As exciting as everything you’ve heard or read ✔️
Bucket-list Must Do ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
This is the one destination for the ‘travelling with the kids’ / ‘trips to take with kids’ lists…Honesty, they ll cherish the experience for a long long time.
In fact, I’d go as far as saying, Masai Mara is an ideal family holiday – kids, parents, grandparents…..Needless to say, its really thrilling (and truly Im not even a wild life buff).
In addition to that, there’s loads of down-time and the opportunity to ‘just be’ with each other, chat and ‘bond’ (the wifi and mobile network being quite patchy even in the better resorts, helps with that ? ).
The first thing that hits you when you are on the safari drives is the stillness. The silence.
The other is how gorgeous and clear the skies are ? .
The Mara – like so much of the continent, captures the duality of the African experience.
The incredible beauty and yet, its many inescapable hardships. A land that seduces you, but also puts you in your place.
Where you feel humbled no matter how privileged you are.
“The feeling that you are not the center of the universe, but rather a cog in nature’s vast machine, playing a part just like the animals that live and die on the savanna every day”.
Originally established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1961, the protected area has expanded since then. In 1974 Masai Mara was given the status of a National Reserve.
For as far as the eye can see, the terrain is primarily open grassland, with some seasonal riverlets – few and far between.
And then there are a few pockets with large clumps of the seasonal Acacia tree.
The Masai Mara, is home to nearly 100 mammal species and some 600 types of birds.
While Wildebeest and Zebra are native to the reserve, with the number of Wildebeest literally going into millions..
..You get to see all the members of the Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Rhinoceros)– luck being an important factor in this of course ? .
WE TOTALLY LUCKED OUT AND GOT TO SEE ALL 5 ?
The number of Rhinos has sadly, drastically dropped as a result of severe poaching in the 70’s and 80s, and only about 25 remain…
When to go – July through to September is the absolute best time ‘the migration season’….Hundreds of animals crossing over the Mara River, from Serengeti into Kenya.
Its a stunning visual –hordes and hordes of animals moving in tandem. If you can manage a trip in those months, that’s definitely the best time to go.
We could only do it over the Christmas break and with the fabulous sightings we managed even in that ‘shoulder’ season…I can only image what a memorable visual it must be during the summer (Africa’s winter).
For how many days – A minimum of 4 days and 3 nights. 1 more if you can manage it. And book both the afternoon and morning game drives, for all the days you’re there.
Try to also plan for 1 full free day in Nairobi. The kids will love it!
Where to stay – We stayed at the Keekorok Lodge. The rooms were good, friendly staff, lovely grounds…Not in the luxury bracket though.
Well located for the game drives (with some of the ‘friendlier’ animals actually strolling about on the lodge’s grounds ?
Some not so good looking or friendly ones too.. ? ?
And hippos in our backyard ?
The airport (the dirt track runway actually ? ), was literally 3 minutes away.
Now for the really really important things to know….
Get that yellow fever shot..No way out of it – its mandatory (even for getting your Kenyan visa), and you need your airline tickets in place before going for it.
At the centre in Mumbai (Airport Health Organization), it makes sense to queue up from 10 am, as they have a limited number of doses per day.
Im guessing its similar in other cities, but look it up – there’s a lot of information online.
Travel light….the flight from Nairobi to Mara (or back) is on a tiinnnyyy aircraft.
The tiniest aircraft I have ever been on ? ?
They are extremely strict about the 15 kgs baggage limit and will literally leave your bags behind if they aren’t under the weight limit.
Leave all the extra bits behind with your hotel in Nairobi if you can.
Give the kids a reality check before going (atleast for those that gorge on NatGeo or Animal Planet videos).
You might see the Big 5 or you may not…
That perfect shot, or those fabulous ‘crocodile attacking the zebra’ kill videos – they take hhhooours of hanging around for that perfect shot. Or a stroke of luck ?
We genuinely got very very lucky, but there were also some other travellers in the same lodge as us, who did’nt see that much.
I had my Nat Geo moment when we saw the lion lick his lips ? (thankfully not whilst looking at us ? )
Do at least 8 game-drives. Don’t miss any that you have scheduled.
There may be some endlessly boring periods of just vacantly staring into the horizon……
Or seeing only and only Giraffes, which by the 3rd day will start appearing as just part of the landscape ? .
And then bang – out of nowhere, your guide will alert you to something extraordinary.
Another time struggling with ‘post picnic lunch drowsiness’, most of us had ‘snoozed off’ (we’d had our full day safari and it had’nt been a particularly exciting ‘sighting’ day)…
Out of the blue, Edward our guide had braked really hard and pointed to a leopard blending into its natural habitat – the one animal that had eluded us until literally the 2nd last day ? .
