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A safari is on practically each traveler’s bucket record, and if you happen to’re prepared to leap by means of the required hoops to get to Africa, it may be an epic expertise. However I’ve additionally seen firsthand that planning a visit to Africa for a safari isn’t for the faint of coronary heart.

Final yr, I traveled to the Masai Mara area of Kenya for a safari as a part of my honeymoon. The Masai Mara is, for my part, the simplest place to plan a safari – and among the best to see probably the most wildlife, too. It’s an excellent place to begin for anybody trying to take a safari journey.

Even so, the planning course of felt a bit overwhelming. Ultimately our journey went off (largely) with no hitch. Now I’m right here that can assist you do the identical.

For those who’re contemplating touring to Africa, advance preparation is vital. Listed here are my safari planning ideas that can assist you put collectively a stress-free journey to the Masai Mara this yr or subsequent.

Why the Masai Mara?

I’m tempted to simply let just a few of my images reply the query: Why ought to I plan my safari journey to the Masai Mara in Kenya?

Safari Guide 

Loads went into the choice to plan my honeymoon within the Masai Mara as an alternative of one of many different widespread safari websites in Africa.

The Masai Mara, also referred to as the Mara, is without doubt one of the hottest safari locations on the earth, and for good purpose. It’s a comparatively small space in comparison with the neighboring Serengeti (about 10 instances larger than the Mara) for example, however the animal populations there are thriving.

The Masai Mara is 583 square miles, so it’s not precisely an intimate setting both. But there are an estimated 850 to 900 lions in that space alone, and the safari guides know precisely methods to discover them.

The tip outcome: You don’t should drive far to search out wildlife exercise within the Masai Mara.

Safari guide 

You may get proper up shut and private to the animals, too. The wildlife are used to people and are utterly unthreatened by us as a result of they’re protected. Whereas poaching and looking of those animals was an issue, it’s been all however utterly eradicated within the area, in keeping with our guides.

The Masai individuals are strict conservationists with a non secular attachment to the land. It’s a fantastically maintained area of Africa, making it probably probably the most fertile wildlife-spotting area on the earth.

Safari Guide 

And the entry to this land is wonderful. Each safari clothing store and safari lodge has a fleet of vans just like the one above. These vans are sturdy and may drive nearly in every single place. We logged dozens and dozens of laborious miles day-after-day.

By laborious miles, I imply laborious miles. The roads are extraordinarily bumpy: We didn’t see a patch of pavement for 5 days whereas we’re there (so be sure to deliver dramamine if you’re vulnerable to automotive illness.) However the drives are value each bump, taking you to some spectacular vistas and wildlife viewing factors.

One more reason why the Masai Mara is an ideal safari vacation spot are the lodging alternatives. Simply take a look at this Google Maps “lodges” seek for all the area.

Safari camps Masai Mara 

There are dozens of choices for guests with designs on a Masai Mara journey at every kind of worth factors.

All through Africa, yow will discover different actually nice safari alternatives, too. Simply to the south of the Masai Mara is the Serengeti in Tanzania, which is a a lot bigger, extra unfold out model of the Mara. For those who’re trying to see species of gorilla, a visit to Uganda could be the best choice for you. And if you wish to see South Africa, there are many day journey wildlife excursions from there, too.

However for my cash, if you need an immersive safari camp expertise with the very best alternatives to see lions, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and extra, the Mara is the very best wager.


Moving into Africa

For those who’re bought on a visit to the Masai Mara, there are some issues it’s good to know and get executed earlier than you’ll be able to enter Tanzania or Kenya.

The Masai Mara is in Kenya, however it borders Tanzania and lots of vacationers – together with myself – will mix the 2 international locations right into a single journey in the event that they’re making the lengthy journey to East Africa. So after we boarded our flights to Tanzania and Kenya, I clutched a folder filled with paperwork and knowledge for my spouse and I, and a few of these paperwork got here at no small price.

From required vaccinations, to e-visas, and lingering COVID-19 restrictions, right here’s what it’s good to know to enter Kenya or Tanzania.

Paperwork Required to Go to Kenya and Tanzania

There are some issues I all the time deliver with me on worldwide journeys, like photocopies of my passport and detailed, printed out itineraries of all the journey. However my folder was slightly further plump heading to Africa.

