The Masai Mara National Reserve is undisputedly Kenya’s most famous wildlife destination. Its rock-solid reputation as a must-see for every safari goer has been built up over decades and rests on two chief elements: the ease of spotting game and the Great Wildebeest Migration
The Mara has a fairly consistent landscape of open grasslands. This is classic ‘savannah’ country with golden grass, blue skies, and the occasional tree. There is riverine forest along the Mara River but it is unlikely you will venture into it unless you stay there– we floated over the treetops in a hot-air balloon..
Put it this way: within 10 minutes of leaving the airstrip, we came across a cheetah and her two cubs. Then we bumped into a lioness and her cubs. At one point during our stay, we were surrounded by a huge herd of buffalo who chased off a skittish lion pride from some prime grazing. Add Maasai giraffe, sprinting striped mongooses and brilliant birdlife like grey turaco, lilac-breasted rollers, secretary birds and grey crowned cranes, and you have a movable feast.
The Mara and especially the conservancy are very rewarding on game drives. What you probably won’t see unless you are very lucky are rhino. They occasionally venture into the Mara but are so seldom seen than we wouldn’t peg this as a Big 5 destination. All of the other Big 5 – lion, buffalo, elephant and leopard – are here in good numbers though
Like so much in life, this is down to timing. The wildebeest cross the Mara River from the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania in about August and hang around until about October when they start venturing back down to the Eastern Woodlands. But life isn’t run by clockwork, and early or late rains may speed up or delay events by a few days or even weeks.
A balloon safari is a classic way of the seeing the Masai Mara and appreciating its sheer size and beauty. You will rise before dawn and take off at sunrise to enjoy the ‘spotted land’ coming to life, floating over forest, savannah and nocturnal game like spring hares dashing back to the safety of their dens before daylight.
Although it is a pricy activity, we take the view that, well, when next will you be in the Masai Mara? When next will you have the chance to take to the sky above one of the world’s most famous wildlife areas? Some clients might reduce the level of accommodation they choose in order to fit in what is bucket-list experience for many. After all, a bed is pretty much a bed but a balloon safari is something extraordinary.
If you can, we say, ‘Go for it’!
There is plenty of accommodation to choose from in the Mara and we strongly suggest changing location every two to three days so that you can see as much of the reserve as possible