By Juhi Bansal
We fell in love with wilderness a while back but the real love affair started when we visited the Kruger National Park 2 years ago. Masai Mara has been on our bucket list since then so when the chance presented itself this time we jumped at it!
As clichéd as it may sound, the amount of wildlife you can spot in their natural habitat in Kenya is second to no other place! Where else can you eat breakfast with giraffes and spot the Big 5 all in a day’s work? Apart from that, Kenya is also a big on culture (the Masais are fascinating to say the least) and ofcourse don’t miss the white sand beaches if you have the time. It’s a third world nation and while the development around the country leaves you dissatisfied, the purchasing power your currency holds is amazing.
Kids under 16 years of age do not need a visa to enter Kenya. For adults, an e-visa which is fairly simple to apply, gets issued in 2-4 working days provided you have the tickets and bookings in place.
To enter Kenya, you need a Yellow Fever vaccination atleast 15 days prior to your day of entry. K and I got our YFV 6 years ago when we travelled to Brazil which is still valid. For Iy, we got the vaccination done at the local YFV centre.
Kenya Airlines has direct flights from Mumbai which are short and comfortable. You can also fly to Dubai and take the direct flight to Nairobi from there.
One Kenyan Shilling is less than 1 INR. An average meal costs anywhere between 1000 KSH to 2500 KSH for two. Drinks and coffees are very cheap at KSH 200-500 and KSH 100-200 respectively.
In Nairobi we stayed at the City Lodge Hotel in the Two Rivers Mall- a comfortable hotel with the mall within walking distance we had a million options to eat and shop. It is about an hour’s drive from the International airport (on a good day!). You can also explore staying close to the Nairobi National Park in the Karen area.
Unfortunately, our schedule was so jam packed we did not have enough time to explore a lot of local food and drinks. Contrary to common belief, Kenyan food has a lot of vegetarian dishes and a lot of it seems to be inspired from the Indian cuisine. Things like chapatis, kachumbari salad, pilaf and bajias (potato fritters) are common everyday foods. Staple grains include maize and sorghum and “ugali” (maize upma of sorts) eaten paired with Sukuma wiki (collard sabji) is the most common dish. Kenya is also famous for its home made hooch (a lot of masais will offer you to try some- I’ll warn you against it though!). We also tried some Kenyan wines, beers and Kenya cane (a sugarcane spirit) which is extremely cheap and potent! It’s available in various flavours like coconut, citrus etc.
While Kenya follows the same driving style as India, I would suggest taking Uber within Nairobi. The traffic jams are crazy and parking a nightmare. The locals know shortcuts otherwise you would practically spend the entire day in your car getting from one point to the other.
If you’re feeling especially brave, might I suggest the Matatu- the mini buses plying in the country- they’re really cute.
While driving to and within Masai Mara I would again suggest getting a tour company’s help because the GPS is not dependable and the roads ok at best. I would suggest skipping self -drive altogether in Kenya especially if you’re on a short trip. Masai Mara is a 6 hour drive from Nairobi and the last 2 hours are really rough- off-roading gets a completely new meaning there! Ladies, I suggest you wear sports bra for the drive- if you know what I mean. The Kenyan guides call it the “safari massage” jokingly.
We booked our trips through Perfect Wilderness and we were mighty impressed with their staff of guides, fleet of cars and the sheer professionalism with which they carried our tours. I almost always pick up my tour companies on either Tripadvisor or Viator and always read the reviews before zero-ing in on the one. (not sponsored)
We chose the 2-day Masai Mara trip. It was a great combination of safari, culture and glamping! We stayed at the “Lenchada Camp” and were upgraded to the luxury camp by our beautiful hostess Alice. We did 2 safaris in the Mara region. While it is never enough- we did manage to spot a lot of wildlife from antelopes, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes to buffaloes, lions and hippos.
The evening was spent in the camp- in our beautiful tent and socializing with the other residents in the dining hall. Iy ofcourse spent her time making friends with the stray dogs and their families.
from the amazing wildlife, Kenya is also home to the Maasai tribe. We had the privilege
of visiting a small village right next to our camp in Masai Mara. It is home to
25 families from a common grandfather which makes them all the same bloodline!
Anto from the tribe was our guide for the day who took us around the whole village. He spoke good English as did most of the kids in his tribe thanks to the school all of them go to. While Maasais are largely patriarchal, women are increasingly getting a say in day to day affairs largely because they run the entire beading and jewelry business in the Mara region.
The men have to pay dowry to get married instead of the other way around. I loved their piercings and how innovative they get with it! Most Maasais (both men and women) are seen with their trademark bright colored striped/checkered shawl whatever the season.
They live in handmade huts without electricity and largely rely on cattle for their food- meat, milk and even blood. They also brew their own hooch using what is known as the “sausage plant”!
When a Maasai boy hits puberty, he is circumcised and left in the jungle to kill a lion. This marks his conversion from a boy to a “man”.
Nairobi National Park
Imagine a national park within a metropolis! Nairobi National Park has proximity of both urban and natural environments. You can see skyscraper’s from amidst wildlife. It boasts of a large and varied wildlife population- and we managed to get some excellent sighting all in a matter of a few hours.
Two Rivers Mall
Spend some time at the one of the biggest malls in Africa. From shopping to food to activities for kids, the mall has enough to keep you engaged for the day.
Giraffe centre, home to the Rothschild giraffe.
Learn more about the species of giraffes, conversation efforts for the endangered species and also get to feed them and take selfies with the giant cute animals. And also kiss them if you’re so inclined ;).
Kazuri Bead Factory
While the visit to the factory is free, I found their jewelry overpriced. You can pick up handmade bead jewelry at a fraction of the price from any of the Masai ladies all over Kenya.
David Sheldricks Elephant Orphanage
It is strictly open between 11 am and 12 noon for only 1 hour so make sure you reach in time. Meet and interact with baby elephants and learn the stories of how they were rescued. Also, seem them being fed with giant bottles! You can also adopt a baby elephant for a small donation.
Karen Blixen Museum
A famous white settler story, depicted in the famous movie Out of Africa. You’ll learn the story of this amazing woman and how she changed the lives of the local people. Also, don’t miss lunch at the nearby restaurant- Tamarind. The ambience, the staff and the menu ( a mix of French, Asian and African cuisines) are just perfect!
The forests are teeming with wildlife. If this was the case in March, I cannot imagine how it will be during the migration season. However, for us it was a conscious decision to do the trip right now and not in the season because we don’t like crowds as much and everything is exorbitantly priced- with good reason ofcourse. However, we had excellent sightings including spotting wildebeest in hordes. Our Kenya trip was as good as it could get.
If you have a little more time in Kenya, I’ll suggest flying into Mombasa and spending some time at the Diani beach as well. It is gorgeous!