A first-rate Masai Mara safari experience brings together abundant big cat sightings with the chance to see the annual wildebeest migration.
The Masai Mara Reserve is known worldwide for its abundance of cats, portrayed by numerous wildlife documentaries.
The profusion of cats and the annual Great Migration that enters the reserve from July to October makes for concentrated wildlife interaction.
Places like the Musiara Swamp, Rhino Ridge, and Topi Plains are some of the most famous locations. The best places for migration safaris are the banks of the Mara or Talek rivers or the confluence of the two.
Combine your visit to the reserve with a stop at the neighboring private conservancies, where numbers are more controlled and walking safaris, night drives, and off-road driving are allowed.
A Masai Mara safari can be a wonderful experience but disappointing if not well-planned.
Many lodges bring hordes of visitors into the reserve during peak season, from July to the end of September, so get an expert to book somewhere that suits your taste.
The Mara River is a river in Kenya’s Narok County and Tanzania’s Mara Region that runs through the Maasai Mara/Serengeti environment and crosses the wildebeest migration path.
The Mara River basin spans 13,504km2 (5,214 square miles), around 65 percent in Kenya and 35 percent in Tanzania.
The river runs for roughly 395km (245mi) from its origins in the Kenyan highlands to Lake Victoria, where it springs from the Mau Escarpment. The basin may be split into four land use and/or administrative divisions.
The Mara River is the main barrier for wildebeest herd crossings in the middle of the year, but smaller breakaway groups also cross the Talek and Sand Rivers. As late as November, stragglers have been observed crossing the Talek.
The Mara River crossings are among the migration’s most dramatic events, so staying in the Mara Triangle on safari will offer you front-row seats to the show.
The Mara Triangle has a hot air balloon launch point, and this aerial pastime is not to be missed. Flying high over the Mara plains as the sun sets turns the scenery golden and allows you to view wildlife from the air, an unforgettable experience. The hot air balloon flight can be arranged through your camp or resort.
While the Masai Mara National Reserve is the focal point of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, several conservancies were established that border the unfenced national reserve in the last decade.
These conservancies are on private land owned by Maasai families that has been set aside for wildlife conservation and tourism.
The landowners lease their land to safari companies and lodges, who then pay monthly fees, which go back into the community, funding education and other development initiatives.
In return, the Maasai are still allowed to graze their cattle on the land, but only under strictly controlled conditions.
As a result of the establishment of conservancies, Maasai communities have benefited from economic upliftment, while wildlife numbers have increased as land that was once overgrazed is now being rehabilitated as wilderness.
Credit: Mara Plains Camp
Mara conservancies are the best option for people wanting a low tourist density Masai Mara safari experience, as most of the concessions only have a few camps and don’t allow self-driving, so there’s a limit to how many vehicles will be at sightings.
The other bonus of staying in a conservancy is doing the activities that aren’t allowed in the national reserve, including bush dinners, night drives, off-road driving, and walking safaris, which are all fantastic ways to experience the wilderness and animals.
On walks in the bush, Maasai guides will track animals and teach you about the ecosystem, its fascinating animal, bird, and insect life, and the medicinal and cultural uses of plants.
The conservancies, which cover an area of land almost the same size as the national reserve itself, are concentrated around the northern end of the reserve. They also lie to the east of the Masai Mara in more remote locations.
By staying at a Maasai-owned conservancy, you not only experience the luxury of exclusive wildlife viewing but also contribute to community conservation, improving the lives of local communities and helping wildlife numbers to increase.
Mara North Conservancy
On the northwestern edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve, the 74 000-acre Mara North Conservancy is one of the best concessions for its abundant wildlife, quintessential savanna landscapes, and commitment to community conservation.
Projects here work to rehabilitate overgrazed land and natural habitats and support the management of grazing areas.
Game viewing is excellent, and particular highlights are big cat sightings and the dramatic herds of the Great Migration. Out of all the conservancies, it has the greatest number of camps – ten in total – but there’s still a lot of space and privacy, with nearly 700 acres per tent.
Mara Naboisho Conservancy
It’s easy to see why this 50 000-acre conservancy is hailed by many as the top concession in the Masai Mara for Safari.
To the north of the national reserve, the Mara Naboisho Conservancy has only seven camps (877 acres per tent), so there’s plenty of wilderness without other cars, and the environmental impact is limited.
Here the concentration of wildlife is high, with abundant big cats and herds of wildebeest, elephants, and giraffes. It also ticks all the boxes for successful community conservation.
The conservancy was established when more than 500 Maasai land-owning families decided to connect their land to allow for wildlife movement. The Maasai now practice controlled grazing to allow the land to recover from intensive herding.
At the northern end of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, the 6000-acre Enonkishu Conservancy is focused on improving cattle management so that the ecosystem and wildlife can regenerate and local communities have sustainable income from grazing and conservation fees.
Wildlife to spot includes plenty of plains game, giraffes, buffalo, elephants, and a pride of lions that lives on the edge of the conservancy.
Lodging in the conservancy is offered on an estate that has been “rewilded” from intensive cattle farming.
Ol Kinyei Conservancy
With only two small camps (as well as two mobile camps) on its 18 700-acres of grassy plains and undulating hills, the Maasai-owned Ol Kinyei Conservancy provides ample privacy and exclusivity.
It offers superb wildlife viewing, with a resident lion pride and leopards, elephants, buffalo, giraffes, and more than 300 bird species. The camps in the conservancy also offer game drives in the neighboring Mara Naboisho Conservancy.
