Kenya straddles the equator and covers an area of 582,646 sq kilometres, which includes around 13,600 sq kilometres of inland lakes. It is one of Africa’s most diverse communities, having been a major migratory pathway for millennia. More than 70 tribal groups occupy the land and whilst distinctions between them have become blurred and western cultural values have been adopted, the individual cultures and traditions can still be detected, especially in rural areas. Most of the African population is Christian whereas the Asian population is a mix of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. English and Swahili are the official languages of Kenya, however many other major tribal languages are spoken in the area.
Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara National Reserve (sometimes abbreviated to ‘the Mara’ meaning ‘mottled’ – due to its patchy landscape) is Kenya’s best known game reserve. It is coined by gently rolling hills, woodland and acacia trees and watered by two rivers, the Mara and Talek. There are no fences between the Masai Mara and the bordering Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, allowing large numbers of animals roam freely between the two parks.
The most dramatic spectacle of the area is the migration of zebra and wildebeest. In May every year, they leave the dry south in herds of thousands and head west and then north to the greener grasses. Lion, cheetah, hyena and wild dog follow the wildebeest and zebra, making sure that only the fittest survive. In November, when the grazing is finished in the north, this army of animals surges back to the now green pastures of the south where they calve and mate before starting the entire cycle again.
You will also be likely to spot the ‘Big 5’ here - buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion and leopard. It’s little known but the term originally referred to the 5 large animals that proved the most challenging to early colonial hunters – and therefore became a much sort after prize. Nowadays visitors prefer to ‘shoot’ the animals with cameras rather than guns. The park also has very healthy populations of cheetah, zebra, giraffe, hippo, hyena, jackal, eland, crocodile and a wide variety of birds.
Several sub-tribes of the Masai people live within the Mara area. These are a proud semi-nomadic, non-hunting people who live and raise their cattle in harmony with the surrounding wildlife. Despite the growth of modern civilization, the Masai have largely managed to maintain their traditional ways.
When to travel
The dry seasons in Kenya are January and February and then July to October. This is regarded as the best time to travel and is the main tourist season as the weather is so favourable. If you are coming for migration, August to October is an ideal time to travel to Kenya.
If you are not opposed to the rain, travelling between March and June, and October to December is ideal to avoid the crowds.
The best time for viewing bird life is from January to March.
Getting there and away
Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city is the main gateway for the region and is served by a number of airlines with direct connections to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Kenya’s National Carrier, Kenya Airways, operate to a wide range of destinations. Emirates have two flights daily from their Dubai hub with excellent global connections.