Right here’s a operating record of what each individual must enter each Tanzania and Kenya:

  • Well being surveillance type (COVID-19-related)
  • E-Visa (~$100)
  • Passport (with six months of validity left)
  • Yellow Fever vaccination card
  • COVID-19 vaccination card (CDC playing cards have been accepted in each international locations)

First issues first: Be certain your passport has six months of validity previous your arrival date in Africa. Kenya and Tanzania each require vacationers to have six months of passport validity to enter the nation.

europe passport validity 

About one month earlier than our journey, my spouse found hers was not eligible, so we needed to do anUrgent Travel Passport renewal. It was nerve-racking, however utterly doable.

The COVID-19 well being varieties can be found on every nation’s U.S. Embassy web site. You could find the most recent restrictions and varieties on Kenya’s COVID-19 U.S. Embassy site and Tanzania’s COVID-19 U.S. Embassy site.

Totally vaccinated vacationers don’t want to check earlier than getting into Tanzania or Kenya.

Along with the COVID-19 necessities, each U.S. traveler to Kenya and Tanzania wants an e-visa which you could full earlier than your journey. Fortunately, these e-visas are very simple to fill out on-line and printing out your e-visas forward of your journey will prevent helpful time on the airport upon arrival.

Kenya e-visa 

You’ll must enter a bunch of details about your journey and take a headshot of your self for the e-visa, as nicely.

You’ll be able to fill out these varieties at Kenya’s e-visa website and Tanzania’s e-visa website.

We’re all used to COVID-19 restrictions, visas, and passports, however the trickiest entry restriction for Tanzania and Kenya is the Yellow Fever vaccine requirement.

The Yellow Fever vaccine is fairly broadly out there in the US, however it’s not a cheap shot. With out insurance coverage, the Yellow Fever vaccine can price anyplace from $200 to $400. And it’s important to have that yellow vaccination card with the intention to enter both nation.

My recommendation? Schedule a go to with a journey medication physician. My spouse and I went to an appointment collectively and the physician advised us the entire beneficial vaccinations for the area and was in a position to administer our Yellow Fever vaccine and provides us our proof, all in a half-hour’s work.

Different Issues You’ll Want within the Masai Mara

Along with the necessary pictures, our physician additionally beneficial we take a Malaria treatment. Malaria continues to be comparatively prevalent in East Africa. The mosquito stays the deadliest animal on the continent of Africa yr after yr.

Malaria collection fluctuate. Ours was a capsule that we began taking just a few days earlier than the journey and continued taking every day by means of about two weeks after the journey.

Relying by yourself vaccination historical past, the physician may inform you to re-up on another vaccinations earlier than heading to Tanzania and Kenya, too. I, for example, additionally bought the Typhoid Fever vaccine through the go to to cowl my bases.

Once more, I’d suggest reserving an appointment to care for this stuff. Our physician laid out every little thing in clear phrases to us, together with what we would have liked, what we must always have, and what we might elect to get by way of vaccinations for Africa.

Learn how to Get There

With regards to planning a safari to the Masai Mara, the very best place to fly to earlier than you join onto a bush flight is Nairobi Worldwide Airport (NBO).

Nairobi is a particularly well-connected African hub the place practically each main airline flies. Whether or not you like SkyTeam companions like Air France and KLM to Star Alliance companions like SWISS, Lufthansa, and Turkish or OneWorld companions like Qatar Airways, and different favorites like Emirates, you’ll have the ability to discover a connecting itinerary to Kenya, no drawback.

Moreover, Nairobi is a hub for Kenya Airways, which has a fairly sturdy route community all through Africa, Europe, Asia, and even to New York (JFK).

ZNZ airport 

For our journey to Africa, we flew Qatar Airways from Chicago (ORD) by means of Doha (DOH) to Zanzibar (ZNZ). After just a few days there, we grabbed a fast Kenya Airways flight from ZNZ to NBO.

We even bought a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro alongside the best way!

Mt. Kilimanjaro 

Past Nairobi, you can even fly to Dar es Salaam (DAR) in Tanzania, which has some connectivity to the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. Identical goes for Mombasa (MOI) in Kenya.

However far and away, probably the most handy choice is to start out your journey with a flight to NBO.


Flying to the Bush

It’s doable to drive to the Kenyan bush, however that doesn’t imply it’s a good suggestion.

It’s a few of the roughest bodily terrain on the earth. The roads are hardly roads. From every little thing we learn, it’s actually a idiot’s errand. Your finest wager for attending to the Masai Mara is to fly in on one of some airways that supply service to the area.

