Virtually all lodges organise wildlife drives through the park. At some cheaper places it will be in a battered old Land Rover or similar, while in the more expensive places safaris will be conducted in 'pop-top' minivans with other guests. The super-exclusive lodges will use state-of-the-art customised vehicles with open sides. Self-drive safaris in your own vehicle are also perfectly possible.
Guided Nature Walks
One of the best ways to experience the African bush is on foot. You’ll learn all about the medicinal properties of various plants, see the telltale signs of passing animals and have some thrilling encounters with wildlife. As it's forbidden to walk within the reserve due to predators, guided walks generally take place in the company of a Maasai moran (warrior) outside the park itself, but in the nonetheless wildlife-rich conservancies that surround the reserve to the north and east. Guides can be arranged through your accommodation or safari company.
Several companies operate dawn balloon safaris and there's no better way to start your day than soaring majestically over the rolling grasslands. Flights can be booked at most of the lodges or campsites and include a champagne breakfast, wildlife drive and transport to and from the launch point. Two recommended companies are Hot Air Safaris and Governors' Balloon Safaris.
Maasai Manyatta Visits
The Maasai are synonymous with the Masai Mara, and their slender frames, blood-red cloaks, ochre hairstyles and beaded jewellery make them instantly recognisable. Despite their reputation as fearsome warriors with somewhat lofty dispositions, some Maasai manyattas (villages) now welcome visitors (around US$20 per person).
Village visits can be organised through any lodge or camp or, if travelling under your own steam, you can just turn up at any of the villages (look for the signs saying something along the lines of 'cultural village' – don't just stroll into a proper Maasai manyatta unannounced!).
The Mara has some of the best and most upmarket accommodation in all of Kenya and, make no mistake, accommodation here can be very expensive. Remember, though, that in most cases all meals are included and in the top-end places, drinks and safari activities are usually part of the deal.
Musiara & Oloololo Gates
There's only top-end accommodation in this part of the park.
Inside the Reserve
There are luxury lodges and tented camps scattered across the reserve. It's only possible to camp within the reserve in its Mara Triangle sector, in either the public campsite or special campsite (private campsites that can be reserved). If camping, you will need to be totally self-sufficient, to the point of bringing your own firewood (using the dead wood within the park is prohibited).
Maasai Village Home Stays
Some years ago James Ole Lesaloi, a young Maasai man from the Sekenani area, got fed up with the lack of development and opportunities for the Maasai living around the reserve and set up Semadep, with the aim to change the lives of the local Maasai. Fast forward a few years and the project, with little publicity or outside help, has been remarkably successful and includes a school, clinic, water projects, orphan projects and a media centre on its list of credits. But for tourists, what is perhaps most interesting is the opportunity it offers to stay in a genuine Maasai manyatta (village) and get a real understanding of Maasai life and culture – and the issues they face.
One such place, run by James himself, is Ewangan, a traditional Maasai manyatta 2km north of Sekenani Gate, offering a homestay with the Maasai. During your stay you'll help with daily chores such as milking the cows and goats, learn skills such as jewellery making and enjoy nature walks with a Maasai guide. At least 25% of your money goes to help support local community projects. Accommodation is very basic, but it's all very cosy and the food is excellent. It's a particularly fun experience for children (we've stayed there with a four-year-old and an 18-month-old and they much preferred this to the fancy lodges and wildlife drives). For the few people who've stayed so far, almost all come away saying it was the highlight of their Kenyan travels.
It's hoped that as the idea gains more popularity, other manyattas under Semadep guidance will also allow homestays (though to really work, no manyatta could host more than one small group at a time). Real Maasai Experience is one that has started up nearby.
All but the budget lodges and self-catering campsites offer full-board rates (all meals included). In lodges, meals tend to be hefty and elaborate to ensure guests are full all day, and cooking tends towards generic European dishes with little Kenyan influence. Standards are generally high, though you're unlikely to come home raving about the food. Packed lunches are provided by lodges if you're going out on safari all day.