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(Almost) last-minute trip to the Mara- June 2019


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Having been a more passive ST user since I joined, I came around this topic recently. I took it as some kick in the a.. to become more active in the future. First tangible result is a report of a short trip to the Mara I did some months ago. I did not make notes then, so I just scan through my photos and try to remember as much as possible.

Some background information about this trip and how it emerged: My wife is from the Middle East and her whole family is still living there. And it is more an understatement than exaggeration when I say that she still keeps hourly contacts to her sisters and parents. Thanks to Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp etc this close relationship is not visible anymore on our telephone bill ūüėČ. One result of this strong family bonds is that once a year my wife takes the opportunity to meet one of her sisters during an annual conference her sister has to attend in Europe. As in previous years, my plan was to stay at home and to save up my precious PTO days for some other destinations together with my wife. However, at some time in April this year, the idea came up about doing a safari during my wife‚Äôs absence. A short discussion later about some pro and cons ( ‚ÄúWhat? A safari without me?‚ÄĚ), I contacted the travel agent we had used one year before and provided her my request (5 -6 nights, fixed dates in June, e.g. 6 weeks from now). Due to some guilty conscience for traveling without my wife I added a budget limit as well, but at the end of the day I booked 5 nights in the Mara, namely 2 nights at Tipilikwani camp in the reserve and 3 nights at Karen Blixen camp in Mara North. Usually, I enjoy the planning of a safari almost as much as the trip itself, but this time there was not much of planning, comparing options etc. One the other hand, the waiting period was much shorter than for previous trips.



The flight was with Qatar Airways (Munich-Doha-Nairobi). I just realized during the second leg from Doha to Nairobi that the plane had to take some detour. Due to the current conflict with Saudi-Arabia and the UAE, Qatar Airways cannot enter the airspace of these two countries. Planes have to go eastwards first through the street of Hormuz and then make a U-turn and cut back westwards over Oman towards the African continent. Overall, this detour adds approximately an additional hour to the flight.

I arrived too late for the morning flight to the Mara and I spent the time until my early afternoon flight from Wilson at the National Museum in Nairobi. It is a quite interesting museum which covers many different aspects of Kenya’s rich history and culture. And it helps a lot if you use the service of a guide since the displayed items are not always self-explanatory. Without a guide I would have considered the sculpture in this photo for a folkloristic collection of pots and jars. But the guide explained to me that each of them represents a tribe or a people from Kenya. And the big calabash at the top represents the state of Kenya which shall feed all of them.



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When I landed at Olkiombo airstrip, my guide was already waiting and ready fo the first game drive. The first sighting were some elephants. At this point in time, I did not know that this should be one of the rare sightings of elephants during this trip.






It was the end of the rainy season, everything green and with a lot of water around. And of course, the ‚Äěusual suspects‚Äú were around as well.



Edited by ELIL
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Consider this an exploratory mission to find what will best suit your wife's interests when she joins you in the future.

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Tipilikwani Mara camp is located at the Talek river close to the village of Talek. Technically, the camp is outside of the reserve. It sits on the northern banks of the river and you have to cross a small bridge to the meeting point with the Safari vehicles where the game drives start and end. It is a fairly large camp with around 20 tents. During my stay, I once saw a big group (10-12 people) but the rest of the time I did not see any other guests. My tent was spacious, especially for a single occupancy. Staff was very friendly, but food was average. I spent only two nights there and only on my last day when waiting for the pick-up to the second camp I had a few minutes to walk around.


Some birds from around the camp:

Little bee-eater



Woodland Kingfisher



Northern Black Flycatcher



Baglafecht Weaver



Lesser Striped Swallow



African Paradise Flycatcher



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A small herd of giraffes was the first sighting every day. They had chosen a wide area only a few meters away from the camp’s meeting point as their sleeping room.IMG_1864.jpg.507ce3a2eb57760165b6b261e9adcdc7.jpg



Early safari mornings have a very special atmosphere.There is some kind of freshness which you usually don't experience when living in a city. Especially during this time, end of the rainy season, when everything is still wet in the morning.5DII9298.jpg.f927bd66070ae1d39601a6050905dddb.jpg5DII9291.jpg.fb2e66fc8e82f40e309b395b6c51e08f.jpg


Other game around was in the "early morning" mood as well.




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As mentioned earlier, there were not so many guests in the camp which meant that I did not have to share the vehicle with somebody else. This was nice, but unfortunately the guide was the worst guide I had so far. I would not say, that he was a bad guide, but compared to the guides I had in previous safaris, he was the least motivated and the least knowledgeable. And during one game drive he showed some quite aggressive behavior towards a herd of Zebras. The Zebras were just on their way to pass a dig with some water when he drove at high speed towards.

5DII8755.jpg.3c9558c8414b1c9e91a0559d6791e6ab.jpgSome of the Zebras got scared quickly and run away while the Zebras on the other side stopped and decided to not follow the other part of the herd.


