Kenya’s flagship park, the Masai Mara National Reserve, is one of Africa’s finest wildlife destinations where quintessential safari landscapes of vast acacia-dotted savannas teem with animals. The stellar highlight of the Masai Mara is, without a doubt, the Great Migration, an annual movement of millions of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra migrating between neighbouring Tanzania the Kenyan park. Seeing the dramatic daily scenes of the Great Migration – the massive, noisy herds, the animals making the perilous crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River and the thrilling big cat hunts – are among the best and most exciting wildlife experiences you can have in Africa. Simply put, it is the best destination in Kenya for viewing wildlife – and lots of it!
It takes about 5 hours to get there by road and 45 minutes by air. There are scheduled flights from both Jomo Kenyatta National Airport and Wilson Airport.
The grassy savannah landscape enhances the beauty of the reserve. Scattered acacia woods and bush stand out in the plains. There is also a riverine forest, due to the presence of the Mara River, where most of the bird species dwell. The Maasai culture is another major attraction. One of the best-known tribes, the Maasai have maintained their culture even as other tribes fall prey to modern practices. Their bright colored clothes and traditional dances are a must-see.
If you have sufficient funds, consider taking a balloon trip over the reserve. This popular and thoroughly memorable ride usually commences before dawn and includes a champagne breakfast. Viewing abundant game afloat a balloon is an unforgettable experience.
There is a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Most Maasai Mara lodges and camps are conveniently located within the game reserve due to its long distance from any major town.
The Masai Mara Game Reserve, started as a small wildlife sanctuary 520 Km2 in 1948, it was extended eastwards in 1961 and went through some size variations before reaching the current size of 1,510 Km2 that it is today. The reserve originally got its name from the Maasai people who called the area “Mara” which in Maa (language of the Maasai) means ‘spotted’. This is exactly what the area looks like from afar. Great sweeping plains, spotted with umbrella acacia trees, bushes and animals.
In the east are the sandy Ngama Hills covered in thick bush, favoured by the black rhino. The western border is demarcated by the Oloololo Escarpment. On the northern border is the Musiara Swamp, a great place for sighting elephant, lion, cheetah and leopard. The Mara Triangle is bordered by the Mara River, which has lush grasslands, attracting high concentrations of wildebeest during the annual migration.
The National Reserve’s Mara Triangle is managed by the Trans-Mara County Council which is a non-profit organization and the more tourist-popular south eastern section is managed by the Narok County Council. These organizations are responsible for the protection of the wildlife and the anti-poaching units, as well as the tourism in the area.
The Mara River originates in the Napuiyapi Swamp, in the Kenyan highlands, as the Amala and the Nyangores rivers, providing water for human and animal alike along its route. The two rivers converge to form the Mara River which flows through Africa’s greatest wilderness areas including the Masai Mara and Serengeti before ending in Lake Victoria – but it is on its route through the Masai Mara where it hosts the most dramatic natural events on earth.
The Mara River is the major water source in the Masai Mara National Reserve, providing water year round for the thousands of animals of the National Reserve, but it is in the months of late July to October that the river hosts the herds of the Great Migration – and the famous drama-filled river crossings. Giant Crocodiles wait all year for the herds to cross the Mara, and when they do, the Crocodiles feast.
Measuring 1510 square kilometers, Masai Mara National Reserve is a spread over a large area and therefore has several entry gates to access the reserve. Using the correct gate during your trip to Masai Mara can save you hours of additional driving. Below we have a list of the main gates at the main Masai Mara reserve along with basic information on which lodges and camps are closest to the various access points. As for entry and exit timings, the entry timing is 6.00am and exit timing is 6pm, after which the gates are closed. It may be possible to enter or exit beyond these timings in exceptional cases with the permission of the reserve Warden, for example in case of a vehicle breakdown or maybe adverse weather causing road closures.
The Maasai Mara gates are well distributed at most convenient and popular places that lead to Maasai Mara National Reserve. If one chooses go to Maasai Mara by road, they can access the reserve on its 6 gates which are distributed to favour all guests entering the reserve at any point.
Sekenani Gate is located on the outskirts of Sekenani town, amidst vast Savannah plains on the eastern border of Masai Mara national reserve.
It is the main gate and most preffered because it is on the main road from Narok Town. The best lodging options near Sekenani gates includes Mara Sarova Game Camp, Keekorok Lodge, Mara Sweet Acacia Lodge, Mara Springs Safari Camp, Enkolong Tented Camp, Kimana Mara Tented Camp, oldarpoi Mara Camp, Sekenani Camp and AA Lodge Maasai Mara.
Talek Gate is one of the most developed gates in Maasai Mara. It is located on the North western side of Maasai Mara National Reserve, amidst the large open Savannah grass land right next to the famous Talek River which acts like a natural border between the Eastern and Western region of Maasai Mara.
The best lodging options near Talek gates includes Mara Intrepids Tented Camp, Julia’S River Camp, Aruba Mara Camp, Tipilikwani Mara Camp, Mara Leisure Camp, Fig Tree Camp, Azure Mara Haven, Mara Simba Lodge and Mara Serena Safari Lodge.
Musiara Gate is located on the north eastern end of Maasai Mara National Reserve, a short distance east of Oloololo gate, though on the opposite side of the mara river.
The best lodging options near Musiara gates includes Little Governors Camp, Governors Camp, Governors’ IL Moran Camp, Kandili Camps, Angama Mara, Karen Blixen Camp, Kilima Camp and Nyota Mara Camp.
Oloololo gate is located on the north eastern region of Maasai Mara National Reserve, a short distance south of one of the tributaries for the Mara river. The gate is accessed through C13(Aitong road) and C14 (Singor – Kaboson road). You can also use this gate to drive to west of the Mara river ( a few minutes drive) and a similar distance north of the walls of the rift valley known as the Oloololo escarpment.
The best lodging options near Oloololo gates includes Mara Big Five Lodge, Fairmont Mara Safari Club, Entim Mara Camp and Oltome Mara Magic Resort among others.
Oloolaimutia Gate is located on the outskirts of Oloolaimutia town, amidst the hilly eastern end of Masai Mara national reserve.
The best lodging options near Oloolaimuita gates includes Ol Moran Tented Camp, Mara Sidai Camp, Acacia Camp Mara among others.
The Sand river gate is located on the northern banks of the Sand river, one of the tributaries for the Mara river as well as a crossing point for the wildebeest migration. It also sits on the southern border of masai mara national reserve, a few metres from the border between Kenya and Tanzania as well as the Bologonja gate into serengeti national park.
Due to the nearby border between Kenya and Tanzania being closed to tourists, the gate is seldom used, with most using the Isebania border instead.
Despite being in the wilderness, Masai Mara has some amazing hotels painstakingly built and established over years in what is essentially the remote wilds of Africa. Some of these luxury tented camps and Safari Lodges are international award winners. This page is a simple list of some of the more outstanding accommodation in Masai Mara in the Luxury, Mid Range and Budget categories.
Most tourists come to East Africa hoping to see the so called ”Big Five”, namely Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo. Well, the Mara is one of the few places in Africa where seeing all these five animal species is not just possible but also fairly likely during a 3 day safari.
With close to 70 mammal species and hundreds of Bird species to be found in the greater Masai Mara region, it is no wonder that this wildlife area is referred to as a literal Animal Kingdom of sorts, a true preservation of animals in the modern day era. Below is a brief check list of wild animals and mammals in Masai Mara.
Although not the obvious choise of destination for Birding in Kenya, which after all is home to some of the best birding hotspots in the world, Masai Mara is still a very good place for Ornithological tours, with over 500 species recorded, with many of these being raptor species.