1. Arrange Passports, visas and shots
Youíll need a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your stay and contains at least two facing blank pages, for stamps.
Kenya requires an entry visa for travelers from most countries; it costs $50. You can purchase your visa at the airport upon arrival in Nairobi; or if you prefer to avoid the inevitable lines, you can register online beforehand with the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in the United States. Youíll need to send in your passport, along with two photos, and youíll get it back one to two weeks later.
There are no required immunizations for U.S. travelers to enter the country, but there are risks in certain areas of Kenya for malaria and yellow fever. In the Masai Mara, though, the risk is pretty low. Check with your doctor or, better yet, one who specializes in travel medicine. You can also visit the Centers for Disease Control to see if there are any recent health alerts that might affect you.
2. Pack light, but enough to dress in layers
Between July and October, the average temperatures can range from the low-50s to mid-70s, depending on the time of day. Because you wonít want to miss the stunning sunrises, and because animals are most active in the early morning and just before sunset, youíll want to dress in layers. Pack at least one warm jacket or fleece.
3. Bring more memory cards than you think youíll need
Africa is rife with stunning landscapes, amazing wildlife, and light that can make an ugly stump look magical. Youíll probably want to take images of the wildebeests and other animals in action; that means youíll need your camera on burst mode (rapid shots in succession to capture action), which burns through a lot of memory. Nothing is more upsetting than using up your cards with days left on your itinerary.
4. Consider a backup device
If you want to safeguard your images, bring a backup device to download your photos. If you lose a memory card or, God forbid, you miscalculate and have to write over a used card, you wonít lose any pictures. Consider investing in a compact external hard drive. One option is The Silicon Power Rugged A80; itís both waterproof and shockproof and has 1 Terabyte of space (thatís a lot) for $85.99.
5. Invest in a long lens
You can get pretty close to animals on the Masai Mara, but if you want compelling photos youíll need a long lens. When the wildebeests start to cross the Mara River, they can be hundreds of yards away. If you donít own a long lens and youíre not eager to buy one, consider renting.
Companies such as Lensrental.com or borrowlenses.com can give you access to great lensesóand camera bodies for that matteróat a fraction of the price. Better yet, look for travel companies that offer equipment rentals to their clients, such as Wild Eye Photographic Safaris. No need to lug heavy equipment while you travel; theyíll have everything you need when you arrive.
6. Adhere to luggage requirements
Once in Kenya, itís likely that youíll take a small plane into the bush. Airkenya, which flies into the Masai Mara, limits bag weight to 15Kg per person, or approximately 33 lbs. Depending on how you pack, or if you have a lot of camera equipment, those pounds can add up quickly. Exceeding the limit can incur costly fines and, in some cases, bump you off the flight. Most camps offer free laundry services, which makes it easier to pack light, but youíll want to double-check with your travel agent, camp or tour provider.
7. Donít forget sunscreen and a hat
Youíll spend a lot of your time in a covered jeep, but the sun in Kenya is wicked strong. Youíll want a high SPF and a hat with a decent brim. Don't forget to dab SPF on your ear tips and back of your neck, either!
8. Pack a power strip
Even in the most luxurious accommodations, outlets can be scarce. Donít waste time switching out chargers for your camera batteries, computer, or smart phone. A travel power strip makes a bothersome process, painless.
9. Don't underestimate the usefulness of a notebook
The wildebeest migration may be the reason for your trip, but youíll see a wide variety of other wildlife as well. Itís fun to keep track of what you see each day, and itís a great resource to reference when you return home.
10. Double-check for Wi-Fi
Some camps provide Wi-Fi, and others do not. If you need a guaranteed signal, check with your camp beforehand.
11. Take care of the people who take care of you
It is standard to budget at least $15 to $25 for each person in your group, per day, in tips for your guide. He puts an enormous amount of time and effort into making your experience extraordinary. His knowledge of animals and the bush will ensure that youíre front row center to the best sightings. Itís not mandatoryóbut it is somewhat customaryóto give $5 to $15 per person/per day to the staff as a whole. Youíll usually find a box located in the main area of the camp where you can place your money; the employees will split it evenly.
[Photos: Susan Portnoy/The Insatiable Traveler, on safari in Kenya, 2013]