If you are up early one fine August morning by the Mara river, you will notice small specks rise rapidly through the green bushes along the stretch of the river you can see. Quite rapidly, those specks grow into hundreds, and then thousands and then they start growing bigger and bigger. Thousands of Wildebeest and Zebras have just arrived without stamping their passports at the Tanzanian border.
They stand, sip the waters, look around and then hurriedly cross the river and into the sweet lovely grasslands of Masaimara. You have just witnessed the great annual migration, the greatest show on Earth as far as wildlife is concerned.
About Masai Mara
Masai mara national park is a mere 1510 sq. km of the wider Mara-Serengeti conservancy ecosystem which is 25,100 sq. km. You add Ngorongoro, Musoma and the greater Mara ecosystem (forests have no borders), and you are perhaps looking at an area as big as Ireland, reserved only for wildlife and their co-existing brothers – the Masai. It is so obvious then that Mara is the best place in the world to view the big game and a vast variety of animals and birds this planet can offer. And, this is our big game story!
We arrived at the Sekinani gate of Mara reserve, after a grueling 6-hour drive in a 4×4 from Lake Nakuru, most of which was dirt road. Indeed, the last 30 mins was literally quad biking terrain of mud and slush. I was very disappointed by the state of roads in Kenya (and Tanzania), but that is another story for another time. When our driver Sammy told us that our lodge was a further 38km inside the reserve, I almost collapsed. After another hour of grueling drive, we arrived in Heaven.
Most lodges inside the reserve are extremely luxurious and ours was no different, built along the Mara river with viewing decks built atop the river, just to watch the migration. We were to spend the next 3 days in this luxurious retreat: Indian food, very large & comfortable permanent tents, huge beds, hot water bags inside the beds at night, to 360 views from the tents, wooden floors and an extended balcony overlooking the river, swimming pool, play areas, open bars, comfortable reading room and Internet. I have never seen my son so happy at a Jungle lodge.
We would start our day with an early breakfast, pack a picnic basket for lunch and set out for a whole day’s safari across the park in search for the big 5: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino & Buffalo. Ostriches, Topi, Gazelles, Giraffes, Warthogs, Wildebeest, Zebras, Hyenas and Jackals would come around to try and get our attention diverted but even if they were in hundreds, we never lost sight of our big 5.
Over the next 2 days, we saw countless numbers of these beauties wherever we looked around in Mara. We saw Hippos and Crocodiles getting ready to welcome the imminent migration by sharpening their teeth and fight rehearsals.
It is a dream sequence to sit down in that open grassland for your lunch, amongst the wildlife and munch upon your sandwich. This is how the earliest humans would have felt before (without the sandwich of course) they invented civilization.
One afternoon we spent a luxurious 30 mins for lunch in an open grassland after spotting 2 Cheetahs and the next afternoon we had to fold up our lunch within 5 mins and rush into our 4×4 as we heard on our radio that a Lion was coming our way. Check out the pictures for yourself.
Not just animals, we clicked some splendid birds too. Here are a few of those –
Mara was awesome; it was dusty, it was fresh winds, it was open grassland as far as one can see; it was green, it was undulating; it was vast, it was cool, it was teeming with life, it was full of energy. As we drove out of Mara for our next stop – which was Serengeti – we could see Elephants fighting, birds going on a stroll, a Lioness going on a hunt with her cubs.
Life went on as usual without us for the 2.5 hours it took us to drive out of Mara into the Namanga border for Tanzania. We still miss it and will come back one day, and again, and again…. because…Mara is the greatest show on Earth.
How to reach Masai Mara –
- Mara is a 6-hour drive (or a 45-min expensive flight) from Nairobi. You can also come thru from Tanzania (thru Namanga border), but 95% visitors opt to come thru Nairobi or take a break at Lake Nakuru or Lake Naivasha. It is advisable. If you have less time and want to do Mara specifically, opt for flight.
- You should time your arrival for the day, else you may end up traveling the entire day and still be a guest for the night at a lodge w/o seeing anything.
Where to stay in Masai Mara –
- Staying inside the reserve is more useful as it cuts down the travel time in and out of the gate and queues. It is a huge reserve and every minute saved is every minute gained looking at wildlife.
- There are many staying options in Masai Mara .Most of them are inside the reserve, but a few of them are at the gate or the periphery of the reserve. Prices vary and are available for all pocket sizes. Prices double up everywhere during the migration months so booking in advance makes a lot of sense.
- Practically everyone will book a trip thru a travel operator who will give you options of stay. Check online (Trip Advisor works best) on places and reviews. Check their locations and a place on the river, inside the reserve that suits your budget is the jackpot.
- Don’t really fuss about the rates you see online. They are astronomical. Your tour operator will get you lower rates for sure.
Best time to visit Masai Mara –
- Mara has one of the highest concentration of wildlife in the world, so anytime is a good time, the whole year around. We did it before the migration picked up and I think we got a very good deal. However, from August – October when the migration is in full swing, is an awesome time. You will see chases, kills, group dynamics in action everywhere and you won’t need to go looking for game as grass will be much lower everywhere and grounds will be dry. Beware, that everyone thinks so about these months so it will be expensive too. Book early.
- It is also practical to do full day safaris with packed lunches than do morning & evening game drives – it saves time of to and fro from the lodge. Vehicles are every comfortable to stay in and you will have lots of food and water packed by your lodge anyway. The reserve is breezy with many designated spots for an outdoor picnic where you can take breaks. Typical start would be 7am morning and return by 5pm for a nice hot shower and lots of gossip at the bar with fellow guests.
- I believe 3N/4D is a valuable time for Mara. Given the vastness, it may be good to split this in 2 stays at 2 very different points in the Mara triangle. If you have limited time and spending some time in other areas (Nakuru, Samburu, Naivasha etc.), it may be more beneficial to cut down a day there and add 1 day in Mara.
Mosquitoes / Insects & What to wear –
- We didn’t encounter any mosquitoes during our stay in May June. All lodges supply you with copious quantities of mosquito repellents and they are generally expected in the evenings. Wearing full sleeved dresses in the evenings and not venturing much outside works a lot. We also carried a DEET spray and used it liberally. We hardly had any mosquito bite for the 14 days trip.
- There are tsetse flies and they do bite and there is no solution to those. These are found in hot and humid places. If Mara is windy and cool, you will not find them. If you do find them, drive around and look for breezy places and they will go away. They are attracted to blue and black. Avoid those colors inside the reserve.
- It is expected that visitors would have taken yellow fever vaccines before entering Kenya. You are needed to show your yellow colored red cross certificates when you clear Kenyan immigration.
- Wear full length clothes during game drives, pastel shades of jungle shades. Lots of sunscreen and cover your head for the sun. You don’t really jump out of your vehicle (except for toilet and a picnic lunch), so you can wear slippers as well – they are easy to discard and jump onto your seat if you see something and need to click it thru the sunroof.
- Lodge keepers will come to you at sun down and close your tents, zip the nets etc and spray your rooms, if needed, so that you don’t have any botheration of insects while you are staying. Lodges are very safe.
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