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Old 17th October 2016, 01:46   #1
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Default Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Dear BHP'ians,

I was planning to post this since past one month, could finally get the writing in place. I spent 2 months in Nairobi this year from May till early July. Those 8 weekends in Kenya and Tanzania were among the best visual treats I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. Having been doing photography for past 6 years, visiting the Mara was a dream come true, thanks to my company!

I will try to cover all aspects for visiting these places with approx expenses.

Africa is a beautiful continent when it comes to wildlife. The abundance of savanna makes it a perfect living habitat for one of the most ferocious hunters this earth inherits. The big 5 (Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo) as they are often quoted on Nat Geo and Discovery channels are called so, since it was extremely difficult for the Masai people (the tribals) to hunt them down with their age old techniques. The following picture is from the border of Kenya - Tanzania. Whilst it shows the scope for development, it also indicates the pristine natural atmosphere.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_6381.jpg

The landscape of Kenya is skewed to 99% of the population residing below the equator which divides the country into exact halfs. The 3 major towns of Nairobi, Mombassa (Goa of Kenya) and Kisumu hold large chunks of the population. The major places of interest for wildlife enthusiasts are:

A: Masai Mara Sanctuary
B: Hells gate National Park
C: Naivasha Lake Bird Sanctuary
D: Amboseli National Park

This post describes my experience at the Mara NP.

The african savanna of masai mara is a part of the larger Sanctuary named Serengeti National park which spreads into three countries. This part of the world is famous for the migration of wildebeests and zebras who cross the mara river into Kenya from Tanzania in search of food. The journey till Masai Mara can be done by air/road from Nairobi. It is advisable to travel in groups of 7-8 by road since that saves a lot of money (Economies of scale). There are 6 air strips inside the Mara Triangle with private airlines flying the 14 seater planes from the Wilson Airport in Nairobi. This airport is some 15 kms from the Modern Day Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in outskirts of Nairobi city.

The best time of the year to visit the Mara is from late July until November (Peak season during which the migration happens). We visited the Mara in first week of June (post the rainy season) in a group of 8 from Nairobi.

There are a lot of reputed travel agencies operating out of Nairobi that specialize in Masai Mara road trips. I contacted multiple agencies before finalizing an itinerary with Tour Africa Services. The itinerary was as follows:

Day 1

We started from Nairobi Westlands at 6 am towards the Oloololo Gate of the Trans-mara county. The jungles of Mara are controlled by 2 counties and the inner Mara triangle (inside the gates) has much better game-drives. That also means that accommodation inside the conservatory is much more expensive. The drive till the gate had tar road for first 100 kms.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-road-masai-mara.jpg

The last stretch of 150 kms was a muddy road through Wheat fields and plain savanna.

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We were traveling in a 4*4 Toyota Land-cruiser modified to accommodate 8 people apart from the driver to enable superior game-viewing. The other option to travel with was the tuk-tuk but its lower ride height restricts the places one can enter inside the savanna. With the land cruiser we could cross river streams to small mud ponds easily. At one of the places we even pulled a tuk-tuk from a mud pond thanks to the sheer power the Land Cruiser generates.
Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-land-cruiser.jpeg


Our driver Peter was our guide for the next three days. He was into the profession for last 20 years and had eyes of a tiger!

The Oloololo Gate for Masai Mara National park:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_5837.jpg

We reached our Hotel (Mara Serena) inside the mara triangle by 3 pm and were enthralled by the visual beauty around.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_6360.jpg

The hotel is on a small hill and the visibility is for a few kms in all the directions. We were welcomed with a nice passion fruit drink and this view from the balcony of the hotel:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_35642.jpg

The bookings were already managed by TAS and we had our luggage shifted to our cottages by the helpers. We went straight to have lunch and were surprised to find a full course Indian menu waiting for us. The non veg menu was classic with fish/chicken/beef. The vegetarian menu was nice as well. We finished our lunch and post a small nap, were ready for our first game drive of the evening We started at 4 pm and went to the south of the triangle along the mara river. Our first spotting was of a full grown African lion!! Man, I must say, he was such a beast!

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_231723.jpg

We waited there for 15 more minutes and could see 3 more of them. A good part about the African game drive is the communication system. Each vehicle is fitted with a GPS tracker and a wireless communication system. The driver conveniently relays the location of a spotting.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_250622.jpg

We then moved ahead and could spot a lot of African elephants and giraffes:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_20962.jpg

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_30632.jpg

A water buck was about to charge on our cruiser!! Water bucks are biggest in the antelope family:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_20842.jpg

We could spot few more animals during the game drive:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_21232.jpg

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_27162.jpg

The last spotting of the day was an ostrich:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_33572.jpg

This sunset view shall remain etched into my heart for this lifetime:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_24843.jpg

We were all tired and sleepy by the time we headed back to our hotel. The dinner was fantastic and live music was a plus point.

Day 2:

We began the day early at 5:30 am and Peter was prompt enough to let us know a day in advance about the travel plan for next day. We had a cup of coffee/tea and we began our first game drive of the day.

