Safari, meaning, “journey” in Swahili
Our Safari into the Maasai Mara
Our journey to the Maasai Mara in Kenya began early in the morning from the Serengeti of Tanzania. Our trusted guide of 3 days drove us from our camp in the south-central Serengeti to the local Seronera airstrip where we boarded our Coastal Aviation flight to the Tarime Airstrip, just south of the Kenyan border.
Upon arrival we were met by a local representative of Coastal Aviation, who drove us the 16 kilometres to the border town of Sirari, Tanzania for a road transfer to clear customs and immigration at the Sirare/Isebania border. The rep made the customs and immigration process seamless, as you not only have to have your paperwork completed to enter Kenya (which includes your entry Visa and proof of Yellow Fever vaccination), but you also need to have paperwork to EXIT Tanzania. Upon clearing Kenyan customs, we were driven approximately 23 kilometers to the Migori Airstrip for the half hour flight to the Angama Mara Airfield, a private airstrip consisting of a GPS marker, only a few minutes from our home for the next three days, the Angama Mara Camp.
You are allowed to drive your own vehicle into the game reserve, but the Maasai Mara is large and it would be difficult to figure out where you are and where to go for best animal viewing, so guided game drives in an open-sided safari vehicle are the most popular. Many of the guides in the better lodges and camps are Maasai and are deeply serious about their work and are committed to keeping both visitors and the animals safe. They know the best places to spot specific wildlife and are eager to share their wealth of knowledge about the animals and the Mara’s ecosystem so that you can come to appreciate it as much as they do. Game drives usually go out early in the morning and late afternoon but depending on your guide and where you are staying, they are very accommodating and flexible. We followed their suggestions and recommendations since they know more about the area than we do, and we were not disappointed.
Our Game Drive Experience
We were in the Maasai Mara in November (2019) and the short rainy season had already begun with unusually heavy rains.
Our game drive began early in the morning just after sunrise and the rain had ended, by descending into the Rift Valley, where we came across a herd of majestic elephants which is usually lead by the dominant female.
Continuing on through the Mara, we drove over a low-lying road, which due to the many rains had become a mini-lake, perfect for a hippopotamus. Crossing the flooded road, we saw a hippo in the newly created lake and as we drove past it, it was decidedly not pleased and charged our jeep, but thanks to our skillful guide, we quickly got out of harm’s way.
As we drove through the plains and neared the Mara River, we came across a very large herd of zebras, who our guide said were gathering to get ready to cross the river. They were quite agitated and seemed frantic and then we saw why. A single lion was strolling towards them. As the lion got closer, the zebras barked frantically, that is the only way to describe it, to warn of impending danger and would then break into a run. Lucky for them, the lion must have decided it was not a good idea to tackle anyone in such a large herd and continued on his way to find easier prey.
The Wildebeest migration had already occurred; however, we were very fortunate to witness the Zebra migration as they crossed the swollen, raging, crocodile infested, Mara River.
We continued to follow the herd at a distance and arrived at the river’s edge where they all had converged and were waiting for the bravest to begin the crossing. We watched as one zebra went down the embankment to the water’s edge and looked to be contemplating whether it should or shouldn’t cross, change its mind and come back up, only to turn around and go back down to the river’s edge. I guess it could sense the danger that lurked in the muddy waters, but the call to cross was so strong, that eventually it took the leap and fought against the swift moving waters to get to the other side. As others followed, we saw the crocodiles swim towards them, and our guide cheered with us when we saw some safely reach the other side and cry “oh nooooo” when another was not so lucky. This was not for the faint of heart, but we felt extremely fortunate to have witnessed something so amazing and was the highlight of the day.
The Massai Mara was the last stop of our Safari adventure and we were sad to see the safari portion of our amazing journey over.
Where is the Masai Mara?
Located 180 kilometers from Nairobi, in southwestern Kenya in the Rift Valley, the Maasai Mara National Reserve, also widely known as Masai Mara, and locally simply as “The Mara”, is a large reserve that is adjacent to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
The Mara, with its rolling hills and open grassy plains, covers approximately 1,510 square kilometers of protected land and is considered one of the top wildlife viewing destinations in Africa. This is where you can see Africa’s big five (lions, leopards, black rhinos, Cape buffalo, and elephants), along with cheetahs, zebras, hippos, wildebeests, gazelles, hyenas, crocodiles, and more than 500 species of birds.
Why is it called the Masai Mara?
The Masai Mara (spelled both Masai and Maasai) got its name from the local Maasai people who called this expansive land “Mara, in their native language. The Maasai people, dressed in their bright red robes are known for their fierce warriors and were at one time the dominant native tribes in Kenya. They remain one of the few who still honour much of their traditions and lifestyles and can still be found in both Kenya and Tanzania, moving with their prized cattle herds to different areas to prevent any one area from becoming overgrazed.
If you ask a local about the seasons, they will most likely tell you they don’t consider weather changes as winter, spring, summer and fall, but rather by the rainy and dry seasons. The main dry season lasts from June through October with two wet seasons, a short one occurring between November and December and the “long rain” between March and May.
When is the best Month to Visit the Masai Mara?
There is good wild life viewing any time of the year, but the best time to see the Wildebeest and Zebra is in August when they usually migrate to the Masai Mara, through to October when they migrate back to the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Where to Stay
Accommodations while in the Masai Mara can play a significant role in your safari experience. There are a number of facilities, that range from permanent lodges to tent and mobile camps, serving different categories of travellers from budget travellers to mid-range and finally luxury guests. The category of services, facilities and location is purely a personal choice and subject to your own budget. However, before choosing which property to stay at, one recommendation is for you to decide which area of the reserve you want to be based in. The central and eastern regions of the main reserve tend to see the most visitors because of their close proximity to Nairobi. For the most exclusive and luxurious safari experiences and a wider variety of activities the western Mara Triangle is more remote and harder to access, but typically offers more rewarding game viewing.
We stayed at the beautiful Angama Mara, (angama meaning “suspended in the air” in Swahili) which looks down onto the Mara Triangle and has two camps, each with 15 tented suites that offer amazing views from the tents and the dining facilities.