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Wild Whispers Africa Safaris

Masai Mara National Reserve Kenya

Perhaps the world’s most famous safari area, Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is located in the Great Rift Valley, amid granite foothills that stretch across western Kenya and into Tanzania. The reserve is named after the Maasai people, the East African herders who once inhabited these land. Masai Mara is a prominent part of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that covers 30,000 sq km (11,600 sq miles). The name ‘Mara’, given by the local Maasai tribes, means spotted, an apt description of the land’s tree-clad outcrops and sprawling savannahs dotted with thorny bushes and grazing wildlife. If you are planning a Kenya safari itinerary or are just looking for a place to tick ‘Africa’ off your bucket list, look no further.

Location and Geography

Where is Masai Mara National Reserve?

Directly rated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Masai Mara National Reserve lies in the southwest of Kenya, along the border with Tanzania. The reserve measures about 1,510 square kilometres (580 square miles) and forms part of the ecosystem known as the Mara (which refers to thehabited area around the reserve). Most of the reserve is open grassland (savannah) interspersed with shrubs and isolated trees. The Mara is, with its neighbouring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, undoubtedly one of the richest, most intense andspectacularbbasins of wildlife to be found anywhere in the world.

The Maasai People

Meet the Guardians of the Mara

The Masai Mara National Reserve takes its name from its Maasai inhabitants, a semi-nomadic people who have lived in the region for centuries. The Maasai are closely connected with the land and wildlife, and their culture is intimately tied up with the natural environment. Masai villages can still be visited within the Masai Mara, where tourists can learn more about Maasai culture.

Wildlife in Masai Mara

It is one of the most intense wildlife areas, with more the 95 species of mammal and over 570 species of bird. For anybody on a Kenya safari to the Masai Mara, chances of seeing the ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) are extremely high. To these are added a host of adorable cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope.

The Great Migration

Another of the great spectacles of animal migration – the more-than 1.5 million wildebeest, and hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles, that traverse the Serengeti all the way to and across the Masai Mara every July to October – occurs at virtually the same time. Braving predators and crocodiles in order to feed on the lush grasses of the new season, their staggered movement across and down the Mara River draws safari-goers to Kenya in their millions.

Mara Triangle

The Mara Triangle is the part of the greater Masai Mara National Reserve on the southern end, separated from the main reserve by the Mara River. The Mara Triangle is also less visited and less crowded, but hosts a healthy wildlife population including all five of the famed Big Five wildlife species. The Mara Triangle was a worthy experience and a great addition to our overall Kenya trip itinerary, mostly to experience fewer crowds and some more personal encounters with the wildlife.

Private Conservancies

Along with the main reserve is a series of conservancies owned and run by the local Maasai people, each with its own private, closely directed Kenya safari experience of night drives, bush walking and community interaction. After a few days at the Mara, I headed down the Rift Valley to luxury lodges at Ngorongoro, a place both world-famous and much visited, located in the Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania.

elephants of masai mara

Game Drives

Embark on a Classic Kenya Safari Experience

The most common activity is the classic game drive, driving around the Masai Mara in a 4×4 open-top safari vehicle searching for wildlife. Game drives usually take place early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when animals are most active. Inside the confines of the safari vehicle, expert guides help visitors spot a range of species and explain their ecology and behaviour.

Night Game Drives

Night game drives — unauthorized in the main Masai Mara National Reserve, but a popular option in several of the private conservancies surrounding it — take place after dark, when African predators are most active. Participants are taken around the park or reserve with spotlights attached to four-wheel-drive vehicles in hopes of spotting nocturnal predators such as leopards and hyenas, as well as smaller creatures called bushbabies. Night game drives can be an adrenaline-charged addition to what is typically a sedate traditional Kenya safari.

Walking Safaris

While a game drive through the Masai Mara is a thrilling experience, truly immersing yourself in the wonders of the Kenyan bush can involve going on a guided walking safari in one of the Masai Mara’s private conservancies. Join an expert Maasai guide and an armed ranger and explore the flora and fauna on foot. Discover which plants are used for cooking or medicine, learning in detail about animal tracks, birdsongs and areas of rich forest and shady groves. A walking safari gives a deeper understanding of the bush and the sights, sounds and smells of the Mara.

