Wildlife, wildlife, and more wildlife! Did I just die and go to heaven? Seriously though.
Maasai (also, Masai) refers to a cultural group of people that NatGeo often times depicts as the ‘face of Africa,’ which live around the park. Mara means ‘spotted,’ which is a reference to the landscape.
What to Expect
- It is no wonder that the Maasai Mara is one of the top destinations in the world to go on safari. The land is teeming with a wide variety of active wildlife that will keep you on your toes. I recommend you bring a field book to identify all of the flora and fauna, as well as a notepad to keep track of all that you see – which I am certain will be plenty!
- If you build it, they will come, right? Well, in this case, the land and the animals have worked together to build the perfect destination for just about every type of tourist. The wildlife is not the only thing abundant on these lands though – the people are everywhere, too! The Mara proves itself to be an international tourist destination filled with tourists from around the world. If you are looking for an intimate safari destination, I suggest you ask your guide to take you as far from the entrance gates as possible.
- My boyfriend and I stayed at a brilliant campsite that is pocket-friendly for the traveler on a tight budget. We were instructed to bring our money with us, since the site did not have an ATM. There are plenty of high-budget lodging areas, which may have ATMs, but I am unsure. I suggest you call your lodge beforehand in order to determine whether or not you will need to bring money for your stay, your excursions, and food/shopping along the way.
Lucky for me and my boyfriend, we traveled to the Mara in early August – right at the heart of the wildebeest migration, which I had no clue was happening! The extraordinary migration takes place from July to October and offers the tourist a spectacular view of the interaction of land and animal. The animals cross through the Mara River, which is filled with hippos and crocs, and is apparently spectacular to view! Unfortunately, however, our timing and that of the ‘beests did not collide. Another good time to visit is from December to February. The land is dryer then and more ideal for the Big Cats. However, from what I’ve read, there is hardly a bad time to safari at the Mara – the ecosystem is active year round! Find out more about Kenya’s weather and average temperatures.
If one thing is for certain, there is NO shortage of vehicles traveling to this tourist hotspot! There is one main route to the Mara that begins to flood with safari-type vehicles about half-way into the drive from Nairobi. We were picked up and dropped off at our location in the country’s capital via mini-bus (about a 5-6 hour drive), which was part of our super affordable safari package. The internet is LOADED with Mara safari packages that offer combination deals, as well as a host of low cost flights to Kenya to get you there. As such. I suggest you stick with this method of travel as a way to stay within budget and as a means to be worry-free along the way. Inside the reserve was a landing strip that was plotted right next to the bathrooms, which flies in those that can afford this type of travel – I’m sure it has a hefty price tag! But, if you can afford it, why not?
- Safari: Ok, well, that’s obvious! But what kind? The Mara offers 3 different types of safari that will undoubtedly give you a different perspective and experience of the location as a whole. Since we were on a budget, we decided to stick with a 2-day, 1-night game drivethat came with our safari package. The drive afforded us the opportunity to get close to the animals safely, while covering a vast amount of land, ultimately allowing us to see a great amount of animals. Even though we didn’t move our bodies, we were EXHAUSTED. You may also opt to partake in a walking safari, which I’m sure is absolutely euphoric. This experience will allow you to feel the land under your feet, and the grassland brushing against your body. Become one with the animals, but don’t get TOO close! The only downfall of this option that I can see is that you won’t be able to cover much land, since it will be absolutely tiring. I’m sure that won’t be a huge problem, though, since the land is occupied with so many critters. One tip though, bring a damn-good, waterproof pair of hiking shoes! The last, and ultimate safari that you may experience, is via hot freaking air balloon! I WISH we could have done this. This ride is supposedly utterly breathtaking – I can imagine why. Get a bird’s eye view of the magical landscape as you soar through the crisp air. I need to get back and do this one day!!!
- The Maasai: Surrounding the park are local groups of Maasai. If you haven’t experienced this type of culture, I recommend you visit their living quarters. We were asked to pay ~20USD a person, which we decided to opt out of since we had just finished camping in a remote part of Turkana with groups of people that, although they are ethnically different than the Maasai, afforded us a look into a different way of living.
- Shopping: Our entire trip cost us a few hundred USD for the both of us (amazing, considering these types of trips can be well over a couple grand!). We wanted to keep it that way and decided against shopping. I was tempted though. Along the way to the park are tourist rest-stops, which double as the souvenir-crazed tourist’s dream location. There are tons of shops filled with a variety of ‘African-themed’ purchases. The shops often carry many of the same items, so feel free to shop around, but remember precious time could be ticking away from a memorable experience and you may possibly be missing out on seeing one of the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Water Buffalo). As somebody once stated, “Take memories, not things.” Or at least, I think that’s how it goes?
- Food + Lodging: We opted for an all-inclusive budget-friendly safari trip through Mara Explorers Camp, which we booked last minute . Our delicious meals, comfortable lodging, and incredible safari cost less than a couple of tanks of gas in America – even the park entrance fees were included, which for non-residents are $80USD a person/day ($45USD per child/day)! I have no clue how they do it! Both the staff and the other tourists were extremely friendly. Since food was included, I don’t know much about acquiring your own in the area. We gathered snacks/water from the rest-stops toward the camp site, which we were able to use while on the drive and the safari. As far as lodging is concerned, there is a high number of places to stay both inside and outside of the camp; however, I believe they are considerably more than the site where we stayed.
Don’t Forget you only have this moment once. Train yourself to live in the moment and to put the camera down every once in a while. You can never capture a moment through your camera lens as quick as you can with lens that is your eye – and just like that, a moment can be gone. Don’t worry about producing NatGeo type photography, enjoy yourself!
Also, ask your safari guide to bring you to the Kenyan/Tanzanian border and be at 2 places at 1 time!
- If you are not taking pictures, cover your lens! The area is extremely dusty and will certainly leave spots on your images if you do not. Because it is very dusty, it is advisable that you cover your items in your tent, as well as those on your person with a waterproof, lightweight bag.
- Dress in layers. Although we may think that the environment is primarily hot, it can actually get quite chilly. Bring yourself a nice windbreaker, preferably waterproof with a hoodie, to fight off the sometimes windy and chilly environment.
- If you are taking a small aircraft in Kenya, remember to pack as light as possible since there is limited space on the plane and therefore, strict weight restrictions. Check in with your carrier and find out what the weight limit is.
Like so many, I was enchanted by the landscape and the animals of the Maasai Mara. While I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent at the park, I am itching to go back to try out both the hot air balloon and the walking safaris!