Airways that service the Masai Mara embody Safarilink, Air Kenya, or Mombasa Air Safari. Safarilink and Air Kenya function out of Nairobi-Wilson Airport (WIL) which isn’t to be confused with Nairobi Worldwide Airport (NBO). Mombasa Air Safari operates out of Mombasa in japanese Kenya.

In an effort to fly to the Mara from Nairobi, it’s important to get a automotive service or taxi between NBO and WIL. A one-way automotive service booked by means of Kenya Airways (our inbound flight operator from ZNZ to NBO) price us solely about $30, however the drive took near an hour. Nairobi has a few of the worst automotive site visitors on the earth, so construct in a multiple-hour connection if you happen to’re altering airports.

One of the simplest ways to guide these airways is immediately by means of their web site. However if you wish to get a way of their approximate schedules first, you’ll be able to seek for flights to the Masai Mara on Google Flights – though the small print could be deceptive.

This desk, from Safarilink’s web site, offers you a way at how continuously they function flights from Wilson (WIL) to the Masai Mara.

Safarilink to the Mara 

These flights, whereas commonly operated, aren’t your typical point-to-point flights. In nearly each case, these planes are making just a few stops on their approach to the ultimate vacation spot, even when the fare is bought as a “nonstop” flight. Safarilink masses and flies these planes primarily based on how many individuals are flying which routes.

Additionally, Nairobi-Wilson isn’t your typical airport. Every airline has it’s personal “terminal” like this one we used for Safarilink.

Safarilink terminal 

It’s fashionable and good on the within, that includes a present store, an upstairs lounge for paying prospects, and a snack bar within the again proper of the picture above. However attending to this terminal was a visit. Each automotive goes by means of the gates of the airport into what I can solely describe as an entire free-for-all, with vehicles and individuals are zig-zagging each which manner.

As soon as inside, nevertheless, Safarilink made every little thing fairly easy. We checked in with brokers behind the counter they usually whisked our luggage away for our flight.

Safarilink check-in 

Let’s discuss luggage. On our approach to Africa, flying Qatar Airways Enterprise Class, we got primarily zero restrictions about how a lot we might or couldn’t deliver. That isn’t the case on these tiny Cessna planes into the Masai Mara. The luggage restrictions are extraordinarily strict, so it’s important to pore over your fare phrases and circumstances earlier than you board.

We expertly packed our suitcases to fulfill very particular weight restrictions. Essentially the most distinctive restriction: You aren’t allowed to have any hard-sided suitcases onboard Safarilink and different bush flights. That gave the impression to be the norm for all of the airways servicing the Masai Mara. Exhausting suitcases are tougher to pack into the underbellies of the tiny planes.

Safarilink baggage 

With a baggage weight restrict of 33 kilos (or 15 kgs) per individual, I needed to buy an additional heavy bag every manner that might weigh as much as 50 kilos. We stored the opposite one shut sufficient to 33 that the agent allow us to slide with only one further bought bag.

From the terminal window, we might see our aircraft able to depart. As you’ll be able to see, it isn’t fairly the 787 we arrived to Africa on.

Safarilink Cessna 

When it was time to fly, we lined up exterior of the aircraft to board, advised a baggage handler which luggage have been ours, and he gave us a thumbs up that we might get on the aircraft. We have been assigned seats in row two. Apparently row one is for the pilots.

Safarilink airplane 

It was a cool vantage level of a flight and one thing like I’ve by no means skilled. The flight took about 45 minutes from “gate” to “gate”. We even noticed some elephants from above as we have been descending.

Safarilink onboard 

The aircraft goes by the runway very low earlier than the touchdown as there isn’t any air site visitors management to examine the landings – every little thing is visible for the pilots. After touchdown on the dust strip, we have been within the Mara. It was a really cool expertise, general.

Safarilink in the bush 

The Musiara Airstrip was the place our safari lodge advised us to fly for a free pickup. It was a sleepy little airstrip and possibly my favourite airport on the earth.

Musiara Airstrip 

The “terminal” was three linked benches beneath a solar shade. No Precedence Go lounge or Hudson Information stand in sight.

Safarilink Dash 8 

Apparently, on our manner again to Nairobi after the journey, Safarilink put us on a Dehavilland Sprint-8 dual-propeller aircraft, which was a lot larger than our inbound plane. With 20 rows of seats and devoted flight attendants, the best way again was a a lot totally different flight expertise.

Checking in from the Masai Mara consisted of our information dashing our paperwork as much as the flight attendant, who checked us off the manifest and allowed us to board. She advised us which row to sit down in after we bought on.

