The Masai Mara National Reserve is a large game reserve located within the Great Rift Valley in the southern part of Kenya. The Reserve, bordered by the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the south, the Siria Escarpment to the west, and Masai pastoral ranches to the north, east and west, covers an area of 1,510 km2. The name Masai is in honor of the Maasai people, the ancestral residents of the region whilst Mara means spotted in the local Maasai or Maa language, relating to how the people depict the area when viewed from afar, due to the many trees that spot the land.
The Masai Mara landscape is mainly open savannah with collections of Acacia trees along the south eastern part of the Reserve. The Mara, Sand and Talek Rivers and Mara River are the main rivers feeding the Reserve together with numerous seasonal rivers that emerge during the rainy season.
The Masai Mara Reserve gives the best view of the famous wildebeest migration as the animals cross the Mara River between July and August. The Zebra, Eland, Topi and Thomson’s Gazelle also migrate into and occupy the Reserve from the Serengeti plains from July to October. The Mara also plays host to the richest concentration of game including the Big Five, the Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Leopard and Lion as well as the Hartebeest, Warthog, Gnu, Oribi, Antelope, Hyena, Cheetah, Jackal, the Masai Giraffe, bat-eared Fox and the Black-maned Lion. The waters of the Talek and Mara rivers hold large groups of the Hippo and Crocodile.
Over 470 bird species can be spotted in the Reserve, many of which are migrants. The ones that call Maasai Mara home for at least part of the year include the Crowned Crane, Vulture, Ostrich, Marabou Stock, Long-crested Eagle, Secretary Bird, African Pygmy Falcon, Hornbill and Lilac-breasted Roller. There is also the Pel`s Fishing Owl, Red-winged Schalow’s Turaco, Jackson Bustard, White-tipped Crest, wary Guinea Fowl, Orange Buff and the Ross Turaco.
The Masai Mara Reserve can be accessed by road from Nairobi and the journey takes about five hours. Though the roads are all weather roads, a four wheel drive vehicle is required during the wet season.
The Reserve can also be reached by air through the scheduled daily flights from Wilson Airport and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. The flights take about 45 minutes and the planes land at any of the airstrips in the Reserve and these include Musiara, Keekorok and Ol Kiombo. There are also scheduled flights from Mombasa to the Reserve.
There is a wide variety of accommodation options in the Masai Mara ranging from the low coat budget to the high end one. One of the popular lodges is the Mara Intrepids Club, set at the very confluence of the Mara’s four game-viewing zones, looking out over the Talek River. The Club accommodation offers include the luxury single tent full-board option, the luxury double tent full-board option, the luxury twin tent full-board option and the luxury triple tent full-board with each luxury tent fitted with a queen size bed or two twin beds, a modern en-suite bathroom with a hot shower, flush toilets and all the essential facilities coming with wake up calls, daily housekeeping and more.
There is also the Keekorok Lodge located in the Reserve, offering conventional-style lodgings with spacious rooms that have ceiling fans, mosquito nets, hypoallergenic bedding and a balcony with views of the garden. The Lodge also offers an outdoor pool with a terrace, the Hippo Bar, overlooking the lake and serving traditional dishes and The Elephant Deck Restaurant, where one can enjoy a classic Savannah dinner.
Other options include Mpata Safari Club, Kichwa Tembo Club, Siana Springs, Governor`s Camp and the Little Governor`s Camp, Mara Serena Safari Lodge, Mara River Camp and more. For visitors on a modest budget, accommodation options include the Acacia Camp, the David Livingstone Resort and the Mara Simba Lodge. For the low budget visitor, camping offers are available at the Oloolaimutiek Campsite, Mara Springs Camp, Olpert Elongo Camp, Simba Camp and the Riverside Camp which are situated all within the Reserve.
Best Time to Visit
The Reserve is open all year round and therefore can be visited any month of the year. However, the best months to visit are December to March and July to October where the weather is pleasant. April to June are also ideal months but might be wet or cold.
Weather and Climate
The Masai Mara Reserve enjoys a damp climate and more moderate temperature than most of Kenya due to its location at a high altitude. Daytime temperatures are usually around 30°C whilst night temperatures could drop to around 15°C. Temperatures are at their peak between December and January and drop really low in June and July. The Reserve is dry between July and October and wet between March and May as well as between November and December. The park may be difficult to navigate at these times.
Other Safety Considerations
If one is traveling to an area like the Masai Mara where Malaria is prevalent, precautionary measures are necessary to stay safe. These include taking Malaria prophylactics, covering bare skin after dusk, sleeping under treated nets and using mosquito repellent creams. To avoid sun burn, visitors are reminded to carry with them a high factor sun screen, lip balm, wide brimmed hats and good sunglasses as well as to always stay hydrated under the African sun.