“It’s a jungle out there and you are going to have a wild time”
‘Jambo!’ in Swahili means ‘Hello’ and Swahili is the widely spoken language in Africa. Honestly, just like many other African countries, we were a bit skeptical before visiting Kenya, having heard of stories about the country being unsafe for travel. Fortunately, Kenya ended up being very welcoming, because it’s here that you’ll spot the best of the wild and the best of the sunsets!
Right from the time we boarded the home airline ‘Kenya Airways’, until we said ‘Kwa heri’ (goodbye) to this beautiful country, we had the time of our lives. Kenya will always remain special to us, as it was the first country we visited together, outside our home, India and U.A.E.
Best time to visit
We visited Kenya in August, and undoubtedly, it is the best time of the year if you want to see the great wildebeest migration in action at Masai Mara. The weather is amazing for viewing the big 5 of Africa – Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and Cheetah / Leopard – not too warm and not too cold, just perfect. Considering that it is the peak season, you may encounter a little crowd and higher prices. But it is worth it!
Before you go!
Kenya is a safe destination compared to surrounding African countries, but travelers like most of the places, will always attract unwanted attention from beggars and pickpockets. Don’t be afraid to explore your boundaries – just be careful and sensible about it. A little street smartness goes a long way in Kenya, and staying up to date on the local situation is essential no matter where you go. Here are few things you should consider before you plan your visit:
- Check on your vaccinations – We got our Yellow Fever Vaccination (YFV) 45 days ahead of our trip (entirely safe, but still consult your doctor). Keep the vaccination card for your records with passport, as some countries do need YFV if you’ve visited some African countries. Make sure your routine vaccinations are also upto date.
- Carry an insect repellent – Malaria is a big risk in Kenya. Pack a 30% DEET and some anti malaria pills, along with your general medicines, after consulting your doctor. Stay covered at dawn and dusk, that’s when the mosquitoes are most active. Watch out for small insects too.
- Raw or under cooked food – Our medical travel consultant had clearly mentioned of not eating anything raw and/or under cooked, especially meat. Drink water from your packed water bottles and not from any open source.
- Don’t be flashy – While in city or in rural areas, don’t be flashy about your belongings, be it jewelry, cash or equipment. Keep limited cash with you and as goes without saying, a copy of your passports with you all the time.
Kenya is one of the few countries where you can get an e-visa or a visa on arrival with an Indian passport. We chose to go for visa on arrival, as we had read that getting an e-visa before hand does not really make that much of a difference.
The visa on arrival process was not smooth as we had hoped for. It took us two hours of waiting in the non-existent queue with the crowd. You need to fill up the immigration form, even by the e-visa holders, which are placed near the immigration counters. The visa fee can either be paid in USD (50) or EURO (40) or GBP (30). Only cash is accepted.
We used the flight aggregator https://www.skyscanner.net/ to search for best available flights. However, once we selected our flight, we booked directly from the carrier’s website. We had to proceed to Seychelles after Kenya and Kenya Airways offered us the best connection and price. It is the national airline of Kenya and it reminded us of Air India (in a good way).
We generally prefer https://www.booking.com/ to book our hotels. It is reliable, with trusted reviews and all the needed information about the property. The reviews are handy, especially if you are on a budget. However, when in Kenya, we would recommended to book a tour rather than only the hotel.
So here is a pro tip – we looked for hotels on booking.com, then contacted the hotel directly and asked them for an all inclusive package (pick-up and drop from airport, all game drives and stay on a full board basis). This way, we were able to save a lot of cost. We prefer booking this way than through the travel agents. We were able to get a private 4×4 for 3 days. We inquired a lot of agents and they were offering only a shared van in that same budget.
We stayed at the Mara Concord Game Lodge. The location was beautiful. There was a river flowing in front of our little chalet, nearby to which was a hippo pool too. Technically, it doesn’t really matter where you stay because most of the time you’ll be out for the game drives, from the sun rises to the sunsets; but no one ever said no to a good bed sleep 🙂
Day 1 – The Great Rift Valley viewpoint and Lemek Conservancy game drive
We landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, early in the morning. Our driver, Aruna, was waiting for us. Aruna is a gem of a guy. We are still in touch. The amazing weather that greeted us, was a huge respite from the Dubai’s blazing August heat.
