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Mara River View Full Tanzania Map

The mighty Mara River snakes across the northern tip of the Serengeti National Park on its westward flow into Lake Victoria. The Mara River is most famous for the legendary wildebeest crossing, a dramatic event, which is featured in countless wildlife documentaries. Hippos abound in these dark waters, along with massive Nile crocodiles looming just below the murky surface. Large herds of buffalo graze on the verdant floodplains and groups of giraffe glide through the shady groves of acacia trees. Mile after mile of vast pristine wilderness awaits the more adventurous safari traveler, as this part of the Serengeti is way off the beaten path. We think the Mara River and the bordering Lamai Triangle is a must see if visiting the Serengeti in the late dry season during August, September or October.

One of Tanzania's best kept secrets is the fact that nearly half of the Mara River is situated in the North Serengeti (30 miles in length) versus the Masai Mara's segment in Kenya (40 miles in length). While there are hundreds of vehicles just a few miles upriver in the Masai Mara, the Serengeti side of the Mara River is an isolated wilderness virtually devoid of tourists. On the Serengeti side of the Mara River, one is able to witness the same caliber of game viewing without hordes of other vehicles and the resulting solitude sets the stage for a much more intimate and rewarding experience. An ADS specialty is our 'Mara River Adventure Drive', which can be conducted while staying at any of the lodges and camps in the North Serengeti. This game drive is a full day of adventure, including an excursion through Wogakuria and some time spent exploring the Mara River (both on foot and in the vehicle). The 'Mara River Adventure Drive' culminates with a game drive in the stunning Lamai Triangle, which is the main dry season range for the great migratory herds during the dry season. This is a spectacular game drive through one of the most remote areas of the Serengeti where few tourists pass. A special perk for those visiting this area is we are permitted to drive off the road in any direction, allowing one to get especially up close and personal with nature. Walking safaris along the banks of the Mara River are also permitted, granting visitors a unique perspective of the abundant wildlife and captivating scenery that surrounds this remarkable place. For safety and direction, you will be escorted by an armed park ranger and your own ADS guide. As you stroll along the riverbank you will undoubtedly see hundreds of hippos huddled together, spouting and grunting in the shadowy water. If you approach quietly you may spot the massive Nile crocodile, which is the largest species of crocodile in the world.

The Mara River supports a unique canopy forest and the surrounding floodplains sustain an abundance of wildlife. Groups of hippos numbering over 50 individuals are commonly seen in the Mara at the oxbow, which is approximately 1-mile east of the bridge at the Kogatende ranger post. One can walk along the sandbank in front of the oxbow to capture great pictures of the hippos as they submerge, resurface and sometimes battle over this prized territory. The riverbank above the oxbow makes a fantastic spot for a scenic bush lunch.   Large herds of giraffes are commonly seen feeding on the acacia trees that dot the floodplains along the river. Lumbering elephants and graceful elands are also regular visitors to the Mara River. Shimmering bands of resident impala melt in and out of surrounding forest and are abundant here as they are throughout the woodlands of the Serengeti. As mentioned above, the Mara River also contains a healthy population of Nile crocodiles. Although these grinning reptiles are extremely shy, most people are able to glimpse these prehistoric animals basking in the sun on the tops of boulders in the river. They are surprisingly well camouflaged but are more noticeable with careful observation through binoculars. Amazingly, these crocodiles feed only once or twice a year during the wildebeest crossing; it is thought that some of these mottled green giants are over 50 years old!   Birding along the Mara is also very good. Common species to look for include fish eagles, kingfishers, bee-eaters, weavers and some guests have reported seeing the colorful and rare turaco.

Kay Turner in 1962 wrote: 'on safari there were some areas of the Serengeti that gave me greater pleasure than others.   One of these lay to the north. Our camp there overlooked the swirling brown waters of the Mara River, in a grove of shady trees a mile from the Kogatende ranger post. Heaving and splashing whenever they surfaced, the hippos honked and roared below us, slapping the water with their tails to scatter their dung. With forests, hills, rivers and open glades the Mara was idyllic and harbored a great variety of animals, especially buffaloes in large herds. Most of the dwindling numbers of rhinos in the Serengeti were to be found here, and it was a favorite haunt for the migration, too, during the long dry months when they withdrew from the plains...once we saw an elephant gliding down to drink in the moonlight, making no sounds as he stretched his trunk across the water, then raised it to his mouth. His movements were almost dreamlike as he drank, the soft light glinting along his tusks, until at last his thirst was sated and he melted again into the shadows as silently as he had come.'

During the dry season, massive herds of wildebeest and zebra will be thundering across the river.   The ultimate destination for the migratory herds is the Lamai Triangle, which is a triangular shaped watershed area just north of the Mara River. The river forms the bottom of the Lamai Triangle, which is a critical refuge for the migration during the long dry season. Depending upon the length of the preceding green season, the great migration usually begins arriving at the Mara River in early August. The herds then cross and re cross the river in a restless ebb and flow, pursuing the scattered thundershowers during August and September. The onset of more widespread downpours usually commence sometime in October. These cloudbursts initiate the southward migration as the wildebeest lift their heads toward the rain washed skies and embark on their long journey to the southern plains. The southward migration is an extraordinary event as mile after mile of wildebeest march southwards in single file fashion, marking another season in their unending pilgrimage in search of food and water.

Myles Turner wrote in 1966: 'when the wildebeest move on across the Mara River into Lamai country, spectacular deaths occur at the river crossings. The herds build up on the banks in huge numbers while dust clouds churned up by their constant movement swirl overhead and vultures gather in ominous clusters in nearby trees. As more animals continue to arrive, those at the front begin to fling themselves from the steep banks and plunge into the river. More follow, until the movement becomes a wild stampede with hundreds of wildebeest struggling to swim across. Inevitably, casualties are high. Some animals become stuck in the mud. Others are crushed by wildebeest jumping off the steep banks on to those already in the water. Sometimes it is as if they are intent on committing mass suicide. At one crossing place I counted more than 500 bodies floating in the Mara river with several huge crocodiles enjoying the feast.'

Predators such as lion and leopard are abundant in the Mara area but are difficult to see compared with other areas of the North Serengeti.   As this area receives only a trickle of visitors, both lion and leopard tend to be shy and secretive and will often seek cover upon hearing an approaching vehicle. One typically finds numerous bones in the North Serengeti and it is not unusual to come across whole skeletons. In areas where there are many hyenas such as the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti Plains one rarely finds a single bone.   It is thought that hyenas thrive in more open areas and do not do well in the woodlands. Hans Kruuk, who undertook the most extensive study of the Serengeti Hyenas, writes:   'One rarely sees many hyenas in the northern extension of the Serengeti. This lack of hyenas is especially striking in the most northern area around the Mara River. Even when the large concentrations of wildebeest are there, corpses of ungulates lie unattended by any carnivore and there are few hyena tracks and droppings about.'  

Approximately 100 meters to the south of the Mara River lies the Kogatende ranger post. The post is just to the left of the main road immediately before the Mara River bridge that one crosses on the way to Lamai. The Kogatende ranger post is built like an ancient fort. This part of the Serengeti was heavily poached by a neighboring tribe called the Wakuria in the 1950s and 1960s. The Lamai Triangle was added to the Serengeti National Park in 1965; when this occurred, a Wakuria insurrection ensued as the tribe lost access to their traditional hunting areas. Kogatende was constructed to protect the Serengeti rangers and anti poaching patrols, hence its formidable appearance.