Who has never dreamed of going on a safari?
The general image you have of a safari is entering Simba’s world.
Well, to be honest, that’s what happened to us.
It’s a hell of a way to get started in Africa. Gets you directly in the magical mood of seeing lions, elephants, zebras, etc…
And after that, if you continue traveling in Africa, you’re ready for the reality of things: life is not a safari!
There are several parks accessible from Nairobi. We chose to go to Maasai Mara, which is actually the Kenyan side of the much greater-sized Serengeti park in Tanzania.
Its size allows you to spend a reasonable amount of time to get around, meaning you don’t have to bust your budget right at the beginning of your trip.
We were there in September, meaning that the weather was perfect, as well as the temperatures, and the animals had not done their annual migration towards Serengeti yet. In other words, perfect timing.
On another good time is during the said migration, when you’ll get a chance to see the wildebeests running as a herd. Pictures were impressive. It should happen at the beginning of the season, meaning July/August, or at the end, in November, before the great rains.
We booked a 4 day tour, 3 days in Maasai Mara, and a day at Lake Nakuru.
The first day we drove all the way to the park, stopping for stunning views of the great rift. On the way, you get acquainted with the flat and never ending landscape, where you get to see your first giraffes and cloud storms in the distance.
We were supposed to do an evening drive upon arrival, but it was raining, so the driver suggested we not do it and leave earlier in the morning. Honestly, it was for the best, you’re glad to rest after the several hour drive on bad condition road. Take advantage of the pool!
The second day was a blast, there’s no other words. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful and fun driver, who didn’t hesitate to go long lengths for us to get the best experience.
Every animal we saw was an amazement to us. It really hits you how used to seeing them in movies (back to The Lion King) or on TV you are, and the difference it is to actually be there.
We were lucky enough to come accross all of the big fives: lions, cheetah, leopard and elephant, except the rhinoceros (more on that later), and many zebras, wildebeests, impalas, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles, different kind of birds, etc, etc…
On the morning of the third day, we went for a “hunting” drive, looking for rhinos. You never know if there was actually going to be one, or if your driver just had to get the morning to pass by, but it was fun to go real slow and look for anything with the binoculars.
Then we got on our way to Lake Nakuru.
As I said earlier, we didn’t really plan anything before coming, so this was kind of a plus.
Lake Nakuru is famous for its herds of pink flamingos. And its black rhinoceros.
We were out of season, so the flamingos were not that many. But they’re still amazing to spot. And many pelicans make also a beautiful sight.
The nice thing about off-season is that the place is really not crowded.
We started driving up a hill from where you get a wonderful view of the lake and its surroundings.
And then we went back down to the shores, and accross the prairie, where you can’t miss them, a couple of rhinos walking around living their lives, walking the kid …
Another amazing moment.
After that, our driver dropped us off in town, from where we moved on towards Uganda, but he would’ve brought us back to Nairobi otherwise, of course.
Quick aparte: our driver tried to get us to bypass Nakuru, because the flamingos were not in big numbers. But we insisted, the girls wanting to see the promised rhinos. And we did, and they were some flamingos and many pelicans. So don’t hesitate to stick to the plan.
Organizing your safari
We hadn’t actually planned our safari upon arrival in Nairobi. Having time in front of us, we hadn’t really planned anything, not even when we’d be doing it.
And we were quite suspicious of organizing it from home, as we felt we’d be able to bypass the middle man (or middle website) on site.
And we were right. Very quickly, it felt like the easiest thing to do was to plan it right away in Nairobi, and go for it.
As often, you’re quickly noticed as a tourist in town, and touts start to appear all over you. But you must agree, they come in handy when you’re looking for something!
So, this #20th guy finally got us to listen to him, and brought us to what he said was his honest best offer, where we got told what the plan would be, the price, what was included in the tour, etc…
He then saw that we were doubting, and brought us to several other offices, telling us to compare and see for ourselves what the worst could turn out to be. And indeed, we did end up in what turned out to be rooms following each other in a building hallway, with plenty of other touts coming to find deals. Didn’t feel appealing.
Point is, well, you kind of gotta go with your feeling.
Ask for the different options, what the sleeping and eating conditions will be, etc.
Etc being: Fuel, park and camp fees, food (not water, nor drinks), driver/guide.
Make sure you’ll get all that, or flee right away if they don’t offer it in the package.
Most important and differentiating point for me is the transport you’ll be assigned.
We were 5 people, as we had constituted a group with two girls we met at the backpackers, and got a mini-van exclusively for us.
The whole roof lifted up, allowing you to get great views and great picture taking possibilities . I think it was probably one of the best options, giving the driver all the freedom to do whatever pleased us and letting him potentially change tracks if the radio announced something interesting, which happened often.
Other options include:
- a huge bus-truck with like 50 people, feels like you’re on an organized tour with no freedom whatsoever. You better get a “window” seat (no actual window) so you can take your pictures easily.
- 4x4s, probably twice as expensive.
Sleeping was fairly acceptable. At the national reserve, we were staying at a very pleasant camp just outside the park.
We were assigned big tents with actual double beds and a concrete bathroom.
Hot water in the morning, cook at the restaurant and even a swimming pool. Just what you need.
In Nakuru, we stayed at a small hotel, good enough.
As for budget, we were offered several options:
- 3 people: 120$/pers/day
- 5 people: 110$/pers/day
Of course, tip not included.
Getting into Nairobi
Nairobi is a fairly big and dusty place, with no particular landmark to visit. That’s why I don’t think it deserves it’s own post.
We got in through the airport. We arrived at 4am, and didn’t trust going in town at that time of night, so we waited for the morning in the airport.
We got our visas on the spot (50US$), and had to show our vaccines notebook.
Then, Africa starts right away!
Taxi drivers literally jump all over you, and nobody gives you actual information.
We managed to find the bus that brings you in town. Watch out for your seating disposition. The ticket master asked us to pay for the seat for our bag! The guys we had met on the plane having been ripped off, we put ours over our legs… Take it humourously.
Upon arrival, you’re dropped off at a dusty square somewhere in the center of town. We didn’t know our right from our left, so we picked a backpackers from the guidebook, Milimani Backpackers. The perfect place to meet other travelers and gather information.
We stayed three days in Nairobi, during which we walked around town, got accustomed and organized our safari.
Dorms, single & double room, and even tents.