Kenya’s lush heartland continues to be one of Africa’s most bio-diverse regions, where ancestral ways of life still prevail.
Presiding over an unspoiled 1,510 sq km tract of African savannah, Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve in the Rift Valley Province, is an untamed frontier where the African continent’s majestic ‘Big 5’ game animals (the lion, African elephant, African leopard, rhinoceros, and African buffalo) roam freely and uninhibited. The largest-known habitat of the African lion, the Maasai Mara is also home to a plethora of biodiverse species like the cheetah, hyena, hippo, gazelle, jackal, zebra, warthog, and wildebeest.
Filled with natural charisma, this sprawling grassland follows an unpretentious rule – survival of the fittest. Named for the Maasai tribe who made their ancestral homeland on the savannah, and the Mara River meandering through this plain land, it’s an expanse of breathtaking vistas, while its flora and fauna have made many a celebrated appearance through the lens of wildlife documentarians.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve shares a border with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to form the Serengeti-Mara eco-system. Here, its wildlife demonstrates their restless march which, every year during the ‘Great Migration’ from July to October, is a spectacle to behold.
Far from the madding crowd, in the lap of nature, a sudden cacophony of roars, trumpets, bleats, growls, purrs, laughs, bellows, brays, and grunts play out in a constant bid for dominance.
The gutteral roar of lions and leopards, or the nimble-footed cheetah travelling up to 120 kms in a silent yet deadly chase across the grasslands alerts every living creature that their future existence is anything but certain. Kill or be killed, the dance begins between hunter and prey.
The Maasai Mara’s vast savannah has scattered acacia (umbrella thorn), and kigelia (sausage) trees that merge seamlessly with the horizon, while the bright orange hue of sunrise and sunset ignites a magic fire over all.
The Mara River – the river of life and death – runs its meandering course through the reserve. A migratory route of wildebeests, its banks are a hunting ground for apex predators and a relaxing zone for the hippos-though every vigilant footstep cautions the next.
The awe-inspiring Maasai Mara is nature’s playground, its killing floor, its wonderland that never fails to amaze those fearless enough to venture into it.
LMA’s favourite place- Perched on a hilltop, the Mara Serena Lodge overlooks the savannah and its wandering herds of animals. Inspired by the traditional Maasai ‘manyatta’ house, its design and interiors reflect the essence of the Maasai people. The bush barbecue dinner arranged by the lodge around the campfire is cheered on by fearless Masaai dancers. And it may be be one of the only resorts to offer breakfast by the hippo pool – a secluded spot on the banks of the Mara River where you can take your morning meal against a backdrop of bathing and basking hippopotami (albeit a safe distance away).
A 280-km drive from the capital city of Nairobi, the Mara Serena Lodge in the Maasai Mara National Reserve can be reached by car or aircraft. The six-hour drive from Nairobi will take you along the bumpy and dusty roads of the Great Rift Valley, where you can experience Kenya’s countryside and, as soon as you cross the Reserve’s Oloololo Gate, be ready to encounter wildlife. To minimize the travel time, you can also take a flight from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to the Mara-Serena air-strip that will take you around two hours, with the resort a five-minute drive away once you land.
Highlights- A quintessential Maasai Mara safari is the ultimate opportunity to view the reserve’s wildlife closely in their natural habitat. Be it through 4X4 safari jeeps or in a hot-air balloon flying over the savannah, the grassland looks spotted with cloud shadows and animals, and is dotted with acacia trees and well-built termite mounds. Every resort or safari camp operates guided tours from dawn to dusk. The annual ‘Great Migration’ of 1.5 million wildebeest from July to October is a life-changing experience to see as the great herds cross the Mara River, continuously circling the Serengeti-Mara eco-system for breeding and in search of food. The migration season is when the big cats ‘kill for thrill’ and watching their frantic chase is nail-biting. In their brilliant blue and red attire, known as ‘shuka’, and colourful beaded jewelry, the Maasai people are true warriors, with a skill to survive along with the predators and the prey. Their jumping dance known as the ‘adumu’ is rhythmic and uplifting, while a visit to their mud-thatched villages sheds light on their centuries-old culture and lifestyle.
Lowlights- Carry insect repellents and take malaria precautions. Yellow fever vaccinations are not mandatory, but advisable while travelling to Kenya.
Souvenirs- Shuka or the Maasai robe, colourful beaded jewelry, and carved wooden artifacts.
Getting there- Most airlines offer direct flights to Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Where to stay- Remain connected to nature by opting for an authentic bush camp or luxury lodges within the reserve . Booking.com or tripadvisor.com can provide a detailed list.
Top 5 things to do
- Watch the wildlife on the savannah below from a hot air balloon.
- Go on a safari drive with a highly-trained guide.
- Witness the incomparable beauty of the wildebeest’s ‘Great Migration’.
- Visit the Maasai village and explore its living cultural history.
- Indulge in a sumptuous resort ‘hippo-pool’ breakfast beside the Mara River.