The Masai Mara National Reserve near the Tanzanian border in southwest Kenya, extends over a vast area of 1,500 km2 and besides its reputation as the most popular Kenyan tourist destinations, it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of the world. A paragon of wild, unspoiled nature, it showcases a variety of wildlife that roam the plains, among them thousands of elephant, zebra, rhino, and buffalo herds; leopards, lions, and cheetahs. Hundreds of bird species wander the land and soar the skies , from exquisite songbirds to birds of prey, and the rivers and waterholes are home to hippopotamus and ravenous crocodiles, whose eyes peer just above the water surface, squinting for a hearty lunch.
Wildlife of the Reserve
The Masai Mara Reserve is embedded in the Great Rift Valley (the Syrian African Rift) and features sprawling grasslands, punctuated by acacia trees that provide green respite and an air of tranquility between the vast spaces with the sense of that endless African freedom. The reserve is known to be one of the best destinations for spotting large wildlife. There is an excellent chance of seeing the Big Five (lions, rhino, leopards, elephants, and buffalo), but also scores of cheetahs, servals, hyenas, bat-eared foxes, and jackal species; hippos, crocodiles, baboons, warthogs, topi, oribi and antelopes; elands, miniature species such as Thomson’s gazelle and Grant’s gazelle, impala, waterbuck, zebras, and giraffes; and a plethora of bird species, among them eagles, storks, and the multicoloured lilac-breasted roller, Kenya’s national bird, plus hundreds more fascinating animals, which makes the Masai Mara nature reserve the p-e-r-f-e-c-t safari experience!
The wildlife is concentrated in the western part of the reserve, due to the many water sources and fertile ground sprouting edible grasses, which is the main source of food for the ungulates (hoofed animals).
The Home of the Masai Tribe
The Masai are an indigenous, semi-nomadic people, who settled in Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are considered to be one of the most important ethnic groups in Africa by virtue of their traditions, customs, and distinctive dress that has hardly changed over time, as well as on account if their place of habitation near the national parks of East Africa, one of them being the Masai Mara Nation Reserve in northern Kenya.
A safari tour in the Masai Mara Reserve is not complete without a visit to a Masai village, which offers a wonderful glimpse into the tribe’s unique way of life, which has been steadfastly preserved for centuries.
Most Masai tribes still practice their simple way of life as shepherds; animals are a central part of their life, culture, and society.
At the entrance to the village you will be greeted by singing, dancing, and bright, smiling faces, accompanied by vibrant music! The men will don you with traditional clothes and the women will place their handmade jewelry around your necks. Afterwards, they will continue their enthusiastic reception with Adumu, their traditional jumping dance, which you are always welcome to join, further enriching your fascinating cultural experience.
Afterwards, you can visit the local market and purchase authentic traditional clothing, bead necklaces and bracelets, or amulets as souvenirs, which will definitely help support the village’s economy.
There is good insight behind naming an entire region after the tribe, and a visit to the Masai tribe in Kenya is a unique part of the safari experience. On many safari tours, you will encounter a Masai warrior herding his cattle in the savannah, while elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other wildlife meander and graze peacefully around him.
What’s the best time to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve?
The Masai Mara safari is an excellent destination all year round, however, like all over Kenya, the Masai Mara Reserve has two dry seasons and two rainy seasons a year. The presence or absence of rain affects the vegetation and water sources, thereby affecting the movement and concentration of the wildlife. During the dry season, when the water sources are depleted, the animals migrate from the depths of the savannah in search of food, and gather by permanent water sources in open areas, such as the Mara and Takek Rivers.
The long, dry season (July – October) is an optimal time to go on safari, partly because there is a greater chance of seeing the animals in their natural habitat, but mainly because this is the time of the year that the Great Migration from the Serengeti National Park reaches the Masai Mara Reserve. About 1.5 million wildebeest, and hundreds of thousands of zebras, topi antelope, elands, and deer cross the Mara River – where hungry crocodiles lie in wait – in search of food sources and fresh water. The time of their arrival varies from year to year, but the arrival of the first herds is usually around the end of July, with the migration ending in September when the last herds arrive. Road conditions during this period are excellent for observing herds of wildebeest, topi and zebras, as well as carnivores stalking their next meal as their cubs test their hunting skills for the first time, and other diverse forms of nature.
Peak season is from June to October when you can expect cool, dry weather. There will be few animal cubs, and chances of watching the bird migrations are low. However, photography conditions are great, and this is the only time to watch the Great Migration, with costs set accordingly: prices will be higher. There will also be large numbers of visitors, and all attractions should be booked well in advance.
April to May and November to December are less popular times for tourists with cheaper prices, fewer crowds, and more flexible booking for attractions. The weather will be hot and humid occasionally, and with calving season just having come to an end, many animal cubs will be scampering around. It is also a fantastic time for birdwatching. Nature is at its peak during these extremely green months that offer more pastoral views and perfect light for photography.
Can I Tour Independently in the Reserve?
The Masai Mara Reserve spans an extremely vast area – 1,500 km2, remember?! In principle you can buy a map, rent a jeep, and take to the road. However, it is highly advisable to hire a private guide or join an organized African tour for several reasons. Firstly, a local guide knows the reserve like the back of his hand. He knows where and when to find the wildlife all year round. Therefore, you will have a much better chance of seeing as much wildlife as possible.
Additionally, as in every nature reserve, there are rules of conduct, the violation of which can result in fines and penalties.
A certified and knowledgeable guide will give you a successful tour and a safari experience that will be no less than perfect.