The world-renowned Masai Mara National Reserve is a huge expanse of tawny, sunburnt grasslands pocked with acacia trees and river woodlands, and heaving with animals great and small. Impressive at any time of year, it's at its best between July and October when a million migrating wildebeest and tens of thousands of topis, zebras and other animals pour into the reserve from Tanzania in search of fresh grass. It is, arguably, the most spectacular wildlife show on the planet and the one thing that no visitor to Kenya should consider missing.
Reliable rains and plentiful vegetation underpin this extraordinary ecosystem and the millions of herbivores it supports. Wildebeest, zebras, impalas, elands, reedbucks, waterbucks, black rhinos, elephants, Masai giraffes and several species of gazelle all call the Mara home. Predators here include cheetahs, leopards, spotted hyenas, black-backed jackals, bat-eared foxes, caracals and the highest lion density in the world.
Entry tickets and charges
The main reserve is managed by the Narok County Council, and the Mara Triangle (www.maratriangle.org) is managed by the Mara Conservancy. Both charge the same and an admission ticket bought at one is valid at the other. Keep hold of this ticket as you will be asked to present it when travelling between the reserve’s Narok and Transmara sections and on your eventual exit.
Some vehicles seem to get charged KSh1000 at the gates instead of the KSh400 fee for vehicles with less than six seats – be insistent but polite and all will be well.
Why Go The 1510 sq km of open rolling grassland that makes up the Mara offers the quintessential African safari experience, with lion sightings virtually guaranteed.
When to Go The Mara is superb at any time, but is at its best during the annual wildebeest migration between July and October.
Practicalities The Masai Mara’s fame means that it can get very busy (and very pricey) during the annual migration. Bring a windbreaker jacket for early morning wildlife drives and don't forget a good pair of binoculars. Gates are open from 6am to 6.30pm.
Budget Tips It is possible to visit the Masai Mara on a budget. Many of the cheaper places to stay just outside the reserve allow camping and self-catering. To share costs on safaris, join a group safari in Nairobi, scour the noticeboards at Nairobi backpackers or go to www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree in search of travel companions. Be aware that the much-peddled, three-day Nairobi–Mara safaris mean a large proportion of your time will be spent travelling to and from the Mara. It makes sense to add in at least one extra day.