Masai Mara National Reserve is globally known for great numbers of lions, leopards, cheetahs and the great migration of wildebeests, zebras, and Thompson’s gazelles to and from Serengeti national park of Tanzania.
The reserve was first established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary which covered an area of 520 square kilometers of the current size, with the Mara triangle part of it. Later on the same year, the size was increased to 1821 square kilometers and converted to a game reserve. In 1976, the reserve was reduced by 162sqkm to 1510sqkm which is still its current size as some of the land was given back to the local people.
The Mara conservation area has two sections; the Mara conservancies which are owned by private individuals and the Mara game reserve which is for the nation. Some of the conservancies include; Mara Naboisho, Mara North, Olare Motorogi, Ol kinyei, Lemek, Siana, Mara triangle among others
The reserve is located in the eastern arm of the Great Rift Valley in Narok County, in the southwestern region of Kenya. It can be accessed by either road or air. You can drive from Nairobi through Narok to Masai Mara or you can fly from Nairobi international airport to Mara serena air strip which is in the Masai Mara game reserve.
The climate is pleasantly warm with cool nights all year round. The temperatures are slightly higher from October to March and slightly cooler from June to august. It’s always a bit cooler in the night and the temperatures can drop 10 degrees Celsius in some months. The areas altitude ranges between 1500 and 1900 meters. 1400 milliliters of rain are received each year, the wettest month is April, where the rain is abundant and can cause flooding and the driest is July.
The best time to visit Masai Mara is from June to September because it’s the coolest and driest time of the year. Showers might occur in the afternoon and cause the night to be cooler or even cold, while during the day the weather is pleasantly warm. And you will also be able to see thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelle’s migration from Serengeti. You can alternatively visit in January and February which is a relatively dryer season though some showers are still possible.
Masai Mara has a great biodiversity of flora and fauna. There are various mammal species which include; Aardvark (a nocturnal with along snout, powerful claws and long mouth and tongue, they feed on insects), Aardwolf( looks like a hyena but small in size, it feeds on birds, insects and lizards), Baboons, Bat eared fox, Black rhino, Bush baby, Caracal, Cheetah, Civet, Crested porcupine, Dik dik, Diker, Dwarf Mangoose, Elephant, Giraffe, Grants gazelle, African hare, Hippo, Impala, Silver black jackal, Leopard, Lion, Mangoose, Oribi, Serval cat, Side stripped jackals, Spotted hyena, Thompson’s gazelle, Topi, Vervet monkey, Wildebeests, Zebra, Bush buck and many more.
The reptiles include; Agama (a small long tailed insect eating lizard which is often colorful), Chameleons, Crocodiles, gecko, Monitor lizard, Terrapin (it’s like a tortoise, it spends its time near or in water, it makes homes near swampy areas) among others.
The area has over 500 bird species some of which include; Secretary bird, Kori bustard, Rufous bellied heron, Sooty chat, Yellow throated sand grouse, Saddle billed stork, Ostrich, Ross’s turaco, Giant kingfisher, silver bird, red throated tit, African wood owl, and many more. The birds, mammals, reptiles all attract lots of tourist to the area.
Besides the above attractions, there are other things in the area that attract tourists like; the culture of the Masai people, the topography and vegetation of the area and the scenery that the flat plains offer.
Game drives are meant to take you close to wildlife rich spots with in the reserve or the conservancy. With this you are able to view animals in their natural habitats and as they go about with their daily life and activities. Game drives can be done during the day and at night, but the night game drives are not commonly advised, because something may happen to you while in the reserve (let’s say a mechanical problem to the vehicle) and it will be so had to help you out very fast.
It is commonly recommended to use a local driver who is familiar with the routes with in the park and knows best spots where you can find animals. This will ensure that you don’t miss out a lot. However, tourists who are familiar with the routes with in the reserve and the rules and regulations of the reserve may choose to take a self-drive.
A game drive is the major activity in the reserve where you will be able to see a lot of wildlife like elephants, cheetahs, lions, elands, gazelles, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, water buck, and hippos in Mara River.
Masai Mara is one of the places in Kenya where you can find various bird species (savannah species). With over 500 bird species, it really qualifies to be called a birding spot, so for birders you are covered while there. Commonly seen birders include; Secretary bird, Kori bustard, Ostrich, Sooty chat. Presently, the area has 57 raptors. Predator kill areas are the best places to see scavenger birds, and you may at least see six vulture species.
Bird watching in Mara can be done all year round but the best time is from November to April when all the migratory birds from Europe and North Africa are round.
A nature walk offers a refreshingly alternative view of the wilderness. A guided nature walk gives gentle exercise and a fascinating insight into the world of African trees, flowers, insects, animals, birds, and reptiles. You will only feel the magnificence of Masai Mara when you tour the area on you two feet. Nature walks are commonly done in the conservancies.
