Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Taming the Masai Mara: Kenya’s showpiece game reserve

No trip to Kenya would be complete without a visit to the Masai Mara, a 585 square mile wildlife preserve located in southwest Kenya, right above the boarder with Tanzania. In the Mara, one will find one of the highest concentrations of large game anywhere on earth. With an elevation of roughly a mile above sea level, the park enjoys a fairly mild climate for being just south of the equator. Here, the seasons are defined as wet and dry rather than summer and winter. The vast expanses of open grasslands and savannahs, dotted with an occasional acacia tree, and bisected by small streams and rivers, provide an ideal ecosystem for the great variations in species and vast herds of animals found here. Large concentrations of big game including Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, Giraffe, Water Buffalo, Wildebeest, Zebra, and Gazelle call the Masai Mara home. This is in addition to numerous bird and small mammal species.

Established in 1961, The Masai Mara takes its name from the Masai people that have inhabited this part of Kenya for centuries, and continue to live on the surrounding lands. The park truly represents the classical African landscape that so many have idealized in their minds in part from movies like Out of Africa. With far-reaching vistas that seem to stretch on forever, along with the rolling hills shaded in beautiful greens and yellows by the long grasses, it really is an inspiring place to be.

One may think that you must hike into the wilderness with a tent and sleep side by side with wild animals to be able to experience this remote area, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Although getting there by car is a long trip (6 hours from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital) because the roads are generally in very poor condition and in places consist of no more than a dirt track; there are many outfitters that will take you into the park in a fully equipped Land Rover or other specialty vehicle. You can also fly directly from Nairobi to the park. Once inside, the Kenyan tourist industry has constructed a number of modern safari lodges. These range from pretty basic camps to extremely upscale resorts- offering everything you could find in a four star hotel in a major city or resort.

The idea of coming in from a day of game drives and guided wildlife viewing to be treated to top end international cuisine, heated pools, spa treatments, and fine wine is what makes the African safari such an appealing experience to many. In my last guided trip to Kenya, my clients were amazed at how nice the resorts were for being so far off the beaten path. They appreciated how the architecture fit perfectly within the beautiful natural surroundings, how well maintained the grounds were, and by the level of service they received. This is what dispelled their preconceived notion that you had to be an outdoor adventurer and rough it to participate on an African Safari.

In short, visiting the Masai Mara game reserve is a must do for any traveler to Kenya, and there are many different options available depending on your needs and budget in which to do so. My company, Eriks Adventures (www.eriksadventures.com), leads trips like this to Kenya as well as other locations around the world. You are welcome to email me at erik@eriksadventures.com for more information about Kenya or other questions in general.