Any online search for 3-day/2-night Maasai Mara safaris in western Kenya will show luxury options upwards of $800-$1,000 per person. Searching for budget options still resulted in $450-$500 trips per person. Seriously? What the hell.
Fortunately while volunteering in Kenya my program manager told me that past volunteers had been able to tour the Maasai Mara National Reserve for $300 per person. Then I befriended a foreigner who knew of highly recommended locals that plan safaris to national parks all over Kenya. This agency is Safaribook Evolution. For $300 per person, Chris and I got picked up from our accommodation in Nairobi, were taken to the Maasai Mara where we took 2 game drives, received full board and accommodation for 2 nights at the lovely Mara Sidai Camp, and got dropped off at our accommodation upon our return to Nairobi. While tours accommodate up to 7 people, we were primarily a group of 4, which gave us plenty of space in the open-roof van. We also visited a nearby Maasai village near the camp for an extra $20 per person, which we paid the Maasai village directly. This was wonderful since every other tour agency quoted $30, which I assume the agency takes a $10 cut. I’ve always loved Kenyans for their kindness and hospitality, but the organizer and driver from Safaribook Evolution exceeded my expectations; it was Kenyan hospitality at its finest.
Okay, now for the details of the trip.
Upon the morning pick up, we made a quick stop at a viewpoint overlooking the Great Rift Valley. This valley apparently stretches from Lebanon all the way down to Mozambique!
After a long drive through smooth pavement and rough roads, we finally made it to Mara Sidai Camp in time for a late lunch. People who prefer a more luxurious hotel would probably squirm at the camp’s safari tents, but I loved them! Because of the word “camp” I had actually pictured a wilderness camping tent, sleeping bags, and shared bath. Nope. This was glamping. Each tent not only had a large, comfy bed, they also came with a private bathroom with a hot shower! This even might have been a step up from my own room while volunteering in Kenya…
At 4pm we set out for our first game drive—a sunset game drive. Beware of all the local Maasai women shoving handmade jewelry for sale through open windows.
As wild animals tend to be more active in the morning, we didn’t see much in the late afternoon. Fortunately, the animals we did find were big cats!
The full day of game driving the following day was unforgettable. We saw more animals than I expected to see, even herds of elephants and groups of giraffes. Thankfully our experienced driver of 6 years knew where to find the animals and even brought binoculars to enhance the experience. Toward the end of the day we even grew tired of seeing herds of elephants and lions. Seriously. A collection of my favorite photos are below.
Yes, we were THIS close to the wild animals.
Lunch time in the shade. Our driver kept guard from the van for large animals.
On our final day before returning to Nairobi, we made a quick trip to a nearby Maasai village. To my surprise, a number of them spoke English fluently. They knew the national languages of Swahili and English, and their tribal language of Maasai. Upon our arrival they performed a traditional welcome dance, followed by their jumping demonstrations. The higher they jump, the fewer the cows they need to offer as dowry for a bride.
We were given a quick tour of a traditional Maasai home, which is a hut made of mud and cow dung. Inside their homes were small bedrooms for members of the family and a small “kitchen” that consisted of a tiny open fire.
Naturally, the Maasai village tour ended with the souvenir “shop”, an outdoor display of jewelry and souvenirs sold by the Maasai women and children. Chris and I are never keen on purchasing souvenirs, especially when they involve killing a lion (plenty of lion fur and teeth for sale!), so it wasn’t difficult for us to turn down offers.
This Maasai eagerly took his photo with Pen Pen, Chris’ traveling penguin. After the photo, he suggested a trade for Pen Pen for his wooden club. Another Maasai pointed at my watch and offered a trade of a Maasai blanket for it as well. We regretted donating all our gifts to the Githurai community. My advice to anyone visiting the Maasai village is to bring supplies, toys, small stuffed animals, watches, anything you can think of. They’d be happy to trade!
I’ve heard of countless positive remarks regarding tours to the Maasai Mara. Now I understand why. Many tourists conduct 4 or even 5-day tours in the Maasai Mara, particularly during the wildebeest migration season, but our 3-day/2-night tour was incredible despite being short. We recommend anyone visiting Kenya to take a budget tour with Safaribook Evolution to the Maasai Mara. Pictures cannot convey the epic adventure.