What to Expect on Safari in Maasai Mara, Kenya

What to Expect on Safari in Maasai Mara, Kenya

Rolling grasslands, graceful acacia trees, sweeping vistas teeming with wildlife, drifting clouds, and sun filled skies. Welcome to Kenya. Home to the some of the richest landscapes and animal life.

Kenya’s most treasured natural resource is the Serengeti Maasai Mara ecosystem – its two names reflect the two countries that share this landscape: Tanzania and Kenya. In the area’s Kenyan north, the landscape varies with winding rivers and greener tint, and is less savannah-like than in the Tanzanian south. The Big Five (lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, rhino, and elephant) inhabit this region along with 500 bird species and a few dozen other mammal species including a half million gazelles, 1.3 million wildebeest, and 200,000 zebras whose famous migration crosses the border between the two countries year after year.

No matter what month you travel in, there is plenty of wildlife to experience in Kenya. Bucket list trips require advance planning, so starting several months out will enable you to select the accommodations and itinerary that matches your specific requirements. Need a general introduction to kick start your safari planning? Check out my recent article, Safari Planning Basics. Most Kenya safari itineraries include bush plane flights between several of the country’s regions including Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, and the Laikipia plateau. Kenya boasts a variety of accommodations ranging from standard hotel-style to the most lux, boutique-style tented experiences.

My recent trip began with a two-night stay in Nairobi. (Click here, to view my article on Planning a Layover in Nairobi). After our city experience, we shuttled to the local airport and boarded a bush plane for an hour flight to Maasai Mara. Upon landing, we were warmly greeted by Maasai villagers with song, dance, and refreshments before climbing into our safari vehicle to head to the lodge. (The Maasai are a semi-nomadic, indigenous tribe whose ancestral territory stretches across Kenya and northern Tanzania). The safari experience started immediately — we stopped along the way to view the wildlife and enjoy a quick walkabout.

Our home for three nights was the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, a beautiful lodge surrounded on three sides by the Mara River. The main lodge area features indoor and outdoor spaces to lounge or dine including an expansive curved wood deck that winds along the riverbank and offers excellent views to the river below.

The lodge’s bedroom tents, generously spaced throughout the lush property, are set up high along the riverbank and offer a bird’s eye view of the hippo families as they lounge along the riverbank, their ears and eyes just visible above the waterline. Each tent is outfitted with a four-poster pillow top bed, private en-suite bathroom, and outdoor verandah. The décor and furnishings reflect the local community incorporating the patterns and rich reds of the Maasai textiles. Although the sides and ceiling of the tented structure are made from canvas, once you pass through the zippered entrance, the lodging more closely resembles the personality and warmth of a finely appointed boutique-hotel suite.

Days start early on safari with continental breakfast brought to your private verandah (look for my video of a tour of the accommodations at the end of this article). Most mornings, I drank my hot coffee under the watchful eyes of visiting silvery-gray vervet monkeys eyeing my plate of biscuits. After a quick walk down the paths to the lodge entrance, we climbed into our safari vehicle stowing our day packs filled with cameras, batteries, phone chargers, and sunglasses. The safari vehicle with its pop-up top and zip-down windows, was outfitted with binoculars, charging stations, wool blankets, and a cooler filled with beverages. Not sure what to bring on your safari? Check out my article, Safari Packing Tips.

Our mornings were spent on long meandering drives across the savannah led by our experienced guide and ambassador. Kenya guides are experts in botany, ornithology, geology, wildlife tracking, and identification. Our guide would radio other guides to share logistics on interesting sightings: a mama couger playing with her cubs, a lion relaxing in the shade of an acacia tree with her young brood, vultures circling a recent kill, or wildebeest and zebra drinking together from a watering hole.

Mid-morning, a full breakfast was served on a grassy plain, under an acacia tree complete with table linens, hot coffee, and a mix of culinary delights. (Plus, a port-o-potty with a view!) With our bellies full, we continued our trek to farther savannahs and then returned to the lodge midday, for a leisurely al fresco lunch.

In the late afternoon, we set out for our next game drive. Every day on safari is unique – there is always something new to see and experience. One day, our guide pulled over to the side of the path and instructed us to quietly tip toe through the brush. Not knowing what to expect, we were mesmerized to come upon a closely guarded rhino kept company by an around-the-clock armed guard to protect against poachers. So sad that these beautiful creatures are so endangered, but happy to know there are local organizations protecting them.