While in Masai Mara, it is better not to miss out including visiting the Masai village in your package. The Masai people have a great culture to learn about, and while there you will get a chance to taste on Masai tea and wear their clothes. They have a unique culture which is interesting to learn about.
This activity starts at dawn and you will be able to view animals from above. The activity offers you an opportunity to have a beautiful view of the parks landscape, and also see the rising sun. The pilot will fly up to tree tops or lower such as you have a clear view of the animals. The flight will take about 1 hour and the experience is that that will remain in your memory forever.
After the flight, you will be offered a bush breakfast and all the participants will receive a balloon certificate. Then through the park you will be driven back to your lodge or hotel.
They are various accommodation facilities around and within Masai Mara game reserve. They range between hotels, lodges, camps and camp sites. Some of the accommodation include; Keekerok Lodge, Mara Sopa Lodge, Mara Chui Camp, Little Governors Camp, Amani Mara Camp
Ngorongoro Conservation Area is located 180km west of Arusha. The area was named after the Ngorongoro crater which is the largest caldera in the whole world. There are attractions a lot of visitors of its animals, birds, shifting sands, craters and people which are interesting to see.
There are a lot of things to see and do while there. They include;
Presently the Maasai people (who are cattle keepers) are the ones living around Ngorongoro. About 200 years ago, the Maasai people colonized the area and chased out the indigenous people of the area. There are over 40000 Maasai people living in Ngorongoro Conservation Area with their cattle and other animals. In the dry season when water and pasture is scarce, they move to the adjacent woodlands and mountain slopes. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area management allowed them to take their cattle to the craters for water during the dry season. Because of their way of life, they are able to live in harmony with the wildlife.
While visiting Ngorongoro conservation area, a tourist can visit the Maasai cultural villages and learn about their culture; food, dress code, lifestyle, dance, marriage among others all of which are so interesting to learn about. You can take photos of the people, the tools they use, their homes and also buy some local products from them.
The Ngorongoro crater is the main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which is the world’s largest inactive, unfilled volcanic caldera. It was formed about 2 to 3 million years ago, when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself forming a 610 meters deep wide depression.
The crater is a great place to see the big five animals and other wildlife in large numbers. You are able to spot some black rhinos, larger tusk elephants, a good number of lions, large herds of wildebeests, buffaloes, zebras, cheetahs, bat eared foxes, and hyenas as well as various bird species.
Ngorongoro is a mixture of watered vegetation and desert plants. The area has semi-arid plants, lowland vegetation, highland forests, and abundant short grass which animals graze on. The crater basin is covered by short grass plains, swamps and patches of acacia woodland. The area has dense evergreen forests i.e. Lerai and Laiyanai forests which are home of various tree species like acacia, yellow fever tree, pillar wood. Besides Lake Eyasi, there’s umbrella acacia, zebrawood and black thorn acacia. All this vegetation harbors large numbers of wild animals.
The large caldera is a home to a lot of animals of which include the ‘big five’. The animals here include; largest tusker elephants, black rhinos, wildebeests, zebras, leopards ,lions, bat eared foxes, plenty of hippos, giant and Thompson’s gazelle, water bucks, bush bucks, warthogs, hartebeests, elands, jackals, serval cats,
The gorge is named after the Maasai world ‘Oldupaai’ which means wild sisal. It is located in the eastern Serengeti plains and it is about 50 km long. It is considered to be where the first man ‘Zinjanthropus’ lived.
Bird watching can be done both in the Ngorongoro crater and the Ngorongoro highlands; the area has over 400 bird species. Birding here can be done throughout the year. Migratory birds can be spotted in the area from November to April. The best time for bird watching in the area is in the dry season that is from June to October. There are also various bird species to be spotted like flamingoes, White Eyed slaty fly catcher, Livingstone Turaco, Kori bustard, Crowned crane, Secretary bird, Black winged lapwing, Black kite, and Ostrich.
The sands are composed of volcanic ash from the nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai volcanic mountain. The shifting sand dune is normally 9 meters tall, 50 meters wide and long. The shifting sands are moved by the strong winds that blow across the Ngorongoro Conservation Area plains. Tourists can climb to the top of the dunes to have a view of the plains or even take photos.
This forest is also with in the Ngorongoro Nonservation Area. It is a tropical forest which is a home to various bird species, animals and tree species. For clients interested in nature walks or birding, lerai forest is the best place to go to when visiting the conservation area.
The conservation area can be accessed either by road or air.
By road; you will have to drive from Arusha through the main roads which are graveled to Lodoare gate which is about 160km
By air; you will have to fly to Kilimanjaro international airport in Moshi. From there you may either take a charter flight or a taxi to Arusha which is around 55km then proceed to Ngorongoro by road.