From our camp we watch the baby hippos slosh around in the nursery while the adults watch us suspiciously. Sammy our cook prepares scrumptious meals that we devour between our safaris. Our days are filled with game drives action-packed with wildlife, and nights are spent around the camp fire until we retreat to our tent to the echoes of the 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 search for accommodation and safari lodges until they blend into one and all look the same. We decide to experience something different and plan 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 is 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 goats and 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 river bank and wallow in the dark murky water below.
Ndovu campsite is private and restricted to one group of campers at a time. It is a bush camp, so there are no amenities. This is real African bush camping! The site is perfect; there are ample trees so tents have shade while there is also an open space for a view of the river below. We pitch our tent so that it has 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 guards. It is compulsory while camping in the Masai Mara to employ them. They protect the camp from wild animals at night.
After Sammy’s delicious cooking, we sit around the fire with beers and watch 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 some in a mud bath. 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 sorry 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, and do not like the vehicles at all.
A herd of impala surrounds a sleeping lion in tall grass. They know he’s there but 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. He’s been spotted, 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, he makes a dash back to his den, but it’s right beside the road. His mum won’t let him back in as he’s not supposed to give the den away, but he’s eventually allowed back in after he circles around for a while and we move away.
A pregnant cheetah surveys the savannah landscape from some rocks and 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 are not enough, it is hard to leave our camp at times because wildebeest and zebra come down to the river to drink. We hear the barking of the zebras before we see them, and from our camp, we watch nature at its very best. They are so restless and we wonder if they attempt to cross the river, but they only drink and leave. Some so nervous that they don’t even get to quench their thirst.
The hippos splash slothfully and lay in wait to bluff the wildebeest and zebras. They don’t like sharing the river so they charge, and the anxious zebras and wildebeest flee. Some braves ones call the hippos bluff and turn around. This surprises the hippo and he runs fast and clumsily back into the river.
Night time is an experience in itself because of 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 came in so close to our camp that they see their silhouettes in the moonlight.
We leave a different world behind when we drive out of the gate as never a day goes by without witnessing amazing wildlife encounters. A visit to Kenya’s best wildlife reserve (and possibly the world’s) and camping in the Masai Mara is something everyone with an interest in wildlife should have on their 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 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 is Martin Maina the owner of Nairobi Specialist
Read more about our Kenya trip
- Nairobi Elephant Orphanage
- Lake Nakuru National Park
- Our Kenya Itinerary
- Kenya Safari and Travel Tips
- Kenya Travel Photography