Setting off to take up a front-row seat in the Animal Kingdom’s back yard, we watched the majestic Kenyan sunrise on a crisp weekend morning, like an image straight out of animated musical hit, The Lion King. It was just one of many scenes that would remain an indelible symbol from an unforgettable trip to the Masai Mara – one of Africa and Kenya’s most popular game reserves, about 270 kilometers south-west of the capital, Nairobi. As we began to traverse the 1800-km stretch of the Mara on a matatu – or mini bus – our hope was to see some, if not all, of the so-called Big Five: the leopard, lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo. And, of course, the famous annual migration of wildebeest herds making their way from the Serengeti into the Mara, was at the top of our list. The one-and-a-half-day safari would spoil us, but we wouldn’t quite sate that wish.
Seeing animals up close, from lions to cheetahs to hordes of wildebeest and hippos, believed to be Africa’s most dangerous animal, was as breathtaking as it was inspirational. The dozens of wildebeest sprinting across verdant plains; giraffes munching on acacia leaves for breakfast; a family of hippos, half-submerged in lakes, opening their tusk-esque teeth to a jaw-dropping 150 degrees; and beautiful herds of zebra, oblivious to all around them. As we chatted amongst ourselves about reminiscences of The Lion King – the 1994 Hollywood film about how young cub, Simba, searches for his identity – we happened upon an incredible lion, sizing up its prey.
Using the grasslands as camouflage, our driver, Jack, stopped the matatu to watch as a gripping one-hour, tension-laden game unfolded. Would the lion get its prey?
Lions are known to be the only big cats that hunt in packs, sniffing out zebra, wildebeest and gazelle, but they also attack buffalo, hippos and giraffes. On this occasion, however, the lion was alone and eyeing up one of the stunning zebra, standing around 100 metres from its short-grass haven. As we waited in expectation of the scene to unfold before us, we were told by our kindly guide that just one-in-five attempts will end in a kill. And so, with one zebra straying from the group, the lion seized its moment, and a game of nail-biting, cat-and-mouse ensued, with the desperate zebra running for its life, charging into a bush and somehow managing to avert the hungry gaze of the simba. Whilst we didn’t catch that tantalising, curtain-closing moment, at prices like these, we’ll be back again soon.
Tips on travelling to the Masai Mara:
How to get there? It’s around a six-hour journey from Kenyan capital, Nairobi, via mini-bus, with the last two hours a ride over rough terrain. But you pass some gift shops and get a bird’s-eye view of the country’s rolling landscape.
Where to stay? We stayed at the Tipilikwani Lodge, a luxury camp made up of 20 tents overlooking the banks of the Talek River. If you’ve had a particularly tough day on safari, you can unwind on one of the hammocks in the garden or sample one of the spa services on offer ☺
How much does it cost? Contact The Holiday Dealers or on Facebook We got a bargain deal, based on 12 travelling, for 24,550Sh-per-person (or $280 at the time of writing). With a bush dinner and lunch on the Mara, a two-night stay at the five-star lodge and transport to and from Nairobi thrown in and, given some safaris can cost up to $300-a-day, this was a bargain.
*It comes at a time when Kenya’s tourist industry has been affected in recent months since the Westgate shopping mall attacks in Nairobi and a spate of small-scale incidents around the country. With that in mind, you could probably snap up a bargain – as we did. The Masai Mara, however, is located in the south-west in Narok County, where there have been no incidents up until now.