Masai Mara Safari in Kenya – Everything You Need to Know
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If you have thought of visiting Masai Mara, you have probably read guidebooks and travel magazines, which talk about the romantic and glorious part of this safari, such as seeing big fives move around in hordes, constant animal hunt pictures, luxurious meals and accommodations, beautiful sunsets, and wild landscapes as if you are entering the National Geographic scene.
When I was in Kenya, I decided to sign up for a five-day budget Masai Mara safari tour. It was my first time in Africa and my first time on a safari. I paid a substantial amount for it and I have never regretted traveling there. In fact, some of the moments I will remember for a lifetime and talk about it for years to come.
However, as great as a safari trip sounds, it is not all positive and great as I expected it to be. I remember some of the moments I felt it is too much., and does not like what I had read about and looked forward to. However, there are times I really feel like I was living the dream, and these moments are what made the safari experience so worth it.
If you plan a Masai Mara safari tour, hopefully, this guide will help you.
A typical day during the Masai Mara Safari
I booked a five-day safari trip with Lenchada Safaris and paid $570 for it. Before the safari started, I received a brief itinerary on what would happen each day during this trip.
The first day and part of the last day were spent on the road reaching Masai Mara and returning to Nairobi. The rest of the days involved waking up in the early mornings. Early here did not mean 7 am or 8 am; it was 5 to 5:30 am, have breakfast, and then off to the game drive between 6 am to 6:30 am. We spent 10 to 12 hours in the park looking for wildlife in Masai Mara.
Our vehicle was a four-wheel jeep that fit a group of seven people and two guides in the front row. The roof of the jeep was opened all the time so you could stand up and view the wildlife close but in a safe space. There was always sufficient water in the jeep for us to drink; we brought our own snacks to share. There was no air conditioning inside the jeep.
The last two days when I was not in Masai Mara, we visited a Masai Village and then our group was taken to the Nakuru National Park. I checked myself into a hotel in the late afternoon, walked around the town of Nakuru, and explored the residential areas.
We spent the last morning in Nakuru National Park, where we saw a more concentrated group of creatures, all surrounded by a wild open plain and the serene Nakuru lake. My last morning passed lazily in this remote national park that was beautiful and nearly empty.
Transit in Masai Mira
Except for the first two days, the rest of the three days involved changing groups and transportation. Lechada Safari operates safari tours all year round, and different individuals have different itineraries, which means you will most likely be moving around different vans and groups.
There were times we would have lunch, then I would say goodbye to our group, wait for another car to show up, and I would jump into the van with another group of 5 to 7 people, and continue spending hours bumping along the dusty roads looking for wildlife.
This may sound unpleasing, but, in fact, the transit part is where I had the most fun. First, for a few hours, the group would sit in companionable silence. Then after half a day passed, we started chatting non-stop. I remember the third day that our group of seven people talked all the way from Masai Mara to Nakuru. We were sitting in the transit area for lunch like a family until I parted from them and sadly said farewell.
There were times waiting would take long, and we took it easy. The last day while waiting for the van to show up at the transit center, I chatted up with an American traveler for an hour. It turned out that we both took the same tour with the former street kids in Nairobi, and our conversations flowed instantly. It was totally different than what I had experienced in Canada, where we would be glued to our phones or try to fill every second of our time.
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My favorite parts of the safari
My favorite part of the Safari was that it allowed me to see a world that I had never experienced before—being able to get so close to the big fives, see mommy cheetahs stand on the African savannah in solitude, and hyenas try hunting gazelles.
Masai Mara is the northern extension of the Serengeti, so we had the chance to stop at the Kenya and Tanzania border for a while, and looked over to the barren and wild Serengeti. I have dreamed of visiting the Serengeti since I was a child, and I could not believe that it was just there for me to appreciate that wild beauty.
I also noticed a big difference in culture. During the night time, I hung out with the Masai people under the bonfire. They shared their culture, living conditions, and how they worked hard to protect us and their tribes. I took a tour in the Masai Village and was so surprised that they still lived like it was centuries years ago when there was no running water or electricity. They build their own houses, use cows for dowry, and dance like it is ancient times.
