Lots of Stuff Overpriced, Familiarize Beforehand
There are several different types of shops available in and around the Masai Mara reserve.
The first ones that you will come to are the "restroom tourist trap" shops on the roads leading to the reserve. As restrooms on the dirt roads are few and far between, these enterprising small towns have set up shops where people sell their "local crafts". In order to get to the toilets, you must walk through the store section, where you will be urged to buy anything and everything.
A much less pressured environment are those gift shops that are located right inside the game lodges inside the reserve. The prices are fairly high, and there is much less motive for negotiation over the prices. Keekorok has a much larger store than Sopa lodge, so it may be worthwhile having your driver stop there for a toilet break and a look at the gift shop located there. Sopa lodge is not worth going out of your way to visit the gift shop, and there isn't much interesting between the reserve entry gate and the branch road that goes up to the Lodge.
The local hawkers that are described in other VirtualTourist tips written by other, such as those that hang out at the main entrance gate, were not around on the days that we went through the gates. Possibly the officials have started chasing these people away.
What to buy: Before arriving at Masai Mara, become familiar with the prices that are being charged in the Nairobi markets for various items, and their prices. That way you will know if you are being horribly overcharged for an item. Sure, you expect prices to be higher in a tourist destination like Masai Mara, but you should also know what the prices are so that you can bargain better.
Certain items are unique to Masai Mara, such as items with the name of the park on them.
What to pay: As a general rule, things are cheaper in Nairobi. However, certain items unique to Masai Mara do exist. Due to the price gouging, you are probably best off buying generic items elsehwere. If you are being charged more than the already insane prices at the Nairobi airport, try your best to bargain lower ("I can get that at half the price at the most expensive spot in Nairobi.")
- National/State Park
Masaai Village: Buy directly from the Masaai - but BARGAIN!
As part of your safari package, chances are, you'll be offered the obligatory trip to the local Masaai Village as part of your excursion.
The village is designed to look and feel like an authentic working village - and indeed it is (or was at one time).
Reality is that very few Masaai actually still live this way. Most now have public housing and attend public school. Cellphones are a basic staple to their traditional attire and goverment medical attention is provided.
Non the less, seeking to make a buck on us tourists, the village performs and comes to life with the arrival of new tour groups.
This works two-fold: It offers us an insight into the way life for the Masaai is / was and affords us the opportunity to purchase handicrafts directly from them which in turn goes towards perservation of their culture.
I found it funny however, once I'd established a friendly, honest relationship with one of the young Masaai guides, that the fabric they wear actually comes from Scotland and they have a brokered deal with them!
What to buy: If you do go, be prepared for an overwhelming array of arts/crafts. From beaded necklaces and ceremonial masks to spears and shields.
From Blankets and fabrics - (see note above about Scotland), to jewelry, bracelets and earrings.
Traditional Lion clubs, ebony carvings, hand painted wooden statues and beautifully carved spears which are collapsable for easy transport, are also a good buy.
NOTE: Although they will sell you "soap stone" pottery and trinkets, chances are these are not authentic soapstone but ceramic or clay which will arrive broken in your suitcase. Yes, we fell for this one!
Whatever the starting price of the item (established by them), counter offer as low as 10 or 20% and barter back and forth. NEVER pay more than 40 or 50% of what someone asks. Again, this was insight by our Masaai friend.
Shopping consists of you walking around a large circular tribal shopping area where all the "local people" who "live there" have gathered their wares.
You walk along with a chosen Masaai warrior who happily picks up anything you so much as glance at, all the while assuring you he will "make you good price, don't worry".
What to pay: After you've walked around the entire perimiter, he gathers various buddies of his (only men, women are not allowed into the negotiations) and they take you aside to begin the bidding game.
We were offered a starting price of USD $280.00 for about 20 items, including a spear, clubs, jewelry, carvings and various other things.
I quickly started removing things from the bunch, laughed but sternly said NO WAY, can't afford that, I'll give you $40.00!
They gasped, made facial expressions...replaced things I'd removed, went down to $150...
This went on for about 30 minutes. Eventually, we ended up paying $80.00 for the lot and all seemed happy.
It's time consuming, can be overwhelming but it's part of the experience. You can either fight it or take it in stride and join in the game. Makes for great photo ops!
Maasai Village: Maasai Jewellery
The Kenyans are commercialised people, so you can find the local souvenirs just about anywhere you go. You can even find the Maasai souvenirs in Nairobi. However, it's quite nice to shop for some souvenirs in the Masai Village because the people are friendly and will constantly persuade you to buy from their stall
What to buy: There are some pretty Maasai glass bead jewellery that catch my eye e.g. Pretty necklaces, bracelets and rings. The red Maasai capes are also a nice & practical souvenir
What to pay: You MUST bargain. Try asking 1/2 of the price before you settle
- National/State Park
- Women's Travel
Stalls alongside the road: Souvenirs
All along the side of the road leading up to the gates, as well as in the village we visited, are stall selling souvenirs and local craft.
What to buy: Most popular items were bead jewellery, carved wooden animals and Maasai blankets.
What to pay: Check out the price of the items in the lodge gift shop before you go. Bargain for whatever item you are interested in. Don't pay more than a few dollars for things, but don't rip off the locals either. Remember they've got to make a living!
- National/State Park
A map of the Mara: To plot your course and see where you've been
Almost every tourist shop, including the little gift shop in the camp, sells maps of the Mara. It is interesting to see how much of the reserve you have covered, and which routes you have been driving, so I would recommend getting one.
What to pay: We paid US$9 for this one, but they are available more expensive than that.
- National/State Park
Masai village: Craft, craft and more craft
After the tour of the village the Masai display all their handcrafted items. These range from wood carvings, warrior shields and lots of beaded jewellery.