Ah, the wonderful Masai Mara… it almost needs no introduction.
Made famous by multiple BBC and National Geographic TV natural history series for its incredible abundance of exotic wildlife, this is where lions roam free and wildebeest perform the epic Great Migration. Majestic elephants and stealthy leopards call the Mara their home and hundreds of species of colourful birds abound, such as the beautiful lilac-breasted roller.
All the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhino – are in evidence, as is a cast of innumerable other species such as giraffes, gazelles, crocodiles, wildebeest and zebra.
Unlike almost anywhere else on Earth, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the breath-taking abundance of wildlife to photograph. The Mara is truly a spectacle of nature’s finest animals and they’re just waiting for your camera.
Come with me in 2015 and photograph the greatest show on Earth!
I’ve teamed up with my usual superb Maasai guide and a beautiful new location to come up with an incredible price for a 12 day photo safari: £2,997! There’s no compromise on quality at any point – House in the Wild is a fantastic place to stay and has access to the Masai Mara National Park and private conservancies.
All you need to add is an international flight and a Kenya visa. Flights from the UK are around £600 – 700 and a visa is about £29 (available on arrival at Nairobi airport). If you’d like someone to take the hassle out of booking the flight for you, Michael at Travel Bureau has all the trip’s details. He can even arrange insurance if you need it. See below in the Frequently Asked Questions section for details.
We’ll be staying in the wonderful House in the Wild in true Kenyan wilderness on the banks of the Mara River – an ideal base with a relaxed, friendly atmosphere in beautiful surroundings and with access to all the private conservancies and the National Reserve. We’ll spend some time looking for Great Migration river crossings in the National Reserve, but in my opinion, the conservancies are the best places to see the wildlife. We’ll explore these private, quiet reserves where it’s quite unusual to even see another vehicle.
I’ve timed the trip (19 – 30 August 2015) to coincide with the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra between the Mara and Serengeti. You can never tell exactly when this natural phenomenon will happen, but this is a perfect time to try.
Max. 6 people with 3 clients per vehicle so we have plenty of room. There’s nothing worse than a vehicle packed to the gills when you’re trying to get that special shot.
19 Aug 2015 Leave the UK (or wherever you’re coming from)
20 Aug arrive in Nairobi in the morning. Road transfer to board local flight. Flight into Mara (extra baggage included). Pick-up at Ngerende airstrip. Half day game drive. Stay at House in the Wild.
21 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
22 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
23 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
24 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
25 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
26 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
27 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
28 Aug Full day of game drives. Stay at House in the Wild.
29 Aug Half day game drive. Afternoon flight back to Nairobi ready for night flight from Nairobi
30 Aug Arrive home
- 10 days in the Masai Mara (9 full days and two half days)
- 9 nights’ luxury accommodation at House in the Wild at full board.
- All food full board, snacks, soft drinks, coffees & teas.
- Internal flights and road transfers. I’ve included extra baggage allowance on the internal flights so you can bring your full luggage allowance with you – many other photo safaris add this on as an extra cost. I think it’s essential, because otherwise you’ll be stuck with 15Kg including hand luggage!
- As much or as little tuition from me as you’d like – that’s camera settings, creative techniques – whatever you need.
- English-speaking guides who are wonderfully knowledgeable and are well versed in photographers’ needs. They know we don’t just want the Big 5 ticks and understand the patience and dedication necessary for photography.
- All game drives, Conservancy fees, National Park fees, vehicle fees, local taxes.
- Sun-downers: drinks in the wild while watching the fantastic African sunset.
- Access to the surrounding wildlife Conservancies and two visits to the National Reserve. In my opinion, the Conservancies are the best place to see wildlife because we seldom meet other vehicles. It can get a bit hectic in the National Reserve, although it’s definitely worth visiting.
- Visit to rhino sanctuary. As much as we’d all love to see more rhinos, they are very rare in the wild and at least we’ll see some at the sanctuary if we don’t get the chance in the wild.
