A Pride of Lions Roaming the Maasai Mara

Safari Guide: Maasai Mara

written by
Sue van Winsen
Sue van Winsen

The Maasai Mara, named after the Maasai people who call this part of Kenya home, is widely considered to be one of the greatest reserves in all of Africa. Comprising the Maasai Mara National Reserve, as well as several neighbouring conservancies with which it shares unfenced borders, the Greater Maasai Mara covers over 1,500 sqkm.

It forms part of the vast Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that links Kenya and Tanzania, stretching over 25,000 sqkm, which is also unfenced, allowing wildlife to follow the age-old migratory patterns as they cover great distances in search of fresh green pastures to graze – the most famous of all being the annual Great Migration of more than a million wildebeest and zebra.

Safari camp in Maasai Mara National Reserve with lions in view

The history of the Maasai Mara

It was first established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1961, but at the time it was around a third of its current size at just 520 sqkm. Over the years, there have been many changes to its borders with land added to the reserve, while other sections have been handed over to communities as well as different management bodies.

In 1994, the Maasai Mara was split, with one section being the official National Reserve managed by the Kenyan government, while the western part of the reserve was renamed to the Mara Triangle and handed over to the not-for-profit Mara Conservancy to manage.

Eco-friendly safari tents in Maasai Mara National Reserve

Along with the Reserve and Triangle, there are also many unfenced community-run conservancies, where safari camp operators work with Maasai landowners to use their land for tourism in return for a fee or a share of the profits. During a culture trip to Kenya, visitors will see many inspiring examples of ecotourism co-existing alongside the age-old Maasai practice of livestock farming, and it is fairly common to see pastoralists grazing their cows alongside wildlife

The best time to visit the Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara is home to phenomenal wildlife all year round, so deciding when to make your trip will depend on other factors that relate specifically to your interests.

The weather is one aspect to take into consideration ­– however there are some common misconceptions about rainfall in the Mara, largely due to widely used farming terms that have created confusion.

In the Mara, most people refer to the short rains (November and December) and the long rains (from March to May). Contrary to what it sounds like, the long rains refer just to the season lasting for several months, rather than the amount of rainfall expected in an average day. Almost always, rain falls in the late afternoon or early evening ­– the dramatic clouds (perfect for photography) tend to depart as quickly as they arrive, clearing up to reveal bright, star-lit skies leading into beautiful cloudless mornings.

Salas Maasai Mara Kenya 111

Aside from the rains, the main factor that determines when to visit the Maasai Mara is the movements of the Great Migration. Between the months of July and October, the endless procession of wildebeests and zebras arrive in the Mara from the Serengeti – and it is during this time that the dramatic river crossings take place.

That said, there is no guarantee on the arrival or departure date of wildebeest migration and it is quite common for the megaherds to arrive as early as June or depart as late as November or even December. However, if seeing a river crossing is on your bucket list, then your odds are best in August – and it is important to book as early as possible as space is in high demand.

For those interested in seeing baby animals and birdwatching, the summer months from November to February are a great choice and it is at this time that the Mara is at its greenest and most scenic. This also makes summer one of the best seasons for a hot air balloon safari over the Maasai Mara. It is a truly unforgettable experience to get a bird’s eye view of the landscape, the winding Mara River and the many animals that live in the Maasai Mara.

Luxurious safari lodge in the heart of Maasai Mara National Reserve

Wildlife in the Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara’s vast grasslands are filled with more animals than you could ever imagine – regardless of whether you are there for the wildebeest migration or not. The plains are always teeming with herbivores: journeys of giraffe, huge herds of zebras, buffalos, elephants and Thomson’s gazelles and it is almost impossible to go even a few kilometres without coming across a topi atop a grassy mound, ever vigilant for predators that are never far behind.

This is truly lion country, with sightings almost guaranteed and the various prides result in fascinating social dynamics as the males battle for dominance. That said, the Mara is also one of the best places in Africa to see cheetahs, while the leopard population continues to grow, making sightings of these shy species increasingly regular.

The Mara is also home to over 500 species of birds, including some remarkable and noteworthy species, like the iconic grey-crowned crane, Ross’s turaco and the endangered ground hornbill. There are also many species of raptors, with several conservation organisations, including the Mara Raptor Project, doing vital work to conserve species like the martial eagles along with various owls, eagles and vultures.

Elephant traversing the lush landscape of Maasai Mara National Reserve

The best lodges in the Maasai Mara

With plenty of choice, deciding where to stay in the Maasai Mara can seem overwhelming, but by focusing on what matters most to you, our team of Travel Researchers will be able to make personalised recommendations based on their first-hand knowledge.

Whether you are travelling with your family and looking for a lodge that caters well to children, or on a romantic getaway where the focus is on luxury and privacy, our team will help you find the perfect match. There are some all-rounders though, that tick all the boxes and that always surpass our guests’ expectations.

Angama Mara

Perched 1,000-ft above the Mara Triangle, this contemporary lodge boasts one of the best views in all of Africa and is the same location where many of the most iconic scenes from Out of Africa were filmed. Angama Mara has plenty of special features, including a photographic studio manned by a team of professional wildlife photographers to help you get the most out of your camera, as well as a beading studio and a one-acre Shamba (kitchen garden) where you can enjoy lunch under the shade of a towering moth tree.

Panoramic view of Maasai Mara National Reserve from Angama Mara

Naboisho Camp

Adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Naboisho Conservancy, where the camp is located, offers spectacular game-viewing with one of the highest concentrations of lions in the world. The camp itself is stylish, with nine classic safari tents.

Guests enjoying a fly camping experience in Maasai Mara National Reserve

Sala’s Camp

This luxury tented camp is understatedly luxurious and perfectly placed to witness the wildlife, especially the Great Migration. Thanks to its relative remoteness, it offers one of the more private safari experiences within the National Reserve.

Guests enjoying sundowners with a backdrop of the Maasai Mara National Reserve

At Niarra Travel, we believe the right kind of travel can make a positive difference in the world and prioritise a personalised approach that ensures no itinerary is ever the same. If you are dreaming about the wildlife-filled plains of the Maasai Mara, then get in touch, and one of our Travel Researchers will start working on creating a tailor made Kenya safari just for you.

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