IMG_1891.jpg.0f510c04406a01fd842aded6f27b8182.jpgMost likely, the Zebras found  another place to cross nearby, but I did not like this behaviour. I asked the guide why he did rush so aggressively towards without any need, he just replied " Zebras do not scare". :blink:

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Beautiful photos, and some lovely birds around the camp.

Shame about your guide with the Zebra

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The level of guiding really can make a major difference in one’s enjoyment of a safari. So glad you decided to post a trip report. I’m enjoying it, and looking forward to more. 

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@TonyQ, @Alexander33  Thanks for your comments. Now, that I have made this experience with the guide, I appreciate the service of other guides we had on previous safaris even more. And despite some unpleasant episodes, I enjoyed the game drives in the reserve.


Wildebeests were plenty with several young ones in the herds, but other ungulates were present in significant numbers as well.







And we spotted some of the smaller species as well.


Dwarf Mongoose



Banded Mongoose






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And another batch of birds:


R√ľppel's Starling5DII8297.jpg.d022ba082f2b4a7a821df76a53edfbf1.jpg





Black-Winged Lapwing5DII8630.jpg.a55b6de5d54ad32f253850992ef95185.jpg


Grey Crowned Crane5DII8881.jpg.575d972403de6cd4887a1d3bf2e41822.jpg


Tawny Eagle5DII8890.jpg.0e0749d2e744bed4a9a86dbe37f7bc8b.jpg


Cattle Egret5DII9098.jpg.da4d8f88939b24c211c2be060c3d1783.jpg


Brown Snake Eagle5DII8829.jpg.79e56b8719f394872eba414f821dd89c.jpg


White Browed Coucal5DII9200.jpg.c103fa94d814bed95208b4103e85e191.jpg


Wattled Lapwing5DII9087.jpg.29ad400e9ef2596d64be2ba28ba07a0a.jpg


R√ľppel's Vulture5DII8846.jpg.a2aae1da281ecd771fa72f2e0c9d889c.jpg




Edited by ELIL
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Very nice report thanks @ELIL, Great to see a Woodland kingfisher make an appearance.

Bummer about your guide.

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During one afternoon drive we spotted a cheetah that was scanning the plains for potential prey.



We watched it for some time until the cheetah started to move. 



The cheetah headed towards some wildebeests. 



But soon it stopped again, wildebeests would be too much of a challenge.5DII9154.jpg.40accf06a5757a5e937508067d69c945.jpg


The cheetah was still in hunting mode and scanning the area.



But nothing really suitable, and this guy was not concerned at all.



It was already quite late and it started to rain again. We were just discussing if we should follow the cheetah when my guide received a call that a pride of lion has been spotted nearby. We left the cheetah and went on for the lions. There were already some other vehicles around that slowly followed the lions.



As you can see from the photos it was heavily raining now. And even the lions did not look very happy in the rain.



Males were around as well, watching the hunting attempt of the pride from a distance.



Most of the lions found themselves a place to watch the hunting approach of the lionesses.



The above photo is the last photo I took on this drive. It was actually much darker than it looks on the photo and the view was very limited. And we had to return to the camp in time.  My guide was quite concerned that we may not make it in time. It seems that the authorities and rangers of the reserve are strictly enforcing the park rules (which is a good thing). We made it back in time, but at another occasion during my two days in the reserve rangers did show up almost immediately when our car was driving slightly off the tracks.








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Very nice trip report so far. And shame about the guide. They can ruin your holiday. :( But some great sighting so far and looking forward to the next chapter....

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On my last day  at Tipilikwani, I still had time for a short morning drive before I was picked for the transfer to Mara North. My guide mentioned something about a kill and speeded up to reach the reported location. Suddenly, he slammed on the brakes, turned around a few meters and pointed on the ground "Black Mamba". The snake was moving away quickly and escaped into a hole in the ground. Thanks to the high speed mode of my camera, some pictures served at least the documentation purpose.





We continued to the site of the kill and found some hyenas having breakfast.



Vultures were waiting a few meters away for their turn.




Every time the hyenas made a break the vultures took their chance.



But the hyenas were back soon.





Sometimes it was more of a joint meal ...



with "guards" around.



For the vultures, it was a steady change between waiting and eating



A battler arrived as well in the hope of some pieces



as well as this Tawny Eagle



But he had to stand in the queue as well.



It was very interesting to watch this behavior between hyenas and birds. We spent almost an hour at the site until we had to return to the camp for my pick-up to the next camp.







Edited by ELIL
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During the planning phase of this trip combining a camp in the Mara with second camp in Amboseli was an option as well. But considering the limited number of days, I decided to combine two camps in the Mara ecosystem. This would turn the transfer into an additional game drive and I would not loose time on an airplane. Since the Tipilikwani camp was outside of the reserve on the northern banks of Talek river without a suitable bridge for cars close by, the first 20-30 minutes were on normal roads, passing through the Talek village. But soon we entered the reserve again and the transfer turned into a nice game drive. It was already getting warmer towards midday and first we came across some lions resting close to the tracks.




