For the avid adventurer-explorer who has hungered for an opportunity to see the inhabitants and wildlife of an area that has remained literally unchanged for centuries, going on safari in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya is a must.
Located in the southwestern portion of the country in Narok County and just west of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi is the Maasai Mara National Reserve, contiguous with the Serengeti National Park located within Tanzania’s Mara region.
Simply known as “The Mara” to locals, the region was named in honor of the original ancestral inhabitants of the region, the Maasai.
Despite being a mere fraction of the totality of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, it is renowned for its exceptional populations of different species of wildlife.
You can expect exciting safari activities, spectacular scenery, and unique views of the diverse wildlife if you come to The Mara.
Let’s take a closer look.
The reserve itself covers an area of nearly 600 square miles (1,550 sq. km) while its elevation ranges from 4,900 to 7,100 feet (1,500 to 2,200 meters). However, the uniqueness of the Maasai Mara region is attributed to its diverse topography. To the east you will find sandy soil and smaller scrub brush while the western boundary of the reserve is the picturesque plateau that has been formed by the Siria Escarpment.
The Mara River runs through the region as well as the reserve. It is surrounded by lush grasslands and wooded areas while the largest portion of the area is comprised of open plains dotted with scattered scrub brush. Despite how varied the landscape of the region is, it has a romantic feel about it. If you remember the movie “Out of Africa”, you’ll understand as it was filmed in 1985 from atop the escarpment.
With its higher elevations, the climate in the Maasai Mara is considerably damper and much milder than it is in regions that are similar to this one. The highest daytime temperatures rarely exceed 85° F (30°C) while evening temperatures usually average around 60°F (15°C).
The months of April, May, and November are considered the rainy season with some areas of the region becoming very muddy and nearly inaccessible. Conversely, July through October is the dry season.
Remember, too, that the seasons are reversed south of the Equator so the coldest weather occurs in June and July while December and January are typically the warmest months.
Wildlife Populations and the Great Migration
The allure of the Maasai Mara is surely its diverse wildlife populace, which is why this is such a popular area for the game drive safari enthusiast and photographer.
Naturally, you will have an opportunity to see the “Big Five” (African buffalo, African elephant, black rhinoceros, leopard, and lion).
However, the real attraction during the drier months of July to October is still the “Great Migration” when you can see the annual migration of Thomson’s gazelle, wildebeest, and zebra.
Additionally, there is a large population of the African leopard, Maasai lion, and Tanzanian cheetah.
Just as they are in the Serengeti, the wildebeest is the dominant inhabitant of the Maasai Mara with a population estimated in the millions.
Their migration begins around July as they travel north from the plains region searching for fresh pastures while eventually returning to the southern region in October. The Great Migration involves approximately:
- 1.3 million wildebeest
- 500,000 Thomson’s gazelle
- 200,000 zebra
- 97,000 topi
- 18,000 elands
Despite their numbers, these animals are followed throughout their migratory circle by herds of the two primary predators of the region, namely hyenas and lions.
Additionally, the reserve is the home to some 470 bird species, 60 of which are classified as raptors, predatory birds that are known for their keen vision as well as their powerful beaks and talons. Most importantly, the reserve is the home to Kenya’s national bird, the lilac-breasted roller.
For the avid safari enthusiast, the wildlife is oftentimes the allure of the Maasai Mara. But even for the most discerning of African adventurers, the activities available, comfortable climate, and location are also key factors to consider when planning a safari through this region.
Be advised that the fees to enter the Maasai Mara National Reserve are fairly steep. A 24-hour permit for an adult is 80 USD (71.50€, 50£) and 45 USD (40€, 29£) for a child ages 3 to 18. Children under 3 years of age get in FREE. Conservancy fees may apply as many have been created around the reserve’s perimeter to help the Maasai people and protect the reserve itself.
Planning Your Maasai Mara Safari
Like other African regions, the Maasai Mara and Reserve experience 2 dry seasons and 2 wet seasons (see under “Climate” above). The time to plan your safari should be primarily based on your expectations and what you are hoping to experience with a little consideration for your own personal preference.
However, budget may also be a consideration when planning your Maasai Mara safari. Regardless, with the abundance of wildlife in the region and its temperate climate, this is oftentimes referred to as a year-round destination by safari enthusiasts.
Game Viewing Safaris
Migrating typically occurs from July through October with the Great Migration occurring within this time frame (see “Wildlife Populations and the Great Migration” above).
With plenty of predator-prey interactions to witness during these months, many “safari-ists” consider this the optimum time of year to view the native wildlife of the Maasai Mara.
If you want to see the larger species while being immersed in the Kenyan brush, game drives within the reserve are the ideal safari format.
However, a night game drive in a private conservancy is ideal for those individuals who prefer seeing the nocturnal creatures of the area.
A Brief Word about the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem
The ecosystem of the Serengeti-Mara region has long been recognized for its vast diversity of flora and fauna. Much of this is oftentimes missed during safari game drives.
Consequently, the many conservancies around the reserve provide a number of opportunities to see this micro-ecosystem up close and personal with different hikes and walking tours to take advantage of.
As a compliment to tours on foot, you can go on a hot air balloon safari of the area to get a bird’s-eye view of the landscape and wildlife from above ground.
Finally, the key to the advancement of the native wildlife throughout this region is the Maasai people and their communities. It would behoove you to spend some time during your safari adventure with these gracious, noble people. A visit to a single village will really open your eyes and afford you a cultural experience that is truly life-altering. Most importantly, you will gain the true meaning of modesty and simplicity when you visit with them.
Where to Stay and What to Pack
Most of the more recommended accommodations are located in the 5 primary zones of the Maasai Mara area – Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western. However, for a more discerning experience, you should consider staying at a conservancy or at the reserve’s only lodge (the Mara Serena Safari Lodge). It is located roughly 200 miles (320 km) from the capital city of Nairobi and situated within the Mara Triangle.
It’s important that you know what to pack for your Maasai Mara safari adventure since it is oftentimes difficult to do any shopping once you have embarked on your adventure. There are very few retail shops that sell mostly touristy souvenirs within the boundaries of the different Kenyan national parks. Not to mention the fact that these shops can be extremely pricey (not good when you are traveling on a budget). If you are going on safari in this region, you might want to consider this packing list.
Additional Safari Travel Advice
Maasai MaraTraveling to Kenya requires that you carry a passport that is valid for 6 months and contains 3 blank pages (minimum) for additional visas when needed.
Furthermore, get vaccinated for Yellow Fever as a precaution.
You should also see what the State Department has to say regarding safe traveling in Kenya.
There are adequate medical services available in the capital city, but as far as health safety is concerned, there is an increasing concern about tuberculosis according to the CDC. (NOTE: see also US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs)
Common Sense and Your Personal Safety
Since the primary focus of traveling to this region is game viewing, a little common sense can go a long way to ensuring your personal safety. As I have mentioned before in prior posts about African safari travel, you want to observe 4 simple rules:
#1 – Always be aware of your surroundings
#2 – Do what your safari guide instructs you to do.
#3 – Keep quiet so you don’t ruin any photo opportunities.
#4 – Stay in your vehicle when viewing the wildlife (unless you don’t mind being some animal’s dinner).
On a closing note, always remember that safaris are not only about adventuring into the wild and taking countless photos. Your personal safety should always be your priority. Most importantly, enjoy yourself and return home with a lifetime of memories from your safari into the Maasai Mara region.