When choosing a Kenya safari, the Masai Mara is one of the top places that come to mind. This is because it’s home to the Big Five – lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo. If you plan to spend at least three days on a Masai Mara safari, you’ll have a very high chance of seeing at least four of the five. The most elusive is the rhinoceros.
A Masai Mara safari is an experience that all wildlife lovers should try. Once you’ve been one time, chances are you’ll want to go back again and again. The Masai Mara triangle is teaming with wildlife and a few days of wildlife watching will bring many amazing experiences.
Most visitors to the Masai Mara have to spend a day or two in Nairobi. Here are some things to do in Nairobi.
- Masai Mara Safari
- Masai Mara Wildlife Experiences
- Masai Mara hot air balloon
- Masai Mara Tribes
- Masai Mara Camps
- Masai Mara travel tips
Masai Mara Safari
Masai Mara Wildlife Experiences
A tale of three cheetahs
On the second day of our Masai Mara safari, we’re bumping up and down in the back seat of a safari vehicle, bones rattling, as we fly through a field of grass.
From the excited tone of the voice of our guide, who is jabbering away in Swahili, it looks like there’s a predator around the area.
The Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the best places in the world to see cheetahs in the wild.
With 1510sqkm of grasslands, it’s sometimes difficult to get a good eyeful of the world’s fastest land animal.
Today, we’re in luck.
We arrive at a scene to see three cheetahs and there’s a bonus.,a pack of hyenas and jackals as well.
We’re just in time to get a photo of a hyena staring defiantly at the cheetahs with a baby gazelle hanging from its mouth.
In the distance are Thompson’s gazelles and impalas watching with interest.
Our guide beats on the steering wheel in frustration. When he calms down, he tells us the three cheetahs are young males out on one of their first kills.
As the hyena has stolen their food, this could mean that the cheetahs could go hungry for the rest of the day. It’s a raw lesson in the Masai Mara university of life.
The cheetahs were cubs of a female cheetah that died in an accident while being tranquilised. The Masai Mara community was devastated but there was an even bigger problem.
Her cubs were only nine months old and had not yet been taught to hunt. The Masai Mara Rangers were afraid that the cubs wouldn’t survive in the wild on their own.
As cheetahs are rapidly becoming an endangered species, the Rangers would keep an eye on the cubs to help them along.
The alternative would have been a cheetah orphanage.
The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal.
They can run fast (up to 112kph) but they have weak jaws and small teeth, which means they’re not that well equipped to fight larger predators.
Due to poaching and loss of habitat through farming, the species is endangered.
We feel privileged to have more cheetah sightings; three female cheetahs. The mother and her two daughters run and jump playfully.
Mother cheetah watches a family of warthogs (African wild pigs) walking through the plains.
The adult cheetah springs into action when the warthogs come close to her cubs and chases them away.
Masai Mara Migration
The Masai Mara Great Migration is a bucket list event when millions of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles cross the Mara River from Tanzania’s Serengeti.
During the Masai Mara migration, the plains in the Mara are a sea of wildlife. The Mara River crossing is a jaw-dropping sight, where thousands of wildebeests and zebras cross the river.
The Masai Mara Migration is also a confronting experience, as many don’t make it and dead wildebeest carcasses float in some parts of the river to be devoured by the crocodiles.
One of the strong points of the Masai Mara is that no matter what time of year you visit, there’s plenty of wildlife to see.
On one trip two months before the migration, our daily safaris while staying in luxury at Sanctuary Olonana safari camp reveals a Noah’s Ark of creatures.
We see herds of African buffaloes, with impressive curled horns.
White cattle egrets are small birds that hop on and off the backs of these buffaloes, picking at insects.
Seeing so many animals in the Masai Mara National Park soon becomes the norm and it’s easy to take it all for granted. But it’s good to remember you’re in the wild and anything can happen.
Buffaloes can be extremely dangerous and our guide tells us about a near-fatal accident with one.
A guest decided to hop out of the vehicle and answer the call of nature behind a bush.
A buffalo came out of nowhere and charged straight at the bush. The guide jumped out to rescue the guest and found himself on his back facing an angry buffalo. He was lucky to escape with a wounded leg.
Lions, leopards and elephants
Masai Mara safaris are likely to bring sightings of lions, elephants, giraffes, birds and all kinds deer.
One of the more amazing sights in the Masai Mara game reserve is a lioness dragging a freshly killed topi by the neck while a pride of male lions sleep some distance away.
Another highlight is seeing a Martial eagle perched on a mound. The eagle has just killed an Egyptian goose and is looking mighty pleased.
Each day brings more animal sightings, such as Thompson’s gazelles wagging their tails, giraffes grazing on treetops and serval cats darting among the grass.
