Maasai Mara

Safari introduction (Kenya)

We chose Kicheche Camps as our safari company for our inaugural safari in Kenya. 

Kicheche Camps

Kicheche has 4 camps in Kenya. Three are located in the Maasai Mara (also spelled Masai Mara), and the fourth is located north of Nairobi, near Mount Kenya.

On the one hand, the trip was as relaxing as a beach vacation at an all-inclusive resort; on the other, it was very busy.

We stayed at two camps during our trip, each for three nights. 

We stayed at Laikipia Camp near Mount Kenya for the first half of our trip. We stayed at Bush Camp near the Kenya/Tanzania border for the second half.

Conservancies

All Kicheche camps are located in conservancies (private land) which didn’t mean anything to me when we booked but means a great deal to me now.

Camps can be located in conservancies but can only conduct game drives in the conservancy if they pay the annual conservancy fee. Some camps in conservancies do not pay the conservancy fee, so it’s important to know this detail if you are staying in a conservancy camp.

When a camp is located in a conservancy but does not pay the annual fee, the guides must drive the vehicles out of the conservancy and into the Maasai Mara National Park (“the Reserve”) before they can officially begin their game drive. 

This is a bummer for a few reasons. The biggest is that driving in and out of a conservancy without the ability to look or stop and observe wildlife is a waste of time. Depending on where the camp is located in proximity to the Reserve, the drive from camp to the Reserve could be an hour or longer.

As mentioned, the camps we stayed at were located in conservancies. However, the structure of the conservancies varied slightly. 

Laikipia Camp was positioned in a stand-alone conservancy, whereas Bush Camp was in a conservancy within the Reserve.

Benefits to staying at a conservancy fee-paying camp include:

  • No time wasted driving to and from the Reserve for game drives
  • Guides working in conservancies will radio other guides and inform them of sightings; communication goes across guides from different camps
  • Guides within the conservancy will help other guides when their vehicles break down or get stuck
  • Fewer safari vehicles in conservancies

Regional flights

The camps were a 45-minute flight from one another, including a stop at Keekorok airstrip along the way.

That’s the thing about regional safari flights – they operate like a bus schedule, not a typical flight. More on this later.

Our safari began when we landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi at 3:25am on February 18th, 2013.

The tourist visas we obtained in London did not expedite the immigration process. An argument could be made that it slowed us down because almost all visitors obtain their tourist visas at immigration.

The fact that we already had tourist visas felt like a red flag.

After clearing customs and immigration, we changed into our safari clothing. We sat on a luggage cart/trolley outside of baggage claim until 6am, when our driver arrived to transfer us to the regional airport in Nairobi, Wilson airport.

Start of a safety protip:

One night, we talked with the camp managers about the lack of security with airport transfers.

The current process is such that the passenger enters the arrivals hall of the airport and looks for their name on a sign. That sign is held by a driver the passenger has likely never seen in their life and cannot confirm their identity. 

The passenger will approach the driver holding the sign, and then the driver will whisk the passenger away to their final destination, or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen. 

The reality is that any person can walk into the arrivals hall, take note of a name on a sign, create their own sign with the same name, and essentially kidnap the passenger if the passenger spots and approaches the scam driver first. 

When the camp managers learned of this security flaw, they recommended to Kicheche that their drivers be dressed in official Kicheche uniforms and that the passengers be told the name of the driver who is scheduled to meet them at the airport.

The passenger can then ask the driver holding the sign what their name is as a second layer of security. End of the safety protip.

After a short drive in “light” Nairobi traffic, we arrived at Wilson airport and checked in for our flight. We were told that we were on the 9:15am flight and that our stop was the first stop.

The counter agent handed us our boarding cards, and we were set.

We sat on the benches overlooking the tarmac and twiddled our thumbs until 9am, when an announcement blasted over the intercom system.

“Everyone with a green boarding card, please board the plane now!”

The “gate agent” held a green boarding card in her hand and raised her arm to the ceiling so we could see.

She said, “Follow me, please.”

We exited the airport and walked a short distance to our plane. It would end up being the smallest plane I’d flown.

During our week in Kenya, we took 3 regional flights, and each flight had several stops at different gravel airstrips. The plane was at each airstrip for as long as it took to offload passengers and/or onboard passengers and their luggage, typically lasting only a few minutes.

I started timing the airtime between stops, and the shortest time we spent in the air was 7 minutes from Keekorok airstrip to Ol Kiombo airstrip.

Ol Kiombo airstrip

Our triangle flight itinerary looked like this:

  • Flight 1: Wilson airport (Nairobi) to Nanyuki airstrip (near Laikipia Camp)
  • Flight 2: Nanyuki airstrip to Ol Kiombo airstrip (near Bush Camp)
  • Flight 3: Ol Kiombo airstrip to Wilson airport

Daily itinerary

The daily itinerary for both camps was as follows.

5:30amReceive a wake-up call by the tent attendant; hot drinks and biscuits are delivered to the tent
Note: Early mornings and evenings are when animals are the most active due to cool temperatures
6:00amMeet our guide at the vehicle and depart for the morning game drive
9:30amEat a picnic breakfast; resume morning game drive after breakfast
12:00pmReturn to camp for lunch
1:00pmEat lunch al fresco with the camp managers and other guests
4:00pmMeet our guide at the vehicle and depart for the afternoon game drive
6:15pmDrink sundowner cocktails/beer/wine and watch the sun go down
7:15pmReturn to camp to shower and get ready for dinner
8:00pmEat dinner in the mess tent with the camp managers and other guests
10:15pmGo to bed

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