Masai Mara National Reserve

One of the best safari parks in Africa, Masai Mara National Reserve is found in Kenya about 270 km southwest of Nairobi city. The park is famous for its wildlife mainly the wildebeest migration and large number of big cats including lion, leopard and cheetah. When you visit the park and take on game drive early morning when predators are hunting, there you could see a scene so reminiscent of the movie “Lion King” you watch the hyenas attacking lions over a corpse as you might watch a colony of ants.

Masai Mara National Reserve covers 1510 sq.km mostly open savannah plains, with River Talek and Mara meandering through the western part of the park, known as Mara Triangle, creating a contrasting landscape of riverine thickets. These habitats provide home to a staggering diversity of wildlife, there are 95 different species of mammals and over 400 species of birds.

The park is divided into three areas namely; the Mara Triangle being the area where viewing of the wildebeest migration takes place, the Musiara and Sekani sectors. The highlight of the park’s wildlife is twofold; the great wildebeest migration and the big five African mammals which include lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinos both the black and white rhinos. Other mammals found in the park include Masai giraffe, plains zebra, topi, impala, eland, waterbuck, bushbuck, dik dik, klipspringer, hippos, crocodiles, hyena, serval cats, and many more.

Established in 1961, the park is named after the Masai tribe because these people are naturally linked to this park along with Serengeti of Tanzania, and have cohabited with big game to the extent of taming lions, a skill that they still use but in a special way to take visitors on guided game walks to view wildlife on foot which is part of their culture. Any trip to this reserve would be incomplete without visiting the Masai community for a unique cultural experience.

But, there’s also a hidden reason why the park was named after the Masai people. I think that there’s need for people to reconnect with places from which they have evolved – the Masai are nearer to their origins. How we came to be what we are. Just across the border to Tanzania’s Serengeti national Park, there’s Olduvai Gorge a place where fossils of the earliest humans known to inhabit planet earth were discovered which enhances the essence of Africa as a “cradle of mankind.”

That’s where the role of the Kenya wildlife service comes in; to help people see that Masai Mara National Reserve is not just about wildebeest migration and the big five mammals, but rather an Africa spiritual and emotional experience. Therefore, its key that such a park is put aside to protect the biological diversity where people can visit to learn about the process of nature.

Best time to see wildebeest migration in Masai Mara National Reserve.

In the Masai Mara National Reserve, the one thing that all visitors want to see is the great wildebeest migration as the naturalists call it – the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth; it features over 1.5 million wildebeests moving along with thousands of zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, eland, impala around the Serengeti ecosystem in search of green pastures influenced by rain patterns. The great Serengeti ecosystem includes Masai Mara National reserve and Serengeti National Park.

The great migration is a highly complex and interrelated natural movement of wildlife and its events such as the Mara River Crossing is so amazing. These animals reach the park from June to October and that’s the best time to visit the migration, often the river crossings occur around July. Generally, this happens to be the best time for wildlife viewing in Masai National Reserve.

As a result, game viewing activities are very active – day and night game drives, hot air balloon safaris, guided game walks and bird watching plus Masai community tours.

ACTIVITIES TO DO IN MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE.

Game drives.

The best way to spot animals, the 4X4 game drives occur early in the morning and run throughout the day in the Mara Triangle which is the main area of the park that attracts wildlife including big five mammals, big cats and the great wildebeest migration. It’s important to note that getting out of bed very early is a must, often game drives begin at 6:00am which is the best time to search for predators like lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena.

Much of the wildlife can be spotted during day, however, some of the animals are nocturnal which necessitates one to do a game drive at night. It’s mandatory to use a ranger unlike during the day, the night game drive needs use of special spotlights to be able to observe wildlife especially leopard, hunting hyenas, lions among other wild animals.

Hot Air Balloon Safari Rides.

This thrilling activity takes you into the sky where you spend an hour soaring at a height slightly above tree tops or higher up to 1000 feet above the plains. The 360 degrees’ views of the plains from the sky ae awesome at sunrise, plus the champagne and breakfast in the bush experience after the balloon has landed make a balloon ride a special activity.

There are areas which cannot be reached by game drive vehicles, but, with a hot air balloon ride, you simply soar above the river Mara and bush thickets giving you better sightings of hippos, Masai giraffes and the wildebeest migration.

There are several operators that offer hot air balloon rides, and one can accommodate up to 16 visitors including the pilots and guide. Visitors get to watch the balloon being inflated and take off occurs before sunrise which means getting up earlier than it could be for traditional game drives.

Walking Safari.

In contrast to game drives, walking safaris provide a unique way to view wildlife while walking on foot with the Masai guides giving you detail of the African bush. The scents and sounds of the wild and that closeness to nature you get with the help of an armed ranger, the experience is safe and secure, and the ranger will shoot in the sky to scare off a charging animal.

It’s great for birding, and you might spot antelopes, zebras and sometimes hyenas plus the little creatures of the savannah like insects. You don’t even need to pre-book this activity, as you can plan for it from your lodge. Elsewhere, walking safaris are also done in Lewa Conservancy and Laikipia plains.

Masai Community Tour.

This cultural tour takes you into the local Masai communities outside the park, though, there are lodges that invite performers to entertain their guests at campfire. Whatever, it is that you want, go for it and you won’t regret.

Bird watching in Masai Mara National Reserve.

With over 400 bird species, bird watching in Masai Mara reserve is as great as game viewing. Some of the species found in there include ostrich, sooty chat, Kori bustard (largest flying bird), different raptors including martial eagle, vultures such as the Egyptian vulture among more savannah birds of the greater Serengeti ecosystem.

BEST TIME TO VISIT MASAI MARA.

July to October, is pure dry season, it’s the time when wildebeest migration is in the Mara Triangle and heading to cross the Mara River, so it’s the best time to visit the park for wildlife viewing. It’s the peak season, therefore the busiest, please book in ahead of time if you will be visiting.

On the other hand, the rainy season begins in December to March and April, as many people try to avoid the rains, there are no crowds, which makes game viewing secluded. However, chances are thinner to see the wildebeest migration, though you might see big cats, and big five mammals.

How to get there? 

Masai Mara National reserve is located 270 km southwest of Nairobi city and getting there by car takes about 5 to 6 hours with regular stopovers along the way. You can also fly from Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta airport or Arusha and Kilimanjaro airports to one of the two airstrips in Mara triangle.

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