The Maasai Mara
Serenity out of Season
Everything about this reserve is incredible. The wildlife is abundant, and the vast grasslands ensure that animals are rarely out of sight, and the Birdlife is impressive, over 450 species have been recorded.
Wildlife is not confined to the reserve and wanders freely in the surrounding areas where the Masai still tend their livestock. Centuries of close association have resulted in a relationship where wildlife and people live in harmony with one another.
The first sight of this natural wonderland is breathtaking. Here, great herds of elephant browse among the rich tree-studded grasslands, along with an occasional black rhino. Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, topi, eland and many more species of plains game offer rich pickings for the dominant predators – lion, leopard and cheetah – that hunt in this pristine wilderness. In the Mara River, hippos submerge at the approach of a vehicle, only to surface seconds later to snort and grumble their displeasure. Seemingly drowsy crocodiles sunbathe on the riverbanks, mouths agape, waiting with subtle cunning for prey at which to strike with lightning swiftness.
Although July, August, September and, usually, October are the months when the Mara plains fill with migrating wildebeest and zebra (and therefore tourists), there is plenty of resident wildlife year round. Apart from the better known species, there are numerous opportunities to add some rare and less frequently seen animals to your checklist; in the southwestern sector you may be lucky enough to see roan antelope (which are, regrettably, rare elsewhere in the country), bat-eared foxes peer from their burrows and there are thousands of Topi, an antelope not found in Kenya’s other major parks – with the exception of Tsavo. There is also a great chance of seeing the shy Serval Cat, which becomes more active and easier to see with less vehicles around, the quieter times in Maasai Mara are also great for Caracal and Hyena. Numerous bird species will be seen hunting above the higher grassland.
The combination of gentle climate, amazing scenery and incredible numbers of wildlife makes the Masai Mara the most popular inland destination in Kenya.
The Masai Mara
At a Glance
The Masai Mara Game Reserve is often called simply “The Mara” which is the Maa word meaning “Mottled” – a reference to the patchy landscape. Both spellings “Masai” and “Maasai” are acceptable although the latter is more usual when referring to the people. The Masai Mara is a Game Reserve (sometimes called a National Reserve) although an inner area is treated as a National Park. Reserves are normally managed by local authorities and allow lodges, camp sites and the settling of some tribespeople with their cattle. National Parks are normally managed centrally and do not allow any human inhabitation other than for Park Rangers and people on safari.
Climate and Rainfall:
The vast Masai Mara reserve is located at an altitude of between 4,875 and 7,052 feet above sea level, giving it a damp climate and more moderate temperature than most of Kenya. Daytime temperatures run at 85°F (30°C) ) maximum and night temperatures can drop to around 60°F (15°C). Most rain falls between March and May and during the short rainy season in November and December. The park may be difficult to navigate at these times.
Between July and October the weather is dry, the vegetation is lush and the daytime temperatures are pleasant, making it the best time to see the park’s wildlife. The Masai Mara experiences the highest tourist numbers during this period. Hot temperatures peak between December and January while June and July are the coolest months at the park.
The word Mara means ‘spotted’. This refers equally well to the landscape, which is patched with groves of acacia and thorn bushes. The vegetation in Mara consists, to a large extent, of Grassland, with Poaceae forming the main vegetation layer, interspersed with few annuals and perennials, and occasional trees and shrubs, mostly Acacia sp. Theses grasslands derive from Evergreen Bushland under constant grazing and fire pressure. Soils are mainly black cotton soils. Wooded Grassland shows a very similar appearance, however bush cover increases up to 40 percent. In Evergreen Bushland, shrubby vegetation and tree islands cover more than 40 percent of the ground.
The Maasai are a herding culture tribe in Kenya and Tanzania. Their lifestyle reflects the harsh environment in which they live, with unpredictable rainfall and difficult agricultural conditions. The Maasai keep zebu as their primary cattle, but the also farm cows, sheep and goats, and occasionally chickens. Because of the wet and dry seasons-as opposed to summer and winter – they often have to graze their herds far from their settlements to find water and vegetation. This job falls to the men.
The Maasai are one of the best known African tribes although not as politically powerful as the Luo or Kikuyu (despite the Maasai being dominant in some respects due to their warrior caste and effective organisation). Perhaps they are so well known because of their tall elegant muscular features or their fierce, brave, stubborn and arrogant reputation; or maybe because of their simple yet distinctive appearance with ochre-covered warriors proudly holding their spear and wearing their bright blood-red shoulder cloak (shuka) and the women wearing bangles and strings of coloured beads around their neck (both sexes wear earrings, taking pride in stretching large holes in their ear lobes). The men sometimes cover their braided hair with a fatty ochre paste and may wear an elaborate head-dress, perhaps of a lion mane or eagle/ostrich feathers, during some ceremonies; the women generally have shaved heads (head-shaving is a significant feature of some rituals, both for men and women).
They play a major role as part of tourism in the area due to their unique cultural experiences offered to visitors through traditional ceremonies, village visits, food, dances and sale of traditional crafts.
It’s home to the big five:- Elephant (large herds), Lion (one of the highest densities in Africa), Rhino (A few black rhino), Leopard (Excellent chance of sightings), Buffalo (Large herds).
Other animals of interest are: Topi, Hartebeest, Grants Gazelle, Thompson Gazelle, Serval Cat, Wildebeest, Zebra, Cheetah, Spotted Hyena, Hippo, Serval, Caracal.
It also contains over 450 species of indigenous birds.
Why I love the Maasai Mara out of season
I first visited Maasai Mara in 2003 and have been back almost every year since. In 2012, whilst leading a 2 week safari in the reserve, I completed my 365th day in Maasai Mara.
My first visit to Maasai Mara was in the month of April, I had 3 days there and was hooked, we saw everything (apart from Leopard), including lions eating a giraffe.
I love Maasai Mara when its quieter because somehow everything seems that little more relaxed, there aren’t such large numbers of vehicles around the sightings and even the wildlife seems to move at a slower pace. Maasai Mara has always thrown up some surprises when I have visited between February and June. I have photographed 3 lioness with 12 young cubs, Cheetah with 5 cubs and large elephant and buffalo herds. I also saw my first Serval cat in Maasai Mara in January 2008 (during the election violence). There were only 5 other vehicles in Maasai Mara and I had 3 seperate Serval Sightings.
The quieter times are also great for bat Eared Foxes and they can be seen in good numbers in particular areas.
Enquire about this tour
Prices start from £1400 based on 2 people sharing.
Single supplement available on request.
7 day tour.