Kenya’s most famous safari destination is incredibly popular for good reason. Covering a 1,510sqkm area in Southwestern Kenya, it is part of the enormous Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that stretches down through Tanzania. The sweeping Mara plains are home to thousands of mammals, ballooning to millions during the Great Migration. Sightings of lion, giraffe, elephant and hippo are pretty much guaranteed, while leopard, hyena and cheetah may be spotted on the prowl for wildebeest, zebra and gazelle.
Accessed either by road or by air, it is a five-hour drive from Nairobi through the breathtaking Great Rift Valley (although the route involves some pretty bumpy tracks on approach to the reserve), or there are several companies, such as Safari Link, that run flights from the capital (Wilson Airport), taking around an hour. Several of the lodges have their own runway. Flying in is an experience in itself and, considering the time and discomfort that is cut from the journey, it’s worth the extra spend.
Pick your spot
There are two distinct areas of the Masai Mara National Reserve. The Mara Triangle, which is strictly regulated to protect and conserve the wildlife, is accessed mainly by plane. The main, and more relaxed, part of the reserve is easier to reach from Nairobi by road and can therefore get quite crowded with white vans all vying for the best photo opportunity.
The classic safari experience, a safari drive with an experienced guide can get you hair-raisingly close to all manner of beasts. All tour companies, lodges and camps will arrange excursions into the bush, from early morning starts to watch the animals hunt for their breakfast, to late afternoon drives in the gorgeous light of an African sunset. Just don’t forget your camera! maasaimara.com/safaris
Walk on the wild side
Several conservancies and ranches on the outskirts of Masai Mara National Reserve (as it’s not allowed inside the park) can arrange for a walking safari with a specially trained Maasai guide. It is a thrilling way to get up close and personal with nature, and learning about the bush and its inhabitants from somebody who calls the landscape home is fascinating.
Up, up and away
Floating lazily over the savannah in a hot air balloon as an array of wildlife go about their morning is pretty special. With a bird’s eye view you can gain access to areas even the toughest 4WD can only dream of reaching. It is particularly recommended during the Great Migration, when the plains are packed with animals as far as the eye can see. Some companies lay on a special Champagne breakfast in the Mara upon landing – it’s a seriously stylish safari.
Horse riding safari
Dreams of thundering across the plains with a herd of zebra might just be realised on an African horseback safari. It’s a chance to get off the beaten track with a calmer, more secluded and natural experience of the African wilderness. On the back of a horse, a shallow river can be easily crossed and narrow gorges make for fantastic exploration.
Meet the Maasai
Visiting a local Maasai tribe in their village is an experience well worth trying. You will meet Maasai families and be invited to take a nose around their homes. They’ll tell you about their culture, food and traditions, and you’ll learn what it’s like to make a livelihood while sharing a neighbourhood with some of the deadliest predators in the world.
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