Masai Mara Travellers Guide - everything you need to know for your self drive adventure
The Masai Mara, or the Mara, as most Kenyans call it, is a beautiful national reserve in Kenya, bordering the Serengeti in Tanzania. For first-timers, it can be difficult to understand how the Mara ''works'' - which entrance gates to use, which roads to avoid, and understanding the fees. Before you travel off to the Mara, make sure you read Roadtrip Kenya’s Travel Guide and visit the Masai Mara well prepared.
Covered in this Masai Mara Visitors guide:
- Park gates and entrance fees
- Can I explore the Mara on a self-drive safari?
- Best time to visit the Masai Mara
- I want to combine the Masai Mara with the Serengeti
- Camping in the Maasai Mara
- Where can I refuel my car in the Masai Mara?
Imagine fields of waving grass in various shades of yellow to green as far as the eye can see, intersected by rivers and other water sources, and prolific wildlife, even off-season. The wildebeest migration which starts every year around June - August is world-famous. It includes the dramatic crossing of the Mara river by millions of migrating wildebeest, zebras and the trail of predators that accompanies them. But even without the migration, you’re sure to spot these impressive animals roaming the plains.
Entrance gates and entrance fees for entering the Maasai Mara
The greater Masai Mara ecosystem is comprised of three large sections and a number of smaller private conservancies:
1. Masai Mara National Reserve - this is under management of Narok County, the gateway town to the Mara Reserve. Its main gate is Sekenani gate in the east. Other gates are Oloolaimutia Gate and Talek Gate (in the east), Musiara Gate (in the North) and Purungat Mara River Gate (in the south).
2. Mara North Conservancy - which borders the northern side of the Mmasiasai Mara National Reserve. The North Conservancy hosts the top tier luxurious camps who offer customised, private safaris for their clients.
3 Mara Triangle - The Triangle is part of the Northern Mara ecosystem and under management of a private conservation trust. The main gate to Mara Triangle is the Oloololo Gate. When you're coming from Nairobi, the Sekenani route is fastest. The road from Narok to Sekenani gate is newly tarmacked and smooth. If you're staying in the Mara Triangle and are driving through Sekenani Gate from the Narok side, do not pay park fees until you enter the Reserve at Purungat Bridge. Also note you have to request a transit permit at the Sekenani gate.
In addition, there are a large number of private conservancies bordering these three main sections, Naboisho being the largest. Visiting these conservancies can't be done on the go and require pre-booking, which your accommodation can assist with. Generally, these private conservancies aren't to accommodating for self-drivers. Most lodges in these private conservancies will prefer clients going out with their lodge vehicles.
For an up-to-date overview of entrance, vehicle and camping fees, check the excellent Mara website here. More information about the different Conservancies can be found on the Mara Conservancy website, here.
Can I explore the Mara on a self-drive roadtrip?
Yes, you certainly can. The Maasai Mara and the Serengeti in Tanzania are probably the most rewarding game parks in the world. Nevertheless, some of the roads leading to this tourism highlight are the worst roads you will experience while driving in Kenya. Also, for a first-timer, it can be quite complicated to understand where to go and where to stay in the Maasai Mara as the tracks are not marked, so you easily get lost
So, while we allow self-drive visits to the Mara, we recommend exploring the Mara with a driver-guide. Most lodges also offer game viewing packages, and some lodges have these game drives included in their room rates. Alternatively, you can pick up a ranger form one of the gates to help you navigate the park better. Note that if you take a local guide or ranger and not a driver from Roadtrip Africa, you are the only person allowed to drive our vehicle.
Driving times and road conditions to the Masai Mara Reserve and Mara Triangle are as follows:
- Nairobi - Narok (gateway town to the Mara Reserve) is approximately 4 hours. It's a smooth tarmac road.
- Narok to Sekenani gate (main gate to Mara Reserve) is 2 hours. This C12 is the recommended route to take and is fully tarmacked. If you want to drive to Maji Moto, then Google Maps leads you to the C11. DON’T take that road. It’s a very rough road, bad for the car, and will take much longer. Follow the C12 to Sekenani gate, and branch left where you see the signpost to Maji Moto Eco Camp. Then it’s a short ride on a rough road.