Olare Motorogi Conservancy
One of the oldest and most successful conservancies, Olare Motorogi (made up of the former Motorogi and Olare-Orok Conservancies), has been a blueprint for other concessions and community conservation in the Masai Mara.
It also offers exceptional wildlife viewing (with large numbers of lions and elephants), with one of the highest concentrations of animals and the lowest tourist densities in the Mara.
Elewana Collection’s ol Donyo Lodge
There’s a 94-bed limit on the conservancy with just one room per 700 acres on its 33 000-acres of riverine forest, valleys, and acacia woodland.
Along the eastern border of the national reserve close to the Serengeti in Tanzania, the 24 700-acre Olderikesi Conservancy is located in one of the most remote areas in the Masai Mara ecosystem.
It’s also one of the most exclusive concessions, as there are only 20 rooms on the entire conservancy – a distribution of one room per 1200 acres.
Olderikesi is your spot if you’re looking for solitude on your Masai Mara Safari. It’s also particularly rich in game and is known for fantastic lion, leopard, and cheetah sightings.
Mara Siana Conservancy
Recently established in 2015 by 1200 landowners, the 7898-acre Mara Siana Conservancy lies some distance from the Masai Mara National Reserve to the east.
If you want to get off the beaten track, this is a good option, as it’s more remote than some of the other conservancies and only has two lodging options.
In this secluded valley, there’s plenty of wildlife to be spotted, from prides of lions, herds of elephants, cheetahs, leopards, buffalo, and the occasional Black rhino and pack of wild dogs.
Lying to the northeast of the Masai Mara, the little-visited mountain range of Loita Hills is home to Maasai communities and beautiful landscapes of immense plains, thick forests, verdant hills, and mountain peaks that loom up to 2150m (7054ft).
While this isn’t a conservation area, and there’s less wildlife than in the conservancies, there’s still game to be spotted, from buffalo and bushbuck to Colobus monkeys, as well as plenty of birds.
There are a few options for walking safaris: staying at a base camp and doing day walks into the surrounding area or making a multi-day trip of up to 12 days staying at mobile camps with all your equipment and provisions carried by donkeys.
While everyone has heard about the Great Migration, hardly anyone knows about the Loita Migration.
Around May, at the start of the dry season, a smaller movement of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and other antelope make their way from the Loita Plains (that lie to the north of the Masai Mara National Reserve) southwards into the reserve itself.
The animals move through the Mara Naboisho, Olare Motorogi, and Ol Kinyei Conservancies, so if you want to experience this mini version of the migration, book a stay at one of the camps in these concessions for your Masai Mara Safari.
The peak Great Migration months of August to October are especially busy in the Masai Mara, so be sure to book well in advance for lodging at conservancy camps.
Keep in mind that many camps are small and intimate, so they only offer a few tented rooms and get booked up quickly.
The best and easiest way to access lodges and camps on the conservancies is by flying into conservancies’ airstrips, where the lodge you’ve booked will have staff waiting to pick you up. You can drive to the conservancies, but you’re not allowed to self-drive inside the conservancy.
If you stay in a conservancy, you can take game drives in the Masai Mara National Reserve to see the Mara River crossings during the Great Migration months.
Located in the far southwest of Kenya in the Great Rift Valley, the Masai Mara National Reserve is the East African country’s flagship park: a vast wilderness of abundant big game, spectacular landscapes and the scene of one of the planet’s most dramatic wildlife migrations. The reserve is named after the Maasai people, a semi-nomadic tribe of pastoralists who have long inhabited the region, and their word to describe this landscape – “mara” – which means “spotted” – a reference to the trees and bushes, as well as the shadows of passing clouds, that dot the plains.
The Masai Mara was established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary and today it encompasses an area greater than 370 000 acres, with no fences between the park and the neighbouring wilderness of the Serengeti National Park, across the border in Tanzania. The national reserve is only a small part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, which also includes group ranches, community land and private conservancies.
The Masai Mara is one of the best places in Africa to see wildlife: the concentrations of game here are astounding. Resident in the reserve are the Big Five (although not many rhinos, and they’re hard to spot), as well as huge herds of plains game, hippos and crocodiles in the rivers and more than 500 species of birds. The reserve is particularly famous for its big cats – lions, leopard and cheetah – and the nature documentary show BBC’s Big Cat Diary was shot on the reserve’s plains. While the wildlife viewing at almost any time of the year is superb, the Masai Mara is best visited during the months of the Great Migration, when millions of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle make their way north into the park from the Serengeti, crossing the Mara River in search of fresh grazing. Watching vast herds of animals on the move, as well as the thrilling kills by the big cats that pursue them, is one of the most exciting safari experiences you can have, and it’s no wonder that the Great Migration is at the top of most safari travellers’ bucket lists.
Credit: Governors Il Moran Camp
Apart from wildlife, the landscapes of the Masai Mara are stunningly beautiful: the classic Out of Africa backdrops of seemingly never-ending savanna studded with photogenic acacia trees. To the west, the park is bordered by the Oloololo Escarpment, a dramatic plateau, while the rest of the park is made up of rolling grasslands, acacia woodlands, riverine forest and rocky hills.
