Masai Mara is one of Africa’s most famous game reserves, best known for the massive annual migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. Every year around July they start crossing the open grasslands heading from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to the greener Masai Mara.
This vast reserve is home to an exceptional Big Cat population, giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippos, buffaloes, and all sorts antelopes and of course, the wildebeest.
Like I was saying in the preparation article, we opted for a 6 days safari in Kenya, visiting three major game reserves:
- Masai Mara
So here is our day by day itinerary of our first safari (we’ve been on second safari in Tanzania):
Day 1: Nairobi to Masai Mara
Bearing in mind that Masai Mara is about 300 kms west from Nairobi, our safari begun with a six hours ride in a 4×4, which was an adventure itself. The last two hours of the trip are on an almost un-drivable road. It was so bad, that the cars had formed a parallel road through the vegetation, and for some parts, even a second side road. Coming from a country with a very poor infrastructure, I couldn’t stop thinking that all the money the millions of tourists are pumping into the economy every year could be better spent.
We finally arrived at Rhino Tourist Tented Camp, the place where we were going to spend the next two nights. The Camp is conveniently situated 10 min from the entrance to the park.
We just left our luggage, get our cameras and binoculars ready, and with the roof top up, off we went to our first game drive. As soon as we crossed the gate, we were welcomed by herds of wildebeest, antelopes and zebras. Then, a herd of elephants and some ostriches. No cats yet, but probably it wasn’t the right time of the day for them to come out.
Day 2: Masai Mara
We spent the entire second day inside the park. We managed to see 4 out the Big 5 – the lion, the rhino, the buffalo, the elephant. The leopard was still playing hide-n-seek. We also spotted the black rhino, a very rare and elusive animal, who decided to come out of the bush and wonder into the open.
The most exciting part of the day was watching a cheetah attempt to hunt. There were more than 10 cars lined up on the road that was separating a cheetah and her cub from a small group of antelopes. The cats slowly found the courage (they are very used to seeing cars everyday) to break the line of cars and found themselves on the same side with the antelopes, so now they had direct eye contact with the prey. Unfortunately, just as the cheetahs were getting closer, two cars just arrived and in their rush to find a spot with a view, they managed to alert the gazelles, which instinctively looked in the direction of the sound, spotting the cheetah. Obviously, the cats abandoned the hunt.
It is very sad to see that human presence is interfering with the life in the savannah. Normally, the guides are careful and respectful towards the animals, turning the engines off, and trying to keep the distance, but you always find a clever and/or new one who wants to force a tip from the tourists. Our guide told us that the predators in Masai Mara have changed their hunting habits according to the time when the tour cars are not in the park.
A vehicle with the Discovery logo was also present, but they weren’t filming, just observing. When they film in a certain area of the reserve, the rangers close that area to the tourists.
We had our picnic at the shade of a tree, very close to the remains of a baby wildebeest.
Later in the afternoon we reached the banks of Mara River, the famous site where the herds cross the crocodile infested river towards the plains of Serengeti. Unfortunately we were a few weeks too early, so we were happy to see the hippos crawling in mud and some crocodiles waiting for the meal to come by.
Safari Day 3: Masai Mara to Nakuru
The third day was simply spectacular. We started our game drive early morning so at 6, just when the Sun was about rise, we were already in the reserve. It had been heavily raining all night, so as soon as it stopped, right before sun rise, the predator went out hunting. That is why we encountered three different groups of lions, each enjoying a wildebeest for breakfast. Close to the lions, the vultures were devouring a wildebeest carcass. In the air you could smell the fresh and moist early morning air combined with something we never smelled before: the smell of blood and the smell of fresh kill.
Everybody in our van was silent, afraid to disturb the course of nature unfolding just a few meters away from the car. The silence was so deep that you could hear the bones cracking in the lion’s powerful jaws.
The surreal atmosphere was interrupted by our guide’s radio. The guides use walkie talkie in Masai Mara and they inform each other if someone discovers anything worth seeing. The call had just informed us that someone spotted a jaguar with a kill up in a tree. In no time, we were speeding towards the scene.
And what a scene it was. A leopard was feasting on an antelope carcass. For about 10 min we struggled to get the perfect glimpse of the beautiful cat through the branches, meanwhile the place was getting more and more crowded with all sorts of vehicles, some stopping closer to the tree in search for a better view.
And then, it happened. Probably a little disturbed by all the movement on the ground, the leopard decided to leave the safety of the tree, grabbed its chunk of meat and jumped down, getting lost in the nearby bushes.
Our guide told us you only witness something like that once a year, and that is if you’re lucky. So he asked me to give him some of my shots (I was the only one holding a big white lens).
At that point I realized how lucky we were and that no matter what we’ll do next for the rest of our safari or even the next one in Tanzania, it would be extremely difficult to match that. All these pictures my seem a bit cruel to some, but this is the raw and wild life out there, the predator vs prey that had been going on since the beginning of time. If you are so sensitive than the safari is not for you.
We spent the rest of the day driving north, towards Nakuru Lake. After a long and tiring day we were so pleased to see our nice room at Chester Hotel.
On our way we passed through the beautiful scenery of the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from Mozambique to Syria and is famous for its spectacular views and scenery.
Safari Day 4: Nakuru Lake
Lake Nakuru National Park is a bird’s watcher paradise and is famous for its huge flocks of flamingos and other 400 different bird species, including many water birds. Other than birds, the park is home to white rhino, giraffe, hippo, ostrich and even lion.
We didn’t see any big cats, but a family of white rhinos made our day.
The Rothschild Giraffes are also in great number.
Safari Day 5: Amboseli
We left Lake Nakuru soon after lunch as we were planning an evening game drive at Amboseli National Park. This vast reserve is well known for some of Kenya’s biggest Jumbo elephants herds, the largest in Africa.
The park lies at the foot of the snow topped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, which at 5896m dominates the reserve. If you position yourself correctly, Mount Kilimanjaro offers a perfect backdrop for any picture, providing a unique and spectacular photographic opportunity.
The park’s best game is around the swamps and the springs. There is a fine lookout on the observation hill which offers views over the whole Park.
Amboseli is considered one of the top game parks in Africa to get up close to the big tasks elephant bulls in the wild.
Of course, we saw a lot of buffaloes, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, hippos and various antelope species, such as the impala.
Safari Day 6: Amboseli to Namanga
After a night spent in the Noomuran Camp, we left for Namanga, a town close to the border with Tanzania, from which we were supposed to catch the shuttle to Moshi, the departure point for the Kilimanjaro Expedition. The safari company had already purchased the tickets for us.
Some pictures from our camp: