Destinations | Africa

Safari in Kenya – Masai Mara National Reserve

30 Jan 2020 | Africa, Destinations, homepage, Outdoors

A safari in Kenya ranks as one of Africa’s greatest safari destinations and is a bucket list destination for anyone who loves nature. The animal kingdom with all its spectacles like the Great Wildebeest Migration make Safari holidays perfect for a family or couple vacation.

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When is the best time to visit Kenya?

 

The best months for wildlife spotting in Kenya are during the dry season, from late June to October. The Great Wildebeest Migration usually reaches the Masai Mara in July and the herds remain in the reserve until October, before making their way back to the Serengeti in Tanzania. However, decent wildlife viewings are possible all year around.

Here are some top timing tips when planning a trip to Kenya:

  • Best time to visit: June to October, January to February.
  • High season: July to November, January to February (some of the parks might get very crowded, especially the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru).
  • Low season: March to May.
  • Best weather: June to October.
  • Worst weather: March to May.

Vaccinations before you visit Kenya

 

Vaccinations before embarking on your trip to Kenya are highly recommended. There is a severe threat of malaria throughout Kenya, with the exception of high-altitude areas above 2,000m like Nairobi. Most safari parks are high-risk zones. The highest risks for infection are during the rain season, from September to April.

How to get to the Masai Mara

Kenya’s capital and central transport hub is Nairobi. We stayed in the Safari Park Hotel & Casino, located out of town away from all the crowds.

Home to some of Africa’s best all-year-round wildlife viewings (as well as the annual Great Wildebeest Migration!), it’s no wonder the Masai Mara National Reserve attracts thousands of visitors every year. We only had 7 days in total for our trip, so we immediately took a domestic flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara National Reserve. The location of the park is remote in comparison to others, which makes flying the most straightforward option. 

You can also go to Masai Mara National Park by car – but the traffic is hellish like almost anywhere in Central Africa. Motorcycles, dilapidated buses, overloaded trucks, jeeps, dogs, and thousands of people along the road… Everybody fights for every centimeter and blares their car horn for almost anything. Driving around in Central Africa is an adventure in itself!

We chose a flight from Nairobi. The domestic airport of the Kenyan capital Nairobi is truly organized chaos. Planes are parked so close together that you genuinely think it’s a joke. It’s a heavily guarded airport, which often makes you wonder whether flying is really the best choice. 

Somehow we managed to check in on time and took a seat in the small plane, where an American pilot spoke to us in a friendly manner. An hour later we started our landing, which we had to stop abruptly because of a herd of zebras standing on the runway. As the pilot made a second attempt and I spotted a herd of elephants, I started to realize that this trip was going to be far from ordinary. My stomach instantly filled with butterflies. This was the trip that I dreamed of as a child, and I still am more than grateful that this dream came true.

Where we stayed for our safari in Kenya

The Masai Mara is a nature reserve in southwestern Kenya. It expands over 1,700 square kilometers and borders the Serengeti plain. The major attraction for safari enthusiasts is the Great Wildebeest Migration: the massive seasonal migration of the wildebeest and zebras. 

There’s an extensive network of unpaved roads throughout the park. The roads are accessible for all types of cars during the dry season. The landscape mainly consists of grassy plains, with occasional acacias and river forests. Two major rivers flow through the park – the Talek and the Mara – and the latter is famous for its migration. Most of the rain falls in the northern part of the park, which means that the density and diversity of wildlife varies over time.           

During our three-day safari we stayed in luxury tents in Kilima Safari Kamp.

Narrow-minded luxury aficionados might turn up their noses at Kilima Camp. Who sleeps in a tent nowadays? But let us state clearly that these were no ordinary tents. Our tent was sixty square meters in size, equipped with a rain shower. Ingenious in its simplicity. Call it ‘staying in Out of Africa style’. 

Moreover… what a view! The panorama from the terrace of our luxury tent was breathtaking. We looked over the savannah for miles and the Mara River glistened beautifully in the sun. Nothing is as delicious as breakfast in the morning chill of the jungle, with hot coffee in tall jugs and a fresh campfire as a companion. 

The Maasai appear everywhere as trained bodyguards. Their presence is great, but ubiquitous. Maasai is the name given to a largely nomadic people in East Africa, mainly living in Kenya and Tanzania. The total population of the Maasai is estimated at 900,000 – half of which is in Kenya. There isn’t any exact data as accurate census data isn’t available, but most notably they have no national borders. 

Livestock is indispensable for the Maasai. They eat the meat and blood, drink the milk, use the skins for their houses and produce tools and combs from the bone. Despite the growing influence of civilization, the Maasai manage to preserve their ancient traditions. Today, however, their traditional lifestyle is under great pressure for various reasons. The government of Kenya wants to take parts of their pasture for livestock to expand the national parks like the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara. “Several dozen Maasai are indirectly involved in this village,” the lodge manager explained to us. “It secures our past and gives us a fair future. In addition, we appreciate their active involvement in tourism.” 

Breakfast and dinner were served in the camp, and we enjoyed delicious picnics in the afternoons during our day trips.

Our safari in Masai Mara National Reserve

 

We spent the next three days on the main reason for the trip – the safari. Our main goal: to see a piece of the migration. That meant touring around, stopping a lot and simply observing nature. Safari means ‘journey’ in Swahili – and we soon saw why. We switched ourselves into slow mode, and tried to live in the rhythm of the jungle. We didn’t worry about what we wanted to see, but instead focused on being content with what we got. 

We drove along the border of Serengeti, probably the most famous park in Tanzania. The name is derived from Siringet, a Maasai word that literally means ‘endless plains’. It’s a region of savannas and forest landscapes, spread over the north of Tanzania and the south of Kenya. The total area is about 30,000 square kilometers, of which eighty percent in Tanzania. About 1.6 million herbivores and thousands of predators live in the area, but the region is best known for the Great Migration. Nearly two million wildebeest, gazelles and zebras migrate from Serengeti Park to Masai Mara and back every year. It is, and remains to be, one of the most spectacular animal migrations on the planet. They have to cross the Mara River on their travels, which is guaranteed to be a spectacle. This is an annual party much anticipated by the crocodiles!

During our stay we got spoiled and quickly spotted the Big Five, including lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos. As well as these great breathtaking animals, you can also spot popular species like ostriches, crocodiles, cheetahs, zebras, hyenas, gazelles and giraffes along the way.

Lake Naivasha

On the last day of our trip (after a well-deserved day of relaxation at the hotel!) we enjoyed another day trip to Lake Naivasha and went sailing on a boat among the hippos.

Lake Naivasha is the highest lake in Kenya (1884 meters), and served as Kenya’s main airport during colonial times. The seaplanes from London landed on the lake to break up the long flight to Cape Town. Around the lake there are several colonial buildings where you can spend the night and feel the atmosphere of times gone by. In addition to ospreys, many other waterfowl live around the lake – such as the saddle-billed stork, various kingfisher species and the African spoonbill.

The area is known for exclusive excursions that aren’t possible anywhere else in Kenya. Here are some of the different options:

Boat Safari

Boat safaris are offered on Lake Naivasha, where you can enjoy the waterfowl, hippos and crocodiles in peace. You can also spot different forms of wildlife quenching their thirst on the banks.

Mountain Biking

Hell’s Gate National Park offers the unique opportunity to cycle among the wildlife on mountain bike. The feeling of being actively involved in the setting of steep cliffs and grazing zebras and giraffes is a highlight of this national park. From the entrance of the park it’s 8km by bike to the Hell’s Gate gorge.

Read next | PERU TRAVEL GUIDE

Walking

The bike ride can be combined with a hike in the Hell’s Gate gorge deeper in the park. The gorge’s steep cliffs and views make for an adventurous hike – including a part that must be scrambled across! A local guide informs you about the geology, bird species and provides guidance during the more difficult parts.

Rock Climbing

In the middle of the park are the two lava towers, Fischer’s Toren and Central Toren, that can be climbed. They’re a tough challenge and a technical climb, so rock climbing experience is definitely required.

From Lake Naivasha it’s also possible to go to Mount Suswa, a large volcano hardly visited by tourists. It’s about a three hour walk to the top of the crater, and around eight hours to walk around. If you do visit Mount Suswa you’ll also spend the night here, camping on a flat piece of grass.

This tour is not recommended without a guide – you can arrange a local Maasai guide in advance who will make this two-day trip with you.

safari in Kenya
safari in Kenya

Some more tips to enjoy Kenya to the fullest

 

  • To save costs you can drive to Masai Mara by car – but bear in mind this is a six-hour trip on unpaved roads. I wouldn’t recommend driving by yourself in Kenya, as the roads are very poorly maintained. Instead, rent a car with a local driver to take you to your destination.
  • It’s also not recommended to walk around the streets alone at night as a tourist. Hotels will advise you not to venture out after sunset without the company of a guide.
  • Always negotiate the prices for products and services. Negotiating is culturally expected, so be aware of this to avoid paying too much. Make sure you always have some cash in your pocket too, because it’s not always possible to pay with a credit card.  
  • Take a first aid kit with you to Kenya! I’ve visited the country twice and have been super sick twice, despite the fact that we always stayed in decent hotels. Pills for headaches, stomach pain and diarrhea are definitely recommended.

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Safari in Kenya

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