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The Complete Luxury Safari Guide: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Here at Penwell, we’ve jeeped through the sprawling plains of Maasai Mara National Reserve more times than we can count on both hands—and we’ve gotta keep those hands on the wheel! There’s so much to see and do in this little slice of Kenya; whenever we’re out in the Mara, we know we’ve got friends to visit in nearby villages, colleagues at camp, and familiar faces to find out in the field. Whether you’re looking to plan a private Maasai Mara safari trip, or just looking to learn more about this lush safari oasis, keep reading to get our take on this exciting African Reserve.

Safari Guides Having Fun with Penwell’s Founder – Kathy Harvey, Penwell Safaris

But we’re not the only ones in on the fun—the Mara is jam-packed with wildlife as well as tourists. Knowing where to go and where to stay is key is to enjoying the best of what the Mara has to offer. Let us show you around one of our very favorite stomping grounds.

Map of Masai Mara National Reserve

Where is the Maasai Mara located?

Situated along the southwest border of Kenya, the Maasai Mara makes up northernmost reaches of the greater Serengeti ecosystem of Tanzania, with which it shares an unfenced boundary. Open borders are a bit of a theme here, as the whole of the area comprises a patchwork of conservancies and game reserves operated by various government, private, and non-profit groups—but when people talk about the Mara, they’re mostly referring to the core of it all: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Threaded by three rivers—the Talek, the Sand, and the eponymous Mara river—Maasai Mara National Reserve is otherwise an open expanse of emerald and ecru grasslands stretching into distant neighboring parks. Smaller, green-fringed streams sneak their way across the fields when seasonal rains water the countryside, and clusters of acacia trees dot the landscape like knotted umbrellas. To the west, the arresting wall of the Siria escarpment rises prominently, and elsewhere a handful of domed hills dot the grasses here and there, offering excellent perches for birding or sundowner spreads.

Striped King Fisher – Kathy Harvey, Penwell Safaris

The Best, Most Notable and Rarest Wildlife in the Maasai Mara National Reserve

Birdwatching’s a hoot here, with dozens of raptors kiting the sky and migratory birds making their way up and down the continent. Well over 400 species can be counted off in the area, from the lilac-breasted roller—Kenya’s brilliant national bird—to our old pal the quirky guineafowl, scrambling and scrabbling around the grasslands in groups.

Weaver Bird – Kathy Harvey, Penwell Safaris

On the ground in the Mara, the whole gang’s here. Lanky Maasai giraffes snip leaves from acacia tops, warthogs rumble and root in the dirt, and zebras stretch in barcodes across golden plains. Herds of other herbivores and small game make their homes here, and predators loom nearby. Lions stalk wildebeest in the open, cheetahs chase down galloping gazelles, and leopards lurk amidst the trees—while in the rivers, hungry crocodiles lie silently still and hippos make a splashy spectacle of themselves.

Guinae Fowl

Rarer finds—like the bat-eared fox, roan antelope, and East African wild dog—are rounded out by the black rhino, which number a few dozen in the reserve. With elephants aplenty and the others in no short supply, this makes the Maasai Mara an almost sure-bet for checking the “big five” off your safari bucket list.

Lioness and her cubs within thicket den – Kathy Harvey, Penwell Safaris

Fun Activities while on Safari in the Maasai Mara

With such plentiful wildlife and relatively gentle terrain, the Maasai Mara safari is a picture-perfect setting for exciting game drives; and, thanks to a climate that isn’t as dramatically drenching during the rainy season as other locales, you can get out there just about any month of the year. For those eager to get off the ground, the Mara shows off splendidly from the air—drift skyward for early-rising adventure in a hot-air balloon, and catch the rising sun rousing the savannah game from their slumber.

There are few better places to meet your local neighbors than the Maasai Mara—in fact, since so many Maasai work as guides within the park, you’ll find it almost impossible not to make some new friends and share a few laughs during your shared time here. Nearby villages graciously welcome visitors, sharing a pastoral way of life that has been carried out in the Mara area for centuries. Herd cattle on the fringes of the reserve, learn how to add life to your dancing leaps, and pick up a little Maa along the way (a hint: you already know some Maa. “Mara” means “spotted”).

Wildebeest crossing – Kathy Harvey, Penwell Safaris

During the latter half of the year, the Maasai Mara’s wildlife count goes off the charts, as it plays temporary host to one of nature’s most phenomenal marvels: the Great Wildebeest Migration. From June to December—and especially so during the middle months—millions of touring wildebeest and an ensemble cast of supporting characters thunder into the park, having just survived the most harrowing portion of their yearly journey at the southern reaches of the Mara river. As this mega-herd spreads throughout the Mara, chances abound to catch more river crossings, snap amazing panoramic wildlife photographs, and forge unforgettable memories out in the veldt. Granted, this swell of animals brings with it a surging wave of tourists, which means we ought to start thinking about where to stay.

Tourism in the Maasai Mara and a Private Camping Experience

Though one of the smaller reserves at only 580 square miles, the Maasai Mara hosts nearly 300,000 tourists every year, and the twenty-odd camps in the park proper fill up quickly.

Naboisho Camp Dining – Naboisho Conservancy Simba, Kenya

At the luxurious Naboisho Camp, Penwell Safari guests can fully settle into the scenery of the Mara while avoiding the fray in the “downtown” reserve. From here, everything—from river crossing excitement to big-five game drives—is right at your doorstep or fully accessible, without the hubbub of the tourist throngs. And with the added seclusion comes other benefits: whereas walking safaris are prohibited in the national reserve, they’re encouraged in the conservancy. Furthermore, nighttime safari drives and immersive fly camping are on offer here, giving you a chance to see the Mara in a way that few others can. And finally, we’re a little closer to the Maasai in Naboisho—and we’ve got some friends we’re eager to introduce you to.

Naboisho is particularly famous for its wide range of game viewing activities, and at the end of your day of African adventure you’ll relish the warm, yet understated hospitality that is the hallmark of the camp: dinners by the fireside, tales traded in a stylish lodge and the exotic sounds of the bush lulling you to sleep.

The real charm of Naboisho comes from its exclusivity. To preserve the conservancy’s mission, only a handful of lodges and camps are allowed to setup in this area, so if you were looking to truly get away from the typical tourist vibe of a traditional luxury Maasai Mara safari experience, look no further!

Ready to plan your Luxury Safari to the Maasai Mara National Reserve?

How can we help you make the most of your time in the Maasai Mara? We can’t wait to get you out in the field with us. Get in touch with our trip planners here at Penwell, and let’s write your safari adventure together! Contact us today to get started.

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