The jewel of Kenya wildlife safari viewing destinations, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is named in honor of the Maasai people who are the ancestral inhabitants of the area, and their description of the area when looked at from afar is “Mara,” which is the maasai word for “spotted,” an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark the area was used in naming the reserve.
The reserve is bordered by the Serengeti Park to the south in Tanzania, the Siria escarpment to the west and Maasai pastoral ranches to the north, east and west.
In the reserve the valley is wide, and a towering escarpment can be seen in the cloudy distance, the animals are at liberty to move outside the park into huge areas known as ‘dispersal areas’.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve covers some 1,510 km2 in south-western Kenya and it is made up of three ranches which are the Mara Triangle, Musiara and Sekenani, it is only a fraction of the Greater Mara Ecosystem which includes the following Group of Ranches: Koiyaki, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien, and Kimintet.
There are four main types of terrain in the Mara – the Ngama Hills to the east which are prominent with sandy soil and leafy bushes favored by black rhino; Oloololo Escarpment forming the western boundary and rising to a magnificent plateau; Mara Triangle bordering the Mara River with its lush grassland and acacia woodlands supporting masses of game, especially migrating wildebeest; and the Central Plains, forming the largest part of the reserve with speckled bushes and boulders on rolling grasslands favored by the plains game.
No place in the whole of Africa is wildlife more abundant than in in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and it is for this reason a traveler hardly misses to see the big five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino), cheetah, serval, hyena, bat-eared foxes, black-backed and side-striped jackals, hippo, crocodile, baboons, warthog, topi, eland, Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala, waterbuck, oribi, reed-buck, zebra and over 400 birds species recorded on the reserve.
The plains of the Mara are also called home by the distinctive Maasai giraffe. Wildlife tends to be most concentrated on the reserve’s western escarpment.
HOW TO GET THERE – MAASAI MARA
The Maasai Mara is accessible by both air and road as means of transport depending on the choice of a traveler.
by air without a doubt is the easiest and fastest way to the reserve and one can be able to reach the reserve from The Wilson Airport which is situated in Nairobi the capital of Kenya.
Different chartered flights fly to mara daily and it takes about half an hour to get there.
Also the reserve is accessible by flight from Samburu, Lewa Downs, Nanyuki, or Mombasa.
There a several small airstrips where one will land found within the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
There are also car for rentals or safari jeeps from tour operators and travel agents that are readily available to get to the reserve.
from Nairobi the capital, the drive will take five to six hours during the dry season, and up to seven hours in the rainy season.
Different gates in the reserve are therefore accessible for those arriving by road including: Sand River gate, Musiara, Talek, Sekenani or Oloololo Gate which is the furthest from Nairobi (though with less vehicles and tourist disruption).
The easternmost border of the reserve is 224 kilometers from Nairobi, and it is the most visited area by tourists and nature lovers.
However, it should be noted that, the roads in the reserve can become flooded or turned into mud pools in the rainy seasons which is in April, May and November.
ATTRACTIONS, WILDLIFE SAFARI AND THINGS TO DO: MAASAI MARA
WITNESS THE WILDEBEEST MIGRATION SPECTACLE FIRST HAND.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in Kenya and Africa as a whole in conjunction with the serengeti national park in T with from July to November one of nature’s greatest spectacle takes place that is the wildebeest migration lands in the Mara, the sheer number of wildebeest arriving in the reserve from the Serengeti National Park is astonishing.
The migration itself is a chaotic mass movement of almost 1.5million wildebeest, 500,000Thomson’s gazelles, 97,000Topi, 18,000elands and 200,000zebras.
The migrants are also followed along their annual route by predators such as lions and hyenas.
The dramatic contrast between life and death can be witnessed during the Great Migration making the Migration Season a particularly spectacular time for the traveler to visit.
During these months the yellow savannah is dotted black by the large scale migration of wildlife from the Serengeti to the Mara in search of food and water.
To reach the fresh grazing grounds of the Mara the wildebeest must cross the mighty Mara River which is heavily infested by crocodiles awaiting any prey to make its way into the River so that they too can replenish their strength.
The comings and goings of the wildebeest also shape the lives of many other species.
For the predators of the Maasai Mara, the arrival of the wildebeest marks the beginning of a time of feasting and prosperity.
The Big Cats, in particular, thrive during the migration season. The abundance of available prey means that the lions, cheetah and leopards are able to grow strong and produce healthy offspring.
