Tips For Planning A Maasai Mara Safari : A Complete Guide : In the Maa language, which the Maasai people who originally inhabited the region speak, the word “Mara” means “spotted.” It alludes to how, when viewed from a distance, the Mara is dotted with acacia trees, craters, and indentations. A variety of animals, including elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, hyena, and the Mara’s renowned big cats, lion, leopard, and cheetah, find refuge in the expanse of its open plains, which resemble an oasis. And every year, from roughly July to November, its savannah provides food for herds of wildebeest of epic proportions. Every year, thousands of tourists travel to the Mara to enjoy some of the most genuine safari experiences in Africa.
The Masai Mara National Reserve, hailed as one of the best wildlife reserves in the world, serves as a haven for a wide variety of extraordinary animals. The reserve was given the name Masai Mara, or simply “The Mara,” in honor of the Maasai people who live there. The Maa word for “Mara” is “spotted,” which refers to the region’s landscape, which is speckled with craters and acacia trees.
Numerous animals, including the famous Big 5, can be found here, so whether you’re traveling on foot, in a vehicle, or even in the air, you’re sure to see some of your favorite creatures. It is one of the most amazing wildlife encounters on Earth to see millions of migrating wildebeest if you visit between August and November. The Masai Mara is the ideal safari location and is ideal for both novice and seasoned safari visitors.
Safari enthusiasts can learn everything they need to know about the Masai Mara from this blog. The best time to visit, the best places to stay, and what to wear on safari are all covered in our comprehensive guide to visiting the Masai Mara in Kenya.
WHY IS THE MASAI MARA FAMOUS?
Because of the abundance of wildlife and its iconic Savannah landscape with desert date trees, the Masai Mara receives about 300,000 visitors annually. The Great Migration, which refers to a large number of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles crossing the Maasai plains and the Mara River in search of food and water between Tanzania and Kenya, is another reason for the fame of the Masai Mara National Reserve.
Africa’s Big Five game animals reside in the Masai Mara, along with other impressive creatures like cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, and more. Most people know that the Masai Mara is the most well-known and important safari location in East Africa. Photographers and tourists who appreciate nature will find it a paradise.
The Maasai people are an indigenous ethnic group and semi-nomadic people known for their culture and traditions, including wearing red clothing. The Masai Mara National Reserve bears their name. Another reason people choose Masai Mara, Kenya, for a safari in Kenya is to visit a Masai village.
LOCATION AND LANDSCAPE
The Masai Mara National Reserve is located in south-western Kenya and spans an area slightly larger than greater Los Angeles. It has unfenced borders with several Maasai-run private conservancies. The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem’s northernmost region is known for the yearly Wildebeest Migration. The reserve’s three main rivers—the Sand, Talek, and Mara—drain the area, which is dotted with thorny trees, kopjes, and craters. The Mara’s landscape consists primarily of seasonal rivers and open grassland.
Around mid-year, the Mara River serves as the main barrier that the wildebeest herds must cross; however, smaller break-away groups also navigate the Talek and Sand Rivers. Even in November, lone stragglers have been known to cross the Talek!
The conservancies are much more exclusive and private than the reserve, especially during the height of the Migration. Visitors to the conservancies can travel into the reserve, but those staying in the reserve cannot travel into the conservancies. The Mara Triangle, Olare Orok, Naboisho, and Ol Kinyei conservancies contain some of the best lodging. Due to the fact that these are tribal lands, you may occasionally come across a Maasai manyatta or village, as well as sizable herds of the region’s renowned and beautiful cattle. The conservancies serve as excellent examples of places where domestic livestock, wildlife, and people all coexist.
Nairobi, the nation’s capital and primary transportation hub, is located roughly 224 kilometers (or 139 miles) from the Mara’s easternmost border. Safari travelers typically arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and then connect at Wilson Airport, which is right nearby, to travel to the Mara’s various airstrips. Similar to a “bus system” for the bush, you may occasionally drop off other passengers at one airstrip before moving onto your own.
Golden savannah, flat grasslands with lots of grazing, and the ideal setting for cheetahs to hunt down a Thomson’s gazelle are the characteristics of the traditional Mara landscape. While elephants have done a good job of clearing much of the Mara of trees and forests over the years, giving it its distinctive openness, it also contains small patches of riverine forest and clusters of trees.
