Fig Tree Camp is a budget safari camp that offers cheap safaris to Masai Mara National Park, Kenya home of the Big Five and annual wildebeest migration. Mara Fig Tree Camp is located on the banks of the Talek River and offers both luxury tents and chalet accommodation. A new addition at Fig Tree Camp Masai Mara is the honeymoon tents, 10 presidential tents built on a private wing of the safari camp. The Fig Tree Masai Mara Camp is centrally located in the Masai Mara thus making all areas of the reserve accessible during game drives, including large sections of the Talek and Mara Rivers that are most dramatic during the annual wildebeest migration between July and September. Masai Mara Fig Tree Camp is 24 Kilometers from Keekorok Airstrip and 40 minutes drive away. To make an evening a real adventure, at the Mara Fig Tree Camp one can choose to stay in a tent or a chalet, giving the best of both worlds. The rooms spaciously line up along the Talek River, overlooking the plains of the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Fig Tree Mara Camp tents are the super luxury tents located on a private wing of the Camp with open views over the Mara Game Reserve All rooms are en-suite and have their private balcony. The Fig Tree Lodge is a luxury safari camp and is significantly cheaper than other lodges in Masai Mara, but offers really nice comfortable accommodation and amenities in a gorgeous setting. Fig Tree Tented Camp reached by a wooded bridge that crosses the Talek River. Fig Tree Tented Camp Masai Mara has a swimming pool, permanent tent sizes that have river and savannah views and fully equipped cabins and a couple of luxurious chalets plus the meals at Fig Tree Safari Lodge are plentiful and delicious, they serve all kind of meals including vegetarian meals, please contact Esther of African Safaris and Adventures to book your particular meals in advance. Fig Tree Lodge Masai Mara has a wonderful camp fire at the entrance which is lit every evening in time for pre-dinner drinks, this is particularly enchanting and it is lovely to sit and share stories of the game seen that day with other guests, If you're lucky you may also get a visit from a resident bush baby. The staffs at Masai Mara Fig Tree Lodge are wonderful, the game viewing was awesome and the accommodations are just excellent, Fig tree safari camp boasts of 65 units comprising of: 38 tents with twin beds and private balcony overlooking the Talek River and Masai Mara National Reserve, 22 cabins with double and single beds, 5 cabins with twin bed. All rooms at the Mara Fig tree safari camp en suite and have their private balconies. Fig Tree Lodge Mara has 2 bars, a main dining room, an open air dining area, tree house coffee deck, video room, conference facilities, swimming pool and curio shop. TheFig Tree Mara Lodge has a resident nurse and a clinic. Activities to engage in while staying at the Mara fig Tree Camp include Game drives (Day and Night), local naturalist are available to give guest free lectures and slide presentations on the Maasai Mara, Local Maasai dancers also entertain clients in the evening, Game Walks and Balloon Safaris. Please note that the Fig Tree Mara Lodge Kenya only has power during certain hours of the day. Safari Packages including air fare from Nairobi, meals, game drives and other activities are offered. Guests can travel to the Fig Tree Mara from Nairobi by road safaris, or by air travel to one of the Masai Mara air strips, where a camp driver can collect you.
Guests can stay in chalets or tents, which can be booked at single, double, or triple rates. The 38 Safari Tents and the 22 Garden Chalets are furnished with a double bed and a single bed. The cabins have brightly colored rugs and white-painted walls, while the tents have electric light and a cozy feel. All of the rooms have en-suite bathrooms and private balconies. The more expensive Ngaboli Tents are a new addition; these “presidential” tents are located in their own area of the camp. They are constructed with wood frames, and have views of the game reserve. Children below the age of two can stay with parents for free; older children pay either 50% or 75% of the standard rates, depending upon their accommodation. Please see the property’s website for details, Fig Tree Safari Camp Mada Hotels that operate Adventures aloft Balloon Safaris - Balloon - Fig Tree Camp - Holidays - Hotel in Kenia - Hotel Kenia - Hotel La Mada - Jinja Nile Resort - Kenya safaris - Kilifi Bay Beach Resort - Lodges- safari - Mada hotels - Baobab Sea Lodge, The Oakwood Hotel Uganda
The rates include full board; additional meals are available. Meals are served in the main dining room or in an outdoor dining area. There are two bars in the camp, and there is a coffee deck built as a tree house. Black tie barbecue dinner served in the bush is also an option, and champagne breakfasts can be served outdoors as well (additional charges for these events may apply). Packed lunches can be provided for an additional charge if you are going on a day-long excursion.
Guests can choose night or day game drives (in four-wheel drive vehicles) or guided walks. Adventures Aloft offers daily balloon safaris from the camp. Additional charges for game drives, walks, or balloon safaris may apply if a package is not purchased. The camp sometimes hosts free lectures for guests on local attractions and natural wonders; there are also Masai dance performances in the evenings. There is a small swimming pool surrounded by a stone terrace, a video room, and a curio shop. There are two conference rooms with audio-visual equipment, which can accommodate up to 90 people each, seated theatre-style. Secretarial services are available, and the facility can arrange entertainment for attendees. There is a resident nurse and a medical clinic on-site. Electrical power is provided during limited hours; please see the property’s website for details.
Fig Tree Camp has several facilities and services to ensure you have a comfortable stay. These include two bars, a main dining room, an open-air dining area and tree house coffee deck. Also available is a video room, guest lecture facilities, swimming pool and curio shop. The camp has a resident nurse and medical clinic. New additions at Fig Tree Camp include new conference rooms, driver/guide accommodation and a new dining area overlooking the Talek River.
The Fig Tree Luxury Camp has a fleet of 4 wheel vehicles with driver guides and is able to offer game drives for clients. African Safaris and Adventures organize “fly in” packages from Nairobi and Mombassa. Our Masai Mara safaris are carefully chosen to offer you the best safari experience available in Africa. The safari to Masai Mara is offered where the take care of every detail, so that you can simply relax and enjoy these diverse and well-planned tours in Masai Mara. The Masai Mara safari is operated on a scheduled basis with regular departures as well as private, tailor-made safaris for small private groups. For the more adventurous, we also offer Masai Mara Budget Backpacker & collage students camping safaris. We cater for individuals as well as small and large groups, as well as Incentive Groups with different requirements and needs. Our safaris vary from a short relaxing retreat to a fantastic 12-day Kenya - Tanzania camping adventure. A minimum 1 person opens the doors to a guaranteed 12 departures a week into Kenya spectacular scenic beauty and colorful bird and wildlife. African Safaris and Adventures camping tours are highly recommended. Our safari packages include transport, all park entrance and camping fees, all campsite equipment, spacious two person tents and mattresses. Detailed itineraries of all the normal packages are available on our website. On request, large group packages can be tailor-made and customized to suit different needs. For families with young and old children and private groups, a combination of camping and lodge safaris can be facilitated.
Local naturalist are available to give guest free lectures and slide presentations on the Masai Mara. Masai traditional dancers also entertain clients in the evening.
