Expert Reviews – Masai Mara NR

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Cheap, cheerful and ideal for first-timers
Overall rating

Plenty of travel writers and tour operators can be a bit snobby about the Masai Mara. It’s East Africa’s most popular and best-known park, with easy access from Nairobi and a plethora of cheap accommodation options. All this combines to make it sometimes seem as though the tourists here outnumber the animals. But I confess to a soft spot for the Mara – it was the first game park I ever visited, and I still remember the thrill of seeing my first lioness, spreadeagled royally in the middle of the road with a queue of safari vehicles lined up waiting for her to move on.

The Mara’s game is, quite naturally, highly habituated to humans, which means it’s not unusual to see a hyena kill or something similarly thrilling before you’ve been there too long. If you’re short on funds you can find a group tour to the Mara out of Nairobi for a bargain price, and although the red-robed Masai tribespeople have almost become a cliché among images of East Africa, their culture is still fascinating and their ethnic group a force to be reckoned with in Kenyan politics. A visit to the Mara is especially worthwhile in July and August, when those well-travelled wildebeest and zebra and their attendant predators migrate up from the Serengeti and fill the plains to bursting.

Safari on speed
Overall rating

Kenya’s most famous and most-visited reserve was my first taste of African safari some years ago and in terms of game it was a great introduction. I saw the entire Big 5 on our first game drive and after a few days we’d seen so many lions I was beginning to get complacent. I wasn’t fortunate enough to see the Great Migration crossing the Mara River, but there were vast herds of wildebeest all over the place, hence, of course, the presence of so many big cats.

The open plains certainly lend to the ease of game viewing, whilst the acacias and koppies complete the archetypal image of safari, but less alluring are the crowds. I got increasingly frustrated by the swift descent of countless vehicles on any good sighting, all jostling and competing for the best spot.

Nevertheless, Masai Mara remains a great destination for safari virgins and those on a stricter budget. There are plenty of cheap and good camps as well as some of the more luxury offerings.

Kenya’s recent terrorism problems have hit its tourism sector hard, so I would wager that the crowds in Masai Mara aren’t what they once were. This region of Kenya remains safe by most accounts, so there might be no better time to visit.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star 7
  • 3 star 2
  • 2 star 0
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