The Maasai Mara National Reserve stretches over 1 500 square kilometres of the African Rift Valley, and is the ‘northern extension’ of Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, which runs along its southern end. It was established in 1961 in order to protect its wildlife from hunting. The Greater Mara Ecosystem plays host to one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth, as over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra migrate in a clock-wise fashion around the plains in search of greater pastures. The Mara River runs through the reserve from north to south, its large pods of crocodiles lying in wait at the popular river crossing, whereas on land, the vast migrating herds hold the rapt attention of the many feline predators.
The Maasai Mara is one of Africa’s most iconic reserves, and is made famous by the annual migration of millions of wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra. Luring the predators in its wake, the Maasai Mara holds one of the highest lion densities in the world, and is famous for its large populations of leopard and cheetah. The terrain is primarily open grassland, with clusters of distinctly African acacia trees in the southeast. The Sand, Talek and Mara Rivers are the major rivers draining the reserve. Rainfall in the ecosystem increases significantly along a southeast-northwest gradient.
From December to April, at the end of the short rains, the great herds gather and commence their journey from the Ngorongoro Plains to southern Serengeti in Tanzania (January to March in the southern Serengeti is calving season).
May to June see the restless herds journey north through the central Serengeti and the western corridor. From July to September the herds head further north, towards the dry-season grazing grounds known as the Mara triangle. It is here that the iconic images of the herds crossing the Mara River are taken. With the onset of the short rainy season in October and November, the herds begin their move back to the south in wait of the onset of the next migration cycle.
The Maasai Mara Reserve has more moderate temperatures than most of Kenya. Most rain falls between March and May and during the short rainy season in November and December, when the park becomes difficult to navigate. Between July and October the weather is dry, the vegetation is lush and the daytime temperatures are pleasant, making it the best time to see the park’s wildlife.