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Discover the Masai Mara - one of the most incredible wildlife reserves in the world

Hailed as one of the best wildlife reserves in the world, the Masai Mara National Reserve is a sanctuary for an abundance of incredible animals.

Known as the Masai Mara, or simply ‘The Mara’, the reserve was named after the Maasai people who inhabit the area. ‘Mara’ means ‘spotted’ in the Maa language, which describes the Mara’s landscape, flecked with acacia trees and craters.

Home to scores of animals, including the iconic Big 5, you’ll be sure to spot some of your favourite animals, on foot, four wheels or even from the air.

If you visit between July and November, you’ll bear witness to millions of migrating wildebeest, in one of the most remarkable wildlife encounters on Earth.

Perfect for both first-timers and experienced safari-goers, the Masai Mara is the ultimate safari destination.

We’ve put together a complete guide to visiting the Masai Mara in Kenya, including the best time to visit, the best places to stay and what to wear on safari.

Where is the Masai Mara?

Located in the south-west of Kenya, the Masai Mara National Reserve spans an area of 1,500 square kilometres, almost the same size as London.

It forms the northernmost part of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, joining with the Serengeti across the border in Tanzania. The Masai Mara also borders a number of unfenced private conservancies, operated by the Masaai.

Famed for its iconic golden plains and open grassland, the Masai Mara is dotted with acacia trees, riverine forest, craters and kopjes (small hills).

Along with many small seasonal rivers, there are three major rivers known as the Sand, Talek and Mara Rivers, which wildebeest herds must cross during the mid-year migration.

How to get to the Masai Mara

The easiest way to get to the Masai Mara is through Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, located 224 kilometres from the eastern border of the Masai Mara.

You’ll land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, then transfer to the nearby Wilson Airport for your domestic flight to the Masai Mara’s airstrips.

The flights take around 45 minutes, and on arrival you’ll be met your driver and transferred to your lodge or camp, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way.

Game Viewing & Wildlife in the Masai Mara

As one of the best wildlife havens in Africa, the Masai Mara offers extraordinary game viewing. You’ll have the chance to spot some of the world’s most incredible species and all your favourites from the Lion King.

The Great Migration

Each year, beginning around July, the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem stages one of the greatest shows on Earth - the Great Migration.

Over 1.5 million wildebeest, antelope and zebra race across Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara, in search of greener pastures. They move in a trampling mass, arriving at the final obstacle, the Mara River in Kenya.

The animals form a thundering bottleneck as they attempt to dodge the crocodiles, vultures, big cats and the dangerous rapids of the river. Once the rainy season sets in around October or November, the wildebeest make the 1,000km trip back to the Serengeti.

It’s a treacherous, incredible journey, and you can bear witness to this great spectacle from the Masai Mara. As the event is so popular, we recommend booking your accommodation at least nine months, or more, in advance.

Keep in mind that it’s impossible to predict the timing of the Mara River crossings, as the herds don’t all move in the same place and time each year - only the animals decide when to go.

It’s also important to note that the Great Migration is not a sight for the faint-hearted. Hungry predators are ready to eat, and you’ll likely see kills during the experience.

Witness the Great Migration

The Big 5 of Africa

Along with the Great Migration, the Masai Mara is also famed for being home to all of the Big 5 of Africa. It’s common to find elephants, lions, buffalo and leopard, although the rhino is more difficult to spot.

There’s an abundance of other incredible wildlife, including zebra, giraffe, hyena, wildebeest, gazelles, eland and scores of birdlife. You’ll also have the chance to spot cheetah lurking through the wide open plains, and hippos in the Mara and Talek rivers.

lioness and baby lion in the masai mara, kenya

Things to do in the Masai Mara

The wildlife are the star attraction of the Masai Mara, and there are plenty of wonderful ways to see them. You can also enrich your Masai Mara safari holiday by getting to know the Maasai, the traditional owners of the land.

Game drives

Game drives are the classic safari activity, and in the Masai Mara, you can experience both day and night game drives. During the day, you’ll head out early in the morning or late in the afternoon to spot the Mara’s iconic wildlife. On a night game drive, you’ll be treated to thrilling scenes of night time prowling and hunting, as many predators, especially big cats, only really come alive after dark.

cheetah passing a safari vehicle on a game drive in the masai mara, kenya

Bush walks

A bush walk allows you to leave the vehicle behind and explore the Mara wilderness on foot. You’ll delve into the finer details of the African bush, with your guide pointing out plants and birds that you might not see from a vehicle. A walking safari is an exhilarating experience, and you can even spot big game and learn tracking skills from the experts.

Hot air balloon experience

Take to the skies in a hot air balloon at sunrise, to get a birds-eye view of the Masai Mara. You’ll have the best seat in the house, with panoramic views over the glowing plains, and the chance to spot wildlife at one of their most active times of the day. To end the experience, you’ll be treated to a lavish champagne breakfast in the bush.

