When we moved to Nairobi, Kenya in late August, one of the places I was sure we would be visiting sooner than later was the Masai Mara National Reserve. Having tried and failed, a few years ago, to see the Wildebeest migration and Mara River crossing in the Serengeti, I was hoping that we would get to see that during this trip. Spoiler Alert: we didn’t but in hindsight, despite our misfortunes with the Masai Mara migration and our driver and guide, the trip was a good one.
Nairobi to Masai Mara
We arrived at the Masai Mara National Reserve after a fairly long drive from Nairobi. Our driver, who doubled up as our guide for the safari picked us up at about 7 am on the first day of our trip. We had booked a 3-day, 2-night budget safari, which included transportation from and to Nairobi, a stop at the Great Rift Valley Viewpoint, 2 nights’ stay at a tented camp just outside the National Reserve and 2 game drives within it.
Apart from a little stretch of the road that was under construction and the drive on the unpaved road to our camp, I’d say the 6hour journey – including the stop at the viewpoint, wasn’t too bad. We arrived at the Enkorok Mara Camp, just outside the Masai Mara Oloolaimutia Gate, at about 1:30 pm. This gave us some time to relax before our evening game drive.
Masai Mara Entrance Fee
At 4 pm, we set out for our first game drive at the Masai Mara National Reserve. First, we needed to pay the entrance fees since the operator did not cover this. Now, if you plan to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve soon, you may need to pay attention to this part because it was the beginning of our misadventures with our guide and the Reserve.
The game reserve has different pricing for Kenyan citizens, residents and foreigners. For foreigners, the fee is $70 per day if you stay in a hotel within the park and $80 if you are outside it. When we arrived, the official in charge of the tickets asked us how many nights we were staying at the Masai Mara. Naively, we said ‘2 nights’ and nudged by our guide, we paid for a 2-day ticket.
It wasn’t until after our game drive the next day that we realized this very costly error. The entrance tickets are valid for 24 hours. A 1-day ticket was all we needed and unfortunately, our guide was either oblivious to this or very good at pretending to be. I don’t want to dwell too much on this part of the trip but I think this is something to be aware of if you plan to visit for the same duration as us.
Masai Mara Safari
Our game drives inside the reserve were pretty exciting. On our first outing, we saw several animals, including zebras, impalas, giraffes and wildebeests. We also saw a pride of lions feasting on a kill in the bushes. We were so close to them, it was wonderful! But then, our guide kept picking out bad spots to park the car. At some point, it became hilarious. Overall, our first outing was great but I think it might have been better if our guide was different.
Our second outing began quite early. We set out on a drive to the Mara River, in an attempt to catch the last moments of the Masai Mara Migration. Sadly, we arrived at a nearly empty river crossing. Only one wildebeest stood in the middle of the river, contemplating its choices in life.
Even though the crossing didn’t happen while we were there, the Mara River still allowed for superb wildlife viewing. On the bank of the river lay the largest crocodile I have ever seen, several hippos and just across it, a pride of lions walked majestically in the plains.
After we left the Mara River, we stopped briefly to have lunch, before returning to the game drive in search of other members of the Big 5. So far, we had seen elephants, buffaloes and lions. I was almost giving up hope of seeing anything interesting up close when we stumbled upon several safari cars lined up and patiently waiting for something. We brought our car to a stop beside them, wondering what they were looking at. ‘It’s the Tano Bora!’ a kid exclaimed from the car next to us.
‘The Tano what now?’ I thought but didn’t have to wait for long to find out what that was. Out on the horizon, a head poked out of the brown savannah grasslands. At first, I thought it was a leopard. Then there were two of them, moving closer and closer. They were Cheetahs, five of them who formed the largest coalition of adult male cheetahs in the Mara.
This turned out to be the highlight of our entire trip. The group walked right in front of our vehicle and I could barely contain my excitement but we had to quietly take it all in in order not to startle them. We observed them for a while before leaving in search of more wildlife and then, back to our camp.
Back at the entrance gate, we attempted to get a refund from the officials but as you might have guessed, that did not happen. Fortunately, the trip organizer was kind enough to reimburse us for half the cost of the extra tickets, a compromise we were happy to settle with.
The next day, we returned to Nairobi, after what seemed like a much shorter drive.
Masai Mara Budget Safari Cost
Our safari was shared with another couple in a minibus (different from the vehicle above) and the total cost came up to $330 each. This includes the extra 24hr entrance fee we paid in error (minus the reimbursement). East African safaris tend to be quite expensive, so we were happy to have found something within this range.
I am always excited to go on a safari. So far, I have been to the Ranthambore National Park in India, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Pendjari National Park in the Benin Republic and the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Ngorogoro Crater and Tarangire National Parks in Tanzania. I am glad I get to add Masai Mara to this growing list.
In the future, I hope to go on a Gorilla Trek in either Uganda or Rwanda. Now that I am in East Africa, this dream of mine seems within reach than ever before. If you’ve been to any of the places, including the Masai Mara, please share your experiences with me in the comment section below.
Also, if you have any questions about visiting the Masai Mara or going on your first safari, please leave them in the comment section as well and I will respond to the best of my knowledge.