Travelling to the Masai Mara – Kenya safari review
Oh my goodness the weather! Let me take you to the sunshine as a reminder that it’s out there somewhere and will be with us soon. So, as I ended last week’s Kenya safari review post, we were having an early night before our long journey to the Masai Mara. It was a break of day start and it took all morning to get there. You may remember that we’d had to divert from the original itinerary because of the government interruptions to our schedule. The upside was that it meant we were travelling cross country along back roads that aren’t often used by safari jeeps so we had some fascinating glimpses of real Kenyan everyday life as we drove through the various townships.
Eventually we noticed the landscape starting to change; the grassland stretched out before us with a wide open sky and a horizon punctuated only by an occasional thorn tree. We’d reached the Masai Mara.
At that point we had no idea just how much our safari experience was about to ramp up. We were entering a true wilderness where the animals rule in their own domain. It’s a place where humans have absolutely no relevance.
This wasn’t a game drive, we were simply on the way to our camp but already we had elephants right beside us…
… close enough for us to marvel at their beautiful skin. And this is what I mean about humans being an irrelevance. The animals just ignore the jeeps, they don’t shy away but neither do they show any interest in them.
It’s as if we don’t exist at all.
Our Masai Mara Camp – Kenya Safari review
We arrived at our camp just in time for lunch and I had so many questions about it on Instagram that I want to try to give you a good idea of what ‘camp’ means. Conservation measures insist that construction in the Mara reserve is quite rightly very restricted. There are no hotels, simply tented sites like ours. In order not to disturb the terrain, as little concrete as possible is used and instead you’ll see a lot of wood and canvas. It doesn’t mean it feels basic though as you can see here from the opening into the restaurant area.
You do, quite literally, stay in canvas tents. This is ours from the outside…
… and the inside. The wooden furnishings were high quality, the mattress was comfortable, the linen a high thread count. It was a bit of a surprise to find tea and coffee locked away in the safe but apparently the monkeys have learned to open the zips and velcro on the tents and come in like a flash if they smell any food.
You can just see that we had a decked area outside overlooking the Mara river with its hippos and crocodiles – there was a lovely daybed where you could relax in the shade and feel completely at one with nature.
It was stylish and comfortable with plenty of plug points so I could still use my Dyson (hairdryer that is – I don’t travel with the hoover!)
The simple en suite shower and loo were fixed and plumbed. I’ve been asked a lot about insects but we didn’t notice many, there was the occasional lizard in the shower but that was it. Despite taking malaria pills there weren’t many mosquitoes. We took the usual precautions of repellent, trousers in the evenings and we used the nets around the bed, I was only bitten once.
Because the walls were canvas we had a nocturnal lullaby of night birds and hippos grunting. It was a simple, lovely place to stay.
What to pack – Kenya Safari review
This is the part of the trip where you should really pack green, earthy or muted colours. I was much happier in what I was wearing for the game drives because I’d packed gym stuff so I felt much more like myself. It worked perfectly for me, I was comfortable and it was easy to add and remove breathable layers as the temperatures rose and fell very suddenly.
I’d advise taking a hair product for high humidity because you go from damp to dry while you’re out on the game drives and every woman on our trip expressed frustration at her hair at one point or another. Anyway, I’ll add a packing list at the end of this post.
The Masai Mara game drives – Kenya Safari review
We soon got used to our Masai Mara routine. We’d be up at dawn for a drive, back for lunch and a swim and then out again for another game drive at 4pm as the heat died down and the animals emerged from the shade.
It meant we spent a lot of time with our happy bus crew – here we all are. Next to Mal is Marge who could teach Dame Maggie Smith a thing or two about comic timing. Arthur who very quickly had a meeting of minds with Mal – from our first day onwards they became our very own Morecambe and Wise.