Another of my favorite parts was the friends I met during this trip. I think there is something special about people coming to this part of the world, and everyone I met had an abundance of travel and life experience. We got along well and helped each other out. We would sit together during meal times and talk about lots of interesting topics, and get a bottle of Kenyan beer to end the day.
What I did not like about this safari
The total exhaustion and extremely early wake-ups were two things I never expected from this safari. Imagine every day waking up between 5 to 5:30 am, spend 12 hours in a small vehicle on an unpaved, dusty, and bumpy road under the scorching heat, constantly looking out for creatures and trying to capture the moment with your camera. It was tiring and stressful.
Most people would say that you should go on every single safari ride if possible, but seriously, in our group, there were people opting out of the morning drives and other activities on the third day, because they had enough on the second day. I totally understood where it came from.
I remember the excitement when we first saw lions, and we kept our cameras active for dozens of pictures just for that one lion eating a zebra. By mid-afternoon, everyone in our group was worn out, and we were no longer excited to see lions anymore. It was like “yeah it is just a lion” then we would continue sitting in the car and move on. I was so tired that I was literally falling asleep in the least possible sleeping conditions.
At the end of each day, we would have a quick meeting on what will happen the next day, the time to get up and where we would visit. When I knew that I had to spend another 12 hours driving through Masai Mara, I dreaded it. Nothing was worse than spending 12 hours back to back on a jeep driving through Masai Mara all over again.
How many wild creatures can you actually see in Masai Mara
Unless it is migration season, do not expect to spot hordes of creatures and big fives everywhere. Masai Mara is huge and the time I was there, most creatures were more spread out than concentrated in one place. We saw zebras, elephants, and rhinos move around in hordes, but most times we spotted two lions here, a cheetah there, or a leopard hiding in the bushes.
The tour guide was skilled at spotting wildlife, but we also kept watching and sometimes found interesting scenes to look at. The first night, we saw a lion eating a zebra. On the second day, there were lots of cheetah and lion cubs. We even saw two lions mating on a late afternoon.
It also depends on the time you go and luck. I saw lots of cubs and got to see four out of the big fives during my second day. A couple in our group did the same tour last year and did not see any of the big fives. There is no guarantee which animals you will see and how many.
Prevalence of tourists in Masai Mara
I was surprised at how touristy Masai Mara has become. While the park is huge, but most of the tour groups always convene in the same spot surrounding popular wildlife when they are in action. We would spend hours waiting for lions and hyenas to start hunting, or dozens of jeeps would surround a cheetah for pictures. One time, an elephant got angry about us stepping into their territory. She stared at us and started walking towards our van.
While we would not do anything to hurt these creatures, we all realized that we interrupted their natural habitat, and they were not impressed by it. We would see hordes of elephants moving around, and our jeep would stop in the middle of the road, in the middle of their movement. They do get used to us looking around them and taking pictures; I am not sure if this is really the attention they wanted.
Another thing about visiting a place with so many tourists is that when we got in and out of the park, there were always vendors coming to our van and selling souvenirs. We would say no, thank you, we would ignore them, we could close our windows, and they would not go away. One afternoon after the tour was over, we entered a village where few children asked us for money and food. We gave it to them and, all of sudden, a bunch of children showed up, demanded food, and got angry at us when they did not get their part. They were not really poor to the point that they had to beg; they just thought we, as tourists, have money and should share it with them.
Accommodation during the trip
Depending on your budget and the tour you book, accommodation can range from basic to luxury. I booked the budget tour with private accommodation, so I paid an extra $10 per night to stay in a private tent at the Lencheda Safari camp.
The facilities in the tent were way more luxurious than I expected. It came with a double bed and a single bed, a desk, and an ensuite washroom with a toilet, a shower, and a sink. It was enough for two to three people. The tent did not have any lockers, but I felt safer than I expected and had a really great sleep every night, except occasionally waking up to the sound of barking dogs as they were chasing away monkeys.
