Masai Mara, Kenya
The Mara, also known as Maasai Mara and sometimes spelled Masai Mara, is a vast game reserve located in Narok, Kenya. It is adjacent to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Masai Mara is famous for its high concentration of African animals and is big on classic safaris.
The Mara, also known as Maasai Mara and sometimes spelled Masai Mara, is a national game reserve located in Kenya's Narok, adjacent to Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. Named in honor of the Maasai people, who were the area's original inhabitants, this reserve is renowned for its remarkable wildlife conservation and wilderness, particularly for its large populations of cheetah, lion, African bush elephant, and leopard. The area's "spotted" terrain is due to the short, bushy trees that dot the landscape, as described by the Maasai people.
The Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti ecosystem, extending from northern Tanzania to southern Kenya, covering an area of 1,800 square kilometers. This well-watered plain ecosystem supports one of the heaviest densities of diverse animals on earth. There are more than 1 million wildebeests, 250,000 Thomson's gazelles, 250,000 zebras, 70,000 impalas, and 30,000 Grant's gazelles. You can also spot an enormous number of predators, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, jackals, and hyenas, on a Mara game viewing drive.
Apart from the wildlife, the Masai Mara is also home to over 470 bird species, including 57 raptor species. Every January, the wildebeests begin to move around the Serengeti towards the new, fresh grazing in the Maasai Mara, which is part of the Great Migration. This natural wonder has made the Masai Mara one of Africa's Seven Natural Wonders and one of the world's Ten Wonders.
Interestingly, the Maasai native people of the Mara, measure their wealth by the number of livestock they own. The Kenya Wildlife Service has left the reserve in the hands of the local communities, giving the Maasai pastoralists the right to graze their stock on the perimeters of this magnificent reserve. Although they lose some of their stock to wild animals, the Maasai coexist peacefully with the game and rely only on their cattle for sustenance.
Strolling down the Maasai villages on a walking safari in Masai Mara, you'll be amazed at the Maasai's manyattas—beehive huts made of mud and cow dung. You can even spot them at the entrances to the reserve. Mara safari lodges offer visits to traditional Maasai villages and homes. Although inevitably, these visits have become touristy, they're still well worth doing.
The Maasai people are known for their striking appearance, characterized by red robes and braided hair dyed with ochre. When in Kenya, do not miss the chance to witness the Ipid. In this captivating dance, the warriors or morans take turns jumping high into the air. Be ready with your camera; this spectacle will surely leave you in awe.
The reserve is called Mara, a name given by the Maasai people, meaning "spotted." However, it's still unclear whether the term refers to the lush vegetation that dots the landscape or the numerous wildebeest and other game scattered throughout the reserve.
Sitting on Kenya’s southwestern border and sharing habitat with Tanzania’s legendary Serengeti National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve is a model of wilderness safari dreams—a quintessential paradise for the world’s finest wildlife.
The reserve is an oasis of safari game, including the more than two million wildebeest, other angulate, and predators that make up the famous Great Migration.
Book a Masai Mara safari adventure for exceptional big cat sightings (lion, leopard, cheetah) and classic game drives in the Mara Triangle.
Getting to Mara
To get to the Mara, most travelers take a 45-minute bush flight from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to one of the several airstrips serving Masai Mara National Reserve, including Keekorok, Siana, Musiara, Ol Kiombo and Serena airstrip. A bush flight from Nairobi to Mara costs about $185 each way (some lodges include this flight and transfer in their rates).
Alternatively, a local tour operator can arrange a 4×4 car with a driver to transfer you to the Mara, about 270 km (168 miles), for about six hours by road. Masai Mara park fee is $80 per person per 24 hours, which is often included in package tours.
Best time to visit
There’s no absolute best time to visit the Mara; game viewing is good all year round. However, most people consider the July–October dry season the best time for a Masai Mara safari. During this time, you can watch the annual Great Migration, and predators are easy to spot because of the abundant prey. The dry season is also the best time to watch lions, leopards, cheetahs, and huge crocodiles in a wild hunting drama. There’s no guarantee of seeing any epic river crossings, however. Many Kenya safari adventurers avoid the rainy season in April, May, and November because tracks become difficult or inaccessible.
WHERE TO STAY
Price from $725
If you’re among that have watched Out of Africa and began fantasizing about your Africa safari adventure, then you’ll like this totally private, romantic, luxurious camp just below the famous hill from the unforgettable final scene. The camp features excellent service, surprise gifts during your stay, and a good-sized swimming pool. However, you may not find wifi; you’ll be in the wilderness after all.
Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp
Price from $330
One of Kenya’s best-loved safari lodges, the camp offers magical views over the vast Mara plains and the Sabaringo River. It is located in a private concession next to the Masai Mara and lies directly in the path of Africa’s spectacular annual Wildebeest Migration. It has an excellent curio shop and an infinity swimming pool, offers day/night game drives and bush walks along the Mara River.
Cottars 1920s Safari Camp
Price from $963
If you want to turn back the clock and immerse yourself in the kind of vintage luxury safari ambiance pioneered by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Bwana Cottar, Cottars camp should be your choice of where to stay in Masai Mara. You’ll enjoy classic Kenya safari game viewing drives with highly trained guides, and you will seldom see another game vehicle. Minimum, two nights stay.
Price USD 1,250
Tucked within a shady acacia forest on the exclusive Mara Naboisho Conservancy, the luxury tents at this comfortable and contemporary-styled camp have great views across the plains. From the camp’s outdoor viewing deck, guests can watch zebras stroll to the nearby salt lick, see a giraffe strut right past camp, glimpse a mongoose running down the path right in front of you or even spot a cheetah prowling the plains.
Fairmont Mara Safari Club
Price USD 498
Although the Fairmont’s camp area has manicured lawns and flowers, it is surrounded on three sides by the crocodiles and hippo-filled Mara River, so you are always close to the wildlife. Built on an ox-bow of the Mara River, all luxury en-suite tents have their own private game viewing verandas with a view of the hippo-filled river.
Fig Tree Camp
Price USD 580
Fig Tree is a tented budget camp on the banks of the Talek River overlooking the plains on the northeastern boundary of the reserve, which gives it easy access to all the game areas. It has a lovely pool area for those sunny evenings and offers evening entertainment with Maasai dancers and 24-hour complimentary hot drinks in the lobby.
Gamewatchers Adventure Camp
Price USD 1,385
Within the 17,500-acre Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Gamewatchers Ol Kinyei Adventure Camp showcases untouched wilderness without emptying your pockets in the shady refuge of acacia trees. The camp features simple living among open plains, forests, streams, and rivers, which give life to a flourishing ecosystem in the fauna and flora arena that is the Maasai Mara.
Governors’ IL Moran Camp
Price USD 1376
One of the famous Governors’ Camps, Il Moran is where Kenya’s first colonial governors used to twirl their handlebar mustaches and sip their gin and tonics while on safari—as you can imagine, it boasts an exclusive location that’s teeming with game. The beds are very comfortable, there’s a maximum of four guests per game vehicle, the tents are well-spaced along the banks of the Mara River.
Hemingways Ol Seki Mara
Price USD 1,360
This eco-friendly camp in the middle of the exclusive Mara Naboisho Conservancy is named after the Olseki or Sandpaper tree, a Maasai symbol of peace, harmony, and wealth. It’s positioned on an elevated ridge with great views across the plains, and afternoon tea is delivered to your tent. It offers an exclusive game-driving area where you won’t encounter many other vehicles.
Little Governors’ Camp
Price USD 1,176
Getting to this camp is a mini-adventure in itself. The camp sits directly in the wildebeest migration path, 15-minute from the Musiara Airstrip, with tents situated around a busy game waterhole. Transfers are included in the room price.
Masai Mara Sopa Lodge
Price USD 347
On a hillside near the Ololaimutiek Gate, this well-priced family-style lodge (Sopa means welcome in the Maasai language) is one of the most popular in the reserve. It’s very close to the eastern entrance to the Mara, there’s a bushbaby feeding table, and its great pool is ideal for cooling off after a game drive.
Mara Serena Safari Lodge
Price USD 638
Perched high on a hill deep inside the Mara Triangle part of the reserve, attractive domed huts echo the style and shape of the traditional Maasai manyattas. It has incredible views from the bedrooms, and breakfast is served at the hippo pool. It has its own airstrip.
Price USD 684
At this intimate little camp tucked in a riverine forest on a bend on the Talek River, you’ll be able to watch elephants wading, hippos snorting, and all other sorts of game from your outdoor claw-foot bathtub that overlooks the Mara River. The camp is a short drive from the Mara River, where wildebeests make their perilous crossing between July and September. All tents overlook the Talek River, a three-minute drive from the nearest airstrip.
