A trip to Kenya would not be complete without visiting the amazing Masai Mara. It boasts a diverse range of wildlife and is one of the best places in the world to go on safari.
This was our first safari experience and we now understand why it is at the top of most bucket lists. However I did find organising where to stay very difficult. I had a lot of questions: Where should I stay? Is a private reserve better? How long should I stay for?
When we got there and spoke to other people it was a relief to hear that I wasn’t the only one who found it challenging to organise. One couple who were on their honeymoon said that they usually book their own trips but found it difficult to research and decide on safari accommodation.
This post is not sponsored but we wanted to share our experience with Basecamp Explorers in hopes that it might be useful to someone else who is planning this once in a lifetime holiday.
Getting to the Masai Mara
After a 9 hour direct flight from London we arrived in Jommo Kenyatta airport, Kenya in the early hours of the morning. We then went straight to Wilson airport for our internal flight, which saved time but was very tiring.
Wilson airport was even smaller than I imagined and ended up adding to the safari experience. The airport is so tiny that you can sit drinking a coffee while watching the airplanes being moved by a tractor!
The baggage allowance for these planes is 15Kg in soft baggage, so we just took a large backpack each. When it was time for our flight we had to point out which piece of luggage was ours and it was loaded straight into the plane. It was nice not having to worry about the luggage being left behind.
The airplanes are so small that they have fold away steps and the pilot turned around in her seat to give the safety information. I really enjoyed the experience of being in a small airplane for the short 45 minute flight. However if you are a nervous flyer it may be better to go by car because the feeling of turbulence is amplified in smaller aircrafts.
The Masai Mara is so vast that we had to change planes once but this was very easy. Landing was an interesting experience as the ‘landing strip’ at the airport was just a dirt road but this was uneventful and all the staff at each airport were very helpful.
Our guides met us as we departed the small airplane to take us to our first camp.
Which type of Park?
When deciding on which park to stay in there are two options: a private conservancy or a national park. We stayed at the Mara Naboisho Conservancy which is 50,000 acres and borders the Masai Mara national reserve.
The main advantage of a private reserve is that the number of vehicles per safari drive are limited. This results in a more authentic experience as there aren’t countless cars all surrounding the same animals.
There are also a few things that can only be done on privately owned reserves. One is being able to drive around the park at night letting you see some of the animals that are less visible during the day. We got to see an East African springhare and a Hippopotamus with her cub having a night stroll.
The other benefit is that walking safaris are only available on private reserves. Unfortunately we were not able to go on the walking safari as I am not able to walk that far due to illness. The other guests that went said it was great though!
There are quite a few companies offering luxurious accommodation in the Masai Mara with a price tag to match. As we had already spent our savings on Giraffe Manor we wanted a cheaper option. Basecamp Explorer is on a private reservation, they offered a range of different accommodation to suit different budgets.
‘Leopard hill’ is their most luxurious option which has a ceiling that opens so that you can look at the stars in the night sky. The other end of the scale is ‘Dorobo mobile camp’ involves several days of walking and mobile camping.
We booked a 4 day safari which included 3 meals and 2 drives per day in the price. We stayed for 3 days at ‘Eagle camp’ and 1 day at ‘Wilderness camp’.
We first stayed at Eagle camp which is at the top of a hill and has amazing views! Our tent had a balcony that you could sit and watch the wildlife below. We saw lots of baboons chasing each other and one ran directly in front of me once when I left my tent! There was electricity and a shower which does stretch the term ‘tent’ and Wifi was available in the lobby and the bar areas.
Wilderness camp was a bit more basic but the tents still had electricity and an ensuite bathroom with running water, the main difference is that we had a bucket shower.
This was a lot more remote, you could see zebras and gazelles in the distance. At night we could hear the zebras eating grass what sounded like right outside our tent.
This camp felt a lot more personal because it only had 8 tents in total. During our stay there were only two other guests which meant it was just the four of us on the safaris. This was nice as the meals were at a communal table and there was a fire to sit by each night so we got to know the other people well.
I would recommend staying in more than one camp if possible because they offer very different experiences, each have amazing but different features.
I would consider both tents as ‘glamping’ as there was electricity and an ensuite bathroom with running water and a flushing toilet. They provided treated water in glass bottles for drinking and brushing teeth, this was just one of the steps the company was taking to be more environmentally friendly.
For both camps during the day the material surrounding the tent is rolled up so that you can look through the mosquito nets at the view. At night we put them down because it was very windy and would have been cold.
If you are a light sleeper it might be best to wear earplugs as the animals can get noisy at night, which is part of the experience.
The first mini safari experience took place on the drive from the airport to the camp. Even though it wasn’t a long we still saw a surprising number of animals including elephants.
The jeeps are all open safari vehicles so that your view isn’t obscured by windows. The guides are all members of the Masai tribe and are incredibly knowledgable, respectful of the animals and happy to answer questions.
The safaris were in small groups which tended to be with the same people the whole time. The morning safari started at 06:00 and lasted for about 2 hour. The evening safari started at 16:30 and we even managed to get out of our car to have a close up view of the hippos and watch the sunset with some drinks.
Is it safe?
It is safe to walk around the camps during the day but at night we were told to ask for someone to escort us if we needed to leave our tents for any reason. After dinner we were always escorted back by two people with torches.
The only time that we felt a bit unsafe during our whole trip was when we arrived at Nairobi airport in the early hours of the morning. We were told that someone from Basecamp Explorer would pick us up and take us to Wilson airport. However they weren’t there, so we ended up taking one of the official taxis. This threw us slightly as we weren’t prepared for it but was all ok in the end. I like to have a transfer organised if I arrive anywhere when it is dark, for safety and to put my mind at ease.
Everyone that we met during our time on safari were incredibly friendly. They were very understanding about me being ill and regularly kept checking that I was ok.
How long should I stay for?
This depends on how tight your schedule is, I quickly realised that every safari is vastly different. You could easily stay for a week or longer and never get bored. We stayed for 4 days which was amazing but if we had more time we would have loved to stay longer.
Time of year to visit
We visited the Masai Mara in the middle of August and were told that we had just missed the great migration. Therefore if you want to see it then it is better to go in June/ July. However it is very hard to predict because it doesn’t happen at exactly the same time and is influenced by the weather.
The weather was great for me because it wasn’t too hot during the day, with highs of 27ºC. The evenings were a bit cold and windy but I was fine with a thick jumper.
Before our trip I was worried about tsetse flies (after having a bad reaction to black fly bites in Canada) so brought a lot of neutral coloured clothes to wear that covered my arms and legs. Luckily we didn’t get bitten and also didn’t hear about anyone else complaining of any bites.
The Big five
The main draw of safari is the animals that you get to see. The only animal that wasn’t on the Mara Naboisho Conservancy reserve were rhinos. Most people visiting Africa want to see the big five: African elephants, cape buffalo, African leopards, African lions & rhino’s. We unfortunately didn’t manage to see a leopard or any rhino’s. Just some of the amazing animals we saw were: buffalo, elephants, some lazy lions, hippopotamus’, cheetah’s, zebra and exotic birds.
It is difficult to put into words how amazing safari was and I think that the best way to end this post is with some pictures.
While you are in Kenya I would really recommend visiting the Giraffe Manor for the once in a lifetime experience of breakfast with giraffes.
Visited: middle of August 2019