You know me obviously, then there’s Richard our driver and fount of all animal knowledge. He had the keenest eyes you can imagine and was able to spot when something that looked like a bush in the distance was actually a rare rhino or cheetah stalking its prey. Next there’s Janet, our bus mum who always had a bag of sweets ready when our blood sugar started to drop on long drives. Duncan, our unflappable Titan guide who looked after us impeccably for the week with great kindness and a mischievous sense of humour. And lastly Pauline my midlife sidekick who, along with me, tended to be the source of Mal and Arthur’s amusement.
I’d love to take you through every single game drive because we saw so much but it would take a book not a blog post to do it. There was only one where we failed to find anything and that’s because there was a spectacular thunderstorm which was an experience in itself. It meant the animals all went undercover but we enjoyed watching the dramatic skies. And this lonely hyena.
On every other day we were incredibly lucky, thankfully Arthur kept a list and this is his final safari count:
In the meantime, here are some of the absolute highlights. This was our first evening game drive and we were just about to give up and go back to camp when we came across a pride of lions with a buffalo kill that was about a day old.
The law of the prairie dictates that the lionesses do the hunting (aka the women doing all of the work!). As soon as they’ve killed their prey they step aside while first the principal lion and then the older sons dig in. Much, much later the lionesses take their turn and you can just see one of the cubs tucking in here as well. Richard explained that it was too young to eat the meat but the mother encourages it to get a taste for it by licking the bones.
Here’s the principal male with his full tummy watching from a distance and rather than one of Mal’s lovely shots, I’m showing you this picture to give you an idea of how close we were to him. He was one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen.
As I’ve mentioned, the animals took no interest in the jeeps and I’m so glad I caught this lioness ruining Mal’s David Attenborough moment with the ultimate gesture. She’d clearly eaten her fill.
Heading out before dawn in the damp morning mists gave us some stunning sunrises…
…but did nothing for my hair as you’re about to see. I want to include this Instagram Story moment that I filmed because it gives you a feel for the raw emotion of the game drives. I soon discovered that these were the insights that the people who were following our trip enjoyed most… when we were right there and they could feel as though they were with us.
The first of these videos is me talking about what we’d seen and how it made me feel. The second is our view from the jeep. I think you can feel our shared tension as we watched the animals in action. It isn’t gory but if you’re extremely sensitive you might want to give the second one a miss.
(The roaring of jeep engines at the end came from the less creditable safari companies who rushed in even closer to watch the warthog being torn apart. We were all glad that Titan give the animals their space.)
The key animal moments are the ones that make you glad that you’re with your group because sharing it magnifies and intensifies everything you feel. We saw other jeeps that people had hired privately and that’s what we would probably have done if we hadn’t come on this trip. However there’s no way it would have meant as much if we’d done it that way. Titan’s byline is ‘perfect moment shared’ and that’s absolutely it, you all live through these fundamentally primitive experiences side by side.
We were all feeling a mix of exhilaration and shock as we headed back to the camp… but then we noticed that the other two jeeps in our group had stopped by a wooded area. We pulled in too, assuming it was a spot for a bush wee but then we were all invited to get out. And this is what we found – right in the middle of nowhere, 8am fizz…
… and a camp that had been set up that morning to serve a surprise breakfast just for us.
We sat amongst the trees and turned over everything we’d just seen together…
…watching the hippos enjoying their morning wallow in the Mara river. It was a bucolic way to end a thrilling game drive and it has to be one of the best mornings of my life.
Visiting the Masai Tribe – Kenya safari review
And the excitement and surprises still weren’t over. As we were driving back, we pulled in again, this time to a Masai village. They establish them as temporary bases for about ten months before they move their cattle on to a new area of grazing and the son of the medicine man was waiting to show us around.
The villagers are obviously used to people coming in and there’s a set route so that they can carry on with their lives undisturbed. He explained that they’re grateful for any money they can raise from visits before the long rains come because it enables them to buy vegetables for their children.
The adults live on the traditional Masai diet of meat and milk mixed with blood but they’ve been taught that children need vegetables to develop properly. As they have no culture of growing them they have to go to markets to buy them and their usual barter system can’t be used so any currency they earn from visits goes towards that.
They looked so vibrant and they explained that they wear the brightest colours so that the animals can see them clearly and stay away.
