The Mara River, at a glance
The Mara River flows through Narok County in southern Kenya and the Mara Region in northern Tanzania.
The river flows from the Kenyan highlands, through the grasslands of the Maasai Mara in Southern Kenya and the northern part of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania before it drains into Lake Victoria.
The Mara River is 395km long, and its basin covers a surface area of 13,504km².
Where does the Mara River fit into my Kenyan/Tanzanian adventure?
The Mara River is best known for its role in The Great Migration. Travellers flock to the river from July to September to have a chance of witnessing this natural phenomenon.
Scientists cannot estimate the exact date of The Great Migration, so we recommend that you book a long trip to the Mara Region between July and September to maximise your chances of seeing the event.
For travellers who only have a short time to spend in Kenya and Tanzania, you may miss out on the crossing. However, the Mara River is home to an abundance of wildlife throughout the year, including hippos, Nile crocodiles, and elephants, so you will have great opportunities for wildlife viewing even if you miss the event.
The Great Migration
The Great Migration begins in the south of Tanzania on the Ndutu Plains and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. During the early months of the year, just after the short rains, 500,000 wildebeest calves are born across a six-week period.
As the plains start to dry up, the wildebeest and other grazing mammals move north towards the Serengeti in a clockwise direction, and they are pursued by predators, including lions, crocodiles, and leopards.
The Mara River flows across the migration route of the wildebeest, and they are forced to traverse the fast-flowing, crocodile-infested river.
Whether you view the event as majestic or a brutal reminder of the realities of the wild, the migration is integral to the prosperity of the ecosystem. Around 6,000 wildebeest die each year during the Great Migration, providing an essential food source for predators and fish.
Visiting the Mara River during the Great Migration is a once in a lifetime experience.
Wildlife at the Mara River
The Mara River is home to hippos and Nile crocodiles, the biggest of their species in Africa.
Elephants, elands, lions, and even leopards may come to the river to drink. Fortunate adventurers may catch a glimpse of a black rhino.
These endangered animals used to roam the Serengeti National Park in large numbers, but they have suffered great from poaching in recent decades.
How to get to the Mara River?
You can travel to the Mara River via the Serengeti National Park.
Several airstrips offer flights to the Serengeti and there is an airstrip located within the park itself. The Seronera Airstrip receives flights from Dar es Salaam (with flights times from 2.5-4 hours depending on the size of plane you book), Arusha, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and Ruaha National Park.
Most planes flying to the Serengeti are small bush planes, and so we recommend you keep your luggage as light and small as possible.
The road journey from Arusha to the Serengeti takes 8 hours but is a safari experience in itself; you will pass plenty of wildlife and beautiful scenery, along a rather bumpy road.
This trip takes you through the Ngorongoro Conservation area, so you might want to drive through here, stopping overnight and finishing in the Serengeti the next day after a three-hour drive.
Your journey to the Mara River will depend on the accommodation that you choose.
Singita Mara River Camp is the closest permanent tented camp to the Mara River. Although it is possible to drive to the camp, Singita recommend that you let them handle your scheduled flight or private charter.
All flights land at the Singita Sasakwa airstrip. A direct flight from Kilimanjaro to Singita is approximately 1 hr 15 minutes, and a direct flight from Arusha to Singita only takes 1 hour.
If you have booked your adventure with us, all transfers will be taken care of for you.
When to visit the Mara River?
Based on the cycle of The Great Migration, it is best to visit the Mara River from from July-September.
However, the timing of the migration varies and there is no guarantee that it will happen during your visit.
The Great Migration overlaps with the general high season for game in this area, so you are guaranteed to see plenty of wildlife regardless of whether you witness the crossing.
We recommend that you book a year in advance in order to secure your preferred itinerary and accommodation. Booking with us will ensure that you won’t miss out on this unique wildlife encounter.
If you do miss out on a trip to the Mara River, the Grumeti River crossing is a great alternative.
The crossing takes place outside of peak season within a 1-2 week window between May and June. Grumeti's remote location means that you will not be distracted by a trail of safari vehicles. Around 30 safari vehicles gather on the banks of the Mara River during The Great Migration, but Grumeti's banks will be occupied by half as many vehicles.
Where to stay around the Mara River?
Only a few lodges are located close to the river on a permanent basis, several mobile tented camps provide temporary accommodation during the peak window of the Great Migration.
Prices will rise during the peak months, so finding budget accommodation is not easy in this period.
We recommend the following high-end lodges:
- Singita Mara River Camp: One of the few permanent tented camps in the area, the Mara River Camp is guaranteed to offer you luxury and comfort with great access to the river. The lodge is eco-friendly and it runs entirely on solar power.
- Acacia Migration Camp: On the lower end of budgets for this area, this tented camp offers basic, but comfortable, accommodation.
- Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge: Located in the Wogakuria Hills of the Northern Serengeti, this eco-friendly lodge offers stunning views of the surrounding verdant hills.
- Lemala Mara River Camp: Choose between 12 stylish tents which are pitched under the shade of large Euclea trees.
- Taasa Lodge: The lodge offers 12 spacious tents which are all impeccably styled, and a pool which overlooks the Serengeti. The lodge has a secluded location, but the Mara River is accessible via a game drive.
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