Masai Mara National Reserve vs. Masai Mara Conservancies
Masai Mara National Reserve

Differences between Masai Mara Reserve and Masai Mara Conservancies

Visiting Masai Mara is one of the highlights of any safari to Kenya. There is the Masai Mara National Reserve and Masai Mara conservancies. Most people do not know the difference between the two. One of the best places on earth to have an African safari dream come true is in the Masai Mara National Reserve and conservancies. The two never fail to entice and excite.

Masai Mara was established in 1961 and at the time it consisted of only 520 square kilometers including the Mara Triangle. The area was later extended to the east and converted to a Game Reserve. The Masai Mara is known for the highest concentration of wild animals in the world. More than 40% of Africa’s larger mammals can be found here. However, there’s more to the Masai Mara than endless plains. Aside from the main Masai Mara National Reserve, there are a dozen community conservancies, several group ranches and quite a few Maasai villages in the area. These conservancies are privately owned by Maasai families.

The first Mara Conservancy was established in 2005. The number of conservancies currently is 15, covering an area of 347,011 acres. The conservancies are privately managed and as such, have stricter control on visitor numbers creating exclusivity, while retaining the freedom to offer a wider range of guest activities that are not available in the main reserve. The Maasai families that own the conservancies lease their land to safari organizations and lodges for a monthly fee. Safari organizations also pay Maasai landowners a daily fee for each tourist that visits the wildlife conservancies. These fees are in turn invested in the local Maasai community and generally are used for education or other developmental initiatives.Masai Mara National Reserve vs. Masai Mara Conservancies

Staying at the Masai Mara conservancies have some added  benefits such as having an entire range of safari options available to you. Conservancies also offer the excitement of bush walks, lovely bush meals, cultural interaction with the Maasai and exciting night game drives. This is unique to the conservancies and isn’t an option while staying in the actual Masai Mara National Reserve.

Differences between Masai Mara Conservancies and Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara conservancies

  • The conservancies are not crowded. Guest numbers in the conservancies are also strictly limited on a number of acres per guest tent basis.
  • Staying in a conservancy do not limit you to make daily visits to the National Reserve.
  • Conservancies offer a more flexible approach to safari activities where off-road driving, walking safaris, and night drives are all permitted. 
  • The 5 vehicles per wildlife sighting rule is more effective at the conservancies which can make for excellent sightings and less pressure on individual animals.
  • The land is owned by Maasai landowners who lease it to tourist partners.
  • Only those staying in the conservancy can do game drives in the conservancy, those staying outside can not do game drives in the conservancy.
  • The wildebeest migration does not take place in the conservancies

Masai Mara National Reserve

  • The famous migration river crossings happen here
  • Rhinos can only be seen in the reserve, with the Mara Triangle being of particular note for this rare creature.
  • No restrictions on the number of the vehicles allowed at the wildlife sightings
  • Anyone can enter the game reserve by paying the park fees.
  • The land is owned and managed by the county government.
  • The national reserve does not allow activities such as off-road driving, walking safaris, and night drives.

All in all, Masai Mara Conservancies and Masai Mara National Reserve are in essence two sides of the same coin. They have their own advantages, but whichever you choose, you can be certain of the incredible safari experiences in this iconic region of East Africa.