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What to do and see in the Masai Mara
What to do and see in the Masai Mara

One of the last true wildernesses on Earth, Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve is a rare gem, offering travellers accustomed to the hustle and bustle of ordinary life a chance to truly immerse themselves in nature. Although the Masai Mara lacks the attractions of a traditional holiday, this is a magical place, one that must be seen first-hand to be believed.

The Wild Masai Mara
The name "Masai Mara" derives from the people that traditionally occupied the area – the Maasai. In the language of this group, the word "mara" means "mottled", and as such refers to the spotted appearance of the area – the characteristic blots of animals and cloud shadows that can be seen against the enormous grassland and brush backdrop which is 1530km² in total.

Masai Mara

It is in this huge natural theatre that the activities of countless species play out. Throughout the year hundreds of thousands of herbivorous animals – from solitary rhinoceroses to groups of wildebeest – make their way across the area, stalked patiently by countless lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas.

This is a land of pace. Set almost directly beneath the equator, the ecosystem is greatly influenced by the seasons, and within a matter of weeks it can turn from a barren and desolate landscape into one that is extraordinarily lush – an amazing sight

If you want to see nature in its most beautiful and natural light, the Masai Mara is the place for you.

The Masai Mara's cuisine
Influenced by a wide variety of world foods, the cuisine served in Kenya is varied. Breakfast foods, such as uji (a thin porridge), are served alongside flatbreads, mahamri (a deep-fried bread) and potatoes – both regular and sweet – prepared with spices traditionally found in Indian cuisine.

The Indian flavours continue throughout the day, as hot cups of chai are served alongside samosas, fresh fruits and a starchy cornmeal paste known as ugali. A true Kenyan staple, ugali is prepared in a variety of ways – fried, rolled into sheets for use as wraps, made into dumplings and eaten as both main course and accompaniment.

Barbequed and roasted meats – known under the catch-all nyama choma – are also available, as well as stews featuring a variety of meats, vegetables and fishes. Wherever you stay in the Masai Mara wilderness, it is likely your hotel, lodge or camp will serve up these Kenyan treats alongside a assortment of international dishes.

The activities available throughout the Masai Mara are very much geared towards the immense variety of wildlife that distinguishes the reserve from other rural areas – each can be booked via your accommodation or tour operator.

Game Drives
Enjoyed by practically every visitor to the Masai Mara, game drives are the traditional means from which you can view the flora and fauna of the region. Undertaken in special four wheel drive vehicles that feature detachable roofs, specially-trained drivers with knowledge of the species of the area provide tours, stopping when they spot the wildlife.

Hot Air Balloon Tours
If seeing the magical landscape from a regular perspective isn't enough for you, there are a number of balloon tour companies that operate throughout the Masai Mara as well. Usually conducted during sunrise or sunset, these flights are a wonderful way to see the savannah wilderness, affording fliers amazing panoramic views – perfect when planned in conjunction with the next sight…

The Great Migration
If you have ever seen a nature documentary that focuses on the Serengeti, it is likely you already know something about the Great Migration – one of nature's most dramatic spectacles. 1.7 million wildebeest, 400,000 Thompson's gazelle, 300,000 zebra and 12,000 eland race across Tanzania and Kenya, following the seasons in search for food.


Dating the migration's movement through the Masai Mara is difficult, however. Each year, it can happen at any point between July and November, depending on the movement of the seasons.

The Big Five
Most visitors staying in the Masai Mara will aim to see the big five game. Comprising the African lion, African elephant, African leopard, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo, these are the largest animals in the ecosystem, although they could easily be supplemented by the equally iconic cheetah, hyena and giraffe.

Visiting the Masai Mara
Given its very remote location, the Masai Mara is only really accessible when travel is booked via a tour operator – either by four wheel drive or plane. These are almost always organised by the particular hotel, lodge or tour provider, so make sure that transfers from Nairobi are provided – this drive will take between five and six hours in the dry season or seven in the rainy season.

If you choose to travel by yourself, there are airstrips located throughout the area – the Keekorok, Musiara, Serena and Siana Springs airstrips. You can access these from Nairobi Wilson, Samburu, Lewa Downs, Nanyuki, Mombasa or Dani airports, but Nairobi is the best option, taking only two hours.

If you choose to organise your own trip, entry to the park is $80 per adult, per night, $45 for those aged three to 18, or free for under threes.

While there are a number of accommodation options within the Masai Mara National Reserve, the Olare Mara Kempinski Masai Mara is the most unbeatable. Located on the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, a conservation area located close to the Masai Mara, the luxuriously tented camp is nestled within the savannah, a place also home to a variety of prides of lion, and a family of leopards. Truly a place where nature and modern comfort meet.

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