Two major rivers – the Talek and the Mara – cut through the Masai Mara National Reserve, splitting it into three sectors: the Sekenani Sector, which lies to the east of the Talek River, the Musiara Sector, which is sandwiched between the two rivers, and the Mara Triangle, which is west of the Mara River. The Musiara and Sekenani Sectors are controlled by the Narok County Council, while the more remote Mara Triangle is administered by a non-profit conservancy company, the Trans Mara County Council.
Credit: Governors Il Moran Camp
Musiara Sector offers great game viewing in the Musiara Marsh, as well as some of the most spectacular wildebeest crossings at the Mara River. In the southeast of the park and bordered by the Sand, Talek and Mara Rivers, the Central Plains makes up the largest part of the reserve. The expansive grasslands of the Central Plains attract vast herds of plains animals, especially during the Great Migration from August to October, while the area is also famed for exciting big cat sightings. Within the Central Plains, the savanna of Paradise Plain is prime cheetah territory, while Rhino Ridge for black-backed jackals, spotted hyena and bat-eared foxes. Head to Lookout Hill for incredible panoramas of the Olpunyaia Swamp and sightings of hippo, as well as for scenes of wildebeest crossing the river during the months of the migration. As the closest area to Nairobi and with a huge number of lodges, hotels and camps, the Central Plains is the most popular area of the reserve for tourists.
The Masai Mara’s rivers are home to hippos and massive Nile crocodiles, as well as many species of waterbirds, while the Mara River, which wends its way through the national reserve, plays host to the biggest pods of hippos and also to the perilous crossings of wildebeest during the Great Migration.
One of the biggest mammal migrations on the planet, the Great Migration (otherwise known as the Great Wildebeest Migration), sees around two million wildebeest, gazelle and zebra – followed by hungry predators – move between the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania north to the Masai Mara National Reserve between June and September in search of fresh grass after seasonal rains. It’s been called the Eighth Wonder of the World and it’s easy to see why: the sheer scale of the herds is quite literally breath taking, and the everyday dramas of survival, hunting and attacks by predators are among the most thrilling wildlife sightings you can have. The most sought-after scenes from the Migration are the dangerous river crossings that the animals make across the Mara River, which usually take place in July and August in the Masai Mara. With a choice of lodges and camps near the Mara River, you’ll be able to stay close to the action, and spend game drives travelling between different crossing points on the river.
Going for a hot air balloon ride at dawn above the plains of the Masai Mara is an unmissable experience. Getting a bird’s eye view of the endless savanna dotted with game is definitely one way of taking your safari up a notch. There are several companies that offer sunrise balloon flights and trips can be booked through your lodge and the price includes transfers from your lodge as well as a champagne breakfast when you land.
Porini Lion Camp
Make a visit to a traditional Maasai manyatta (village) to learn more about the fascinating culture and history of the semi-nomadic people who call the Mara home. Learn about daily life in the manyatta and some of the traditional rituals and ceremonies that make up Maasai culture and see the villagers singing and dancing – the Maasai are famous for their jumping dance, where the warriors come together in a circle with one dancer in the centre jumping higher and higher along to the singing voices of the warriors. You’ll also be able to buy some of the exquisite and distinctive beaded jewellery pieces that the Maasai wear – a perfect souvenir or gift to take home.
If you want a unique experience in the Masai Mara, consider a Maasai homestay: spending a night or two in a Maasai manyatta just outside the reserve’s gates. You’ll get to see what daily life is really like for a Maasai community by helping out with village chores such as milking cows, and learning to make jewellery, but you’ll also get to spend time in nature doing bush walks with a Maasai guide.
As one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations, the Masai Mara gets very busy, especially during the peak months of the year from June to September, when the Great Migration takes place, and during the Christmas holidays. The busiest region of the park is in the southeast, near the Talek, Sekenani and Olumuna gates, where there’s a spread of large hotels. The central part of the reserve is also particularly full during the Great Migration.
The south of the Mara River has the park’s concentration of hotels and lodges, with 5000 beds, whereas to the north of the river there are only 500 beds. If you want to escape the crowds, head to the Mara Triangle in the west or stay in a camp on one of the many private conservancies that border the park to the north. Another way to avoid the crowds is to travel in early June or during October, when you’ll still have superb wildlife sightings but you’ll be sharing them with far fewer other cars. Early December is another great time of year to visit the Masai Mara – while you’ll have a bit of rain, the park is very quiet, and you’ll have the bonus of lush green landscapes and migratory bird species. It’s a good idea to book far in advance for lodging during the busiest months of June to October, but you should think about reserve a year in advance for accommodation and tours during the Great Migration – although you can also find some great last-minute offers.
While there’s a general pattern for the movement of the Great Migration herds each year, the exact timing of the movements can be hard to predict, because it all depends on seasonal rainfall. There’s also no exact route that the herds take: large numbers of animals trek across the Mara River, crossing from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara and moving through the Mara Triangle in the west of the park, then turning east and crossing the Mara River again to move into the Sekenani and Musiara sectors of the park. The herds then make their way north into the conservancies that border the national reserve until the rains start in the Serengeti again and the animals start to move back south to Tanzania in search of fresh grass.
To help you follow the herds, we have developed a web-based app – HerdTracker – which plots the exact location of the wildebeest migration in real time to a Google map. Sourced from pilots who fly over the parks, as well as local rangers and safari guides on the ground, HerdTracker works out the distances between the migrating herds and the camps and lodges in the Masai Mara (and the Serengeti across the border in Tanzania), which gives you the chance to find last-minute lodging as close to the herds as possible. We also have a live availability calendar to help you see which lodge still has last-minute rooms.