- Visit to a local village to experience Maasai culture.
- Walking safari.
- Electricity and Wifi at the house.
- All local taxes.
- International flights (flight prices at the time of writing to Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta airport from London or Newcastle airports is between £600 and £700). See Frequently Asked Questions for flight recommendations.
- Alcoholic drinks.
- Tips to your Maasai guides.
- Any items of a personal nature.
- Travel insurance. You can either buy insurance for the period we’re away, or there are very competitive yearly policies available. Travel Bureau can arrange this for you – see below.
- Anti-malarials are recommended. I personally find Malarone the best tablets and Boots and other pharmacies offer a cost effective treatment course.
- Any travel vaccinations you may need. You’ll need a yellow fever certificate in your passport for example. The easiest thing to do is visit your doctor or a pharmacist that offers a travel clinic and they’ll advise on what you might need.
- Kenya visa, which is US$ 50 (about £29) payable on arrival at Jomo Kenyatta airport, Nairobi. Don’t worry about this, it’s a simple procedure and we’ll do this as a group on arrival.
- Meals and drinks at airports and on planes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the easiest way to book international flights?
You are of course welcome to use any travel agent or book flights directly, but I use a trusted travel agent that I know is reliable for group bookings. Travel Bureau in Newcastle already have the itinerary for this safari and can take the hassle out of the booking process. They charge a small transaction fee of about £30, which I think is good value because it gives extra protection in the form of a dedicated contact in the event of a problem with flights. If you’d like to book your flights through Travel Bureau, give Michael Gibson a call on +44 191 272 6030 or email him. He’s very helpful and can also arrange travel insurance if you need it.
Alternatively, if you’re happy negotiating the bewildering plethora of internet flight search engines and the multitude of options they present, here are some of the ones I’ve used in the past: ebookers, kayak, cheapflights, expedia. Or just type ‘flight searches’ into a search engine.
You’ll need to make sure you arrive in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport (NBO) in the early morning (typically about 6am local time) of Thu 20 Aug 2015 so that we can all transfer to Nairobi Wilson airport for the internal flight to Mara Ngerende at 10am. Similarly on the way back, we have the 4pm return flight on Sat 29 Aug 2015 from the Mara, which arrives in Nairobi about 5:30pm. Allow plenty of time to transit from Wilson to Jomo Kenyatta airports ready for the flight home.
If you’d like to see the itinerary I’ve prepared for London and Newcastle flights (so we can meet up at Schiphol airport and travel overnight to Nairobi together), click here.
What cameras, lenses and other equipment should I take?
Ideally, the kitchen sink! But that’s not usually practical. You’ll probably find that most of your shots are taken between 200-400mm. If you have an APS-C sensor camera (i.e. not full frame), the crop-factor gives you extra reach by a factor of 50-60%. Don’t rule out wide lenses though for landscape shots. I tend to take a flash with me wherever I go, just in case. If you have two camera bodies, you can leave a different lens on each. This luxury means you’re ready for any eventuality and there’s less opportunity for dust to get onto the sensor if you don’t have to change lenses so often.
Should I take a tripod, or other support?
If you can fit it in your luggage, I’d definitely recommend some kind of support. Most of the photography we’ll be doing will be from vehicles, so a bean-bag of some sort is very useful. You can bring this empty to be filled in Kenya. I usually fill mine with small polystyrene balls, which are virtually weightless – the type that fill the sort of bean bag you sit on. A double bean-bag is best if you have one. Tripods are perhaps a bit less useful, buy you may well find them useful. If in doubt, bring one. A monopod is a good compromise on weight and portability, but obviously isn’t free-standing.
Do I need travel / holiday insurance?
Yes. I have public liability insurance in case of my own negligence (e.g. if you trip over my tripod!) but you’ll need to cover yourself against any problem that may happen, such as if you become ill, the flights are delayed, someone nicks your camera, or your luggage is delayed. That’s not an exhaustive list and travel policies vary quite a bit. Travel insurance tends to come in two flavours: one that is for your holiday only and the other is an annual policy. The latter can be surprisingly cost effective if you travel abroad more than once and this is how I cover our entire family. If you’re not sure what you need, talk to Travel Bureau (see the bit about international flights, above) and they’ll sort you out.