For a small charge, Masai Moran's are available to take clients on game walks allowing them to walk freely enjoying the openness and beauty of the park.
Based at the Fig Tree Camp is Adventures Aloft with daily Balloon departures. There is little to beat the bird’s eye view of the Masai Mara. To top of this special occasion, a full Champagne breakfast complete with open bar is organized on the landing site to celebrate the flight.
Masai Mara is without question the most popular of the Kenyan parks and reserves. Hardly any other Kenyan wildlife park gives better options to see all of the Big Five (elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and buffaloes) in one place. The park has probably the biggest lion concentration of Kenya. Moreover, the world-famous wildebeest migration can be watched here every year. Exploring Kenya's Masai Mara can satisfy that quest for an once-in-a-lifetime adventure within all of us, catering to our childhood dreams of seeing African wildlife up close and experiencing the magic of an unknown culture. "If you are an adventurer at heart, love good food, want to experience a culture that will change your life, and love animals, you must visit Masai Mara,, Kenya's most famous national park is rich with safari opportunities and provides a genuin, escapist vacation filled with breathtaking views and unique experiences. But visiting Masai Mara is an intense adventure, one that requires extensive planning. Tourists should coordinate with a reliable safari company or contact fig tree camp directly plus pack accordingly. Masai Mara gets it’s name from the famous Masai tribe, which have come to be an international symbol of African tribal life, and the Masai river which divides it. Masai Mara is located in the south of Kenya, at the Tanzanian border, 140 miles (225 kilometers) south-east of Nairobi. The reserve is a part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends throughout the entire African continent. The reserve consists mainly of open savannah (grassland), with clusters of the distinctive acacia tree in the south-east part. Most tourists visit the eastern part of the park is this is closest to Nairobi, where most safari travelers fly in. But most wildlife is found in the western part of the park, which is swampier. So give that a try if you want to avoid herds of tourists. Masai Mara is a reserve not a national park, which means it’s managed by the local county councils instead of the national Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The Masai Mara is a safari photographer’s dream, especially when you want to shoot pictures of big cats, especially lions and cheetahs. You can go there any other time of the year to find abundant wildlife among lovely scenery. When the wildebeest migration is coming in from the Serengeti the Mara is packed with mammals and is one of the best places on earth for wildlife photography. The Fig Tree itself is a very good base for safari photographers, offering all amenities of African hospitality (restaurant, bar) and the technical infrastructure you need to rely as a wildlife photographer – electricity for chargers in rooms as well in safari vehicles. For us, the best safari is not just about seeing the big five. Experiencing the wilderness, spending a night out camping under the stars getting out of the 4WD and exploring on foot spending some laid back time with the Masai practicing with spears and making bows and arrows, these are the things that bring your safari alive. And not just that, they give you a sense of Africa that you will never get if all you ever see is the inside of a 4WD and luxurious camp. In our experience children love game drives initially, but depending on the child, their enthusiasm will start to wane after a couple of days of back to back morning and afternoon game drives. So a safari that mixes things up with some game drives, some more active time and some time exploring Africa's stunning wilderness areas always works brilliantly for families. The five once in a lifetime experiences we have picked out here are the places that have really stood out for us and consistently get fantastic feedback from families. Amongst them are some of our favourite places in the whole of Africa, places we'd happily visit again and again year in and year out with our own families. Masai Mara is world famous for the annual wildebeest migration, taking place in August-September. It’s one of the biggest wildlife spectacles on earth. Every year over a million wildebeests, as well as hundreds of thousands of gazelles and zebras trek from Tanzania to Kenya, right through the Masai Mara reserve and back again in a big circle. Every year they suddenly assemble on Serengeti plains and then start to move all together, as if a mysterious sign has been given. Hungry lions and hyena follow the trek.
Every year, at some point between late-June and early August, the wildebeest start to arrive in search of pasture from the dry plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania. They pour into the reserve and stream across the rivers, where crocodiles and other predators lurk in waiting. This movement, the Great Migration – now billed as one of the natural wonders of the world – is in reality one phase in a continual cycle of nomadic pasture-seeking, mating, calving and more pasture-seeking, that sees the majority of the herds ever on the move, according to the onset of the seasonal rains, the rise and fall of the river waters and the growth of the rich oat grass and other pastures, kindly contact us for a full map of migration cycle, Although wildebeest often form lines while moving towards the scent of better grazing, and tend to follow each other's footprints and paths, there is no specific migration 'route'. Huge numbers cross the Mara River in Tanzania and head north into the western part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve (the Mara Triangle), from where they may then turn right and cross back over the Mara into the Musiara or Sekenani sectors of the reserve. Others, in their hundreds of thousands, head north into the Maasai Mara's Sekenani sector across the shallow Sand River, and then turn left to cross the Mara or Talek rivers. The herds swarm far into the north where they spread out across the conservancies and they cross and re-cross the rivers, drawn by fresh pasture and driven by herd instinct and the threat of predators, especially to young and weaker animals. It’s true that the migration is an awe-inspiring experience, and you shouldn’t be in any doubt that, as a consequence, the Maasai Mara region tends to be very busy, with well over 100 camps and safari lodges across a total area of around 3,000km². The migration season, from July to October, can see some Maasai Mara lodges and the more popular tented camps booked solid and dozens of safari vehicles angling for position at key wildebeest crossing points. To get the most out of a visit we recommend you don’t focus exclusively on the migration: there are always ways to avoid feeling too crowded and a vacation to Maasai Mara is rewarding at any time of year. Most of the 1,500km² area of the Maasai Mara National Reserve itself consists of rolling, short-grass plains, cut through by the meandering Mara and Talek rivers, which effectively divide the reserve into three main ‘sectors’, as described below. The Mara River has only two bridges and no other vehicle crossing points, while the smaller Talek River has relatively few points where vehicles can ford the river, Morning and evening game drives are usually conducted in the sector closest to Mara Fig tree and we also organise all-day game drives with a picnic lunch to explore a different sector, especially during the annual migration.
