Masai Mara in Kenya is one of the most famous and iconic safari destinations in Africa. The experience is very different from what you get in southern Africa and please don’t ask me to choose between the two. They’re both excellent choices for your next safari, as you will learn if you follow our blog series about safari in Africa. After our recent expedition to Mara, here’s my take on why you should go there.
Two main reasons: for its immensely beautiful savanna landscape, and for an unrivalled opportunity to see big cats – primarily lions. Lots of them. There are many other reasons of course, such as Mara’s legendary status among Africa’s national parks and nature reserves, but those two would be my top arguments for picking Mara over other wildlife hotspots.
Things to consider
In size, Masai Mara is nowhere close to other famous national parks, such as Serengeti, Selous or Kruger. That comes with pros and cons. The density of animals is simply overwhelming, with an abundance of flagship species, including the big five. However, if you decide to visit the main, public, national park part of the Mara ecosystem, you will often experience an equally overwhelming density in visitors. As I noted when I wrote about Serengeti recently: fame comes at a price.
On the positive side though, you can easily visit Mara without having to share your lion sighting with fifty other vehicles. Simply go to any of the adjoining conservancies instead, which will provide you with the same – or better – safari opportunities but with a controlled number of vehicles on each sighting as well as other unique possibilities, bush walks etc.
Some people have issues with the conservancy model applied in Kenya, where, in the outskirts of the unfenced reserves, you might encounter domestic cattle, as part of a shared space philosophy. However, this is after all land that has been owned and inhabited by the Masai people for a very long time – and still is. Personally, I’m intrigued by and generally positive to the Kenyan way of doing things. There are definitely aspects worth discussing, which I might do in a separate blog post at some point, but in many places, the fine balance between wilderness and local communities is successfully maintained.
I am by no means a seasoned Mara expert and I have not spent time in every part of the Greater Masai Mara. Having said that, I recently found a favourite part in Naboisho Conservancy, where Basecamp Explorer run a well organised and responsible business with excellent camps and guides. I particularly liked the Wilderness camp and I also enjoyed staying at their mobile camp.
As I mentioned when writing about Serengeti, the so-called big migration is something every nature enthusiast should have on their bucket list. Serengeti and Masai Mara are equally famous for it and having experienced it on both sides, I’d say it’s really up to you which one you pick. Timing is tricky though, particularly with recent year’s unreliable weather patterns, but do yourself a favour and give it a go. Your tour operator should be able to give you advise, but it’s always a good idea to do some research yourself.
And one more thing: if you have ever considered flying a hot air balloon, there is no better place to do that than in Masai Mara. A safari cliché perhaps, but a memorable experience nevertheless. Just a word of warning: once you’ve done it, you will never want to fly hot air balloon anywhere else in the world.
A shout out to the Kenya and Masai Mara experts at Ecolyx (no affiliation with us). They set up a recent trip we did to Mara with a group of friends, and they deserve every bit of praise. Having worked as a ranger for many years, and with an even longer experience from safaris as a photographer and general enthusiast, I know a good tour operator when I meet one. The ladies at Ecolyx really stand out with their experience, responsiveness and attention to details. Do ask them for a suggested itinerary next time you consider going to Masai Mara.