Between December and January when surface water is plentiful in the Mara the wildebeest, zebras and the antelopes give birth to their calves, foals and fawns respectively, this period is known as the Green Season.
With so much easy prey around, it is also a good time for predators to raise their cubs and pups, making it a wonderful photographic opportunity.
The wildebeest spend their entire lives wandering, tolerantly tramping between the Serengeti in the South to the Maasai Mara in the North.
From end of July onwards, millions of freshly arrived brown and black dots scatter the great plains of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, making this Natural Wonder of the World even more wondrous until they wander back in December.
The life cycle of the wildebeest is a Polaroid of the circle of life of all living creatures, every sequence in the wildebeest’s life happens in accordance with Mother Nature.
Their migratory routes are determined by the rain patterns, they wander in a constant pursuit of water and fresh grass. The Great Migration is the last surviving multi-species migration on the planet.
Take a walk on the Mara grassland
How exciting is it to venture by foot into the Mara grassland, beyond what the eyes can see? A traveler will be able to experience the Mara on foot like the ancient explorers, and reconnect with the innermost spirit of the African safari with the help of guides on a guided walking safari.
The traveler will be amazed to see how close one can come to the beautiful animals like giraffes, zebras, elephants, the rare black rhinos or the tiny members of the Maasai Mara that would not have been seen amidst on a 4×4 truck.
Listen to the crickets making marvelous sounds, inhale the fresh air, view the infinite horizon and appreciate the African soil directly on the soles of your feet.
This is also an ideal and opportune time to learn more about the trees in the Maasai Mara and the different bird species inhabiting these trees.
Hurdle onto the skies of the Mara on a hot air balloon
A unique way to view the magnificent landscape of the Mara with its wildlife roaming tirelessly in search of their day to day needs is obviously by a hot air balloon.
Soar peacefully into the skies at dawn and see the sun set fire to the savannah whilst marveling at the beauty of the Mara from the bird’s eye point of view.
Drifting with the whim of the wind across the Mara is an absolute spectacle that will remain with a traveler many years to come.
After enjoying the silence at 1,000 feet, the traveler will land on the plains for a champagne breakfast before returning to their accommodation facility.
Venture into the Maasai Mara Triangle
The Mara Triangle is patched on the North-Western part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It is divided from the rest of the reserve by the mighty Mara River which is a haven for crocodiles and hippopotamus.
The Mara Triangle is less visited and less crowded often with many more game animals grazing on the plains and between the volcanic hills of the Mara.
The area covers 510 square kilometers and is managed by a non- profit organization known as the Mara Conservancy.
The Mara Triangle is believed and known to be the entrance and exit point of the wildebeest migration that arrive annually from the Serengeti, hence making it one of the most strategic locations to game drive in the Maasai Mara during the migration season.
The outback of the Triangle also boasts an incredible, diverse landscape that includes rivers, streams, swamps, plains and much more.
The Mara Triangle is served by two all-weather airstrips which are The Mara Serena and Kichwa Tembo Airstrips.
The main road access into the Triangle is via Narok or the Sekenani Gate.
Accommodations within the periphery of the Mara Triangle includes the following; Mara Serena Lodge, Kilima Camp, Mara Enkipai Safari Camp, Mara West, Sanctuary Olonana, andBeyond Bateleur Camp, Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, Mara Engai Wilderness Lodge, Mara Siria Camp, Mara River Camp, Mpata Safari Club and Angama Mara.
Get the opportunity to see the rare and endangered Indigenous Black Rhino species
One of the most critically endangered animals in the African wilderness is the indigenous black rhino. Back in the 1970s, the Maasai Mara had approximately 120 black rhinos but due to poaching their numbers have plummeted drastically whereby by 1984 only 18 of this species remained in the Mara.
During the establishment of the Mara Conservancy in 2001, there was only one known rhino left in the Mara Triangle: a hostile female, very suspicious of people and vehicles, and very difficult to spot, who were we to blame her?
However, after only a few months of Mara Conservancy’s regular patrols and successful apprehension of poachers, security in the area increased and in 2002, male rhino moved into the Triangle and mated with the female.
Since then, the numbers have been increasing and there is of now an upward of 25 rhinos in total in the Mara.
The Mara is the only protected area in Kenya with an indigenous black rhino population, unaffected by translocations, and with the potential to support one of the largest black rhino populations in Africa, given the size of the Reserve.
Game drives in the Maasai Mara
A haven of wildlife blessed with all year round, mind blowing concentration of wildlife.
