One of the best things to do in Kenya is to visit the world famous wildlife reserve of the Masai Mara. It is one of the best safari experiences in Africa, and only a few hours drive from the capital Nairobi.
It has the same variety and similar terrain to that found in the large Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, it’s neighbour.
This is an account of a budget Masai Mara safari leaving from Nairobi. I go into details of how to do this at the bottom of the post.
If you will be in Kenya for a while take a look at my two week itinerary for backpacking in Kenya (link opens in new tab) to give you some ideas of what to do.
Side note: If you’re wondering which is the best month to visit the Masai Mara for the wildlife it’s during the dry season, from June until October.
Masai Mara Safari From Nairobi
Day 1 of the Masai Mara Safari
Hitting a dusty, bumpy road for about two hours after driving from Nairobi for a while, you arrive at the gates to the Masai Mara Reserve.
At three in the afternoon the light is obscured by clouds and the lush green of the rolling hills comes to life with the hoofed beat of the animals.
Roaming around in a minivan the first signs of life come in the form of two male impalas butting horns in a fight.
A group of giraffes passed by with their haughty look seemingly in disapproval, moving towards some trees for a feed.
They move elegantly across the open space of the savannah, with their tall height silhouetted against the horizon.
With the sun making a short appearance through the grey sky the dry grass of the savannah showed more clearly, as a huge herd of buffalo relaxed and chewed on the grass.
The African buffalo is a very dangerous animal and ill-tempered. In fact if you ask safari rangers throughout Africa many will tell you it’s the animal they fear the most.
Two male lions were seen sleeping under a bush, lazy in the daytime heat.
It’s always exciting to find lions as many times they are feeding in a big group, or stalking some prey. But other times there is only so much excitement that can be had looking at them having a rest.
They are cats after all.
On the journey back to camp that day two lionesses were seen with a young buffalo in their jaws, the buffalo still alive.
They had been stalking the herd of buffalo seen earlier, and the hunt itself had been missed by only a few minutes.
Lions don’t kill their prey instantly, they slowly wear down the animals they hunt until they are exhausted.
They then suffocate the buffalo by holding the mouth in theirs and by biting the neck, and the animal will succumb.
Seeing the process in action is quite gruesome, especially seeing the young buffalo still fighting for its life.
The buffalos struggle was hopeless as there is no way of escaping these lionesses, as one of them roars its delight, sending a chill down the spine.
The buffalos death was not far away.
If the lions do not kill then they do not live, and neither do their young cubs. As hard as it is seeing the buffalo being killed, it’s part of life.
Leaving the national park to go to the campsite, as the sun slowly sets, there is excitement about the full day safari coming up the next day, and what wildlife wonders will be seen on the Masai Mara.
Day 2 Masai Mara Safari
Lions are the top predator in the Masai Mara where almost every other animal is a dinner for them. So it was fascinating on this safari to witness a lion chase, and a large pride eating together.
This was my second visit so I knew the great wildlife spectacle that was to come.
The Masai Mara did not disappoint, with a large male lion and his pride feasting on the remains of a buffalo kill that was seen the night before.
Leaving the lions to eat the remains we continued driving through the African savannah.
Plenty of zebra and antelope were spotted, as well as a huge herd of buffalo and wildebeast.
Vultures snacked on the remains of a kill.
While more beautifully coloured birds were seen elsewhere.
The best thing so far was when we found a cheetah trying to cool of from the heat in the shade of a bush.
The cheetah is such an elegant cat and is the fastest land animal.
The cheetah moved closer into the shade and let out a big yawn as it relaxed, getting ready to take a nap.
Further on driving through more herds of zebra and wildebeast a fast movement was spotted running in the distance.
It was a lion chasing a zebra.
Racing to the scene the zebra had managed to escape before we got there, and the lioness was panting hard.
But with so many herds around, the lioness was soon stalking another group of zebra.
The Lion Hunt In The Masai Mara
We shadowed the movements of the lioness for twenty minutes, following from around thirty metres away, watching her drop in and out of the bush stalking.
The first group of zebras spotted her (zebras have excellent eyesight), and ran away snorting warnings to the others.
A group further ahead didn’t notice the commotion and the lioness slowly moved towards them.
