- 1 The Masai Mara National Reserve
- 2 Animals we’ve seen in Masai Mara and Ol Kinyei
- 3 Best Times to Visit Masai Mara?
- 4 How to get to Masaai Mara?
- 5 Ol Kinyei Conservancy
- 6 Porini Cheetah Camp
- 7 Three Day Itinerary
- 8 Day 2
The Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara practically needs no introduction. It’s Kenya’s (and probably Africa’s) most popular game reserve and is practically synonymous with Africa and African wild animals. It’s the place to go for a safari if you want to see the African Big 5 in action as well as thousands of other species of African wildlife.
Scenes of huge wide grasslands dotted by threes with thousands if not millions of huge animals grazing the greenery with the hot African sun above has become an iconic sight all over the world. That is a regular sight in the Mara and it’s a sight that tourists come to see all year round. I was fortunate enough to be one of the visitors who’ve seen these wonderful sights and even got to stay in the Mara for a few nights.
Again, the Mara is huge but everywhere you go, you’ll see an abundance of wildlife due to the never-ending rolling grasslands that are being sufficiently fed with plentiful rain. Especially during the rainy season between November and June.
We’ve stayed at a conservancy outside the Mara called Ol Kinyei which is just a sliver of land in the Mara and we’ve seen so many animals just within that beautiful conservancy. Of course, we’ve also explored other areas of the Mara which just expanded the list of animals that we’ve seen during our safari trips like Nairobi National Park and Meru National Park.
Animals we’ve seen in Masai Mara and Ol Kinyei
We’ve managed to see the Big Five of Africa in just under a day in Masai Mara. There were so many lions we spotted and there was a big pride of them making the Ol Kineyei Conservancy their home, about 20 individual lions! They said that rhinos are rare in the Mara but we were lucky enough to spot one with her calf ( a black one at that) .
And fun fact, the Masai Mara has the densest population of cheetahs in the world, about 50 individuals all in all and 12 of them can be seen inside Ol Kinyei. There are loads of other animals on the list, the ones that stood out to me are:
- Tons of wild birds
- Grand Gazelle
Best Times to Visit Masai Mara?
Visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve any time of the year will always guarantee sightings of the famous animals found in the reserve including big cats like lions and big games. But if you want to get to witness the great wildebeest migration throughout the grasslands, the months from July to October are the best times to visit.
If you want to get a fantastic view of the big cats in the reserve in action, the dryer months from December to February are great times to visit.
How to get to Masaai Mara?
There are two main ways to reach Masai Mara National Reserve. Either by land or by air.
By far the best and most convenient way to travel to the Mara is by plane. There are numerous airstrips throughout the huge expanse of the Mara so there are plenty of options on which area you in the Mara you chose to land. Some of the airstrips cater directly to visitors who are staying at nearby lodges inside the reserve.
Many tours to Masai Mara provide flights directly to the Mara as part of their tour package.
The best way to travel to the Mara by air is to catch domestic flights from Nairobi either through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson Airport where Safarilink offers two scheduled flights a day. It takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour to fly to the Mara. There are about six domestic airlines in Kenya you can book to fly directly to Masai Mara.
In our case, we booked a flight with Air Kenya but had to take five separate stops to get to our destination within the Mara, Ol Kinyei. The way it works when we booked the flight is that there could be several stops depending on the number of bookings that fly to the Mara.
Traveling to the Masai Mara National Reserve by land is no easy feat. You will need to drive a four-wheeled vehicle to travel 270 km or 168 miles or dirt road that’s quite bumpy and underdeveloped from Nairobi. It takes approximately six hours or more to make a one way trip via land.
And definitely don’t travel to the Mara by land during the rainy season, the dirt road will be turned to mud and will take even longer to reach the reserve.
Ol Kinyei Conservancy
We stayed within a conservancy in the Mara called Ol Kinyei, which is the smallest of the three conservancies within Masai Mara. It covers an area of only 18,700 acres of unspoiled savannah on one side and rolling grasslands on the other side of the conservancy.