There are so many elephants and flocks of wildebeests.
Our guide shows us a half-eaten carcass of a gazelle wedged in the high branches of an Acacia tree.
It’s a leopard’s dinner but the leopard is nowhere in sight.
One afternoon, we come across two young lions. The lions are surrounded by game-viewing vehicles.
At first, the lions ignore the sightseers and roll over on their backs.
We hang around for a while and one of the lions walks right up to the rear wheel of our 4WD and rubs its back against the tyre.
The lions are so used to seeing vehicles they usually ignore them.
According to our guide, the lions thing that the vehicles as large friendly beasts.
Although, there was one crazy lion that liked to jump through the open vehicles.
Masai Mara hot air balloon
Of all the experiences in Kenya, I’d have to put flying in a hot air balloon at the top of my list of things I’d do again next time.
Drifting dreamily above the Masai Mara in a hot air balloon is an experience I’ve done it twice and enjoyed it immensely both times.
If you’re visiting Kenya’s Masai Mara during the annual migration when two million wildebeest and zebra charge into the Masai Mara then a balloon flight is a real highlight.
During the Masai Mara wildebeest migration, the plains are filled with wildlife and you are filled with wonder as you float above graceful giraffes, wildebeest and hippos.
Being in a hot air balloon is an experience that is completely different from flying.
If you’re lucky, you might even see lions hunting and a leopard running over the treetops.
It’s tranquil and relaxing.
I’ve spoken to several people with a fear of heights who assure me that being in a hot air balloon is nowhere near as stressful as flying in a helicopter or a light aircraft.
The experience is somewhat surreal and the landscape below seems like a toy landscape from a dream as you drift over the vast lush green savannah plains, hills and forests.
From above, you see giraffes grazing on trees, herds of topis and elephants drinking from the river.
The balloon floats over the Mara River, where noisy hippos bath in the river.
Back on the ground, the chefs will have a hearty cooked bush breakfast ready for you to wash down with champagne.
Masai Mara Tribes
A visit to the Masai Mara wouldn’t be complete without visiting a Masai village. The Masai Mara is home to the Masai in Africa.
Most camps have relationships with the Masai. And even though some of the villages can be a bit touristy, it’s still worth going to one.
If you want to avoid the tourist traps then visit a school and you’ll be delighted by the Masai children.
Masai Mara Camps
Masai Mara camping ranges from basic to luxury camps. Staying in a Masai Mara camp is an experience that will bring you closer to nature.
Masai Mara budget camps
If you’ore on a budget, you can save money by staying a little further away from the Masai Mara Reserve. Outside the park, accommodation starts from US$80.
Keep in mind that this means more travelling time and potentially less time game viewing.
Luxury tented camps
You may not think of Kenya as a destination for luxury escapes but if you love wildlife, staying in a luxury tented camp in the Masai Mara is a bucket list experience. Tents have bathroom and toilet facilities and come with butlers who make your bed, do your washing and wake you up in the morning with tea and cookies. If you’re planning on seeing the Great Migration, into account how far the camps are from the river crossing.
Sanctuary Olonana, a small luxury safari camp named after a Masai chief who ruled during the early 1900s when the Masai was a force in Kenya’s Masai Mara.
As dawn breaks, you step onto your veranda facing the Mara River listening to the hippos grunt, birds chirp and a lion roar in the distance.
14 suites are impeccably furnished with African and contemporary decor complete with every comfort you can imagine.
After bouncing around all day in the back of a safari vehicle there’s nothing better than a hot shower or a soak in a bathtub in a contemporary bathroom.
Game drives at Olonana are top-notch as this safari camp employs highly skilled guides who have the experience to find wildlife.
And there’s plenty of that. You’re guaranteed to see lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants and a heap of other African animals.
One of the best experiences of the day is the traditional sundowner and you could easily get used to sipping gin and tonic each evening while watching the animals grazing across the river.
Well-positioned camp near the river crossing and if you’re planning on doing a hot air balloon flight.
If the cacophonous chorus of groans and grunts doesn’t keep you wide awake on the first night of your Masai Mara safari, the sounds of elephants and hippos farting outside your tent might.
The earthy scent of the African bush fills your nostrils as you doze off to a choir of grunting hippos.
Don’t be tempted to poke your head out to take a look but you’ll be safe behind the industrial-strength security mesh.
Hippos are responsible for killing more people in Africa each year than any other wild animal and they are especially dangerous when they come on land at night to graze.
In fact, never get between a hippo and the water or you might be attacked.
Governor’s Camp Masai Mara is not fenced and as we’re camping in the middle of the Kenyan wilderness, it’s important to keep tents zipped up and stay inside.
