Within minutes of entering this vast reserve I encountered so much game my mouth dropped open in astonishment.
Armies of wildebeest stretching to the horizon, elephants getting stressed with each other and bellowing their concern with high decibels, lions sleeping off a kill at a muddy waterhole, spooked Impala bounding into the bush, a lone vulture sihouetted against the sunset and Maasai striding across the plains with their spears and red cloaks billowing behind them.
The Masai Mara is the greatest wildlife show on earth.
I had to pinch myself that I was there. I’d seen the reserve on the television so many times. It is a staple of Sunday afternoon documentaries on the BBC where a hushed David Attenborogh would show us hordes of wildebeest brave the Mara river crossing targeted by hungry crocodiles, where packs of hyenas would force lions away from their nearby kill, where zebra stallions would round up their mares and fight off any other male contenders, where cheetahs would outsprint "Tommie" gazelles tripping up their hind legs and making them crash to the ground.
For most of my life the Masai Mara has been a distant dream only available to rich tourists or BBC filmakers. But it wasn’t – it is possible to visit and enjoy all the drama and spectacle of African wildlife. Of the four big gameparks I visited in Africa that September – this was the first and remains the favourite.
Its situated in the south of Kenya, about 150 miles from Nairobi. It is the northern part of the Serengeti Plains which covers northern Tanzania. The border between the two countries is about a mile north of the Mara River - a hippo infested waterway where hungry crocs await prey. The prey is of course the two million or so wildebeest which visit every year from the Serengeti. The long rains arrive in the Masai Mara between July and October creating fresh grass. The huge herds of wildebeest smell the rain and trek northwards in their millions – they turn south in October and leave the Mara as quickly as they arrive.
So the best time to visit the Mara is during the migration. Words can’t describe the sheer immensity of the wildebeest during this time – they literally turn the plains black with their numbers. Not only wildebeest but zebra and "Thompson" gazelle. This of course is Christmas come early for the predators and the Mara supports huge lion prides (some of which are stars of the BBC’s Big Cat Diary). There was so many lions in the Mara that you could spot one under nearly every bush. There are also big clans of hyenas (no joke hearing them at night), jackals, cheetahs, and leopards at the Talek river. Not to mention colossal flocks of sinister vultures.
There are also plenty of tourists but away from the Sekengani Gate doesnt create a problem. There are so many game lodges in the Mara that you dont encounter too many tourists (unless there is rare game like cheetah or leopard). Some of the game lodges are expensive like the world famous ‘Governors Camp’ but their are budget options such as "Riverside" camp where the animals and Maasai wander through.
A word about the Maasai. This is the heart of Kenyan Maasai territory and while they are integrated into the tourist scene you are aware that this is their territory. On the road down from Nairobi (a bone rattling ride) you are almost travelling through a Maasai nation. Every horizon had a Maasai herder and his flock of goats. They wave at you as you drive past – especially the children. You will encounter the Maasai "bomas" which are mud huts surrounded by a ring of thorny walls where the cattle are kept each night. There are also Maasai towns, the main one being Narok, where you can stay in hotels made out of breeze-blocks called "Manchester United" hotel and "Sam’s Hotel and Butchers".
The best thing to do is book an inclusive safari in Nairobi. That way they take care of entrance fees, accommodation for you and most importantly can take you to the game. Nothing beats spinning around the tracks in a open-topped safari van to see where Topi graze, hyenas crunch bones or where buffalo glare at you.
And when the sun goes down even those in the luxury lodges will hear the sound of the night – the bray of zebras, the rasp of a leopard and the roaring of lions. Never in your life will you be so close to nature.
The Masai Mara is a contender for my favourite place in the world.