Masai Mara National Park is located in Kenya along the border of Tanzania and is contiguous with the neighbouring Serengeti National Park. Masai Mara stretches across an area of 580 square miles (1,510 sq km). Popular wildlife that might be seen in the Masai Mara include lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippo, giraffe, waterbuck, reedbuck, roan antelope, warthog, eland, topi, gazelle, zebra, baboon, crocodile, various species of monkeys, and black rhino.
Kenya: 11-Day Tour
When I was planning our grand tour of Africa one of the countries I really wanted to visit was Kenya. It is one of the most popular destinations for tourists looking for amazing wildlife viewing experiences.
Kenya is a stunning country, with a wide variety of ecosystems, from huge lakes, to arid deserts to lush mountain rainforests. Consequently, it has incredible biodiversity. You will find 8 of the ‘big 9’ here – the only exception being mountain gorillas. The one drawback of Kenya is its popularity with tourists, so things can get very busy in the more well-known National Parks and Reserves. It is not uncommon to end up with 20-plus game-drive vehicles surrounding a leopard or a pack of lions. Having said that it is still possible to escape the masses and get some seclusion in the vastness of the African savannah.
We planned an 11-day tour which covered many of the popular wildlife reserves. Many people include an extension to their safari to visit the Kenya coast or travel down to Zanzibar in Kenya. We chose not to do this.
For Kenya, we decided to use a tour company, Dawn in Africa, which we highly recommend to anyone planning to visit Kenya. Dawn in Africa provided a car and driver for our 11-day itinerary. We decided to not self-drive in Kenya to give us some time to adjust to what being on the road in Africa might be like. It turned out to be a good decision!
Kenya is a large country with a large population of around 55 million people. As you travel through the towns and villages you will see how densely populated the country is – and how many of these people live in poverty. If you have not been to a developing country before the sights and sounds can be overwhelming – but it is all part of the richness of the travel experience.
DAY ONE – NAIROBI
Arrive at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and spend the night in a guest house in Nairobi.
DAY TWO – AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK
Setting off from Nairobi around 8:30 am we were at our hotel, Amboseli Sopa Lodge, around lunchtime so we had a chance to eat and relax a bit before heading out on our sunset game drive. We’d have loved to have seen Mount Kilimanjaro, but sadly it was covered with clouds.
Not surprisingly we were not the only folks planning a sunset game drive, so there was a bit of a line of drivers checking their vehicles and clients in. Luckily, a combination of people-watching and some giraffes turning up, helped the time pass quickly.
DAY THREE – AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK
We headed out at dawn for an all-day game drive. Before setting off we had a quick bite of breakfast and were stunned when we got to the lawn outside of the restaurant. We had the most amazing view of Kilimanjaro in the early morning sun.
The main attraction of Amboseli is the large number of elephants that live here and it was not long on our travels through the park before we came across a herd of elephants including cows, bulls, and calves.
Spend a second night at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge.
For a full review of Amboseli National Park see our Blog Post.
DAY FOUR – ABERDARE & THE ARK
Today, it is time to move from Amboseli going north to Aberdare National Park. We were staying at The Ark, which is a unique experience. The Ark overlooks a floodlit waterhole and salt lick, which attracts a host of awesome wildlife. Resembling and named after Noah’s Ark, The Ark comprises of three decks from which numerous balconies and lounges provide a superb location for wildlife to be seen. The Ark has four viewing areas for observing the ever-present animal activity.
It is around a 400km drive so you will leave Amboseli just after breakfast and arrive at Aberdare Country Club mid-afternoon in time for the transfer to the Ark.
The Ark is full-service so dinner is served on-site.
Beware the Ark is located at 2330 metres so it can be chilly, even in the summer despite lying more or less on the equator.
DAY FIVE – SAMBURU / BUFFALO SPRINGS
After breakfast, you will be taken from the Ark back to Aberdare Country Club to continue your onward journey.
The next stop is Buffalo Springs National Reserve some 200 km north of Aberdare. Buffalo Spring adjoins the more famous Samburu National Reserve, one of the two areas in which conservationists George Adamson and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness made famous in the best-selling book and award-winning movie Born Free.
