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Three-night Eco-camp Safari in the Maasai Mara 

Three-night Eco-camp Safari in the Maasai Mara

For a three-night eco-camp safari in the Maasai Mara, Kandili Camp is hard to beat. Imagine the African savanna with acacia-dotted plains amongst the sweeping grasslands where human life began in the Great Rift Valley. Add to this image about a dozen luxury tents without fences, permanent structures, or a swimming pool. You hear only the call of birds because solar is the only source of power that provides the comfort of electricity, internet, and hot showers 24/7. Because there are no fences, you have a whistle to blow, not if an animal is outside your tent, but inside your tent. In the darkness of morning and night, guards escort you to the dining tent for delicious meals. Upon waking in the morning, you appreciate the guards when you see the tracks of deadly buffalo and elephants outside your tent. You have a Maasai warrior guide assigned to you for all of the game drives, walking safaris, and conversations you desire. You are at Kandili Camp.

Tents on an African savanna at sunset.
Look hard to find the small footprint of the tents at Kandili Camp amongst the acacia trees.

Our guide was Kuda, who became a Maasai warrior at the age of 25 after he passed all of the skill tests, culminating with the killing of a lion. Such a killing is no longer a requirement to become a warrior, but this lion was preying on cattle, and nothing is more important to the Maasai than their cattle. Like many guides in Kenya, he learned English in a nearby primary school, went away to secondary boarding school, and earned a college degree in wildlife management.

A Maasai warrior demonstrating with a spear.
On a walking safari, Kuda is protecting us with his knife and spear.

Kuda knew the local wildlife by name. Upon arrival, he took us on a walking safari, which was supposed to be about two miles, and end at a sundowner with drinks and a ride back. Unlike the semi-automatic armed guard we had on a walking safari in Samburu, Kuda carried only a knife and spear. After all, he was a Maasai warrior, and it was the same spear he used to kill that lion. About an hour into the hike, he said it looked like rain and pointed out the tissue flowers that only open before a storm. He increased his pace, and before we knew it, we were running through the knee-high grass and squishy mud only to have enough time at the sundowner to open a beer, take a picture, and get in the safari car to head back to camp. It was a fierce and fantastic storm with thunder and lightning.

A safari car in a storm.
A massive storm sweeps in cutting a walking safari short for a drive back in a safari car.

The next day, we saw something even more fierce. After entering the Masai Mara National Game Reserve at the Musiara Gate and paying the hefty but well-worth-it entrance fee, Kuda got a message on his group chat from other guides about a leopard killing an impala. Back in the safari car, maneuvering around potholes, splashing through puddles, and trying to avoid the mudslinging from the tires, we arrived at the acacia tree where the leopard, Bahita, was resting with her fresh kill. Bahita surgically opened the impala without piercing the stomach to prevent the smell from alerting lions and hyenas. After a feast and a rest, she climbed down the tree, probably to check on her two cubs, and strolled about the five cars watching her.

A leopard in a tree with a dead impala.
Bahita, the leopard, in the top left, with a gutted impala, stomach hanging out, on the right.

Seeing how the animals never cared about the safari cars was amazing. Only if a person got out of a steel beast would an animal take notice of a potential threat or prey. While some animals would run, lions, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, and elephants could attack.

Bahita, the leapard walking around the cars.
Bahita, like most animals, pays no attention to the safari cars as long as the people stay inside.

At our next stop, we watched a pride of ten lions, the Topi Pride, while keenly aware of keeping our body parts well inside the vehicle. We shared our watch with two BBC videographers filming a documentary. The lions appeared very affectionate and playful, mostly rolling around and napping with full bellies, swatting flies with their tails, and peaking up to stay aware of their surroundings. At one point, we drove away but soon noticed a large herd of elephants heading toward the pride. We quickly returned to see that the lions had also noticed the approaching elephants as they moved to a better vantage point. The elephants figured it out and changed direction. Despite the size and strength of an elephant, in the end, it would be no match to a pride of lions, king of beasts, more mighty up close than ever imagined watching them on television.

A pride of lions in the grass.
The Topi Pride reposition themselves as a large herd of elephants approach.

There were sightings of hyena, buffalo, warthog, crocodile, gazelle, wildebeest, ostrich, a pair of cheetah brothers, herds of giraffe, zebra, impala, topi, and birds of all sizes and colors. The food chain is massive in the Mara. We did not see many other people due to the high river water levels from the recent rain that kept cars from crossing to create a crowded “Mara madness.”

Two cheetahs laying under a tree.
A pair of cheetah brothers lay in the shade of an acacia tree.

The Mara consists of several parks and conservancies that, depending on your lodging and the water levels, may limit your game drive options. For example, we were not allowed in the Mara North Conservancy because Kandili Camp did not have an agreement with them. It is all traditional Maasai land, and government and conservation organizations pay fees to the Maasai people, who maintain grazing rights for their beloved cattle. While the animals do not recognize any boundaries, your lodging does.

An acacia tree on the African savanna.
Lodging matters for location, access, and support for the Maasai and their land.

We departed the Mara in a twelve-seater plane, taking off from a dirt runway. On our way back to Nairobi, we looked down at the Great Rift Valley, where human life began on our planet. We felt good about staying at the best eco-camp in the Mara, with its small footprint and support for the Maasai people and their land.

A Maasai warrior carries luggage to a plane.
Leaving in a small plane on a dirt runway and flying over the Great Rift Valley where life began on this planet.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

The African savanna with three acacia trees.
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