A Masai Mara walking safari is a walk like no other, a chance to explore a wild corner of Kenya on foot. With a Maasai spotter keeping an eagle eye for predators and a guide providing a fascinating commentary, our private walking safari in the Masai Mara was an unforgettable way of experiencing the African wilderness.
African dawn. I was woken early in my luxury safari tent with a cup of strong coffee. Pulling on a pair of sturdy walking shoes and grabbing a water bottle, I was good to go. There was no need to drive anywhere to start this particular walking safari; the Pusinkariak private conservation area is a car- (and cattle-) free zone.
The only access to the 600ha of pristine wilderness, adjacent to the Masai Mara National Reserve, is via a swing bridge. As I tentatively crossed the Mara River I was delighted to see a large hippo yawning downstream.
Waiting to greet me – along with a quietly excited group of walkers – was our guide and a tall Maasai spotter dressed in traditional red blanket and carrying a spear. After a short briefing on bush etiquette – no noise, walk in single file, never run from an animal – we set off towards the Siria Escarpment. It was an idyllic, crisp morning, the plains below us slowly coming alive. I felt I needed to pinch myself: we were walking alone in one of the wildest corners of Africa.
After days of game viewing from the back of a vehicle, I immediately appreciated the difference. Gone was the sound of the engine: there was only the twitter of birds and rustle of wind in the long grass. On foot, your senses are heightened. You begin to look for the slightest twitch of movement in the bushes, or any sound that might betray an animal. In fact, you begin to tune yourself into the rhythm of the veld. And the funny thing is, even for city dwellers and pavement plodders, this happens within minutes of setting off.
Being on foot and moving at a slow pace gave us a wonderful opportunity to engage with some of the smaller creatures – and with the Masai Mara ecosystem – in a more personal and organic way. Our guide told us about the intricate construction of termite mounds and the importance of dung beetles. He bent down and pointed to a curled up millipede and the bright red body of a velvet mite, fascinating critters we would have passed by on the vehicle.
When we stopped for a breather, our Maasai guide, Kapalei, told us about the local way of life, its legends and traditions. He showed off his remarkable spotting skills by pointing out animals on the plain we had trouble seeing, even with binoculars. Our guide also imparted some of the medicinal uses of plants and explained how important certain animals are in Maasai culture.
We picked our way among the rocks, nearing the top of the escarpment. Kapalei held up his hand: a Chandler’s mountain reedbuck was quietly grazing on our left … then a pair of klipspringer watching us from a giant boulder. Colobus monkey cavorted in the trees, offering glimpses of their gorgeous, black-and-white livery.
From the summit, we saw grasslands stretching into the distance like a bright green sea. The sweeping vistas and open plains teemed with game, offering an experience unlike any other walking safari I’d done. So much space and sky, so many species of mammal in the most cursory sweep of my binoculars!
Everywhere we looked, zebra and wildebeest grazed in large herds. A line of elephant ambled along the horizon like a convoy of ships cruising the grasslands. Just then, a hyena jogged across our path, seemingly in a hurry for an appointment. The bird life, too, was remarkable. Our guide pointed out plenty of small beauties such as bee-eaters, parrots and rollers. Bigger fowl included storks and any number of raptors, including the king of the skies in these parts, the martial eagle.
After a time we wound our way back down the escarpment. Back at camp, warm towels and a hearty breakfast awaited us. Looking back up the escarpment at the route we’d walked, through terrain overflowing with game, I knew that the sense of adventure we’d experienced on this private Masai Mara walking safari would be difficult to replicate anywhere else. There was indeed something magical about totally immersing yourself in the wilderness, with your boots in the dust and your spirits soaring.