Maasai Mara National Reserve which is also sometimes spelt Masai Mara, is regarded by many as Africa’s most exceptional wildlife destination. The park provides a backdrop to some of the most spectacular safari experiences in the world. It owes this honour to its large population of lions, the great wildebeest migration and the legendary Maasai people well known for their distinctive customs and dress. Here is a real treasure trove of Africa’s most elegant source of adventure, and here are five reasons why.
1. Explore Lion Country
Maasai Mara hosts one of the highest densities of lions in the world. But it is not only lions you will find in abundance at the Mara. Indeed you will find that more than 40% of Africa’s larger mammals live here. Across the vast plains of this Kenyan gem, you may also chance upon cheetahs, leopards, elephants and a diversity of other species in their natural habitats. They say the Maasai Mara ecosystem contains some 25% of wildlife in Kenya – I think they may be right. These figures have, however, significantly reduced over time. A March 2005 Journal of Zoology issue, reveals that the Mara has already lost over two-thirds of its wildlife in the last 33 years.
2. Spot the Birds
While Maasai Mara is not one of Kenya’s birding hotspots, it nevertheless has its fair share of exciting birdlife. Over 450 species, including 57 raptor and six vulture species exist here. The best birding time is from November to April. This is the wet season when the migrants from Europe and North Africa arrive. It is also the breeding season when many species are in their breeding plumage.
3. Witness a Rare Co-existence
Here, in this vast Savannah grassland, man and beast coexist side-by-side, almost like in ancient days. It is not surprising in the Maasai Mara Reserve to see Maasai herdsmen grazing their cattle not too far from some of Africa’s most voracious predators – and prey.
4. Glide Over the Big Five
A key highlight of a Maasai Mara adventure that is often never given much justice is a hot air balloon safari. The chance to glide in one of these ancient floating vessels as you take in the breathtaking views of the open plains with their abundance of game is a rarity you should not miss out on.
5. Catch the Spectacular Migration
For most who have been to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, this is the make-or-break moment. To catch a glimpse of the spectacular wildebeest migration that begins towards the end of July, onwards has become a pilgrimage of sorts. It is, simply put, a freak of nature when hundreds of thousands of the so-called ‘clowns of the wild’, scatter the vast plains of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. They arrive in their droves from Tanzania’s Serengeti in the South and stay on until December. Two primordial cravings of all living things trigger this spectacle of nature every year – food and the desire to procreate. The migration sets off a chain reaction of events in the wild that provides a dramatic showcase of survival as the predators of the Maasai Mara prepare for a time of feasting and prosperity.
6. Immerse Yourself in the Interesting History
Did you know that the 373,129-acre Maasai Mara National Reserve is only a fraction of the Greater Mara Ecosystem? The bigger Mara includes the Koiyaki, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien, and Kimintet group ranches, all totalling 617,764 acres.
When the Maasai Mara National Reserve became a wildlife sanctuary in 1961, it only covered 128,495 acres. It was then converted to a game reserve and extended to the east to include 449,979 acres. The Narok County Council (NCC) took over management at this time. Part of this wildlife area became a National Reserve in 1974. The remaining 39,290 acres were returned to local communities. In 1976, it shrunk by an additional 40,031 acres and again in 1984 to its present size.
In 1994, with the formation of the TransMara County Council (TMCC) in the western part of the reserve, control rested between this new council and the existing Narok County Council. Seven years later in May 2001, the not-for-profit Mara Conservancy took over management of the Mara Triangle. Visit their website here for current entry rates.
The reserve in Narok County is accessible by either road or air. The road trip takes about 5-6 hours. The journey from Nairobi to Narok lasts about 2 hours on reasonably good tarmac. Leaving Narok to Sekenani Gate will take you another 2-3.5 hours. This part of your journey will be a living nightmare. There are more potholes than tarmac here, and an SUV is preferred. After the tarmac road, you get into a decently graded dirt road which takes you to Sekenani Gate. The roads inside the reserve are survivable, especially if the spectacular views and hopes of spotting the Big Five preoccupy your mind!
If you choose to fly, your journey will only take about 40-45 minutes from Nairobi. It is two hours if you are departing from Mombasa, Diani Beach or Malindi. You might make a few stops along the way to pick up other passengers landing at one of the six airstrips in the Mara.
Both methods of travel have their positive sides and allow you to see varying perspectives of the Kenyan countryside. The aeroplanes fly quite low to afford you amazing aerial views. Once the stretch to the Sekenani Gate gets tarmacked, road travel will make more sense. Plus it is already relatively cheaper and will get even less expensive now.