Adventure Safari: Notes from a Trip to Masai Mara
I had the good fortune of visiting Bandhavgarh last April, going on four safaris, and spotting four tigers, three males and a female. That’s when the safari bug bit me, and I vowed to go on at least one trip every year, be it a short one. Hardly surprising!
Although the animals are the main draw, being in the jungle itself is exhilarating and extremely refreshing.
As we were weighing our options for this year’s annual safari vaca, we nailed down Kenya, which has arguably the best game viewing in the world. We decided to avoid going the prescribed travel agent route but rather customize an experience that would give us maximum time on safari and seeing lots of animals in action. Read on:
You can use Nairobi as base as you travel between parks, lakes and conservancies, with not much else to do in the city.
A place to stay: Hotel Sankara is a chic spot with a rooftop bar, where you can relax at the end of your day’s adventures. It reminded us a lot of Hotel Gansevoort in New York.
Places to eat: 360 for delicious brick-oven pizzas, The Talisman for continental (must try: feta and coriander samosas), Abyssinia for yummy Ethiopian food, and Osteria for authentic Italian food.
How to get there: We spent 3 nights in Maasai Mara National Park. You can choose to go by road or air. The air trip is somewhat expensive (about USD 350 to 400 round trip), but really worth it as you get an aerial view of the park.
Where to stay: We picked a newly opened luxury camp called Loyk Mara, and were delighted with everything, from the outdoor lunches to the special dinner that they set up on our balcony. The tents were new and had wooden floorings and 24 hours hot water on tap. The great thing about the experience was that there being only 10 tents and February being low season (not for animals, just for humans), we were extremely well taken care of. The waiting staff was super attentive, and despite us being vegetarian, the chef came up with something different for every dinner. We were even escorted 24/7 by a Maasai guard when we were in the camp area.
Our driver and the Maasai guide were very well versed with the park as they were from the area itself. This is key to a successful safari, and they ensured we didn’t leave without seeing four out of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, wild buffalo, rhino). The rhino is quite difficult to spot in the Mara.
There are a number of camps in the Mara ranging from budget to luxury, so be sure to do your research well.
Safaris: Now we get to the main point of the trip. We witnessed lions mating, impalas warring and cheetahs on the prowl. It was also amazing to observe lion prides complete with newly born cubs, a leopard and leopardess calling out to each other, elephant families and giraffe herds as they grazed, a hippo running back to his watering hole as the sun rose, and crocodiles sun-bathing. We spotted zebras, gazelles, wild buffaloes in abundance. Watching both sunrise and sunset in the Mara is also very enjoyable, so make sure you’re up bright and early for your safaris.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy
A private conservancy that is home to all the big five and a great place to spot the rhino. You can get there by road as it’s only a 3 hour drive from Nairobi. Private cabs are available in plenty and you can negotiate a rate in Nairobi itself. We spent 2 nights at the Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, which was very well situated across a river. We spotted baboons, hippos, wild buffaloes, elephants all from our tent itself.
Safari: We saw plenty of rhinos including the endangered northern white rhino, of which only 7 are left in the world. We even saw the Grevy zebra (a Zebra with thinner stripes, going only halfway up its belly) and the reticulated giraffe, which can both be seen only here.
Famous for its flamingoes, definitely recommended if you have an extra day and are done with seeing the Big Five. If you’re lucky, you may even see rhinos and lions here. You can choose to stay overnight or even do a day trip from Nairobi.