Masai Mara National Reserve Safari Guide
The Masai Mara is one of Africa’s most famous parks. The wildlife viewing is superb throughout the year. The grassy plains and regular rainfall supports a huge population of herbivores, in turn attracting many predators. All three big cats are relatively easy to see. The yearly wildebeest migration coming through the park is one of the world’s most amazing wildlife spectacles.
Pros & Cons
Excellent wildlife viewing throughout the year
Annual wildebeest migration (September and October)
Open savannah makes for easy wildlife spotting
Wide variety of accommodation for different budgets
Hot air balloon safaris
The park gets busy, especially during high season
Access road is bad so a fly-in is recommended
Roads can be in terrible condition, especially after rain
Wildlife & Animals
The Masai Mara is Kenya’s flagship park. Sightings of four of the Big Five are pretty much guaranteed. Black rhino is more elusive, but can sometimes be spotted in the Mara Triangle. The reserve is one of the best for big cats, but sightings of smaller predators like bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal and spotted hyena also tend to be rewarding. Antelope include impala, reedbuck, Thomson's gazelle, eland and topi, while buffalo, elephant and giraffe are relaxed and easily spotted.
The legendary wildebeest migration is one of the world’s most amazing wildlife encounters. Sometime in July and August, millions of animals leave the Serengeti and head into the Masai Mara around September. The crossing of the Mara River along the way is the most spectacular part of the migration. Around October, the migration slowly heads back into the Serengeti again.
It should be noted that, although the pattern is well known, the exact timing of the migration is unpredictable as animals move with the rain looking for greener pastures.
The Masai Mara isn’t one of Kenya’s birding hotspots. However, with more than 500 bird species recorded, this isn’t a bad place to mark off a lot of Kenya’s savannah species from your bird list. The park is particularly rich in raptors with 57 species present. Bateleurs can often be seen soaring above the grassy plains and predator kills are a good place to find up to six species of vultures scavenging. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit The Masai Mara is during the driest months, from late June to October. These are the best months for wildlife viewing because vegetation is thinner and animals gather around rivers and water holes. It does offer good wildlife viewing throughout the year, but the rainy months (March, April, November and December) make some of the roads difficult to navigate. The wildebeest migration and the river crossings in particular are difficult to time, but your best chance to witness this spectacle is in late September and October.
June to October – Dry Season
Although rarely hot, it is sunny and dry
Animals gather around rivers and waterholes, making them easy to spot
September and October are best for seeing wildebeest crossing the Mara River
Most of the park gets very crowded and good sightings tend to attract a lot of vehicles
November to May – Wet Season
The park is less busy which makes wildlife viewing special
The skies are clear of dust, the park is green, and there are lots of flowers
Good time to see newborn animals
Low season rates apply in April and May
There are plenty of resident animals in the Mara, and wildlife viewing is still good
Bird watching is excellent and migratory birds are present
Rain in March, April and November will sometimes interfere with your planned activities, and roads can become tricky
Weather & Climate
Due to the altitude, the climate in the Masai Mara is slightly colder and wetter than might be expected this close to the equator. Daytime is pleasant with temperatures in the mid to upper twenties, while it cools off significantly at night.
Dry Season – June to September
This is an enjoyable time to be in the park with lovely weather. Typically, there are sunny days and it’s rarely very hot. Don’t forget to pack winter clothing for early morning game drives.
June, July & August – It can still rain, but mostly it is sunny and dry. Afternoon temperatures reach an agreeable 25°C/77°F, but the cold can hang around in the evenings and early mornings when temperatures of around 12°C/54°F are common.
September & October – Still a dry time of the year, although rain is possible some days. Temperatures increase slightly in October and hover around 27°C/81°F (and higher), before they decrease with the beginning of the rain. Chilly early mornings persist (around 12°C/54°F).
Wet Season – November to May
There are many overcast, cloudy days. Afternoon showers are the norm. Daytime temperatures don’t vary much. The nippy early mornings have temperatures around 13°C/55°F. Bring warm clothing.
November & December – ‘Short rains’: The rains normally break at some point in November. Average afternoon temperatures are around 27°C/81°F.
January & February – Rainfall eases between the short and long rains, although showers do still occur. The exact timing of this drier period is somewhat challenging to predict.
March, April & May – ‘Long rains’: April is the wettest month. It doesn’t often shower all day, but rainfall is regular. Tracks might become slippery and difficult to navigate. Early mornings are a bit warmer – average temperatures are about 13°C/55°F.
The Masai Mara is located 270km/167mi northwest of Nairobi. The road is notoriously bad and the driving time is about five hours. Most people fly to the park.
It is also possible to drive from Lake Nakuru NP. The distance is about 235km/150mi and the driving time is roughly six hours.
Getting to Nairobi is easy, as the city is a major African transport hub. International arrivals usually land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. From Nairobi it’s easy to catch a domestic flight to Masai Mara.