The Maasai Mara is just one part of the Serengeti-Mara eco-system (or Greater Serengeti eco-system) that stretches from the Mau Escarpment above Kenya’s Rift Valley to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. In Kenya, the Maasai Mara National Reserve itself is split into three areas, divided by the Mara and Talek rivers: the Mara Triangle, between the Oloololo Escarpment and the Mara River; the Musiara sector, between the Mara and Talek rivers; and the Sekenani sector south-east of the Talek and Mara. The Mara Triangle is run by an excellent conservation trust, and the rest of the reserve by Narok County Council. Outside the Maasai Mara National Reserve lie the exclusive wildlife conservancies, Remember that none of these areas are fenced. The Mara region’s few fences are used to keep people and livestock safe rather than to enclose the free-roaming wildlife. Taking a ‘balloon safari’ is a treat that many people hope to do, and it’s certainly a memorable experience, although not ideal for game viewing or wildlife photography. The hot-air balloons, launched at dawn after a noisy and spectacular inflation process, carry a dozen or more passengers for about an hour in a southerly direction across the reserve, at a height of anything from a few metres to several hundred metres above the plains. The best flights follow the course of the Mara or Talek rivers, allowing you to peer down into the forest, skim past vultures’ nests and watch the monkeys’ early-morning routine. By 7.30am, the balloons are dropping down onto the plain for a bush breakfast and sparkling wine, followed by a game drive back to camp. The price is from around US$500 per person and flights are best booked in advance. When you're on Masai Mara holidays you will usually go out for a game drive twice a day, looking for wildlife to watch and photograph. The best times, both from the point of view of seeing the animals, and in terms of comfort and good lighting, are the first two hour after dawn and the last two hours before sunset. Finding a pride of lions (there are some 4000 lions resident in the reserve and neighboring conservancies) is normally relatively easy – and high on most visitors’ must-see lists. Leopards are also seen increasingly often, and good sightings of cheetahs can be expected. Adult individuals of all three big cats are generally known by name to the driver-guides who frequent their territories, especially in the busier parts of the reserve, while even in the conservancies, which are increasingly good for lion-watching predator research projects have identified most lions by their whisker marks and other facial characteristics. Other predators regular seen throughout the reserve and conservancies include fascinating spotted hyenas (rarely bothered by human observers and compelling in their social interactions) black-backed and side-striped jackals, and cute pairs of bat-eared foxes. With luck, you may also see a serval – a lanky, striped and spotted cat of tall grass and bush, adept at catching small mammals and birds. The rarest predator of the Maasai Mara, the wild dog, is a beautiful, nomadic pack animal. At one time almost extinct in the region, one or two packs (and what appear to be smaller scouting parties of two or three individuals) are being seen in many areas, though still not on a regular basis. But they are beginning to den in the region, meaning they’re back to stay. The Mara has hundreds of elephants ranging across the region and you’ll rarely go for more than one or two game drives without seeing them. Large numbers of them (there are currently around 1500) are a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the 1930s when the colonial government largely eradicated them from the Lake Victoria region and survivors migrated east into the Mara basin where they have been instrumental in opening up the landscape, creating grassland where there was much thicker bush in the past. By contrast with the large number of elephants you’ll see on a Masai Mara vacations black rhinos have been extremely scarce since the 1970s, and their long breeding cycle and nervous disposition means that recovery is taking decades. There are thought to be between thirty and forty rhinos scattered across the national reserve (so far none have been seen in the conservancies), mostly tucked into dense bush areas near remote stretches of river. The open country of the Mara plains, grooved by bush-fringed luggas, or seasonal streams, is where you get those classic East African panoramas of multiple species on the horizon, and quite often the spectacular sight of wall-to-wall wildlife in every direction – magnificent giraffes loping between the acacia trees, seeking the choicest tips that only they can reach; smartly turned out topi antelope, most with their heads down in the grass, a few standing sentry, combining lookout and harem defence duties; big herds of heavy, black buffalo moving through the bush like squadrons of battleships; feisty mobs of quarrelsome zebras scampering across the plains; and scruffy-looking wildebeest, with their mad-eyed gaze and nervous body language, that always look like the anxious, walking lions’ lunches that they are. Among these are dozens of other, equally worthy, species – Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles (learning the difference is something you’ll do on your first game drive); massive eland with their straight horns and dewlaps; leaping impala that almost float through the bush; waterbuck, bushbuck, duiker and dik-dik; ungainly, orange hartebeest; troops ofbaboons and vervet monkeys; and families of busy warthogs, tails erect, always running away. The birds of the Maasai Mara are a real delight for birdwatchers – and even if you’re not convinced before you arrive, you’re likely to have your head turned by the sheer diversity of species in the region – around 450 species, ranging from the prehistoric-looking ostrich to guinea-fowl, turacos and an impressive galaxy of more than fifty species of raptors, or birds of prey. Look out for (and listen out for) pairs of striking ground hornbills – waddling, turkey sized birds with red faces, which are one of the Mara’s more distinctive birds. There’s an excellent new guide, Birds of the Masai Mara, which includes 200 outstandingly photographed species of birds, by Adam Scott Kennedy – a naturalist who has been visiting the Maasai Mara for many years. Cynics will tell you that the Mara has been spoiled by years of overdevelopment, that its reputation as one of the richest game-viewing regions in Africa -- in the world, in fact -- is overblown. While its detractors revile the heavy tourist numbers and corrupt management of the National Reserve at the Mara's core, none of that can really take away from the startling reality -- an iconic African wilderness teeming with game, prowled by predators, and plump with impossible-to-miss Big Five action; this is epic animal-viewing terrain. Come during its busiest seasons, particularly when the thrilling Great Migration, widely considered the largest terrestrial wildlife spectacle on Earth, hits Kenya, and you'll be spotting camera-clicking homo sapiens almost as readily as the breathtaking teams of wildebeest, zebra, impala, topi, and gazelle being stalked and hunted by extraordinary numbers of lion. And with regularly spotted cheetah, loping hyena, and shyer carnivores also out to up their protein intake, the Mara is a priority destination for observing animated and furious interactions between predators and their prey. If lion kills and cheetah chases aren't your thing, there's always plenty of mellower hippo and croc action down at the river. Or simply take in the endlessly compelling sight of elephant herds cruising the wilderness, tan-colored topi standing sentinel atop termite mounds, or groups of sullen-faced buffalo giving you the once-over. And backing up all this animal magic is an enduring, ever-enchanting landscape. With its vast acacia-dotted plains cut by the life-giving waters of the Mara and Talek rivers and its western flank overlooked by the spectacular Siria Escarpment, the Mara's classic vistas are the stuff that Out of Africa dreams are made of. This is Hollywood's African idyll -- grass plains interspersed with migunga and croton thickets, rolling hills and small islandlike kopjes. Thrown into the mix is the opportunity to rub shoulders with the Maasai. Kenya's most famous group of people is a tribe of tall, elegant pastoralists who -- despite encroaching modernity -- have somehow managed to sustain many of their traditional ways. You'll see young Maasai boys herding hundreds of cattle or shepherding goats across the land, or come across the legendary Maasai