Greater Masai Mara, Kenya
Arguably the most famous wildlife area in the world and a must-see place during a Kenya safari, the Masai Mara National Reserve lies in the southwest of the country, bordering Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. This is an ecosystem of vast grasslands prowled by cheetah, peppered with acacia thickets in which leopards lurk, and divided by the Mara, Sand and Talek rivers.
From July to November each year, the great wildebeest herds arrive from Tanzania. To reach the grasslands of the Mara, they must risk their lives crossing the Mara River, where famished crocodiles wait in the swollen waters. After nervously milling about on the banks, it takes just one wildebeest to leap in, and then the herd follows en masse in a cacophony of grunts, thundering hooves and splashing water. The river crossings are iconic — the subject of many nature documentaries — and attract huge numbers of tourists each year.
But there’s much more to the 150,000-hectare reserve and its surrounding conservancies. This is big cat territory, with healthy populations of lion, leopard and cheetah. There are elephant, buffalo and rhino, completing the Big 5, plus nearly 500 recorded bird species to spot.
Greater Masai Mara
The Maasai people have lived here for hundreds of years and make the best guides and custodians of the land. Surrounding the Masai Mara National Reserve are several community-owned conservancies. Together, they make up the Greater Masai Mara area.
The Mara is a mere 45-minute flight from Nairobi and there are plenty of bush flights connecting it to the Serengeti in Tanzania and other Kenyan destinations, such as Laikipia.
January to May
There are fewer tourists in the Mara, but still plenty of possible wildlife sightings (like black rhino, elephant and Maasai giraffe). Some wildebeest remain in the Mara, where they are preyed on by the area’s big cats. From November until April, the migratory birds swell with the Mara’s recorded bird count close to 500.
There are two rainy seasons: March to May (long rains) and November to December (short rains). The peak of the wet weather is between March and May.
The temperature doesn’t change much throughout the year. The high ranges from 25°C to 28°C/77°F to 82°F during the day with nighttime lows ranging from 11°C to 3°C/52°F to 56°F.
Greater Masai Mara Climate
Masai Mara Wildlife
The Mara is known as one of the best places in Africa for game viewing, with more than 90 animal species and nearly 500 bird species in the ecosystem. It’s excellent for big cats. The Mara has the highest lion density in Kenya, and leopard and cheetah are common sights, too. There are spotted hyena, black-backed and side-striped jackal, serval, the occasional caracal and even African wild dog. Plains game can be seen all year round. There are always Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, zebra, oribi, Coke’s hartebeest, eland and some roan antelopes. The numbers swell when the Great Migration herds cross the Mara River. From July until November, around 1.5 million wildebeest journey into Kenya, following the rains in a cyclical route around the Masai Mara and Serengeti. You can also find giraffe and elephant browsing the acacia woodlands, huge herds of buffalo, black rhino in the thickets and hippo and crocodile in the rivers. Birds include various kingfishers, ground hornbills, secretary birds, vultures and even the elusive Pel’s fishing owl. Migratory species arrive in the Mara between November and April.