Are you addicted to those National Geographic documentaries on Wild Africa where they show lions hunting down a buffalo or thousands of wildebeests migrating across the Serengeti? I have probably exhausted the entire selection on big cats and wildlife shows found on Netflix. So, when I planned my trip to Masai Mara in Kenya with The Village Experience, I was very excited to get up close to the animals, this time in reality.
What I didn’t know was that I would be so, so close! And there would be animals everywhere! We (meaning my guide and I) really didn’t have to drive around looking for them. From the moment we were driving on the highway close to Lake Naivasha, I saw zebras running around. Over the next 24 hours, I saw 70 lions, 3 cheetahs, 1 leopard, and thousands of giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, impalas, gazelles, hippos, and buffalos!
Some people may think that this is an everyday sighting at a game drive in Kenya. But in fact, I was truly lucky. A few of my friends have been on safaris 4, 10, even dozens of times, and seen only a fraction of what I saw! Some of it may just be luck, choice of season, or my wonderful presence, but there are things you can do in advance to have an amazing African safari experience.
Stay close to the reserve
There are all kinds of tented camp accommodations around the animal reserves, some offer more luxury than others. My lodging at Sekenani Camp were comfortable and luxurious. I had hardwood floors, a deck overlooking a creek and a en suite bath tub with hot shower. I could hear hyenas, lions and birds from my bed all through the night! Don’t worry, there is always a security guard who accompanies you from your tent to the restaurant and around the property so you never walk alone at night.
Sekanani Camp was a 20 minutes drive from the Masai Mara park’s entrance. Being so close to wilderness meant, we really didn’t have to go very far to spot the animals. Zebras and giraffes were roaming right outside our camp.
Hire an experienced guide
I cannot emphasize enough how much a good driver and guide can make or break your safari experience. My guide, Danson Kahuria, was born and brought up near Masai Mara so he was quite familiar with the territory. He had also gone to college to learn about birds and animals, and conducts workshops of other guides.
Danson had a keen sense for knowing where the animals would be and how they typically behave. He could predict when a lion cub was about to yawn, which direction a leopard would walk towards, and which animal a cheetah was about to hunt down. As a result, I got to saw the big cats in action – eating, sleeping, mating, hunting – all in just a few hours!
A good guide will also maneuver the car (following park guidelines) in such a way that you can get the best photo opportunities! Since Danson knew which was the animals were going to turn, we were always ahead of their game.
Have some patience
If you have limited days, (I only had one) it is best to leave early morning for a game drive and plan to stay till sunset. Animals behave differently at different times of the day, so you want to be able to see their moods. My advise is to wear comfortable clothing, carry sunscreen, bug spray, a light jacket and lots of snacks and water for the day. I have heard stories of people going in a group and one of them was hungry so they left the park after a couple of hours. Remember you have to pay hefty entrance fees ($80-200/ person) so make the most out of it! Also, pack lots of extra batteries and memory cards. I took 500 photos and videos in less then a day!
Depending on your vehicle, you may have open roof or sides, to allow good viewing. But it also means more sun, heat and bugs, so be prepared.
Sunsets in the mara are spectacular. Don’t miss it.
Respect the animals
Remember, you are in the habitat of wild animals. Take every precaution to respect that by not getting out of your vehicle, feeding them or attracting their attention. Some people get excited and want to get closer, but park rangers are always secretly watching and will fine you if you get off the marked trails. Also, please do not litter the park.
An African safari is a bucket list for most people. If you get a chance to be one of the lucky ones to see wild animals in their natural habitat, do it right the first time!