Maasai Mara

Lion King lovers rejoice! The Maasai Mara is celebrated for its stunning grassland landscapes, the Big Five animals that traverse its more than 1500 kilometers, and its annual Great Migration of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles traveling from Tanzania’s Serengeti in the south. The Mara makes for an excellent safari holiday because it is fairly compact (as compared to the Serengeti’s 30,000 kilometers) and biodiverse, meaning you can generally see a lot of different animals within a few days. The Mara has all of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and water buffalo), giraffe, zebra, various species of gazelle, crocodile, hippo, baboon, cheetah, hyena, wildebeest and more.

The best time to visit the Mara is during the Great Migration, which takes places between July and October. Note that July and August are winter in Kenya, and while the days will be warm (20s Celcius) the nights and early mornings will be cool. Also, be prepared to book in advance and pay high season rates!

Most safari camps and resorts will organize flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to the nearest airstrip in the Maasai Mara. Flights run back and forth daily between the Nairobi and the Mara, and should be included in a full board accommodation package.

The Maasai safari guides are amazing, and a good guide will make all the difference in a great and truly fantastic experience. Make sure to tip your guides well, this is their livelihood and most of them are sending money home.

Bring cash for tips! There are no money machines and it will likely be difficult for most camps to exchange foreign money. You may also have to pay a daily reserve fee per person in cash.

EAT

Full board will be included in most safari camp and resort packages, and will provide for three meals a day. Traditional Kenyan food has many Indian influences, and is fresh and healthy. A few things to definitely try:

Chapati Fried bread influenced by the Indian subcontinent. Eat it with everything.

Mandazi Another fried bread, this Kenyan treat is most similar to a doughnut.

Sukuma Wiki Delicious boiled greens. Similar to collards in the United States.

Ugali This starchy staple is common across Kenya and often the side dish to richer stews and curries. It is a mixture of finely-ground cornmeal and water.

DRINK

Try the local Kenyan beers. Our favorites are Tusker Lager (the most popular across East Africa) and White Cap Lager. Nothing beats an ice cold Tusker at the end of a long, dusty safari run.

PLAY

Safari This is the real reason for a trip to the Maasai Mara, and take advantage of the 2-3 safari trips that your camp will plan daily. Most will start off in the morning very early, from 5:30 or 6:00am, have breakfast on the road, and head back to camp by 11:00am for guests to have lunch and relax by the pool or in the shade during the midday heat. Go out again late afternoon for a magical experience at dusk, as the animals are generally most active during the cooler parts of the day.

Shopping The Maasai people create truly stunning handicrafts. Larger resorts and camps may have items for sale, but if not you can swing by the Maasai Market in Nairobi once back in town. Keep an eye out for beaded jewellery and wall hangings, the plaid and striped traditional shuka blankets, and woven baskets and wall hangings.

STAY

Our advice is to choose a camp that has a few amenities (pool, common area, etc.) to keep you busy during the quiet afternoon time between safari. We loved the four star Mara Intrepids camp, run by the Kenya Heritage Hotels group. Tent accommodations were luxurious, we enjoyed the pool during the day, and the staff were fantastic. We have also stayed at Virgin’s Mahali Mzuri camp, which was stunning and a true glamping experience, though it will cost you a pretty penny!

Friends have also recommended Kicheche Mara North, Mara Plains and Porini Lion camp.

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Nairobi

The only capital city in the world to have its own national park and game reserve, Nairobi has established itself as one of the continent’s main economic hubs. It is also home to one of Africa’s largest slums. Explore the city for a few days and then head off to explore Kenya’s great wilderness.

If only entering Kenya once, apply for a visa on arrival via the Kenya eVisa site. Evidence of a yellow fever inoculation may be required at the border.

Traffic in Nairobi is notorious and it can take two hours to drive a few miles. Uber is an easy and cheap way to get around town.

If you are traveling from the US, Kenya Airways recently started a 14 hour direct service from JFK Airport to JKIA Airport in Nairobi.

Kenya is gorgeous and its true beauty lies beyond the capital city. Short, domestic flights leave daily from Wilson Airport in Nairobi for the Masaai Mara, Mombasa, the coast and beyond.

If it is your first time to Kenya or East Africa, we recommend adding the following books to your reading list to better understand the local history and context: Jacqueline Novogratz’s memoir The Blue Sweater, Isak Dinesen’s (Karen Blixen) Out of Africa and Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. For other great books by African authors, check out Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun, both about Nigeria. We also love Alexandra Fuller’s memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.

EAT 

Artcaffe Tasty European bistro food in Yaya Centre. There are a few other locations around the city.

Habesha Restaurant on Argwings Kodhek Road The best Ethiopian in a cozy outdoor setting. Good for groups.

Hemingways Posh and relaxing restaurant in Karen. Stay for lunch or drinks by the pool.

Sierra Brasserie Chic spot for roof-top dining in Kilimani.

DRINK

Level 8 Lounge + Bar at the Fourpoints Sheraton in Hurlingham Rooftop bar with views of the city.

Java House A homegrown Kenyan cafe chain that can be found all over the city. Amazing coffee and ginger/lemon infusions.

PLAY

Giraffe Centre Learn about, hand feed and spent time with gentle, long-necked friends.

Nairobi National Park Nairobi is the only capital city in the world with its own national park. Take an early morning or late afternoon safari to see lions, rhinos, zebras, giraffes and more!

Maasai Market at Yaya Centre On Sundays this treasure trove features East African prints, jewelry, art work and wood carvings by local artisans and Maasai. Come prepared to haggle.

Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage Stop by this elephant rescue and rehabilitation center every day between 11am to 12pm to see the babies have their midday mud bath and feeding.

STAY

Fourpoints Sheraton in Hurlingham Central location within walking distance of Yaya Centre in Kilimani.

Ololo Safari Lodge Comfortable and quaint lodge on the outskirts of the Nairobi National Park with sweeping views.

Panari Hotel Budget option near the airport. Stay here if you have an early flight.

Villa Rosa Kempinski 5-star hotel in the Westlands with impeccable security.

Zehneria Portico Hotel Budget option for the business traveler in Westlands near the Westgate Mall.

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