Game drives are designed to take the traveler close to the wildlife hotspots in the Mara, thus giving a traveler the opportunity to view wild animals in their natural sanctuary as they go about their day to day activities.
Game drives are done during the day or night time, night game drives are also a thrilling experience as the traveler gets to experience the fear inflicted upon the prey by the unforgiving darkness of the Mara.
The plains between the Mara River and the Esoit Siria Escarpment are probably the best area for game drives and game viewing, in particular regarding lions and cheetahs.
However it is recommended that, a traveler uses a guide who is familiar with the area and able to give adequate information about the animals, their habitat, where they can be currently found in the reserve and how best to approach them, but one can opt for a self-drive safari on condition that rules and regulations of the reserve are observed.
It is not possible to drive after dark in Maasai Mara itself, though the surrounding private conservancies have different policies that make it possible for travelers to experience the thrill of a night game drive.
While game-viewing can obviously be quite a bit more difficult under cover of darkness, it’s possible to spot nocturnal animals, those that are active during the night including a good number of the cats and dog family that otherwise can be difficult to spot while on safari.
Visit the Maasai people of the Maasai Mara
The Maasai are the indigenous inhabitants of the Mara area a nomadic community that spans into three countries that is Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, no adventure by the traveler to the Maasai Mara will be complete without a visit to a Maasai village.
The hospitality and ethos of the Maasai people will humble you and create memories worth cherishing as you come face to face with their homesteads.
By visiting the Maasai the traveler will be able to learn a thing or two about the Maasai culture such as how they build their houses, their clothes, accessories and if you are lucky even how they hunt.
Traditional Dance Demonstration – Maasai Mara
Arranged on special request by a traveler, traditional Maasai dance performance can be arranged during the evening at the accommodation facility where one is staying at for relaxation after a long day drive in the reserve.
Sit back and enjoy a cocktail, coffee or an extra cold beer while the local Maasai showcase their culture’s distinctive dance and music by the fire.
Picnic in the Maasai Mara
The traveler can enjoy his lunch in the Mara, maybe by the Mara River. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the midst of the silent whispers of waters as they flow and the roar of a hungry lion in the vicinity.
It is most fun if it is done with family or a lover because when it comes to romance the Mara has just the thing for you.
Enjoy a Sundowner in the Maasai Mara
Ever heard of a sundowner? The experience of a sundowner on the plains of the Mara, is one unforgettable moment, as of how relaxing and soul soothing it can be.
The African approach to enjoying an authentic sundowner is to get a game drive from the lodge or camping site with the servings of mouthwatering snacks and cocktails, by doing so a traveler can always enjoy a peaceful, calm atmosphere while Africa goes to sleep.
Make a trip to the Oloololo Escarpment
The Mara has a variable scenery that features ranges and valleys, among them is the Oloololo Escarpment that has the ideal camping scenery for those adventurous travelers.
The local Maasai people use it as a stage for traditional rites of passage from childhood to adulthood.
Horseback riding in the Maasai Mara
Just like in the old western cowboy movies, a traveler gets the opportunity to relive those days and experience the uniqueness of horse riding on the plains of the Mara.
Going on a Horseback safaris is a truly interesting undertaking that offers a scintillating view of the landscape and the journeying giraffes among zebras and galloping gazelles.
Horse riding is one of the most breathtaking experiences while on safari in the Mara.
Bush camping – Maasai Mara
The traveler can come up close and personal to nature by setting up a camp in the middle of the vast savannah plains of the Maasai Mara.
Bush camping is for those travelers looking for a little extra romance, a little more peace and quiet.
Involves traditional cooking and dining with a campfire as the nocturnal animals entertain one with their marvelous sounds and as scary as the lion roar.
Be lost in the beauty of the moon light stars as you embark on a bush camping adventure in the mara.
ACCOMMODATIONS – MAASAI MARA
The Maasai Mara and its neighboring conservancies offer an array of accommodations, from child friendly accommodation facilities to romantic settings.
During the high season the reserve is crowded with tourists but still it is a great place to spend the night.
For the travelers not up to the hectic schedule of the high season they are recommended to stay in one of the many private conservancies in the periphery of the reserve.
Some of the accommodations include; Oltome Mara Magic Resort, David Livingstone Safari Resort, Kilima Camp, Keekorok lodge, Neo Classic camps Maasai Mara, Mara Serena lodge, Karen Blixen Camp, Royal Mara Safari Lodge, Kensington Tented Camp and Ngerende Island Lodge.