One day, we visited a Maasai village and met the residents and the village elder who gave us a personal tour of his mud home and showed us how to create fire with just sticks. We wandered through their outdoor marketplace and purchased locally made crafts including wooden sculptures, intricate beaded bowls, and richly colored woven blankets. (Look for my video of the Maasai village at the end of this article).

Afternoon game drives slowly stretch out into the early evening and end with partaking in MY most favorite end of safari ritual, “Sundowners,” which is an African happy hour. What’s required? Just sitting by the glowing campfire, cocktail in hand, watching the sun slip below the horizon, and dreaming of the next adventure.

Video of Maasai Village visit
Video of Fairmont Mara Safari Club Accommodations

It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Kenya Safari Planning Basics

Kenya Safari Planning Basics

Now that we have turned the calendar page and put 2020 behind us, it’s time to think positive, look forward and plan for future travel. It’s the perfect time to put some serious thought into a bucket list trip: an African Safari. A safari is a magical and unique experience that envelopes you in nature, culture, and history. Safaris enrich the mind, stretch the imagination, calm the soul, and encourage self-reflection. Out of the many countries our two sons have visited with us, our safari experiences definitely stand out as most memorable. This is an itinerary that requires advance planning to ensure availability in the more intimate and authentic tented camps and lodges, arrange for visas, as well as inquire about any necessary inoculations. As a travel agent, I can help ensure the entire process runs smoothly from initial inquiry, to your safe return home.

LOCATION
A relatively small country in East Africa, Kenya’s capital and central transportation hub is Nairobi. Travelers fly into the international airport Jomo Kenyatta, while connecting flights within Kenya or to neighboring countries are booked from Wilson, the domestic airport just next door. After a short stay in Nairobi (most international flights arrive in the evening), you will reach the other areas of the country primarily by bush plane. There’s plenty to explore within Kenya, but if you have more time, a Kenya safari can be booked in conjunction with a visit to Tanzania (to the south), Uganda (to the west) or Rwanda (to the south west). These countries, plus 15 others, comprise what is known as East Africa.

LANDSCAPE
When compared with popular safari destination South Africa (located in the southernmost point on the African continent,) Kenya has a more temperate climate. To learn more, check out my previous articles on South Africa Safaris: here. The further north in Kenya you travel, the drier and hillier the landscape becomes as the area doesn’t benefit as much from the rains received in the south-west of Kenya. Because it shares its longest border with Tanzania, Southern Kenya is the best place to see glacier-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

GAME VIEWING
Fantastic year-round game viewing makes Kenya a TOP safari location. Although it is a “Big 5” destination in the sense that lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino are found here, it’s difficult to see them all in the same place. Rhinos are the rarest and most difficult to find and unfortunately, due to poachers, have become a critically endangered species. Safari itineraries will often include overnight stays in Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu, Mt. Kenya, or the Laikipia Reserve in order to increase the variety of game viewing.

Kenya is the perfect place for first-time safari goers – because the land is so flat and open, it’s easy to enjoy 360-degree views and spot game throughout the year. Roads are well-maintained and English is widely spoken throughout the country. Long-standing conservation projects in Kenya also means that animals are generally plentiful and in good condition. Special relationships between tribal landowners, the government, conservationists, and safari operators mean that the needs of humans, nature, and agriculture are carefully balanced.

MAASAI MARA
Kenya’s most well known wildlife gem is the Great Migration: the 1,900-mile journey of over two million wildebeest (and zebra and gazelle) as they follow the rains over the Mara River into the Maasai Mara National Reserve where they feast on thousands of hectares of fresh grazing land. They stay for about four to five months, slowly mowing the Mara between approximately July and November when they cross back into Tanzania’s Serengeti region. (Only humans require a passport to cross this border!) The massive herds also attract large predators including lion, leopard, hyena and the occasional cheetah, therefore witnessing a “kill” on safari is most likely to occur during this time period.

Our guide took us on a bush walk to visit a rhino, heavily guarded against poachers

The main reason the Maasai Mara attracts the Migration is because its open, flat savannah dotted with flat-topped acacia trees, provides superb grazing. The wide landscape gives you that classic “safari look” with green grass turning golden as the seasons change. It’s impossible to know exactly when wildebeest will cross the Mara River – they don’t all cross in one place at the same time. Large groups can be viewed at different points and on different days. This unpredictability and sense of exploration is what makes safaris so exciting.

Subscribe to my blog to read my upcoming articles on Kenya including Safari Packing Tips, Weekend in Nairobi, and specifics on Maasai Mara, Mt. Kenya, and the Laikipia Reserve.

Need help planning your Bucket-list Trip?

It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE