Our four-day safari in Masai Mara, Kenya was one amazingly spectacular experience. The animals and the scenery we saw on this trip were almost surreal, and now that we are back home it all feels like a dream.
When we started planning our safari trip to Kenya we had a choice of a few game parks. Each game park has it’s own unique charm. Hitesh was very keen on going to Masai Mara mainly to see the migration, so we picked Masai Mara as our safari destination.
Masai Mara is spread over 580 square miles in Kenya and blends right into Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, which is over 12,000 square miles! Animals roam free on this vast landscape and go back and forth between the Serengeti plains and Masai Mara Plains. The migrations typically occur anytime from July to late August, based on this data we decided to visit in early August. The weather in Mara when we went was a cool 75 degrees during the day; it couldn’t have been any more perfect for being out on a four-day safari.
We took over a thousand pictures! It was very hard for me to go through them all and pick just a few to include in this story. I apologize in advance if there are too many photos in this post.
Day 1 August 3rd: Almost all safari flights and road trips to the game parks start from Nairobi. We took the afternoon flight to Masai Mara from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. Wilson airport is a small boutique style airport that caters to mostly safari going tourists.
The flight to Masai Mara was 45 minutes. The planes that go to the game parks are small, very small. The plane that we were on could only handle 16 passengers, and two pilots. The plane is so small that Rani could actually speak to the pilot. When was the last time a passenger can easily speak to the pilot in the cockpit? The “in-flight service” is a small cooler with bottled water that the passengers help themselves to. Just like a shuttle bus that picks up passengers from various shuttle stops, this plane did the same. The pilot read from a flight manifest letting us know that we were the third stop. On the way he would be dropping off a group of passengers at two other game parks, and picking up a few new passengers who will be heading back to Nairobi.
Forty-five minutes later we arrived at the Olkiombo Airstrip in Masai Mara. This is literally a dirt strip. A hut plays the role of a terminal at this airport. It is the perfect introduction to what will turn into an amazing safari.
Here we were met by our host and safari driver Simon. Simon was assigned to host us for the entire time that we were staying in Mara.
Simon helped us load our bags onto the jeep that was designated to us for the duration of our four-day safari, and after settling into our jeep we hit the road to drive to our campsite. It was evening when we started heading out and we got to witness one of Kenya’s beautiful sunsets.
On our way to our campsite we immediately started seeing hundreds of wildebeest and buffalo.😊
Once we arrived at our campsite, we checked in and were given details about our stay at the camp. The camp provides full breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for all their guests. Since there is no infrastructure on the game parks electricity in all safari camps run on generators. This meant that the only times that hot water was available for showers was from 5am – 8am and in the evenings from 5pm-8pm. At midnight all lights go out, and if there is a need to wake up in the middle of the night, there are flashlights on every bed for guests to use. There are no telephones in the rooms. To get a hold of the hotel staff you have to walk back to the office. If there is an emergency, there is a whistle (like the coaches use at sports games) and that’s the way you get someone to come quickly with help.
When checking in at the front desk they ask what time we want our wake-up call. “Wake-up Call” is a staff member who comes to the tent with hot tea or coffee and biscuits to wake us up for our early morning game drive. The staff calls out our name “Wake-up call Sir” and if we answer, they come in and deliver the morning tea tray for everyone in the tent. After we have our hot tea, coffee or hot chocolate and biscuits we head out early every morning for our morning game drive. After we were given all our instructions, we were taken to our tents to settle in.
Nothing quiet prepares you for the tents that are at the safari camp. With hardwood floors, hot water shower, double sinks, and canopy beds, these tents are absolutely enchanting.
After a long day of travel, these beds never felt so good. Because the lights go out at midnight, it is pitch black in the tent. I have never experienced such black darkness at night. It was so dark that we couldn’t see our hands in front of our face. The sleep I had at the camp was the most peaceful and restful sleep I have had in a very long time. I slept like this for the next three nights ☺️☺️☺️.
Day 2 August 4th. Balloon Safari, Giraffes, Zebras and Wildebeest: The bulk of this morning was spent on a spectacular Balloon Safari. This was a once in a lifetime experience and we had a magical time on this very special excursion. Check out my earlier post on our amazing Balloon Safari over Masai Mara, Kenya.
After our balloon safari we headed back to our camp for a leisurely late lunch and an afternoon rest, before going out again for our evening game drive. On this game drive we saw giraffes, hippos, lions, more zebras and wildebeest.
Lions: We saw lions, three different families of them. The first groups of lions were lioness with their cubs walking across the plains towards a forest where the King of the jungle was sitting on his throne. Did you know in the lion kingdom it’s the lioness who do all the hunting and bring the game back to the male lion and the family?
Lions are very territorial animals. The three families we saw were all over the Mara. A male lion will mark his territory by spraying urine around a 3-5 mile distance. The strong odor warns other lion prides not to wander into their space.
During this drive we caught site of two more lioness just chilling on the banks as we drove over a small stream on our way back to our camp.
We also saw Scarface – a lion who had a scar right above his eye. We caught sight of him eating a catch that was made that morning.
Day 3 August 5th. The game drives we did on day 3 were awesome! We started the day with a view of Kenya’s spectacular sunrise over the Masai Mara plains.
On day three of our safari we saw hyenas, giraffes, hippos, zebras, Thompson gazelles, dik dik, leopards, hartebeest, warthogs, baboons, and so many more animals that we lost track.
Elephants: We saw fewer elephants on this trip than we did the last time we came to Masai Mara six years ago in the December timeframe. Simon explained that the reason for the lower number of elephants in Masai Mara in the summer months is because of the presence of wildebeest. Wildebeest are noisy animals; they constantly make noise with their grunting and their stampedes across the Mara plains. It turns out elephants like peace and quiet, and where you see wildebeest you won’t see elephants. Elephants tend to hide in among the acacia trees to get away from all the noise. The elephants you see in the photos below were all by themselves far away from where the wildebeests and zebras were hanging out.
Hyenas: Here is a little tidbit about hyenas. Did you know their poop is white? Yes, poop. Simon pointed this out to us as we were driving by and spotted a hyena eating. Hyenas are scavengers that eat the leftovers of what other predators leave behind. But what I didn’t know is that hyenas eat bones as well. In fact, we could actually hear the hyena crunching the bones as he was eating. This is the reason a hyena’s poop is chalky white, because of the bones they consume.
Wildebeests and Zebras: Another bit of information that Simon passed on to us is that wildebeests and zebras are considered migrant animals. They go back and forth between the Serengeti plains in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya.
On the other hand, animals such as lions, cheetahs, elephants, hyenas and all other animals we saw here, live in Mara permanently.
Here is a trivia question for you; can you guess how many wildebeest cross back and forth between Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti? 50,000? 100,00? 500,000? 1,000,000? How about 4 million wildebeest! After the summer rains on the Mara plains, millions of wildebeest cross over the Mara River to come and eat the fresh green grass in Masai Mara.
Then within a few months after they have completely eaten all the grass on the Mara plains, the wildebeest cross over the Mara River back to Tanzania thinking the grass is greener on the other side. It’s funny that even among wildebeest they think, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”😄
Can you guess how many zebras travel back and forth as well? 3 million zebras! So you can imagine, it’s a pretty amazing scene to see millions of wildebeest and zebras all across the Masai Mara plains in the months of July and August.
Day 4 August 6th. The river crossing & Cheetah with her cubs: We started the day with another spectacular view of the Mara sunrise.
Our mission on day four of our safari was to see the river crossing of the wildebeest. We did a stake- out of the wildebeest and zebra herds near the Mara River to see if there would be any large movement of herds heading towards the river. And finally, on the last day of our safari we got to witness the crossing! This was a smaller scale crossing than what we see on National Geographic shows; nonetheless this famous scene was spectacular to watch. These animals cross the river so fast that if you turned around for a couple of minutes one can easily miss this amazing scene. It was over within a few minutes.
Cheetah and her cubs: On this morning we also saw Malaika the infamous cheetah who resides at Masai Mara. She has a reputation for jumping on safari jeeps and using them as a perch to spy on perspective prey. We were fortunate to see Malaika on our visit with two cubs that were only 3 months old!
Notice something interesting about these little cheetah cubs? They are white on top with a grey under belly! You wouldn’t even guess these two cubs are cheetah cubs. Simon told us that cheetah babies are born with grey fur. The grey fur makes the cubs look like honey badgers, which are fierce looking creatures that no other animals want to hunt, this helps to protect the cubs when they are left behind in the bushes while the Mom goes out hunting for food. Over time the cubs’ fur starts turning color from top down, and they slowly turn white and golden in color, and start developing spots as they get older. These cubs won’t look like cheetah cubs until they are nine months old.
Cheetahs usually have up to six cubs, but mostly only one or two survive. This is mainly because cheetahs walk long distances on any given day looking for food and the cubs following their mom fall prey to lions and other predators like hyenas. When you see this one-minute video that I took of the two cubs and their Mom, it’s easy to see how cheetah cubs can fall prey to predators. And if you have the volume on your computer on high, you can actually hear the cubs chirping for their Mom. Yes, they sound like little bird chirp 😊
When you spend four days with your safari driver/host you become friends and get to know them pretty well. Simon is a veteran safari driver. He has been working in Masai Mara for 17 years. He knew the terrain like the back of his hand.
The cool thing about safari drivers who work at the camps is that they are very familiar with this area, which means if you have a specific request to see a particular animal, they can find one for you. All drivers also have a close camaraderie and are in constant radio contact to let each other know when they have spotted animals. When you drive around on hundreds and hundreds of miles of open land where animals are roaming free, it can be hard to spot them. Lions, leopards and cheetahs for example would be right in front of us but because they were sitting on grass that was the same color as the animals, they were camouflaged. Similarly, elephants and giraffes that hang out among tall acacia trees are easily hidden from sight as well. Safari drivers are trained to see animals no matter where they are hanging out. Can you spot the animals in the photos below?
I took way too many photos to post here. I’ve tried my best to give you an idea of what it feels like to go on a Kenyan safari. Here are some more pictures of the roads, jeeps, scenery, and of course the animals in this amazing landscape.
The interesting thing about safaris is that it really puts you in touch with nature in the most primal of elements. There were times where we sat in our jeep and watched the elephants quietly eating the grass and cooling themselves in a nearby puddle. We just sat watching for 15- 20 minutes spellbound, until Simon reluctantly woke us out of our revere to continue driving us to see other animals.
We did the same with a large herd of zebras. Just sat in our jeep and quietly watched them for a while. There is something very therapeutic and peaceful about a place like Masai Mara. With just the sounds of the grass rustling in the breeze, the sounds of animals grazing, grunting, and walking leisurely on the grassy plains, the entire scene is very meditative and peaceful.
Once you go on a safari and see animals roaming free on miles of open land, you leave with the perception that all living beings are born to be free. I highly recommend a trip to Kenya. It is a true window into this part of Africa. Not fully developed yet be any means; infrastructure is spotty, power goes out often, and roads are bumpy and dusty. People don’t have much by way of material things but what they have is big hearts. This is a unique opportunity to see how life is in this part of the world, while at the same time getting to see wildlife roaming freely on hundreds and hundreds of miles of open land. It’s truly humbling, and you get the feeling that there is an omnipotent life force out there that is much bigger than all of us.
I end this post at a loss for words to really describe this amazing feeling of freedom one gets when you go on a safari. It’s a connection to nature like nothing else I’ve experienced.
“The views were immensely wide.
Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom,
and unequalled nobility.”
Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke
Author of best-selling memoir Out of Africa.