Why we love it

The Masai Mara is beautiful at any angle, but it’s best seen at dawn from a hot air balloon. Glide over the savannah at sunrise, looking out for wildlife roaming the golden plains - it’s an unmissable experience.

Tom Blakey

Luxury Travel Specialist

Cultural experiences

The Maasai people own the land of the Masai Mara, and practice the traditional herding of Maasai cattle. You can get a special insight into the rich culture of the Maasai tribes, through visits to local villages, and traditional song and dance performances by Maasai warriors. You can also go on bush walks with the welcoming Maasai people, listening to their stories and wisdom about this beautiful land.

kenyan maasai warriors performing a traditional dance at sunset in the masai mara, kenya

Best time to visit the Masai Mara

With plenty of resident wildlife and pleasant temperatures year round, the Masai Mara can be visited any time of the year. The most popular time to visit is July and August, when visitors flock to the country to witness the Great Migration.

If you’d like to see the Great Migration without the large crowds, consider visiting in October and November, when the wildebeest migrate back to the Serengeti. The timing of the return migration varies each year, as the wildebeest move with the arrival of the rainy season.

Kenya has two rainy seasons - a ‘short’ and ‘long’ wet season. The short rains generally arrive in November, characterised by brief, afternoon downpours that wash away the dust and cool down the humid air.

It’s a beautiful time for wildlife photography as the landscape lights up in greenery, migrant birds arrive, and baby antelope are born.

February and March are also stunning months to travel, with lush green grasslands and baby animals leaping around the plains. However, wildlife can be harder to spot after the rains, as the tall vegetation hides them from view.

The heavy rainy season usually lasts through April and May, with many lodges and camps closing during these months as the constant rains cause flooding and impassable muddy roads.

Read our month-by-month guide to Kenya’s weather for more information on the best time to visit the Masai Mara.

Why we love it

My favourite month of the year to travel to the Masai Mara is September, with excellent game viewing and the Great Migration in full swing. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, the short rainy season is ideal - you’ll likely experience an hour or two of intense afternoon showers, with sunshine the rest of the day.

Tom Blakey

Luxury Travel Specialist

Best luxury lodges & camps in the Masai Mara

We recommend staying in the private conservancies within the Masai Mara National Reserve. The conservancies are set on tribal lands and are administered by the Maasai, so you’ll have the opportunity to visit Maasai villages or see large herds of their beloved cattle.

With a harmonious approach to wildlife, domestic livestock and local communities and cultures, the conservancies are a great example of conservation in the region.

They also provide an exclusive and private experience, as visitors to the reserve cannot enter the conservancies unless they are staying there (although guests of the conservancies can enter the reserve).

Here are our top picks for luxury lodges & camps in the Masai Mara:

Saruni Mara

Set in the private Mara North Conservancy, Saruni Mara is an incredible place to spot animals in a protected wildlife area. Located just a 40 minute game drive from the nearest airstrip, the lodge is the only small boutique lodge in the Masai Mara.

There are just five beautiful cottages, one family villa and one private villa, all luxuriously decorated with a distinct theme, featuring breezy decks with breathtaking views.

The conservancy is owned by the Maasai, and you’ll have special access to the Maasai warriors’ centuries-old wisdom of the wildlife and environment.

You’ll venture out on private safaris with professional guides and trackers, thrilling night game drives, bush walks, and enjoy visits to local Maasai markets and romantic hot air balloon rides at sunrise.

Saruni Mara is also the perfect place to relax after a long day of adventure, with a fantastic wellbeing space offering massage services, and a restaurant serving up delicious gourmet Italian food, crafted by expert chefs.

the literary room at Saruni Mara with panoramic views over the masai mara, kenya

Saruni Wild

If you’d prefer a luxury tented camping experience, Saruni Wild is the perfect property. Hidden within a magical forest between Mara North Conservancy and Lemek Conservancy in the Masai Mara, Saruni Wild is surrounded by impressive game populations and exhilarating migration activity.

Located just a 40 minute game drive from the entrance to the Masai Mara National Reserve, you’ll have easy access to all the hotspots, while staying in a remote location rich in wildlife, with few other visitors around.

With only three luxury tents, featuring high class amenities and modern comforts, you’ll relish having this incredible space all to yourself, and you can even spot wildlife from your tent.

Your stay will be guided by the Maasai, who will share their deep knowledge and wisdom of the region as you venture out on day and night game drives, bush walks, and migration river crossing experiences.

You can even watch a performance of Maasai warriors dancing around the campfire, visit a local Maasai village, or partake in the unique Warrior Academy Program for kids.

luxury tent at saruni wild in the masai mara, kenya

Health & Safety in the Masai Mara

In general, Kenya is a safe country to visit as a traveller, with relative political stability.

However, like with many tourist destinations, there are instances of petty theft and pick-pocketing, particularly in the cities. Keep valuables out of sight, avoid walking alone at night and use taxis booked through your guide or hotel.

