Memories of My First Safari: Masai Mara & Lake Nakuru (Part 1)

George in the Rearview

If you’ve kept up with my blog somewhat, you’ll know two things about me. First, I’ve been to Africa twice, and second, it’s my favorite place in the world. I absolutely loved Southeast Asia and my time in Europe, but there’s this intensity in Africa that is hard to replicate. Expanding on that idea is best saved for another post, but one of the reasons I fell in love with Africa was after my first safari. I researched a lot of trips before deciding. There is a wide range from budget to luxury and whether to cover just one park or multiple, such as a Kenya gorilla safari. But in July 2008, I decided on a 4-day/3-night camping safari to Masai Mara & Lake Nakuru with five friends from a volunteer project. I would be confident in saying that we had one of the best guides in the entire park, and because of that, it was truly unforgettable. I ran into a colleague of our guide the last time I was in Nairobi and he is no longer with the company I went through. George had dreams of starting his own safari company, and I can only hope that his dreams came to fruition.

I’ve broken this safari into two posts, so first up is Masai Mara! I hope you enjoy the photos along the way.
Sausage Tree

Masai Mara is a game reserve located in Kenya and is a continuation of the more well-known Serengeti in Tanzania. While the Serengeti is flat plains, the Mara is rolling hills and one of the most popular parks for safari holidays in Kenya. A fascinating time to visit Masai Mara is right around the time I went because of the annual wildebeest migration. It is unbelievable to see hundreds and hundreds of them walking in a line as they  make their way from Tanzania.

We left Nairobi bright and early and made a stop for lunch in the town of Narok. My friend from home and I were traveling with 4 guys from the UK & Ireland. We got on a topic of conversation stemming from a cultural difference, which then helped to pass the time for the next few hours in the car (it required lovely drawings as well). The dirt roads to get to Masai Mara were so bumpy that eventually we all stopped talking and hoped the driving would be over. Yeah, yeah, scenery was lovely but head banging against window started to get old. We reached the Mara just in time for an evening game drive.

Bucking zebra

If you’ve never been on a safari, it’s difficult to describe the feeling. If you’ve been, then you know. I could pull out the phrase ‘I was like a kid in a candy store’, but that’s just not true and doesn’t do it justice. The excitement of seeing the animals out in the wild was incredible. And it wasn’t just a zebra here and a giraffe there. In a short amount of time, we witnessed hundreds of animals. I was click-happy, taking tons of photographs. Our safari transport was a small van with a pop-up roof. We generally stood on the seats the entire time, hanging out of the roof, and just watching in a mesmerized manner. Our evening game drive wrapped up and we headed to set up camp for the night.

Vulchers feeding

July is the middle of winter in Kenya, and it gets cold at night. Lauren and I had thin fleece sleeping bags, but the boys opted not to rent sleeping bags and just bring blankets from our volunteer project. We nearly froze to death the first night. Lauren lent me some clothes and we just tried to stay bundled up. The boys joked that they were going to push their cots together, because they were much colder than we were. This is where I’m going to point out that Africa is not blazing hot most of the time. Come prepared for cold weather too.


We left our tents before dawn to gear up for a full safari day in the Mara. The sunrise was magnificent. We saw dazzles of zebras (one of my favorite group names), herds of elephants, towers of giraffes, prides of lions, a bloat of hippos, and so many different species of antelopes.  We saw our fair share of vultures and pretty birds as well. We stopped near a river for lunch to hang out with monkeys and colorful lizards.

Zebras and giraffes

In the afternoon we went searching for cheetahs. They proved difficult to find. George was in communication with other drivers on a radio the whole time and after an hour or so searching, we finally came across two of them. They are smaller than I imagined and were camouflaged in the surrounding.


Another cold evening in the tents, and it was back up for a morning game drive. This time, we were in search of a kill. Although we didn’t see one in action, we arrived on scene just after a mama lion had killed a baby zebra. We watched for about 45 minutes. She, along with another mama lion, dragged the zebra to her cubs. While it was gross and sad since I love zebras, it’s still such an experience to see this out in nature. We wrapped up our morning game drive and headed to visit a Masai village nearby. Check back for Part 2 of my Kenya safaris recap and if you’d like to see more pictures, click here!


33 thoughts on “Memories of My First Safari: Masai Mara & Lake Nakuru (Part 1)

  • I didn’t want this post to end. I agree, if you haven’t been on a safari in Africa, it’s really imposible to understand just how magical it is. GORGEOUS pics!!! Love the 1st one, so intense.

    • It’s just not the same to relive it through pictures! And, though I loved the other safaris I’ve been on, there’s just nothing that compares to the first time!

  • Can’t wait to get to Africa and see it all myself, must be such a magical experience to see all those animals in their natural habitat. The photos look great!

    • Thanks Cam! It was really exciting. And, another safari driver took people to see it and left before the lion started dragging it to where her cubs were, so they missed out on seeing the cute little ones!

  • I love the photos — even with all of the animals the first one is still my favorite!

    I’ve looked into a few overland trips before and just trying to compare those was overwhelming. What were the key factors that helped you pick your particular safari in the end?

    • Thanks Heather :) Hunting for a safari can definitely be overwhelming. My secret confession here is that on this particular trip I didn’t do any of the work! (Though trust me, my second trip overlanding through Africa, I did TONS of research for other safaris so I definitely know how overwhelming it is). I knew 2 other girls who did a higher-end safari through this company. I went to Nairobi, requested a budget safari from the company and the same driver. Since we had 6 people, they gave us a good price too. If you have the time, its best to book in person (in my opinion). This way, you can find out what tours they’ve already booked people on and join one of those, because more people=lower price. Otherwise, you can try emailing to find out what companies have tours already going for your date. I have more tips, but probably require a post or an email ;)

    • Oh and, I would never ever book a safari in Africa without a personal referral or reading reviews online. There are a lot of excellent companies out there, but also plenty that aren’t.

  • Wow, that first shot is such a cool perspective! I’ve only ever been on safari in South Africa, but I’m constantly amazed at how different safaris are from country to country, based on other bloggers’ recaps and photos.

  • Really love this Laura! I am so eager to go on safari myself one day! This tides me over just a bit but also makes me even more eager. It’s one of the most well written posts on a safari I’ve ever read!

  • Wow what an indescribable experience! Being able to see animals in their natural habitat is definitely something special! You’ve captured some great shots!

  • I too love Africa with a passion that’s hard to describe to people who haven’t been there. I haven’t yet done a safari in Masai Mara but I would love to. It sounds like you had an amazing experience.

  • I think the same as Ayngelina. I can’t wait to eventually do a safari in Africa and get pics half as close as these. It has to be such an incredible experience!

  • incredible experience, incredible photos. I hope to go on a safari someday – concern is that because of allergies, I won’t be able to – but makes living it vicariously through you all the more valuable :)

  • I want to go on a safari so badly! One day!

    There are two animals I obsess over every time I see them – vultures and hyenas. If I could photograph only those two for the rest of my life I would be happy.

  • So it would be too unreal if true, but do you remember George’s last name? If it was Nienga, I know him, as I’ve been to a few times, and he just did start his own safari touring company, and he’s doing great!

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