In this thread I will try to collect facts, tips and more on my favorite park in Africa. There are a lot of questions for those who go for the first time.
The biggest natural attraction in the Mara is of course the large migration of gnu, zebra and Thompson’s gazelles. The herds come to the Mara sometime between July and September. True, each year it is more and more unpredictable. So this year (2017) the herds came to the Mara unusually early (in June), and a couple of years ago they were delayed by almost two months and did not come until August. One of the most coveted safari spectacles is not just the sight of the herds, but their crossing of the Mara River, which is infested with huge crocodiles. Besides crocodiles, predators like to use crossing of herds (herds usually cross in the same places, because the river bank is often very steep and you can descend / ascend not everywhere), so not seldom tourists can see examples of successful hunting lions and leopards, waiting at crossing points. It is true that sometimes the opposite happens, when you wait for hours for a crossing, and at the most important moment, some young bad lion scares all the herds and they decide not to cross. The safest (I mean most reliable) time to watch the crossing is September. This is reflected in the cost of living at this time it can be almost twice as expensive as in the “green” season. Well and the number of cars can be just shocking, some crossings collect hundreds (no exaggeration) of SUVs and vans.
However, the Mara is not empty in other months either. Most animals do NOT migrate. Lions, leopards and hyena clans have clear territorial boundaries, which they cross only rarely (e.g., when there is a change of power within the pride or when they try to take a piece of neighboring territory). The cheetahs’ territory covers a larger area, but a sufficient number of females with kittens live in the Mara on a permanent basis. And to date, the Mara has a rather rare phenomenon in the cheetah world – a coalition of five males, and interestingly enough, they are from three different mothers.
Giraffes, elephants, buffalo, and cana antelope roam around regardless of the season. Warthogs are tethered to their burrowing homes. Jackals, too, are tied to their territories.
Moreover, in the Mara, in addition to the circle of great migration, there is also the circle of migration of the Loita herds. This circle lies entirely within Kenya. Loita herds come to the Mara in January and March. This is the same time they calve, so there is a chance to see a calf being born.
In theory, you can see not only the whole big five, but even the magnificent seven (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, wild dog, cheetah) in the Mara. However, you have to be lucky to see a rhino in the Mara, and to see a wild dog, you just have to be incredibly lucky. However, if you go to Nairobi Park when you arrive in Nairobi, you have a good chance of seeing both white and black rhinos.
The tourist seasons in Mara are as follows: The second half of October to December is the low season. The herds are gone, prices are minimal, tourists are few, rains are possible. January-March – average season. Loit herds, prices average, number of tourists average, rains possible. April-May – out of season, many camps are completely closed due to long rains. Roads can be heavily washed out, rivers have too much water to wade through. Cheap, no tourists June – low season, everything is still dry after rainy season, but it shouldn’t rain heavily on your head, prices are low July – September – high season, maximum dryness (it may still rain, but usually it is short), crowds of tourists, high prices.
Little tricks of the Mara:
1) Photographers take a towel or any other rag to cover your camera. The camera on your lap should be kept at all times, because you never know when you will need to quickly shoot, but you have to drive quickly from one point to another, dusty/dirty, well cover the camera 2) Take at least a pair of sunglasses, without them, eyes suffer from dust horrible 3) If the guide has connections in the Marais, you can twist an official permit to travel off the road. Costs about 250-300 bucks for the entire duration, even if it’s a week or more. The option is unofficial and can change depending on who is in power in Mara itself. Yes, yes, it’s all corruption. 4) NEVER neglect the early morning safari. Ideally, you should be in the park right at dawn, the earlier the better. This is the time of maximum activity of predators. It’s easier to catch them moving (hunting, playing, patrolling the area, basking in the first morning rays on the high ground). In short, whoever missed it, is his own fool. 5) Again, if your guide knows the local rangers, either for free or for a small fee, you can uh, unofficially drive up to the animals, even if the rangers are standing around and watching. This is usually something you really want to do when the hunt is on. More accurately, you can only drive closer when the cats have already caught the game but are still in the process of killing it. 6) In general, everyone in Mara drives off-road, well, if the rangers aren’t around. 7) If you love cats – be patient, sometimes you have to sit next to a cat for hours to see something great (leopards playing, a successful hunt, etc.) Be sure to take binoculars. Even if you don’t like birds, it can be impossible to drive up to the cats if they are hunting for example, then you sit and watch with binoculars.
The main types of recreation in Mara:
1) Self-driving – honestly not sure if this is a real option, then I saw some clearly civilian cars. A plus would be cheap, a huge minus would be that it’s hard to find rarer animals like cats. 2) Drive-in Safari. A guided car is taken in Nairobi. Plus: cheap, minus: many guides don’t know anything in terms of animals, moreover they can’t find animals themselves, they need radio and advice from others. So even if they do bring you to something worthwhile, it’s crowded. Moreover, in the cheap version you ride a minibus, and they don’t have as good accessibility, so some areas of the Mara are out of reach. Another plus is that it’s usually an individual safari and you decide what you want to do. 3) Fly-in safari and accommodation in the main reserve. The main reserve is the Masai Mara Park itself, regulated by government agencies. So officially off-road driving is prohibited, driving after dark is prohibited, hiking safaris are prohibited. You fly in from Wilson Airport to the strip in the Mara itself, you are met by a guide and taken to the camp. Minus: more expensive than option#2, the Nairobi-Mara-Nairobi flight costs $350 per person. Another disadvantage: if you don’t pay money for an individual guide and you’re traveling as a couple and in season, there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing a car with other campers (usually another couple). If you’re traveling out of season, there may be a freebie. An individual car is free. Pros: guides who know the local animals, local rangers and local other guides. Often licensed at a minimum to bronze or even silver level. Know where the smaller people are, know how to please even the most demanding safari photo professionals. Know their top cats by name, including who has kittens, who is hungry and likely to hunt, who likes to hang out where, etc. Plus camps usually have upgraded high-powered special open safari SUVs, giving them the ability to shoot animals from any angle, including almost eye level. Some camps put not only a guide but also a spotter, a person who helps find the animals, in the vehicle. 4) Fly-in safaris at private reserves adjacent to Mara (Mara North, Olare Motorogi, Naboisho). Minus the same as in #3, only even more expensive . The cheapest accommodation in private reserves is somewhere around $300 per person per day. Pros: excellent quality guides, incredible, no crowds (a maximum of 3-4 cars, and then if something interesting happens), the ability to go on a night safari, horseback safari (not all camps) or walking safari. The other perks are the same as in #3.
To dilute the letters, I’ll put up some pictures from the Mara:
Mara River Crossing:
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