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Julia returns to the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara in March is quite simply stunning. The verdant rolling plains and purple-blue haze of the Oloololo escarpment offer a picturesque landscape and the perfect backdrop to superb game viewing. The Masai Mara is truly rich with game and the variety and concentration of animals is unbeatable.

The light rains at the start of the year give rise to new shoots and green pastures, creating the perfect conditions for the plains game to calve. The number of wildebeest, zebra and antelope newborns at this time of year is a joy to behold. With a long gestation period (around 8 months for wildebeest and 10 months for zebra) the calves are born ready and are on their feet literally within minutes of birth, it really is quite incredible and of course vital for survival. The beautiful kudu babies, with large dewy eyes and big ears are definitely my favourite!

The Masai Mara is well known for its excellent predator sightings, and not only did I see plenty of cats, I was also lucky to see lion, leopard and cheetah cubs. A highlight was to see a lioness introduce her 8-week old cubs to the pride. Leaving her cubs hidden in the bushes, the female slowly approached the dominant male, carefully nuzzling against his thick mane and rolling onto her back in a submissive display. Sensing it was now safe to approach, the cubs emerged from their hiding place, and inched closer on their bellies, before leaping onto their father’s tail and bravely (or foolishly!) chewing on it. This was met with a fierce tail swat and roar, scaring the cubs back to the safety of the bush. This same scenario played out a few times, before the huge male relented and allowed his inquisitive cubs to jump onto his giant paws, accepted at last! From here, mother and cubs moved cautiously to each member of the pride in turn. After a few more tail swats, growling and gnashing of teeth, the cubs were accepted into the pride. It really was a special moment and we were lucky to see it!

The game viewing areas of the Masai Mara are made up of the National Reserve and neighbouring private conservancies. The sheer volume of animals in the Masai Mara makes it one of the best game viewing regions in all of Africa and the private conservancies offer an exclusive safari experience with fewer vehicles and tourists. On this trip I visited camps in the National Reserve as well as the private Naboisho, Olare Motorogi and Mara North conservancies. Throughout my trip, I experienced the wonderful warmth and hospitality from the Kenyan camp staff, and the guiding too was superb. In Kenya, the guide training programme is well established and structured and the quality of the guiding that I experienced overall was excellent. The guiding qualification in Kenya is based on a bronze, silver or gold rated system which is producing good quality and some cases exceptional guides. The Maasai guides in particular have a wonderful understanding of animal behaviour, and seem to be able to interpret their mood and predict their movements. It also interesting to learn more about Maasai culture, their lives and beliefs. I truly love spending time with the Maasai, learning from them and sharing stories, and I always leave feeling richer for the experience.

Another highlight on this trip was walking with James, a Maasai guide from Alex Walker’s Serian ‘The Original’, on Serian’s own private and exclusive conservation area on the banks of the Mara River. Walking always enlivens the senses, and the slower pace allows time to explore the smaller, more intricate aspects of the bush. On a walking safari you can learn about tracking animals, identifying footprints and dung, useful or medicinal plants and those to be avoided, the complex structure and hierarchy of a termite mound, and the sensitive balance of the ecosystem which is vital to the ongoing health of the bush. Along the river we also saw grunting hippo pods and sun baking crocs, as well as herds of topi and giraffe – a wonderful way to start the day!

The Masai Mara really does offer a fantastic safari experience and is ideal for first-timers, as well as regular safari goers. I am lucky to have visited numerous time and the safari experience is always superb. I can’t wait to go again…

Before heading home, there was one last chance for a safari experience in Nairobi. My last night of the trip was spent at The Emakoko, a charming, luxury lodge overlooking, and with direct access to, Nairobi National Park. This is a wonderful property with a high level of personal service and without a doubt, the best food experience of my trip. My afternoon game drive in Nairobi National Park was very good and I’ll be honest, I was surprised at how varied the game viewing was considering the park is located on the outskirts of bustling Nairobi. With the balance of lovely accommodation, wonderful food, wine and service, and a final game drive en-route to the Airport, this was a fantastic way to end the trip!

Julia visited: Four Points Sheraton at Nairobi Airport, Tamarind Tree Hotel, Naboisho Camp, Encounter Mara Camp, Kicheche Valley Camp, Kicheche Bush Camp, Mara Plains Camp, Mara Expedition Camp, Porini Lion Camp, Kicheche Mara Camp, Karen Blixen Camp, Neptune Mara Rianta Luxury Camp, Ngare Serian, Sanctuary Olonana, &Beyond Bateleur Camp, &Beyond Kichwa Tembo, Governors Il Moran, Governors Camp, Serian’s Nkorombo, Rekero Camp, Mara Intrepids, Mara Bush Camp.

Julia stayed at: Ol Seki Hemingways Mara, Mahali Mzuri, Elephant Pepper Camp, Serian ‘The Original’, Offbeat Mara Camp, Little Governors, Naibor Camp and The Emakoko.