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Masai Mara travel guide
Two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope thunder for 1,000km across Tanzania’s Serengeti, bottlenecking at the border to cross the final frontier: the Mara River. A terrifying obstacle course of crocodiles, big cats, vultures and steep descents into the rapids, with a thousand other hooves waiting to trample any creature that takes a tumble, the green pastures of the Masai Mara lying across the north bank must really be something for the wildebeest to take this risk.
The Masai Mara’s great renown belies its diminutive size. This national reserve is one of Africa’s smallest – yet it hosts one of its greatest wildlife spectacles.
But it is worth it, as the Great Migration pours into the Mara every year, as do travellers from across the globe to witness this spectacle. But today’s travellers will find an experience quite different to those who visited in the 1970s – one where conservation is a community effort, education is as valued as observation, and you can bush walk with and be hosted by the charismatic Maasai – the Mara’s inhabitants for centuries, and now its guardians once more.
Read on in our Masai Mara travel guide.
Masai Mara map & highlights
The compact boundaries of the Masai Mara shelter a variety of habitats – each with their own sweeping landscapes and wildlife specialities. Most of the reserve is blanketed by the classically East African expanse of the central plains – a vast grassland dotted with scrub, bushes and boulders, with easy-to-spot plains game. You’re more likely to encounter the vegetation-loving black rhino up in the bushland of the Ngama Hills, while the Mara Triangle, cut off by the Mara River, enjoys few visitors and abundant wildlife. At around 280km from Nairobi, many visitors choose to fly in to the Mara – although the 5-6 hour journey by road is a great way to watch the landscapes transform outside the window, with Maasai manyattas and glorious views from the Rift Valley Escarpment.
1. Big cats
The Mara’s felines are almost as famous as its wildebeest – thanks to the BBC’s Big Cat Diary being filmed here. Lion, leopard and cheetah can all be seen in the reserve, with sightings more likely during the migration when the predators turn their sights to the wildebeest and zebra. A dedicated photographic safari will increase your chance of great images, with early starts and plenty of time to observe.
2. Black rhino
Notoriously one of Africa’s most endangered species, the foul tempered black rhino still lives in the Masai Mara (Kenya’s only indigenous population) – though poaching is an ever present threat, with just a few dozen remaining. They tend to be found in the Mara Triangle and the Ngama Hills, to the southeast, where the vegetation is denser. Sightings, though never guaranteed, are absolutely magical.
3. Bush walks
A guided walk through this varied terrain with a Maasai guide is an experience that will stay for you for years to come. You’ll learn to track game based on scat and spoor, discover the medicinal plants of the savannah and experience the heart-pounding thrill of getting up close to wildlife on foot. Or take a nighttime game drive for a truly alternative experience of the Masai Mara.
Although the Maasai are not allowed into the reserve, they own tracts of land surrounding it – some which have been turned into private wildlife reserves. Money spent here – in lodges, camps and on game drives – goes back to the Maasai, and visitors have a more intimate and insightful experience. Cultural villages introduce you to the Maasai’s daily life, including cattle herding, dance, and handcrafts.
5. Great Migration
From late June to October, millions of wildebeest, zebra and antelope thunder across the great plains in one of the world’s most distinctive wildlife spectacles. The great migration sees the animals crossing over from the Serengeti via the Mara River – a treacherous crossing point stalked by big cats, crocs and vultures. With such an abundance of wildlife, visitors can sit back, turn the engine off, and enjoy the scenes.
6. Mara Triangle
The Mara Triangle comprises about a third of the whole National Reserve – yet it is separated from it by the Mara River. The Triangle is protected by the Mara Conservancy – a collaboration between the Maasai and conservationists, which has reduced poaching, increased local employment – and created a fantastic experience for visitors, who can enjoy abundant game and Maasai hospitality.
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