Masai Mara Safaris, Kenya, East Africa

Safari wildlife, wildebeest migration, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Wildebeest in the Masai Mara after the migration from Tanazania. Photo by Bjorn Torrissen.

Trivia: The blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), also known as the common wildebeest, is genetically classified as an antelope.

The great animal migration from Tanzania’s Serengeti up north to the Mara Triangle takes place between July and October, depending on the rains. The majority of the creatures are wildebeest or zebra and total numbers can be over three million, keeping both crocs and cameras busy.

Why choose the Masai Mara?

Kenya’s national parks set the wild standard in East Africa with a huge diversity and quantity of parks, animals and great game lodges, tented camps and superb resort hotels.
But the creme de la creme is the Maasai Mara, Kenya’s most famous park, and a dramatic new private management system in is returning the Mara to its former glory.
The weather is perfect in season, sunny but not too hot, the mountains are over the moon and there is huge diversity and quantity of tropical beaches too when all the early morning starts and bumpy 4WD gets too much.

Three cheetah cuddling in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, Africa

A group hug in the Mara.

Trivia: The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest animal in Africa over a short distance (500 metres) with a top speed of 112kph, 70mph and accelerates from 0-62mph faster than most sports cars – 3 seconds. The downside of the speed speciality is that cheetahs cannot climb trees, though they can leap onto low branches.

However…

Huge, flat and loaded with beasts of every description, including herds of jeeps the Masai Mara used to be the world’s best wildlife experience, then things fell apart under the local government but are now shakily back on track under private management.

The Mara is still on the receiving end of the million beast migration June-October but it’s sadly not the ultimate wildlife experience it was in the past thanks to a massive overload of 4WDs chasing each other and photographers trying not to shoot more jeeps than animals.
Choose October-November for best sightings of migratory beasts with least numbers of pursuing Toyotas.

The Mara is a very arduous full day’s drive from Nairobi, or an expensive flight.

A lion spraying to mark his territory, a Land Rover! Maasai Mara, Kenya, Africa

A lion greets his fans.

The lion is spraying the Land Rover, marking it as his territory. Animals like these don’t seem to notice carefully driven jeeps, sometimes fooling tourists into jumping down from their vehicle for a closer shot. The tourist then gets a high-speed close-up of a predator’s claws and canines – often fatal to the human, but a refreshingly different flavour for the predator.

Self Drive Safaris

Self drive is the easiest way to get around the Masai Mara, especially with young children. Flying is fast but then involved staying at the sort of safari lodge or camp that includes a vehicle and guide for game drives and that’s usually expensive. Buses can be used if you’re experienced, adventurous travellers, but they’re inconvenient for gateways into parks and reserves where the accommodation is located.

However, a self-drive safari is a different matter. Kruger Park self-drive this is not!
It’s easy enough to see a fair amount of Kenyan wildlife off the mainstream tourist circuit in places like Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate, Lake Baringo and Kakamega Forest but it’s a lot more effort in bigger national parks – Maasai Mara included – where neither the roads nor the sign posting are in good shape so both getting lost and getting limited wildlife sightings is likely to be commonplace.
It’s a maze out there, every road looks the same, dusty and decrepit dirt roads that go to the horizon; pick the wrong one and spend a night with the lions.
One option would be to take the first safari with your lodge to get a feel for the area and learn some basic routes and animal-spotting tips, then head out on your own.

A hungry hyena, Masai Mara, Kenya, Africa

A spotted hyena with an appetite for anything.

Trivia: Hyenas laugh when either killing or mating and scream when preparing to hunt. Nice.

Budget Safaris

These days of austerity and competition there are cheaper safari options popping up all over the place, but especially to be found in Nairobi. For example Nairobi backpackers runs cheap and convenient safari tours from a couple of days up to a week or more. But ‘cheap’ is relative, no reasonable East African safari is ever going to be really cheap! You’re definitely looking at over a hundred dollars per day per person for a tent, 3 meals, return transport to/from the airport and game drives.

