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Located in the far southwest of Kenya in the Great Rift Valley‚ the Masai Mara National Reserve is the East African country’s flagship park: a vast wilderness of abundant big game‚ spectacular landscapes‚ and the scene of one of the planet’s most dramatic wildlife migrations...

The reserve is named after the Maasai people‚ a semi-nomadic tribe of pastoralists who have long inhabited the region and their word to describe this landscape‚ "mara" – which means "spotted" – a reference to the trees and bushes‚ as well as the shadows of passing clouds that dot the plains. The Masai Mara was established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary and today it encompasses an area of more than 370 000 acres with no fences between the park and the neighbouring wilderness of the Serengeti National Park across the border in Tanzania. The national reserve is only a small part of the greater Mara Ecosystem‚ which also includes group ranches‚ community land‚ and private conservancies. The Masai Mara is one of the best places in Africa to see wildlife; the concentrations of game here are astounding. Resident in the reserve are the Big Five (although not many rhinos‚ and they’re hard to spot) as well as huge herds of plains game‚ hippos and crocodiles in the rivers‚ and more than 500 species of birds. The reserve is particularly famous for its big cats—lions‚ leopards‚ and cheetahs—and the nature documentary show BBC’s Big Cat Diary was shot on the reserve’s plains. While the wildlife viewing at almost any time of the year is superb‚ the Masai Mara is best visited during the months of the Great Migration‚ when millions of zebra‚ wildebeest‚ and gazelle make their way north into the park from the Serengeti‚ crossing the Mara River in search of fresh grazing. Watching vast herds of animals on the move‚ as well as the thrilling kills by the big cats that pursue them‚ is one of the most exciting safari experiences you can have‚ and it’s no wonder that the Great Migration is at the top of most safari travellers’ bucket lists. Apart from wildlife‚ the landscapes of the Masai Mara are stunningly beautiful: the classic Out of Africa backdrops of seemingly never-ending savanna studded with photogenic acacia trees. To the west‚ the park is bordered by the Oloololo Escarpment‚ a dramatic plateau‚ while the rest of the park is made up of rolling grasslands‚ acacia woodlands‚ riverine forest‚ and rocky hills. Two major rivers – the Talek and the Mara – cut through the Masai Mara National Reserve‚ splitting it into three sectors: the Sekenani Sector‚ which lies to the east of the Talek River; the Musiara Sector‚ which is sandwiched between the two rivers; and the Mara Triangle‚ which is west of the Mara River. The Musiara and Sekenani Sectors are controlled by the Narok County Council‚ while the more remote Mara Triangle is administered by a non-profit conservancy company‚ the Trans Mara County Council. The Musiara Sector offers great game viewing in the Musiara Marsh as well as some of the most spectacular wildebeest crossings on the Mara River. In the southeast of the park and bordered by the Sand‚ Talek‚ and Mara Rivers‚ the Central Plains make up the largest part of the reserve. The expansive grasslands of the Central Plains attract vast herds of plains animals‚ especially during the Great Migration from August to October‚ while the area is also famed for exciting big cat sightings. Within the Central Plains‚ the savanna of Paradise Plain is prime cheetah territory‚ while Rhino Ridge is for black-backed jackals‚ spotted hyenas‚ and bat-eared foxes. Head to Lookout Hill for incredible panoramas of the Olpunyaia Swamp and sightings of hippo‚ as well as scenes of wildebeest crossing the river during the months of the migration. As the closest area to Nairobi and with a huge number of lodges‚ hotels‚ and camps‚ the Central Plains is the most popular area of the reserve for tourists. The Masai Mara’s rivers are home to hippos and massive Nile crocodiles‚ as well as many species of waterbirds‚ while the Mara River‚ which wends its way through the national reserve‚ plays host to the biggest pods of hippos and also to the perilous crossings of wildebeest during the Great Migration.