I just returned from another great safari to Maasai Mara, while enjoying the awesome view of the Masaai land and the animals that just make you fall in love with Kenya all over again, I figured its time to think about what things people should look into when planning their safaris. I would say in Kenya for a 1st time visit and for someone looking for the IT experience, the Maasai Mara would be the best choice as it gives you the opportunity to see the Big 5 and really being part of African Savannah.
You have decided it is time for your long awaited safari experience to Maasai Mara, Kenya. Obviously you have gone into google and started your search and you are now getting overwhelmed with the thousands of options that seem so different you would think its different continents you are seeking to visit. So based on my 2 cents and my experience with numerous visits annually to Maasai Mara I will attempt to give you a guideline on how to pick you perfect safari that suits you best.
This is definitely the most important and also the most delicate of them all. Lets just start with, IT IS NOT CHEAP to go on a Kenyan safari, but it does not need to break the bank either. You will have some fixed cost such as an average of US$ 80 for entry to the park if you do not have East Africa residency. So based on how much you want to spend the accommodation costs can run from US$ 60 – US$ 2,000 per person per night. During my visit I stayed at 2 different properties and will refer to them a lot for this post. For my less expensive option I stayed at Basecamp, Maasai Mara , as a resident the cost ranges from US$ 80 (Kes 8,000) to US$ 120 ( Kes 12,000) per person per night and for my more luxury option I stayed at Eagle View, Naboisho where the prices range from US$ 170 ( Kes 17,000) to US$ 230 ( Kes 23,000) per person per night. There are less expensive options and also more expensive ones. The prices for non residents will also be significantly much higher.
2. Mode of transport
When it comes to going on safari I wish it was easy as traveling in South East Asia where you can rent a scooter or just take a bus that will take you right to where you want to go. For safaris you have 3 options, take a direct flight from Nairobi or Mombasa to Maasai Mara. There flights are available on Air Kenya, Safarilink, Mombasa Air, Fly 540 or a private charter. The cost would start from about US$ 350 (Kes 35,000) per person for a return flight. It is quite convenient as it only takes 1 hour from Nairobi and 2 1/2 hours from Mombasa/ Diani. When you fly the camp will essentially do the game drives for you. This is always a great choice as you get an jeep with open sided sides making your experience amazing
The next option is hired driving option, there are numerous travel companies offering driving packages to Maasai Mara. this would include a driver, an 8 seat safari van with pop up roof, this could be shared or exclusive. The cost for the transport only should start from about US$ 430 (Kes 43,000) for a 3 days. 2 nights stay. This cost will include game drives within the park hence if you pick a good company you are likely to have a driver/ guide who is experienced and knowledgeable. I recommend requesting for silver rating guides or at a minimum a bronze guide. The drive time for this should be 4 – 5 hours from Nairobi depending on traffic and number of stops
The last option is self driving, The National Reserve allows for self drive guests so if you have a car or have already rented one for your stay in Kenya , just hope in drive away to the Maasai Mara. This could be a more reasonably priced option however, I fell the quality of game experience may not be as high as you will be blindly driving without much knowledge of the roads and the reserve in general. However best trick pick out a travel company car you see that seems like they know what they are doing and just literally stalk him all day 🙂
As you guessed I opted to drive with a qualified driver/ guide 🙂
3. Conservancy or Reserve
You have seen me refer to the Reserve above, so the Maasai Mara in a whole is an Eco system, the Reserve is publicly owned and governed and managed bu the County government of Narok. Surrounding the Reserve the are quite a number of conservancies collectively owned by Maasai’s and they lease the land to camps and lodges. The conservancies offer more exclusive game viewing experience, this is because they could be about 50,000 acres ++ with very few camps meaning the chances of having many vehicles at a sighting is almost non existent.
For my stay I opted to experience both and compare the stays. Basecamp is located within the reserve while Eagle View is located within Naboisho Conservancy. Naboisho Conservancy is 50,000 acres with only 6 camps, meaning during our stay we did not see any other vehicle during our game drives. They also allow for off road driving meaning you can get really upclose to the animals, night game drives are allowed which add to your overall stay.
The Reserve however has the advantage of having the Mara River. Have you heard about the Great Migration. The river crossing of thousands of wildebeests can only be sighted within the Reserve at Mara River.
4. Accommodation style
When it comes to accommodation style the options are endless. There is is something for everyone. To try give my opinion of the different styles of accommodation will use the below parameters.
Tented Camp/lodge – So this is the main differentiation we find in the Mara. The concept of tented camps is one that is growing really fast. When you think of a tent you may think of you summer dome tent used for camping. The tented camp concept is a full on hotel room build within a tent with shower and toilet all included. Lodges are your typical hotel just that they are located in the wild. I personally never stay in lodges but I have learned that Asian guests prefer lodges while most Western guests prefer tented camps.
Big / Small – The size of the property is also one thing that I personally consider, I prefer small properties that have more personalized service as compared to large properties. The lodges tend to be larger with occupancy of up 150 people while some tented camps only take 10 people a day. The larger properties tend to have buffet meals while smaller properties have ala carte menus or make your own menu concepts. I hate buffets, who is like me?
High End/ Mid Range / Budget – this is similar to the 1st point on budget, within tented camps, the level of standard of service, quality of food, room/tent, vibe, location is used to determine the rating. Most Mid range properties will offer good standards.
Both properties that I stayed in are tented Camps, Eagle View has 10 tents with all of them having great views of the conservancy. The camp has the best view deck ever where you ca seat have your wine as you enjoy the endless horizon. The camp manager is very nice and will chat to you give you endless information during meals but when you wanna be alone he will let you be. Basecamp has 12 tents and has a different vibe that is not bad but very different from that of Eagle view. The food at Eagle View was delicious especially their homemade granola.
I will be covering more point on a later post but this I believe should be the key things to really consider.
Now get planning.