The Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya prides itself as a custodian of one of the natural wonders of the world; the great wildebeest migration, and experiencing this from a hot air balloon should be an absolute bucket-list item.
Tourists, journalists, ecologists, and curious wanderlusters travel from all corners of the world to come and experience this phenomenal movement of wildebeest and other grazers from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to the Mara. These animals migrate to follow the rains and find greener pastures.
But as they move, they have to pass through dangerous territories where they are preyed on, and worst still, they have to cross the crocodile-infested Mara river where hungry marauding crocodiles are usually more than impressed by a meal that self delivers. As this whole melee of crossing, dodging predators, jumping off cliffs, and basically fighting for survival continues, tourists and photographers snap away, the documented migration make up award-winning documentaries that tell the migration story to the masses that don’t make it to the Mara that year.
Why you should book and watch this year’s migration with Kilian Tours and Travel
2021 migration is currently underway, and if you had any plans to visit the Mara, then by all means speak to Kilian Tours and Travel. Not only will they plan the entire trip for you, pick and drop you at a convenient location, they will also ensure that you get the best bargain for your accommodation and have the most experienced guides to take you where the real action is.
We got to the Mara after about four or so hours on the road(Including breakfast along the way and other short stops) from Nairobi. We headed straight to our hotel: Sekenani camp, which is approximately twenty minutes from the Sekenani Gate.
A two-night stay at Sekenani camp, on a full board meal plan, transport in a shared LandCruiser with unlimited game drives will cost you Ksh 34,500 (This fee excludes park fees).
On arrival, a hot late lunch awaited. The idea was to freshen up then go for an evening game drive but time was not on our side, so we took lunch as we headed out. Also, you can’t trust content creators with time especially if you are operating on a ten-minute window.
The late evening game drive was not in vain at all. Everyone showed up in there full glory. Leopards, elephants, zebras, a majestic orange sunset, and the lone trees never disappointed.
Hot Air Balloon Safari
Now, truth be told, the icing on the cake of this Maasai Mara trip for me was the hot air balloon safari. Matter of fact, when the itinerary was sent and I saw hot air balloon safari, the excitement was too much to contain and I guess for a night or two, the vivid imagination of floating over the Mara triangle looking down at the big five took over and I was all smiles at the very thought of it. Look, I have been drooling over Cappadoccia for a minute now and this was the closest I was getting to it. Imagine from just wanting to experience the migration to actually getting close to experiencing it from a bird’s eye view!
Things you need to know about a hot air balloon safari at The Maasai Mara
A hot air Balloon Safari costs Ksh 40,000. This you will pay in addition to the Ksh 34,900 I mentioned above.
On the day of the hot air balloon safari, we left the camp at exactly 5:00 am and drove to the take-off place which was about an hour or slightly less away. On arrival, we waited a bit as they set up the balloon. This was being done by a team of about ten men including the pilot. They then took our temperatures then we signed indemnity forms as we waited impatiently for the pre-take-off briefing. Check out this video.
“No scarves, long hair must be tucked in, no tripods, cameras, and selfie sticks, mobile phones must be in the pocket during take off. ” Said the pilot who obviously wasn’t ready to take any chances. Also, they don’t allow expectant mothers for safety reasons.
During takeoff, the basket the carries the passengers is tilted to lie on the side and everyone enters the basket and lies on their back while holding the safety handles firmly. The burners which are controlled by the pilot expel hot propane gas that is channeled into the envelope( the colorful umbrella-like part). The less-dense hot air rises up and since it is enveloped and with continuous pumping of hot air, causes the entire ballon to rise.
The balloon safari is about one hour depending on the winds and starts anywhere between 6:00 am to 6:30 am. We went more than 9,000 ft above sea level, which is within the legal recommendation.
The view from above inside the hot air balloon
The view below was out of this world! Spotting a huge herd of Zebra running across the Mara plains all miniatured and resembling safari ants was such a delight. Nothing beat the feeling of standing between the sky and giraffes, elephants, and smaller herds of wildebeests that were either domiciled at the Mara or were the earliest entrants of the great migration! The sky was so near yet so far, so were the swamps, bushes, savannah, and the mighty Mara River.
Sunrise from above slaps different!
One hour or so up the sky is enough to see all there is to see. Remember the hot air rising principle governs the operations of the balloon, you don’t want to be up there when the sun gets hotter, which means more hot air has to be blown into the balloon to keep it floating, which makes it very hot and uncomfortable for the passengers.
If you thought taking off while laying on your back was dramatic, then you haven’t met the landing process. You are instructed to hold onto the safety handles, rest on the walls of the basket with your back and assume a sitting position. Before you realize it, one moment you are enjoying the huge shadow of the hot air balloon cast on the ground below, the next one the basket is being dragged against the thick grass to create resistance for the balloon to stop, in what they call tip-landing. Some passengers close their eyes tightly, others panic-laugh, some smile while the rest stifle a scream and eventually let out a huge exhale as the pilot announces we have landed safely! Me, I am a people watcher, almost always expressionless; just observing.
Champagne Breakfast at The Maasai Mara after the hot air balloon safari
The hot air balloon package includes a champagne breakfast set at a designated lone tree a few meters from the landing spot. I was sold! Bottomless champagne, still and sparkling water, beverages of your choice, fruits, eggs, croissants, and top service by the whole team.
During the safari, the pilot takes photos and short videos of the experiences and sends them to whoever wants them at a fee of Ksh.5,000.
Check out this youtube video by Joy Kendi on how it went down!
After the hot air balloon safari, we did a full day of game drives, spotting all the big five, I guess it is the magic that only happens at The Maasai Mara. The most sought-after experience was catching the lions getting it on. It was interesting to learn that during the mating season, lions actually mate at least thirty times a day. During this time, all they do is mate. Nothing else…must be nice. We were so lucky to catch more than enough couples doing the thing over and over again.
Staying at Sekenani camp inside The Maasai Mara
I highly recommend staying at Sekenani camp if you want to experience a true bush and wild situation. The tented camp is not fenced and you have to be guided every time you leave the room. When you visit Sekenani camp, they expect you to be enjoying game drives across the day and therefore there is no electricity during the day. However, at around 4:30 pm, the power generators are turned on.
The entire workforce is directly from the Maa community living in the area. It gets really cold at night but that is well covered with the gas heated showers and the hot water bottles on request. Each tented camp has a nice view, either strategically placed to catch a nice sunrise or sunset.
The floors are wooden, and the front porch is wide and spacious. The interior is simple with hand-woven mats, the bathroom area has a bathtub and enough storage space.
The camp has all the aesthetics you’d need at a tented bush camp. A suspended bridge, perfectly lawned grass, a fireplace, and a swimming pool.
Tour of a Maasai village near the Maasai Mara
The last day of the trip is a tour of a Maasai village. As you might well be aware, the Maasai people of Kenya and parts of Tanzania are some of the few remaining indigenous people in the world who have successfully kept their ancient cultures and traditions intact and managed to successfully get past the wave of civilization to date.
Several Maasai villages in Narok and around The Maasai Mara have opened their doors to tourists. There is a small facilitation fee that is paid to them.
They welcome you in song and dance. The men start from outside the compound, followed by women who sing from inside the compound. I am not sure, but I suspect one of the reasons could be men staying outside the homestead is to protect.
After the entertainment, we were taken through some of the traditional practices they have kept to date including traditional fire making using friction between two wooden surfaces and dry grass/wooden chips. Believe me, it looks easy being shown than actually doing it.
There was also a tour of the Maasai homestead, as they showed us how the homes were arranged in the order of the number of wives. The house interior was very well plastered using locally sourced materials.
I liked the fact that they had a Maasai curio shop inside their homestead. The prices were fair and I would recommend you purchase your souvenirs for your friends and family from them whenever you visit The Maasai Mara.
Road back to Nairobi from the Maasai Mara
After every great road trip, the road back always seems so long with lots of mixed feelings; not wanting the trip to end and missing home. However, there is a hack for Maasai Mara though. If you love nyama choma, ask your Kilian driver to take you to that place they take their clients to! We couldn’t get enough of it! Juicy sofy and best eaten with kapilipili kwa umbali!
Hope to see you catch the great wildebeest migration before it ends, and most excitingly do a hot air balloon safari!
As you plan for your trip, do not forget to check out some of my best local brands that will give you a full Mara look!
Here are some of my favorite Kenyan Brands that you should check out
You have probably seen me wearing Peperuka World T-shirts, tank tops, tote bags, etc. I wore their stylish and warm snood and let me assure you, not only does it keep you warm but you can wear it as a hood or scarf and style it with whatever you want to. See their Instagram page to place an order.
I have really enjoyed the stylish locally made baskets made from papyrus reeds, leather details, Ankara lining, and beads from Nyabondo baskets. The past few months I have been pairing the baskets with every outfit in my wardrobe. Call them on 0722650895 and enjoy the niceness they have in their stores.
My best pair of sandals are from Maasai treads. The durability, functionality, and style is everything I want from a pair of shoes. If you love recycling and environmental conservation then this is the brand you should be checking out. They have a new release called Mara, that you should absolutely check out and wear to the Mara.
Such a great article about hot air ballooning safari in Masai Mara. The photos are sharp and so inspirational.
Hot air balloon is an excellent excursion combined with a safari to Masai Mara giving travelers an aerial game viewing experience.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful write-up – kudos!
This is brilliant!! The hot air balloon safari experience with Skyship Co. also has a video brief by the pilot so you’re prepared, and the views of the Mara River from above feels magical! Great photos!