It will take about 3 to 4 hours to reach Buffalo Springs – so you will get there around lunchtime.
After lunch, there will be time to do an afternoon game drive. Much of buffalo springs is dry and arid but there are areas of forest created by the Ewaso Ngiro river. It is a great place to see lions, leopards, elephants, and many antelopes. You will also certainly see the beautiful oryx as well as rare northern species of reticulated giraffes, vulturine guinea fowls and Grevy’s zebras, all of which are unique to the region.
Spend the night at the Samburu Simba Lodge
For a full review of Samburu / Buffalo Springs see our Blog Post.
DAY SIX – BUFFALO SPRINGS
Today is a full day in Buffalo Springs to enjoy morning and afternoon game drives. You can even try going to Samburu National Reserve.
Spend another night at Samburu Simba Lodge
DAY SEVEN – OL PAJETA CONSERVANCY
The is time for one more early morning game drive at Buffalo Springs, before enjoying breakfast.
After breakfast, take the short 125km drive to Ol Pajeta Conservancy.
We arrived at the Sweetwaters Serena Camp inside Ol Pajeta Conservancy in time for lunch. In the afternoon we had a game drive in Ol Pajeta.
Ol Pejeta, is a private conservancy that lies in the shadow of Mount Kenya, the second-highest mountain in Kenya (and considerably trickier to climb), and also sits on the equator. It is also a great place to see both black and white rhinos. Ol Pejeta has the last two remaining Northern white rhinos anywhere in the world. They are two females. There was a male, but sadly it died. Another issue is that the two females, one being the mother of the other are not able to carry offspring. A big problem. The Conservancy has a plan though. They have frozen fertilized eggs from the females and plan to inseminate these into a Southern white rhino female.
Spend the night at Sweetwaters Serena Camp
For a full review of Ol Pajeta see our Blog Post.
DAY EIGHT – OL PAJETA TO LAKE NAIVASHA
Rise early for a game drive in Ol Pajeta. If you are lucky you might get to see Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-largest mountain. Sunrise is often the best time to catch Mount Kenya without cloud cover.
After a late breakfast, it is time to head south towards Lake Naivasha. It is about a 400km drive that will take 5-plus hours with stops. You will most like arrive mid to late afternoon and take the rest of the day to relax.
Spend the night at Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort
DAY NINE – LAKE NAIVASHA TO MASAI MARA
In the morning after breakfast, head out to Lake Naivasha. This is a big lake, hundreds of square miles in area. Its average depth is 7 metres, but it goes up to 24 metres.
Lake Naivasha is famous for its high population of hippos and flamingos. There are over 1,500 hippos in the area, and you are almost guaranteed to see one.
The lake is a birder’s paradise as it is home to over 400 bird species.
Take a boat tour of the lake. You will most likely see pods of hippos lolling around in the shallow waters at the edge of the lake. There is also a lot of birdlife around the lake including flamingos, pelicans, storks, ducks and fish eagles. On the lake, you will come across fishermen. Some of the men will be in the water laying nets, which is a dangerous occupation with hippos and crocodiles sharing the water with them!
After the boat tour, you take can take a guided visit to the nature reserve on the banks of Lake Naivasha. These animals were transplanted here as part of the making of ‘Out of Africa’ and they have stayed and become a touring attraction. There are no cars. This is a walking tour only. You can get close up to giraffes, zebras, waterbucks and impalas.
For a full review of Lake Naivasha see our Blog Post.
From Lake Naivasha, we travelled further south to the Masai Mara, probably Kenya’s most famous game reserve. It is a 250km drive and will take 4.5 to 5 hours.
When we arrived in the late afternoon we went to visit a traditional Masai village. We were greeted by the village folk and taken into the compound where we were treated to traditional dances and skills, before being taken into one of their houses to see how the Masai traditionally live. After this, we were led to the back of the compound where they were selling crafts. It was very touristy but nonetheless an interesting experience!
We stayed the night at Zebra Plains Mara Camp
DAY TEN – MASAI MARA
Today, we had a full day of game drives in the Masai Mara Reserve. Masai Mara stretches across an area of 580 square miles (1,510 sq km).
The Masai Mara is renowned for its abundance and variety of larger plains species as well as the variety of predator species. It is considered the only place left in Kenya which resembles the wildlife population today from what it once was. Although there is an abundance, the wildlife is declining and thankfully the preserve is there to protect it. It is one of Africa’s most coveted wildlife viewing destinations.
Popular wildlife that might be seen in the Masai Mara include hippo, giraffe, waterbuck, reedbuck, roan antelope, warthog, eland, topi, gazelle, zebra, baboon, crocodile, various species of monkeys, and black rhino. Except for the mountain gorilla, all of Africa’s Big 7 can be part of your wildlife sightings. The Mara is home to the largest collection of lions in Kenya.
For a full review of the Masai Mara National Reserve see our Blog Post.
Spend a second night at Zebra Plains Mara Camp
DAY ELEVEN – NAIROBI
Today, it is time to leave Kenya and return home or continue your adventure somewhere else.
Head back to Nairobi to catch your flight. You can cross the border into to Tanzania – which is what we did!
Best time to visit Kenya
One of the best times to visit Kenya is from July to September, during the country’s dry season, which also coincides with the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra.
The rainy seasons are also good times to travel, as there are fewer visitors and you can admire the striking emerald vegetation. December in particular is a great time to travel to Kenya, since the rains are short and you have the chance to see newborn animals and migratory bird species. Only the peak of the ‘long rains’ in March, April and May are very wet.
Kenya – Month-by-Month
Visiting Kenya in January – February
The height of summer is an excellent time to spot wildlife, both on the ground and in the air. Temperatures are hot but there will be the odd shower to cool things down, while the landscape is lush with long grass from the ‘short rains’ that fall in November and December. Down on the coast, the days are hot and sunny and the sea is at its clearest.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in February- May
Another great month for spotting wildlife, both on the ground and in the air. Temperatures remain high and the odd shower may fall, while there should still be long grass covering the landscape from the ‘short rains’ that fall in November and December.
Visiting Kenya in March – August
The weather gets wetter as Kenya approaches the ‘long rains’, but game viewing is still good.
Visiting Kenya in April – October
The ‘long rains’ of April and May can turn the tracks through the parks into quagmires and make the beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline hot and very wet, so this isn’t the best time to travel.
Visiting Kenya in May
The ‘long rains’ of April and May can turn the tracks through the parks into quagmires and the beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline hot and very wet, so this isn’t the best time to travel
Visiting Kenya in June
The rains have finished for the most part, although some light showers are still possible, and the nights can be cool at altitude. The long dry season is on the horizon, and while grasses are high, making game harder to spot at times, it is a beautiful time to visit. People start anticipating the arrival of the Great Migration into the Masai Mara.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in July
The weather is temperate and dry but not too dusty, with occasional showers still possible, making this a good time to visit overall. The first herds arrive into the Masai Mara from Tanzania and peak travel and game viewing season is just around the corner.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in August
The temperatures are pleasant and it’s mostly dry, making it one of the peak times to visit. Fantastic game viewing can be enjoyed now, with the Great Migration at its height in the Masai Mara providing lots of action at the river crossings as countless wildebeest and zebra gather and cross the Mara and Talek Rivers.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in September
The weather is generally dry. The game viewing action continues in the Mara, and it is still excellent throughout Kenya for wildlife.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in October
As the mercury slowly starts to rise, a few showers are possible. However, it’s a lovely time to travel if you want to avoid the crowds but still have excellent game viewing opportunities. The migratory herds are leaving the Mara now, but excellent resident populations remain. All other Kenya destinations are great at this time of year.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in November
The short rains are starting and the temperature is hotter, but the Mara, along with most other destinations, remains open. However, on the Laikipia Plateau many camps are closed. There is still good game viewing under the heavier skies and activities continue. Crowds dissipate and you can often make the most of some good deals.
Visiting Visiting Kenya in December
The end of the year can be hot and potentially wet — it’s the middle of the short rains, with some camps closed (particularly in the north) and some open. Where camps are open, wildlife viewing remains very good, with high bird numbers present.
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