My guide painted me a picture of what it was like in the Masai Mara during the Great Migration. If you’re the first to spot an animal, he said, you won’t have it to yourself for long. He said dozens – yes, dozens – of cars can be found around a single river or animal at any given time, and the increase in demand from tourists during the Migration brings in a lot of inexperienced guides who work on tips and fail to respect proper positioning etiquette.
That said, to see that number of animals might be worth it to those who don't mind the crowds, and it’s an experience I definitely hope to have somewhere down the line. But I am glad my first safari did not take place during such a busy time, that I was able to get a more personal experience with the animals and the landscape. The general consensus of my experience as well as those I interviewed was that April/May and September/October were two of the best times to visit the Masai Mara. The reasons? Lack of crowds, intimate animal interaction, and lower prices.
The only risk you take in April is that it is the rainy season, so you have to be willing to put up with a storm or two and potentially cloudy conditions for photography. The other side of the coin is that you will have the place to yourself, and if it doesn’t rain, you will have hit the jackpot.
During my visit last week, I enjoyed beautiful 80-degree days, blue skies, and the park essentially to myself, as you can see in the cover photo. I got to experience the savanna the way it was meant to be – absent of humans. Because it is the low season for safaris (possible rain, kids still in school, etc.), flights and lodging are more affordable, with some camps offering rates that are hundreds of dollars cheaper than usual. With less people, you will also have less competition for the game, and when your guide leads you to a group of animals or a kill, it will be just you – not a dozen other vehicles.
September and October might just be the best months of all because they come at the tail end of the Great Migration, when the number of animals is still high but things begin to settle down again in terms of the crowds (end of Northern Hemisphere’s summer, kids going back to school, etc.). Prices once again take a dip, especially the closer you get to November, when another rainy season starts.
Wondering about a visit when it's winter in the States? Remember, Kenya is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means the seasons are reversed and temperatures will be in the 90s. If you can handle the heat, though, you will see a lot of kills as these months are when gazelles and wildebeests give birth, which means easy pickings for the cats.
[Photos: Will McGough/Independent]