In the Masai Mara, you can ensure your safety by listening to your driver and guide’s instructions at all times. They are the experts and it’s their job to keep you safe on safari.

It’s also important to remember to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and a hat, never keep food in your room or tent (to avoid unwanted visits from the wildlife), and never go swimming in rivers or walking around the reserve by yourself.

Read our Safari Safety Guide for more information on safari safety and etiquette, and read our Responsible Travel Guide to Kenya for tips on responsible and sustainable travel in Kenya.

Vaccinations & medications

Visit your doctor at least six to eight weeks before your departure to ensure you have all necessary (or recommended) vaccinations before your trip.

Malaria in present in Kenya, so malarial medication should be taken before, during and after your trip. You should also use strong mosquito repellent, and wear long, loose clothing to protect against mosquito and insect bites.

There is a low risk of yellow fever in some parts of Kenya, and a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if your are arriving from a country with a high risk of yellow fever. Visit the FitForTravel website for more information on vaccinations and malaria in Kenya.

Read the Wayfairer Travel Guide to Kenya for more practical information on travelling to Kenya.

family of elephants in the masai mara, kenya

What to pack for a safari holiday in the Masai Mara

It’s tempting to overpack for a safari holiday in Kenya, however you only need a few essentials to come prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.

Note that domestic flights usually have luggage limited to 20 kilograms per person and it’s best to use a soft case or holdall to maximise space.

Here's our advice on what you should pack for a safari holiday in the Masai Mara:

  • Clothing in neutral colours and light fabrics which are easy to layer up, as morning and evening game drives can get cold. Avoid blue or black clothing as these colours attract tsetse flies, which have a nasty bite and spread disease. Military-style camouflage clothing is not permitted.
  • Long sleeved shirts and long trousers to protect from the sun and insect bites. Kenyans tend to dress conservatively, so knee-length pants and skirts and shirts that cover the shoulders and midriff are best, even outside the national parks.
  • Comfortable walking shoes that have been worn-in (to avoid nasty blisters).
  • Swimwear and clothes for water activities.
  • Hat and sunglasses.
  • Toiletries such as sun cream, insect repellent, after-sun, bite relief cream and lip balm.
  • Binoculars and camera equipment (bring more memory than you think you need).
  • Reusable water bottle to limit waste, though note that tap water in Kenya is not drinkable unless your water bottle has a filtration system.
  • Multi-way travel adaptor. Kenya uses plug type G (three rectangular pins). The standard voltage is 240 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
  • Supplies for local community projects. Take a look the Pack for a Purpose page for Kenya, which recommends supplies which you can bring to donate and drop off at partnering hotels, camps and lodges.

Note: Kenya has an outright ban on plastic bags. All travellers entering Kenya will be required to leave any plastic bags at the entry points, including duty-free plastic bags and the small ziplock bags generally used to carry toiletries. We request that you seek alternative carrier bags do not carry plastic bags whilst visiting Kenya, as there are strict penalties for those found in possession of them upon inspection.

leopard in a tree in the masai mara, kenya

Other places to visit on your Masai Mara safari holiday

Kenya and east Africa is an incredible region, packed with wildlife, natural wonders and fascinating cultures. We recommend combining your Masai Mara safari with other top destinations in Kenya, see the gorillas of east Africa, or end your holiday on the beaches of Zanzibar.

Other destinations in Kenya

If you’d like to get off the beaten track, we recommend heading to the wild northern lands of Samburu, where you can go in search of the ‘Samburu 5’, including the Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk and Somali Ostrich, which can only be found in this part of Kenya.

You can also experience the colourful culture of the Samburu tribe, go on a thrilling walking safari, and camp out under the stars of northern Kenya.

Another off-grid destination is Laikipia, home to spectacular scenery, special wildlife encounters, and dedicated conservationists working tirelessly to preserve the Kenyan bush. Venture into the bush on foot on a unique camel safari experience, where you’ll camp in the remote bushland and keep watch for elephants, lions, giraffes, wild dogs, oryx and even leopards.

If you’d like to relax at the end your Masai Mara safari, head to Diani Beach on the southern Kenya coast, where you can lounge on white sandy beaches, and explore the dazzling marine life with snorkelling and diving expeditions.

maasai camel herder in the masai mara, kenya

Other destinations in Africa

You can see the most iconic sites of east Africa by combining your Masai Mara safari with a trip to Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park), to track wild mountain gorillas.

You’ll trek through the dense forest of Rwanda with an expert guide, and once you find the mountain gorillas, you’ll have up to one special hour in their presence. It’s a truly magical experience that we promise you’ll never forget.

We think the best way to end your east African adventure is with a blissful week in Zanzibar, a tropical paradise of white powdery beaches and turquoise waters.

You can explore the the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stone Town where you'll wander the maze of alleyways and discover the rich history, go diving and snorkelling to find manta rays and colourful marine life, or simply relax on the stunning beaches or in a luxurious infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Plan your Masai Mara safari holiday in Kenya

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