warriors (morani) -- dressed in their bright red shukas and long-lasting sandals made from recycled rubber tires -- who have long stirred the imagination of visitors to East Africa. If you're lucky, these men will be the guides and drivers assigned to take you through the Mara wilderness. Established in 1961 on lands owned by the Maasai and once hunted by wealthy Brits, the Mara is part of a huge conservation area that stretches into neighboring Tanzania and that, thanks to the establishment of new community-owned conservancies around the edges of the Mara National Reserve, is actually expanding. A promising sign, one would hope . . . Yet, as with so many of the world's great wonders, there are disturbing consequences, too, and the Mara's fame is not without its drawbacks. Many consider the park -- the Mara's core area, under the control of local Maasai councils -- overexploited, poorly managed, and simply too packed with tourists, many of them charging around in ubiquitous white minibuses that environmentalists generally consider the scourge of the Mara's thriving safari market. National Geographic report recently confirmed that mass tourism is degrading the area. Having long run the risk of overdeveloping, authorities claim there are new plans in place to try to prevent the damage that's been caused by poorly managed game-drive vehicles and excessive numbers of lodges and tented camps. But by all reasonable accounts -- despite claims that the Mara is entering a period of renaissance with a more considerate form of low-impact and sustainable tourism emerging -- the building of new, large lodges continues apace. That's no reason to be put off, though. For the first-time traveler to East Africa, the Mara -- a comparatively tiny portion of the expansive game-rich wilds known as the Serengeti just across the border in Tanzania -- is indispensable, considered the ultimate opportunity to view wildlife in all its untamed, theatrical glory. If the literature is to be believed, the Mara boasts the highest concentration of terrestrial wildlife on Earth. And, yes, the Great Migration -- an awesome, rollicking natural cycle when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest attempt dangerous, frequently foolhardy river crossings as part of their annual biorhythmic round-trip exodus from Tanzania into Kenya -- really is as spectacular and mesmerizing as the wildlife documentaries would have you believe. Those astounding images of thousands of seemingly hypnotized animals flopping, diving, and tripping into crocodile-infested rivers are the stuff of every wildlife enthusiast's dreams, and it is reckoned that this particular migration -- one of numerous animal treks that happen around the world throughout the year -- is best witnessed here in the Masai Mara, where the massive animal numbers are compressed into a relatively small area. Imagine 2 1/2 million visiting animals cluttering the plains and clogging the rivers as they squeeze into an area that covers just more than 1,500 sq. km (585 sq. miles). It's one of nature's must-see dramas -- although, with its high death toll, not necessarily for the squeamish (and the sight of Bambi being mauled to death by lions is sure to traumatize the kids). Even if you don't make it in time to see the Migration, you'll be treated to one of the richest and most diverse animal kingdoms in the world. And if you choose carefully, you'll be staying in intimate, luxurious surrounds, far from the maddening crowd. However, in many places there are as much minivans as animals. All of the Big Five can be spotted here, with an relative strong presence of lions compared to other parks, although the black rhino population is severely threatened with only 37 animals counted in 2000. Herds of zebras are found throughout the park, as well as Masai giraffes and the common giraffe, hippos, warthogs, jackals, hyenas and bat-eared foxes. Numerous antelopes can be found here, including impala, Grant’s, and Thomson’s gazelles, hartebeests and topi. Additionally, over 450 bird species are present in the reserve including vulture, ostrich, the long-crested eagle, pygmy falcon, secretary bird, marabou, etc. Wildlife drives are an integral part of the Masai Mara experience. All top-end loges and camps offer their own tours. It’s cheaper to book them while reserving your nights, than to book them separately after arrival. Only book in advance with the upmarket places, however. Two-hour drives typically cost $55 per person, plus park fees some traditional Masai villages in the reserve can be visited for a tea ceremony or a traditional dance performance. However, don’t expect any ‘authentic experience’ as shown in movies like “Out of Africa” or “The White Masai”. You’ll have to pay $25 per person for the visit and after arrival the villagers will often pressure you to buy all kinds of things. One method is throwing wares in your lap and refusing to take them back. If you can get over this and actually sit down to talk to them, it often gets better and you can have an interesting experience. Balloon safaris are the newest in safari chic. For around $450 you’ll fly over the Masai Mara for typically 60 to 90 minutes in the early morning, as this gives the best opportunities for wildlife viewing. You’ll have a great view over the animals while you glide over them. However, balloons are obliged by law to keep a certain height so as not to disturb the animals. Breakfast after landing is included. Operators are Adventures Aloft, Tran world Kenya, and Mara Balloon Safaris (who will cook your breakfast on the balloon burner after landing!). Horse riding and bush dinners are possible to book from most of the upmarket lodges and tented camps. You can hire a Masai moran (warrior) for guided walking tours. These take place outside the reserve, but there’s still plenty of wildlife around there. Many visitors report a great experience.
The Masai Mara National Reserve on Kenya’s southwestern border with Tanzania is blanketed with large mammals, so heavily in fact that it takes a day or two to register that the animals are real and not holographic or cutouts from a National Geographic photo spread. This is what happens when you combine a life spent mostly staring into a computer with the ease of international travel. One day you in Crown Heights Brooklyn; 24 hours and four airplane meals later, you on safari in Africa savanna, the rapid change of scenery can give vacation a dream-like quality. What unsettles the reality principle further is that the animals stare right back at your vehicle, look right down the barrel of your lens for a good long while before scuttering off. I feel like the animal. It is the antelope that watches you. Chief among the gawkers are giraffe, who as the tallest terrestrial animals are exceptionally fit for surveying the lay of the land, and the wildebeest, the most abundant mammal in East Africa and also the least visually appealing, with a jerky half-sideways gait and a devilish face. This animal is known in the safari community for its annual migration: What happens is that every year more than a million wildebeest, joined by zebra and other antelope (of which the wildebeest is one) move in a clockwise direction from the Serengeti in northern Tanzania, up into the Mara, and then back down again. It’s one of nature’s great symphonies, plus lots of the wildebeest give up the ghost to lions — so there’s something for everyone. The wildebeest is so silly looking it’s tempting to hop out of the vehicle and grab it by the chin, which is discouraged for reasons of personal safety and just common decency. But even if nobody (else) is talking about it, somebody must be thinking it. Because physical contact with the animals, on many different levels — studying them, showing them off, protecting them from poachers, protecting visitors from injurious contact with them, land appropriation and management issues — is, after all, the central component of this whole safari business. It (the desire to touch or even tackle said wildebeest) also hints at a fundamental question that is no doubt vexing Hemingway readers and admirers of the great and swashbuckling President Theodore Roosevelt: What comes to mind when we think of a classic safari experience is a product of both fact and fiction, a combination of the 19th and early 20th century exploits of European colonists in Africa — in East Africa, mainly the British — and the portrayals of these events in books and film. These guys and gals were a colorful lot. Frederick Selous: naturalist, hunter, guide, specimen collector, soldier. Beryl Markham: horse trainer, hunter, bush pilot. Denys Finch Hatton: aristocrat, big game hunter and love interest of Karen