Maasai Mara Safari-Experience Kenya Like Never Before
“There is no other Safari like a Maasai Mara Safari” Those were the words of legendary TV producer and Author Mark Burnett. “I very much like Kenya. It’s hard to beat the Maasai Mara and the idea of ballooning across it. I have a great time at Lewa. There are more rhinos than you’ll find anywhere. A great part for the children is you can ride horses with the giraffes and the zebra.” Mark further stated.
So what makes Maasai Mara so special?
Well, first of all, it’s a large game reserve in Narok County, Kenya, contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Mara Region, Tanzania. It is named in honor of the Maasai people (the ancestral inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from afar: “Mara,” which is Maa (Maasai language) for “spotted,” an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark the area.
It is globally famous for its exceptional population of lions, leopards and cheetahs, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and wildebeest to and from the Serengeti every year from July to October, known as the Great Migration and which makes a Maasai Mara Safari so exceptional.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is only a fraction of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, which includes the following Group Ranches: Koiyaki, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien, and Kimintet.
When it was originally established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary the Mara covered only 520 square kilometres (200 sq mi) of the current area, including the Mara Triangle. The area was extended to the east in 1961 to cover 1,821 km2 (703 sq. mi) and converted to a game reserve. The Narok County Council (NCC) took over management of the reserve at this time. Part of the reserve was given National Reserve status in 1974, and the remaining area of 159 km2 (61 sq. mi) was returned to local communities. An additional 162 km2 (63 sq. mi) were removed from the reserve in 1976, and the park was reduced to 1,510 km2 (580 sq. mi) in 1984.
In 1994, the TransMara County Council (TMCC) was formed in the western part of the reserve, and control was divided between the new council and the existing Narok County Council. In May 2001, the not-for-profit Mara Conservancy took over management of the Mara Triangle.
All members of the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, Cape buffalo, and black rhinoceros) are found in the Maasai Mara. The population of black rhinos was fairly numerous until 1960, but it was severely depleted by poaching in the 1970s and early 1980s, dropping to a low of 15 individuals. Numbers have been slowly increasing, but the population was still only up to an estimated 23 in 1999.
Hippopotami and crocodiles are found in large groups in the Mara and Talek rivers. Leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, jackals, and bat-eared foxes can also be found in the reserve. The plains between the Mara River and the Esoit Siria Escarpment are probably the best area for game viewing, in particular regarding lion and cheetah.
These plains resulted to Big Cat Diary; the BBC Television show followed the lives of the big cats living in the reserve and which has generated a lot of interest for a Maasai Mara safari.
Activities to Sample from in Maasai Mara
A Maasai Mara safari has a myriad of activities to engage in. The most interesting of them all is going on a game drive sampling the flora and fauna. Embark on twice-daily interpretive game drives with expert rangers who will uncover the wonders of the Mara and trust me you won’t be disappointed. Wake up early and catch a pride of lions on a hunting prowl and be amazed by their organization and prowess. And if you’re lucky, then you can also get to see a pack of hyenas doing the same and prepared to be awed by their agility and tenacity. And if that’s not your cup of tea, then having lunch with a coalition of cheetah’s on top of your van is definitely worth your time.
A Maasai Mara Safari would also surely not make sense without interacting with the Maasai community whom the reserve is named after. They will invite you into their humble mud and stick manyattas (homesteads) and reveal their pastoral world and ancient, time-honoured traditions. Don’t leave without finding out why their cows mean everything to them.
A walk through the Savannah grasslands enjoying the views, listening to the distant sounds of lions roaring, the crickets and breath the fresh air as you walk in the paths of great men and women.
Just like Mark, you can saddle on a horseback and gallop across herds of zebra and even elephants. Just be careful not to get too close.
As for the adrenaline junkies, awake before dawn and embark on a life-changing hot air balloon safari high above the mighty Mara plains. Soar peacefully and enjoy the magnificent bird’s eye view of all the animals below (and the Great Migration if you’re lucky). This extraordinary experience concludes with an unforgettable, hearty champagne breakfast in the middle of the Mara.
Maasai Mara Safari Cost
Well, this will depend on all the activities you want to engage in and the lodge you want to stay in. The best thing about Maasai Mara however is the fact that it has something for everyone and various companies offer different packages for all sets of people.
Maasai Mara Packages
Various companies offer different packages for different clientele. There is for example a package for 160 USD per person sharing in a budget tented camp. These are self- contained tented camps with beds, hot showers and flushing toilets inside the tent.
For 300 USD per person sharing, then you have get a more spacious and exquisite tent. For 80 USD more, then you can stay in the many lodges present at the reserve. A typical trip looks a little something like this;
Depart Nairobi for Masan Mara where you will criss cross the magnificent vies of the Rift Valley and just get there in time for lunch. You will further proceed for a game drive at 4 PM and then come back just in time for dinner.
This will mostly be spent in the wild looking out for the various animal species. It will also include picnic lunch by Mara River before going back to the camp/lodge for dinner.
It will start off with breakfast before proceeding for a quick game drive and starting the journey back to the capital city.
The best thing is that you can customize your trip to your liking. You can for example choose a flying package like the one offered by Olare Mara Kempinski. It goes for 1500 USD.
A hot air balloon safari is also up for grabs for 450 USD per person. This includes Landing Fees & Champagne breakfast upon landing.
Maasai Mara best time to go
The best time to go on a Maasai Mare Safari is during the Dry season from late June to October. The wildebeest migration usually reaches the Maasai Mara in July and remains until October when they move back to the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Maasai Mara lodges
Some of the lodges at Maasai Mara include:
Keekorok Lodge- over 700 square miles of lush, sun-drenched plains encircle Keekorok Lodge, the first property in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in southwest Kenya.
The lodge was opened in 1962 and is ideally situated in the direct path of the spectacular animal migration that occurs every year from July to October. Guests can experience unparalleled safari adventures, morning and evening game drives are a must for anyone visiting the reserve. It costs around 200 USD per night at the lodge.
Sarova Mara Game Camp- By virtue of its location and layout, the camp offers an unparalleled plethora of activities and experiences from luxury tented living to bird-watching, mini golf, sport fishing and a unique insight into the Maasai culture at the adjoining Maasai village. You will have to part with around 300 USD to sample its facilities.
For those into a more premium lifestyle, then a place like Angama Mara will just do the trick. For 2000 USD per night, you will get to sample a remarkable owner-run safari lodge inspired by the Swahili word for ‘suspended in mid-air’. Located high above the floor of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, Angama Mara overlooks Kenya’s Maasai Mara, considered by many as the loveliest game reserve on the continent.
Here guests will find a lodge where everything is as it ought to be: two intimate camps of just fifteen tented suites each, a private airfield and access to the Mara below, tailor-made safari days and a famously warm Kenyan welcome.
Another premium property at the Mara is the Olare Mara Kempinski. Nestled at the heart of its own private conservancy, the Olare Mara Kempinski Masai Mara promises all the luxury whilst delivering a classic under-canvas safari experience.
Surrounded by rolling savannah, across which wanders a glorious pageant of wildlife, this exclusive tented camp blends the welcome, simplicity and vibrancy of Masai culture with the opulence of a five-star experience. Featuring twelve tents, a central lounge and dining area, a tented bar set deep within a forested glade and a shaded swimming pool, the Olare Mara Kempinski Maasai Mara delivers the ultimate fusion of untamed wilderness and sophisticated elegance. Meanwhile, action includes campfire cocktails, sundowners on the plains, game drives, guided walks, balloon safaris, horse-riding and a colourful range of cultural interaction. All this for a 1000 USD per night.