Maasai Mara national reserve is located in the south western parts of Kenya along the Kenya – Tanzania border. This reserve is named after its inhabitants the Maasai who have a unique and untapped culture with a nomadic way of life despite the fast-changing world trends. The Maasai named the reserve “Mara” which means “spotted” a way of describing the distribution of the vegetation in Maasai mara reserve which consists of savanna plains, scrubs, and trees. Maasai mara national reserve is not only famously known for the wildebeest migration but is also home to a variety of wildlife species deeming it an ideal destination for game drives and safaris which includes viewing the big five that is the lion, buffalo, hippo, elephant, and leopard. A variety of bird species are also existent in the Maasai mara national reserve for birding adventures.
Access to Maasai mara national reserve can be through different entry points such as the Oloololo gate, oloolaimutia gate, Sekenani gate, Musaira gate, Talek gate, and sand river gate. Unfortunately, sand river gate located south of Maasai mara national reserve was closed limiting access to Tanzania and an option of entry through Isebania was made available.
Maasai mara is strategically found west of Kenya’s capital Nairobi about 5 to 6 hours’ drive through Narok. The drives from Nairobi to Maasai mara national reserve are more rewarding as chance is given for viewing attractions along the route such as the Great Rift Valley escarpment. An option of traveling to the Maasai mara national reserve by flight is available for example domestic flights and charter flights can be made from airports such as Jomo Kenyatta international airport and Wilson airport. Flights are made to airstrips within Maasai mara national reserve such as Ol Kiombo airstrip, Kichwa Tembo airstrip, Shikar airstrip, Ngerende airstrip, Musiara airstrip, Keekorok airstrip, Sian springs airstrip, Maasai mara Serena airstrip, Maasai mara cottars, Maasai mara Olare olok airstrip, Maasai mara buffalo airstrip. Flights to Maasai mara national reserve are in the same way as rewarding as drives to the reserve though less tiresome and costing more. The choice of means of transport to Maasai national reserve greatly depends on the budget of the tourist and what they are comfortable with. In the end, both choices of transport means offer a level of satisfaction to the tourist as is a major factor for the success of the safari. The best time to visit the Maasai mara national reserve is between July and October to experience the wildebeest migration which is an unforgettable experience recommended for all itineraries.
Efforts to promote wildlife conservation in the Maasai mara game reserve can be seen through the existence of various conservation areas located in different parts of the national reserve. Conservation areas include; Lemek conservation area, the Olkinyei conservation area, the Maji moto conservation area, the Siana conservation area, the Nyaboisho conservation area, Olderkesi conservation area, Olare motorogi conservancy, and trans-mara conservancy. The free land set aside for conservation purposes enables the growth of grass which is pasture for the wild animals and free movement of wild animals hence limiting scandals such as attacks from wild animals and destruction of property.
Attractions in Maasai Mara National Reserve
- Mara triangle is an attraction in the Maasai mara national reserve set aside from the rest of the reserve by a division created by the mara river. The mara triangle is under mara conservancy managed by the Trans mara county council. The big number of animals grazing from this part of the Maasai mara reserve makes it a major tourist attraction site within the reserve.
- Wildlife is a major attraction in the Maasai mara national reserve as they are the major reason behind game drives taken during different times of the day. Animal species viewed along with the big five may also include the black rhino, giraffes, gazelles, oribis, hyenas, warthogs, cheetahs, zebras, wildebeest, Thompson gazelle, crocodiles, silverback jackals.
- Wildebeest migration: This is a major tourist attraction in the Maasai mara reserve as this involves thousands of wildebeest moving from areas of Serengeti national park in the northern parts of Tanzania to Maasai mara national reserve in search of greener pastures and fresh water. The wildebeest courageously cross the mara river which is infested with Nile crocodiles waiting to feast on the unknowing prey mostly targeting the younger wildebeest which have no sense of danger and are therefore an easier target for the crocodiles and for other predators such as the lions, leopards hidden at different spots waiting for a chance to pounce on their prey. The eastern banks of Mara River are recommended for a closer view of the wildebeest migration from the Maasai mara national reserve.
- Maasai people: who are the occupants of the Maasai mara national park also attract tourists with interest in understanding the culture, way of life, dress code, traditions and norms of the Maasai. The Maasai community living within the reserve participate in conserving the environment and promoting tourism through supporting initiatives put in place to promote tourism and also through being hospitable towards the tourists touring Maasai mara national reserve.
