General Information. Together with the Serengeti in Tanzania, which form the Mara/Serengeti eco-system, Maasai Mara is one of the best known and most popular reserves in the whole of Africa. During the annual migration, which by coincidence happens during the tourist high season from July to October, it can get a little overrun with tourist minibuses, but there is something so special about it that it tempts you back time and again.
So why is that? Perhaps it is because of the 'big skies', the open savannahs, the popularity of films like 'Out of Africa' and certainly because of the annual wildebeest and zebra migration, the density of game, the variety of birdlife and the chance of a hot air balloon ride serenely floating above the plains.
The reserve is administered by the Maasai community on whose land it stands. It is independent of the government National Park system, hence the name “Reserve” rather than “Park”.
The area is home to the Maasai people whose lifestyle is completely at odds with western practices, and from whom one learns to question certain western values.
The Maasai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 3,500 miles (5,600km) long, which enters Africa in the tiny Red Sea country of Djibouti, then continues through Ethiopia, through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. By the time it reaches Kenya, the valley is wide and a towering escarpment can be seen in the hazy distance. Most of the lodges and luxury tented camps are situated inside the reserve area, but the camps used for the more price conscious travellers are mostly situated outside the reserve, but close to one of the gates. The term gates leaves you believing that the reserve is fenced, but they are actually just payment and control points spread around the reserve, but no fences! The animals are at liberty to move outside the park into huge areas known as 'dispersal areas'. There can be as much wildlife roaming outside the park as inside. Many Maasai villages are located in the 'dispersal areas' and they have developed a harmonious relationship with the wildlife.
The Terrain. The Ngama Hills to the east has sandy soil and leafy bushes liked by black rhino. The Oloololo Escarpment forms the western boundary and rises to a magnificent plateau. The Mara Triangle, which is administered as a separate reserve bordering the Mara River, has lush grassland and acacia woodlands supporting masses of game, especially migrating wildebeest and zebra. The Central Plains form the largest part of the reserve, with scattered bushes and boulders on rolling grasslands favoured by the plains game.
The Wildlife.The Mara is home to the famous “Big Five”, (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo) and in a short stay during the annual migration you could see over a million animals. At other times there are still hundreds. The plains are full of wildebeest, zebra, impala, topi, giraffe, Thomson's and Grant’s gazelles. Also regularly seen are lions, elephants, hyenas, cheetah, jackal and bat-eared foxes. Black rhino and leopard are a little shy and hard to spot but are often seen at a distance.
Hippos and large Nile crocodiles are abundant in the Mara River.
The annual migration is a feast for the large crocs as the wildebeest and zebra run the gauntlet to cross the Mara River in their search for new pastures.
Every July (or sometimes August), over a million wildebeest and zebra, with their new born young, travel over 600 miles (960km) from Tanzania's Serengeti plains, northwards to the Maasai Mara. In October or November, once they have feasted and the grass has all but gone, they turn around and go back the other way.
The Birdlife.Kenya also has prolific birdlife and the Mara is no exception. If you are a birdwatcher, it is paradise, but a word of advice, don’t mix a wildlife safari with a bird-watching safari. You may often be torn between photographing a lion kill or an eagle taking its prey.
The abundance of game means that 6 out of the 7 species of Kenyan vulture (Egyptian, Hooded, Griffon, Nubian, White-backed and White-headed) can be seen in the game reserve, with only the Lammergeier missing.
The bird-list totals over 450 species, from the largest bird in the world, (Ostrich), to some of the smallest, Cardinal Quelea. White-bellied Go-away-bird, the Bare-faced Go-away-bird and the Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, several species of Eagle, Secretary Bird, Crowned Crane, Superb Starling, Lilac Breasted Roller, Woodpeckers (Golden-tailed, Little Spotted and Fine-banded), Ground Hornbill and a list of others too numerous to mention, but no less impressive.
Getting There.Approximately 4 to 5 hours drive from Nairobi or by air, from Wilson Airport, Nairobi, normally twice daily flights.
Night Game driving is not permitted in the Mara and all vehicles should be back in camp/lodge by around 6pm, (dusk).