One of my bucket list adventures has always been an African safari! Since my husband had already visited Kruger in South Africa we opted for Masai Mara in Kenya and thought it would be a great opportunity to meet some of his family (his mom is from Kenya!).
Getting to Masai Mara
You’ll first have to fly into Nairobi before venturing over to Masai Mara. I recommend staying the night in Nairobi (the Four Points Sheraton Nairobi Airport is a nice option) to recover from your long journey and spend a day checking out the city.
If your short on time, you can head straight over to Masai Mara if you’re on a flight that arrives early in the morning. Kenya Airlines recently added a nonstop flight from New York which would get you there in time, check Google Flights for the best routes from your location.
The Wilson Airport is about a 30 minute drive without traffic from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I avoid long drives wherever possible (I can’t take being cooped up!) and opted to fly with Safarilink, one of the highlights of the trip for me, I love the adventure of riding in a small plane!
If you get any sort of air sickness or are afraid of small planes this is not the option for you. The plane only holds about 15 people (including the pilots) and each person can only take about 15kg (33lbs) of luggage including hand luggage.
The coolest part was landing on a dirt air strip when you get to Masai Mara. No buildings, no terminal, nothing as far as you can see, just open planes and your driver waiting for you when you step off the plane!
What to pack
There’s a few key things that you’ll need to pack for your safari adventure! Here’s a few not to forget; a hat, sun screen, bug spray, long comfortable pants (I wore leggings), light jacket with a hood, scarf, gloves. Ladies make sure you bring a supportive sports bra, the roads are really bumpy! Regular sneakers or comfortable shoes are okay, you aren’t allowed to get out of the jeep to walk or be near the animals.
Where to Stay
Trying to figure out what Safari to book can be overwhelming, there are just so many options out there with a wide variety of price ranges. Overall I can say that this destination is not cheap and not all Safaris are created equal, read lots of reviews on Google and TripAdvisor before selecting your accommodations.
The terrain can also be very different depending on the country you are in. For example, in Masai Mara you will see plains with animals walking in what looks like open fields where in Kruger, South Africa you will have more of a bush like experience with a tracker who will help you search for the animals. Both types of Safari’s are worth experiencing, you might just want to do both!
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to stay in a lodge or tented camp. We opted for a lodge (structured building) thinking that would give us air conditioning but were totally wrong! The beautiful Sanctuary Olonana lodge was recently renovated but there was absolutely no AC making the days unbearable with the heat. Trying to cool down with a shower didn’t even help the situation. Luckily, the temperature drops around 5pm and will give you more comfortable evenings and restful sleep.
With only 14 self-contained villas, the Sanctuary Olonana lodge was a quiet and relaxing place on the river front. This is the place to go if you want to completely disconnect from the hustle and bustle of any city. Though if you’re an on the go person like me I wouldn’t stay here more than 3 nights, it can get very quiet even with Hippos roaring outside your room or the monkey’s running across the rooftop! After 2 days I started to get a bit of cabin fever despite having WiFi (limited access) available in my room.
All of our meals were included during our stay with a set menu for lunch and dinner and a small buffet at breakfast. Wine and beer was also included, something not offered at every lodge. If you don’t like what’s on the menu they will work with you to prepare what you like! The best part of Sanctuary Olonana was the incredible staff, every single person at the lodge ensures that you are attended to at all times and even walks you back to your room at night to ensure you are safe from any unexpected animals in the woods.
We booked our safari adventure through Abercrombie& Kent, a luxury travel concierge who organized our whole experience. Check them out to book your safari adventure with a personal agent who will help you every step of the way. You can also book everything yourself, something I love to do!
Not all safaris include game drives, but The Sanctuary Olonana lodge came with a driver who is with you from the time you arrive. He works with you and your small group on the best time to go out for your drives, typically you’ll go on 1 drive in the morning and another in the early evening.
Masai Mara sits on a national park that closes at 6pm, if you stay on a private reserve you’ll have more flexibility in the hours you go out and will probably do a night drive.
We started our first game drive the day we arrived at 3pm. I was so happy to get out of the sweltering heat of our villa, it was amazing how the temperature dropped the minute we drove outside! Despite how hot you may feel, don’t forget your jacket, you will need it.
Our guide Abdul took us and 1 other couple out for about 3 hours where we saw Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Baboons, Hippos, Rhinos and Lions! I really felt like I had seen everything in the first go.
The second day started at 8am with a full day safari, our driver Abdul wanted to make sure we had the full experience! We spent the day driving around, getting up close with Elephants, Lions, Tigers, and even had a rare Cheetah sighting.
The drive also took us to the boarder of the Serengeti, Tanzania where we were able to see the end of a migration. Not much of a boarder here, just a sign warning us not to enter without proper credentials!
The most impressive part of the safari was watching a large group of Zebras crossing a river. I was all smiles until I noticed 3 of crocodiles swimming up stream straight for the Zebras! At that point I had to put my camera down and cover my face, I was not about to watch a Zebra go down. Lucky for us the Zebras were able to escape but not without getting split up, the worst part was hearing a baby Zebra crying for its mamma stuck on the opposite site.
A few Gazelles did make the crossing and got caught by the crocs, not a pleasant site! Most people go to safaris with the excitement of seeing a kill, I was not interested in that at all!
After 3 game drives (I know that doesn’t sound like a lot) I felt like I had seen everything and my cup was full of the safari world. I was was ready to move onto the next destination!
Checkout my Instagram stories for a visual journey of this safari and stay tuned for my next blog post about our incredible adventure over to Devils pool in Livingstone Falls!