MASAI MARA GAME RESERVE – KENYA (Masai Mara tours and safaris)

What To See and Do in Masai Mara Game Reserve - Attractions & Activities in Masai Mara

Masai Mara National Park is a Kenya’s premier wildlife park. It was also established in 1961 to protect wildlife from hunters. Masai Mara is in the southwestern Kenya on the border with Tanzania. The reserve is also situated in the rift valley with Tanzania’s Serengeti plains along its southern end. The Mara River runs through the reserve hosting plenty of hippos and crocodiles and making the annual migration of over a million wildebeest and many of the zebras.

Most of the Masai Mara National Park is made up of hilly grassland which is fed by plentiful rain, especially during the wet months between November and June. The areas bordering the Mara River are forested and are also home to many bird species.

Buffaloes in Masai Mara Game Reserve
Buffaloes in Masai Mara Game Reserve

About the park

The Park is Kenya’s most popular game park because it is relatively small yet it hosts concentration of wildlife. There are also the big five including; the lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas, giraffes, impala, wildebeest, topi, baboons, warthogs, Buffalos, Zebras, elephants, hippos, and the crocodiles. There are many things to do in the park and some of these include; Game drives, walking safaris, cultural tours with the Masai, Hot air Ballooning, etc.

This Park is situated 168 miles from the capital city of Nairobi. The trip takes at least 6 hours by car. This is because the roads are quite poor and should not be attempted unless you are using a 4WD vehicle.

Many tourists choose to fly into Masai Mara Reserve because of the poor quality roads. However, flying makes the safari more expensive and also missing out on some of the adventure of traveling in one of Africa’s more remote areas.

The park also covers the lake and a land strip around the northern, eastern and western shores. The southwards the grounds also extend farther to Makalia falls, which also define the south limit. The shores are also surrounded by swamps that during the driest seasons disappear to give rise to huge white salt crusts. There are also many animals including the lion hill, baboon cliff and many more. The park is also home to large mammals including carnivores like the lions, leopards etc.

History of Masai Mara Game Reserve

During the colonial periods in Kenya, Masai Mara national park was set aside as a wildlife sanctuary in 1961. Later on, the park was extended so that it can include areas reaching Tanzania’s Serengeti national park. Some parts of the park were put in the hands of local councils that is Narok and Trans-Mara for effective management. This is also the greatest bird spectacle on earth. The park was gazette in 1968 but since 1961, there was a bird sanctuary at the Lake’s south sector. However, with the support of the World wildlife Fund, Kenya’s Government launched a scheme to Purchase the adjacent grounds. This was intended to widen the protected Area.

Until now the park has been developing and little wonder, it is one of the top world tourist destinations in the world. Currently the park is famous for its enormous wildebeest migration which involves thousands of animals move all the way to and from Serengeti national park.

How big is Masai Mara Game Reserve?

Characterized by the open savannah grasslands and stunning vegetation, Masai Mara national park spans an area of about 1,510 square kilometers (580 square miles in south western parts of Kenya). The park stretches all the way and acts as an extension of Tanzania’s Serengeti national park.

Geography of Masai Mara Game Reserve

Masai Mara national Game Reserve is largely made up of the savannah plains and the rolling hills. The other parts of the park are shaped by the Mara River and the Siria escarpment. The park’s climate generally is made up of two rainfall seasons with brief rain spells accompanied by sunshine in the months of April to May and September to November. The park stands at an altitude of approximately 1,480 to 2,280 meters (4,900 to 7,200 feet.) and receives a rainfall of 85 mm (3.4 inches) per month. The general temperatures of Masai Mara national park is 12 to 31 °C (54 to 87 °F).

Why Visit Masai Mara Game Reserve?

Visiting Masai Mara national park is gives every traveler a remarkable experience. It is an easy to do adventure that can easily be combined with any other Kenya safari. Masai Mara national park is a home to multiple animal, bird and flora species some of which are endemic to the area. The park features stunning vegetation with breath-taking views of the landscapes. Other than the greatest animal migration in the world, Masai River is one of the small but dangerous rivers in the world characterized by deadly crocodiles. Visiting the park will give you exceptional scenes as you see the animals battle with the crocodiles to cross to the other side of the river. Visiting Masai Mara national park is being part of your animal documentaries that you watch on National Geographic television channel.

What to do in Masai Mara Game Reserve?

