Masai Mara National reserve is located in the southern part of Kenya. It is the most popular park in country and a premier park in Africa. Masai Mara National Reserve covers an area of about 1510 sq. kilometers. Three rivers run through the reserve namely Mara river, Sand river and Talek river. Masai Mara National Reserve combined with another area called the Mara triangle and several Masai Conservancies, including Koiyaki, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Mara North, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien, Naboisho and Kimintet form the Greater Mara ecosystem.
Masai Mara is made of open savannah grassland dotted with acacia trees. The rains are biannual, with two rainy seasons. Long rains which last approximately six to eight weeks in April and May and the ‘short rains’ in November and December which last approximately four weeks. Nowhere in Africa is wildlife more abundant like in the Masai Mara National Reserve. It is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing wildlife in their natural environment. There are over 95 species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles and more than 400 birds species recorded on the reserve. The reserve is famous for the annual wildebeest migration that occurs annually where more than two million animals arrive in Masai Mara from Serengeti in July and go back in October. All members of the big five are found in the reserve.
Masai Mara reserve is expansive with accommodation facilities dotted around it. Some facilities are found inside the park. Due to its size, it has six gates connected to popular routes that lead into the park. Your entrance into the park will be determined by the gate nearest to your lodge. The gates can also determine which area of Masai Mara you are going to tour.
MASAI MARA GATES
1. Sekenani gate
This is the main gate to Masai mara reserve and the major tarmac road from Narok town leads directly to the gate. It is the most used and preferred entrance into the park. Its location is on the outskirts of Sekenani center on the eastern part of Masai mara national reserve. The gate gate is centrally placed and people who are supposed to use other gates prefer to use it as they head to their hotels because of the condition of the road. All sorts of game life are found here i.e. elephants, topi, elands, burchel zebras and on lucky days you can spot the black rhino which has a territory within the gate. The highlight of this gate is the group of five cheetah brothers who will occasionally want to check you out and give you the Mara welcome. Some of the hotels found around this area include Sarova Mara game camp, Sekenani camp, AA lodged among others.
2. Talek gate
It is located on the on north western end of the Masai Mara and closer to the Talek river. The river is a natural border for the Masai Mara reserve. Talek, a small center with shops and prominent solar installations on the roofs is nearby. The road to the gate is rough road. The area offers perfect game viewing and it can be considered self contained because someone can be satisfied with a lot of wildlife without moving to other regions. The famous cheetahs known as five brothers are found in this area. Cheetahs characteristically hunt small prey but this brothers have developed a unique skill of hunting together enabling them to bring down a big prey like a wildebeest. Talek river is abundant with water residents; hippos and crocodiles and the area is also home to the Kananga Pride who rule this part of the jungle. Domicile also to leopards who spend most of their times on the fig trees along the river banks. A large herds of cape buffaloes are found here and thousands of Thompson gazelles because of the short grass making it a safe zone for the deer family. Some of the notable lodges found around this area include Fig tree, Basecamp and Mara leisure camp among others.
The gate is located on the eastern part of Masai Mara near Oloolaimutia center. The road to the gate is a rough which sometimes is a challenge during the rainy season. The region is also good with wildlife viewing and a lot of wild life can be sported which include, giraffes, buffaloes, elephants, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests, coke hartebeests, topi antelopes, elands, dik-diks and other herbivorous; of course, no shortage of predators as well, such as lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and others; occasionally wild dogs are also spotted. Some of the wildebeest that do not take part in the annual migration can be seen in this area. Notable lodges here include Masai mara sopa lodge, Olmoran camp and many others.
4. Oloololo gate
The location of the gate is in the north eastern part of Masai Mara national reserve which can be considered an outpost. The rough road to the gate branches from the Mulot highway and is about 1ooKM long providing a thrill drive. People coming from Tanzania or western part of Kenya mostly use the gate to get into Masai mara. The region is raised providing exemplary vistas of the savannah below. The gate provides easy access to Mara river and towering Oloololo escarpments and is closer to a tributary to the river. This is among the main routes for the great migration from Serengeti through the mara triangle which is famous for black rhino. Providing utmost certainty of an encounter of the survival dance during the migration period between the prey and predators. Some of the iconic lodges in Mara are found around this area.
5. Musiara gate
It is a rarely used gate a long distance from the tarmac. The gate is located at the North eastern end of the park and and the nearest gate to it is Oloololo gate. It is adjacent to the Mara river and is the best gate to use when viewing wildebeest migration and other wildlife found around the river. It is also close to Musiara airstrip, one of the airstrip used by tourist visiting Masai mara. Home to the famous “BBC documented pride” known as the marsh pride and herds of elephants which enjoy swimming and feeding around the marshy areas. Not forgetting the gate was home to scar faced Lion, and the famous kabosho the leopard who roamed the area.
6. Sand river gate
This is a hardly used gate located on the southern part of the Masai Mara National reserve and on the border with Tanzania. It is close to the sand river which is a tributary of the Mara river. Sand river is also crossed by the wildebeest during migration providing a great spectacle.
Being the main migration corridor there are varieties of predators such as lions, cheetahs, hyenas and leopards among them the famous “split nose” leopards’ which are shy animals and prefer the gate because of lesser human interactions. The rare spotted cat family like the Serval cats and Caracals are found here.
