Last May, Patrick and I took a trip to Kenya – we were there primarily to sort out some family stuff but we managed to sneak off to the Masai Mara for a couple of days to go on safari. It was absolutely amazing to see the wildlife in their natural habitat – we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, lions and so much more. I tried to play it cool whenever I saw anything, but generally failed – especially whenever we came across any giraffes…
We were there in May, which is generally the off-season, so the roads of the Masai Mara National Park were quieter than usual. Although it was rather rainy at times, it was nowhere near as wet as the forecast had predicted before we left, and the roads, although still muddy, were passable.
The high levels of rain meant the grasses were green and lush – and although that made it a bit trickier to spot some of the animals, such as the cheetahs, it also meant the Mara was filled with thousands of colourful butterflies, which looked beautiful fluttering around the plains.
Internal flights to the Masai Mara
Getting to the Masai Mara is an adventure in itself. The most popular way to get there is via domestic flights as making the trip by road is pretty hard going – it takes six hours to travel from Nairobi, whereas flights take around 45 minutes. The area is littered with a number of small airstrips both in the National Reserve and the surrounding area – we used Siana as it was the closest to our camp.
You basically book a flight to the Masai Mara and your exact route around the different airstrips will depend on who needs picking up and dropping off along the way (and the weather – those little planes need to avoid the rain!).
The two most popular airlines are SafariLink and Air Kenya. Both fly to the Masai Mara from a number of Kenyan cities, but their main hub is Nairobi’s Wilson airport. We ended up flying from Wilson as the off-season timetable meant routes from other towns and cities were limited. We flew with SafariLink, who run two flights a day between Wilson and the Masai Mara.
Top tip: The roads between Jomo Kenyatta International Aiport and Wilson Airport can be extremely busy so make sure you leave plenty of time for any transfers.
Packing Tips for internal/domestic flights to the Masai Mara
Stick to 15kg
Packing for a flight to the Masai Mara is a bit of an art – because the planes are teeny tiny (generally a Cessna Caravan which takes a maximum of 13 passengers) the baggage allowances are strict. You’re allowed 15kg each – and that includes your hand baggage (ouch!).
Although SafariLink advise there’s generally a 2kg leeway, this is at the discretion of captain and is only if there is enough room. You’ll also get charged $2.50 per kg. If you have a significant amount of luggage, you’ll need to book a freight seat in advance, which costs around 75% of the standard ticket price.
However, if you do have some items that you perhaps don’t need for for a few days, there are apparently secure lockers at Wilson airport where you can store any excess items while you are on your safari trip.
Use a soft bag
The other main packing restriction you’ll find is that you’re not allowed to take hard cases on board. Because the aircraft holds are small, and quite an irregular shape, you’re only allowed to take soft bags. Because the allowances are so small, I managed the whole trip with a small holdall, while Patrick had a slightly larger holdall which had wheels and a pull-out handle. We both used our small Berghaus daypacks for our hand luggage.
Top tip: Make sure you take anything you might want for your flight, such as your camera, book or headphones, out of your hand luggage before you board. Even though you can take a bag into the cabin with you, it’s stowed right at the back of the plane when you get on and you can’t really access it in-flight.
What to pack? Layers, layers and more layers…
So if you’ve only got a 15kg allowance, what on earth should you pack? Well, I found that the trick was to stick with layers. Because of the altitude, the Masai Mara can be a little bit nippy after dark (especially in May!) so you need to wrap up relatively well in the morning and the evening, especially if you are out on a game drive.
I packed a range of t-shirts, linen cropped trousers, a pair of cropped jeans (for travelling and cooler evenings). I also took a light scarf, a long-sleeved shirt and a light fleece.
If you’re going in the rainy season, a light shell waterproof jacket (ideally one that folds up into its own bag) is ideal. Footwear-wise, as usual, I travelled in Converse (I prefer the thinner-soled All Star Dainty – I’m currently on my third pair in a row). I also swear by Menorcan sandals – I find that they cover enough of my foot to be practical for walking a relatively long way, are really comfortable and are nice enough to wear to dinner.
Top tip: Even if the evenings are going to be warmer when you go, I recommend you sleep in a pair of light, full-length pyjama bottoms to minimise the risk of being bitten.
Toiltries and medication
My approach to toiletries wasn’t that much different to normal as I usually try and pack lightly in this area when I’m holiday anyway. I had room for my usual items: contact lenses, moisturisers, make up essentials etc. One thing to note is that although Kenya has banned all plastic bags, you still need to comply with the usual restrictions on liquids in your hand luggage. You place the items in a small tray at security, rather than using a clear plastic bag.
And, of course, It goes without saying to remember to pack your malaria tablets and other medications!
Top tip: If you live in the UK and are in good health, you may be able to purchase your malaria tablets from your local supermarket which can be a lot cheaper than buying from the travel clinic at your doctors. As they are pharmacist-prescribed, you won’t be able to do this if you have any complicating factors, but if you are fit and healthy and not on any/many other meds, it’s definitely worth checking.
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