We're overwhelmed when we first find ourselves in our dream destination: Kenya, with hordes of Masai and herds of animals all around us. All set against that dreamy Kenya panorama we've only dreamed about.
It happened to us, it'll happen to you. Touts, vendors and aggressive sellers all bank on this to make their living.
Here's the most important thing to remember:
That "One of a kind" necklace you saw back there but didn't have time to bargain for? Another just like it is waiting for you down the road...
That "Special hand hewn giraffe carving" you're sure will look good over your fireplace mantle so, in order to snatch it up you are willing to pay overly inflated prices for? There's a twin about 3 blocks away!
Bid your time, shop around, you'll have plenty of opportunity for it! Even the gift shops at the lodges and hotels will often have the same item selling for the same or just cheaper than what you were able to bargain down for.
Our favorite part of Kenya was simply absorbing and knowning that due to it's immense, we would need to catalog and jot down for posterity as much as possible in a journal.
It is easy to become confused and awed due to it's immensity and overwhelming experiences, especially when you first arrive.
Took me back to my young days as a child on Christmas day when I didn't know which way to look first under the Christmas tree!
Carry a journal, make as many notes as you can and, if traveling with others, take the time to compare notes and cross reference experiences each may have had within the same journey!
Fondest memory: Our fondest memory was all collaborating during the mid afternoon rest period which is common in safaris. You are given the opportunity to relax and either take a nap, soak some sun around the pool or walk amongst the gardens at the lodge.
We chose to sit, the group of 5, near the pool or at the bar writing in our journals and copying notes off one another.
It was also a great source of accurate information which I am now using here on VT.
By getting 5 different peoples perspective on an experience or an accomodation, I feel we were able to form a more unbiased rating system for our tips.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to the Masai Mara for a safari, was because of its high concentration of cheetahs. We have been on many safaris in the past, in many different parks in many different countries, and never yet seen a cheetah. So this was my goal for this trip.
Fondest memory: The moment I spotted my first cheetah was absolutely magical. We saw a congregation of vehicles on our very first game drive, and the driver explained that this is cheetah country. I didn't believe I would be so lucky as to see a cheetah withing a couple of hours of arriving at the camp, but there, on the plains, were three beautiful cheetahs! I couldn't get my eyes off them, they were just so amazing!
One of the most amazing things about the balloon safari, was obviously seeing the animals from the air. We saw:
Fondest memory: We woke up a large herd of buffalo when we turned on the burner almost right above them, and a stampede ensued.
Also seeing a small elephant herd with little babies.
You will be offered souveniers from the Masaai whenever you enter a park. This is particularly true at the Mara and Amboseli, home to the tribe.
The Masai will approach your vehicle and try to shove trinkets and hand made items in through the windows encouraging you to bid on the items.
Prices are extremely inflated, even by Western standards.
You should offer at the most only 20 - 30 percent of what they initially quote (they'll act insulted), gradually coming up in price as the negotiations keep taking place.
NOTE: This will all be taking place very fast while your guide pays for your entry fees to the park.
The secret is to stand firm and realize that ultimately, both parties should agree on approximately 40 - 50% of the original price.
Don't dispair, the item you saw them selling back there will undoubtedly be found again at another shopping stop! Theirs is but an exact duplicate of a craft done by the Masai for many generations!
One of my favourite things about the camp was the resident bushbuck that wandered freely around the grounds, seemingly habituated to human presence. You'd be returning from a day's game drive, and find a buck grazing just outside your tent or alseep alongside it.
Fondest memory: At night, monkeys would scamper across the roof and you could hear them squeeling in the evening and early morning as they they settled territory dosputes or were just playfighting in the bushes.
The days when we would have an early morning and a late afternoon game drive rather than an all-day safari, we had time to laze around the pool in the middle of the dday.
Fondest memory: Set in amongst the trees, the pool was a real haven of tranquility. Most of the time we were there completely on our own, just surrounded by numerous colourful birds who appeared totally unperturbed by our presence.
During our night drive, the guide found a suitable spot for us to get out of the vehicle, stretch our legs, answer the call of nature and just generally enjoy the hugeness of the African night sky.
Fondest memory: The crew carried a flask of hot chocolate with them on the game drive, and there, in the middle of the bush, in pitch dark, we are standing in the game reserve, drinking hot chicolate. Surreal!
Driving along the track, I squeeled for the driver to stop! I'd seen something small and furry move in the grass. He didn't believe me at first when I said there were lion cubs in the long grass, but eventually agreed to turn around.
Fondest memory: There, in the buff-coloured grass, were the two tiniest litttle lion cubs you could imagine. They were certainly not a week old yet, they could hardly walk on their little legs.
Mother was nowhere to be seen, and these cubs were very vulnerable on their own in the middle of the grasslands, especially with a large herd of elephants nearby.
One of my favourite moments on the entire trip, was coming across three juvenile cheetahs resting in the shade of a bush. We were the only people there, the driver switched his engine off and we just sat there for ages, admiring the beautiful markings on these animals.
Fondest memory: We were literally only about 1.5m (4.5 feet) away from these cheetah. One of the main reasons I wanted to come to the Mara was to see cheetah, and to be so near to them for so long was a real dream come true for me!
I really wanted to visit a Maasai village during our trip to Kenya this time, as we've not had any near contact with these colourful peoples on any of our previous visits to Kenya.
The name of the village was Stokodel Manyatta, where traditional dances were put on for our visit.
Fondest memory: I was not disappointed. Although there was a charge for visiting, this was a genuine village, not one laid on for the tourists. 85 people lived here, seven families, along with 675 cattle. We met a lot of the people, talked to a few, saw a man who's come out the victor in a fight with a lion and had the chance to go inside one of their houses.
Favorite thing: It is a totally unforgettable experience to sit at a table laid on the middle of the Africa plain, set with table cloth, surrounded by wild animals and grasslands as far as the eye can see, eating frshly cooked eggs, bacon, sausages and fried potatoes, accompanied by champagne.
Hippos use a single path across the country when they emerge from their watery day-home to their grazing area in the evening. This is to minimise the impact of their footprints on the grass.
Fondest memory: We visited a hippo pool and walking back to the vehicle we came across this foorprint made by a hippo, probably the very same morning. I found this absolutely amazing, to be walking along a hippo path!
Nature Encounters, based in the USA, gave me an amazing Masai Mara experience. The booked all the flights, lodges, local guides, and all. They are expencive however, but genuine. I had Masai guides and visited real Masai villages, rather than "tourist villages" like I was stuck with in Tanzania. Highly reccomended.
Their website is: http://www.natureencounterstours.com/
It is most of the time worth to visit the Masai Mara, there is always something to see. But there are some things you should consider. Between may and july millions of wildebeest and zebra migrate into the masai mara from the serengeti. In begin november they were gone back to Tanzania again.
Then there are the rain periods, the short rains in november and december, and the long rains from april to june.