Home to a stunning array and exceptional density of big game, Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve is justifiably one of Africa's most famous parks. The sheer quantity of wildlife on display during each game drive is outstanding. There are very few places on the continent that offer such good big five viewing and the Mara also hosts the Great Migration's immense herds towards the end of the year. Following the great migration from a hot air balloon, is an amazing way to take in the vastness of the Masai Mara's untamed wilderness and the incredible density of the wildlife on the plains.
However, it must be said that the Mara's reputation has a price: this is one of the busiest parks in Africa. Its proximity to Nairobi means it is very easily accessed, and as a result it is full of day-trippers and package tours and large hotels. It is not uncommon to have more than 10 vehicles around a pride of lion...
But like any sought-after tourist destination, you have to look beyond the crowds and see the essence of the park underneath. The Masai Mara is classic Africa; awe-inspiring endless plains, studded with the odd acacia tree, with a fantastic diversity and density of wildlife. This is the landscape that most people bring to mind when they think of Africa. The BBC's famous Big Cat Diary was filmed here, and as such, it has incredible big cats! In addition, between August and the end of October the herds of the Great Migration pass through the area, in one of the world's most spectacular and impressive wildlife events.
The Great Wildebeest Migration
The Great Migration throughout most of the year makes its way around the Serengeti National Park
in Tanzania. Only between the months from July to October are the 2 million wildebeest and zebra herds creeping into Kenya’s Masai Mara. Although you can witness the river crossings on the Kenya side of the border, this is not happening the whole way through this 4 month period.
Some of the wildebeest head to Kenya
for further pastures as an extension of their main Serengeti route, and whilst there are daily crossings over the Mara River in Tanzania (from Kogatende to the Lamai Wedge, back and forth), catching a huge herd crossing the Mara River in Kenya can be more difficult as it is a smaller time frame the big herds are actually mulling around the Masai Mara area! For further explanation of how the herds cross from Kenya to Kenya and from Tanzania to Tanzania see our map here
. This should clear up the common misconception that the Mara River acts as a border between the two countries. For more information about Tanzania and the Great Migration, visit our Tanzania
Masai Mara Safari - Where to stay
The most famous hotels inside the Masai Mara National Reserve are the three Governors properties: Il Moran
, Little Governors
. These have reliably good game viewing and are located close to where the BBC's Big Cat Diary was filmed. We are fans of Governors and Little Governors for the quality of the game viewing and value for money that both offer.
However, for the next step up in luxury (and cost), we prefer Rekero
to Il Moran. Rekero is a no-frills camp, well respected for the quality of its guiding - this is one for the safari purist. Naibor on the other hand is the camp for honeymooners, or those requiring a high level of luxury. Along with Serian and Ngare Serian (both in the Greater Mara
), these two camps are some of the best camps in the entire Mara region.
Masai Mara Activities – Hot-air Balloon safari
The Masai Mara is hugely dense with wildlife. It is a really fun safari park and has some incredible lodges to explore this iconic area of Kenya from. Because the wildlife is so fantastic, the main activity you should be doing here is the classic game drive – this will be more than exciting enough!
If you did want to push the boat out though, there are also hot air balloon safaris in the Masai Mara, which are particularly dramatic when the Great Wildebeest Migration are in the area from July – September (though this is not guaranteed!). The hot air balloon rides begin at dawn, and last around 45 minutes in the air, before coming back down and usually sipping on some morning champagne…. Not bad! But for what is a 45 minute experience, the price per person is pretty costly at around $500 per head. We think sometimes money is better spent elsewhere on more premium accommodation options for an overall better quality safari experience.