We had our breakfast and left for Masai Mara. Our first stop on the way was a view point, overlooking The Great Rift Valley. You’ll find breathtaking views of the Valley which gives way to some of the country’s finest mountains, lakes and open plains. If you are going in August, do try the corn on the cob, which is sold by the locals at any of the view point along the way. A perfect snack for the misty cold weather.
Next, we headed straight to our lodge. The drive is long at around 6 hours and quite a bumpy one in it’s last 2 hours stretch. Hence, in case you are not meant for the bumps, you may take any of the numerous flight options available from Nairobi. We did not regret taking the road even a bit. Aruna made sure we were also guided about the swahili culture and people on our way. We felt welcomed as the locals were smiling and waving at us all along the way and we saw a lot of animals grazing on open lands.
After resting in our room for an hour, we headed for our first game drive – at the Lemek Conservancy. There are a lot of conservancies in Masai Mara, around the core national reserve. The conservancies also offer great wildlife viewing opportunities. We saw 2 out of the Big 5 (herds of Elephants and Buffaloes) and tower of giraffes. Looking at these animals in wild in front of you is an experience not to be missed.
Day 2 – Masai Mara National Reserve game drive
No matter how many wildlife documentaries you’ve watched till date, believe us, nothing prepares you for the thrill of seeing the wild beasts – untamed and uninterrupted, in their own wild land. The experience is EVERYTHING to a different level.
This day, based on Aruna’s suggestion, we woke up a bit early than the others to beat the crowd, and ready to leave by 7:00 A.M. We were one of the first vehicles to arrive at the Masai Mara National Reserve. We were ready to try our luck to spot the Big 5. The animals are all out there, blended all so perfectly with the nature that you blink and you’ll miss an opportunity, just pay attention!
Our another aim while planning for Kenya was to witness – the wildebeests migration, crossing the crocodile-infested Mara river, which is the most spectacular part of the migration. No where in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration, over two million animals (mainly wildebeests and zebras) migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya during July through to October.
The Masai Mara also has one of the highest densities of lions in the world and is no wonder is the home of the BBC wildlife channels Big Cat Diary.
Our drive began very well, as within 20 minutes of our entry into the reserve, we spotted two lionesses chilling (or rather sunbathing) and looking for preys. The sight was mesmerizing.
Then, we saw a lot of other animals, including the famous duo of Timon (meerkats) and Pumbaa (warthogs) from the animated movie, The Lion King.
The Reserve has strict rules of not getting to close to the animals or going off the path. You are not allowed to get down from your vehicle in the reserve, except for refreshments/ lunch under a tree. Beware when you get down, look around as there might be a leopard on any of the trees.
Aruna halted for lunch (which the lodge packed for the guests going for the drives) at his favourite spot in the reserve – a tree located right next to the river, with hippos bathing in it, birds chirping and zebras and impalas all around us. It was the best lunch ever – check our instagram post below, that describes it all 🙂
The drivers keep on exchanging information about their animal spotting as when they cross each other. Continuing with our game drive, we were lucky to spot the rarest of the Big 5 – the Rhinoceros. Even though possessing great sense of power,ye they’re quite shy and reserved. As they lumber across the grasslands, two things arise – One. Goosebumps and Two. Cameras!
We could not find the last of the Big 5 – the Leopard / Cheetah. However, to our immense joy, while on our way back to the lodge, we spotted a Cheetah, completely blended in the grass that even Siddhi had a tough time spotting it. Even our camera lens (which is not pro-lens) couldn’t catch much :(. But the drive went really amazing and we left with content.
The rules are set to leave the Reserve before dark, the park rangers keep a check on tourists in as they return for safaris. Search teams are sent if you’ve not reached your hotel on time and legal procedures follow if you’re are late in returning.
