Travel Icons… by the Back Door

Masai Mara National Reserve – Narok County, Kenya

Visitors per year: Around 290,000

The Great Migration of wildebeests and zebras (trailed by their predators) from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara plains is one of nature’s great sights. But the reserve’s large visitor number can make sightings rather crowded.

Front door: The bulk of visitors arrive between July and October for the migration. Entry to the reserve is from US$70 (£49), with accommodation, guides and vehicle hire on top of that. Many stay in the large lodges along the reserve’s eastern edge, making the convoys of sightseers in the morning almost as epic as the migration itself.

Back door: There are an estimated 7,000 rooms within the reserve, with no strict rules regarding the amount of vehicles at a sighting. If you are in with the masses, don’t get hung up on spotting big game – there is plenty of other flora and fauna. But the only way to truly avoid crowds is to book at the conservancies. These are private tracts of land along the northern and eastern boundaries that have been independently rented from the Maasai, including Mara Naboisho, Ol Kinyei, Olare Motorogi and Mara North.

“When it comes to accommodation, don’t touch the big lodges. Stay in one of the conservancies, or at least on the reserve otherwise you’ll be lining up each morning with a pile of minibuses at 6.30am at one of the gates.

“The conservancies are properly controlled, with every local stakeholder benefitting. For me, they are the future of the Mara and I would rather be photographing there than anywhere else in the world. Some also limit one guest per 1.5 sq km, as well as the number of vehicles allowed at a sighting.

The reserve has no such controls, sadly.

“Be prepared to stay out all day and pay for a sole-use vehicle – that way you have a little more control over what you see. The migration draws huge crowds, but I have been to the Masai Mara every month and it never short-changes, so go any time. Plus, it’s so close to the equator that the climate and daylight hours change little throughout the year – it’s actually even a little cooler during our summer.”

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