Monday, 2 April 2012 8:17 AM
Make the decision to embark on an African safari and you are guaranteed to see spectacular wildlife roaming free around one of the continent's many nature reserves. Although there's no shortage of places to visit, by heading to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, you will get to see many of Africa's fine and most famous creatures.
Situated in the south-west of Kenya, the Masai Mara - which is also known as the Maasai Mara - consists of some 580 sq km of terrain ranging from wide-open plains and towering mountains to marshy swamps and thick woodland.
Given its grand scale and diverse array of landscapes, it should be of no surprise that an equally vast range of creatures live here. Indeed, it is commonly referred to as the greatest wildlife safari in Africa and has long been a popular draw for those taking Kenya safaris.
No matter if you've been on safari holidays in the past or this will be your first time, coming here offers a fantastic opportunity to see beautiful animals up close and - unlike the case in zoos you may have been to back home - you'll see nature take its course. Whether this is in the form of predators hunting smaller, weaker species, or two male lions fighting one another for control of the pride, you can be sure the wildlife here truly is wild.
Of course, the fact that the creatures can roam around as they please - not to mention Masai Mara's monumental size - mean that you won't always be guaranteed to see a particular animal on any given day, and depending where you go, the creatures you come across may vary quite dramatically. However, spending a few days here on safari will certainly enable you to see a diverse array of specimens.
Visit either the Talek or Mara River to observe hippos and crocodiles, while monkeys can be seen in forests filled with acacia trees. Birdwatchers will also be in their element, with hundreds of species - from Jackson's bustards to Ross's Turacos - to be spotted here.
As you are led through the reserve, it is worth also keeping an eye for the so-called Big Five group - a phrase first coined by hunters - which consists of the lion, African elephant, leopard, African buffalo and black rhino. Being able to tick all of these off the list during the course of a single break will certainly make for a memorable holiday.
No matter where in the Masai Mara you go or when you decide to visit, you can be confident of coming across exotic wildlife. For a truly majestic animal experience though, it is worth heading to the region during the Great Migration, which takes place from midsummer through to late autumn.
Each year - usually starting in July - wildebeest, zebras and other herbivores gather together as one massive heard and enter the Masai Mara from the Serengeti National Park (situated just on the opposite side of the Kenyan border in Tanzania) in their thousands.
Arriving to graze on fresh grass and take advantage of cool rains, the sight of these animals surging into the Masai Mara en-masse makes for a spectacle you'll never forget and will be a memorable highlight of your Kenya holiday.
One of the most fascinating parts of the migration is seeing these creatures attempt to navigate their way across the Mara River. Not only is this difficult for the animals to cross due to the raging rapids, but crocodiles often lie in wait to pounce on any unsuspecting creatures.
Of course, it's the varied wildlife that draws many people to the region, but it's also worth spending some time with the Masaai tribes who live close to the park. Well known for their distinctive clothing and traditional jumping dance, these friendly locals may be able to give you a deeper insight into the area's beautiful creatures and stunning scenery.