January & February in most parts of North America & Europe can get pretty depressing. Days are very short, it is freezing cold, the holiday period is over and there is looming anxiety over the impending bonus season. I survived many of these cold, dark, depressing winters by escaping to Kenya and exploring the magic of the Maasai Mara. Visiting in Jan-Feb means you get to avoid the busy season over Christmas and experience the vastness and beauty of the Mara as if it was created just for you.
Given the beauty and breadth of Maasai Mara, this post is dedicated to an overview of the Mara, facilities, sights, logistics, expectations and the next post will cover my top picks of luxury tented campsites you should visit, if you want to forget about the dark & gloomy winter and reaffirm your belief or spark one (depending on how you lean) in a Creator.
Most major cities from Europe have direct flights to Nairobi (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport – JKIA). You can stay overnight in Nairobi at the multitude of hotels or take a taxi to connect at Wilson Airport from where you can fly into Maasai Mara.
One thing that I would strongly suggest is to use a travel agent to do your bookings at the various tented camps/lodges and the logistics of getting you there. If you have decided to come to Kenya to forget all your troubles why embrace new ones? You can find travel agents on yululate.com. Travel agents in Kenya know how the traffic times work and will schedule all your airport transfers/city transfers and if you ever miss a flight it is on them. Try getting a refund for a missed flight from a taxi driver! Additionally, the best rooms and rates at camps and lodges are reserved for them. It is common business sense. They are the ones that bring the most business to a camp/lodge, so who do you think the lodge is likely to provide the best rooms and rates? I used Zakale Expeditions twice and both times I was upgraded to better rooms. It’s the travel agents’ relations that get you all the unadvertised perks!
Your travel agent can advise you on the best way to fly to the Maasai Mara. Charter services, helicopter or commercial airlines. Among the commercial airlines I have had the best experience with Fly540! Their flights have always been on time and customer service is fantastic.
ONCE YOU ARE THERE
No matter how big your screen size and how much of an Animal Planet friend you are, as you pull out of the air strip and begin your game drive, your mind will simply fail to reconcile the view on the TV with the view in front of you.
Miles upon Miles of African Savannah in front of you teeming with herds of wildebeest, zebra and buffaloes. Even though the migration is essentially over by this time of the year, the Mara has its resident herds of wildebeest and zebra and their year round residence also ensures that the big cats are a permanent fixture in the Mara.
Your game drive starts as soon as you hop off the plane and into your 4×4 with your personal tour guide arranged by the camp you are staying with. This guide or guides in case of some camps, will be with you throughout your entire stay on all game drives. Most of the luxury camps are in conservancies at quite a distance from the air strip so this ensures you whet your appetite for full game drive as you reach your camp.
On one of my trips, we saw a female lion hunting during the middle of the day, then saw a pride of lions with 7 cubs and the famous leopard “Olive” which was featured on Big Cat Diary, devouring a baby impala, all before we had reached our camp!!!
WHAT TO EXPECT
First of all, let go of whatever idea you have of a tented camp from your head. The luxury tented camps in the Mara will simply blow your mind away. In the 10 years I have been coming to Kenya they have progressed quite a bit too. The first time I stayed at one, we had to have a “bush shower” (someone putting a bucket of hot water in a tank and the water literally trickling down) but now there are camps with showers that will put 5 star hotels in Nairobi to task.
As you enter the camp, you will be welcomed with a drink and a hot towel and shown to your tent. The luxury tents are spacious (from 500 sq ft to 1400 sq ft) and have modern bathrooms and amenities. Depending on the camp you might also find a mini bar completely stocked but “without” an extra charge for the items in it. YES – you read that right, WITHOUT extra charges. Which camp? You will have to wait till you read the blog on my top picks of luxury camps in the Mara.
Once you relax and have lunch, you will be taken for an afternoon game drive. On the game drive most camps have the 4X4 equipped with chargers and adapters to accommodate most types so you can never say your battery ran out when trying to take a photo of the magical moments you are sure to witness. The guides will also carry food & beverage based on your preferences (alcoholic beverages included). With everything you could possibly want taken care off, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the wildlife. And there is plenty of it and at this time of the year there are not too many cars in the reserve, so there will be many a time where it will be just you and the wildlife as in this glorious morning where we spent over 45 mins with a pride of lions watching the cubs playing with their family.
The camps also offer you the option of having a bush breakfast, bush lunch and a bush sun downer. Definitely take the camp up on this option because whether breakfast, lunch or an evening drink, it will be the most memorable and magical meal/drink you will have. There is simply no table with a view such as the one you will have in the Mara. My last sun downer in the Maasai Mara was on a river bank with a herd of zebra around 20 meters away. Every time I sip a Tusker Malt I am transported back to that magical evening!
The Low Down?
OK, I get it. You must think there must be some con to this place, however small. In my mind what they call the “Bush massage” is probably a big negative, especially for those with a weak/delicate back. This entails riding in a 4X4 vehicle on unpaved roads for up to six hours a day, which will test your bottom and back!
However, on the flip side not having paved roads is what makes the Mara a truly wild place and not a “park”.
But the biggest con for me, is definitely, leaving the Mara. After 2-3 days of being treated like a king at these luxury campsites and making new friends, it is very difficult saying good bye and preparing yourself to brace the cold winter again!
My next blog will be on my top 5 picks of luxury tented camps in the Mara. Comment here to let me know of any special things your camp did for you and why you think they are a top 5 candidate.