Unlike with the bigger reserve, Gamewatchers have exclusive rights to offer game drives on the land and the land is also exclusive to Porini Camps. This means that the time spent inside the conservancy will be undisturbed by other tourists and you won’t have to compete with other vehicles on game drives to see amazing animal behaviors.
A great example of this is when we were on a game drive, we spotted a cheetah at such close range to our vehicle and there’s no other vehicle within our vicinity in a mad rush trying to get in on the action. In the Mara, once there are any major animal sightings, more than ten cars will dash towards the event from all directions to get the best spot for viewing.
The great thing about Ol Kinyei Conservancy is that the Maasai Community who are the owners of the land are leasing it to the Gamewatchers and Porini company to set the land aside for the use of wildlife conservation.
This creates a unique conservatory model for Ol Kinyei. It means that local support is strong for the conservancy as most of the employees of the company who have exclusive rights to the land are from the local community itself. This is evident with the guides during our game drive who know exactly how to respect the animals by knowing just the right way to approach them without the animals being disturbed. It makes the experience with the animals all the more intimate.
The companies and the Masai community has a special kind of relationship linking them to both the conservancy. The people are a big part of making the operations of the company within Ol Kinyei possible by investing in taking care of the wildlife and the conservancy. In turn, other than the lease given to the community, the conservancy loves to give back to the community through things like education funds and projects that benefit the community including water tanks and sports equipment and facilities.
One of the things that both the conservancy and the local community agreed on is keeping the roads in Ol Kinyei rough and hard to drive through so that it’ll be difficult for offenders in the conservancy to escape. The conservancy and the community have done well protecting each other as poaching within the land doesn’t seem to be a problem.
There are two permanent and two seasonal camps where you can stay at in Ol Kinyei conservancy. Each tent of the camp occupies 700 sq/per person as their maximum capacity. It guarantees that overcrowding within the conservancy is impossible. Plus, the camps are really small so and only allow seven guests per camp so the number of vehicles inside the conservancy is also manageable.
Porini Cheetah Camp
We made Ol Kinyei our base to travel back and forth to the bigger Masai Mara. We stayed at Porini Cheetah Camp, one of the two permanent camps in Ol Kinyei. Our stay was lovely. It was a great wilderness camping experience, the best anyone could ask for.
Porini Cheetah Camp is the latest in the collection of Porini the small tented camps located in the wilderness of national parks and reserves. Just like all the other Porini camps, the Porini Cheetah Camp consists of a limited number of spacious guest tents serving as something like an outdoors hotel room. It was an amazing experience staying out in the wilderness within the conservancy.
We were given warm towels and cool drinks when we arrived at the camp. The first person we met was the camp manager, John. He was a local from the community and he quickly briefed us on the rules of the camp and what we should expect in our stay here.
Afterward, we were greeted by the lovely owners and hosts of the camp, Jui and Nirmalya Banerjee. They’re such a lovely couple and upon our made such great impressions to me with all their interesting stories about wildlife. They breathe and live the values of eco-tourism and wildlife conservation and it shows that they’re not only here in the conservancy for individual gain.
After the introductions, we were escorted to our rooms to settle in, freshen up from the journey to get ready for lunch.
The rooms in the camp are spacious tents that have everything in it that we could ever need. Closets, comfy beds, a vanity, a desk. It even has its own bathroom and toilet complete with a jug full of water if we ever need it at night plus water for brushing our teeth. It’s not something I expected of staying in a tent. I can even sit outside and enjoy the view of the jungle.
The toiletries are also very pleasant and serve a nice touch to the room. The ingredients of the toiletries are made out of the leleshwa flower. It’s the same scent that locals love to use and makes perfect insect repellent.
For the price you pay for a tent in the camp, you’ll get an all-inclusive service for the duration of your stay in the camp. Meaning that once you get there, there will be no more cash exchange. The foods served for our meals are delicious and the settings are to die for. We were served healthy balanced meals throughout the day. The chefs in the camp are really good at their job.
Dinners are the highlight though, we either eat indoors or outdoors under the stars with sweet music. We shared stories with the other guests and the manager and our hosts are usually there to join us. It was a lovely time.