Blixen, whose autobiography, Out of Africa, was adapted as the Academy Award-winning film of the same name. Robert Redford plays Finch Hatton, which, in my experience, seems to be a good approximation of the genteel European descendants you find in Kenya today, though perhaps more handsome. Americans came over as well, guided by the likes of Finch Hatton, or in the case of Teddy Roosevelt, big-game hunters R.J. Cuninghame and Leslie Tarlton. Roosevelt went to East Africa for several months in 1909, a joint venture with the Smithsonian Institution that yielded 23,151 specimens, 5,013 of them mammals, an experience he recounted in a monthly column for Scribner’s Magazine (those columns were published the following year as a book, African Game Trails), and in a silent film, Roosevelt in Africa, by the wonderfully named Cherry Keaton. Most of these specimens ended up in the U.S. National Museum in Washington, D.C. — today the National Museum of Natural History — though only one, the square-lipped rhinoceros, remains on exhibit in 2013. In other words, this whole trip was a pretty big and exciting deal for Roosevelt and for museum-going Americans in general. Hemingway would famously go on several hunting trips to Africa, inspiration for the book Green Hills of Africa (also first published serially in Scribner’s) and for the stories “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. The lore of the safari increased in direct proportion to the amount of times Hem walked away from plane crashes. (“His head was swathed in bandages and his arm was injured,” The United Press reported after his second crash, “but the novelist, who is 55 years old, quipped: ‘My luck, she is running very good.'”) But the world has changed, particularly in Kenya where hunting big game has been illegal since 1977. (There are plenty of places to hunt the so-called “Big Five” — elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard — on the continent, including South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.) The purpose of the ban is multi-pronged, but one assumes its driving force is to slow the decline of the large mammal population, which in the parks of East Africa has nevertheless halved since 1970, according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation. Hunting, i.e., what we talk about when we talk about hunting in the U.S., isn’t exactly the problem; large mammal populations in southern Africa, where hunting is allowed on a permit basis, have rebounded in recent years. Ethical arguments aside, issuing permits for hunting can create a revenue source for conservation and for local populations, an argument with many proponents in Kenya today. The more nefarious threats to the Big Five are large scale poaching on behalf of foreign agents (to satisfy the Chinese market for elephant tusks and rhino horn, for example), the bushmeat trade (animals sold at rural and urban markets in Africa), and the general creep of an expanding human population on animal habitats. So while Roosevelt revised the hyena population by negative four on his African safari, you are staring at the herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle down the barrel of a Nikon or Canon DSLR, from a seat in a Toyota Land Cruiser. This is the safari adventure de rigueur in Kenya 2015: an educational and photo tour with varying degrees of luxury. It’s possible to go on safari in east Africa with a great variety of tour companies, among them National Geographic and the very same Smithsonian Institution that funded Roosevelt’s trip to Masai Mara, but you are the guest of the Book and travel a tour operator that specializes in luxury safaris to Masai Mara. Aside from the obvious amenities, the more expensive camps are also ideally situated in the heart of prime wildlife viewing areas. You are out early because morning and evening hours are the most promising for spotting lions, cheetahs and leopards, not to mention in Kenya’s equatorial climate the middle of the day can be downright hot. It’s beautiful here. The sky is big. The horizon is an uninterrupted 360 degree panorama. Acacia trees provide occasional spots of shade for the animals. Acacia in the Mara has a more typical, vertically-inclined posture than in central Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, where the treetops are broad and flat as if warped by the curvature of the Earth. It doesn’t take long to get tired of seeing wildebeest and zebra (though not the Thomson gazelle, with which many feel some inexplicable bond), even elephants. It’s something of an honor to share the same ground as these beasts; it’s just that from your seat in the car you don’t have the sense of awe and wonderment you expected from a safari. Things seem too neat. Not that I want our Cessna to crash next to an elephant herd or a baboon to steal my lunch, but this is Africa man. You encounter a pride of lions, about eight of them; straw colored and splayed out on the ground. Lions, unlike the other animals out here, don’t give a flying shit about humans taking pictures from safari vehicles; you don’t get to be king of the jungle by sweating passers-by. In the distance a Land Cruiser from another tented camp approaches, tour guides from the various camps in Masai Mara communicate with each other by radio to improve the total amount of Big Five viewing.) A hundred yards away the vehicle blows a flat; there are rules on safari to Masai Mara. One of them is don’t get out of the vehicle around predators; Rangers are called to the scene while the other guide changes the tire. The lions, meanwhile, have roused themselves and now sit on their haunches, motionless except to breathe, staring directly at the guide until he’s finished the vehicle maintenance. Here we’re witnessing experts in their field: Like a surgeon conducting a heart bypass or a cellist performing a solo, a lion peruses the menu. In the afternoon I go running with Dennis, a driver at Base camp where you are staying, a herd of at least three dozen impala darts in front of you, each bounding 20 or 30 feet in stride. Wildebeest stare. Zebra graze. Another type of travel adventure is discovered more subtly, by looking for a rip in the seam of the ordinary that helps you learn something about a place and see your own world differently. That this is possible on safari makes it worth the trip. A few weeks in Kenya is just enough time for a run with gazelle and a glimpse of olamayio, reason enough for a return trip. Parked in vast grassland in central Africa, you watch one of nature's most incredible spectacles: the so-called "Great Migration" of two million wildebeests, zebras and gazelles on their annual 1,800-mile search for water and green pastures. From your safari vehicle, you see the animals crossing the savannah, sometimes ambling in single file, sometimes galloping madly through a dusty cloud. And they're not alone. Just a few yards from your fender, "hit squads" of lions, hyenas and cheetahs watch the animals, obviously thinking of this wildlife pageant of Biblical proportions as a major buffet. You're happy to realize that those hungry cats have absolutely no interest in you. Not so safe are the migrating animals, which in addition to dodging land-based predators, must run the gauntlet of mammoth crocodiles that lie in wait at every river crossing, ready to take them down as they enter the stream. To be well positioned to view what Lion King fans know as Africa's "Circle of Life," you need to understand the seasonal rhythms that drive the movements of this herd on its circuit through an ecosystem the size of Belgium. That wildebeest migration circle usually begins during the January-March calving season, when as many as 400,000 wildebeests are born on the plains near the Ngorongoro Highlands in the eastern Serengeti. If that's when you go, consider staying at one of Africa's top resorts, the super-comfortable Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, which has sometimes been described as "Maasai meets Versailles." From this extravagant lodge-whose Italian architect was influenced by the design of a traditional Maasai village-a short drive will take you out to the see the Migration and a slew of brand-new wildebeests, or down into the Crater, a U.N. Biosphere Preserve that shelters everything from leopards and lions to a substantial population of black rhino. Keep in mind that because Ngorongoro lodge -like all safari lodges and safari camps in Serengeti and Maasai Mara-is open and unfenced, predators wander its grounds at night. You will therefore be required to have a Maasai warrior escort-armed with steel spears-whenever you go outside after sundown. Between April and August, the new wildebeests and other migrants