Masai mara national reserve is the main wildlife sanctuary and there are also wildlife conservancies adjacent to it. The conservancies are private land owned by masai families but have been leased out and vacated so that they are now occupied by wildlife. The Masai Mara national reserve is not fenced and wildlife can overlap into the surrounding regions. Initially there was peaceful coexistence of wildlife and the masais, but as the tribe has started embracing modern ways including land owner ship where some parts are fenced interfering with wildlife routes, the conservancies serve a very important purpose. The masai families who lease their land to form the conservancies earn income from monthly fees paid to them.
The conservancies have abundant wildlife with some accommodation facilities found within them. They are operated in the same way as the main reserve with entrance fees and rangers patrolling them. While the main reserve doesn’t allow walking safari or night game drives, it is possible to have this kind of safaris in the conservancies. Some of the conservancies limit the type and the number of vehicles which can be allowed into the area hence providing a less crowded game viewing experience.
The conservancies are:
Mara North Conservancy
The size of the conservancy is about 61000 acres and it is found north western side of the Masai mara national reserve. The conservancy has a lot of wildlife. Less talked about phenomenon is the local migration of resident wildebeest which usually migrate from Loita hills and come to the Mara north conservancy area. Morning and afternoon game drives are enjoyable. Night game drives are also allowed in Mara North. Walking safaris with armed rangers is also available. Other activities allowed include bush breakfasts, lunches or dinners which can be arranged in selected areas through the various member camps. Camps found in Mara North conservancy are; Alex Walker’s Serian, Elephant Pepper Camp, Karen Blixen Camp, Kicheche Mara Camp, Mara Bush Houses Asilia Africa, Mara Plains Camp, Neptune Mara, Offbeat Mara Camp, Richard’s River Camp, Royal Mara and Saruni Mara Lodge.
2. Naboisho conservancy
Naboisho conservancy has a size of about 50,000 acres of land which is dedicated to conservation. It is on the Southwest border of the Masai mara game reserve. Naboisho conservancies also limits the number of accommodation facilities which can be built on it and the number of vehicles allowed in making it a low density area in terms of tourism. This enhances the safari experience as there are fewer vehicles crowding around wildlife. There is a lot of wildlife in the conservancy and it boosts of being one of the few places in Africa with the highest density of lions per sq. km. Apart from morning and afternoon game drives, night game drives are also allowed in Naboisho conservancies. Walking safaris with masai morans is also available. Other activities allowed include bush breakfasts, lunches or dinners which can be arranged in selected areas through the various member camps. Accommodation facilities found in the conservancy are Asilia Naboisho camp, Asilia encounter Mara camp, eagle view camp, Kecheche valley camp, Leopard hill, Ole seki Hemingways, porini camp and wilderness camp.
3. Ol Kinyei conservancy
Its size is about 18700 acres for wildlife conservation. The conservancy is popular for its breathtaking scenery and an atmosphere of privacy as no vehicles are allowed into the reserve. It also has only two accommodation facilities which are Porini mara camp and Porini cheetah camp. Each accommodating a maximum of twelve guests each. Wildlife viewing is conducted in the neighboring Naboisho conservancy.
4. Olare Motorogi Conservancy
The conservancy size is about 35000 acres of of rolling grassland, hills, escarpment and the Motorogi plains. It has a lot of wildlife with a high concentration of big cats and over 300 bird species. It is also a good area for professional photographers. In the conservancy, it is said that conservancy starts at the door step. Like the other conservancies, only a limited number of vehicles are allowed. Activities allowed include walking safaris and bush breakfasts, lunches or dinners which can be arranged in selected areas through the various member camps. Accommodation facilities found in the conservancy are Porini Lion Camp, Kicheche Bush Camp, Mara Plains Camp, Olare Mara Kempinski and Mahali Mzuri.
LODGES INSIDE OR OUTSIDE THE MASAI MARA RESERVE
Majority of the lodges are located outside Masai mara national reserve and a few are located inside. The lodges located inside the reserve tend to be a bit expensive. The belief is that the lodges inside the park would provide a thrill since they are surrounded by wildlife. Masai Mara national reserve is not fenced and it is common for wildlife territories to overlap onto surrounding regions and villages outside the park. The areas around the park is bushy and it is even hard to know when one is inside the park or outside. You are most likely to encounter wildlife around your lodge whether you are staying inside the park or outside. Some lodges inside the park have the advantage of being close to the Mara river and it is possible to witness river crossing during the great wildebeest migration from the comfort of the lodge.
CHOOSING BETWEEN A 4X4 LANDCRUISER AND A SAFARI VAN
The ideal safari vehicle is a 4×4 safari land cruiser. This vehicle is a four wheel drive and has a higher ground clearance. The features allow it to tackle the African bush with ease. It also has an advantage when it rains as it can handle the muddy terrain. It costs a bit higher hence some tourists would opt for a safari van. Safari van has a low ground clearance and can pose challenges with some of the off road terrain. In dry season the safari van can perform almost at par with the land cruiser. Some of the safari vans have 4 wheel option which can become handy in the rainy season. Your budget will help determine which vehicle to use.
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