SAFARI IN KENYA | Masai Mara National Reserve vs Mara Conservancy?

SAFARI IN KENYA | Masai Mara National Reserve vs Mara Conservancy?

A question we get asked quite often: “What is the difference between a safari experience in the Masai Mara National Reserve and the Mara Conservancies, and which option is best for me?”  Today, we give you the ins and outs so you are able to make an informative decision that suits your preference, when booking your safari.

We all know that going on safari in the Mara is one of the highlights of Kenya. A classic safari experience with wide open spaces filled with savanna plains, lake lands and acacia forests, and of course, home to Africa’s Big 5. 

The Masai Mara is Kenya’s flagship safari destination, which forms part of one the largest natural ecosystems in East Africa, extending over the Kenyan border into the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Therefore, the Mara is home to an abundance of wildlife, ensuring each safari is mesmerizing.  

The Masai Mara National Reserve was created in 1961 and from the beginning became a firm safari favourite. The combination of the thundering annual visit of the Great Migration with exhilarating river crossings and the year-long presence of the Big 5 is a safari enthusiasts dream.  But due to its popularity, the day visitor numbers rose steadily over the years, which created an opportunity for the surrounding areas to develop a more protected, sustainable and a balanced vision for 21st century tourism. 

The first Mara Conservancy was established in 2005 and now is a collection of 15 separate private conservancies that surround the Reserve. This land is owned by the local Maasai, who lease concessions to tourism partners which, empowers the local community with consistent income while conserving the land and wildlife.

The conservancies are privately managed and have stricter control on day visitor numbers creating exclusivity, while retaining the freedom to offer a wider range of guest activities that are not available in the main reserve. 

Below in the table, we highlight the main differences between the two areas ensuring the area you choose dovetails perfectly with your requirements.  

Masai Mara National Reserve Mara Conservancies 
1,510km² / 583mi² / 373,129 acres 

1,450km² / 560mi² / 358,303 acres 

The land is county government owned and managed. 

The land is owned by over 14,500 Maasai landowners, who lease it to 39 tourism partners and is independently managed. 

Park fees are paid. 

Concession fees are paid and generates income to support over 100,000 people within the conservancies. 

The best place for river crossings – Mara and Talek Rivers. 

Migration viewing is likely, but not possible to see river crossings from inside the conservancies. 

Incredibly busy during migration months (July-October). Over 5000 beds available supplemented by day trippers. 

Visitor numbers are well controlled all year round. Conservancies aim for one tent per 700 acres to maintain low densities. 

Anyone can pay park fees and enter the main reserve, including those staying in camps in private conservancies or outside the Greater Mara region. 

Only those staying within the conservancy can game drive within the conservancy.  It is not possible to visit a conservancy if staying in a camp located in the main reserve.
No restrictions on the number of vehicles allowed at a wildlife sighting. 

A maximum of 5 vehicles are allowed at a sighting.
Closer to balloon launch sites 

Further to balloon launch sites 

No game walks allowed 

Walking safaris & fly camping is permitted 

No off-road driving 

Off road driving is allowed 

No night drives 

Night drives are possible 

No local communities 

Community & Positive Impact partner visits are easily arranged

No livestock or grazing is permitted – though in practice it does happen in the Musiara / Talek areas

Cattle can graze in certain zones (Grazing Management Plan in place) 

Rest assured, wherever you or your guests decide to stay, in the Masai Mara National Reserve or in one of the Mara Conservancies, you are sure to have a spectacular safari experience that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. 

Content collaboration: Asilia Lodges