Maasai Mara National Reserve vs. the Mara North Conservancy

Maasai Mara National Reserve vs the Mara North Conservancy

Which destination is for you?

“Photographing wildlife is exhilarating to say the least. To be able to encourage people to feel the emotions I do for the subject in my frame, just by looking at my image, is testament to the power of a photograph and the ability of the photographer to build that connection with the viewer to the subject.”
– Penny Robartes

If you have not been on a safari to Kenya before, but the romantic landscapes and world-famous wildlife that have been actively recorded and published to the world for decades has finally convinced you to start creating your ideal safari, then coming onto ORYX’s website is the perfect first step in getting you closer to achieving your dream!

If you have not been on a safari to Kenya before, but the romantic landscapes and world-famous wildlife that have been actively recorded and published to the world for decades has finally convinced you to start creating your ideal safari, then coming onto ORYX’s website is the perfect first step in getting you closer to achieving your dream!

Reading this post is the other.

Kenya is a world unto its own. One can never spend enough time there as you explore, experience, photograph and drink in the many facets that this enticing country offers the intrepid traveller, nature-lover and photographer. It is hard not to want to spend months on end travelling through the different regions as each area offers its own characteristic enchantment that isn’t found elsewhere!

Many first-time travellers to the African continent visit the famed Maasai Mara National Reserve and the surrounding Conservancies, targeting the months of July to November. During these months, Africa’s greatest natural spectacle occurs and it is a sight that truly needs to be seen, and even then, it is hard to believe. What many travel agents and Kenya tour operators may not tell you is that the above destinations are not seasonal, and can be enjoyed all year round! For a better description of what time of year each season offers you from a photographic and experiential sense, take a look at my blog post on the Maasai Mara National Reserve .





I have had the privilege of taking guests on photo safaris to both the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Mara Triangle Conservancy over the past few years. During that time, I experienced the photographic opportunities and wildlife experiences that both areas offered, as well as understand the benefits each presented over the other. In 2016, I spent an additional 60 days in both the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Mara North Conservancy from August to September as Photographer in Residence at Alex Walker’s Serian Camps. These months fall over the peak of the Great Wildebeest Migration; a natural phenomenon that heralds the awesome force of nature as we witness not only seemingly endless numbers of grunting gnus and cheeky Zebra upon the plains of the Mara, but how predators react and respond to this influx of prey.






The Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve offer very different experiences from one another. Choosing which destination to go to is purely dependant on what you are looking to experience and the photographic opportunities and freedom each present to you. During the Great Wildebeest Migration, vast herds of Wildebeest and Zebra make their way from the Serengeti to the open plains of the Mara to feed on the rich and nutritious grass that has grown after the steady rainfall. Although the herds can arrive early or late, this season is usually seen occurring from July to early November where the herds then make their way back across the Mara river to the Serengeti landscape.






Maasai Mara National Reserve

This really is a beautiful reserve with a mixed landscape that calls out to every nature enthusiast. It is a huge reserve, 1,510 square km or 583 square miles, which encourages you to spend full days out exploring the beauty of the destination and its intriguing wildlife. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is not a private reserve and is open to those who pays the entry fees to come enjoy, observe and photograph this famed area, even if it is just for a day. During its busier seasons – end of June to November – you will find travellers from all corners of the world come in to view the famous Great Migration. Out of this season there is a noticeable difference in the number of vehicles and tourists, as well as Wildebeest and Zebra as the large herds too, have left the Mara’s plains. It is a destination that isn’t season dependant, and a fantastic place to travel to if you are not focused on the Migration. Think vast open plains that seem endless and lush…on the top of the hill is a lonesome Elephant bull surrounded by iconic Balanities trees. The pure beauty of these wild and pristine landscape and variety of wildlife will romance with your soul and your photographic eye to no bounds!



Off-road driving is not allowed in this Reserve as a means to preserve the habitat as well as protect the wildlife that call this destination home. Although you are restricted to staying on the roads, this doesn’t pose a problem as the many roads generally enable you to get close to the wildlife and if at some point you cannot, well, this is the perfect time to reflect that you are in a truly wild area and witnessing a beautifully natural scene playing out before your eyes. At times, I feel that we are so used to getting what we want; getting up close to wildlife and having freedom of traversing, that we forget that where we are and what we are viewing is something utterly incredible and we are privilege to be able to be a part of it!

I had many blissful days here while on our Masai Mara photo safari, with incredible photographic opportunities and the lack of off-roading has not had an impact on my experience whatsoever. As mentioned above, it has even heightened it as you understand how special the situation is and how nature continues regardless of your presence there.




Mara North Conservancy

Mara North Conservancy
Ranging from secret knots of woodland to wide open plains, to caches of rocks and boulders, to flat expanses of vastness, edged by sharp inclines of escarpment, the Mara North Conservancy leaves nothing to be desired. This variation in landscape provides ample opportunities to capture the diversity that makes this ecosystem so desirable to its wildlife.

Whilst on our Masai Mara photo safari, I have seen all the Big 5; Lions, Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant excluding Rhino. Rhino are not commonly seen in either the Conservancy or the Maasai Mara National Reserve, with more sightings of this beautiful animal found in the Mara Triangle Conservancy that borders Tanzania’s mighty Serengeti.

The Mara North Conservancy is exclusive and private, which means that only guests and lodges/camps that are based in this area are able to traverse it. Although there is a conservation fee such as what you pay upon entering the Maasai Mara National Reserve, it is not opened to the public unless you are a guest at one of the Mara North Conservancy lodges/camps. Along with the intimacy and exclusivity as mentioned above, the Mara North Conservancy takes it a step further by offering the sheer freedom of off-road driving as well as night-driving. This powerful combination is the perfect scenario for wildlife photographers as we can drive directly to the sightings that interest you!




During the Great Migration season, you will still be able to pay homage to the massive herds of Wildebeest and Zebra as well as the other incredible Mara wildlife as these herds and predators move between the unfenced Reserve and Conservancies. What you will not find here though is access to the much-anticipated Wildebeest and Zebra river crossings that the Reserve offers it travellers to witness. Although the Mara River winds itself through the Mara North Conservancy, the major crossing points are along the river line between the Mara Triangle and the Reserve.

This, however, is not a problem as the Reserve is not a far game drive away from the Conservancy and makes for one exciting full day excursion!

If your focus is not on the Migration and rather on the classic African wildlife and scenery experience, then both areas still are, in my point of view, utter delights to stay and explore in.




Having spent dedicated photographic time in the Conservancy and the National Reserve in 2016, I can say with confidence that I absolutely loved every moment at the both the Reserve and the Conservancy from a wildlife and landscape photography perspective, and the experience the natural world offers as a whole.

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise… an escapist’s Utopia.”

~ Beryl Markham


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