South Western Kenya is the heartland of the Maasai. The Maasai are strongly independent people who still value tradition and ritual as an integral part of their everyday lives. They regard themselves not just as residents of this area but also that they are as much a part of the life of the land as the land is part of their lives.
Traditionally, the Maasai rarely hunt and living alongside wildlife in harmony is an important part of their beliefs. Lions and Wildebeest play as important a role in their cultural beliefs as their own herds of cattle. This unique co-existence of man and wildlife makes this Maasai land one of the world’s most unique wilderness regions. At the heart of these lands is the Masai Mara Game Reserve, widely considered to be Africa’s greatest wildlife reserve. Mara means spotted, referring to patchy Masai bushes and trees. For animals, landscape, trees and sheer beauty, the Masai Mara is the most spectacular of all Kenyan parks and reserves The 700 square miles of rolling savannah, open plains, woodlands and riverine forest is the extension of the Serengeti in Tanzania, and the place to witness the annual wildebeest migration. From July to October every year, 1.5 million animals embark on an epic trek out of the Serengeti into the mara plains. Predators which depend on the wildebeest for food follow them. The result is a concentration of wildlife unequalled for its number and diversity anywhere in Africa.
Altitude of Mara is 4,875-7,052 feet (1,500-2,170 metres) above sea level, which yields a climate somewhat milder and damper than other regions. The daytime rarely exceeds 85°F (30°C) during the day and hardly ever drops below 60°F (15°C) at night.There are four main types of topography in the Mara: Ngama Hills to the east with sandy soil and leafy bushes liked by black rhino; Oloololo Escarpment forming the western boundary and rising to a magnificent plateau; Mara Triangle bordering the Mara River with lush grassland and acacia woodlands supporting masses of game especially migrating wildebeest; Central Plains forming the largest part of the reserve, with scattered bushes and boulders on rolling grasslands favored by the plains game. Contiguous with the plains of the Serengeti, the Mara is home to a breath taking array of life. The vast grassland plains are scattered with herds of Zebra, Giraffe, Gazelle, and Topi with lot of other game.
The Acacia forests abound with Bird life and Monkeys. Elephants and Buffalo wallow in the wide Musiara Swamp. The Mara and Talek rivers are brimming with Hippos and Crocodiles. Each year the Mara plays host to the world’s greatest natural spectacle, the Great Wildebeest Migration from the Serengeti. Each year, far south in the great vastness of the Serengeti, the wildebeest raise their dignified but quaint heads, sniff the air and, as if by one accord, start the long trek to the Kenya border and the Masai Mara. After exhausting the grazing in Tanzania's northern Serengeti, a large number of wildebeest and zebra enter the Masai Mara National Reserve around the end of June drawn by the sweet grass raised by the long rains of April and May. It is estimated that more than a million wildebeest enter the Masai Mara National Reserve and are joined by another 100,000 from the Loita Hills east of the Masai Mara. Driving in the midst of these great herds is an unimaginable experience. Whilst the eyes feast on the spectacle, the air carries the smells, the dust and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of animals. There is nowhere else on earth to compare with this wildlife marvel. But the trek is costly. The herds' draw ravening packs of predators, especially hyenas and lions, and thousands of the lame, laggard and sick never complete the cycle. More die, by drowning or by the teeth of the cunning crocodile, while trying to cross the swirling muddy waters of the Mara and Talek rivers. Once the Masai Mara National Reserve's grass has been devoured and when fresh rain in Tanzania has brought forth a new flush there, the herds turn south, heading hundreds of kilometers back to Serengeti and the Ngorongoro plains. There the young are dropped in time to grow sufficiently strong to undertake the long march north six months later.
From July to October, the promise of rain and fresh life giving grass in the north brings more than 1.5million Wildebeest together into a single massive herd. They pour across the border into the Mara, making a spectacular entrance in a surging column of life that stretches from horizon to horizon. At the Mara River they mass together on the banks before finally plunging forward through the raging waters, creating a frenzy as they fight against swift currents and waiting crocodiles. The wildebeest bring new life to the Mara, not just through their cycle of regeneration of the grasslands, but for the predators that follow the herds.
Although July, August and September are the months when the Masai Mara plains are filled with migrating wildebeest and zebra, there is much resident wildlife year round.The Mara has been called the Kingdom of Lions and these regal and powerful hunters dominate these grasslands. Cheetahs are also a common sight in the Mara, as are Hyena and smaller predators such as Jackals. The Mara is an awesome natural wonder, a place where Maasai warriors share the plains with hunting lions, a place of mighty herds and timeless cycles of life, death and regeneration. Wildlife moves freely in and out of the reserve and through neighboring Maasai lands. The reserve is ideal for game drives, and some lodges and camps offer walks, horse riding and balloon safaris. The Loita Hills and the Nguruman Escarpment, both considered sacred to the Maasai, offer high forest trekking opportunities for the adventurous traveller.
The Masai Mara National Reserve lies about 270 kilometers from Nairobi, and takes about 4 to 5 hours by road. The point of road access to this region is Narok, a 3 hour drive from Nairobi. There are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi, and the coast. Private Charters also use these strips. The park has well established internal roads and tracks.
A recommended activity in the Masai Mara National Reserve is the balloon safari. Early in the morning, you will be woken and driven to the departure site. Once in the air, the view of the surrounding landscape, the rising of the sun between the mountains and the congregation of the animals at the river is beautiful. This all concludes with a champagne breakfast and memories of a lifetime.