Masai Mara game reserve is the world’s most renowned game reserve located in the Kenya in the rift valley area in Narok County in Kenya. The park is the most visited tourist destination in Kenya and Africa at large for a wildlife experience. Masai Mara is not a national park but rather a national reserve that sits on the Masai land. The Maasai land is owned by the Masai people who are known as Africa’s ethnic group with a rich culture. Masai Mara gets its name from the Masai people where ‘Mara’ means ‘spotted’ in Maa, a name was given to Masai language which was used to describe an area looked at afar. This only means that this land where the park seats is for the Masai people and this can be seen with impressive herds of Masai cattle are taken to drink close to the game reserve. Masai Mara game reserve was formed in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary and it covered only about 520 square kilometers including the Mara triangle. Masai Mara was later expanded to the East to cover 1,821 square kilometers hence converted into a game reserve. The reserve is located in the Great Rift Valley in primarily open grassland. Masai Mara has about 95 species of mammals, reptiles, and 400 bird species recorded.
Activities in Masai Mara;
Mara Climate: Masai Mara game reserve has an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level (5,300 feet). Masai Mara experiences maximum temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius and a minimum of about 20 degrees Celsius. Masai Mara game reserve experiences wet seasons from the months of November, May with high rainfall in the months of December, January, April, and May. Whilst the dry season occurs in the months of June to November. Occasionally the sunny morning builds up in the afternoons while during the rainy days, the weather changes in the afternoon and evening into thunderstorms.
Mara Wildlife: Masai Mara is best referred to as the most interesting wildlife destination in Africa for its abundant wildlife giving it the reason as to why most people visit the game reserve. Masai Mara is a home to the big 5 game including the lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and buffaloes. Other interesting animals to be found in Masai mara include the hyenas, black-backed and side-striped jackals, hippos, crocodiles, baboons, Grant’s gazelle, impala, crocodiles, Thompson’s gazelle, cheetah, eland, oribi, waterbuck, reed-buck, zebra to mention a few. Game viewing major tourist activity done in the park. Entry fees for foreign non-residents are $80 and $30 for the children.
The great wildebeest migration experience; this is the most interesting game viewing activity that interests visitors to visit the game reserve. This is the largest movement of wild animals in Africa. The great wildebeest migration involves wild animals mainly the wildebeests moving from Serengeti national park in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya, crossing through Mara River. This is a seasonal activity and migration takes place annually, however, depends on annual rains and growth of pastures which may happen earlier or later during the year. It’s stated about 1.5 million wildebeests and thousands of other antelopes including the elands, zebras, and gazelles and other trailing predators leave their calving grounds in the southern part of Serengeti national park in Tanzania around the months of March and April, trek for the next pasture and water source via the south-central Seronera area into the Western corridor and River Grumeti, staying in these areas till the month of June. Then finally they cross to Masai mara national reserve through Mara River around the month of July to August. The Mara River is defined as a death-defying river simply because the river washes away some of the wildebeests while crossing. This migration continues till around October to November when they return to Serengeti. The game drives are enjoyable as visitors get to witness the migration and also see more of the animals especially the hunting of the predators during this period. Other interesting activities that should not be missed out on a Masai Mara safari include; Nature walk, hot air balloon safari, night game drives, and community tour.
Best time to visit Mara
Masai Mara national reserve triangle can be visited anytime throughout the year since the animals can be accessed anytime. However the months of June, July, and August are the best time for the great wildebeest migration which occurs annually although it is not guaranteed that the wildebeests will get to Masai Mara by that time. Early months of November and February are also excellent periods for game viewing hence Masai Mara is a whole year destination for the big cats and big 5 game.
How to Access Masai Mara
The Mara triangle can be accessed by road and air transport. By road, there are 6 gates that can be used to access Masai Mara. The main road is Selenani gate, other gates included; Olomutiek, Talek, Oloololo, Musiara, and Sun River. Driving to Masai Mara takes about 5-8 hours driving within Kenya. From the Capital Nairobi, it’s a 5 hours’ drive passing through Narok. The road is smooth from Nairobi to Narok taking about 2 hours’ drive. Narok is the main stopover for refreshment then takes another 3 hours to arrive in Masai Mara via Selenani gate. The road here is poorly developed with potholes and a lot of dust, so ensure you use a vehicle in good working conditions. This is when you experience the so-called ‘African massage’. Once you enter the reserve, the roads are fairly well maintained so it’s good to drive through. The other gates including; Ololomutiek is located in the eastern part of the park, Talek in the North West, Oloololo and Musiara at the North-Eastern part, and finally Sand River gate in the south which takes you to Tanzania on the Western border of Mara River.
By air, there are 5 airstrips in Masai mara for visitors who do not want to spend a lot of time on the road. These flights operate within Nairobi and some of them operate within East Africa. Commonly used airstrips include; Keekorok, Kichwa Tembo, Musiana, Mara Serena and Olkiombo airstrips.
Masai Mara is one of those incomparable wildlife destinations in Africa with incredibly good accommodations for visitors depending on your budget range. Its popularity means a number of factors that must be considered when choosing your accommodation. The Northern part of the park offers more privacy and tucked-away accommodations such as luxury tented camps and decadent safari suites with enjoyable game drives and nature walks. Whilst the Eastern part is the one closer to Selenani gate and the accommodations are equally large in scale catering for all kinds of visitors. During the peak season, accommodations tend to be overbooked so ensure you book your accommodations in advance. Masai Mara accommodations vary in different structures including Safari lodges, family-friendly hotels, colonial-style tented camps, and mobile camps. Visitors need to decide when to go and the type of accommodation. Some of the lodges to be found in Masai Mara include; Mara Serena lodge, Mara Sopa Lodge, Mara Simba lodges, Little Governor’s Camp, Mara Intrepid tented camp, Asilia Africa, and Beyond Kichwa Tembo tented camp to mention but a few. Mara Serena lodge has 150 beds that have luxury rooms and Little Governors’ Camp has about 36 luxury rooms and are the only two lodges situated in the Triangle.