HOW TO GET TO THE MASAI MARA
Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, which is situated 224 kilometers from the Masai Mara’s eastern border, is the most direct route to the reserve. Arriving at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, you’ll then take a transfer to the close-by Wilson Airport to catch a domestic flight to the airstrips in the Masai Mara. The flights take about 45 minutes, and when you land, your driver will be waiting to take you to your lodge or camp while you keep an eye out for wildlife along the way.
GAME VIEWING AND WILDLIFE IN THE MASAI MARA
The Masai Mara, one of Africa’s best wildlife havens, provides exceptional game viewing. You’ll have the chance to see some of the most amazing species on earth, as well as all of your favorite characters from The Lion King.
The Great Migration
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem hosts the Great Migration, one of the greatest shows on Earth, starting around July each year. In search of greener pastures, more than 1.5 million wildebeest, antelope, and zebra migrate from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to Kenya’s Masai Mara. When they reach the Mara River in Kenya, the last barrier, they advance in a trampling mass.
As the animals try to avoid the crocodiles, vultures, big cats, and treacherous river rapids, they form a thundering bottleneck. The wildebeest travel a distance of 1,000 km to return to the Serengeti once the rainy season arrives in October or November.
You can see this magnificent spectacle from the Masai Mara, which is a perilous and incredible journey. We advise booking your lodging at least nine months or more in advance due to the event’s high demand.
Because the herds don’t all move at the same time and location every year—only the animals decide when to go—it is impossible to predict when the Mara River will be crossed. It’s also important to remember that the Great Migration is not something that the weak of heart should witness. Predators that are ready to eat are in the area, and it’s likely that you’ll witness some kills.
The Big 5 of Africa
The Masai Mara is renowned for housing all of Africa’s Big Five, in addition to the Great Migration. Elephants, lions, buffalo, and leopards are frequently seen, but it can be more challenging to see rhinos. There is also a ton of other amazing wildlife, such as zebras, giraffes, hyenas, wildebeest, gazelles, elands, and a wide variety of birds. Additionally, there’s a chance you’ll see hippos in the Mara and Talek rivers and cheetahs skulking through the vast open plains.
THINGS TO DO IN THE MASAI MARA
The Masai Mara’s main draw is its wildlife, and there are many wonderful ways to view it. By getting to know the Maasai, the area’s original occupants, you can further enhance your safari experience in the Masai Mara. Here are top activities available for you in Maasai Mara:
The traditional safari activity is going on a game drive, and you can do that in the Masai Mara both during the day and at night. To see the Mara’s famous wildlife during the day, you’ll leave either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. As many predators, especially big cats, only really come alive after dark, you’ll be treated to exciting scenes of nighttime prowling and hunting on a nighttime game drive.
You can leave the car at home and travel through the Mara wilderness on foot by going for a bush walk. Your guide will point out plants and animals that you might miss from a moving vehicle as you explore the African bush’s finer points. A walking safari is a thrilling adventure where you can see big game and pick up tracking techniques from the pros.
Hot air balloon experience
A hot air balloon ride at sunrise will give you a bird’s-eye view of the Masai Mara. With panoramic views of the glistening plains and the opportunity to see wildlife during one of its most active periods of the day, you’ll have the best seat in the house. You’ll be treated to a sumptuous champagne breakfast in the bush to cap off the experience.
The Maasai people are the owners of the Masai Mara and engage in the customary Maasai cattle herding. Visits to nearby villages and performances by Maasai warriors in traditional song and dance will give you a unique insight into the rich culture of the Maasai tribes. You can also go on bush walks with the friendly Maasai people and learn from them as they share their knowledge and wisdom about this stunning region.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE MASAI MARA
The Masai Mara can be visited at any time of the year thanks to its abundant resident wildlife and comfortable temperatures throughout the year. The busiest travel months are July and August, when tourists swarm the nation to see the Great Migration.
Visit in October or November, when the wildebeest return to the Serengeti, if you’d like to see the Great Migration without the large crowds. Since the wildebeest migrate in response to the start of the rainy season, the timing of the return migration varies every year.
‘Short’ and long wet seasons are the two rainy seasons in Kenya. The afternoon showers are brief and characteristic of the short rains, which typically start in November. They wash away the dust and reduce the humidity in the air. When antelope calves are born, migrant birds arrive, and the landscape is covered in greenery, it is a stunning time to take wildlife photographs.
With their lush green grasslands and infant animals bounding about the plains, February and March are also beautiful months to travel. After a rainstorm, however, it may be more difficult to see wildlife because of the dense vegetation that obstructs your view.