This view sipping the tea was mesmerizing:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_6055.jpg

Within 5 mins we had spotted African elephants greeting each other with their trunk:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_26572.jpg

A bunch of Hyenas had been smart to steal a kill from a cheetah and they were having their tummy full early morning:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_27652.jpg

This huge gathering of African buffaloes scared us off till hell, only for peter to calm us down!!

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_27462.jpg

Eagle on top of a tree:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_30252.jpg

1 hour into the drive searching for the leopard and cheetah, Peter suddenly received a message on the wireless and he rode faster than a cheetah to the location. We successfully narrowed down a pair of cheetah who were on the lookout for making a hunt of the gazelles. I was mesmerized the way the land-cruiser was driven into the savanna. There were no roads and peter just took the car into the grasslands as if it was a smooth tarmac.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_285722.jpg

I took more than 200 shots of the pair and it was one of the best mornings of my life. I witnessed a cheetah like 5 mtrs away!!

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_28782.jpg

We then continued our game drive and could spot a lioness hiding behind the bushes near the impalas. We went back to the hotel around 9 am the afternoon was spent chilling by the poolside. We had some nice cocktails on the go. I spent some time reading books and processing the pics whilst my friends were busy diving into the pool.

Our 2nd game drive for the day at 4 pm was again a routine spotting of elephants and giraffes. This time we could spot a hippo outside the river (rare spotting). The night was young until 3 am with a bonfire and some friendly banter with colleagues.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_209732.jpg

This one looks like a modern day Jurassic park!!

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_217332.jpg

Day 3:

The plan was to have a short game drive in the morning and then visit a masai village on the way back to Nairobi by evening. We could spot another pair of lions and rhinos and a few zebras on our way back.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_35282.jpg

We were even chased by this little elephant:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_322922.jpg

We then visited the masai village. It was more of a staged village, but never the less, we got some useful history lessons by the group leader. The masai people, dressed in their traditional red and blue dresses welcome guests with a special dance of their own. They jump in the air to welcome people:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_35742.jpg

The journey back home was horrendous thanks to the overnight rains spoiling the muddy roads. I was amazed by the power of the land-cruiser. We reached back home by 7 pm and crashed straight into the bed since we had a flight to catch for Zanzibar the next morning.

Expenses:

We spent close to 450$ pp for 2 nights and 3 days for all our expenses. Few of us were able to manage a work permit from our workplace and then the park entry fees were peanuts (4$ a day compared to 70$ a day otherwise). The visit to the masai village costed each one of us 50$ but we had already negotiated the deal with TAS. The pricing varies from season to season but most of my friends who have been to the mara were jealous of the deal we had cracked:

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Overall it was a worthwhile experience, but we would have loved to spend 2 more nights inside the mara triangle to catch a glimpse of the Leopard. We could spot 4 of the Big 5 and were slightly disappointed. There are a lot of moving camps inside the triangle in case you are looking out for budget camping options. I had read about few incidences on TripAdvisor about animals lurking inside the camps at nighttime due to smell of the food and went for the safer option of staying at a permanent property instead.

Will add more photos in my next post. Till then happy reading!

-Saurabh Sathe

Last edited by Aditya : 18th October 2016 at 07:20. Reason: Added more information
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Old 18th October 2016, 00:40   #2
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Default re: Road tripping through the African Savanna : Masai Mara & Zanzibar dairies

The Masai Mara trip was an eye opener in many ways. We could experience nature in its true form, far away from civilization. Maybe thats the reason, people still dream to visit the mara once in their lifetime.

Few of the shots from Day 2 and Day 3:

An African wild buffalo (One of the big 5):

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_26542.jpg

Deers and elephants grazing around:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_24942.jpg

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_26932.jpg

Few snaps of the cheetah pair:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_28422.jpg

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_29712.jpg

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_30222.jpg

This view of a full grown African elephant was one of the best views from the drive:

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_31062.jpg

And finally the pic that makes me feel proud and sad in some way. Its an endangered white rhino. Only 94 of them are left in this world now.

Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-img_32692.jpg

Hope you all loved the pics. Happy viewing!!

- Saurabh Sathe
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Old 18th October 2016, 07:24   #3
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Default re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 18th October 2016, 08:59   #4
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Default re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Thank you for sharing your experience at the Mara. The photographs are very good. i particularly like the one with the giraffe and the oxpecker bird. I hope that my identification is correct.
Just one clarification. Was the expenses US$ 450 pppn (per person, per night) or for the two nights and three days. reason i ask is since you have mentioned park entry fees as US$ 70 per day, but totalled the other expenses which could be lump sum.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...es-expense.jpg

Great narrative too.
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Old 18th October 2016, 09:31   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
Thank you for sharing your experience at the Mara. The photographs are very good. i particularly like the one with the giraffe and the oxpecker bird. I hope that my identification is correct.
Just one clarification. Was the expenses US$ 450 pppn (per person, per night) or for the two nights and three days. reason i ask is since you have mentioned park entry fees as US$ 70 per day, but totalled the other expenses which could be lump sum.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...es-expense.jpg

Great narrative too.

