Guest Post by Aimee Claire describing the experience of camping out and ballooning in the Maasai Mara National Reserve
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is in south-western Kenya, often referred to as Masai Mara and, as I discovered on my safari adventure recently, known to the locals simply as The Mara. This huge park, originally established in 1961, is now an amazing 583 square miles of open grassland and occasional clumps of acacia trees.
World famous for its population of cheetahs, leopards and lions, I was keen to catch a glimpse of as many different species as possible and hoped to be lucky enough to see some of the herds that migrate annually – wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle for example. From July to October hordes of them travel to and from the Serengeti, which lies to the south of The Mara.
I had managed to find cheap flights to Nairobi and chose a company offering daily flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to the camp where I would be staying. I was relieved to note that June, July and August are the cooler months in Kenya, with an average daily maximum in Nairobi city of about 21ºC (70ºF) although it can reach 28 C (83ºF). In the event, the heat was bearable and it was cool enough in my tent to keep me from overheating at night.
To be honest, I was a little nervous about accommodation having heard some unsettling stories about dirty campsites, unhygienic toilets and indifferent staff in some places. However, I had no worries on that score – I was deeply impressed by the quality of the accommodation at my chosen camp.
A small and intimate campsite in a stunning location around a little lake that I found was teeming with both bird life and wildlife. To get there I took a boat trip across the Mara River, and walked, escorted, through the forest.
My tent had comfortable furnishings, polished wooden decks and a full en suite bathroom. The large veranda provided a perfect vantage point from which to watch the animals visiting the watering hole; especially enjoyable was the daily visit by the elephants.
With a range of packages to choose from it was difficult to know which options to pursue, and in the end I couldn’t resist the chance to include a hot air balloon trip over The Mara. Just before dawn we set off from the launch site behind the camp and I could scarcely believe how still and silent it was as the balloon rose majestically into the brightening sky.
The views over the Plains and the forest were extraordinarily beautiful and for the full hour’s flight I couldn’t stop taking photographs of the scenery and the animals we spotted – including herds of blue wildebeest. As we drove back to camp in a 4 x 4 we came across a young male leopard that apparently likes to visit the riverine forest, and a young lioness with three cubs, which the camp guide Julius said was from the Paradise Pride.
A truly unforgettable trip – I count my first African safari a major success, and look forward to visiting The Mara again soon and would like to say “ashe oleng” (thank you very much in Kimaasai) to all staff at the camp who made my African wilderness experience so wonderful.