Masai Mara had been on my list for the past few years when a friend first mentioned it to me. I kept encountering it randomly in travel blogs, movies (watched The Ghost And The Darkness?) and documentaries and that built just enough interest in me to have it as one of the places on my travel list. Besides, neither did I have a good wildlife experience yet nor I visited Africa before. Masai Mara was the perfect option to do both.
How to plan
Understand the geography
This might not occur to you at all but it is very important to understand the geography of Masai Mara National Reserve for its sheer size is so huge that if not planned properly, you might actually miss a few things. Having said that, I don’t mean that a single trip can justify what Masai Mara has to offer. The wildlife and the natural beauty can get you addicted, leaving you with a desire to spend more and more time and then come back again.
The reserve is surrounded by private conservancies, some of which are open for outsiders to visit and stay. I personally didn’t go to any of these conservancies but they say that some of them can get you amazing wildlife experiences as they have restricted entries and hence lesser number of people at a time disturbing the wildlife. Some of these conservancies also have places to stay (Sujan’s Elephant Pepper Camp and Little Governor’s Camp) and allow off-roading during game drive as well as walking and night safaris – something that is not possible in the reserve.
Masai Mara National Reserve is slightly more restrictive – it does not offer the flexibility of private conservancies but that should not hold you back from visiting it. It is extremely big, spanning the area of 1500 sq. km and is divided into three sectors – Musiara, Sekenani and The Mara Triangle. The Mara Triangle is considered the best of the three areas as most of The Great Wildebeest Migration action (wildebeests in large numbers crossing the river) takes place there. It is known to be more crowded and is obviously way more expensive.
While Mara Triangle is known to be the best amongst the three, Sekenani and Musiara are no less exciting for somebody visiting the first time. Spotting at least four of The Big Fives (the buffalo, the elephant, the lion, the rhinoceros and the cheetah) is not all that difficult in Masai Mara. Rhinoceros are known to be shy and are more difficult to spot. The density of wildlife may differ in different sectors. And it is not easy to travel to other sectors in the same day. Just to explain the scale of the size of the reserve, we stayed in Sekenani sector (on the south-east corner) and even after 12 hours of game drive we barely reached Musiara (almost in the center horizontally). Obviously you can do better if you head out with the objective to going to another sector and not doing a game drive.
Getting a guide
Getting a guide is not essential but would ensure that you have a nicely organized trip. Other than the confusing ways of the reserve (more like no ways at all for the uninitiated), there are so many other things that only a local knows and understands best. It is possible to drive yourself into the park but spotting wildlife is not an easy task and needs experience. Local guides communicate over radio, sharing information as soon as someone spots an animal. This helps them get their clients a good game drive experience. And they talk in Swahili so it’s probably not a good idea to venture in unless you understand the language, have a radio and a four wheel drive. They can also share a lot of knowledge about the wildlife you are going to see.
Nairobi is a good place to get your tour organized. There are many tour organizers that can do a good job of organizing your visit and game drive as well. Ours was Magical Retreats from Nairobi and our guide, Peter, was friendly, extremely knowledgeable and always did his best to get us the best views.
Where to stay?
Generally a place to stay anywhere in Masai Mara is expensive, even the cheapest ones. There are places ranging from high end resorts giving a more luxurious experience to tented camps which are just enough for a comfortable sleep. Your guide or the camp can help you arrange a visit to a nearby Maasai village to get you a glimpse of the Maasai way of living.
We stayed in Sekenani sector. Sekenani is on the south-east side of the reserve and has a number of budget resorts and tented camps which can make a good option to keep your travel budget low. Obviously, these are not luxurious by any standards but they have their own charm of staying in the wilderness. Our stay was arranged by our guide at the Ol Moran Tented Camp, which was clean and comfortable, had a friendly staff and decent food – a lot more than what we had expected of our stay in the reserve.
Things to do in Masai Mara
Masai Mara has a lot to offer. A few things other than the game drives that you must consider to do:
- Must visit for The Great Wildebeest Migration (best time to visit is July to September).
- Hot air balloon trip during The Great Wildebeest Migration.
- Walking safari or night game drive in a private conservancy.
- Visit a Maasai Village to see the Maasai way of living.
We were received by our guide at Nairobi airport as we arrived from India and we started our journey right from there. Our tour package included visit to Lake Nakuru and then the next two days in Masai Mara. You can read more about our experience in Lake Nakuru in detail in this story. Masai Mara is about a 6 hours long drive from Lake Nakuru. The highway up to Narok town is comfortable, though lacks much amenities. You might be able to find a few restaurants/cafes and curio shops near Narok town, which is nearly at the middle of your journey.
The best thing about a road trip (and I guess road trip in all of Kenya) is that wildlife in some capacity is always along with you – zebras and impalas can be spotted often. And as you approach Masai Mara, you can witness the change in vegetation and wildlife only gets better.
We were in Masai Mara for two nights only. We arrived a little too late for the game drive on the first day. So we utilized to spend that time visiting the Maasai village and spending the rest relaxing at the camp. The way to any camp is tiring as there are hardly any roads so the drive is bumpy. And the rest after that is really well worth it.
We had only one day for safari so we had to start very early and devote the entire day to safari. And boy it was an experience. It’s only in Masai Mara you see such variety of wildlife – all the animals you had seen in books and movies come alive before your eyes. You visit Masai Mara to at least see The Big Five but you end up seeing so much more.
Our safari is a little hard for me to describe in words. So I would leave it to you to live my experience through the pictures I took during the adventure.