January 1, 2016 | Leave a comment Maasai Mara National Reserve With fees for parks and guides mercilessly piling up, it’s especially important to talk to other travelers and research ahead when it comes to safaris. Don’t waste your money at Nakuru. Here, you’re far out from urban development on the property of the indigenous Masai who are essentially the Kenyan versions of Tibetans. The wildlife, size, and landscape of the Mara are simply superior. Cost breakdown: Park admission- 80USD per day Lodging- 10-20USD per night Food- 4-8USD per meal, or stock up in Narok and it’ll cost around 5USD per day Safari- 40-80 per day, depending on group size Optional activities- Anywhere from 10USD (Maasai Village, fair enough) to 450USD (hot-air ballooning, no longer budget travel) When to go: The Great Migration reaches Kenya in July and lasts until October, when the wildebeest cross back over the Tanzanian border. June is also part of the dry season, but you’ll miss out on one of the greatest phenomena of Africa. Where to stay: Mara Explorers Camp. This is actually a backpackers only 3km outside the Sekenani Gate that offers varying levels of tented camping. Moses does an excellent job maintaining a hip social lounge at the reception center, which is themed after traditoinal Maasai clothing. Wifi available. Delicious family style dinners are prepared every night, so long as you give them a half day’s heads up, and will feel like some serious fine-dining. Breakfast is served in elegant covered dishes keeping the eggs, toast, and sausages hot. As a bonus, the staff will wake early in order to cater to your game-watching schedule needs (so you can get the most out of your overpriced 24-hour pass!). 20USD for a private double includes two beds with mosquito nets and includes a hot (!) shower and toilet actually inside the tent! This solar powered plumbing has a clever design that drains outside so you never have to leave the warm comforts at night. Complete with soft towels, soap, and bathroom tiling. 10USD for a simple single tent (recommended) with a night stand, solar lamp, bunk, sleeping bag, and shared bathrooms. 7USD for a raw camping spot, you provide your own tent and gear. Compare these prices to the standard 100-600USD for a night in a safari lodge! The whole camp is quite safe. Maasai are hired to keep watch throughout the compound at nighttime, although the biggest threat seems to be naughty elephants damaging the fencing, hungry for fresh trees. Getting there: From Narok, get on a shared taxi for Sekenani Gate, which leave when they fill with passengers. The sedans congregate until sunset across the large supermarket, where you can get dropped off from your previous mode of transportation if you ask your driver. Prepare for a squished 3-hour ride that’s bumpy enough to crack half the eggs in your carton eggs (I had already endured a 5-hour crampy matatu ride from Kisii when I reached this point). I can’t remember the exact price but I want to say between 5 and 10USD. What to bring: Warm jacket, raincoat, lightweight shirt and pants, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, hat, water bottle, camera. I highly recommend buying all groceries and water in Narok. What to do: Enjoy the ride! No one will tell you it’s any less than incredible out there, but once you have your first day, you will truly appreciate these wild animals who live unconfined. Rather than chain-link fences serving as the backdrop, there’s rivers, umbrella trees, and grass plains extending beyond the horizon. Because Sekenani is further than some of the park’s other entry points from the Mara River, try to find a group to go out for a full day. The river is a no-excuses-must-see during the Great Migration when the wildebeest struggle to make it across the water whilst getting devoured by crocs. It’s not reasonable to drive so far and back in half a day. I did a morning (joined a others to split costs) and an afternoon game drive, and because we found a pod of hippos anyway, I was content. Keep your receipt because the day pass rolls over to the next day, i.e. if you do an afternoon drive followed by a morning drive you pay entry once. Mara Explorers has several vehicles for rent and can set up game drives for the less prepared, like me. The driver could be yourself, hired by Moses, or pre-arranged from Nairobi. Regarding this last option, at camp I met Julius, who is seasoned in the business and has reviews you can check out on Trip Advisor. A Maasai game spotter will also sit in the front, pointing out what you’ll surely miss and jabbering on a cell phone in native tongue with other spotters for where the Big Five are at that moment. Having seen rhinos in Nakuru, I checked off the rest of the Big Five within a couple hours. An incomplete list of species I saw included the cheetah, lion, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, Egyptian goose, Topi, ostrich, gazelle, dove, mongoose, hyena, warthog, crocodile, Crowned crane, and the smallest antelope species adorably named the Dik-dik. UPDATE: In researching for this post I stumbled upon the fact that the notorious Big Five in fact includes the leopard, and not the cheetah that everyone in Kenya had reassured me of. Guess they were just trying to make me happy. So no, I never completed the backbone of every safari-goer’s bucket list, and must live with this tragic news until I someday return. Don’t be a Dik-dik. Mara Explorers organizes non-safari activities as well. Guided nature hikes, local school visits, and making a Maasai Village visit are all affordable options for furthering your understanding of the slender, cattle herding, piercing enthused, cloak wearing natives. FWB: buffalo and birdies.