There were still a lot of water around, much appreciated by this Nile monitor



There huge herds of Topis on our way to Mara North with some nicely posing males.



And a posing lark



When we were already close to  Mara North we saw a huge family of Ostriches. I have never seen so many Ostriches at on place. The photos below shows 16 Ostriches, but I remember I counted 21 in total then.IMG_1977.jpg.82ceacfcb0020d7774a9179497f81510.jpg5DII9604.jpg.e0772a83281a95ea4582296c377d6720.jpg


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Karen Blixen Camp is located in the Mara North Conservancy on the banks of the Mara river. It is quite a huge camp (around 20 tents). The camp itself has 8 permanent guides. But these guides are going on tours through all of Kenya with their guests as well.  The majority of guests are bringing their guide with them (mostly as part of a bigger tour in Kenya). During my stay there was one bigger group (approx. 15-20 persons) and a few others guests. So, I think the camp was half full during this time. The management and staff was very professional and efficient, but at the same time very friendly. The quality of food was really good. Karen Blixen camp is definitely a much better camp than Tipilikwani camp. The river in front of the camp is home to some local hippos. It attracts other game as well and you can really spend some time sitting there and watching different animals drinking at the river. All tents are facing to the river and I saw the only crocodile during this trip from the front of my tent.



I shared the safari vehicle during 2 or 3 game drives with two ladies from the UK, but had it exclusively for myself during the remaining drives.


I had read before that Mara North has one of the highest density of game. And I can only confirm this. There were huge herds of different game around, and on of the first sightings were Topis. I had not seen soo many Topis at one place before.



The Topis above were carefully watching two cheetahs who were scanning the area for some possible prey.






There is a road on the pictures above in the background. This road is also used by the local people who are living this area. We watched the cheetahs approximately 30 minutes and during this time there were at least 5 or 6 motorbikes packed with whole families passing by. As I understood from my guide there are villages inside the conservancy and particularly roads in the southern part of the conservancy are frequently used by the locals. This comprises a kittle bit on the "wilderness" factor of your experience. During the following days we spent some time time in the northern part of the conservancy and there you feel definitely more remote than in the southern part.







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 Great to see Mara North through your eyes. We were there in September and loved it. I wonder if your 2 cheetah were the same two that we saw.

Excellent photos, And a treat to see a crocodile from your tent!

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Way to go with the Black Mamba.  Seeing something like this is the upside of the rain. Did your guide or staff mention the rain was more than expected in June?

Nice Bateleur in flight above the "buffet table."

Were the cheetahs nonchalant when the motorbikes passed?  Great cheetah shots.

A bit disturbing the guide was charging the zebras.  They may not scare, but I bet they were p|ssed off.

Edited by Atravelynn
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@TonyQ Mara North is really an excellent area with a high number of game. I enjoyed it very much as well. Having visited Naboisho the year before and the Mara reserve twice, I currently have a clear preference towards the conservancies. But of course, the reserve is great as well.


@Atravelynn If I remember correctly, the guide mentioned that the rain was late this year. But they had some heavy rains the days before I arrived. And the cheetahs did not bother at all when the motorbikes passed, neither the persons on the motorbikes payed a lot of attention to the cheetahs.

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My photos in this trip report are looking a little bit flat and less sharp compared to the same photos on my Mac. I am just wondering if anybody has some advice about the best settings for photos in this forum. TIA

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12 hours ago, ELIL said:

My photos in this trip report are looking a little bit flat and less sharp compared to the same photos on my Mac. I am just wondering if anybody has some advice about the best settings for photos in this forum. TIA

I think your own device always looks a little better.  For one thing, the size of these is reduced to fit.  But they look good to me.  Somebody once mentioned they do extra extra sharpening for the forum.

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18 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

I think your own device always looks a little better.  For one thing, the size of these is reduced to fit.  But they look good to me.  Somebody once mentioned they do extra extra sharpening for the forum.

Even the jpg-file on my iMac looks much better than in the same picture in this forum. The size reduction is most likely the reason for the quality loss. Anyway, thanks for confirming that they look ok. The difference is just a little disturbing when viewing the phots side by side.

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We went directly to another sighting from the cheetahs, so never knew if the two had a successful hunt. But a leopard is always a very convincing reason to leave a sighting.






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And a first batch of birds from Mara North.


Hildebrandt's Starling



Grey-backed Fiscal



Martial Eagle



Purple Grenadier



Greater Blue-eared Starling



Southern Ground Hornbill



Northern White-Crowned Shrike


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As in the Mara reserve, I enjoyed the early morning drive very much. It was really lovely to enjoy the fresh green landscape in combination with the early morning light.





And you finally see what you did only hear during the night



We followed the lion for some time..




And came across this poor guy



But the lion did not care about the injured impala and wanted to join his pride that did already prepare for some power nap in the warming sun.


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