Neptune truck at Musiara 

Right here’s one final take a look at the Musiara Airstrip car parking zone and terminal as my spouse gave a closing look on the Mara.


Learn how to Discover a Safari Lodge

When it comes time to seek for a safari lodge within the Masai Mara, I might begin with two assets.

  1. The Masai Mara’s listings of accommodations
  2. After which for extra particulars about these properties: Google Hotels

Google Accommodations is nice useful resource to start narrowing your search due to its filters. You’ll be able to filter for issues like “all-inclusive out there,” “pool,” by star ranking, and far, rather more.

Utilizing Google Accommodations, you may get your record of potential properties right down to a manageable degree very quickly.

For those who’re trying to make use of factors and miles to guide, take your search outcomes to these particular loyalty web sites. There aren’t many western lodge chains (moreover Fairmont) with safari lodges within the Masai Mara, however lots of the safari lodges you’ll discover are bookable by means of journey portals the place you can use your hard-earned factors.

We used the Capital One travel portal to guide the Neptune Mara Rianta Luxury Camp. We paid for our keep by means of the portal as we have been making an attempt to hit a spending bonus on the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card on the time, which earned us 10x factors on the keep. We additionally bought $300 back onto my credit card statement thanks to the Venture X’s annual travel credit, too.

Right here’s what the itemizing seems to be like for Neptune on the Capital One Journey Portal for a one-week’s keep in October 2023.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

As you’ll be able to see, camps like these usually are not low cost. Every week at Neptune will price you greater than $5,000 or a half 1,000,000 Capital One factors. However practically every little thing is included in that charge, which might prevent loads of complications if you happen to select to go that route.

Ought to You Ebook An All-Inclusive Safari Camp?

Reserving an all-inclusive safari camp is the easiest way to go about reserving a safari, for my part.

There are only a few, if any, food and drinks choices exterior of those resorts as a result of the Masai Mara is a particularly wild place! The native individuals, the Masai, are a really conventional group, which means food and drinks service is completed nearly solely on the resorts. Due to this fact, the resorts can cost exorbitant quantities to friends not staying on all-inclusive charges.

If you guide an all-inclusive fare, you don’t should sweat hour-to-hour about feeding your self. The resort takes care of all of it.

It’s also possible to guide all-inclusive lodge charges that embody your inbound and outbound bush flights and your recreation drives, too. In our case, at Neptune, the speed we booked by means of Capital One didn’t embody our recreation drives, which have been $75 per day plus the charge to enter the parks. (Extra on that later.)

General, the all-inclusive charges are the best choice for many vacationers, except you’re extraordinarily assured in your potential to get across the African bush and feed your self.


Neptune Mara Rianta Luxurious Camp

There’s no scarcity of epic safari lodges on this area. You’ll see many of those camps marketed on the edges of the opposite automobiles whenever you drive across the Masai on recreation drives. Governor’s Camp and Little Governor’s Camp, for instance, is without doubt one of the fanciest (and priciest) choices for vacationers. Angama Mara is one other higher-end choice.

The camp we selected after weeks of looking out and poring by means of evaluations was the Neptune Mara Rianta Luxurious Camp. The primary evaluate on TripAdvisor began with “We cried after we left.” I used to be bought.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

Neptune Mara Rianta Luxurious Camp is located proper on the Mara River on the northern finish of the Masai Mara. You’ll be able to hear the hippos (safely down a steep, 30-foot embankment) oinking and grunting all day and all evening. The resort truly offers you earplugs for this precise purpose, however my spouse and I delighted in listening to their hilarious symphonies.

Neptune has 20 tents on the property, each going through the river. In the course of the tents is a large important lodge tent, that includes a spa, a lounge space, a bar, and a eating room. There’s a swimming pool within the again between the primary tent and the river, too.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

We spent hours in the primary tent studying and stress-free throughout our journey. The service was extraordinarily immediate. I used to be provided drinks or tea the second my butt hit any of the couches or chairs.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

The workers on the resort would additionally come discover us within the night hours earlier than dinner to ask us what our plans have been for the following day, which gave us just a few hours after every day’s recreation drives to unwind and take into consideration our plan for the following morning.

The eating room was stunning. The tent partitions can be rolled up every morning for breakfast, which put your proper among the many tree tops overlooking the river.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

The meals was additionally distinctive. That is no buffet-style all-inclusive. Every four-course meal with limitless drinks was incredible, and we by no means had the identical factor twice in our 4-night keep.