Most travellers who come to the Masai Mara book an all-inclusive package which covers lodging, food, transport to and from the park and activities such as game drives. Booking a package is the most cost-effective way to travel to a pricey safari destination. If you’re travelling independently, you can hire a car and a driver to travel to the park from Nairobi (a six-hour drive) or from the closest town of Narok (three hours’ drive away) and to travel around the park. You can also travel on public transport to the park from Nairobi and Narok, although many lodges will be able to organise transfers. The most convenient and hassle-free way of getting to the park is by flying in – either to a camp’s private airstrip or to one of the several landing trips spread around the park, where your lodge’s game drive vehicle will be waiting to pick you up.
There’s less rain in January than in December, with an average of 15 days of rainfall in the month. If it does rain then it’s usually a short shower in the afternoon. January is one of the warmest months of the year, and day time temperatures can reach 28C, with nights dropping to a minimum of 12C.
January is a great month to visit the Masai Mara if you’re a birder: the birdwatching at this time of year is superb and there are many migratory species to spot. It’s also the birthing season, so this is the time to go to the Mara if you’d like to see baby animals taking their first steps.
February gets more rain than January, with an average of 17 rainy days a month. Temperature wise, it’s the same as January: average highs of 28C and average night-time lows of 12C.
February is a good month to visit the Masai Mara if you want to see lots of baby animals (up to half a million wildebeest are born this month), and you don’t mind afternoon thundershowers. Wildlife viewing is good, and birdwatching is excellent, with many migratory species present in the park.
March is a rainy month. Nearly every day of the month will have afternoon thundershowers and there may be continuous rain.
High rainfall in March means that roads get very muddy and can be challenging to drive on, and some camps close down until May. The park sees fewer visitors this month, while the landscapes are lush and green. A highlight in March is spotting migratory birds.
April is the wettest month of the year, with an average of 23 days of rain. It’s slightly cooler than March but still warm with average maximum highs of 26C.
Because it’s so wet, the roads can be tricky and some lodges close down, making April one of the least ideal months to visit the Masai Mara. On the plus side, it is the low season so you can get discounts on lodging and there are far fewer other tourists so the park is much quieter. It’s also the last month to spot migratory bird species.
There’s slightly less rain in May than in April, but it’s still one of the wettest months of the year. May marks the start of several slightly cooler months (with average daytime highs are 25C), lasting until September.
May isn’t an ideal time to visit the Masai Mara because of the amount of rainfall making wildlife viewing and driving around the park more challenging. Some lodges and camps are also closed because of the rain. One plus of visiting at this time of year is discounted rates for package tours and lodging and far fewer visitors to share sightings with.
After the rainy season months of March to May, June is much drier – down from 20 days of rain to an average of 12 days of rain during the month.
June marks the start of the busy season in the Masai Mara – the weather is dry, and the days are cooler than at other times of the year, and the wildlife viewing is excellent, although the majority of the herds of the Great Migration have not yet arrived.
Along with August, July is the coolest month of the year, and night times can dip below 10C so bring along warm clothes and lots of layers for early morning game drives. Day time temperatures are pleasantly warm. July is also the driest month of the year, with an average of only 11 days of rain.
In July the herds start moving into the Masai Mara from the Serengeti at the start of the Great Migration so it’s an ideal month to travel to the park if you want to witness the thrilling spectacle. The lack of rain at this time of year also means that the bush is thinning, making it easier to see animals. The downside of travelling in July is that it’s one of the busiest months of the year: prices go up and sightings can be very crowded.
August is one of the driest months of the year, and has the same cooler temperatures of July: average lows at night of 11C and highs during the day of 25C.
August is very popular time for people to visit the park to witness the daily dramas of the Great Migration. As the dry season progresses, it becomes easier to see animals in the thinning bush. In terms of wildlife viewing, it’s hard to beat. Along with September, it’s the busiest and most expensive month to visit the reserve.
September is slightly warmer than August, going up to an average daytime high of 27C, however, nights can be as chilly as 12C so bring along warm gear. September remains in the dry period, with little rain to disrupt game viewing.
Together with August, September is the most popular month to visit the Masai Mara (expect lots of other tourists and the highest prices of the year), as the spectacle of millions of animals moving in the Great Migration is in full swing.
October is one of the warmest months of the year, but luckily temperatures don’t rise much above an average of 28C during the day. It’s also a relatively dry month with little rainfall.
October is a wonderful month to visit the Masai Mara, as the majority of the herds from the migration are in the park, but there are fewer visitors, so viewings aren’t as crowded as August and September.
November marks the start of the second rainy season of the year – the so-called “short rains”. With an average of 20 days of rain this month, you’ll likely to see thundershowers on most days of your visit, although they are often only short afternoon rain showers, after which the skies clear up.
November is a good time to visit the Masai Mara to catch the end of the migration as the herds start making their way back down to the Serengeti in Tanzania. It’s a good month for birders too, as migratory bird species begin to arrive in the park. The only downside can be the rain but the thundershowers are usually short bursts of rain in the afternoon and are unlikely to disrupt your game viewing too much.
December falls during the “short rains” – the second rainy season of the year – in the Masai Mara, and sees and average of 17 days of rain during the month. While the rain can be heavy, it usually only pours for a short time in the late afternoon and shouldn’t affect your game viewing too much.
