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Maasai Mara National Reserve
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrLocated in Kenya's southwest and spanning 583 square miles (583 square miles), Maasai Mara National Reserve has become one of Africa's most famous wildlife parks. It was established in 1961 to protect a number of species from poachers and now boasts not only abundant wildlife, but also stunning savanna landscapes to explore. It is situated along the Rift Valley and flanked by the Siri escarpment in the west, the Serengeti Plains in the north, and Maasai pastoral ranches.
The reserve is named for the Maasai people who are the area's traditional inhabitants, as well as the Mara River which traverses the reserve from north to south. In Maasai, ‘Mara’ means ‘spotted’ and refers to the savanna and scrub which dot the landscape, together with cloud shadows.
GeographyThe reserve is mostly hilly grassland, cut by both permanent and seasonal rivers which provide a vital water source for the reserve's wildlife. Most vegetation is concentrated around these water courses, particularly the iconic acacia tree and small shrubs. Of these rivers, the Sand, Talek and Mara River are the largest and drain the wet season's rains. The eastern part of the park is the most accessible and visited area due to its proximity to Nairobi, but it is the western region that has the most abundant wildlife with swamp areas providing reliable water. The wet season runs from November to June, turning the landscape a rich green and filling watering holes.
WildlifeMaasai Mara is renowned for its abundant wildlife and ‘Big 5’ sightings (Lion, Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard) are common. In addition, cheetah, topi, zebra, Thompson's gazelle, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, and hyena are also found within the reserve. The bird life is also quite breathtaking with more than 450 species identified, including large ostriches, vultures and long-crested eagles, as well as African pygmy-falcons and Kenya's national bird, the Lilac-breasted roller.
Wildlife is at its most vibrant and active during the annual wildebeest migration which sees millions of wildebeest and zebras traverse the park, and predators, such as lions, cheetahs and leopards take advantage of this abundance in food. The ‘Great Migration’ stretches from around July to October and draws thousands of tourists to experience the thrill of a lion kill and watch the wildebeest and zebra cross the precarious Mara River in what is considered one of the world's most exciting wildlife spectacles.
Visiting the ReserveDaily game drives are the favored way to spot wildlife and explore the reserve, and these can be organized from most resorts and neighboring towns. The best time to head out is during the early hours of the day or late afternoon when the wildlife is at its most active, and game drives include a guide who is highly experienced in both spotting wildlife from a distance and knowing their favored hide-out spots. It is possible to rent a vehicle or self-drive your own, but hiring a guide is highly advisable to assist you in case you encounter a dangerous wildlife situation. The reserve imposes strict regulations on tourist numbers and vehicles within the park to create ease of viewing and a sustainable impact on the wildlife which resides there.
It is also possible to do walking safaris within Maasai Mara National Reserve and along its outer boundaries. Local Maasai guides will safely escort you through the landscape, pointing out wildlife and offering some up-close encounters, as well as sharing in Maasai culture. For twitchers, this is a highly recommended way to spot bird-life, without the roar of a safari jeep engine.
If exploring Maasai Mara from the ground is not enough, then take to the air in a hot air balloon for a sunrise flight across this magnificent landscape. From a low elevation you can easily spot wildlife on the move below, as well as getting a sense of the scale of the reserve. Flights normally last around an hour and include an indulgent champagne breakfast on arrival.
Cultural Experiences Within the ReserveAs one of the world's most iconic tribal groups, the Maasai Mara attracts tourists not only for its wildlife encounters but also for its cultural immersion opportunities. A Maasai cultural tour showcases the rich ancestral traditions of the community and an insight into the lifestyle of its people in the 21st century. You will be invited to explore the huts and communal areas of the village, as well as participate in traditional song and dance, all accompanied by a guide who will explain and translate the customs of the Maasai. While these tours offer some financial support to the Maasai, purchasing local handicrafts and jewelry direct from the people further assists them in schooling opportunities, obtaining health care, and purchasing staple goods.
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Author: wilhelminamurray. Last updated: Jun 17, 2015