The heavy rainy season typically lasts through April and May, and many lodges and camps close during these months due to flooding and impassable muddy roads brought on by the constant rain.
THE BEST LUXURY LODGES AND CAMPS IN THE MASAI MARA
We advise lodging in one of the exclusive conservancies located inside the Masai Mara National Reserve. You will have the chance to visit Maasai villages or see vast herds of their prized cattle because the conservancies are located on tribal lands and are run by the Maasai.
The conservancies are a great example of conservation in the area, with a harmonious approach to wildlife, domestic livestock, local communities, and cultures. Additionally, they offer a unique and private experience because only those who are staying there are permitted to enter the conservancies (although visitors to the conservancies are permitted to enter the reserve). Our top picks for luxurious camps and lodges in the Masai Mara are listed below:
Saruni Mara, which is located in the exclusive Mara North Conservancy, is a fantastic location to see animals in a protected wildlife area. The lodge is the only small boutique lodge in the Masai Mara, and it’s only a 40-minute game drive from the closest airstrip.
There are only five exquisite cottages, one family villa, and one private villa. Each is exquisitely furnished with a different theme and has a deck with stunning views. You will have exclusive access to the Maasai warriors’ long-standing knowledge of the wildlife and environment because the conservancy is owned by them.
You’ll go on private safaris with experienced trackers and guides and experience exhilarating night game drives, bush walks, Maasai market visits, and romantic hot air balloon rides at sunrise. After a long day of exploration, Saruni Mara is the ideal place to unwind. It has a wonderful wellness area with massage services as well as a restaurant serving delectable gourmet Italian cuisine prepared by skilled chefs.
Saruni Wild is the ideal location if you want to experience luxury tent camping. Between Mara North Conservancy and Lemek Conservancy in the Masai Mara, Saruni Wild is tucked away in a mysterious forest and is surrounded by impressive game populations and thrilling migration activity.
You’ll have easy access to all the hotspots while staying in a remote area rich in wildlife with few other tourists nearby, only a 40-minute game drive from the Masai Mara National Reserve’s entrance.
You will enjoy having this incredible space to yourself because there are only three luxury tents with top-notch amenities and contemporary comforts. You can even see wildlife from your tent.
The Maasai will serve as your tour guides during your stay and share their extensive local knowledge and experience with you as you go on day and night game drives, bush walks, and migration river crossing experiences. You can even take part in the unusual Warrior Academy Program for kids, visit a nearby Maasai village, or watch a performance of Maasai warriors dancing around the campfire.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE MASAI MARA
Travelers can generally feel safe visiting Kenya because of its relative political stability. However, there are incidents of petty theft and pickpocketing, especially in the cities, much like in other popular tourist destinations. Avoid walking alone at night, hide valuables from sight, and only use taxis that have been arranged through your guide or hotel.
You can make sure you’re safe in the Masai Mara by always paying attention to your driver’s and guide’s instructions. As the experts, it is their responsibility to keep you safe while on safari.
Remember to drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and a hat, never leave food out in your tent or room (to deter wildlife from paying you a visit), and never go river swimming or explore the reserve alone.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A SAFARI HOLIDAY IN THE MASAI MARA
It’s easy to over pack for a safari vacation in Kenya, but you really only need a few necessities to be ready for the trip of a lifetime.
Keep in mind that the typical baggage allowance for domestic flights is 20 kilograms per person, so it’s best to use a soft case or hold all to maximize space. What to pack for a safari trip in the Masai Mara is advised here:
- As morning and evening game drives can become chilly, wear neutral-colored clothing and lightweight fabrics that are easy to layer. Wearing blue or black clothing should be avoided because these hues attract tsetse flies, which have a nasty bite and transmit disease. It is forbidden to wear clothing with military-style camouflage.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect yourself from the sun and bug bites. Even outside of national parks, Kenyans prefer to dress conservatively, so knee-length pants, skirts, and shirts that cover the shoulders and midriff are best.
- A pair of well-worn-in, cozy walking shoes (to prevent painful blisters).
- Swimwear and clothing appropriate for water sports
- Shades and a hat
- Sanitary products like lip balm, after-sun, insect repellent, and sun cream.
- Camera gear (bring more memory than you think you’ll need) and binoculars
- Reusable water bottle to reduce waste, but keep in mind that Kenyan tap water is unfit for consumption unless your bottle has a filtration system.