Longer grass from the rain makes wildlife viewing a little more challenging this month, although December is a fantastic month for birdwatching in the Masai Mara as the migratory species can be spotted. The birthing season which is called “Toto Time” starts this month, so if you fancy seeing baby animals being born and taking their first steps then plan on visiting the park between December and February. It’s less busy in early December than during the peak months of June to October, but it gets very busy in the park during the Christmas holidays.
Safari lodges have guest rooms similar to a hotel with en-suite bathrooms. They are comfortably furnished with facilities normally associated with a hotel rooms, except your rooms are normally set in beautiful wilderness settings, with nature and wildlife around.
Tented lodges have rooms which are tents on a platform and with a roof and also have en-suite facilities with showers, flush toilets and hot water. Basically all the amenities of a hotel room, except canvas walls and roof.
The boutique lodges and camps can be very stylish and smart in terms of design and decor, often with very spacious rooms and even going so far in some cases as having plunge pools for each room.
Eco-camps and smaller tented camps have insect-proof tents with en-suite facilities including a safari shower and flush toilet. They give a more authentic safari experience but the tents are comfortably furnished with proper beds and you don’t need to bring your own sleeping bag! The emphasis is usually on having excellent guides and great wildlife viewing away from the crowds. Guests often eat together and people travelling alone usually say that they found the atmosphere friendly and enjoyed meeting other like-minded travellers around the campfire in the evening or at dinner.
The Adventure Camps are a budget option with guests bringing their own sleeping bags and towels. Accommodation is in small dome tented with a mattress on the floor. Each tent has its own nearby cubicle with a flush toilet, safari shower, and wash basin. The Adventure Camps are suitable only for those who don’t mind “real camping” and can put with some degree of “roughing it”. Apart from the accommodation in simple dome tents, the meals and the guiding are the same standards as the higher quality camps and game drives are in 4x4 safari vehicles. For those on a limited budget, the Adventure Camps are a good alternative to the big tourist lodges and minibus tours for those for whom the safari experience is more important than hotel accommodation.
If the weather causes unforeseen problems on the day of your hot air balloon safari, we will try to move it to another day or you will be refunded.
The Masai Mara is an excellent all year safari destination, providing travellers with reliable sightings of it's resident wildlife. However, if you're planning a migration safari, it's best to travel during the months of August and October if you wish to witness the Mara River crossings.
Kenya has a world of variety when it comes to tented accommodation camps, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another realm in the bush as your every desire comes try.
The breadth and diversity of lodging and activities offered in the Masai Mara National Reserve means that every kind of traveller is catered for. Solo travellers will find it easy to join up with group tours that run the gamut from budget-friendly camping trips to all-out luxury with all the special touches, adventurous travellers will be able to self-drive in the park and pitch their tents in a campsite, families will find child-friendly lodges with a host of kids’ activities, while travellers looking for a romantic holiday will be pampered at luxury camps that are well-geared for intimacy and romance, with private pools and decks, beautiful rooms and indulgent extras such as private champagne breakfasts for two in the bush.
Travellers who are looking to experience the Masai Mara without lots of other vehicles around sightings should consider the Mara Triangle. There’s a limited choice of lodging options: the lodge is large and offers a lot of facilities – so would be better suited to families and solo travellers looking to meet other travellers – while the camp is small and intimate, which would be perfect for romantic travellers. Alternatively, there are 10 camps located in private conservancies outside of the Mara Triangle that offer game drives in the area, so staying outside the Triangle itself is also an option.
Adventurous travellers on self-drive trips will love the Mara Triangle, as this is the only place in the reserve where you can pitch your own tent. It’s also easier to self-drive in this sector.
Masai Mara Conservancies
Travellers – whether solo, family, adventurous or romantic – looking to get a bit off the beaten track and escape the crowds of the national reserve should book a stay at a private conservancy for their Masai Mara trip. Solo travellers looking for peace and quiet should look at staying at one of the smaller camps in a conservancy, while adventurous travellers will enjoy doing activities such as bush walks which are not permitted in the national reserve. Families are well catered for at some lodges and camps in the conservancies – just do your research to find out which ones have family tents or rooms and offer special kids’ activities. Romantic couples and honeymooners will find the intimate camps of the conservancies perfect for a special safari holiday.
The most cost-effective way to do a mid-range trip to the Masai Mara is to join a safari tour which offers transport, a guide and lodging as part of the package.
For those travelling independently, you have a lot of options for mid-range lodging. Outside of the park gates you’ll find the best selection of mid-range lodges, camps and hotels but there are also some excellent mid-range options inside the park. The eastern region of the park has the best concentration of value-for-money lodges and camps, but it is the busiest area of the park, so be prepared to share sightings with many other cars, especially during the peak months. Considerations to keep in mind are the size of the camp or lodge. If you’re looking for peace and quiet in the bush, book a smaller camp with only a few tents or rooms, rather than one of the 150-bed lodges.
If you want a good deal on lodging, avoid travelling during the peak months of August and September and instead travel during October and November instead, when you’ll still be able to see the migration but lodge prices are lower. If you don’t mind muddy roads and rain, travel during the wettest months (the low season) of April and May, when you can pick up great deals on discounted lodge rooms.
The Masai Mara is an expensive destination and everything from daily park fees to lodging is pricey, however, you do have some choices when it comes to planning a budget trip. The best budget-friendly way to travel is on a group safari and stay in campsites: your transport, guide, park entrance fees and meals are included in the package price.
