This world-renowned Maasai Mara park, is a huge expanse of tawny, dry grasslands pocked with acacia trees and river woodlands, and heaving with animals great and small. Impressive at any time of the year, it’s at its best in between July and October when a million migrating wildebeest and tens of thousands of topis, zebras, and other animals pour into the reserve from Tanzania in search of fresh grass. It is, arguably, the most spectacular wildlife shows on the planet, and the one thing that no visitor to Kenya should consider missing.
Reliable rains and plentiful vegetation underpin this extraordinary ecosystem and the millions of herbivores it supports. Wildebeest, zebras, impalas, elands, reedbucks, waterbucks, black rhinos, elephants, Masai giraffes, and several species of gazelle all call the Mara home. Predators here include Cheetahs, Leopards, spotted Hyenas, Black-backed Jackals, Bat-eared foxes, Caracals, and the highest lion density in the world.
Rhino Ridge & Paradise Plains
Rhino Ridge is a good place to see black-backed jackals, as they’re known to use the old termitaria here for den sites. Lookout Hill is worth a detour as it offers phenomenal views over the seasonal Olpunyaia swamp. You may also get lucky and spot one of the few black rhinos that inhabit the reserve anywhere between Lookout Hill and Rhino Ridge and in the vicinity of Roan Hill.
To see lions, the Marsh Pride near Musiara Swamp and the Ridge Pride near Rhino Ridge both starred in the BBC’s Big Cat Diary so they (as celebrities) are fairly easy to find.
Cheetahs are far more elusive but are sometimes found hunting gazelles on the Paradise Plains.
Pods of hippos can be found in any of the major rivers, with the largest and most permanent concentrations occurring in the Mara River. The river is also home to huge Nile crocodiles and is the scene where wildebeest make their fateful crossing during the migration. The New Mara Bridge in the south is the only all-weather crossing point and another great place to see hippos.
Virtually all lodges organize wildlife drives through the park. At some cheaper places, it will be in a battered old Land Rover or similar, while in the more expensive places safaris will be conducted in pop-top minivans with other guests. The super-exclusive lodges will use state of the art customized vehicles with open sides. Self-drive safaris in your own vehicle are also perfectly possible.
Guided Nature Walks
One of the best ways to experience the African bush is on foot. You’ll learn all about the medicinal properties of various plants, see the telltale signs of passing animals, and have some thrilling encounters with wildlife. As it’s forbidden to walk within the reserve due to predators, guided walks generally take place in the company of a Maasai moran (warrior) outside the park itself, but in the nonetheless wildlife-rich conservancies that surround the reserve to the north and east. Guides can be arranged through your accommodation or safari company.
Several companies operate dawn balloon safaris and there’s no better way to start your day than soaring majestically over the rolling grasslands. Flights can be booked at most of the lodges or campsites and include a champagne breakfast, wildlife drive and transport to and from the launch point. There are two recommended companies, the Hot Air Safaris and Governors’ Balloon Safaris.
Maasai Manyatta Visits
The Maasai are synonymous with the Maasai Mara, and their slender frames, blood-red cloaks, ochre hairstyles, and beaded Jewellery make them instantly recognizable. Despite their reputation as fearsome warriors with somewhat lofty dispositions, some Masaai manyattas (villages) now welcome visitors for a fee.
Village visits can be organized through any lodge or camp or, if traveling under your own stream, you can just turn up at any villages (don’t just drive in the homestead (Masaai manyatta) always look for the signs saying something along the lines of ‘cultural village’.
Accommodation in Maasai Mara
The sites are wonderfully open to the elements, with just canvas between you and the nearest predator. You will need to be totally self-sufficient to the point of binging your own firewood, as using deadwood within the park is prohibited.
Crocodile Camp Masai Mara
Whether you’re camping or looking for a little more comfort in one of their simple safari tents, Crocodile Camp, close to Talek Gate, is an excellent place to stay. With wi-fi in the evenings a decent bar-restaurant, hot showers, and an active safari program geared towards budget and midrange travelers, it’s a good all-round package.
Mara Expedition Camp
A tiny camp that is so well hidden under the riverside trees it’s impossible to see until you’re pretty much in it. Yet again, Great plains Conservation has produced a winner that combines clever conservation work with five tents that are the epitome of refined-safari style with leather armchairs, old travelers’ trunks, and brass bucket showers.
Basecamp Maasai Mara
This upmarket lodge has 16 extremely comfortable tents with large wooden verandahs and smart bathrooms. The camp is very serious about sustainability and recycling and enjoys a gold eco-rating from Ecotourism Kenya. It also has huge grounds and overlooks the river and the Mara beyond. Don’t miss the trees planted by the Obama family on their stay here.