Cultural tours in Masai Mara Game Reserve
Cultural tours in Masai Mara Game Reserve

Travelers that make it to Masai Mara national park experience activities that are luxurious and adventurous in nature. These include game drives to nearer and deeper parts of the park, hot air balloon safaris that involves game viewing from the top, guided nature walks, Visiting Masai Mara villages, horseback riding, bush meals and sundowners, and that is just a few.

Game drives

    Have you been wondering what game drives are? These are rides in 4x4 land cruiser, van or any other type of car in a national park like Masai Mara and explore the wild. The game drives take an average of 2 to 3 hours while you enjoy scenic views of the animals, birds and plants in their natural setting. Game drives in Masai Mara usually happen twice a day that is the morning game drives and afternoon game drives. However, Masai Mara national park also organizes night game drives which are loved by most travelers. Night game drives are unique in a way that you will stand chances of seeing the dangerous hunters of the wild such as the lion and leopard. They are an opportunity for you to see animals such as lions, leopards, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, antelopes, to mention but a few. Read Masai Mara Game Drive safari packages. 

    Hot air balloon safaris

      This is usually referred to “a once in a lifetime experience” by most of the travelers that participate in its. Masai Mara national park’s hot air balloon safari comes with spectacular views of the park and Mara River from the top. The hot air balloon safaris start at the break of dawn a time when the sun rays beautify the place as they combine with cool morning winds. The safari is accompanied by tossing Champaign with fellow travelers and ends with a bush meal. It is indeed a time to turn moments into memories. If you intend to take part in the hot air balloon safari, you are expected to wake up by 5am, meet your driver and go to the meeting point so that by 6:00am to 6:15 am the balloon sets off. This is always the ample time for game viewing and catch early risers of the park as they leave their nests. On the other hand you stand higher chances of seeing night hunters before they go back into their dens for hiding.

      Masai Village visits

        While on your safari in Masai Mara national park, dare not to miss being part of the guided nature walks. The walks come as a relaxer especially in the evening hours of the day. After travelers have spent most of their time in game drives and other major activities of the park, they spend evening hours paying a visit to the neighboring communities. The dominant neighbors and dwellers of the Masai Mara national park are mainly the Masai people. It is from this tribe that the park gets its name. The Masai people are some of the outstanding and ancient tribes in Africa who have retained the cultural and did not allow to be contaminated by any form of civilization. Visiting them during the guided walks will give you an opportunity to interact with them, enjoy their ways of life ranging from dress codes, traditional dances, local foods, hunting skills, styles of leadership, to mention but a few. Pay close attention as they perform their rituals, you will have a mesmerizing experience. Their hospitality itself is a lifetime blessing.

        Horseback riding safaris

          Like Uganda’s Lake Mburo national park, Masai Mara national park is one of the few national parks in East Africa that offer horseback riding excursions. These are good for those that want to explore the park in the shortest time possible. You must enjoy the exploration of the Mara plains at the back of the horse.

          Guided nature walks

            Guided nature walks in Masai Mara national parks are adventures where by travelers walk either within the park or in the neighboring areas of the park under the guidance of tour guides. The primary intention of the walk is viewing the wild in a more relaxed mood. It is usually an additional activity but it is unique in its own way. The walks come with closer views of animals and bird species and involve interacting with the local members of the neighboring communities. Guided nature walks take approximately 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on how fast the target views are encountered and how far travelers intend to explore. It is a game drive on foot.

            Bush meals and sundowners

              Everything done in an African wild natural setting is always special. Masai Mara national park gives you an opportunity to have your meals in the wilderness. The packages are usually in categories that is bush breakfast, Lunch picnic, bush dinners and sundowners. Having a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer by the River side is a moment turned into a memory. The meals are served in a natural setting so that your whole mood can get elevated into an African setting. You enjoy the fragrance of the sun rays as it either sets or rises. What an amazing experience!

              Which animals can I see in Masai Mara Game Reserve?

              Masai Mara National Park is one of the national parks with diverse animal species that from color, size, ways of life, etc. The unique animals of the park include the big Five animals which are usually hard to find in a single national park. These animals include; Hippopotamuses, lions, elephants, buffaloes and leopards.

              The big Five Animals in Masai Mara national park

              Lion ( Panthera Leo)

                It is believed that there are between 850 and 900 lions in the Masai Mara national park. Lions are social animals that live in small groups of not more than 10 members. These families usually depend on old males for protection and power is always dependent on fighting and making new conquests. Lions in the Masai Mara usually are fond of hunting in groups though eating follows the order of hierarchy starting from the oldest to the youngest. Visiting Masai Mara national park will introduce you to the Mara pride and get to learn about their stunning and interesting stories. They usually move following their prey especially the buffaloes and wildebeest. This implies that they are also part of the great wildebeest migration.

                Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)

                  African Elephant is one of the animal species that were at the verge of extinction before governments in East Africa set strong laws against poaching. These were threatened due to their ivory which is a rich source of money on the world market. The good news is that the number of elephants in the Masai Mara national park has increased in the past years. Visit the park and watch these big sociable creatures.

                  Rhino (Rhinocerotidae)

                    Rhinoceros are always in two categories but they are somewhat identical that is the black rhino and the white rhino. Black Rhino are slightly smaller but more aggressive compared to White Rhino. The other difference between the two is that Black rhinos use their horns during mating and fighting, as well as when defending themselves from predators. They also use their hooked lip to browse shrubs and prefer thick bush habitat. A game drive in Masai Mara national park will introduce you to these magical species that are not easy to find elsewhere.

                    Leopard (Panthera pardus)

                      Leopard is one of the big cats and big hunters of the Masai Mara national park. A game drive in the park will enable you land on one lifting prey which is heavier than its own body weight to the top of the trees. They are one of the fast running animals in the wild. Leopards have special hunting techniques and they like hiding and fear lions so much. Leopards are shy that is why they like hunting at night.

                      African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

                        The African buffalo also known as the Cape buffalo is one of most dangerous animals found in the Masai Mara national park. It is believed that a buffalo is one of the few animals that kill for pleasure. While other animals kill for food and defense, a buffalo can kill just to enjoy killing. They move in herds to as a defense mechanism against enemies and they can defeat lions if they are organized. Solitary bulls are always more dangerous but usually become victims of lions’ special hunting techniques.

                        Other animals of the Masai Mara national park

                        1. Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubantus)
                        2. Giraffe (Giraffa)
                        3. Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius)
                        4. Zebra (Equus quagga)
                        5. Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)
                        6. Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus)
                        7. African Hare (Lepus capensis)
                        8. Antelope (Alcelaphinae)
                        9. Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo)
                        10. Bat Eared Fox (Otocyon magalotis)
                        11. Bushbaby (Galago senegalensis)
                        12. Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)
                        13. Coke's Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii)
                        14. Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx)
                        15. Copper Tailed Monkey/ Red Tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius)
                        16. Crested Porcupine ( Hystrix cristata )
                        17. Pangolin (Manis temminckii)
                        18. Dwarf Mongoose (Helpgale parvula)
                        19. Grant's Gazelle (Gazella granti)
                        20. Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis)
                        21. Impala (Aepyceros melampus)
                        22. Kirk's Dik Dik (Madoqua kirkii)
                        23. Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus)
                        24. Olive Baboons (Papio cynocephalus anubis)
                        25. Oribi (Ourebia ourebi)
                        26. Side Striped Jackal (Canis adustus)
                        27. Slender Mongoose (Herpestes sanguineus)
                        28. Spotted Hyena (Hyaena hyaena)
                        29. Spring Hare (Pedetes capensis)
                        30. Straw Coloured Fruit Bat (Eidolon helvum)
                        31. Thomson's Gazelle (Gazella thomsonii)
                        32. Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela)
                        33. Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops)
                        34. Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus)
                        35. Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)
                        36. Wildebeest (Connochaetes)

                        Birds in Masai Mara national park

                          Are you a bird lover? Do not miss thousands of bird species that dwell in the great Masai Mara national park. Some of these species are rift valley endemics and they are difficult to be spotted in other parts of East Africa and the world as a whole.

                          1. Abdim's Stork (Ciconia abdimii)
                          2. African Darter (Anhinga rufa)
                          3. African Grey Hornbill (Tockus nasutus)
                          4. African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
                          5. African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus)
                          6. African Openbill Stork (Anastomus lamelligerus)
                          7. African Spoonbill (Platalea alba)
                          8. African White Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)
                          9. Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)
                          10. Black Chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis)
                          11. Black Headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala)
                          12. Black-Winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus)
                          13. Coqui Francolin (Francolinus coqui)
                          14. Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
                          15. Fischer's Sparrow Lark (Eremopterix leucopareia)
                          16. Green Wood Hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus)
                          17. Grey Headed Kingfishers in Masai Mara
                          18. Grey Headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala)
                          19. Grey Kestrel (Falco ardosiaceus)
                          20. Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)
                          21. Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash)
                          22. Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
                          23. Lappet Faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus)
                          24. Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudata)
                          25. Marabou Stork (Leptopilos crumeniferus)
                          26. Martial Eagles in Masai Mara
                          27. Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)
                          28. Ostrich (Struthio camelus)
                          29. Rufous Naped Lark (Mirafra africana)
                          30. Ruppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii)
                          31. Secretary bird ( Sagittaruis serpentaruis)
                          32. Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
                          33. Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
                          34. Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus)
                          35. Spotted Thick Knee (Burhinus capensis)
                          36. Striped Kingfisher (Halcyon chelicuti)
                          37. Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)
                          38. Usambiro Barbet (Trachyphonus usambiro)
                          39. Vulturine Guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum)