- A versatile travel adaptor. Plug type G (three rectangular pins) is used in Kenya. 50 Hz and 240 V are the standard frequencies, respectively.
Note: Plastic bags are categorically prohibited in Kenya. All visitors entering Kenya will be required to leave any plastic bags—including duty-free bags and the tiny Ziplock bags commonly used to transport toiletries—at the entry points. While visiting Kenya, we kindly ask you to avoid using plastic bags because they are strictly prohibited and carrying them will result in harsh penalties.
VACCINATIONS AND MEDICATIONS
Visit your doctor at least six to eight weeks before you travel to make sure you have received all recommended or required vaccinations.
Kenya has malaria, so you should take anti-malarial medication before, during, and after your trip. To prevent mosquito and insect bites, you should also wear long, loose clothing and a potent insect repellent.
In some areas of Kenya, the risk of yellow fever is low, but if you are traveling from a nation where the risk is high, you must present proof that you have received a yellow fever vaccination. For more information on vaccinations and malaria in Kenya, Get in Touch with Focus East Africa Tours.
MASAI MARA SAFARI TRAVEL ADVICE
We take pride in offering our clients unbiased guidance based on years of personal travel experience in the places we suggest. We have been creating custom Masai Mara safari itineraries for many years now. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Make reservations before the migration.
It’s typical to book a camp a year in advance because sites close to popular river crossings are in high demand. From July to November, talk to us about getting front-row seats.
Take to the Air
Masai Mara is known for its hot-air balloon safaris, which offer an unforgettable vantage point from which to view the Wildebeest Migration. Get in touch with us to learn which lodges and camps provide them.
Meet the locals with dignity.
Make sure your Maasai cultural interaction is genuine, meaningful, and unplanned so that it can benefit the neighborhood. We’ll suggest lodging and businesses that operate ethically.
During the migration’s peak season (July to November), the Masai Mara National Reserve may become very crowded. The Mara’s private conservancies provide excellent lodging, few tourists, and game viewing that rivals that of the main reserve. There are also options for off-road game viewing, night drives, and guided nature walks—activities that are prohibited in the Masai Mara’s public area. Additionally, by residing in the conservancies, you will directly support regional economies and environmental protection.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT ON YOUR MASAI MARA SAFARI HOLIDAY
There is so much wildlife, natural beauty, and fascinating culture in Kenya and East Africa. We advise combining your Masai Mara safari with other top places to visit in Kenya, going to see the gorillas in east Africa, or capping off your trip on the Zanzibar beaches. Other destinations worth visiting during your Maasai Mara safari in Kenya includes:
The ‘Samburu 5″—the Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk, and Somali Ostrich—which can only be found in this region of Kenya—can be found there, so if you want to venture off the beaten path, we suggest visiting the wild northern lands of Samburu.
Experiencing the vibrant Samburu culture, going on an exhilarating walking safari, and camping in northern Kenya under the stars are also options.
Laikipia, which offers breathtaking scenery, unique wildlife encounters, and committed conservationists working tirelessly to preserve the Kenyan bush, is another off-the-grid location. On a special camel safari adventure, trek into the bush on foot while keeping an eye out for elephants, lions, giraffes, wild dogs, oryx, and even leopards.
At the conclusion of your Masai Mara safari, head to Diani Beach on the southern Kenyan coast, where you can unwind on white-sand beaches and embark on diving and snorkeling expeditions to discover the dazzling marine life.
OTHER DESTINATIONS WORTH VISITING IN AFRICA WHEN PLANNING A MAASAI MARA SAFARI
Combining your Masai Mara safari with a visit to Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park) to search for wild mountain gorillas will allow you to see the most famous sights of east Africa.
With the help of a knowledgeable guide, you’ll trek through Rwanda’s dense forest, and once you locate the mountain gorillas, you’ll get to spend up to an exclusive hour with them. You won’t soon forget this truly magical experience; we guarantee it.
We believe that spending a blissful week in Zanzibar Beaches, a tropical paradise with white, powdery beaches and turquoise waters, is the best way to cap off your east African Safari adventure.
If you want to learn more about the rich history of Stone Town, you can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site there. You can also go diving and snorkeling to see manta rays and other colorful marine life, or you can unwind on one of the stunning beaches or in a plush infinity pool that overlooks the ocean.
START PREPARING FOR THE VACATION OF A LIFETIME!
Get in touch with one of our Africa Safari Experts at Focus East Africa Tours to discuss your customized Masai Mara safari and speak with someone who has been there before.