You can travel to camps on the outskirts of the park on public transportation from the town of Narok and then book game drives into the park from your camp. There are a number of campsites outside the park gates – the least expensive lodging option – where you can either bring your own tent, rent a tent or pay more to sleep in a permanent erected tent. Another lodging option is to organise a homestay and spend the night with a Maasai family in a village outside of the park.
Some adventurous travellers prefer to hire their own 4×4 (and rent camping equipment from Nairobi) and explore the park on their own steam, staying at campsites outside the park or in the Mara Triangle. Having your own vehicle gives you plenty of freedom, and camping in the bush is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in nature. Be aware that the roads leading into the Masai Mara National Reserve are in bad condition – particularly between the town of Narok and the Talek and Sekenani Gates. It’s good to have some 4×4 driving experience in Africa and understand the rules of the park if you’re driving yourself: don’t ever go off road, and leave the wildlife plenty of space.
Inside the park, your camping options are limited to the Mara Triangle, where you can stay in either the public campsite or special campsites (which need to be reserved in advance). If you’re camping inside the park you need to be entirely self-sufficient and take in all of your own food, water and firewood.
Prices in the Masai Mara are highest during the peak migration months of August and September and lowest during the rainy season of April and May, so if you’re looking to pick up good deals on lodging, consider travelling during the wettest months of the year.
There’s no shortage of luxury lodging in the Masai Mara, so you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a superb place to stay, whether it’s an intimate tented camp or a stylish lodge. Upmarket camps and lodges usually offer fully-inclusive packages that encompass all your meals and activities, such as twice-daily guided game drives, and if you’re on a concession, then night drives and bush walks. Extra activities such as hot air balloon rides can also be arranged through your lodge. From high-end properties you can expect fabulous locations stylish décor, lots of attention to detail, excellent service and amenities such as infinity swimming pools and spas.
To escape the crowds don’t stay in one of the large hotels in the east of the park but rather at one of the camps in the Mara Triangle in the west, or for even more exclusivity, book your trip at one of the luxury camps or lodges situated in one of the many conservancies that border the park. These private conservancies have a limit of the number of beds per hundreds of acres, as well as vehicle limit at sightings, so you’re guaranteed to avoid the cars that can pile up around a sighting in the Masai Mara itself.
For the ultimate Great Migration experience, stay at one of the mobile luxury tented camps which move position in the Greater Mara Ecosystem along with the herds of animals between July and October. These minimal footprint camps get you closer to the action than anything else, and you’ll get to experience the magic of camping in the bush – without actually camping. There’s no sacrificing comfort, as the spacious tents come with en suite bathrooms (flush toilets and hot bucket showers) and solar power, as well as communal dining and lounge tents decked out in rugs and antique furniture. Gourmet meals and attentive staff seal the deal. Mobile camps usually only have less than 10 tents, so you’re guaranteed an intimate experience that makes the most of an immersion in the wilderness.
Wherever you stay, consider hiring one of the top private freelance guides to the Maasai Mara – such as Jackson Looseyia, one of the presenters of BBC show Big Cat Diary – who will join you for all of your game drives and enhance your wildlife viewing immeasurably.
By far the easiest (and most luxurious) way of getting to the Masai Mara, or any of the conservancies, is by flying in on a scheduled or chartered plane. Some camps have their own private airstrip but if they don’t then you’ll be able to land at one of the landing strips scattered around the park, and your camp will arrange a pick up and transfer. If you’re travelling around Kenya after your Masai Mara safari, you’ll be able to fly to Mombasa or Malindi on the coast, as well as other safari destinations, or to Nairobi.
While you can organise your own luxury Masai Mara safari, many travellers prefer to have a tour operator put together a tailor-made package of flights, guides and safari lodges. Going through a tour operator will take a lot of the hassle out of arranging the trip, and also ensure that you’re staying at the right lodge or camp at the right time of year to see the best of the park’s wildlife.
A family holiday in the Masai Mara is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that your kids will never forget. Exploring one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas seeing elephants, lion, leopard, cheetah, giraffes and massive herds of antelope against photogenic savanna backdrops will enchant kids of all ages. The Masai Mara is also one of Africa’s best safari destinations for families because of the ease of spotting game on the open plains, the thrilling dramas of the Great Migration scenes, and a host of child-friendly places to stay.
Having the perfect family holiday in the Masai Mara is all about where you stay. Research family-friendly lodges (some lodges have minimum age limits) and be sure to book one that offers family tents or rooms (with their own dining and lounge areas), kids’ activities such as nature walks, treasure hunts, bow and arrow shooting, fire making, storytelling and special extras such as kids’ adventure clubs.
Consider staying at a lodge or camp on a conservancy where you can do guided bush walks, to give the kids a break from long game drives (walks are not permitted in the national reserve). Some lodges offer child minding services but these usually need to be requested before your trip. Most upmarket lodges and camps that allow children will be able to cook child-friendly meals.
Another option for families is renting one of the private houses on conservancies bordering the Masai Mara. These houses – which come with their own team of staff – can only be booked exclusively, which means you’ll have privacy as well as more freedom for the children.
If you have young children, it’s a good idea to book a private game drive vehicle for your family, so that you can tailor the length of your game drives and choose your own schedule (usually morning game drives start very early) and also not disturb other guests.