- Mara River: which is a major crossing point during the wildebeest migration is also an attraction in the Maasai Mara reserve. Mara River is one of the major rivers that cross the Maasai mara national reserve the other river being the Talek river.
- Beautiful landscape: This consists of rolling hills that stand out from the rest of the open plains which make up most of the Maasai mara national reserve. This scenery easily attracts the eyes of tourists and it offers great photography spots to capture the beauty of nature.
- Ol Kinyei conservancy: This conservation site was set aside for purposes of wildlife conservation under the close care of the Maasai people with help from authorities dedicated to promoting conservation and is known for harboring lions and offering a view of the rolling hills and kopjes which are granite rock outcrops which act as viewing points for lions as they watch their prey grazing and wait for the perfect chance to devour their prey.
Activities Done in Maasai Mara National Park
Different activities are carried out in the Maasai mara national reserve and most of these activities rotate around wildlife as they are the major tourist attraction in the Maasai mara national reserve. They include;
- Game drives and game viewing: These include morning game drives, afternoon game drives or full day game drives and night game drives. Morning game drives offer a bigger possibility of viewing the wildlife as they are more active at this time of the day compared to afternoon game drives where the animals seek shelter from the heat and safety from predators in hidden locations making it difficult to see them. Full day game drives are the most rewarding game drive as a tourist views the wildlife at different times of day as they go about their daily lives. Night game drives are suitable for viewing nocturnal animals as this time of day requires survival instincts in order to avoid predators such as lions, leopards which possess hunting tricks to feed on unknowing prey.
- Hot air balloon safaris: This activity offers a chance to get an aerial view of the Mara River and the plains of the Maasai mara national reserve. During the wildebeest migration, hot air balloons offer a wider view of the migration as it takes place in the Maasai mara national park. The hot air balloon safaris are safe for the tourists due to the experienced pilots and alert cabin crew who ensure the safety of passengers aboard the hot air balloons.
- Birding: Different species of birds can be spotted around Maasai mara national park such as hornbills, ostriches, storks, secretary birds among others. Some of these birds feed on bugs and mites from the animals which is part of the cycle of the Maasai Mara ecosystem.
- Guided nature walks: These also take place in Maasai mara national park in the company of tour guides and representatives of the Maasai as they take tourists around safe trails which offer a view of the Maasai mara plains and the wildlife as they graze. The Maasai also share tales about their traditions, way of life, their history and also information about the wildlife and how they track the animals. Picnics can also be taken during these nature walks which offer an ideal picnic spot. The language barrier and safety of tourists is not an issue during these nature walks as linguist guides are present to translate for the tourists and act as intermediaries between the Maasai guides and the tourists.
- Community walks: This involves interaction between the tourists and the Maasai community as the tourists visit the Maasai homesteads called manyattas for this encounter. The manyattas are made of dung and other local materials and surrounded by a gate made of thorns to keep the animals kept by the Maasai from roaming around. The Maasai build their manyattas in one gate which is a sense of togetherness of their community. During the community walks, the Maasai perform their cultural dance for the tourists as a form of entertainment which is famously described by as a jumping dance. The Maasai also explain their norms, beliefs and traditional ceremonies to the tourists.
Accommodation in Maasai Mara
Lodging facilities are available for the tourists at the end of their safaris offering a safe, relaxing, comfortable and affordable accommodation. The accommodation facilities range from budget accommodation, midrange accommodation and luxury accommodation in the maasai mara national reserve. These include the following; Sarova mara game camp, Amani mara lodge, Porini lion camp, Mara Siria camp, Olare Mara Kempinski, Sekenani camp, Sentinel mara camp, spirit of the Maasai mara lodge, Elephant pepper camp,Naibor main camp, Enkewa camp, Mara bush camp, Matira camp,Naibor main camp. Some of these accommodation facilities are located near airstrips within Maasai mara national park giving enough time to the tourists to check-in and freshen up before heading out to continue with activities in their itineraries. Staff at these accommodation facilities is hospitable, well trained with great customer care and putting the tourists first during service provision.
Conclusively Maasai mara national reserve is the ultimate safari destination in Kenya with a variety of wildlife species, bird species and a wide range of tourist activities for captivating itineraries to make memories in the wilderness while enjoying a relaxing and comfortable stay at the accommodation facilities offering quality services aimed at maximum satisfaction of tourists at an affordable price.