Strangely enough, the idea of traveling to Masai Mara in Kenya suddenly came to me when I was traveling in a region, which is the complete opposite of Kenya: Alaska. I still remember the exact moment. I was riding on a bus in Denali National Park (certain areas are only accessible via buses in order to protect the wildlife – National Geographic has an amazing article on this very specific topic). The bus driver/the tour guide made an announcement clarifying that there was a high chance that we would not get to see any of Alaska`s famous wildlife (grizzly bear or moose). He added that Alaska was nothing like Kenya where you have animals running all around. It was cold and the conditions were often harsher.
The reason why I went to Alaska was not predominantly to see the animals but to experience the landscape. I luckily got to achieve both and the trip also inspired me for my next destination. I derive a lot of value from comparisons and also contrasts when picking my travel destinations. I generally believe that comparison is a great tool to better understand the characteristics of destinations. Those are the elements that make certain characteristics stand out more obviously.
Masai Mara During Great Migration
We picked June to travel to Kenya as June was nearly the only month that worked out for my and my travel partners schedules. We also found out that we could still see the beginning of the great migration but also avoid all the crowds. We could not be happier with our choice as we got to see many many animals – had most of the camp sites to ourselves and also got to experience a beautiful greenish landscape as the rainy season ends at the end of the May leaving you a green Kenya until the heat hits in late June.
Pinar, my travel partner and childhood friend, and I are both frequent travelers and we have been to (separately) many regions in the World that can be considered dangerous, yet we never opted for a tour option. It was however a different deal for Kenya as the main purpose of our trip was safari and you are justifiably not allowed to do safari on your own and required to hire a licensed guide allowed to operate in the national parks. So after a brief period of consideration and talking with friends who have already been to Kenya, we approached Savana Tour in Istanbul and had them arrange a customized trip for the two of us. So we did not join a tour group but had an itinerary customized for us, which also took into account our hotel suggestions. The most important thing was the arrangement of our tour guide who turned out to be an amazing and inspiring human being – great language skills and knowledge about the area. In Kenya, your tour guide also drives the car during your entire trip – both during your travels from Nairobi to national parks and safari outings. A guide can make or break your experience. So I highly recommend that you either rely on the experience of someone familiar with the area to introduce you to your guide or arrange pre-trip calls with your guide.
Savanas of Masai Mara
Our trip covered Masai Mara, Lake Naivasha and Amboseli National Park. The highlight of our trip was with no doubt Masai Mara where we spent three nights and days. An ordinary daily itinerary in a safari trip usually involves getting up early at around 6 am and doing a morning safari before breakfast, hanging out in the camp until the second safari of the day, which usually starts at around 3 pm. So the place where you stay is quite important as you spend the better part of your day there and you are not allowed to wonder around on your own (trust me you would not want to do that in anyways – it takes one far away encounter with your first lion to understand the environment you are in).
We had the experience of different types of lodgings in our trip and our favorite was a tent style accommodation in Masai Mara. Tent camps are usually more expensive than regular lodgings but it is definitely worth the price as that is what truly gives you the real safari experience. We have stayed in Kilima Camp in Masai Mara and Pinar and I both agree that it was among the top five places we have ever stayed in. I wrote about Kilima Camp in my post where I list my favorite hotels.
Masai Mara Village Visit
The cover of this post shows my friend Pinar dancing with Masai women during our visit to a traditional Masai village. It was one of those moments I was torn between video and photo and I went for the second option for the sake of freezing the moment. To this day, I still think this photo would not turn as it did if it was not for Pinar – her looks, spirit and the choice of outfit for the day made this photo possible. We were the only tourists in the village, which turned the visit into a more unique visit than it would be if we went during the busy season. We got to visit the houses where Masai people live in, dance with them and be amazed with their connection to the natural environment surrounding them. I have been to many ethnic villages during my travels but never experienced such level of strong connection between humans and the surrounding nature.
And the animals? We have seen so many of them, we have seen mother lions cleaning up their kids, we have seen adult lions making kids and then we have seen a very rarely experienced hunt scene where five lions secured a gnu for their lunch despite the honorable fight put up by the gnu. Masai Mara is the most ideal place to encounter all sorts of wildlife whereas Amboseli is more famous with its large elephant population. Both parks are very much worth a visit. The overall scenery in Masai Mara impressed me the most bu the views of Mount Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park is also good enough to take your breath away.