There’s a reason why Disney chose the East African country of Kenya as the setting for The Lion King: Masai Mara. This vast reserve, which boarders Tanzania’s great Serengeti, is home to more than 1,500 square kilometers of continuous and untouched land. Its high concentration of wildlife, scenic mountain passes and arid plains, attract travelers and conservationist from across the globe—particularly during the Great Migration, when the tens of thousands of wildebeests and zebra migrate from the south in search of food and water.
Masai Villages line the roadways of Narok County, where the Masai Mara reserve is located. Their traditional homes, called Inkajijik, are built using acacia branches, mud and cow dung. The Masai tribe, one of the oldest nomadic people on the continent, is the only population allowed to wander through Masai Mara on foot.
The Masai Mara’s name comes from a word in the Maa language meaning “spotted.” It was how the tribe described seeing its vast plains from afar, dotted with shrubs, trees, shadows and clouds.
It’s also how we described the landscape on our visit to the Mara during the Great Migration—only this time, the hills were dotted with thousands of wildebeest and zebra, instead of just bushes and trees.
There were moments when it became nearly impossible for our vehicle to move forward due to the sheer number of animals in our path.
One of the most coveted experiences of a Masai Mara safari is witnessing the river crossing of thousands of wildebeest from the Serengeti to the Mara during the Great Migration from July through October. Witnessing this moment requires not only a skilled guide, but a lot of luck. On our visit, many of the animals had already entered the reserve, so all we saw crossing the river were these lazy hippos.
Although wildebeests make up the majority of wildlife migrating from Serengeti, the number of zebra dotting the landscape of Mara increases between July and October as well. Our guide confirmed these are actually black animals with white stripes—not the other way around.
The Great Migration is billed as one of Africa’s most incredible wonders, so between July and October this vast reserve can get a little crowded.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with almost all of Africa’s “Big Five.” We were lucky enough to spot mother and son cheetahs getting ready for a hunt. They even climbed atop this safari car to get a better view of the plains.
And we came across a lion pride just after a kill, sitting in the cool shade of the African bush.
Because the migration takes place just after most animals give birth in the spring, July and August are perfect times for spotting some of the newest members of the animal kingdom—like this baby lion.
And this baby elephant nursing from its mother.
The high concentration of animals in Masai Mara makes spotting the Big Five nearly a guarantee. But while we saw plenty of lions, buffalo, elephants, and even a rhinoceros, the leopard remained a mystery. Our driver took us deep into the bush and even off the trails in an attempt to check this wild cat off our list, but the closest we got to seeing this great hunter was remnants of a kill lodged in the highest branches of a tree.