Like all Porini Campsites, the Porini Cheetah Camp has integrated eco-tourism values into their operations. There are no plastics in the camp and it’s run by solar power. We can charge our devices in our rooms during the day but in the evening the only available outlet with electricity is at John’s office. All the bones and food are disposed of properly in a compost. Probably as not to attract predators or scavengers from the wild.
We were also provided with a bucket of water if we want to take a bath as part of conservation and being eco-friendly. We just have to tell a staff that we want to bathe and we’ll see someone outside using a pulley to pull up the bucket of refreshing hot water. Surprisingly, I learned that a bucket of water is all I really need to get cleaned. I never run out and I just have to get wet, apply shampoo and soap, then rinse and enjoy the flow of hot water.
The staff in the camp are mostly from the local Maasai community and everyone speaks English and treats us like family. They call everyone by their first names. I’ve never had been attended to by staff that’s so attuned to my needs. When I looked cold, a blanket is always handed to me and they’re always offering the guests tea, coffee, or hot choco.
There is a rule that we have to be escorted at all times outside of our rooms when the sun sets for our safety. We are still in the wild, we constantly see zebras and wildebeest outside the tent and we could even hear lions roaring at night.
The Maasai staff grew up in this environment and are more attuned with the surroundings than us visitors so we are never to be alone at night. They keep watch at us guests and escort us back and forth in the camp. They’re all very attentive to us as well. The moment I get up, someone’s already there waiting to guide me, I don’t even have to call.
We were provided with excellent guides to escort us at our safari trips to the Masai Mara and around Ol Kinyei, Edward and Philip. They possess amazing instincts and Maasai knowledge that allows them to understand animal behavior and signals like I’ve never seen before.
A great example is when they mentioned that there were cheetahs at a distance from us and I asked how they’d know this. Philip said that all the animals are looking in the same direction with a nervous stare and sure enough when we looked, there were two cheetahs at the distance! They are also well equipped to answer all of our questions about the Mara and animals too.
Three Day Itinerary
I’ve spent three days and two nights at the Porini Cheetah Camp but I wished I could’ve stayed longer. I recommended spending at least four nights in the camp to get the best experience and every night there’s a different surprise with the dinner.
Day 1 – Arrival
Depending on the time of arrival at the camp, you can have a short game drive on the way to your tent. At 1:00 PM it’s lunchtime then we get some rest.
From 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM we went for another game drive in the conservancy. In the end, we got to watch the sunset with sundowner drinks at a location the Maasai set up for a good sunset view. Afterwhich, we pack up and go back to camp.
At 8:00 PM is the great dinner and at 9:00 PM, we went for an hour of Night Drive to see the nocturnal animals that only come out at night.
We had an early morning start for a day trip to the Masai Mara with packed lunch, tea, coffee, snacks, and all. We spent the whole day at the Mara and got back to the camp at around 6 or 7 PM.
At 7 PM, we had drinks around the campfire and socialize with the rest of the guests. At 8 PM, we had a wonderful dinner outdoors, after which we all went to bed and rest.
Day 3 – Departure Day
We rose early on the third day as well for a bushwalk and a sunrise hike to the rock. I suggest that you do this activity because it was a wonderful experience climbing up the white marble rock in the early morning and watching the jungle below come alive.
As the sun came up I felt like Mufasa or Simba on top of pride rock and I could hear the different sounds of the animals waking up like the lions roaring, the birds chirping, and the elephants making their trumpet sounds. I could have done this every morning.
The bushwalk was a short walk outside the camp in the conservancy. There wasn’t any of the big game to see during this walk. Instead, I learned a lot about the native plants like the orange cotton leaf that lions apparently love cause it served as their insect repellents or the sandpaper bush which the Masaai used as literal sandpaper.
We also saw a lot of footprints from the animals that walked near the camp the night before. There were a lot of wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, and lion paw prints and many more. There were also came across many animal dungs.
The walk was a great ending to the stay by just taking in the wonderful surroundings of Ol Kinyei, the endless Mara skies, and the vast rolling fields. Kenya is wonderful. Kenya is love. And I think I’ve just been in paradise.