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Maasai Mara National Park

  • Masai Mara National Park, Kenya

Last updated: 29 April, 2024

Alongside the neighbouring Serengeti just south in Tanzania, the Maasai Mara is Kenya’s finest game reserve and the best place in East Africa for a Big Five safari.

The scenery is spectacular, fringed by an escarpment, dotted with hills, and split by the Mara River, inhabited by those famously enormous crocodiles. Big skies, grasslands stretching to the horizon, acacias silhouetted in the sunset – it’s the stereotypical African scenery most safari-goers dream of.

When the remarkable wildebeest migration passes through its 1,800 square kilometres (from August to October), grasslands heave with millions of wildebeest and zebra – and big prides of lion, as well as hyena, leopard and cheetah, enjoying the moving feast. It’s a great spectacle, but being among the creatures is like being in a big herd of cows – only millions of them. If they’re not there, it’s still brilliant.

There is no better way to see the vast expanse of wilderness than from the air – particularly in a floating balloon, at dawn. Expensive, yes, but worth the splurge.

The best way to feel the wild is to be on foot – not permitted in the main reserve. For bushwalking, stay in a neighbouring conservancy and walk with a Maasai. You’ll also be able to visit a village to learn about how man, cattle and wildlife have adapted to live alongside one another – and see the ‘adumu’, the famous traditional jumping dance.

The main drawback – it’s uncomfortably touristy. Everyone wants to come here – in high season there will be as many vehicles as animals.


Bordered by the rain-catching (and animal-attracting) Rift Valley escarpment to the west, this vast reserve was called Mara (or ‘spotted’) by the Masai because of the look of its grasslands: dotted with trees, bushes and scrub.

The east, with its Ngama Hills, is the most densely touristed due to its proximity to Nairobi and good roads.

The most popular areas for wildlife-watching are the grassed Mara Triangle, bordering the rivers, and the Central Plains.

Travel advice

When to go

The time that everyone wants to go is during the Great Migration, between August and November – it is then that millions of zebra, wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle migrate north from the Serengeti in search of fresh grazing. It rains in April and May, and sometimes in November – best avoided, as it can rain for days. June is a great time to visit, as it’s not too hot or crowded and prices are lower. You won’t get the migration, but will still see good game, and considerably fewer tourists.

Getting there and away

Driving from Nairobi will take five to six hours, and then another few to get to the more peaceful north west; four-wheeled-drive cars are essential. There are several small airstrips in the reserve, and regular charter planes from other parts of the country. It is not possible to fly directly over the border from the neighbouring Serengeti; you have to go through international border controls at Nairobi airport.

Getting around

The park has an extensive network of dirt roads, and can you self-drive in your own vehicle, but why would you? Experienced safari guides working from the many camps offer the best chance of seeing the game, plus they offer fascinating insights into the wildlife and local people. Most camps provides guided game drives and bush walks in the package.

Where to stay

The most crowded spots are in the east and game-rich central grasslands, which is why the conservancies to the northwest are increasingly popular for those wanting a wilder experience. These private conservancies, bordering the main park, have lower visitor numbers, but the game viewing is still just as good. You can also do activities like bush walking, night game drives and off-road viewing not allowed in the main park.

Small, intimate camps, with good guides who do walks, are the best to feel, smell and get the sense of the wild wilderness. That’s what makes a safari magical. Private concessions, such as Grumeti Private Reserves, are expensive because they restrict visitor numbers, so yours may be the only vehicle around a kill or a lion pride.