Of course the number one thing on everyone’s bucket list when visiting the Masai Mara is to go on a game drive/safari, and whilst I would definitely recommend fitting as many of them in as possible, there are many other ways to explore this fascinating eco-system and the people that live amongst it.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride
Getting up at 4am and making your way, bleary eyed, to the balloon take off point may not seem like the most appealing way to spend your holiday, but trust me this is an experience you do not want to miss. The drive to the take off point offers the opportunity of a night time safari drive, without the extra cost. Seeing how the savannah survives at night offers a very different experience to daylight drives as different predators lurk in the dark making antelope skittish and flighty.
After being plied with coffee (which no doubt you will need after the early start) the balloon takes off just as the sun begins to creep over the horizon, causing long shadows over the vastness of the plains. The orange of the sun matches the scorched earth as it rises and warms the land. If you are lucky, the expert pilots may allow you to operate the flame as you glide silently over herds of zebra, watch giraffe pick leaves off the highest trees from above and identify the well worn migration routes that are scarred into the landscape.
Landing in the middle of the remote savannah you will be offered a breakfast of kings; champagne accompanies a huge variety of dishes including cooked meats, pastries, fruit and an egg station where they will cook for you to order. The variety and quality of the food is seriously impressive given the remoteness and lack of electricity or generators. Guards are hidden out of view ensure that wild animals do not join you at your table, but still allow you to marvel at the nature that surrounds you.
Watch the Great Migration at a River Crossing
Traditionally safari companies will take you across the savannah, looking for elephants, giraffe, and lions. Whilst this is amazing, and you will see and experience more than you could ever hope to when booking onto your first safari, perhaps the most exciting place to go is one of the three main crossing points on the Mara river where wildebeest, zebra and antelope attempt to cross the ancient migration paths from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara. Here they not only wrestle with the steep banks and stampedes behind them, but also the crocodiles attempting to take down animals many times their own size, picking off the weak, old and vulnerable.
Safely inside the safari jeep’s you will have the perfect view of the action as look down over the steep cliffs of the Mara river and into the chaos of the migratory crossing below.
Meet the Maasai
The Maasai people are a generous, welcoming people who are starting to appreciate the benefits of tourism as they struggle to integrate their traditional lives with modern society in order to survive. Traditional villages are made up with one chief, with a hut for each of his wives that form a circle enclave. A spiky 10 foot high fence creates a barrier to keep out the wildlife, and adult sons become the village warriors charged with protecting the village from both these animals and local warring tribes.
Donations of paper and pencils are welcomed here as these communities start to be introduced to the national education system, as well as small toys such as marbles and clothing. Be careful though, as some villages have been spoilt by the generosity of tourists and collect these trinkets as trophies rather than for benefiting their lives.
Do not miss out on the traditional warriors greeting, designed to threaten and intimidate potential foe, which is still performed to those visiting, read here for more details of what to expect.
Horseback and Walking Safari’s
Local Maasai warriors are diversifying into the tourist industry and applying their inherited knowledge by becoming wildlife guides. The guides will take you out into the bush sharing their insights, such as showing you; how to track animals, what plants can be used medicinally, and what to do if you come across a lion. Most importantly this is a more hands on experience where you are not protected inside the metal box of a jeep.
Both walking and horseback tours can be arranged at most of the larger lodges and hotels in the Masai Mara National Park, and for those looking for a more traditional Kenyan experience then there are also camel back safari’s on offer.
Fast becoming the number one vacation spot in Kenya, this British style manor house set in 12 acres of private land is home to a herd of Rothschild giraffe. Whilst the hotel insist that they want you to experience a relaxing stay with access to a number of traditional African cultural experiences, for most guests it is all about the four legged giants.
The giraffe are free to roam around the estate but often come to the main house to obtain extra treats. They have learnt that these treats are served at breakfast time, and the windows of the dining room are flung open to allow them to visit you at your table. Hand feeding these magnificent wild animals is an opportunity found at very few places in the world, let alone receiving the Giraffe Manor’s speciality; a ‘giraffe kiss’. Whilst these experiences offer amazing opportunities to tourists, the reality is that they are also supporting the conservation of the Rothschild giraffe who are on the endangered list with only around 670 animals left in the wild.
It is not cheap at $550 per night, but where else will you have such an up close personal experience with one of the Big 5!
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