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Wildebeest scattered across grassy plains. Lion prides snoozing beneath acacias. Masai giraffe peering over the highest branches. A game drive through the Mara North Conservancy gives you a chance to encounter all of the Masai Mara’s biggest headliners, but without the crowds often seen in the main reserve.

Elephant calves in Mara NorthThe conservancy was formed between 800 Maasai landowners and a handful of camps and lodges to benefit both wildlife and local communities. Guest numbers here are limited to only those staying within its boundaries, and just five vehicles are permitted at any one sighting, making for a quieter, more authentic safari experience.

Northwest of the main Masai Mara National Reserve, the Mara North Conservancy is a quieter alternative that still demonstrates the diversity and concentration of the area’s wildlife. Just a small number of camps and lodges dot the area, each offering twice-daily game drives that give you a chance to see roaring (and yawning) lion, teetering Masai giraffe, huge swathes of grunting wildebeest and, along the riverbanks, hippo swilling in the murky waters.

More than just a haven for wildlife, the conservancy was set up as a partnership between hundreds of Maasai landowners and several camps and lodges. The aim? To create a conservation area that also benefits local communities.

The conservancy leases land from the Maasai, who therefore receive a direct income from wildlife conservation and tourism. They’re still permitted to graze cattle on the conservancy, and you’ll see men and women herding sheep, goats and cows as you explore the conservancy.

This doesn’t detract from your game-viewing experience. With the help of an experienced guide, you’ll travel in an open 4x4 through the open grassland, pockets of shrub and along the riverbanks in search of animals big and small.

You might encounter a huge bull elephant looking for a female herd, twitchy herds of zebra, impala and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles keeping a look-out for hidden predators, and, lounging in the shade, a pride of lion spanning various ages, from tufty-maned adolescent males to well-respected mothers and golden-spotted cubs.

Lioness in Mara NorthGame drives take place twice a day: at first light, when the clouds shimmer peach and gold as the sun crawls up from the horizon, grazing animals make the most of cooler conditions and the tracks of leopard, lion or hyena are still fresh from their night-time hunts. And, after a leisurely afternoon at camp, an evening drive as the bush glows golden and predators begin to stir from their slumber.

After sundowner drinks and snacks, you return to camp after dark, scanning the bush with a flashlight to pick up the reflective orbs of nocturnal animals’ eyes, from bush babies to African hares.

The small number of guests in the conservancy means you’ll see far fewer vehicles than in the main reserve. And, with strict rules on the number of vehicles permitted at each sighting, you can get closer to the animals without disturbing them or feeling like you’re part of a crowd battling for the best view.

As well as game drives, you can often do walking safaris on the conservancy. Accompanied by an experienced guide and an armed ranger, you’ll head out on foot to see animals at eye level and observe smaller creatures that would otherwise be overlooked. Without engine noise, you can hear the sounds of birdsong, calls of plains game and rustle of trees more clearly and feel like you’re part of the bush.

Best time to visit Mara North Conservancy

Wildlife is plentiful year-round, but wildebeest numbers are boosted significantly during the Great Migration, which typically occurs between July and October. You might experience some rain between March and May, but it shouldn’t impact on your safari experience and there’ll be fewer visitors.

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