From our camp we watch the baby hippos slosh around in the nursery. Sploosh! Squelch! The adults watch us suspiciously. Sammy our cook prepares lip-smacking meals that we devour between safaris. Game drives action-packed with wildlife and nights spent around the glowing campfire listening to the distant roaring lions… We are camping in the Masai Mara. A private safari with just the two of us, our guide and cook.
When planning our trip to the Masai Mara, we searched for accommodation and safari lodges until they blended into one and all looked the same. We decided to experience something different and arranged our own private safari and camping in the Masai Mara.
After months of communicating by email with Martin our guide in Nairobi, we have the perfect itinerary for camping in the Masai Mara. Martin has everything organised; our Landcruiser, private campsite, camping equipment, our cook Sammy and the food.
The Masai Mara
It’s a rough and dusty 6-hour drive from Nairobi to the Oloololo gate. Closer to the Masai Mara, the rural towns are replaced by traditional mud hut villages, where Masai children play, men tend to their livestock and women collect firewood. Buffaloes and zebras graze on the open grasslands and giraffes munch on acacia trees near the river outside of the reserve.
Not long after entering the gate, we see our first lions. Two males sit together and further up a male and two lionesses sprawl out in the long grass. So laid back they barely bother to open their eyes. Knowing they are not likely to move in the middle of the day, we decide to set up camp and return in the afternoon.
Heading towards our campsite we don’t know what to expect, so can’t believe it when we pull up on a steep river’s edge. Below is a Hippo Pool and hippos are everywhere across the Mara River. They sunbake on the riverbank and wallow in the dark murky water below.
Ndovu campsite is private and restricted to one group of campers at a time. It’s a bush camp, so no amenities. This is real African bush camping! The site is perfect as tents have shade while there is also an open space for a view of the river below. We pitch our tent, where we have a view over the hippo pool. Martin and Sammy are not sure about being close to the edge, so they set their tents up behind us.
Safaris & Wildlife
In the afternoon, we go in search of the lions. The male is in the same place, but his two girls have gone. He dazedly lifts his head, wrinkles his nose and sniffs the air, perhaps trying to trace his girls, or maybe he can pick up a whiff of the buffaloes. He is unaware the buffaloes in the background are on to his scent, and hundreds of them form an arrowhead and work their way towards him. The buffaloes are enraged and in pursuit of him. When he realises what’s happening, he loses his cool composure and panics. He runs towards us and off down the road.
A baby elephant, who earlier was mock charging the vehicles, joins the buffaloes in chasing the lion. He raises his little trunk and heads the charge when the lion is in retreat. This is one tough baby! He seems so pleased when he goes back trumpeting to his family.
Back at our camp, we meet our two local Masai Mara warriors. It is compulsory while camping here to employ them. They protect the camp from wild animals at night.
After Sammy’s delicious cooking, we sit around the crackling fire listening to lions’ roar in the distance and watching the silhouettes of the hippos and crocodiles below. We talk about our first day and don’t think another day can compare.
The next three days are as good as the first. We see lions every day, including a bachelor group where the dominant male has a sore paw and the two younger males (who look like brothers) care for him.
Because of the wounded lion, the group doesn’t go far and we track them each morning. The lion with the sore paw rests in the shade while the other two keep alert and watch over the savannah. Over the next few days, we get to know them and watch the older lion go from barely being able to walk to limping around.
We see elephants at sunrise and in a mud baths. Every day a young bull discreetly follows a lone mother and a young elephant, who we think is her calf, from a safe distance behind. He cuts a lonely figure and probably had to leave his family group and wants to join the mother and her baby. We also feel sad for the mother and baby and wonder why they don’t join a herd.
There are many baby elephants, but sometimes they are hard to see because the elephants love the long grass, and it’s often taller than the babies. Some elephants are very curious and come right up to our vehicle, whereas some show aggression, especially the bulls, who don’t like the vehicles at all.
A herd of impala surrounds a sleeping lion in tall grass. They know he’s there but they don’t flee because it’s better to know where your enemy is. The lion doesn’t move as he knows the game is up and his chance is gone. The impalas eventually settle, but three of them stay on security duty and watch him.
Hyenas love water and sometimes we catch them playing in the puddles on the road. A hyena pup is out, and when he sees us, makes a dash back to his den, but it’s right beside the road. His mum won’t let him back in as it may give the den’s location away. He’s allowed back in after he circles around for a while and we move away.
A pregnant cheetah surveys the savannah landscape from a rocky outcrop. We wish so much we could be here when she has her cubs! No predators or prey are in her sight, only a beautiful giraffe family munching on acacia leaves.
As if the game drives aren’t enough, it is hard to leave our camp when wildebeest and zebra venture down to the river to drink. We hear the barking zebras before we see them, and from our camp, we watch nature at its very best. They are restless and we wonder if they attempt to cross the river, but they drink and leave. Some so nervous that they don’t even get to quench their thirst.
A hippo splashes slothfully and lays in wait to bluff the wildebeest and zebras. They don’t like sharing the river and often mock charge. The anxious zebras and wildebeest flee. Some brave ones call the hippos bluff and turn around. This surprises the hippo and he runs fast and clumsily back into the river.
Our Masai Mara Nights
The nights are beautiful with the wild sounds of roaring lions, giggling hyenas and startled calls of wildebeest drifting in with the cold savannah breeze. Close by we hear the farting, water bubbles, grunting and gurgling of the hippos which are not far below us. In the morning, our guards tell us lions we hear at night venture so close to our camp that they see their silhouette in the moonlight.
We leave a different world behind when we drive out of the gate. Never a day goes by without witnessing amazing wildlife encounters. A visit to Kenya’s best wildlife reserve and camping in the Masai Mara is something everyone with an interest in wildlife should have on their dream list.
Camping in the Masai Mara Information
Price inclusive for 4 nights
Masai Mara Park Fee $280pp – This is the park fee of $70pp per day which is required whether camping, staying in accommodation or on safari.
Ndovu Campsite $115 (Private camp) – Exclusive booking which is for the entire campsite and one group of campers only.
Camping fee $40pp – General fee for camping in the park.
Masai Mara Guards $200 – It is compulsory while camping in the Masai Mara to employ local guards at night.
Vehicle 5 days $700 *Landcruiser Troopcarrier. However, this is a large vehicle and cost can be reduced for a smaller one.
Martin’s Fee for guiding – $250
Sammy’s Fee for cooking – $120
Camping Equipment Hire – $250
Fuel – $190
Our Groceries, Beer & Misc – $120
*Camping site, Camp fees & Masai Mara guards are to be paid in Kenyan Shillings.
The total price per person is about US $1300. This includes all the game drives for when and however long we want.
Our guide and driver was Martin Maina from Nairobi Specialist