A Self-Drive Safari in Kenya
The idea of arriving in an African country like Kenya and immediately hiring a car and heading out on safari can seem a little daunting to some, but most people wouldn't think twice about doing the same thing on a beach holiday to Spain or France.
Why is that I wonder? I think it is just the fear of the unknown, with a holiday to Spain you know what your going to get and about the only things you have to worry about are driving on the wrong side of the road and and traffic jams especially near the beach resorts! This familiarity has it's advantages, you feel you are in control, but sometimes the unknown is what can turn a normal experience into a magical one, so if you enjoy adventure and are not afraid of some unknowns, maybe a Self Drive Safari in Kenya is for you? It is important to stress that it is not for everyone and to help you decide if it is for you, I have written this guide just give you a small idea of what to expect.
Organising and driving on your own safari does not always mean that it's is going to be cheaper than the "packaged" version, depending on what type of accommodation you decide to stay at. But for ever good there is a bad (that ying and yang thing) and I guess the bad side to a DIY safari in this case is you have to do all the organising and planning, but then again sometimes this can be a bonus as the sense of freedom that you get is very liberating as you truly are on an adventure.
Best of both worlds?
If all that organising makes you feel like packing it all in already, there are also companies out there that can do all the hard work for you, they will provide you with a suitable 4x4 vehicle and a recommended route and even book the accommodation for you, this obviously comes at a cost and takes away a little of that freedom we were cherishing a few moments before, but on the plus side someone else does all the leg work for you and they have the benefit of knowing the lay of the land and recommending places that you should go and see.
Are we there yet?
Once you get the keys in your hands, the African continent is literally your oyster but I will concentrate on the more modest, but by no means less spectacular adventure of a Self Drive Safari to the Masai Mara.
You can hire a 4x4 in Nairobi, which is probably where your Safari holiday will start and you can even get your vehicle right from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I recommend organising the vehicle hire before arriving in Kenya. It is then a drive out of Nairobi which can be a little hectic, just to say the least! At this point it is important to stress that a quality 4x4 is essential and it is not only for all the pot holes in the roads of Nairobi as there will be more challenging roads ahead!
If you have a little time on your hands, you may consider visiting the The Giraffe Centre in Langata and not far from that Karen Blixen's house in the suburb of Karen, both just outside Nairobi and both I highly recommend.
How to get to the Mara
To get to the Masai Mara, you need to head towards the town of Narok (See the Kenya Map) which will take you around three and a half to four hours, please note it will take at least four hours to get to the Mara itself. Along the way it is a good opportunity to see the Kenyan countryside and you'll once again be grateful that you have sturdy suspension on your vehicle. Even though the main road has been repaired there are stilly some pretty nasty craters in the road before Narok and there are about 35km of untarred road to get through before you reach the main gate.
To sum up: From Nairobi take the Narok road coming down from the escarpment towards Maai Mahiu when you get to Maai Mahiu follow the direction to Narok (C12, bording the Mt Longonot). After Narok, continue onto the maingate at the Masai Mara (Sekenani gate).
The distance from Nairobi to Maai Mahiu is 75 km
From Maai Mahiu to Narok is 125 km
From Narok to Sekenani gate is 67 km
The Masai Mara
It cost us US$40 as non Kenyans to enter the reserve (in 2006) and then once you get inside the Mara you will really begin to appreciate not only having a 4x4 but also the fact that you have the freedom of your own transport being able to stop at any time to view what ever comes your way. With us, it wasn't long before we found ourselves sitting and watching a herd of elephants.
Masai Mara Camping!
There are quite a few campsites in the Mara reserve and I know there are many people interested in camping safaris in Kenya. There is the pretty basic self catering Base camp, which is close to the Talek Gate, then there is an eco-camp striving for sustainable tourism, with all the waste being recycled and has a "long-drop" for a toilet. My advice is try a few of the camps, they all have their own unique character and stay longer at the ones that suit your preferences best!
We were heading for Spurwing camp which is not to far from the Sekenani Gate. (See the Mara Map) We would be spending the night in tents and on arrival we were pleasantly surprised as it was not nearly as basic as we thought it may have been with the tents even big enough to stand up in and beds complete with pretty comfortable mattresses . Spurwing camp in the Mara has a kitchen and a dining room which are more than adequate and like any good campsite there were nice hot showers.
From most of the larger camps in the Mara, you can hire a Maasai guide for around 2000 shillings and with their experience not only will they be able to guide you towards the best sightings but will also give you some valuable information on what ever it is that you are looking at. On our first day we managed to spot amongst others, elephant, lions warthogs, zebra and of course the wildebeest which because of their annual migration have made the mara famous.
Another great place we visited is in the center of the Masai Mara and is called Mara Intrepids. This camp is a little more upmarket and has a swimming pool and you get to sleep on four poster beds. From here you can also go on bird walks and they can also organise a balloon safari for you.
So, if you want to strike it out on your own and enjoy a self drive safari, I feel a good starting point is Kenya and why not try one of the most famous reserves in all of Africa, the Masai Mara.
Camping Equipment Hire for a Kenyan Self Drive Safari
There are several place in Nairobi that hire out camping equipment if you need it. I would ideally leave a few days in Nairobi to to get your vehicle and camping gear sorted. You may also want to test drive your choice of vehicle around Nairobi before taking it out on Safari.
Some sort of identification is usually required (passport) and I recommend advance booking which will also save you time. You can expect to pay around 500 kenyan shillings for a sleeping bag per day and around 800 shillings for a two person tent.
Map of the Masai mara Game Reserve
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