move on to follow the rains to the crocodile-filled Grumeti River in the western Serengeti, passing under the Kuka Hills next to one of Tanzania's most hallowed lodges, Klein's Camp. In the 1930s, Charles and Anne Lindbergh reportedly flew into Klein's to see the Migration while they were charting new air routes; they returned in 1965. Klein's retains that Hemingway-era bush camp feel in its main lodge and 10 luxurious cottages, each with a veranda offering commanding views of the Serengeti. Klein's 20 guests also have exclusive access to year-round game viewing on the camp's 25,000-acre private wildlife sanctuary. Another April-to-August possibility is the stylish Grumeti River Camp, located on the Migration's main track. But even after the Migration, Grumeti is wall-to-wall with animals, including lions that, on hot days, sometimes drop by to nap in the shade of the main lodge or lounge near the swimming pool (thereby startling two honeymooners just before I arrived). Since Grumeti is on a river teeming with hippos and crocs, guests are serenaded by an evening chorus of hippo chugs and snorts, along with the trill of hyenas and the night sounds of big cats on the prowl. InJune and October, you'll find the great herd marching across the border into Kenya's Maasai Mara Reserve, where they'll stay until their December trek back to the Serengeti National Park. You'll find no shortage of first-rate safari lodges in the Maasai Mara. No matter when you go or where you stay, you'll spend your days following the traditional safari routine. You'll leave camp every morning around dawn with your personal tracker-guide on a four-hour game drive, with breakfast on the "bonnet," to scope out the migrating animals and watch the lions and other predators in action before their midday snooze. After lunch back at the lodge and your own midday siesta, a late-afternoon drive will take you out again to view the cats as they prepare for a night of hunting. And all along the Migration route, you'll find abundant other wildlife, including herds of giraffes and elephants, packs of hyenas and jackals and more than 200 species of rare birds. At sunset, your guide will stop and fix "sundowners"-drinks to celebrate a perfect day spent witnessing this dazzling natural spectacle. Although both the Serengeti and Maasai Mara are generally sunny and balmy, daily temperatures vary greatly. During game drives at dawn and dusk, when viewing is best, the air can be quite cool, but midday temperatures can exceed 80 degrees F. Shifting rainfall patterns determine the route that the animals will follow. Despite their remote locations, lodges and camps along the Migration route are exceptionally stylish and comfortable. The vintage design of some evokes classic safari days, while others, like Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, reflect a contemporary take on local culture. These lodges also offer superb service, from the friendly personnel who will look after your every need to the knowledgeable guides and trackers who will make your game drives and walks memorable. You'll learn that top lodges and their chefs compete for excellence in cuisine as you swap safari yarns with other guests over flavorful dinners of dense soups, grilled chicken and meats, prawns and fresh vegetables. Add some prized South African vintages and a few chocolate-packed desserts for plenty of energy for that next day on the trail and you'll understand why Ernest Hemingway loved the safari life.
Safari must be one of the most romantic words in the English language, conjuring up images of tents and travelers straight out of Agatha Christie, cocktails at sunset, pith helmets and binoculars, everything cream and white from the ladies' blouses to the billowing mosquito nets. In the bad old days, of course, it also meant zebra-skin rugs and lions' heads mounted on walls. Today, the Kenyans are spending millions on anti-poaching programmes to protect their most valuable resource and should you choose to go on safari, a large part of those millions will come from you. But does the 21st Century Masai Mara safari have the same romance that it once did? Fig Tree Camp Masai Mara! It's such a hidden gem for travelers who can't afford a big splurge, but still want a traditional Masai Mara safaris experience. Fig Tree safari camp is often overlooked due to its size, but it offers a truly intimate feel and the setting is spectacular, set on the banks of the Talek River, on the northern border of the Masai Mara Reserve, sits this simple yet elegant safari camp which is among one of the oldest tented camps in the famous Masai Mara. Its central location makes all areas of the park easily accessible during game drives ensuring that you miss absolutely nothing. They say you get what you pay for, but when the average cost of a safaris to Masai Mara is £350 per person, per day – plus airfare and transfer – you may wonder whether it’s worth it, Kenya might be underdeveloped and desperately in need of our investment, but its leading safari lodges are among the most glamorous and expensive resorts in the world, However, it is possible to do a safari to Masai Mara without having to remortgage your home; it just requires research, innovation, expert advice and, in some cases, the ability to step out of your comfort zone and hit the road on your own, Masai Mara National Park safari camps and lodges are open year-round, and while the peak December is when local Kenyan people take their holidays due to school holidays and cheap specials offered to residents, the weather is cooler and the animal sightings better during the wildebeest migration seasons of June to October winter months, staying in small, owner-operated lodges in Masai Mara rather than the more opulent properties of high-end corporate tour safari companies is another way to save on the mortgage. “Owner-run Masai Mara safari camps are less well marketed but they don’t have the high overheads of the big hotel chains and can be more None of which is to say that if you’re set on visiting a major reserve and staying at a luxury blue-chip lodge, you can’t do it a little cheaper. Masai Mara National Park with its extraordinary wildlife and diverse biosphere is the most expensive safari destination in Africa, but companies such as Fig Tree Camp are now opening smaller, more affordable sibling camps close to their larger, pricier lodges. These may be slightly more rustic, but service and game-viewing are the same. Those with a sense of adventure and an eye for the road should do what all self-respecting Kenyan families do on safari: drive themselves, Self-drives safaris save on air transfers and are easy to do in Kenya where roads are good, park fees low and facilities at government lodges and camp sites excellent, please don’t let those very expensive safari quotes you get from safari companies scare you. You can easily plan a safari in Masai Mara for about one-tenth the cost—using these budget safari-friendly strategies, check the Entrance Fees, there are many reasons why doing a safari racks up significant costs, all wildlife parks and preserves in Kenya are well protected and they typically charge fees of $50-$90 per person per day to enter, some but not all, also require a certified safari guide to accompany tourists, these restrictions help to preserve both the ecosystem and the animals in it, so these entrance fees are unavoidable and should be budgeted for from the very beginning. Some parks in certain nations have less expensive park fees others. Masai Mara National Park offers some of the best low-cost options with the park charging just 80usd per day per adult for international visitors, tour operators have the habit of charging extra for park entrance fees as part of the package, another option is to go to Masai Mara tented camps iconic image of a safaris in Masai Mara is that of the lodges, but these adventures don’t come cheap the best way to slash your budget is by staying in a safari camp, “A guided budget camping safari is much cheaper than staying in one of the lodges,” a guided tented camp safari can cost as little as $170 per person, per day—and this includes all camping fees, accommodation and all meals.