My bad! Will edit the excel. The park entry fees were 70$ a day, so total expenses were close to 520$ for 2 days and 3 nights.
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Old 18th October 2016, 10:55   #6
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Originally Posted by saurabh89 View Post
520$ for 2 days and 3 nights.
I believe you mean 2 nights and 3 days. India is still quite affordable for wild life safaris. In the African continent the average spends for a reasonably comfortable place would be US$ 250-300 pppn.
However, we in India need to make things simpler. We have all kinds of charges, which overall though lower than our African friends, bring out the ire in visitors. One example is camera fees, which vary from simple to electronic; amateur to professional; video to still; and so on. In Gujarat, many foreign wildlife enthsiasts find such camera fees exorbidant. Another area where we need to simplify is permits, but that is another discussion.
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Old 18th October 2016, 11:50   #7
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Quote:
India is still quite affordable for wild life safaris. In the African continent the average spends for a reasonably comfortable place would be US$ 250-300 pppn.
I felt the prices were higher only for foreign nationals in Kenya, which is very much the case in India as well. I remember my French friends had to pay close to 10x park entry fees in Kaziranga last year compared to rates for Indian citizens. But still, price discrimination is not that skewed in India for foreign nationals.

Maybe Price Discrimination is way to control the quality of visitors to all these parks and maintain the habitat.
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Old 18th October 2016, 15:06   #8
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Default Re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Hi, you are blessed to have this opportunity in life. It re-kindles my memories of a short stint in Johannesburg during 2007 wherein I visited few game reserves and I agree, those are one of the best moments in life - spotting the game, what a thrill in a lovely surrounding and fantastic sunlit weather. It is indeed a beautiful country.

The feel you get when you drive inside the park cannot be matched. In many instances, we drove our own Toyota Yaris cars inside the park on our own. But, with a guide in larger vehicles, it is much better.

Excellent photographs of the animals and no more words of appreciation. Fantastic !.

Swami

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Old 18th October 2016, 16:42   #9
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Default Re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Great narrative and some awesome pics. The Mara is on my bucket list and perhaps one day I will go too.

It is good to see that more of us are travelling so much - nice to read reports from our own people.
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Old 19th October 2016, 00:03   #10
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Originally Posted by swami69 View Post
It re-kindles my memories of a short stint in Johannesburg during 2007 wherein I visited few game reserves and I agree, those are one of the best moments in life - spotting the game, what a thrill in a lovely surrounding and fantastic sunlit weather. It is indeed a beautiful country.

I presume you are talking about Kruger National park. That place is undoubtedly awesome. Unfortunately I couldn't visit SA last time. Would definitely plan the next time I visit Africa. And thanks for the appreciation!!

- Saurabh
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Old 19th October 2016, 14:26   #11
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Default Re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Hi,

Nice write up about the Masai-mara, and some fantastic pictures. I have visited Kenya for work but never got a chance to do the Masai-mara trip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saurabh89 View Post
I presume you are talking about Kruger National park. That place is undoubtedly awesome. Unfortunately I couldn't visit SA last time. Would definitely plan the next time I visit Africa.
South Africa is a definite must on your 'bucket list' if you are a wildlife enthusiast and photographer. I travel to South Africa often for work, and have visited quite a few of the wildlife sanctuaries there including Kruger park.

On a side note, if you ever travel to South Africa, do not miss a visit to Cape Town - it's one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever seen - and I have seen a few!

Best,
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Old 19th October 2016, 16:54   #12
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Default Re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Masai Mara has always been a dream destination for people like me who kept Discovery and NatGeo on the jump button. Planning for something in 2018. Your post is super inspiring. Thanks.
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Old 19th October 2016, 17:28   #13
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Originally Posted by saurabh89 View Post
The journey back home was horrendous thanks to the overnight rains spoiling the muddy roads.
Glad you liked that last ~60 kms of road straight from hell just before Mara. Broke my back and put our safari vehicle in the roadside ditch.

I did 9 days in Kenya in September 2016. Visited Tsavo East, Tsavo West, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli and Masai-Mara National Parks.

Brilliant photos . Waiting for the Tanzania leg.
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Old 19th October 2016, 20:11   #14
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Default Re: Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries

Great photologue

Those mud roads look like dream to drive on and reminds me of African Safari event. Unfortunately motorsport and wildlife preservation do not meet on common ground.
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Old 19th October 2016, 20:36   #15
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Road-tripping through the African Savanna : Maasai Mara & Zanzibar diaries-imageuploadedbyteambhp1476889456.781566.jpg

I took a screen shot from one of the videos I made during the journey. The truck got stuck in the mud and was being pulled by the tracktor. Enjoyed the show for half an hour before moving ahead.

I am not finding an option to upload the video directly, hence the screenshot!


Quote:
Originally Posted by TheInterceptor View Post
I did 9 days in Kenya in September 2016. Visited Tsavo East, Tsavo West, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli and Masai-Mara National Parks.

Brilliant photos . Waiting for the Tanzania leg.
Thanks!

I visited the hells gate national park and Lake Naivasha. Will write about them and then about Zanzibar!
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