Your practical guide to self drive exploring the Maasai Mara
The Maasai Mara, or the Mara, as the locals call it, is a beautiful national reserve bordering the Serengeti in Tanzania. The Maasai Mara's wildlife is prolific and it has excellent opportunities for game viewing. The wildebeest migration which takes place every year 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. During your sefl drive safari, this is easily a highlight.
Covered in this section:
- The Beauty of the Maasai Mara
- Best time to visit the Maasai Mara
- How to drive to the Mara
- Bush camping in the Mara
- Practical travel tips & tricks
The beauty of the Maasai Mara
Think of Africa, and landscapes like the Maasai Mara are the first thing that come to mind. The Maasai Mara National Reserve will definitely be in your Top 3 as a highlight of your trip. Its landscape has a beauty that is unmatched: fields and fields of waving grass turning from yellow to green depending on the season. Full of rivers and other water sources, the wildlife is prolific, even off-season. The season starts with the start of the great migration, when millions of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles cross the border from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara in search of fresh water, usually around June/July/August. The hooved crowd is followed by predators, such as lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas. But, even without the migration, these impressive animals are roaming the plains.
Best time to visit the Maasai Mara
What is the best time to visit the Maasai Mara? Well, depends what you want: Wildebeest migration or Wilderness feel. Your preferences will guide you through the season:
- 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 less people means you have more to yourself.
In particular, the wildebeests crossing of the Mara river is something that many tourists are seeking to experience. You should keep in mind that this event is attended by many, many tourists every year. Unfortunately, this often leads to a bit of a traffic-jammy experience.
The sector with the least tourist is the Mara Triangle, especially the western part of it.
Drive to the Maasai Mara
Entering the Maasai Mara is allowed for people hiring a Toyota Landcruiser, but not for the Toyota RAV4. We strongly recommend hiring a driver for exploring the Maasai Mara.
For some reason beyond our understanding, the roads leading to this tourism highlight are the worst roads you will experience while driving in Kenya.
These road are notorious among all tour guides in Kenya. Especially between Narok and Sekenani and Talek, the roads are very challenging due to the rocky surfaces with ribbons, which requires you to speed to absorb the bumps. But this also means that in case something unexpected happens, like the crossing of an animal or an approaching vehicle after a blind corner, you need to react confidently and instantly.
Moreover, there are more arguments in favour of going with an experienced driver & guide that knows the park and understands the seasonal patterns of the animals. For a first-timer, it can be quite complicated to understand where to go and where to stay in the Maasai Mara.
Go bush camping in the Maasai Mara Triangle
There are three public campsites in the Mara triangle: Oloololo, Eluai and Iseiya campsite. They operate on a first come, first served basis. Most of the time they are completely deserted and you have it all to yourself. You have to be completely self-sufficient though, as there are no facilities. You should also bring firewood, because you are not allowed to gather it there and then. The sight of the Mara plains from your rooftop tent when you wake up in the morning is magical. Great value for money!
Roadtripper Mark Davies went camping in the Mara triangle recently (October 2018):
"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 Park. We camped in the public campsites and, although Eluai felt a litte exposed and we were on our own, it was great. Oloololo gives a bit more comfort and has facilities. Rangers incredibly friendly in the triangle and everyone willing to pass on game information, etc.'