Masai Mara National Reserve

Renowned for its annual wildebeest migration and the dense carnivore populations immortalized in the BBC series Big Cat Diaries, the Masai Mara is one of Africa’s most famous and finest wildlife sanctuaries. It can be recommended to first-time safarigoers as a Big Five destination at any time of year, but activity peaks over August to October, when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra cross into the reserve from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

Discover Masai Mara National Reserve

The Masai Mara hosts incredible densities of carnivores. Most conspicuous are lions, which might be seen several times on any given game drive, often in prides of 20-plus individuals. Most visitors also see cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena, along with smaller carnivores such as bat-eared fox and black-backed jackal.

The reserve is home to all the rest of Big Five. Elephant and buffalo are common, and while the black rhino population plummeted in the late 20th century, sightings are still reasonably likely but far from certain.

Common ungulates include giraffe, plains zebra, hippo, warthog, topi, Coke’s hartebeest, reedbuck, Defassa waterbuck, wildebeest, impala and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle. There are few better places for close-up views of the eland, which is the world’s largest antelope,

The wildebeest migration is usually present in the Masai Mara from August to October, when there’s a good chance of catching one of its thrilling crossings of the Mara or Talek River. In terms of wildlife viewing, this is unquestionably the best time to be here, but it is also when tourist volumes are highest, so there’s something to be said for visiting at another time of year.

With more than 500 bird species recorded, the Masai Mara offers a fine introduction to East Africa’s savanna avifauna. Conspicuous perennial favorites include lilac-breasted roller, superb starling and little bee-eater, and large ground birds such as ostrich, secretary-bird and Kori bustard.

Soaring above the Masai Mara on a dawn balloon safari is not only a sensational feeling, it also offers a fascinating aerial overview of the reserve’s varied ecological mosaic of open grassland, rocky koppies, acacia woodland, swamps, riparian forest and thicketed slopes.

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