With its rolling grassland plains, acacia woodlands and scrub thicket which harbour a marvelously abundant variety of wildlife and the open plains make game-viewing a great pleasure. Maasai Mara forms the northern extension of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and is famous for its annual wildebeest migration -possibly Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacle. At the Mara River they mass together on the banks before plunging forward through the raging waters, creating a frenzy as they fight against swift currents and waiting crocodiles.
Each year, far south in the great vastness of the Serengeti, the wildebeest raise their dignified but quaint heads, sniff the air and, as if by one accord, start the long trek to the Kenya border and the Maasai Mara. After exhausting the grazing in Tanzania's northern Serengeti, a large number of wildebeest and zebra enter the Maasai Mara National Reserve around the end of June drawn by the sweet grass raised by the long rains of April and May. It is estimated that more than half a million wildebeest enter the Maasai Mara National Reserve and are joined by another 100,000 from the Loita Hills east of the Maasai Mara. Driving in the midst of these great herds is an unimaginable experience. Whilst the eyes feast on the spectacle, the air carries the smells, the dust and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of animals. There is nowhere else on earth to compare with this wildlife marvel. But the trek is costly. The herds' draw ravening packs of predators, especially hyenas and lions and thousands of the lame, laggard and sick never complete the cycle. More die, by drowning or by the teeth of the cunning crocodile, while trying to cross the swirling muddy waters of the Mara and Talek rivers. Once the Maasai Mara National Reserve's grass has been devoured and when fresh rain in Tanzania has brought forth a new flush there, the herds turn south, heading hundreds of kilometers back to Serengeti and the Ngorongoro plains. There the young are dropped in time to grow sufficiently strong to undertake the long march north six months later.
Although July, August and September are the months when the Maasai Mara plains are filled with migrating wildebeest and zebra, there is much resident wildlife year round. Apart from the better-known species there are numerous opportunities to add some of the rare and less frequently seen animals to the visitor's checklist. In the southwestern sector, you may be lucky enough to see roan antelope, a handsome creature regrettably rare countrywide. Bat-eared foxes peer from their burrows and there are thousands of topi, an antelope not found in other major parks save Tsavo National Park. The combination of a gentle climate, scenic splendor and untold numbers of wildlife makes the Maasai Mara Kenya's most popular inland destination park.
The reserve is well known for its black-maned lion, as well as its abundant resident wildlife and is one of the few places where it is possible to see the Big 5 during a morning’s game drive. However, it is perhaps more famous for its annual wildebeest migration - possibly Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacle. The wildebeest is now thought to number 1.4 million, accompanying them into the Mare may be as many as 550 000 gazelle, 200 000 zebra and 64 000 impala. Added to this area are rhino, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hartebeest, leopard, hyena, eland and jackal - 95 species of mammal in total. Many of the cheetah are so tame that they seek shelter from the sun under vehicles and several eve climb onto the roof to get a better view of any prospective prey. Almost 500 different bird species have been recorded in this area. With this combination of wildlife and wonderful scenery, all under a great African sky, it is easy to see why the Maasai Mara has become so popular.
It is possible to visit Lake Victoria while staying at the Maasai Mara Reserve. At dawn, a light aircraft takes tourists to spend a morning fishing or sightseeing on the lake and usually returns after lunch.A popular event and experience of a lifetime for visitors to the Maasai Mara is a balloon flight. The balloon leaves the ground and you are looking at the rising sun and the lush African bush below. The pilot soon points out animals and birds which mostly ignore the balloon and after about an hour, the balloon lands in an open area, where you will enjoy a cordon bleu breakfast with champagne whilst being surrounded by Africa. After breakfast, guests are taken on a game drive while traveling back to their lodges.
One of world’s most famous reserves, the 1,600 sq km ‘Mara’ consists of undulating hills and great rolling grasslands that sustain some of the most varied wildlife in Africa, if not the world. There is always game in the ‘Mara’, however, it changes its character dramatically with the seasons. When the grass is fairly high in many areas, game-viewing is restricted, but the countryside is incredibly green and at its most scenic. As the countryside dries out, game-viewing improves. Game concentrations are at their greatest from around July to the end of October, when the migrating herds filter across the Mara River from western Serengeti.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve lies about 270 kilometers from Nairobi and takes about 4 to 5 hours by road. There are scheduled flights, twice daily from Wilson Airport Nairobi, which take about 40 - 45 minutes. The reserve is about 1510 square kilometers having been reduced from 1672 square kilometers in 1984. However, the wildlife is far from being confined within the reserve boundaries and an even larger area, generally referred to as the "dispersal area" extends north and east of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Maasai communities live within the dispersal area with their stock but a century of close association with the wildlife has resulted in an almost symbiotic relationship where wildlife and people live in peace with one another. The first sight of this natural wonderland is breathtaking. Here the great herds of shuffling elephants browse among the rich tree-studded grasslands with an occasional sighting of a solitary and ill-tempered rhino.
During this period, you will find vast plains, filled as far as the eye can see, with wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, eland, topi and hartebeest as well as the normal resident herds such as elephant, buffalo and giraffe. Naturally, these are all followed by great prides of lion, hyena, cheetah and the various other predators and scavengers. Many animals do not survive these annual trips due to exhaustion or the treacherous river crossings, where some of the world’s largest crocodiles await their feast.
Other highlights of the ‘Mara’ include the early morning balloon safaris and some of the lodges’ fascinating programmes orientated towards children’s wildlife education. In the Greater Mara, walking and camping safaris through these expansive community areas are a great attraction. Here, it’s not uncommon to find elephant, lion, buffalo and Maasai cattle all living in one valley.