“ Encourage your friends and family to come, the more people in the safari vehicle; the cheaper it is per person.” Another option is travel during the off Season During off-peak months, safari camps rates can drop by as much as half, which translates to big savings especially if you’re choosing owner-operated, lower-cost accommodations. Some of the best off-season times to consider are early march to june (before the holiday period) and again in November to early December which is the rainy season in East Africa. You may typically avoid wet weather, but the spring is also “baby season.” Everywhere you turn, you will likely see infant giraffes, elephants, and lion cubs; it’s also the season of the great wildebeest migration. Visiting the Masai Mara outside of the Annual animal Migration period is also spectacular, the year round wildlife, which often are not easy to find during the migration, consists of Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Rhino, Giraffe, Zebra, Warthog, Hippo, Crocodile, Topi, Hartebeest, Gazelle, Impala, Baboons, Elephants, Buffalo, Oryx, Eland, Waterbuck, and Hyena to name a few, Low season also means fewer people on safaris in Masai Mara, helping you to avoid being surrounded by 25 other Land Rovers trying to get of view of the wildlife, Book directly with us as owners of the camp, when book through Fig tree safari camp directly, you’ll have a better chance of getting discounts and scoring lower prices, of course, be sure to ask for them when you book!. Not only can you save money because us owners of Fig tree camp, our overheads are typically lower than that of a major safari company and our quotations include transportation from Nairobi, park fees and game drives, you’re also supporting the local economy, another benefit is that we can help you connect with other travelers who can join your group on Masai Mara holiday and help reduce the costs for everyone on your Mara safari, You don’t have to be wealthy to experience the magic of going on a holiday to Masai Mara, you just have to start making plans! Driving to Masai Mara takes about 5-6 hours; the first part of the drive from Nairobi to the small town of Narok generally takes 2.5 hours on a well-maintained road, the second part of the journey between Narok and the Masai Mara reserve, however, may take anywhere between 2 and 3 hours depending on your vehicle and the condition of the road, unfortunately the road leading to the Masai Mara reserve is not well maintained, as such, expect a very slow and somewhat uncomfortable ride between Narok and your final destination in the reserve, upon arrival in the reserve, the dirt roads are actually much smoother than the bumpy tarmac roads that lead to the park this is because they are fairly consistently graded by the administrative bodies that maintain the reserve. Some reliable safari companies (note the word reliable tour operators) can arrange ground transport from Nairobi to Mara Fig tree camp, typically, a 4×4 vehicle costs between $250 and $300 per day which includes the driver and vehicle park fees, driver allowances plus usually fuel, this may be the more economical option for larger travel groups. Beyond costs and logistics of driving to the Masai Mara it is also worth mentioning that this can be a unique experience in and of itself. From driving through the central highlands, through the Rift Valley and into the savannah, the landscape transitions can be stunningly beautiful, not to mention driving through the countryside can give you a better sense of the surrounding communities. This is an extremely valuable part of visiting Kenya as most visitors only have the chance to visit the sprawling city of Nairobi. The charms of the countryside are very different from the hustle and bustle of the Nairobi capital, so take some time to explore the small towns on the way to the Masai Mara animal park! If you prefer to drive to the Masai Mara, then we suggest you contact us to arrange transportation to our safari camp in Masai Mara Mara. Fig tree safari camp often have the best round-trip deals, road-appropriate vehicles, and will know the best routes to the Masai Mara reserve, Private safari drivers arranged independently packaged holidays to Masai Mara and sometimes offer slightly cheaper rates, but generally have much older cars unsuitable for the rough roads between Narok and the Mara not forgetting most travelers end up in the hands of conmen, The other transport option to the Masai Mara National Reserve is a flying safari from Wilson Airport Nairobi’s domestic airport to our airstrips in the Masai Mara reserve, as opposed to 5-6 hours of driving a quick flight from Wilson Airport to the Mara can take just 45 minutes to an hour. Masai Mara Flights only operate out of Wilson Airport as opposed to Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Wilson Airport is easily accessible in Nairobi so this part of the journey should not cause any stress unless you encounter some of Nairobi’s notorious traffic that generally begins after 10 AM, The Wilson airport itself is well-organized and rather efficient, there are times however when flights are delayed by 1-2 hours due to delays in boarding passengers in the Masai Mara, just check in with the gate representatives for updates on arrival times, Two local airlines fly to Masai Mara, Safari link and Air Kenya, Both have lovely terminals in Wilson Airport, reliable aircrafts, as well as friendly, experienced pilots, Booking flights to Masai Mara online can sometimes be tricky with both companies so you may also consider booking over the phone, another option is asking our reservations team to add flights into your accommodation as a flying package, the flights themselves are incredible! Passengers can easily see much of the larger game while flying over the reserve. Elephants, giraffes, hippos, and zebra are all visible from the aircraft as you approach the Mara airstrips. Observing the Mara landscape from this height is also breathtaking, as you can see the Mara River winding through the vast plains spotted by Acacia trees. We highly recommend this mode of transport to Masai Mara as it provides a relatively hassle-free transit experience and a truly unique perspective of the landscape. If you are on a game package, your price will include a transfer from the closest airstrip, as well as scheduled game activities (either a full-day game drive or morning and late-afternoon drives), so you need not concern yourself with the practicalities of how to get around (though it's worth knowing that you may not drive around after 7pm or before 6am). If you are being transferred by a ground operator you can choose to travel by road between camps or fly while your driver catches up via road. Personally, we like traveling by road within the Masai Mara -- it's effectively a game drive taken at a bit of a lick, so you can flip open the lid and feel the wind in your hair while looking out for animals. Masai Mara holidays are going to cost you, that is are a fact, at the same time there are ways to get great value for your money. "Value for Money" doesn't mean budget safari or cheap safari, it means getting the most for your money (in terms of experiences, animal view and safari camp and deciding when to splurge and when to save. Whether the hefty price tags are worth the experience is a moot point which we'll leave for discussion at another time, the question we attempt to answer here is whether it is possible to plan an affordable Masai Mara vacation on a tight budget, and how to go about doing so. The first consideration, of course, is what can be said to be affordable safari? What is reasonable to one person may be expensive to someone else; however, there are actually a plethora of budget safaris options out there for any traveler looking for a Masai Mara budget safari. Overland safari is an old favorite for many budget travelers, and popular with the younger market, Costs are kept low by offering scheduled departures using big overland trucks, and perhaps by camping instead of using more expensive accommodation, be aware that some of the overland safaris are participation camping safaris where you may be expected to help out with the duties around camping safari, however our safari camp the fig tree camp is not a participation safari camp, the overland safaris options are not for everyone, and the enjoyment of your trip often depends on the type of people with whom you happen to be grouped, guided Masai Mara budget safaris, such as those offered by Fig Tree camp to Masai Mara National Park are different from overland safari adventures in that they are not participation-based and do not involve cheap camping, a guided open vehicle safari to Masai Mara is not as cheap as a self-drive safari, but less expensive than most luxury safari lodges. A typical cheap safari is priced cheaply and includes return road transfers from Nairobi, standard tented accommodation with private bathroom, and all meals and game drives included, the benefits of this type of Masai Mara Cheap safari is having an experienced and knowledgeable guide as tour leader and being able to enjoy game drives from a specially designed open safari vehicle which offers great visibility.