Suddenly there was a burst of movement ahead and the chase was on.
The lioness charged into the zebra, who ran for their lives. Arriving to see her exhausted in front of some zebra but she didn’t make a kill.
Even though there was no kill, the sheer excitement of watching the stalking and the chase was amazing to see.
In hunger she ended up chasing away some vultures from a half eaten wildebeast, picking it up and moving it into the shade.
She probably didn’t eat it as lions like freshly killed meat, not rotting corpses.
Spotting another lioness a hundred metres away watching it became obvious that they were trying to work together to hunt, but just didn’t have the best plan for the recent one.
The second lioness spotted a young zebra walking not so far behind her, but even with all the good bush around as cover, she didn’t bother giving chase.
Having seen buffalo killed the day before, and lions appearing everywhere, it really is the lions den in the Masai Mara.
Leaving the lion chase behind we moved on to the Mara River that is the border between the Masai Mara on the Kenyan side, and the Serengeti on the Tanzanian side.
Stopping for lunch beneath a tree a herd of giraffe slowly sauntered by in the distance.
Moving closer to the giraffes after finishing lunch we got right up close to them.
Baboons jumped around them as we headed over to the Mara River to see some dead wildebeast that didn’t make the crossing during the migration.
In the Mara River some rather huge crocodiles lurk, waiting for the un-expecting animals to cross their domain.
Submerged hunters, or sunbathing on the banks of the river, they are very menacing.
Keeping the crocodiles company in the water are large pods of hippos, their grunt noises booming across the land.
The great wildebeast migration may be over but there were still a few herds late in leaving.
Seeing one such group of wildebeast crossing the dirt road ahead was impressive for the sheer number of them.
We left the herd after call came over the radio that cheetahs had been spotted.
Driving for a short time we saw a cheetah mother with her two older cubs amongst the thick grass, feasting on a fresh kill.
Cheetahs are beautiful cats and always great to see like I said earlier, so finding three of them at once was a real treat.
The mother let the cubs eat first as she kept an eye out for predators. occasionally grabbing a bite herself.
All three cheetahs then sat up together looking in all directions for any threats.
They have to eat fast because they are no match for lions looking for an easy meal.
Having to leave the park before dark, we left the cheetahs.
Spotting some elephants on the way out we moved on to the Masai Mara lodge where we were staying.
Sitting by a campfire under the vast amount of stars and the sound of the African bush, you feel truly in touch with nature.
Day 3 in the Masai Mara
Getting up early the next day for a last drive around part of the Masai Mara, a big pride of lions feasting on an ostrich were seen straight away.
This was a good way to leave the reserve. Seeing one last big lion pride.
The pride had several lionesses and many adorable cubs.
The adults relaxed in the sun after feeding, while the cubs ate the remaining meat, fighting over the best pieces.
They may look cute but they are lions and quite vicious in their young way.
The youngsters came to get attention from the adults but some lionesses can’t be bothered, while others lick clean the blood on their fur.
What to say about the Masai Mara?
I have enjoyed quite a few safaris in East Africa and with this experience I can say that the Masai Mara National Reserve is deservedly high up there as far as any safari experience goes.
Arranging a Masai Mara Safari in Nairobi
This was a budget safari and so the cost of the Masai Mara safari was not so bad, in comparison to the big ones.
Naturally you get what you pay for and your campsite will be quite rustic, but it has a unique charm in that regard.
The best way to arrange a Masai Mara safari in Nairobi is to meet other travellers in your hostel there (if you’re looking for a cheap safari I’m assuming you’re staying in a hostel) and ask in the hostel recommendations.
There are lots of travel agencies in the centre of Nairobi so head to some that your hostel, or other travellers recommended and ask around for the best price.
Don’t forget to bargain.
You can normally get a Masai Mara safari for around $120. Two nights and three days is a good enough time for your safari.
After the Masai Mara if you’re planning on travelling around more you don’t need to head back straight to Nairobi with the safari vehicle.
Get out at the main turnoff towards Nairobi on the way back and take a bus for an hour to Lake Naivasha to travel in that direction, and for some more safari fun, albeit cheaper.
More info on the Masai Mara here.
Good luck spotting wildlife!
Learn more about safaris in East Africa in my guide.
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