Price USD 1,790
Quite possibly, the best safari vacation camp in all of the Mara Triangle. Naboisho Camp is in the 210-sq-km (82-sq-mile) Mara Naboisho Conservancy, which has exclusive use for only those guests staying at the handful of lodges there. There are no hordes of safari vehicles here. Excellent local guides will guide your adventures, and the conservancy is very exclusive, allowing for uninterrupted game drives. It offers a high level of personalized service.
Price USD 1,740
Rekero is beautifully situated deep within the Masai Mara National Reserve and is tucked away in a grove of trees on a riverbank near the confluence of the Talek and Mara rivers. Each tent is tucked into the bush along the river and offers absolute privacy. IT has an excellent location next to a migration river crossing point and first-class safari adventure guiding.
Price USD 1,750
Named after an honored Maasai chief, this attractive eco-friendly camp in a game-rich country rests just outside the northwestern border of Masai Mara National Reserve, overlooking the Mara River and the Ooloololo Escarpment. The honeymoon tents are gorgeous and have outdoor showers; you can watch hippos in the Mara River from your tent. It has a relaxing spa with a riverside deck.
Price USD 1,560
This exclusive eco-friendly lodge lies just outside the Masai Mara National Reserve, inside the Mara North Conservancy in a remote valley of olive and cedar trees. Specialized guiding, such as bird-watching, is available. Night drives are permitted on Mara North Conservancy, and it has excellent Italian food.
Price from $300
Basecamp Maasai Mara is a basic and comfortable camp, ideal for travelers willing to sacrifice luxury for classic, authentic, nature-washed bush accommodation. Basecamp is an eco-friendly and family camp nestled in a tropical forest along the Talek river, Koiyaki Group Ranch near Mara entrance. All tents are ensuite, offering privacy and outside sitting areas with great views over the Mara plains.
Elewana Sand River Camp
Price from $705
Close to the Tanzania border, Elewana Sanda River Camp places you at the forefront of the Great Migration as it crosses from the Serengeti. With a secluded and picturesque site, the luxury safari camp replicates the heyday of exclusive permanent tented camps of the late 1920s. The interior fixtures and furnishings mirror this period perfectly, reminding all who visit those countless Hollywood movies that have paid homage to a classic era of African adventure.
Serova Mara Game Camp
Price from $305
Ideally located to witness the Great Migration, Sarova Mara Game Camp overlooks the vast Masai Mara plains from its elevated location on a hill. The luxury tented camp features 20 Club Tents, 30 Deluxe Tents, 19 Standard Tents, 3 Family Tents dotted around the grounds, with ensuite amenities and offering comfortable accommodation without spoiling the natural feel of the surrounding wilderness.
Price From $315
Wilderness Camp represents a nostalgic tribute to the safaris of the early explorers and safari pioneers. Free from artificial luxury and modern disturbances providing the perfect escape close to nature with optimal tranquility and stunning sunrise views. The camp has eight tents delicately nestled around the Saddle Valley rim to allow for complete privacy and ultimate views of the Mara savannah plains.
Karen Blixen Camp
Price from $444
The Danish-owned Karen Blixen Camp, set on the east bank of a broad loop of the meandering Mara River, is a perfect getaway for exploring the community-owned Mara North Conservancy. The camp has 22 canvas tents raised from the ground, each with a spacious deck overlooking the river, a large en suite bathroom, and an outdoor shower. When not out, you can sit out and watch the resident hippo pod belching in the water or grazing along the banks, view birds through your binoculars, or watch zebra coming to drink.
Eagle View Camp
Price from $365
Eagle view is located on an escarpment, with sweeping views that overlook the Koiyaki Plains, a natural salt lick, and a watering hole, all providing a common hunting site for predators and unique game viewing perspectives. National Geographic has named Eagle View as one of the top 25 eco-lodges in the world. Each tent offers king-size double or twin beds, a bathroom featuring bio-flush toilets and two showers, one inside and one open-air safari shower, private elevated viewing deck with exceptional views of Naboisho Conservancy.
Leopard Hill Camp
Price From $500
Leopard hill is high-end living and pure nature all at once, located close to a series of waterholes where the wild animals come to drink. In bed, click a button, and the tent ceiling opens. Only a mosquito net is between you and the vast African night sky. While enjoying your morning coffee on the terrace, you can witness as the sun rises over the eastern horizon, sky blazing in magnificent colors, completed by the majestic silhouette of the Double Fig Tree.