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Masai Mara National Reserve

The Mara Game Reserve, as it was originally called, an area of some 1,812 km2, was established in 1961 and looks like the classical African savannah landscape. The Reserve is situated in the south-western part of Kenya and is the northern-most section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, covering some 25,000 km2.

A small herd of elephants on their morning stroll on the African savannah
A small herd of elephants during their morning stroll. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

The variety, numbers and density of the animals makes the Mara one of the best, if not the best place for a safari in Kenya and chances are you will see the big five which usually includes elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.

Male lion in Masai mara
Male lion posing in the early morning sun in Masai Mara. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

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champagne by a fire on the savanna

After a great day of game drives there is something quite special about having a glass of champagne by a fire on the savanna. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Masai Mara has become world famous for its vast assemblages of plains game together with their associated predators and in 2007 it was declared being amongst the seven new natural wonders of the world. Naturally most of the safari scenes in Sydney Pollacks award-winning movie “Out of Africa” about the famous Danish writer Karen Blixen, were filmed here. The reserves easternmost border is only 224 km from Nairobi, so with the new tarmac road it only takes four to six hours to drive there or you could take 45 minutes off and simply fly in.

Cheetahs Masai Mara
Cheetahs monitoring the movements of a herd of gnus. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Landscape alive with animals

What makes this transnational ecosystem so unique is first of all the great annual migration of wildebeest and from June to August, when the migration is at its peak in Masai Mara, the sheer number of wildlife is staggering. It is perhaps the only region in Kenya where the visitor may see animals in the same super-abundance as existed in Africa a century ago.

Giraffes walking in Masai Mara
Giraffes are often seen in Masai Mara in groups of ten to fifteen animals rythmically moving in slow motion like tall ships across a sea of golden grass. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

The landscape in the Mara is a gentle mix of rolling green hills, dotted with thousands of spread out acacia trees (thereof the name Mara which means “spotted land”), offering a splendid overview of the game. There are several rivers flanked by gallery forest and especially in the south-east region you will also find clumps of acacia trees on the many beautiful hills in the Reserve.

A lone elephant bull in the Masai Mara
Lone elephant not far from Simba Lodge. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

The varied landscape and vast grasslands is the key to the incredible diversity of species and sheer number of wildlife. Just the bird list in Masai Mara exceeds 450 species including vultures, marabou stork, secretary bird, hornbill, crowned crane, ostrich, long-crested Eagle, and African pygmy-falcon and many more.

Leopard in a tree eating an impala
Leopard eating an impala in a tree. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Full moon rising over Masai Mara while the sun is setting, casting rays of light into the hazy atmosphere. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

One of the reasons for Masai Mara being the most visited Game Reserve in Kenya is because of the huge variety of species and abundance of wildlife out in the open.

Grants gazelle posing in Masai Mara
Grants gazelle. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Chances are that you will see herds of elephant, huge prides of lion, cheetahs, packs of spotted hyena, black- and silverbacked jackal, herds with hundreds of buffalo, hippos and crocodiles in the Mara River and if you are lucky you might even sport the rare black rhinoceros or a leopard.

Masai Giraffes
There are three subspecies of giraffe in Kenya and in Masai Mara you will find the Masai giraffe, as shown above. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Also on the plains there are plenty of Burchells zebras, topis, Coke’s hartebeest, roan antelope (rare), eland antelope, warthog, hippos and many more – all of them in such huge numbers, that it seems you have stepped into a veritable time capsule, taking you back into the untouched African nature as it was millions of years ago.

Three Ostriches in Masai Mara
Ostriches trotting across the savannah. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

With its geographical placement only about 130 km from the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, the weather patterns are closely linked to that of the lake’s and the rain it produces. So when it is dry season in more or less the rest of Kenya and in the southern parts of Serengeti, the wildlife turns to Masai Mara to find greener pastures. The Sand, Talek and Mara River are the major rivers draining the reserve and shrubs and trees fringe most drainage lines and cover hillsides and hilltops.

Elephants at Mara River
Elephants enjoying themselves at Mara River

The western border is the Oloololo Escarpment of the Rift Valley, and wildlife tends to be most concentrated here, as the swampy ground means that access to water is always good and tourist disruption is minimal.

Hippos basking in the sun
Hippos basking in the sun on the bank of Mara River

The big migrations across Mara River ensures plenty of food for the crocodiles at least once a year
A 5-6 meter long Nile Crocodile in Mara River

Nile Crocodile, Mara River
Nile Crocodile on the bank of the Mara River. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

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The people of the plains

Masai Mara is divided into two sections; The reason why Masai Mara isn’t designated a National Park is because the local Masai people from time immemorial have been grazing their cattle here and so they are still allowed to enter the reserve for this very reason. Humans are also part of the ecological system, but here it goes along with the fear of loosing a cow or two to a hungry pride of lions.

Masai warriors dancing outside the Manyatta
Young Masai Warriors dancing. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Little Masai girl

Masai Mara climate
Although strictly speaking in the tropical zone, Kenya’s topography induces considerable climatic variations attributable mainly to differences in altitude. The sun’s heat and two monsoon winds, the Kaskasi and the Kusi, govern the seasons.

The north westerly Kaskasi blows from October to March bringing sporadic rainfall in October and November, and is dubbed locally ‘the short rain’. The Kaskasi is warmer and drier than the Kusi, which blows in from the south east from April to October carrying with it heavy rains from April to June, ‘the long rains’.

Masai Askaris at a camp under the Milky Way

Masai Askaris at a camp under the Milky Way in the Masai Mara. At night temperatures here can get quite low and a warm sweater or a woolen blanket can come handy. Mornings can feel cold too but soon after 10am the sun starts to warm up things and during daytime it can be very hot. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Situated to the west, rainfall in the Masai Mara is heavily influenced by the Lake Victoria’s microclimate, which gives heavy rainfall in January, while July, August and September are generally speaking the driest months.
Altitude in Mara varies from 1,300 – 1,800 metres, the result being that its temperature rarely exceeds 30oC, with typical day temperatures of between 16oC and 27oC, and low humidity.

Acacia tree in the sunset in Masai Mara. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

If you want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience imagine enjoying the beauty and ecological complexity of the African savannah and its advanced levels of habitat specialization combined with the knowledge of natural history and childish fascination of the “big five” or rather many more species than the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard– Masai Mara should definitely be on your list of places to visit.

Masai Warrior weapon

In between game drives a young american tourist is being instructed how to shoot a bow and arrow by a Masai warrior while the boy’s father watches them in safe distance. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

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