Fortunately, everything you need to have a good night’s sleep is in your luxury tent including a comfy Queen-size bed, bedside tables, desk, chairs and a wardrobe.
The bathroom comes with bathrobes, towels, luxurious toiletries and hot water.
It looks like a tent and feels like a tent but when you measure the level of comfort it provides it’s actually more like a luxury hotel room.
The camp’s tariff includes three game drives a day and each safari is different from the last.
Governor’s Camp established their first luxury safari camp 30 years ago and the group has a close relationship with the area’s original inhabitants, the Maasai.
The best part about staying at Governor’s Camp is the medley of wildlife that turns up at your doorstep. You could be eating breakfast or lunch and a herd of wild elephants might come stomping past.
Mahali Mzuri is part of the Olare Motorogi Conservancy adjoining the Maasai Mara National Reserve to the north.
The tents are more like futuristic gazebos, decked out with all the mod cons and quality furnishings you’d expect in a lavish boutique hotel.
They are spacious and have en-suite bathrooms with oh-so-romantic claw-foot baths, huge outdoor decks and views of the valley below.
Being in the middle of the African bush, I was most impressed at the high-speed broadband WiFi, which worked very well.
I caught up with General Manager, Tarn Breedveld, and was interested to hear about their approach towards the local Maasai community, consisting of over 1500 families.
Through the Conservancy, the Maasai have had the benefit of a new bore, a new school, annual rent payments and employment opportunities.
Tarn’s journey of building a dream over the last three years is fascinating to hear.
It’s good to know Mahali Mzuri has put in place state-of-the-art conservation initiatives such as a cutting-edge e-water system, tree-planting programme, waste management system and water filtration system.
Olare Mara Kempinski
A classic tented safari camp with 12 luxurious tents, Kempinski Olare Mara is the hotel group’s outpost in the Olare Orok Conservancy.
The camp is on the bank of the Ntiakitiak River, the Olare Orok Conservancy is owned by the Masai and is a luxurious base for a Masai Mara safari.
The welcome is a spectacular show of Maasai singing and jumping.
Safari in comfort at Masai Mara Kempinski
Tents are spacious and grandly furnished in colonial style, with huge four-poster beds, timber desks, large comfortable sofas and Oriental rugs.
Each tent has an indoor bathroom with slate floors, vanities with two sinks, separate toilets, solar-heated water, bathtubs and showers.
Staying here is definitely the way to camp in style.
The only criticism I have is tents can heat up in the middle of the day when the sun is blazing overhead.
The camp has a swimming pool and a well-stocked safari-style bar.
Two game drives a day are included in the tariff.
The wildlife spotting is top class due to the three lion prides that live within a 30-minute drive from the camp.
We heard lions roaring at night, not far from our tent.
We went on six game drives and saw lions on every game drive, including baby lions suckling and a lioness with a dik-dik hanging from her mouth.
The resident leopard, Acacia, and her cub were comfortable with safari vehicles and we got the chance to watch the leopards for quite some time. It wasn’t difficult to get amazing photographs and footage.
We were met after each game drive by staff members with cold towels and cool drinks.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were set menus with at least a couple of appetizing choices. Dishes were well presented and there was a reasonable variety.
Examples include pumpkin soup, shrimp pasta and fruit meringue.
The bush breakfast at Masai Mara Kempinski is memorable, for its wilderness location and fully cooked breakfast served with champagne.
Located at the Oloololo Gate, this camp is close to the action and the main Masai Mara Reserve.
Masai Mara safari lodges
If sleeping in a tent is not your style, there are several lodges that have more rooms and hotel facilities, such as Masai Mara Sopa Lodge and Mara Serena Safari Lodge.
Masai Mara travel tips
Masai Mara weather
Masai Mara weather patterns can be divided into the rainy season (November to May) and the dry season (June to November). December, January, April and May are the wettest months. You’ll see wildlife at any time of the year and the coldest it gets is around 20°C but it’s often 30C during the day. November and February are good months to pick offseason.
How to get to the Masai Mara
There are regular flights from Masai Mara to Nairobi in an assortment of aircraft sizes. If you’re booking your Masai Mara accommodation and flights yourself, make sure you find out which Masai Mara airport is the closest to your Masai Mara camp.
Masai Mara safari packages
If you don’t want the hassle of booking independently, there are plenty of Masai Mara packages put together by tour operators where all the legwork is done for you.
If you’re keen on seeing leopards and cheetahs, make sure you stay three or four days for the best chance of good cat sightings.
Most offer Masai Mara 3 day safari packages but you can add extra days too. Here are some luxury safari companies that have a great reputation.