A safari through the Masai Mara National Park (1510 km2) in the heart of Kenya's 'Big Game Country' is special in every way. The game - which among others includes the 'Big Five' - is just as abundant here as in the more southerly Tanzanian Serengeti, and thanks to the rolling grasslands it never disappears. Nowhere else in Africa is the concentration of lion so high. However, the most spectacular aspect here is the vast wildebeest migration from the south.
The Masai Mara is actually the northern, Kenyan half of the Serengeti. The word Mara means 'patched', which may allude to the acacia and thorn trees that are scattered across the park. It is more likely however that it refers to the wildebeest migration that earns the Masai Mara its fame. In the dry season - around July - a vast 40-kilometre herd of one million wildebeest (gnoes), 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle proceed northwards from the Serengeti to an age-old rhythm that has been passed down through their genes. They cross the Mara River in search of green grass, but many of the animals are devoured in the water by crocodiles that lie in wait. The one-and-a-half million animals are also hunted by animals of prey. At the beginning of October the wildebeest, zebra and Thomson gazelle return southwards.
The majority of the Masai Mara consists of grass plains that are littered with riverine forests. This means that the reserve offers stunning far-reaching views, especially if you decide to take a hot air balloon trip.
Its aesthetic appeal is also confirmed by the fact that a large part of the film Out of Africa was filmed in the Masai Mara, as was film footage shot with Michael Palin. Those of us who followed Pole to Pole will know that Palin left Nairobi on day 96 and headed for the Masai Mara, and that he decided to go on an old-fashioned safari 'à la Hemingway' in a tented camp.
The Masai own the northern part of the reserve, where you can go on walking safaris and night safaris that will give you the opportunity to see plenty of game. 'The Masai are allowed to let their cattle graze here', Palin commented in Pole to Pole. The mix of wild and tame, cows and sheep grazing next to giraffes and elephants give the reserve an incredible Noah's Ark appearance. It's also nice to know that your visit to this private concession will help to support the local Masai, who enjoy performing their traditional dance for interested safari-goers.
Most of the game is concentrated around the western border at the Oloololo escarpment, which is the steep incline above the Oloololo vale of the Great Rift Valley.
Since the wildebeest migration attracts not only animals of prey, but also many tourists, large areas of the Masai Mara are 'no-go areas' as far as we are concerned. We prefer to find places where you won't be surrounded by mini busses, which is why we have selected areas with small-scale lodges where you can enjoy the unrivalled wealth that Masai Mara has to offer 'far from the madding crowd'.