I absolutely enjoyed every meal throughout this trip. Every day we had a buffet breakfast with chapatis, sausages, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and unlimited coffee and tea. Lunch was provided in picnic style and everybody received a package of food including juice, fruit, sandwiches, and chicken. We sat down in a quiet spot in the park with a beautiful view of Masai Mara. Dinner was also offered in buffet style, where we enjoyed vegetables, rice, meat, potatoes, spaghetti, and other culinary delights. The food was really tasty and I had two to three plates every time.
Internet during the safari
As a result of the remoteness of the location, Wi-Fi is almost non-existent in the park and the camp. If you have data on your phone, feel free to try your luck. Some of us were able to login to our Facebook account in the dining hall and send friend requests, but I was not able to get online with my data plan.
There is very limited lighting and electricity inside the tents. If you do not have a local sim card, your data plan will not work, so forget about the internet. I actually felt relaxed and enjoyed not contacting the outside world for a few days.
In Nakuru, my hotel provided free Wi-Fi, and the speed was fine.
Packing for a safari in Masai Mara
I went on the Masai Mara safari in mid-November and wanted to travel as lightly as possible. Packing was not really a challenge. The weather is dry and hot during the day and chilly at night, so I stuffed a few short-sleeved shirts, jeans, a thin jacket, a pair of running shoes, and slippers. I brought mosquito repellant to prevent the malaria-infected mosquito bites, an international converter for my phone charger, and a first aid kid.
If you are keen on photographing, I cannot overstate the importance of packing a telephoto lens for this trip. There are times you see creatures up-close, but telephoto lenses allow you to capture details of animal action. If getting a telephoto lens is not in your budget, you can rent a lens for a week for $100 to $200.
Top tips for safari trip
The decision of taking the safari trip is not to be taken lightly, as it is expensive and you will spend many days in the wild.
–Be patient: when you have to wait for another hour for your jeep to show up at the transit center, or the jeep gets stuck in the park, or the traffic is horrible on the road to Nairobi. Talk to people, laugh at the situation, and it will help you to stay positive when things are not going in the direction you expected.
–Bring your own sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and own hygiene products: it is not easy to purchase them once you are on the safari. There are no shampoos or body wash on location at the camp. Towels and toilet papers are provided, but bring your own just in case.
–Close your tent properly: or it is easy for monkeys to get in and take out all your things. It happened to a guy in our group where monkeys went to his tent and messed up all his belongings.
–Do not give children money and food: ignore them and walk away. If they follow along, hand them to the guide and security. It is not that I have been mean, but once you give them food and money, more children will come and surround you and your car, and it takes a while for them to leave. That is the last thing you want to happen after a long exhausting day game drive.
–Do not take pictures of the people without their permission; Masai people kill lions, and you do not want to mess with them.
–Know how much you should tip: tip culture is not a must in Kenya, and $10 a day is too much in local standard. Offering a guide $5 to $10 for the entire trip is enough.
–Bring cash: ATMs are non-existent in this part of the world and you may need the cash to pay for tips and souvenirs.
-Be ready to use bush toilets and hand-wash your own clothes.
–Learn about Masai Mara before your trip: books, documentaries, movies, and talk about it with locals. Having background knowledge of this place and the wildlife will make for a more interesting visit. It is also a way of showing respect to the place and the local tribes. One of the movies I recommend is African Cats, if you prefer to learn it in a visual and efficient way.
Do I recommend this safari trip?
I will not say that everyone should do this trip, because some parts of the tour are exhausting and downright annoying, and spending 12 hours in a car each day is not what I have expected. However, if you want to see creatures in the open space, there is no better way to do it than going on a safari. The scenery, the wildlife, and people you meet will make the experience unforgettable. Watching the sunset in the African savanna with zebras eating grass and gazelles running around in groups is one of the best things I have ever seen in my lifetime.
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