When it comes to choosing your safari location, you definitely have a lot of options. There are seemingly endless parks in Africa that you can visit but the most famous ones include the beautiful Masai Mara in Kenya, the vast Serengeti of Tanzania, and popular Kruger National Park in South Africa. Each are home to the “Big 5” but each also come with their own pros and cons. Kruger is well established and is famous for its ability to offer a comfortable self-drive option with many roads actually paved but because of this it is the least “wild” of the parks. The Serengeti National Park is many travelers’ favorite and for good reason. Its incredibly vast and is world famous for its huge collection of wildlife and is also one of the two parks where you can watch hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra migrate toward the greener pastures of Kenya beginning in May and finishing in August. The downside to this park is that it’s incredibly expensive. Even on a very tight budget option you would be looking at a cost of at least $ 380 USD per person per day excluding park fees putting it out of range for many budget travelers. In our opinion, the Masai Mara is the best all around park for the quintessential Kenya safari. Its essentially an extension of the Serengeti so there are many similarities in the landscape and it offers the same assortment of wildlife while also being home to the Great Migration in July and August. The great thing about this park is that you can do the Masai Mara on a budget! When this guide was published, Masai Mara National Reserve fees were $80 per person (ages 12 and older) or $40 per child per day. Always ask whether these fees are included in any accommodations package and, if so, ensure that you have evidence of having prepaid these fees with you when you travel into and around the park. Fees for overnight in the conservancies are often higher but may include access to the main Reserve -- often if you stay in one of the conservancies, you'll have little need to enter the crowded National Reserve at all. If you're traveling with a tour operator, your park fees may have been added to your account in advance; alternatively, you'll need to pay in cash either on arrival or when you pass through one of the entry gates. Note: Discussions are afoot to potentially divide the Mara into zones, with cheaper admission to areas that will be set aside for budget and package tourists and higher levies for more exclusive zones where visitor numbers will be more strictly controlled.
The migration of wildebeest from the Serengeti commences in July and continues through to October; it's when accommodations are at a premium and when the Mara is most crowded with visitors. Many camps close during the rainy seasons; the "short rains" happen in November, while the "long rains" fall in April and May. The rainy season is the best time to come if you prefer the solitude and verdant green of the quiet season. The birthing season -- known as "Toto Time" -- starts in December and continues into February; it's a popular time for visitors (accommodations are again at a premium) who come to witness infant wildlife staggering to their feet and skittering as they take their first steps -- it's a magnificent scene, often accompanied by thunderous storms. March and October tend to be the hottest times of the year, but the Mara is seldom oppressively hot, and some of the higher-altitude lodges can get cold at night. The Great Migration -- Time your Mara visit accordingly, and you can prepare for one of the world's great wildlife dramas -- a hoofed mob of a million-plus gnu (known here as wildebeest) moving en masse across grass-filled plains, over hills, and through rivers besieged by hungry crocs and watched by salivating lions and excitable hyenas. Pounding up the dirt in a splendid display of obedience to some powerful biorhythmic clock, it's a riot of wild, unbridled energy and fierce determination as hordes of wildebeest and other, less clunky hangers-on -- some 360,000 Thomson's gazelle and 191,000 zebra -- move across the border from Tanzania, filling the Mara with the primordial sounds, smells, and lumbering charm of their bovine feeding frenzy. So what's the story? After the long rains in April and May, the Mara's sweet, tall, red ort grass, much loved by wildebeest, starts to grow, and, having exhausted the pastures of the Serengeti National Park, two million animals respond to some inexplicable instinct that ultimately brings them together into what looks like a single massive herd and steadily drift northward. Visually it's breathtaking, although it's a myth that these animals come bounding along as though this were some kind of goal-driven marathon -- in fact, this "annual" migration is an ongoing circuitous event with no real start or end point. Sheer force of numbers creates the spectacular effect of a single surging column of life that stretches across the horizon. With little more than grass (and an inkling of survival) on their minds, they continue to pour across the border, and as they fill the Mara, the ensuing action is relentless. Lurking by the wayside, prides of magnificent Mara lion -- some numbering up to 40 strong -- prepare to ambush their lumbering victims. And like kids in a candy store, Nile crocodiles wait along the rivers that will prove the undoing of tens of thousands. Leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas pick off unfortunate stragglers. The gruesome sight of predators pulling a struggling wildebeest apart is not for the faint of heart, but for those who can stomach the savagery; it's a thrilling open-air lesson in survival of the fittest. Navigating by instinct and memory, the beasts -- in their eagerness to reach the long grass that covers the northerly plains -- must cross the swirling waters of the Mara and Talek, rivers encountered along their circular route. It's an awesome, inexplicable sight. One animal will raise its head as if testing the air and bound into the water, only to immediately be followed by thousands more. Diving and dashing into the waters with marauding predators waiting to pounce, these river crossings give visitors the chance to witness nature at its most brutal and bloody. Thousands of the animals drown, and the body pile-ups attract a motley assortment of scavengers. Instinctively -- as if part of a natural ritual culling process that will weed out the weak and make room for future generations -- the migrating herds inevitably choose terrifically dangerous fording points and attempt to cross near-impossible points in the river. The result is a mass drowning coupled with attacks by ravenous jubilant crocs and other predators. These grotesque and spectacular migration pile-ups may easily see up to 1,000 wildebeest dead at any particular point -- but freak events, where the frenzied lemming-like wildebeest surge into fording points that are dangerously steep, or where the river current proves too fierce, can see the death toll rise to several times this number.
But the Migration is really not about death, but part of an endless, ongoing cycle of life. Drive into the midst of the herds, and you are immediately aware of the constant movement and ceaseless activity, and at night there's a veritable concert of grunting gnus, barking zebras, roaring lions, and laughing hyenas against a backtrack of chorusing cicadas. Finally, having grazed their way across the Mara over a 3- or 4-month period, the survivors steadily return south, usually before the onset of the short rains in November. By December or January, they will have reached the Ngorongoro highlands in time for their calving season that sees as many as 8,000 wildebeest calves dropped each day. Six months later, these newborn wildebeest will be strong enough to tackle the long march back toward the Mara. Such is the constant theater of primal, primordial Africa.
The swollen Mara River presents the final obstacle for the Wildebeest Migration as it finishes its journey from the southern Serengeti. Bloated with water from the recent rainy season, the river’s strong currents are accompanied by hungry Nile crocodiles only too happy to snap up a wildebeest or zebra as it attempts the crossing. While there is no predicting on what day or at what time the crossings will take place, the patient and the lucky might just get to see this dramatic event unfold.
A sunrise game drive is an unforgettable way to see the Masai Mara in a totally different light. Not only is the sight of the sun setting fire to the savanna something you’ll remember for the rest of your life, but the low light and cool air are perfect conditions for predators such as lions, leopards, and cheetahs to do their hunting. A morning game drive can be added to any Masai Mara itinerary, and you can then enjoy a late breakfast at your lodge before hitting the road again.
The only thing more memorable than seeing a Masai Mara sunrise is seeing a Masai Mara sunrise from a few thousand feet. A hot air balloon flight over the Mara is undoubtedly something for the bucket list. Starting before sunrise, you’ll be high in the air when the sun crests the horizon and lights up the Mara in brilliant red and orange. After your serene ride above the plains, you’ll settle out on the Masai Mara for a champagne breakfast in the wilderness. Hot air balloon safaris can be added to any itinerary featuring a night in the Masai Mara for an additional cost of $499 USD per person.