Keep in mind that many camps and lodges are unfenced, so you need to keep a careful eye on your children and not let them wander around on their own.
Doing a fly-in safari is the easiest option if you have small children, as the drive to the Masai Mara from Nairobi is long and on bumpy roads. It’s a short flight on scheduled or chartered planes from Nairobi (and other destinations in Kenya) to the airstrips in the reserve or in the conservancies. You won’t need your own car once you’re in the reserve as most lodges and camps offer guided game drives, and will pick you up from the airstrip.
As with any African travel with kids, make sure that you get any required vaccinations at least six months before you travel. The Masai Mara is a malarial area, and you should consult your doctor about the necessary prophylactics. The most important thing is to prevent being bitten, so always dress your kids in long-sleeved shirts and trousers and spray with mosquito repellent – especially around dawn and dusk – and use a mosquito net when sleeping.
If you’re looking for a romantic safari destination, the Masai Mara will tick all of your East African safari fantasies: quintessential savanna landscapes, an abundance of animals and big cats, the drama of the Great Migration, as well as excellent camps and lodges that add special touches for Masai Mara honeymooners or romantic couples.
For the ultimate Masai Mara Honeymoon, prioritise exclusivity and intimacy when choosing your camp or lodge. Rather than staying at one of the massive lodges in the eastern section of the park – some of which have 150 beds – pick a small camp that has less than 10 tented rooms on your Honeymoon Masai Mara Safari.
A great option for romantic couples who want to escape the crowds of the Masai Mara is staying in one of the many private conservancies that border the reserve, which offer the same superb wildlife viewing and photogenic landscapes, but with a restricted number of beds per acre and a limited number of vehicles per sighting, which makes for a much more exclusive wilderness experience on your Kenya Honeymoon experience.
Mobile tented camps are also a wonderful option for a Safari Honeymoon in the Masai Mara, as they are usually very small, with only a few beds, and give you the chance to experience life under canvas in remote locations – but with the creature comforts of hot bucket showers, flush toilets, five-star quality food and stylish furnishings.
The best of the luxury camps – whether on a conservancy or in the reserve itself – combine incredible settings with romantically designed rooms – think lots of privacy, open-air bathrooms, private plunge pools, and, at one camp, even a four-poster bed under the stars. You can also book private game drives for more wilderness time without other guests.
The special experiences that camps can organise for romantic couples on their Masai Mara Honeymoon to make your stay even more memorable include private champagne breakfasts in the bush, couples’ massages, sundowner cocktails in spectacular locations, private candlelit dinners on your balcony or deck and sunrise hot air balloon rides for two.
Solo travel in the Masai Mara is an exciting adventure in one of the world’s top safari destinations, whichever way you choose to travel.
Self-drivers will have the freedom to explore the park on their own, while if you would prefer to join up with a group, there are plenty of options for organised tours, ranging from budget-friendly safaris where you stay at campsites, all the way up to the most luxurious and exclusive camps and lodges. Travelling on a tour is by far the most affordable way to experience the Masai Mara. Independent travellers looking to meet other travellers will have opportunities to socialise with other people at their lodge or camp either on game drive or at dinner (some camps do communal dinners).
If you’re looking to stay in a big hotel or lodge with lots of facilities, then pick a property in the eastern sector of the park or outside the park gates, as this is where the biggest concentration of large hotels is. For a quieter wilderness experience, choose to stay at a lodge in either the Mara Triangle or on one of the private conservancies, where guest numbers are limited and camps tend to be small and intimate.
Kenya’s flagship park, the Masai Mara National Reserve, is one of Africa’s finest wildlife destinations where quintessential safari landscapes of vast acacia-dotted savannas teem with animals. The stellar highlight of the Masai Mara is, without a doubt, the Great Migration, an annual movement of millions of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra migrating between neighbouring Tanzania the Kenyan park. Seeing the dramatic daily scenes of the Great Migration – the massive, noisy herds, the animals making the perilous crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River and the thrilling big cat hunts – are among the best and most exciting wildlife experiences you can have in Africa.
Apart from the Great Migration, the Masai Mara has excellent wildlife viewing throughout the year, and sightings of four of the Big Five – leopard, lion, elephant and buffalo – are pretty much a given, making it a perfect first timer’s safari destination. The Mara is famous for its leopard, lion, and cheetah, but there’s plenty more game to see on the wide-open plains, from giraffe and eland to smaller predators such as bat-eared fox, spotted hyena and black-backed jackal.
While there’s a wide range of lodging options to accommodate all budgets, the Masai Mara’s luxury lodges and camps really stand out. Scattered across the park – in some truly spectacular remote locations – they offer a taste of the “Out of Africa” safari romance: tented rooms and suites that open right onto plains full of grazing animals, impeccable décor and antique furniture, four-poster beds, infinity pools and outdoor canvas bathtubs – as well as excellent service and well-trained guides who are not only experts at finding wildlife, but will also bring the bush to life with their storytelling skills. Luxury mobile tented camps that occupy different seasonal locations in the park give you the chance to get as close to the migrating herds as possible, without having to rough it. These camps combine an intimate low-key wilderness experience with luxury comforts: a recipe for the perfect safari.
While game drives are the focus of a Masai Mara safari, there are other plenty of other activities to include in your itinerary, from sunrise hot air balloon rides over the plains, cultural visits to local Maasai villages, picnics and sundowners in the bush, horseback rides, and visiting the locations from the film Out of Africa, while some lodges and camps offer a host of kids’ activities such as storytelling, bow and arrow shooting and fire making.