Trust me – do them all – even those unearthly hour, early morning safaris.
On our last morning, all of us except M slept in – just assuming we’d seen it all.
He went alone….And that’s the morning he saw a kill! The stalking, the chase, the leopard nail the rabbit. All of it.
How my kids have howled at having missed it ? .
Make sure to ask for 1 full day safari..That’s when they take you as far as the Serengeti border and where (if luck prevails), you might still see some of the hordes, moving in tandem, even if its not the migration season.
Or atleast several families or herds together.
Carry lots of snacks from home.
The safari drives leave at the crack of dawn (you’re barely awake then)….But a couple of hours later, well before coming back to the lodge for breakfast – you’re starving.
The granola bars, munchies, nuts, crisps – trust me they’ll make sure the kids themselves don’t turn into wild beasts ? ? .
Carry board games, playing cards, books and your music..
There’s a loooot of free time (and only so much of coffee or wine whilst romantically staring at the sunset, that one can do).
You’re back from the morning safari by about 10 am…and the next one is at about 3 in the afternoon….In the evenings again you’re back at the lodge by about 6-630pm.
Plus post dinner, you’re strictly advised to stay in your room and not wander about the grounds
You are after all in the midst of a natural game reserve and the wild animals will go about their business – its their home after all.
Its not just precautionary – we did hear animals not too far in the distance every single night and actually saw a hippo walk past barely a hundred metres away, one evening.
Buy or borrow binoculars…preferably two so the kids are’nt squabbling at just that ‘perfect moment’.
Carry a light jacket and a shawl, but also the caps and sun block.
The early mornings are definitely chilly (all year round). But in the day, the sun is really really harsh (the Equator does pass through Kenya after all).
For my entire family the Masai Mara trip was something we still talk about, definitely one that Dad and the kids want to do again; and one of our most fun times together…
And I truly feel that so much of that came from how superbly it was all arranged for us.
And this is what leads me to my 1st tip for a trip to Kenya – arrange it through a travel agent. A well reviewed local Kenyan agency (or someone from your home country – but who has a strong local counterpart).
We had Mara Gates Safaris do it all for us; and beautifully so (I just can’t thank Agnes enough)..
My 2nd tip…..book a canter for your game drives (and not a van with the partial open roof).
Its a nominal additional amount – but makes a wooorrrlld of difference to the entire experience.
Most companies will give you their initial quote based on those white vans, so make it a point to ask for a canter.
Its THE smartest thing we did…
Each of us got a ‘window’ seat and that ? view.
Its eerily unreal how close you get to the animals. Those are a pack of lionesses sunbathing behind me…
Ofcourse the game-guides know exactly how ‘close’ to go.
The animals largerly ignore you… I guess that’s what over five decades of ‘man’ encroaching on the wilderness, will do.
Tip number ➌ …Try to make sure you get a driver / guide from the Mara tribe (they are good enough to double up as both the driver and the guide)
We were a family of 7 travelling together and definitely did’nt feel the need for a second person….
No one knows their way around the plains the way the Masai do…
Nor a better update to what’s happening in the wild…
They have access to sightings which ‘outsiders’ may not be able to reach.
And they are the 1st to know of an intended kill – so will make sure you’re there in good time (the stalking of a large prey sometimes starts a day before).
…Or will take you to where something’s just happened ? .
Most importantly, they will take you to the areas which are not crowded with dozens of other vehicles. The laws of the jungle (and the native tribes) can be fairly ‘territorial’.
On that note – please make sure that your vehicle or driver is equipped with a wireless receiver (not all vehicles are).
For one of our safari drives, we had to use another temporary vehicle as our regular one would’nt start (just before leaving the lodge)…As luck would have it – the temp vehicle too ‘stalled’ whilst navigating a pretty steep ditch.
A few kilometres away from where we had just passed a family of tuskers.
Yup, you guessed it – no receiver and – no mobile network.
A nail biting 10 minutes later we were ‘rescued’ by a ranger who happened to be passing there and who was able to jump start our canter.
Suggestion number ➍….take the flight back from Mara to Nairobi (unless you’re planning to fly to and fro both ways).
The 3 hour drive is thrilling, sure; and an experience in itself with the endless views of the African grasslands…but it is BONE JARRING!
Especially the last hour and a half. No bathroom breaks or rest stops – so plan accordingly.
All in all an absolute must do holiday. “Epic” as my kids say…they can’t wait to go back again.