Here they were explaining what would happen during the visit…
… and this is exactly the sort of thing that goes on when I’m looking the other way. I used to think it was the boys who caused the mischief but these days I think there was another catalyst in the mix!
And so we were invited to look around. The manyatta huts are made from dung and wood and can last for up to a year before termites cause the timber to rot. As the Masai leave, they burn each one to free the house spirits.
It was great to go inside and have a chance to ask questions about their lives. They no longer have the same rite of passage to become a man. It used to be that they had to kill a lion before they could marry. Now, having worked with conservationists the lion killing has ended and their traditions have changed. Instead they have to survive in the grasslands, grazing their cattle for a set period of time to prove their manliness. They then pay between ten and fifteen cows for a wife from another tribe – and they can have as many wives as they have cattle to spare.
Of course there’s no electricity or gas so they still have traditional firelighting skills.
Mal was fascinated by the ‘builders’ yard’ in the village square – a wet puddle of dung for patching the houses up.
Of course they have a plentiful supply of materials from their prized herd.
The women were beautiful and very welcoming.
I must have looked very drab in my game drive khaki because they adorned me with jewellery and invited me to join them in a song and dance to celebrate the birth of a new baby.
Mal, meanwhile, was challenged to win a Masai bride. In addition to ten cows, he needed to be able to jump higher than any of the other contestants but his Geordie legs didn’t quite make it… I was a little alarmed by the enthusiasm he put in to winning his prize though…
Wedding anniversary surprises
Before we knew it, it was our last full day together as a group… and it just happened to be our 22nd wedding anniversary as well. We’d planned to keep it low key and other than asking if we could have a table just for two at dinner that evening, we couldn’t really think of any other way to celebrate.
Our happy bus friends had other ideas though with a dawn surprise…
… and I’ve just popped this video in to give you more of an idea of how lovely and relaxed the relationships become when you’ve spent so much time together. Share a glass with us all for a few moments – and forgive the bleary eyes but it was only about 6am.
Janet whipped out her sack of sweets and pulled out just the right ones for the occasion and off we went.
There was just one of the Big Five that we hadn’t managed to tick off – the leopard and so that’s what we were really hoping to track down. We saw all kinds of things – a failed cheetah kill, a failed lion kill, ostriches but no leopard until out of nowhere one came along and nonchalantly strolled right under the jeep. Our Big Five Bingo was complete…
… leaving us with time to stop and admire the crocodiles.
It was the perfect final game drive and it made our day extra special.
That evening we did, indeed, have a table for two, albeit right next to the group. We thought the restaurant had perhaps misinterpreted Mal’s request for romance but it turned out that there were more surprises planned. We were just about to slip away after our desserts when we felt a sense of expectation in the air from the friends around us and a group of Masai appeared, inviting us to take part in a Masai love chant…
And not to be beaten, the kitchen staff then grabbed a few utensils and formed a makeshift band to sing us a Swahili love song. It was such a lovely end to the day.
Back to reality
And so we reached the end of our Masai Mara adventure. The night before in the bar our group had decided we should break up the long drive back to Nairobi with a bit of jeep karaoke so I downloaded a music medley that included Swingin’ Safari and the soundtrack from The Lion King. We kicked it off with what had become our anthem as we drove through the grasslands one last time. So here I give you one last moment in the happy bus with us.
Arriving back in the bustling capital city that afternoon was a huge culture shock although it was softened slightly by one last animal experience – a trip to the giraffe conservation centre. We learned about the fight to save the Rothschild giraffe. The breeding pairs at the centre are safe and happy so they produce lots of offspring that are eventually released into the wild. The parents have become quite tame though so they stay in the reserve
It was a real wrench when we returned to the jeeps and realised we were to head off on our own, leaving our friends behind. They were all going back to Heathrow whereas we were moving on for a week on the coast. I’m not sure when I’m going to have time to tell you about that but hopefully I will at some point.
