Maasai Mara National Reserve
Undoubtedly the best known of all the Kenya Game Reserves, Maasai Mara National Reserve lies along Kenya’s south west border with Tanzania, bisected by the Mara River and bordered on the western boundary by a spectacular escarpment (several scenes in the film ‘Out of Africa’ were shot in this area). Mara is an area of 2700 sq km (690 sq. miles). It is the home of the greatest variety and largest number of wild animals in Kenya.
It is also the northern extension of Tanzania’s famous Serengeti National Park and the animals wander freely (no immigration stamps required) across man-made boundaries.
It is impossible to prepare the first time visitor for the number of animals they may see. The waving wheat-eared grass attracts huge numbers of plains game. Zebra, giraffe and a variety of gazelle, including topi and eland, graze in proximity to large herds of buffalo, while elephant meander across the landscape or browse in the cooler areas of forest and swamp. During the migration the whole Reserve may be dotted with herds of visiting wildebeest (resident animals remain in Mara throughout the year) mingling among the smaller game such as warthog, jackal, hyena, mongoose and bat-eared fox to name but a few. From the normal quiet and peaceful rolling grasslands, the Reserve resounds to the lowering of the visiting herds which will remain until the rains once again turn the grass green in Serengeti, when they will return from whence they came. A count during the migration in the 1980s revealed over a million wildebeest, half a million gazelle and over 200 000 zebra resident in the Reserve at any one time.
In recent years Mara has been host to the ‘Big Cat Diary’ and viewers all over the world are familiar with the life of prides of lion, and families of cheetah and leopard. For the visitors more used to the busy helter-skelter life of big cities, it is a once in a lifetime experience to sit in silence beside a pride of lion and watch their daily interaction – an experience that will remain in their memories throughout their lives. Masai Mara is a Game Reserve and not a National Park. As a Game Reserve the people of the area are permitted to co-exist alongside the animals. The Masai tribe who inhabit this area have lived in peaceful companionship with the game for centuries. It is not uncommon to see a Masai ‘enkang’ on the skyline close to where a herd of elephants are ‘chomping’ their way through the high grass, and both people and animals are wary about crossing each other’s paths!
The bird life in Mara is also prolific with 350 different species recorded including 53 different birds of prey.
In Masai Mara it is possible to enjoy a hot air balloon ride. Balloons take off at dawn, to avoid the thermals which develop as the day progresses, and drift high over the grazing herds which cannot be accessed by vehicles. After approximately an hour’s flight, a gentle landing is followed by a champagne-style breakfast on the landing site, where pilots and passengers toast yet another memorable experience.
Daily flights from Mara take passengers to visit Lake Victoria for a day’s fishing, or a longer period during which visits to villages on the nearby islands and bird watching can be arranged. Comfortable accommodation is available for those who wish to spend more time on the lake.
There are many lodges and tented camps both inside the Masai Mara Reserve and in the more recently developed Conservations Areas which protect the boundaries of the Reserve and in which the wildlife also abound.
Some properties outside the reserve allow night game driving and game walking or horse back riding safaris can also be arranged.