- The C13 leads to both Oloololo gate of the Mara Triangle and the Musiara and Talek Gates of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The journey takes approximately 7 hours, and the road is in a bad state and should be avoided.
--> Inform Peter, our manager on the ground, if you are planning to visit the Mara Triangle or the Mara North Conservancy on a self-drive safari. At car handover, Peter can give you tips about how to get to your lodge or campsite best, and inform you about the current state of the roads.
Best time to visit the Masai Mara
What is the best time to visit the Masai Mara? Well, depends on what you want: wildebeest migration or wilderness feel. Your preferences will guide you through the seasons:
- Peak season from mid-June - October. When millions of wildebeests are in the Mara, it attracts many tourists as well.
- High season from November - February. Plenty of wildlife and people.
- Shoulder season from March-May. Rainy season, so prepare to get stuck in the mud. However, if you are a bit self-reliant, this is a great season to explore the Mara. Wildlife viewing is still good, and fewer people means you have more to yourself.
The Mara offers superb wildlife viewing year-round. With the best will in the world, you can never be sure of coinciding your few days in the Mara with the crossing and taking this sought-after picture of a crocodile having a frantic wildebeest in its jaws. Expect to pay exorbitant prices for the Mobile Camps that congregate near the river crossing, and to see plenty of other safari vehicles lined up.
The sector receiving the least visitors is the Mara Triangle, especially the western part.
I want to combine the Masai Mara with the Serengeti on my road trip
The Mara is a cross-border ecosystem bordering the Serengeti in Tanzania. Nevertheless, it's not possible to cross the border to the Serengeti via Masai Mara. You have to drive around the parks, using the Namanga or Isabania border. In case you are visiting the Mara coming from Tanzania, it's good to know that foreign-plated cars do not pay a higher car entrance fee. Foreign registered vehicles do pay a surplus of $ 40 / day when entering the Tanzanian parks.
Are you planning to visit the Masaai Mara with a car from our roadtrip branch in Tanzania? Tanzania-plated vehicles can only enter and exit via Oloololo gate. Vehicles cannot cross the Mara River so you are restricted to the Mara Triangle and Mara North Conservancy. This does not need to comprise your safari experience. Game viewing in Mara North and the Triangle is as good, or even better than in the Mara Reserve. The Mara Triangle only accepts Tanzania-plated vehicles when it is self-drive. Entering Mara North Conservancy with a driver-guide is possible.
Camping and affordable places to stay in the Masai Mara
Going on safari in the Mara is a costly affair.The most budget option is to camp at one of the three public campsites inside the Maasai Mara Triangle: Oloololo, Eluai and Iseiya campsite. No prior booking is required for public campsites. You can find more information about camping in the Triangle, here.
The Mara Reserve does not have any public campsites, you would have to find campsites outside the park close to either Sekenani Gate, Talek and Oloololo Gates. Conservancies have private campsites, but they have be booked prior to arrival.
For tips about best places to stay close to the Mara, check out the Roadtrip Kenya accomodation page. Roadtripper Mark Davies went camping in the Mara Triangle: “Camping in Mara Triangle is really great and I would highly recommend starting a self drive in the Mara Triangle, as it is more manageable and simpler to navigate than the main Masai Mara National Reserve. Eluai is great, but there are not facilities. Oloololo has a fenced cooking area and there are showers and toilets. Rangers are incredibly friendly and everyone is willing to pass on game information''.
Where can we buy fuel in the Masai Mara?
What if we run out of fuel on our safari in the Mara? The nearest Total and Shell fuel station is at Narok Town. There are smaller, yet more expensive refuelling stations at Talek and Sekenani gate. Inside the Mara, you can get fuel at Sarova Mara Lodge or Serena Hotel. The Roadtrip Kenya Landcruisers have an action radius of 1100-1300 km, so if you fuel up at Narok town, you can enjoy several days of game driving without having to worry about refuelling. When you fuel up your Hilux at Narok town, you will have enough fuel for 3 -4 days of intensive game driving.