Do I need camera equipment insurance?
That’s entirely up to you, but I’d definitely recommend it. If you don’t have specific photographic insurance, chances are your household contents policy will cover you at least in part. It’s essential though to check with them that your camera equipment is actually covered away from home and specifically on the trip you’re about to embark on.
What’s the passport / visa situation?
You’ll need a valid passport to travel to Kenya and it must have at least 6 months to run after the end of your trip, as is standard in most countries. If you need to update your passport, it’s best to do these in non-peak holiday periods to avoid the rush. If you are running a bit late, you can pay extra to expedite a passport renewal, but you’ll have to visit a specific passport office in person.
Visas for Kenya are not a problem and are simply bought for $US 50 on arrival at Jomo Kenyatta international airport, Nairobi.
How should I pack for air travel?
For aircraft travel, I tend to make sure all my important and expensive stuff is with me in my hand luggage. I don’t think I’d ever trust it in the hold. Hand luggage can actually be quite large and heavy and I use a camera roller case that has specially padded sections inside it. You don’t need to do this if you don’t have so much gear, but I find that solution very convenient. The key thing is to take cameras and lenses in hand luggage so you know where they are at all times.
What are the airline weight allowances and are there any costs for excess baggage?
Regarding excess baggage, there shouldn’t be any. Depending on the international flight you take, you should get 20-23Kg of hold baggage on the main international flights plus hand luggage that’s not usually weighed. Hand luggage is usually only a concern if it doesn’t fit in the over-head lockers, which is why it’s essential to us standard airline regulation hand luggage, whether it’s a specific camera case or not.
Normally you only get 15Kg allowance on the small internal flights in Kenya – and that’s including hand luggage! That’s why I always include the extra child seat allowance for each 3-4 people in the price so we can share an extra 75Kg allowance. This means your internal flights will have at least the same allowance as your international allowance, if not more.
What currencies should I take
The most useful currencies are US dollars and Kenya Shillings (KES). I would take the bulk of your money in dollars and a smaller amount in shillings. The schilling exchange rate can be found here.
What electricity will be available?
It’s the same as the UK at 240v and 50Hz, with the same three-pin plug sockets. If you’re traveling from a country other than the UK, a UK adaptor can be used. Electricity will be available for charging batteries, phones and powering laptops and so on. At the time of writing, the main area plus two of the rooms have electricity and the plan is to expand this to all rooms by the time we visit. I find it useful to take a multi-way block so that you can run several things from the socket at once. Even better is a short, lightweight 3 or 4 way extension lead so you can move the power to where you need it.
What time of year is best?
August! Actually, any time of year is good but August is in the dry season when the grass isn’t too long to hide the animals and they are more likely to come to waterholes to drink. All good for visibility and great photos. The Great Migration should be happening at this time, although being a natural phenomenon, it’s impossible to predict. The wildebeest will follow the rains around the Mara / Serengeti ecosystem and hopefully we’ll see the spectacle of tens of thousands of animals on the move and possibly even witness a river-crossing.
What’s the weather like?
Kenya is pretty dry in August and very pleasantly warm, with comfortable humidity. Even though Kenya lies on the equator, the Masai Mara is at an altitude of about 1,500m, so you can expect mid 20s celsius during the day and about 10 at night. Early mornings can be quite chilly, so it’s worth bringing a warm top for early starts.
Am I allowed to use the photos I take for commercial use and photo competitions?
Of course you are! You can do whatever you like with them – they’re yours. I have heard of one safari operator that specifically excludes this. I would never do that.
Total price is £2,997, which is split into three payments: £500 deposit to secure your place, followed by £698.80 by 15 Jan 2015 and a final payment of £1,798.20 by 15 May 2015. To pay now, please go to the payment page.