For those who opted for a recreation drive that bought again round lunchtime, they’d serve you at tables proper alongside the river. Hippos and different wildlife have been seen from the desk at lunch.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

The rooms have been linked to the primary tent by an extended, sweeping bridge that took you onto a strolling path. Our tent occurred to be the closest to the primary space, so our stroll was solely a couple of minute lengthy. A number of instances we noticed tiny monkeys swinging from the timber as we walked to the tent.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

The tents aren’t rustic as they sound – you’re not sleeping on the bottom Neptune. I’d describe it as glamping on steroids.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

Every tent comes with its personal riverfront deck with a seating space exterior the place you’ll be able to sit and eat, journal, or chill out.

The tents have tons of pure mild due to very massive home windows that may be rolled up or down. Each reservation is assigned a butler whenever you verify in, and that individual handles rolling up and down your home windows and turning your mattress down and cleansing your tent day-after-day. They even heat your mattress up for you with a bag of sizzling water throughout dinner.

The nights get chilly within the bush given it’s at a fairly excessive elevation, so these touches have been wonderful.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

This is only one half of the tent. The opposite half had a wardrobe, a bathroom room, a double sink, and a full stone bathe, too. I did not {photograph} that a part of the tent, however I can inform you it was a nicer toilet than 90% of the brick and mortar lodges I’ve stayed in.

However the single finest a part of the Neptune Mara Rianta Luxurious Camp was our information, Daniel. Daniel is the top information at Neptune and taught us a lot in our 4 days. We spent in all probability three-quarters of our time within the Masai Mara with Daniel, who’s a local Masai and grew up within the area. He was humorous, sensible, and had an unbelievable eye for wildlife. Inside 5 minutes of selecting us up from the airport, Daniel discovered us some giraffe.

Neptune Mara Rianta 

Daniel was extraordinary, and from speaking to the opposite friends, there have been no slouches among the many guides at Neptune.

I can’t suggest Neptune Mara Rianta Luxurious Camp sufficient. It was an ideal safari lodge expertise. Phrase is that camps like Governor’s are actually above and past, however it’s laborious to think about one other property doing it higher than Neptune did.


Sport Drives 101: What to Convey and Anticipate

Let’s get to the enjoyable half! You’ve executed all of the laborious work, you’ve bought all of the pictures, and now you get to start out daydreaming in regards to the recreation drives. It’s the rationale you wished to guide this loopy journey to start with.

Sport drives are excursions into the bush, often in an open-sided automobile, for the aim of viewing wildlife. Right here are some things I want I knew earlier than my first recreation drives this fall.

Safari guide 

Pack a pair of binoculars. That is embarrassing to confess, however I forgot to deliver binoculars. On a safari. I do know.

You don’t want an epic pair of monster binoculars to deliver alongside. A pair of pocket binoculars will suffice. The guides typically get you so shut that you simply don’t want binoculars in any respect, and fortuitously ours was form sufficient to share his with us day-after-day, however it could have been good to have our personal.

Safari guide 

Convey loads of money earlier than heading into the Masai Mara. One other factor I didn’t know earlier than attending to the Mara was that every park has a cash-only entry charge. At one park entrance, we have been in a position to pay utilizing a bank card as a result of the sky was clear that day (significantly), however many of the park entrances for the sport drives required money fee for park entry.

Normally, that was a $75 per individual charge, so it’s essential to have sufficient money for that. ATMs are scarce within the bush. We have been advised we might go to 1 if we would have liked, however it could be an extended, bumpy drive to get there.

Mara Triangle entrance 

U.S. {dollars} are broadly accepted within the Masai Mara, so that you don’t want an excessive amount of native foreign money, however it is best to have loads of money for the park entrances and for tipping your information and the resort workers.

Safari guide 

As is obvious from these images, there aren’t loads of Wells Fargos and even comfort shops within the space. Having money is essential whenever you’re that removed from a developed metropolis.

Safari guide 

It’s each the attraction and the disadvantage of the Mara. Be sure to’re ready on your journey earlier than you get in your bush flights.


Backside Line

A safari in Africa is actually a once-in-a-lifetime expertise. However planning and getting ready for a safari journey could be tough.

My very own journey to the Masai Mara area of Kenya final yr taught me rather a lot about what it takes to journey to East Africa. Though the method can appear daunting, its not laborious to cowl your bases for an Africa journey if you happen to take the best steps.

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