Sunsets on African grasslands is an absolute spectacular event and hence needs a specific mention.
During our dinner, a cultural dance was arranged by the lodge, which was performed by the Masai locals. Men dressed in Red and Black checked shukas and beaded metal ornaments laden women. And to our surprise one of the locals was singing bollywood songs, felt like home 🙂
Day 3 – Crescent Island walking safari
Post our check-out in the morning, we had two options for the day – either do another game drive at Lemek Conservancy or visit the Crescent Island on our way back to Nairobi for a walking safari. We opted for the latter. On your way, you can also stop over at designated Masai village, if you wish to know more about the Masai tribe and their culture.
Crescent Island is a very short detour on the way to Nairobi from Masai Mara. As the name suggests, it is a crescent shaped island in Lake Naivasha, which is located within the Great Rift Valley. It is said that the island was built as a location for shooting a movie and various animals were brought there. After the shoot, it was decided to leave the animals there and made the Crescent Island their home. There are no big cats, so no risk. You can walk with giraffes, wildebeests, impalas, zebras, waterbucks, gazelles, etc.
We visited the island by taking a short boat ride from the Hippo Safari Resort. The boat ride itself is very fascinating, as you can see numerous birds in the Lake Naivasha such as Pelicans, Fish Eagles, etc.
We also shopped for some African souvenirs, like handmade salad serving spoons, little tribal masks, etc. from the shops that came on our way. Alot of shops charge high prices from the tourists, so hop a few and bargain well.
After another amazing day, we reached our hotel – Hilton Garden Inn, near the airport. Our flight to Seychelles was scheduled for the next morning.
Kenya is a home to lot of mosquitoes, including the Airport. Hence, we suggest to cover yourselves adequately. Further, during game drives, wear earthy colors to blend with the environment. Also, wear comfortable and airy clothes so the long game drives don’t bother you anytime.
We had booked the entire package through our hotel on a full board basis. There are a lot of Indians living in Nairobi, who visit Masai Mara. Hence, our lodge had a few vegetarian dishes on their buffet menu, particularly potato dishes. The best food we had was the lunch packed for our full day game drive on day 2.
Further, our breakfast buffet at Hilton in Nairobi was grand and had a lot of vegetarian options.
The best way to get around is to hire a private 4×4 with a driver from end to end. There is a more expensive, flying option too for Nairobi to Masai Mara.
A pro tip – even if it costs a bit more, hire a private 4×4, rather than a van or any shared vehicle. The experience is at a different level altogether. You will take this trip only once in a lifetime, and trust us, it is worth every penny.
Currency and costs
Kenyan Shilling is the official currency. However, USD the main currency quoted for tourists, due to stability. Hence, you can get USD and exchange some of it for shillings for local expenses. Cards are also accepted, but it is preferable to carry cash, as ATMs are difficult to find in Masai Mara.
The costs depend on the accommodation and mode of transport. We booked the entire package with our lodge as follows (excluding flights):
- Hotel accommodation for 2 nights in Masai Mara on full board basis – 180 USD per night
- Private 4×4 rental for 3 days – 250 USD per day
- Lemek Conservancy fee – 70 USD per head
- Masai Mara National Reserve fee – 80 USD per head
- Crescent Island tour – 50 USD per head
- Miscellaneous expenses including snacks and tips – USD 200
- Hotel accommodation for 1 night in Nairobi (including airport transfer) – USD 170
Undoubtedly, Kenya allows for the rawest encounters with wildlife. So, go ditch that Wi-fi and power shower and head out on a safari – you’re guaranteed an experience that will stay with you forever.
Overall, Masai Mara is perfect bucket list experience for nature and wildlife enthusiasts. You can spend more time in Kenya exploring:
- Hot Air Balloon Safari over Masai Mara
- Hell’s Gate National Park – Bicycling with the animals
- Amboseli National Park – Elephant spotting and Mt. Kilimanjaro backdrop
- Mombasa Marine National Park
- Nairobi City
- Kenyan beaches
- Trekking on Mt. Kenya
- Lake Nakuru National Park – top spot for rhinos