                          Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara Game Reserve

                          You might have heard about the great wildebeest migration and maybe have never got what it means exactly. The wildebeest migration is one of the great animal movements that takes place in Serengeti national park (Tanzania) and Masai Mara national park (Kenya). These animals are guided by their instincts and the appetite for greener pastures. They follow the Mara River for water. These animals move in large numbers of about 15 million per in total. While these wildebeests migrate, they are being followed by predators such as hyenas, lions and leopards who keep in search of what to eat. They are brave enough to cross the dangerous Mara River which is usually full of crocodiles but of course some of these especially young ones are eaten along the way. The usual rule of the wilderness “Survival for the fittest" applies.

                          What time of the Year is the Wildebeest Migration in Masai Mara?

                          Most people think that this migration happens once a year which is not the case. Remember these animals migrate from a drier place to a wetter one. This means that they are ever on the move from Serengeti national park to Masai Mara national park and the reverse is true. It is therefore difficult to tell where they put their first step during the migration.

                          What is the best time to visit Masai Mara to see the Wildebeest Migration?

                          The fact that we are interacting with nature (Wild animals) sometimes it might be difficult to predict where they will be and when they will be there. However, from the experience in the past years, we know that the wildebeest migration follows where there are rainy seasons. That is why we say that the best months to see them in the Masai Mara national park is between the months of July to September most preferably the month of August. This is the time of calving and crossing the river which most travelers want to see. The other months of the year we expect these animals to be in the northern plains of Serengeti national park.

                          Where do the wildebeest migrate to and from?

                          The migration is always from Serengeti national park in Tanzania to Masai Mara national park in Kenya and back when the dry season sets in. The movements depend on climate, greener pastures and the mating seasons.

                          How do you see the Wildebeest Migration?

                          The wildebeest migration is seen during Masai Mara game drives whereby the driver or guide will take you to the deeper parts of the park as far as the Mara River and you watch them cross. The crossing journey is what most travelers usually crave for. Some lodges are located near the vintage points from where wildebeest migration can be seen in the comfort of your room.

                          The Mara River

                          Covering a distance of 395 kilometers from Narok County in Kenya and in ends in Mara Region in Tanzania, the Mara River is the only permanent source of water that supplies Masai Mara national park and parts of Serengeti national park. The river is one of the deadliest rivers in the world having been with the shy Nile crocodiles. The river is always fun as the wildebeests forcefully battle with crocodiles as they cross to the other side in search of greener pastures. The river drains its water to the biggest lake in Africa – Lake Victoria.

                          How to access Masai Mara national park

                          Masai Mara national park can be accessed by both road and air transport means.

                          By road; 270 kilo meters from the Nairobi city which usually takes 4 to 5 hours

                          By air: 40 to 45 minutes from Nairobi. It is important to note that tourists can easily connect to other nearby safari destinations right from Masai Mara. For instance, one can easily fly from Masai Mara Game Reserve to Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. Check the flight schedule to Masai Mara for better planning.

                          Where to stay while at Masai Mara national park

                          Accommodation while in the Masai Mara national park depends on the traveler’s choice and affordability. Otherwise lodges and hotels range from budget to mid-range and luxury. You may choose staying in tented camps, safari lodges and hotels.

                          Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)  about Masai Mara Game Reserve

                          What is Masai Mara famous for?

                          Wildebeest migration and Big Five animals

                            Which is the best month to visit Masai Mara?

                            Every day is good to visit Masai Mara national park, however, if you are interested in watching the wildebeest’s migration, the best time is during the months of July and September.

                            Where is Masai Mara National Park located?

                            Kenya – East Africa

                            How many days do you need in Masai Mara?

                            It all depends on your plan but 4 to 5 days are good for one to explore the park

                            Which is better Serengeti or Masai Mara?

                            Both Serengeti and Masai Mara national parks are difficult to compare since they share a lot of attractions. Which one to visit depends on where you are, and the time of the year since they are located in two different countries.

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