For now though I hope I’ve managed to share some of the spirit of safari with you because it’s very hard to sum up what a fantastic experience it is. Before we set off we had no idea that we’d enjoy it so much. It was such a mixture of learning, observing, hearing and tasting new things. And there were a lot more laughs than I’d expected too.
If you have a chance, do plan one for yourselves, this was the safari we took and I can absolutely recommend it. It’s worth going with Titan for lots of reasons but if I had to pick one, it’s the quality and intelligence of the guides that adds a very special dimension to the trip. If you have any more questions about it do ask me in the comments and I’ll answer honestly. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the packing list I promised because you’ll need it.
Oh and before you go, I just wanted to let you know that I’m hoping to hold a charity sale next Friday. It’s been ages since I’ve held one and I have too much in my dressing room. It should go live at the usual time of 5.05pm next Friday night and I’ll be making this year’s donation to Blood Cancer UK. Not only have I lost my mum and my two nieces to blood cancer but now my oldest friend is battling it too. Yet again it’s at the front of my mind so I want to do something practical to help fight this wretched disease.
Ok – back to happier things… the safari packing list…
Safari Packing List – Kenya Safari review
You don’t need much, it really isn’t about style, just pack for comfort and varying temperatures. Take a soft sided bag or rucksack and use packing cubes. You’re living out of your bag, unpacking and repacking every day so the less you take, the easier it will be.
- Fleece jacket
- Jersey jumpsuit or soft khaki joggers, tee and sweatshirt
- Backpack (small to use as a daysack)
In the hold
Daywear – any colour (avoid white)
- 2 structured jersey/ponte dresses (nothing too long or voluminous because you’re climbing in and out of the jeep. Safari shirt-dress style would look good)
- 1 pair shorts
- 2 cotton tees
- 1 cotton blouse/shirt (to go with shorts)
Game drives – all greens, muted or earth colours (no camo print)
- 2 pairs leggings or joggers (breathable sports fabric that you can wash by hand and dry quickly)
- 3 sports vests/tees (breathable)
- 3 long sleeved tops (breathable)
- 2 sports bras (it’s very bumpy in the jeep)
- Wide brimmed safari style hat
- Neck scarf
Evenings – any colour (avoid white)
- 2 pairs wide leg linen/viscose blend trousers (can also be worn with cotton tee in the day if it’s cool weather)
- 1 pair patterned trousers
- 3 blouses/long sleeved tops
- 2 scarves/shawls
- Swimsuit & kaftan
- Light pyjamas
- Underwear – (bear in mind that the laundry service often won’t take underwear so pack enough or be prepared to wash by hand)
- Minimal inexpensive jewellery (I took 2 pairs of earrings and 2 necklaces)
- 1 pair trainers
- 1 pair flat sandals
- 1 pair flip flops/pool sandals
Before you go
- You will need vaccinations – check with your pharmacist
- Get the malaria tablets with low side effects (they’re pricier but worth every penny)
- You need a visa to enter Kenya (🤦♀️🤦♀️ for anyone who watched my Stories!)
- Take strong insect repellent
- Factor 50 sunscreen is essential – the UV rays are extra strong at the equator. Take lots, it’s hard to buy once you’re out there
- Take lots of moisturiser, body lotion and good conditioner – my hair and skin were extremely dry out there and you just can’t buy it. In the end I leapt on a pot of Clinique moisturiser that I found at the airport before our internal flight. It would have been £35 in the UK and it was £110 there!
- Take your own hairdryer and straighteners, they’re rarely provided and if they are, they’re not very good. The deeper you go into Kenya the worse your hair will behave.
- You don’t need adaptors if you’re going from the UK, they use the same plugs as us everywhere.
- Security in Kenya is fierce, especially at the airports – you even have to go through it on arrival (twice) and three times before departure so be prepared to empty your hand luggage repeatedly and pack any liquids and electricals that you can in the hold to avoid being stuck for ages.
Disclosure: ‘The Masai Mara – Kenya Safari review part 2’ is not a sponsored post however the trip was provided to us by Titan Travel in return for an honest review
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