Set in the heart of Africa’s Great Plains, the Masai Mara boasts some 2,800 sq. kilometers of unspoilt wilderness, made up of the Masai Mara National Reserve, Mara Triangle and various community conservancies bordering the northern and eastern sectors of the ecosystem. This is the land of the Big Cat Diary and Disney’s African Cats, playing host to famous names – Malaika, Scar, The Notch Brothers, amongst many others. The views across the rolling golden grasslands studded with acacia trees, rivers and forests are dazzling, and the sense of space is overwhelming with landscapes made famous in the movie Out of Africa.
Throughout the year the Masai Mara is a place of natural drama, a kaleidoscope of color and life, but between July and October, the area really comes to life, with herds of upto two million wildebeest and zebra migrate northwards from the Serengeti in search of fresh pastures. Queues of upto a kilometer long form as the wildebeest attempt to navigate their way across the crocodile-infested Mara River, and once it begins plumes of dust rise as thousands barrel into the river, creating a feeding frenzy for the massive Nile Crocodiles.
The Masai Mara is the most iconic destination in Kenya, and as such it has become a tourist hotspot, with throngs of minibuses shuttling around from one sighting to the next. We’re not going pretend it doesn’t exist, but we really do feel that the Masai Mara, and the Great Wildebeest Migration can be and should be a life-punctuating experience. We’ve got years of experience, and know how to avoid the worst of the madness, and our carefully selected collection of lodges offer the highest standards of service and guiding, ensuring a truly memorable experience.
THE GREAT WILDEBEEST MIGRATION
One of the most spectacular natural events, the annual wildebeest migration traverses thousands of kilometers as they constantly search for fresh grazing. Accompanied by large herds of zebra, and smaller herds of gazelle, impala and eland, the precise timing is unpredictable, and varies from year to year. In the Masai Mara, the best period is from August to October, although in some years, they arrive as early as July and stay through until November.
AMAZING RESIDENT GAME
In some respects, the migration is just a sideshow for the Masai Mara. Year-round access to water and fertile soils allows large numbers of herbivores to remain as residents, whilst other splinter herds do smaller migrations to the nearby Loita Hills. All this adds up to a plentiful food supply for predators, which amass here in great numbers. Large lion prides stake out the best territories, cheetahs have large plains to explore and leopards stake out the riverine forests and dense luggas. In short, at any time of the year, the Mara can pack the punches and deliver.
HOT AIR BALLOONING
As the sun begins to rise over the Masai Mara, the fire burners kick in, and a truly unique and memorable experience begins. Floating over the plains offers a very different perspective. The Mara River begins to take shape, snaking through the landscape. Our most trusted operator, Governor’s Balloon Safaris takes off from a natural launch site at Little Governor’s Camp, drifting with the air currents for an hour or so, and finishing with an exceptional champagne breakfast in the bush.
THE MARA CONSERVANCIES
The various conservancies that surround the Masai Mara have proven to be amazing conservation success stories, and have given a model for low density, high value tourism that is sustainable, deals effectively with human-wildlife conflict and encroachment and can be replicated. These are Masai Rangelands, belonging to a variety of landowners, some of them private individuals, some of them communities, and some of them groups of individuals. The models for each conservancy vary, but in basic principle, the lands from the Maasai landowners, turned over to wildlife conservation, and the tourist revenues are reinvested back into the communities and ecosystems. These are pioneering tourism models that involve and empower the communities in which they operate and ensure the magical fauna and flora are protected for the benefit of future generations. Acting effectively as a more private Mara experience, and with the same levels of thumping game, and excellent guides and lodges, this is definitely something we really support and recommend.
MARA NORTH CONSERVANCY
The Mara North Conservancy is a beautiful wilderness area of more than 74,000 acres. A vital component of the Masai Mara ecosystem, it borders the north-western zone of the reserve. Established in 2009, Mara North is a partnership between 10 member camps and over 800 Masai landowners.
The area is famed for Leopard Gorge, a frequent stage for numerous documentaries, including the Big Cat Diary. Home to high concentrations of big cats, and very low tourist numbers due to the structure of the conservancy, Mara North acts effectively as a more exclusive Mara experience.
OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY
The first conservancy in the Mara ecosystem, Olare Motorogi was formed in 2006 with 277 Masai landowners. The pristine 32,000 acres conservancy comprises of prime grasslands, riverine forests and acacia woodlands. The pioneering Olare Motorogi Conservancy offers one of the highest quality, lowest traffic safari experiences in the region. With a maximum of 94 beds in five mobile camps, the conservancy has a ratio of one game-viewing vehicle for every 2,100 acres, a move that is aimed at maximizing the client wilderness experience and minimizing the environmental impact of tourism.
One of the newest conservancies in the Mara ecosystem, Naboisho is a pioneering 50,000-acre wildlife conservancy and community pastoralist area, bringing together over 500 Masai landowners. Naboisho is home to big cats, in truly impressive numbers, and has the highest density of lions in the Masai Mara ecosystem. The conservancy also boasts impressive herds of elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, and zebra. It is also home to Kenya’s rare wild dog. In addition to the abundance of resident game, the Mara Naboisho Conservancy also serves as a migration corridor for several hundred thousand animals between the Masai Mara National Reserve and the Loita Plains to the east.