Maasai Mara National Reserve
Maasai Mara National Reserve is in the south west of Kenya. The Maasai Mara is not a National Park, but rather a National Reserve belonging to the Maasai people and administered by the local county councils. It is one of the best known and most popular reserves in Africa.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is each year visited by thousands of tourists, who come here to watch the many different wildlife and birdlife species in the reserve. The reserve is especially famous for the high amount of predators, such as lions and cheetah, and the 1.5 million wildebeest which migrate through the Mara and cross the crocodile infested Mara river.
The best kept secret of the Mara is the Mara Triangle, the North-Western part of the Maasai Mara which is managed by the Mara Conservancy on behalf of Trans-Mara County Council - the rest of the reserve falls under Narok County Council. Although one third of the Mara, The Mara Triangle has only one lodge within its boundaries (compared to the numerous camps and lodges on the Narok side) and has well maintained, all weather roads. The rangers patrol regularly which means that there is almost no poaching and therefore excellent game viewing. There is also strict control over vehicle numbers around animal sightings which means a better, more authentic, experience when out on a game drive.
Arrowheads and pottery discarded by Neolithic man 2000 years ago have been found in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Since the 17th century the Masai have occupied the area - of course together with the wildlife, who are the true landlords here. The Maasai Mara National Reserve as it appears today was established in 1961, and covers 1,510 sq km (583 sq miles).
The Maasai Mara is characterized by four different kinds of topography: sandy soil and small bushes to the east, the Siria Escarpment forming a spectacular plateau as the western boundary of the reserve, lush grasslands and woodlands around the Mara River and open plains with scattered bushes making up the largest part of the reserve. The landscape is very varied and has a romantic feeling to it, as can be witnessed in the film 'Out of Africa', which was filmed here in 1985.
Flora and fauna
When visiting the Maasai Mara you are likely to see the famous Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Especially lions are common here, and have grown relatively accustomed to their two-legged visitors, which makes them easier to spot. The Mara Plains are teeming with wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, impala and Thomson's gazelle. Also cheetahs, hyenas and jackals are seen regularly in the reserve. In the Mara River large amounts of hippos and crocodiles are enjoying their lives - the crocodiles are especially happy in July and November when thousands of wildebeest migrate across the river causing a sumptuous feast for the hungry crocodiles. Birdlife in Maasai Mara are abundant and diverse. Species such as eagles, ostriches, storks and vultures are among the more than 50 different birds of prey.
Maasai Mara is located 1,500-2,200 m (4,900-7,100 ft) above sea level, which makes the climate slightly damper and milder than in other similar regions. Highest temperatures in daytime is 30C/85F (warmest in December and January, coldest in June and July), at night the temperature rarely drops below 15C/60F.
The rainy season is April-May and November. In these periods some parts of the Mara will get very muddy and practically inaccessible. The dry season occurs from July to October. This is the best time to visit the Maasai Mara as a lot of herbivores indulge in the plants grown long and lush after the rains - plus, in these months you will stay clear of heavy showers.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is accessible by flight from Nairobi Wilson Airport and from Samburu, Lewa Downs, Nanyuki or Mombasa. The aircraft will land on one of the small Mara airstrips, and from here you need to transfer by car to your particular lodge. The flight from Nairobi takes about half an hour.
If you choose to go by car from Nairobi the drive will take you five hours during the dry season, and up to seven hours in the rainy season. By car you can enter the game reserve through these gates: Sand River, Musiara, Oloololo, Talek or Sekenani.
Please remember that the roads in the reserve can become flooded or turned into mud puddles in the rainy seasons in April, May and November.
A lot of travel agencies organise safari trips to Maasai Mara. You can book a package tour, which allows you to put all transportation to and in the park in their hands.
Moving around in Maasai Mara National Reserve must only take place by car - preferably by 4-wheel safari vehicles. Because of the wild animals it is absolutely forbidden to move about on foot outside the camp sites and lodges. A more unconventional way to get around in the reserve is by hot air balloon trips, which is a great way to see the animals and the area a little from above. 2009 BOOKINGS The financial crisis has prompted safari lodges and hotels in East Africa to start offering some very interesting deals. We will be pleased to suggest special offers where applicable. Overall, safari prices have not increased greatly this year in US$ terms. However, the recent currency fluctuations have meant a significant increase in € and £ costs. INTERNATIONAL & INTERNAL FLIGHTS British Airways has been considering a new direct flight from London Heathrow to Kilimanjaro. KLM is the only European airline currently offering a direct service into Northern Tanzania.
The main attraction of this game reserve is, not surprisingly, game viewing. Go on morning, afternoon and night drives over several days in order to see as many as possible of the resident animals, such as lion, leopard, elephant, zebra, giraffe, Thomson's gazelle, hyena, rhino, hippo and the thousands of migrating wildebeest that makes this park so famous.
Many camp sites and lodges offer game drives with experienced drivers and skilled, well-informed guides. These are well worth your money, as they will provide you with priceless knowledge and help you spot animals you wouldn't see on your own. And please catch as many sunuppers and -downers as you can.
Maasai Mara's most famous sight is the Great Migration, a great animal migration event that takes place in July and August every year.
There is a Maasai village near Oloolaimutiek gate of this game park. It is a good experience and will help you to deepen your understanding of the Maasai's culture and simple way of life.
To guarantee that when visiting a Maasai village that your money is actually going to the local community (and not to tour operators as 'commission') visit a village which is part of the Mara Triangle Maasai Villages Association. You can find out more about how the Maasai were and are being exploited by tour drivers by going to their website .
Go game viewing till you drop! If this gets a little monotonous (which it probably won't), you can go on a much recommended hot air balloon safari early in the morning and see the sun rising above the wildlife and the magnificent landscapes. And do remember to take lots of photographs! Some lodges and camps offer massage and wellness treatments making you able to combine wildlife watching with luxury.
You can buy strings of beads or beads already made up into necklaces and other pieces of jewellery at the gate and outside the entry to the park. There are also usually people selling film here.
If you want to support local communities do not buy trinkets from the camps and lodges and instead buy them from a local village - 'manyatta'.
In the Mara Triangle part of the Maasai Mara there are both public and private campsites available to use.
There is a public campsite next to Oloololo gate with both shower and toilet facilities, and is very clean but basic, with great views over the Mara and the protection of the rangers camp nearby.
There is also another public campsite next to Serena Hotel which has longdrop toilets.
The private campsites are located along the river and have a special booking fee. For full details of payment amounts and availability of campsites go to the Mara Triangle website