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Wildebeest, Mara River

Visit Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The wind whistles in the thorn trees. On a solitary acacia, a vulture ruffles its feathers. Above are endless skies to match the seemingly endless horizons. This must be the Masai Mara, home to the greatest animal show on earth.

The Mara Game Reserve, as it was originally known, was established in 1961. Today, it’s one of the best-known wildlife areas in Africa, home to healthy big cat populations and an abundance of plains game, bolstered by the arrival of millions of wildebeest during the Great Migration. Visit at any time and you have a good chance of seeing lion, elephant, cheetah, Masai giraffe and buffalo, as well as varied birdlife, hippo and crocodiles along the rivers.

Masai giraffe mother and babyThere’s a reason the Masai Mara National Reserve is so well known and popular with visitors. With vast assemblages of plains game, together with their associated predators, it’s perhaps the only region left in Kenya where you can see animals in the same super-abundance as existed a century ago. Point a camera and in one shot you might capture dazzles of zebra and a scattering of impala, wildebeest and gazelles, elephant marching in a line and lanky giraffe nibbling the acacia trees, all against a backdrop of distant hills and vast open plains.

Everything is big here: it’s a landscape of rolling plains and rounded hills, of groves of acacia woodland and dense thickets of scrub. The reserve is bisected by the Mara River and its tributaries, which are margined by lush riverine forest and the site of spectacular river crossings during the migration.

The reserve’s southern boundary is contiguous with Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, which shares the Great Migration herds. It has been developed on the lines of a national park, where, unlike in the bordering conservancies, human settlements are unable to intrude and game-viewing is restricted to game drives and horse-riding safaris.

Male lion, Masai MaraOn your twice-daily game drives, your guide will try to find the animals you most want to see, whether it’s lion (the Masai Mara is home to the largest lion population in Kenya), species not found elsewhere in the country, such as topi and roan antelope, or birds such as kingfishers, hornbills, secretary birds and raptors.

During the Great Migration (usually between July and October), you can focus your game drives along the Mara River, where, as well as river crossings, you have a good chance of seeing predators picking off the weakest of the herds. It’s worth noting that the reserve gets very busy during these months and river crossings are near-impossible to predict, requiring huge amounts of patience.

At any time of year, you still have a chance of seeing all of the Big Five, though leopard seem to be skilled at keeping a low profile. You can also stumble across cheetah, either solitary females (sometimes with cubs) or male coalitions peering over termite mounds.

Most vehicles in the park will focus on spotting these key species. But, sometimes, the best game drives are where you don’t have a set animal goal in mind and simply see what’s out there, sticking to quieter corners for a more laid-back, authentic experience.

Best time to visit Masai Mara National Reserve

The Masai Mara, while known for its Great Migration months of July to October, is abundant in all manner of wildlife year-round. You’re most likely to experience rain between March and May, but it shouldn’t impact on your safari experience and the reserve will have fewer visitors at this time.

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Audley Travel specialist Izzy

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Masai Mara National Reserve by calling one of our Kenya specialists on 01993 838 510

Suggested itineraries featuring Masai Mara National Reserve

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