The Maasai Mara National Reserve (also known as Masai Mara) in Kenya is part of the Serengeti ecosystem, and borders with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It’s the home of the famous Maasai people, and also the Big Five. There is also an impressive annual migration of the blue wildebeest, plains zebra and Thomson’s gazelle. These animals migrate freely between the two nature reserves.
In Maasai Mara you can meet the Maasai people and most of the famous African safari animals, including the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. But in this national park some animals are in the spotlight that don’t get the same attention elsewhere: the blue wildebeest, plains zebra and Thomson’s gazelle, which migrate annually.
The Serengeti as a geographical region is one of the oldest safari areas in Africa. The name is somewhat confusing, considering that the Serengeti National Park is in Tanazania, and the part that’s in Kenya includes the national reserve called Maasai Mara. It’s named after the Maasai people and mara means ‘spotted’, which refers to the isolated spots of bushes and shrubs in the landscape. The word serengeti is also derived from the Maasai language, and it means ‘endless plains’.
The whole Serengeti region includes several national parks and reserves. The Maasai Mara is classified as a reserve, also because it’s home to the Maasai people, and the Serengeti is a national park, which has the highest form of a protected area to preserve the natural landscape and its fauna. Tanzania also has ‘controlled areas’, where humans are allowed to grow crops and keep some cattle, but this is limited and must have minimum impact on nature.
As far as the eye can see there are savannahs, large grassy plains with a tree here and there. There is remarkably little water in the area, except in the wet season. But there are also forests, rivers and rocky hills in the region. Most tourists come here to meet the Maasai people, as many travellers want to learn about the local culture as well as see the beauty of the landscape and animals.
Best time to go to Masai Mara:
If you’d like to witness the migration, there are two options:
- June to late September in Kenya
- February to late June in Tanzania
Of course, you can visit the region at other times during the year, though it can be challenging in the wet season, which lasts from March to late May. The roads may be in poor condition, or closed entirely.
Along the main routes to the Maasai Mara there will be many offers to experience ‘traditional’ experiences with the Maasai people. These are generally very busy, touristy and not very authentic, yet can cost quite some money. You’re also likely to be sold overpriced souvenirs. If you’d like an authentic experience with the Maasai people, you have to leave the main road.
Pros and cons of Maasai Mara, Kenya:
- Chance to learn about the Maasai people
- Night safaris and walking safaris are prohibited here
Pros and cons of Serengeti, Tanzania:
- The area is much larger
- More rivers to see animals crossing those during migration
- Night safaris and walking safaris are permitted here