A November 2002 trip
to Masai Mara National Reserve by chloe_day
Quote: If you only plan to do one safari during your stay in Kenya, The Masai Mara is the place to head for.
I know that most visitors to Kenya like to combine time at the coast with a safari, and that most of them head to Tsavo East National Park because it's the nearest to where they're staying. I visited a number of reserves, each with its own merits, and would have to say that if I only had time to see one, then the Mara would be it. Apart from the fact that it is beautiful open countryside and that you can meet the Maasai, the main reason for my choice is that it has probably the best variety and density of game in the country. This means that you're more likely to see everything there is to see here than anywhere else. I did a four-day safari, which gave me two full days in the park (it's a five-hour drive from Nairobi). In this time I saw the "Big Five" (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino) as well as cheetah, warthogs, giraffe, hippo and a lot more besides. I might be wrong, but I don't think it can be beaten.
Take a camera (preferably with a zoom), plenty of film, and a pair of binoculars if you've got them.
If you're camping, you need your own toilet paper, but you won't need a mosquito net and I'm sure the lodges have nets, but you should take some deet spray to fend off mosquitoes in the evening.
Watch out for huge flying insects if you're sitting near the gas lamps in the campsite at night (it gets a bit like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sometimes).
You'll need a hat and some sun cream as you may be out under the sun for quite long periods of time.
Contrary to apparent popular opinion, you don't actually need to wear beige and khaki to go on safari. It's not as if you're stalking game through the savannah. If you're sitting 10 metres away from a pride of lions in a huge truck with the engine running, looking like a colonial explorer isn't going to stop you being spotted. Just make sure you're comfortable.
If you're in a registered Kenyan vehicle you can drive yourself: there's a charge of KSh200 per vehicle (on top of park fees) and you can buy fuel from some of the lodges.
The best way to get the most out of your time there is to go with a good safari operator, as the drivers are usually very informative, they know their way around, and vans are often in radio contact with each other so they can find out where the most interesting game is at any one time.
Attraction | "Gametrackers Campsite"
The site also has a number of hot showers and a couple of long-drop toilets (but one has a seat). You need to take your own toilet paper.
It's a really nice campsite and a peaceful place to spend your time reading, chatting and eating (see dining entry for more details on yummy food!) in between game drives. You'll usually do a morning game drive, come back for lunch and then go on another one either in the afternoon or evening. If you have more than one full day in the reserve it's good to vary the times you're out there so that you get to see the animals that are most active at different times of day.
You might be able to hear hippo or lions in the distance, but watch out for vervet monkeys and baboons; they'll steal your food as soon as look at you.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 2, 2003
Masai Mara National Reserve
Attraction | "Gametrackers Cooking"
On both the safaris I did with Gametrackers the food was of a very high standard, thanks to our cooks Geshaga, Kimani and Kimani. It's mostly Western food with the one token Kenyan dish of ugaali, potatoes, beef stew and sukumawiki.
Gametrackers provide all meals and tea or coffee, but you need to take your own supply of water and snacks.
Breakfasts would be either pancakes, omelettes, or a fry-up and there was always plenty of fruit and toast. Whatever we had for lunch and tea was always delicious and ready for us on our return from the latest game drive. In fact I used to look forward to getting back to camp to eat. I think it was the only experience I've had where people would strategically position themselves, plate and cutlery in hand, to be closest to the tables when the pots came off the fire. It tasted so good that even the animals wanted some, as my friend discovered when an eagle swooped down and swiped her fish straight off her plate!
Attraction | "Maasai Village"
I think there are a couple of villages open to tourists, and a trip there normally entails you paying about £3-5 ($4.50-7.50) and being shown around the village. A Maasai village is basically just a circle of huts made from sticks and cow dung, which need to be rebuilt every three months or so. The space between the huts is used to keep the cows in during the night.
First there is usually some singing and dancing; the women perform a welcome dance in a long line and then a few men will demonstrate their dancing and jumping skills. Then you'll have the opportunity to have a look inside one of the huts. Finally you're asked if you would like to see "where the women make the things" - the gift shop. Pens are useful haggling tools because they're hard to get hold of in the area. If you buy some cheap biros in Nairobi, you'll get some money knocked off the price of crafts.
I found the visit interesting and enjoyed having the chance to stock up on Maasai bracelets which I'd been wanting to get as presents, but there was just something about it that made the whole thing seem, well, wrong. Maybe it's partly because I'd been living and working with Kenyans for 3 months and being a tourist just didn't come naturally, but it was like being in a working museum, not someone's home.
The fact that we were reminded every two minutes that we could take as many photos as we wanted made me feel quite uncomfortable. The Maasai have worked out (and I don't blame them) that it's quite lucrative to charge people for photos, and they're not the only ones: if you go to Nyahururu (Thompson's Falls) there are Kikuyus dressed as witch doctors who'll try to charge you £1 a shot.
I don't really know what I was expecting. At least there weren't other van loads of people there at the same time; that really would have been unbearable. I'm glad I went and had chance to speak to the tribespeople and learn more about their everyday life, but I don't think I'd go back a second time.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 2, 2003
Masai Mara Game Reserve
Masai Mara, Kenya
We also took part in a large group overland safari (with other people on our scheme) up to Lake Turkana and back. I would definitely recommend Gametrackers to anyone wanting to safari in East Africa, as I found both teams I travelled with to be thoroughly professional, friendly and knowledgeable throughout.
Gametrackers provide both camping (which we did) and lodge safaris in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. They run treks to Mt. Kenya, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Ruwenzori Mountains, and Crator Highlands as well as offering mountain-gorilla safaris.
We paid $160 for our four-day safari, which included all our travel (our team picked us up from our hotel in Nairobi and dropped us off at the train station on our return), food and camping, but not park fees. I'm not sure how big our discount was (I think camping safaris normally start at about $65 per day), but I'm willing to bet that even without it you'd get great value for money. We had a great time with our drivers, cooks and camp guards. Lodge safaris are obviously a lot more expensive and for this you get a much more luxurious experience, although who's to say it would be a better one? I was used to long-drop toilets long before this point anyway.
On our travels I also saw a lot of vans from Kenia Tours and Somak, as they both seemed to be popular companies. In Nairobi you'll be approached by a lot of people in the streets trying to get you to use their companies: it's a good idea to check in the safari section of a guidebook to see who they recommend, as well as speaking to other travellers.
If you want to check a company out with the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, their website is: www.katokenya.org
The contact details for Gametrackers are:
Gametrackers (K) Ltd,
PO Box 62042,
Tel: (+254) 2 338927 / 222703,
Fax: (+254) 2 330903,
The Gametrackers office is located in a high-rise buiding on the corner of Koinange Street and Moktar Daddah Street, and this is where you go to pay before you depart.
Wakefield, United Kingdom