Hot Air Balloon Safaris

For the complete experience, set off in a hot air balloon before dawn. As the sun rises over the savannah, you will glide silently over the ‘bushes and trees illuminated by the breaking sunlight’, as the explorer Ernest Hemingway put it, getting an Eames chair view of what you’ll see on the ground below. Balloon safaris take place at dawn.

Maasai Culture

Any safari in Kenya to the Masai Mara would not be complete without a visit to a Maasai cultural village. A cultural visit can allow tourists to gain an insight into the Maasai lifestyle, their culture, customs and tradition. You can be knowledgeable about Maasai history and see the legendary dances. Most cultural visit programmes include the tourists in their activities such as making Maasai beadwork or spear throwing. Learning new things, besides your culture, and acceptance can make one respectful.


As well as its profound wealth in mammals, the Masai Mara is also a bird-watcher’s heaven. More than 570 species have been recorded, from jewel-like kingfishers to birds of prey such as martial eagles, to pretty waders such as pied avocets and greenshanks. Many of the Kenya safari packages we offer contain dedicated bird-watching activities, accompanied by a specialist ornithologist guide.

Photography Safaris

The spectacular landscapes and abundant wildlife of the Masai Mara make it one of the finest destinations for the photography enthusiast. Whether you’re a professional photographer or an enthusiastic amateur, a Kenya safari in the Mara offers many opportunities to take wonderful photographs. Some safari operators run specialised photo safaris with expert guides and customised vehicles designed especially to enable the taking of photographs.

Family Safaris

A Kenya safari in the Masai Mara is a good option for those looking for a family holiday that is educational and adventurous. Most lodges and camps offer family rooms and plenty of activities for adults and children alike, such as guided walks, wildlife tracking, and cultural experiences. Children will get to see their favourite animals and learn all about nature in the African wild.

Luxury Safari Lodges

The Masai Mara, Kenya’s equivalent to the Serengeti and perhaps the world’s premier game-viewing destination, caters to upscale visitors with a plethora of deluxe safari lodges and tented camps. These properties offer world-class amenities, top-notch dining and impeccable service, so that your safari is every bit as luxe as travelling anywhere else in the world. A number of luxury lodges offer special extras that you can’t get on a standard safari – private dinners in the bush, for example, or spa treatments with a view.

When to Visit Masai Mara

Planning Your Kenya Safari

The Masai Mara is a year-round destination, and many safari travellers consider it a richer, finer experience to come back in every season and experience it anew — perhaps to catch the Great Migration in the dry season (July to October), or to see the landscape abruptly transformed when the short rains of November kick in, or again with the long rains in April and May. My own first experience of the Masai Mara was when I had three weeks with a Kenyan friend, always in search of the big cats and the magnificent herds of game that are all part of the Great Migration. I must admit to having some initial disappointment in the Masai Mara. This was partly because I had expected some fantastic surfeit of human societies, which of course is wrong; the wild and the locals are together but in a separate compartment. And I had thought that there would be the thrill of safari beside the delight of nature. But after a few days the driving freaked, and then we found the lionesses lying on the grass with young cubs nearby and a pride of male cheetahs curious about our leafy picnic. And in the river we saw a hippo male charging our guide. And we clambered over the rocks to a pool where crocodiles wallowed like logs with gaping mouths. And we came across a herd of wounded buffalo, driven out of the herd by a leopard, and covered with blood and maggots. Slowly my affair with Kenya grew. Kenya Safaris is my tour partner who makes possible these experiences.

Getting There ; Accessing the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara National Reserve is situated 270 kilometres (170 miles) due west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi. It is accessible by road; the drive takes around five to six hours, or you might fly into the reserve by zeroing in with one of the three airstrips in the Mara. Many Kenya safari packages offer transport from Nairobi to the reserve and back, so it should be easy.