Located 100 mi/160 km west of Nairobi and bordering Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya offers a wide variety of wildlife—and your best opportunity to see lions (some with gorgeous, long black manes) and cheetahs. You can expect to see lions, hippos, crocodiles, six kinds of antelope, giraffes, wildebeests, warthogs, baboons, hyenas, jackals, zebras, cape buffalo and dozens of birds, including ostriches, cranes, secretary birds and storks.
Every year, millions of wildebeests and zebras migrate into the reserve in search of water. The timing of this phenomenon varies, depending on the rains: We saw it one year in June, another year in August. They usually start heading back to the Serengeti in October. Whether you see the migration or not, wildlife watching is good year-round, and the Mara will leave you with a good impression of Kenya. The landscape of rolling plains is crossed by rivers and dotted with lone acacia trees.
The 700-sq-mi/1,800-sq-km reserve can be toured in a variety of ways: four-wheel-drive vehicle, small aircraft and hot-air balloon. The hot-air balloon trips, which can be arranged through your camp or lodge, start (very) early in the morning, include a champagne breakfast in the savanna and end with a game drive. They're expensive, but memorable. Watching the sun rise over the plain, aloft and in remarkable silence, was quite a thrill on our last trip. Book in advance in high season—balloon rides are very popular.
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