The Cape buffalo(aka African Buffalo) is the most dangerous animal in Africa

A Cape buffalo looking upset, Maasai Mara, Kenya

A Cape Buffalo calculating the odds of knocking the photographer out of the truck for a bit of excitement and death on a hot, dull afternoon.

It is very aggressive and charges without provocation. It also likes to lurk behind thick bushes or trees waiting for short-sighted Japanese businessmen to wander into range. It’s the biggest killer of humans in Africa. This beast possesses all the aggression and desire to kill that’s missing from Asian water buffalo.

The hippopotamus is runner-up man-killer, especially females with young nearby, like the one in the picture.

Although lionesses kill far more game than their male mates, who are in fact lazy, good-for-nothing sex-toys (they have sex up to 50 times a day in season), the lion family kill far fewer humans than the other two animals.

Ballooning over the Masai Mara

An early balloon flight prepares for take off in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

An early morning flight prepares for take off.

Balloon Trivia: Little known fact by groundlings! Hot air balloons are not at all quiet! They are, in fact, incredibly noisy when you’re in the basket, due to the huge propane burner just overhead that gets fired up by the pilot every 10 seconds or so, depending on the number of passengers and the altitude. Hot too, which is why balloon pilots usually wear hats. And they don’t always land the right way up!

If you’re on a budget we feel that ballooning is not money well spent. Nor are some visits to Maasai villages where the song and dance routines are artificial and lacking in ethnic authenticity. A cobbled-together show to give the punters some reason to visit.

A couple of adult Masai talking to tourists outside their home, Maasai Mara, Kenya

These two, on the other hand, are colourful and convincing though perhaps a little posed.

Kenya’s other wildlife options

Elephants crossing the Ewaso Ng'iro river in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya Wildlife Safari February

Elephants crossing the Ewaso Ng’iro river in Samburu National Reserve. Photo by Mark Draper.

• Lake Nakuru for massed flamingoes, leopards and possibly white rhino sightings. Also home a couple of fine budget camping locations: the Backpacker’s Campsite, an excellent public camp ground just inside the main gate; Wildlife of Kenya Youth Hostel; Wildlife Club of Kenya Guesthouse.

• Amboseli, a small park not far from Nairobi, the place to go to get photos of elephants backed by magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro. But inevitably crowded.

• Hell’s Gate, the only park where unguided cycling and hiking is permitted. The park also offers spectacular rock scenery and fine rock climbing, particularly Fischer’s Tower in a gorge. Camping around Lake Naivasha is recommended and cycle/car hire possible there.

• Tsavo, the biggest NP in Kenya is divided into two regions, West and East. They have less visitors than other parks, probably because wildlife is less abundant. Tsavo West has the best public camp sites but both have luxury tented camps too. West is the most scenic of the two with hills, a pretty oasis and a mass of hippos and crocs.

• Samburu. Less visitors and more ambience than the Mara, tho’ slightly less wildlife visible, especially predators. It’s a day’s drive, or flight.

• Aberdare. A mountain park, partly rainforest, with good walking routes, poor weather and great views, especially of waterfalls. .

• Nairobi National Park. Only minutes from the town centre it has most of the must-see creatures except elephant.

Birds

• Kakamega Forest, west Kenya. A classic equatorial African rainforest buzzing with birds, monkeys and reptiles and accessible on foot. A day’s ride from Nairobi.

• Flamingoes are often found massed in/on Lake Nakuru or Lake Bogoria, but no guarentees. It’s 3 hours drive from Nairobi.

flamingoes on Lake Nakuru, Kenya

One of the busier days on Lake Nakuru. Photo by Syllabub.

Flamigoes are naturally white but turn pink due to their diet which is heavy in tiny pink shellfish. Furthermore baboons near Lake Bogoria in Kenya have taken to eating flamingoes that die near the shore and this high keratin diet is changing their fur colour from grey to brown.