Kenya is a beautiful country and one of the best places in the world for wildlife safaries. The landscapes vary from wide open savannahs to desert to vast lakes to lush mountain forests. Here you will find an incredible array of wildlife including zebras, antelopes, elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, leopards and cheetahs. We took a 11-day tour of Kenya that included visiting Amboseli National Park, Lake Naivasha, Aberdare National Park, Buffalo Springs and the amazing Masai Mara National Reserve. It was an amazing journey and one we will never forget.
Thd Masai Mara National Park is vast. It is mainly made up of grasslands set upon gently rolling hills. It connects with Serengeti National Park in adjoining Tanzania. These parks are famous for the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra that migrate across this ecosystem. The wildebeest herd is believed to be in the order of 3 to 4 million.
As we drove around, we passed numerous small gatherings of wildebeest, zebras, impala and gazelles. Driving through the park, we occasionally stumbled across several stopped tourist vehicles which is always a sign of something interesting. This way we got to see a couple of leopards and several lions.
Our guide took us down to the Mara River for lunch. This river is famous for mass crossings of animals, who descend the steep banks to see if the grass is greener on the other side. These crossings have been featured in numerous documentaries as they can be very dramatic – especially if there are crocodiles in the river at the crossing point. When we reached the river, they were small herds, numbering hundreds, on either side of the river. So, we parked up and waited, eating our lunch to save time later. For a long while nothing happened – the wildebeest and zebra just hung around the steep banks, seemingly waiting for someone to take the lead. Eventually, four topi (a type of antelope) pushed their way to the front and crossed the river. This gave impetus to the others waiting and a few hundred wildebeest and zebras crossed over. It was not exactly the dramatic spectacle that would have got Sir David Attenborough peeing in his pants, but it was fun to watch.
Our guide had asked us the day before whether we wanted to visit a Masai village. We’d said yes. The day had run away from us a little, so it was getting towards late afternoon, and I thought we’d missed the chance to visit the Masai Village. But no. We pulled in around 5 pm and they were still taking visitors. We were introduced to our guide, a young Masai man, who explained a bit about what we were going to see and took our money – which apparently funds the local Masai school. Ready to go, a group of Masai ladies gathered and started to sing and dance to welcome us. The escorted us through the entrance of their compound, which was circular and surrounded by a wooden fence. Inside were a dozen or so mud and wood houses arranged in a circle against the fence. A group of tired and hungry children were playing in the centre of the compound. We were joined by a family of four, Germans I think; two teenagers and their parents. We were ushered to the middle of the compound, where the ladies performed another dance. The father of the other visitors went and stood among the Masai ladies, which we thought was a bit rude. After the dance finished the ladies paraded past us giving us a high-five, which is apparently good luck. Next the Masai men gave a dance – which I believe is to attract the women. The dance involves a lot of jumping in the air, which reminded me a bit of when I danced to Punk music. When the dancing was done, we were given a demonstration of lighting a fire with sticks and a spear blade.
From the centre of the compound, we were taken to one of the small mud houses. Inside this one family unit live. The Masai are a polygamous culture. So, when a man marries his wife builds a family home, with other women from the family, when she, her husband and children live. If the man takes another wife, she does the same, with a separate house. We were taken inside the tiny house – it was dark and small. There was a main room, with a fire where the cooking is done. There is a lot of meat in the Masai diet. The Masai used to be nomadic, but today they live in settlements and raise livestock, cows and goats. They do eats vegetables and legumes, but they get these through trade or buying. They told us they don’t grow crops because of the potential conflict with local wildlife and the agreement they have with the government to use National Park lands to feed their animals. Besides the main, there is a guest room, a small space where the children sleep and a room for mum and dad. Interestingly, the parent’s room has a separate door to the outside world – presumably so the man can sneak off to see his other families.
It was quite a relief to escape the tight, dark confines of the house. Outside we were greeted by some very young children, who Karen engaged in conversation with. One was a young boy whose face was covered in sores. There are so many flies around from the cattle … I can only imagine the unhygienic conditions these people endure.
After a short time with children, we were escorted out of the compound to an area which had been set up with small stands selling arts that the locals had created. We explained we had no space for souvenirs and made our way back to Raphe.
About the Masai Mara
Masai Mara stretches across an area of 580 square miles (1,510 sq km). It represents the northernmost portion of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. The Sand River, Talek River, and the Mara River are the primary rivers draining waters of the reserve. The park is divided into two main areas the inner portion which features pristine wilderness and the outer portion which allows for cattle of the Masai people to graze.
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.
Planning your visit to the Masai Mara
By Road: The most common way to travel to the Masai Mara by road is by booking a guided drive-in safari. Drive-in safaris start from Nairobi and allow you to include multiple other destinations in Kenya besides the Masai Mara.
By Air: The favoured route for a Masai Mara fly-in safari is by flying from Nairobi Wilson Airport (WIL). From here it is a short (between 45 and 60 minutes) flight to the Mara. Flights to the Mara are operated by airlines such as SafariLink and AirKenya. Upon your arrival at the airstrip closest to your accommodation, a safari vehicle will be waiting to take you to your Masai Mara safari lodge.
|Hours:||6.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m|
Adults: $70 if staying inside the reserve, otherwise $80 per 24 hours
Children: $40 if staying inside the reserve, otherwise $45 per 24 hours
Best time to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve
The climate in Masai Mara is pleasantly warm, with cool nights all year round. This area is located just south of the Equator, but at an altitude between 1,500 and 1,900 meters. Temperatures are slightly higher from October to March, while they are slightly cooler from June to August. At night it can be a bit cold, and the temperature can drop below 10 °C , especially from June to August. Rainfall amounts to about 1,400 millimeters per year. The wettest month is April, the driest is July.
|DECEMBER – FEBRUARY||MARCH – MAY||JUNE – MID SEPTEMBER||MID SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER|
|Generally drier & warmer with clearer skies and lower rainfall. Excellent for Photography||Pleasant temperatures but with higher rainfall. Despite the rain, several hours of daily sunshine & clear skies still encountered.||Cloudier & cooler but drier with little rainfall but more overcast days||‘Short’ rains are a possibility but sky also tends to be clearer with sunny days possible|
Zebra Plains Mara Camp
There are many lodges and places to stay around the Masai Mara National Reserve. We were booked into Zebra Plains Mara Camp which is a hotel group with several lodges around Kenya. The lodge is located just a few kilometres from the Masai Mara.
The camp has a small number of tented rooms. Like most these tents are more glamping than camping and are fully ensuite. The tents all look out across towards the Masai Mara, with their own small decks – which is a great place to sit and watch the sun go down.
The large public spaces include a bar and a restaurant. The food was amazing and there was a vegetarian option on each menu,
There are also several sitting areas with are very cosy and one has a big fire pit with seating around the outside.