The Masa Marai National Reserve makes up just one part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, which is also made up of community ranches and private conservancies owned by local Maasai, and which offer privacy and the exclusivity of limited numbers of visitors spread out across vast areas. As the Masa Mara has increased in popularity, many safari goers now choose to stay on these conservancies – many of which were established in the last 10 years – for the same wildlife experiences as the Mara but with far fewer other cars around. What’s also special about the conservancies is the option of doing walking safaris with Maasai guides, an exciting activity that is not on offer in the reserve. With their abundant game, spectacular scenery, commitment to community conservation and low tourism densities, the Masai Mara conservancies are now up there with East Africa’s best safari destinations.
Few places have a higher concentration of wildlife than the Masai Mara, and sightings of four of the Big Five are almost a guarantee on any trip (although rhino are harder to spot). The Mara is also one of the best reserves on the planet for seeing the three big cats: leopard, lion and cheetah. It’s no wonder that the BBC TV show Big Cat Diaries is filmed on the reserve.
Credit: Governors Il Moran Camp
Along with the Serengeti in Tanzania, the Masai Mara plays host to the greatest wildlife spectacle on Earth: the Great Migration. For most nature lovers, witnessing the movement of millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle across the Mara River and streaming through the vast plains of the Masai Mara, is one of the ultimate wilderness experiences. Seeing the daily dramas of survival and death are the stuff nature documentaries are made of.
The Masai Mara conservancies – private concessions which border the reserve and make up part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem – are reason alone to visit the safari area. These conservancies encompass nearly as much land as the national reserve and offer the same incredible wildlife densities – as well as the Great Migration herds – but without the crowds, as each conservancy adheres to a limited number of beds per acre.
Credit: Rekero Camp
The Maasai, one of Kenya’s most recognisable tribes, are part of what makes a visit to the Masai Mara so unique. These semi-nomadic pastoralists have a rich and fascinating culture and visiting a Maasai village or doing a homestay with a Maasai family can be one of the most memorable aspects of a trip to the Masai Mara. Many guides in the lodges and camps of the Mara are Maasai, and they share their superb tracking skills to wildlife spotting and a wealth of knowledge about the ecosystem, animals, plants and birds with guests. The private conservancies that border the national reserve are either owned by or leased from the Maasai, and the tourism industry provides important financial support to local communities as well as an incentive for continuing conservation projects and initiatives.
The Masai Mara has one of the best concentrations of game in the world and is the best reserve for spotting big cats – and that’s not to mention the legendary Great Migration that takes place here annually, providing the kind of dramatic scenes that you usually only see on nature documentaries. There’s plenty to the Masai Mara to warrant return trips.
Golden winged sunbird
As with any safari destination, there’s much to be said for returning to the Masai Mara at different times of the year for various natural attractions. The Great Migration months of July to October promise thrilling sights, but the other months of the year have their own attractions, such as migratory birds between November and April and baby animals being born during the rainier months of the year. Travelling during the quieter months of the year will also mean that you have more of the wilderness to yourself, as the migration period and the Christmas holidays can get incredibly busy, and it’s not uncommon to have many cars packed around a sighting.
The conservancies that border the Masai Mara are destinations in their own right, offering abundant game, spectacular scenery and the exclusivity of only a few camps over massive areas. If you stay inside the park itself on your first visit, it’s definitely worth returning to the Mara for a different experience on a conservancy and for the chance to do walking safaris.
The Masai Mara has wildlife in abundance: the reserve is home to the Big Five, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant on any trip, although black rhinos are harder to spot. The reserve is particularly famous for its populations of big cats, with one of the highest concentrations of lion in the world, as well as large numbers of leopard and cheetah. Other predators include spotted hyena, black-backed jackal and bat-eared fox, while antelope species include topi, eland, reedbuck, impala and Thomson’s gazelle. Masai giraffe – the largest subspecies of giraffe found only in Kenya and Tanzania – is easily spotted.
Credit: Mara Plains Camp
The Great Migration is the most famous wildlife spectacle in the world, and the reason that many people travel to the Masai Mara. Each year, millions of antelope move across the savanna from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, crossing the Mara River and falling prey to predators along the way.
While the Masai Mara is more renowned for its wildlife than its birds, its varied habitats are still home to more than 500 species of birds, from kori bustards, ostriches and ground hornbills in the grasslands to saddle-billed storks and goliath herons in the swamps to Schalow’s turaco and Ross’s turaco in the riverine forest and seven species of kingfisher in the rivers. There’s an incredible diversity of raptor species – 57 recorded species – as well as seven species of vulture, while migratory birds arrive in the reserve in November and stay until April.
Located near to the equator in southern Kenya, the Masai Mara is warm year-round, with higher temperatures from October to March and slightly cooler weather from June to August. There are two rainy seasons: March to May (known as the “long rains”) – April being the wettest month – and November to December (known as the “short rains”). The months of June to October are the driest in the year.
Weather wise, the best time to visit the Masai Mara is from June to October for the low rainfall and comfortable day time temperatures, although wildlife viewing is good in the park all through the year.
A big consideration for timing your trip to the Masai Mara is witnessing the Great Migration at the best time. The annual movement of animals into the park changes every year based on rainfall, but in general the herds move into the Masai Mara from July to October, while August and September are the peak months to see the migration.