Masai Mara, the great grassland of Eastern Africa. The name itself conjures images of herd of deer and dazzle of zebras grazing around, wildebeests looking to cross the Mara river in great fervor. It’s only fair that a lot of travel plans to Kenya are centred around this magical park. How many days are enough to visit this place and be subdued by its beauty? In all honesty, you need at least a week there. But that’s not very practical as most of us are on a tight holiday schedule with limited days to unwind ourselves.
Keeping the practicality in mind, I have come up with this perfect itinerary for your holiday in Masai Mara, where you can experience the park’s magnificence in three days!
How to get to Masai Mara
The travel to Masai Mara can be pretty exhaustive, especially if you’re not a big fan of road trips. Masai Mara can be accessed through multiple places, the access road however is not good to say the least. To reach the national reserve, one must cross the Narok town. The road up until there is a proper cement road, well maintained and without any bumps. However, once you cross Narok, it really starts to worsen. Mind you, you won’t even be able to catch some sleep in those last two hours.
Nairobi: 300 km (6-6.5 hours)
Lake Nakuru: 275 km (5.5-6 hours)
Lake Naivasha: 290 km (6 hours)
Aberdare National Park: 360 km (8 hours)
Best time to visit Masai Mara
Dry Season: June to October is the dry season in Kenya and essentially the best time to visit Masai Mara. Wildlife is easier to spot because the bush isn’t dense and animals are usually gathered around ponds. The skies are clear, which gives photographers a very good scope and some excellent shots. And of course, the wildebeest migration.
Cold season: November to January is cold in Kenya with temperatures dropping to as low as 9º. While the sightings might not be as good as the dry season, it’s pretty close as the animals still need to reach the ponds to satisfy their thirst, unless the rains are unseasonal.
Wet season: If you want to travel cheap, then this would be the right season for you. February to May marks the rainy season in Kenya, with a drop-in tourism. The lodges and resorts have a lot of vacancy, which means that rates are slashed. There is lush greenery everywhere. Wet season also welcomes a lot of migratory birds to Masai Mara.
Tip: Before you embark on your Kenya tour, don't forget to check out essential travel information regarding your destination.
My ideal itinerary
If you’re travelling to Masai Mara from Lake Nakuru (like I did), then the journey would take 6 hours to complete (without a coffee break!). You will reach your resort just in time for lunch. Post which, you will have two options, either to set out on a half day game drive or to visit the local Masai village. With two impending full day game drives ahead of you, you might want to consider visiting the Masai village just to understand the lifestyle and culture of the tribal.
One of the first things that you will notice on arriving at the village is the vibrancy of the tribesmen’s clothes and jewellery. The tribe’s leader will welcome you by blowing the traditional Kudu horn. The entry fee to visit the village is $20 for every adult. While you’re making the payment, the Masai men will gather around and start their “jumping dance”, also known as Odumu. As per their tradition, the man who jumps the highest gets the most suitors. While you’re cheering for them, don’t forget to join in on this dance.
In contrast with their colourful clothes, the Masai houses are simple mud structures with thatched roof. The tribal leader takes you on a tour of the village post which he leads you to their tiny market, comprising of nine-ten women selling traditional jewellery, shawls, paintings that are created in that village. In comparison to the curio shops, these items are quite inferior in pricing and quality, but it doesn’t hurt to spend a couple of dollars and help the tribal community.
The much-awaited and much-hyped game drive. You always hear stories of how absolutely enchanting Masai Mara is, how vast the grasslands stretch, how there are hordes of animals grazing, galloping, bathing and in general, existing. It’s all true. The park is well worth the hype and lives up to its expectations.
Make sure to start your day early and enter the reserve at 8 am (that’s when the gate opens). You can choose to either have a full day game drive or break the day into two safari sessions that would include a lunch at the resort in between. I would a suggest full day game drive, for mainly two reasons – you waste a lot of time in exiting and reentering the reserve, which you can otherwise spend on the trail of a lion or cheetah; and second, picnic in the jungle! Need I say more? At the point of entry, you will see some tribal selling souvenirs, so if you missed out on buying things from the Masai village or don’t want to spend much at the curio shops, then here’s another opportunity for you.
Once the permits are done, passes are checked, entries are punched, you’re all set for your first game drive in Masai Mara. Wide track unwinds from the gate with narrower trails curving into the unknown. Depending upon the guide’s judgement, you will venture on one of the narrow paths, looking at the action all around you. My father often says that a game drive in Masai Mara is like watching a wildlife movie, shot on a 40mm camera in Ultra HD. From one corner of your eye to the other, all you see are the grassland hues interspersed with a variety of flora and fauna.
Like I’ve said above, one of the main advantages of going on a full-day game drive is that you get to have a picnic in the game reserve. Now that means that your resort packs up the perfect lunch box for you, right from small snack items to sizeable portions of lunch menu. Under an Acai tree’s shadow, your driver will find you a quiet spot where you can enjoy this serene picnic.
The game drive usually goes on till 5 pm, post which you return to your resort and can open a pint of Tusker beer or just soak yourself in a warm bath. Either way, you can call it a day after this.
I will always recommend minimum two full days in the Masai Mara Reserve so that you can do justice to the place. Since today would also include a full day game drive, you can start your safari at 8:30 am. Ask your driver to take you to the Mara river today. If you’re visiting in summers, then prepare to be enthralled by the wildebeest migration. Lakhs of wildebeests rampaging their way through this basin, thunderous sounds all around. But if you’re not visiting in the summers, then you will see few dozens of hippos sunbathing. For this reason, one part of the Mara river’s basin is also referred to as the Hippo pool.
Depending upon what your next destination is, you can decide what time to leave Masai Mara. If you have a flight to catch, then it’s best that you get on a move early in the morning. It’s best to avoid traffic in the Rift Valley and in Nairobi city while you can. Don’t forget, the drive back to Nairobi would take 6-6.5 hours without any coffee breaks, so plan your travel accordingly.
If you are planning to visit Kenya, then you should check out our ideal Kenya itinerary for eight days.
Has Masai Mara always been on your list? Let me know if this itinerary makes your planning a little easier