are also equipped with a radio to keep in touch with each other and instantly communicate the most exciting sightings. During our safari, we spotted an incredible number of animals including many lions with cubs, a leopard, several cheetahs and hyenas. The best way to arrange a safari is to book a tour with a local agency. Click here to find out our Kenya itinerary and useful information. Almost all national parks in Kenya, except for Hell’s Gate National Park, prohibit walking safari and bushwalk inside them.
2. Great migration
The great migration is one of the most spectacular events of the whole of Africa. It consists in the movement of 1.5 millions of the Serengeti’s wildebeest to Masai Mara National Reserve (and back) in search of green pasture, accompanied by a large number of zebra, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, eland and impala. The exact timing of the Serengeti wildebeest migration is entirely dependent upon the rainfall. A local guide told us that the migration in Masai Mara takes place in July and August when millions wildebeest cross the Mara river with many predators such as lions, cheetahs and crocodiles ready to catch their preys.
3. Mara Triangle
The Mara Triangle covers 510 km² (one-third of the total area), and it’s located in the northwestern part of the Masai Mara National Reserve. The unique feature of the Mara Triangle is the Oloololo Escapement, the Mara River and the International boundary which forms a triangular shape. It is managed by the non-profit organisation, the Mara Conservancy, and boats one of the highest densities of wildlife in the world. The Mara Triangle is less visited and less crowded than Masai Mara NR. During a safari, it is very easy to spot all the big five but also cheetah, Wildebeest, Zebra, giraffe, rock hyrax and many more. Mara Triangle is also the entry point for the wildebeest migration that arrives from the Serengeti, therefore, one of the most strategic locations for a safari, especially during the migratory season. The entrance fee is 80$ (non-resident) and lasts 24 hours. Click here for more information about the Mara Triangle.
4. Hot air balloon Tour and Masai Village walk
If you want to try an exciting experience and enjoy the Reserve and its wildlife from the sky, you shouldn’t miss a ride on a hot air balloon. It lats about 1 hour and a half, rising before dawn and taking off at sunrise. Another interesting activity is a visit to a Masai Village where you can interact with locals and know about their culture and traditions. You can locally arrange both activities through your accommodation. The hot air balloon costs around 400 USD, while the Masai village walking prices around 30 USD.
When to visit Masai Mara
It’s possible to visit the Reserve throughout the year. Anyway, during the rainy season (March – April, November – December) some of the roads are difficult to travel, and wildlife might be more challenging to spot. Take in mind that during this season, the rain could even interfere with your planned activities. The best time to visit Masai Mara is during the driest months (from June to October) when the vegetation is thinner, and animals gather around rivers and water holes. Even though the wildebeest migration and especially the river crossing are difficult to time precisely, July and August are the best months. During the dry season, the park gets very crowded, and good sightings always attract a lot of vehicles.
How to arrange the visit of Masai Mara NR
The best way to enjoy the country and its amazing Parks is to book a tour with a local tour operator (private or shared). Some of them also offer budget safari sleeping in guest houses and tented camps. We booked our private budget safari with Africa Vision safari tour and travel. You can also try with Explorer Kenya Safaris, Centurion Safari, Big Time safaris, Masikio safari, Wildtouch safari, Safari Trails, Karibu Safari, Olive Safaris, Pollman’s Tour and Safari. Alternatively, you can look for your tour on safari booking .com that offer a wide range of safari managed by local tour operators.
Self-drive: if you rent a vehicle and self-drive, be careful and drive safe because the roads are very dangerous. The traffic out of the city is dense and full of lorries and trucks. All the vehicles always try to overtake each other like in a crazy race. If you want to rent a 4×4 vehicle with the hatch rooftop, you can have a look with Explorer Kenya Safaris.
Masai Mara entrance fee
If your accommodation is inside the reserve, the entrance fee is USD 70 per 24 hours (USD 40 per child under 12 years of age), while for accommodations outside the Reserve the entry fee rises to USD 80 per 24 hours. Click here for more information.
Where to sleep
The area offers a wide range of accommodation, from public campsites or tented camps to fancy lodges (inside and outside the park). We slept at Miti Mingi eco camp (full board), a budget accommodation a few minutes drive from Ololaimutiek entrance gate. Click here to see the accommodations of the area.