Cheetah in the Masai Mara Kenya

The Maasai Mara is hands down one of the most spectacular places on earth. With over 1,600,000 wildebeest, zebra, impala, lions and cheetahs migrating through its surreal landscape annually, this Kenyan park offers a safari experience like no other. The Maasai Mara and the Serengeti are the same contiguous landmass, separated only by the crocodile-infested Mara River that straddles the border between Tanzania and Kenya, but one thing that makes the Mara so special is the culture. The name Maasai Mara refers to the fact that this isn’t a government-run park but the land of the Maasai tribe and that they govern and protect it, just as they always have.

We assumed a a road trip from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara (the capital to the country’s biggest attraction) would be a piece of paved cake but, man, did we misread that one. After slamming along a three-hour stretch of potholes, the driver decided to move the journey along with a shortcut through a river. We hit it at about 25-miles per hour, which would have been fast enough if the opposite bank was not dripping with mud. Instead, our bus made it two-thirds of the way up the bank, before is started sliding sideways and backwards into the river. We were holding onto anything we could in case the bus caught a rut and flipped…only realizing how “safe” WE were when we saw four people climb down off the roof! The above video was shot after everyone disembarked and driver gave it another shot.

Mara Leisure camp in Masai Mara, Kenya

We pulled up to the upscale Mara Leisure Camp on the local hoopty bus (likely the first guest-drop off its kind), dusted ourselves off and checked into our tented hotel. Run by a virtually all-Maasai staff, the 25-room camp embraces the Mara with campaign-style tents that only have a thin zip-up screen separating you from the outdoors.

Impala in the Masai Mara, kenya

The next morning we loaded up the Land Rover with our trusty guide Bernard and ventured into the 200-square mile Mara. (Mara means “spotted land” in Maasai, named after the large number of animals roaming its wide open plains and the occasional acacia tree dotting its landscape.)

Wildebeest on the runway at Masai Mara, Kenya

Driving by the airstrip, we could see that it wasn’t just the buses that have trouble entering the Mara. Wildebeest are everywhere this time of year, even the tarmac.

Vultures in the Masai Mara, Kenya

Vultures are scavengers fighting for scraps the world over, but during the Great Migration and the predator feast that follows, they also get to eat like kings.

Close encounters with a lion in Masai Mara, Kenya

You know you have a good animal sighting when you can see the plaque on a lion’s massive incisors. Each safari in Africa got us up-close and personal with the animals, but the Maasai Mara seemed to be that much more intimate.

Masai tribal dance and rituals, Kenya

The following day Mara Leisure Camp organized a private encounter for Anne and I with a local Maasai tribe. We learned the history of their dances, heard a few stories passed down from generation to generation, and listened to the music of the antelope horn.

Drinking giraffe Masai Mara Kenya

We fell in love with this family of giraffes after watching them take in a few drinks at the pond. When you’re 20-feet tall, lapping up water from a hole in the ground is no easy or graceful task. To get their six-foot long neck closer to the water, they have to spread their skinny legs and bow their head between them, then sip as fast as they can before too much blood rushes to their head. Whipping their neck up every so often, their mouths splash water and slobber around in the best possible way.

Wildebeest chased by an alligator in the Masai Mara, Kenya

On day two, Bernard could sense our anticipation to experience the Great Migration so he had the kitchen prepare some picnic lunches for a full-day game drive to the Mara River, where the real action happens. When we arrived at the river its shores were packed with wildebeest and zebra nervously waiting their turn to cross—-and rightfully so. These wildebeest had the scare of their lives when a croc came out of nowhere as they were exiting the other side.

Cheetah on the roof of our safari vehicle in the Masai Mara

After watching the frenzy of wildebeest and zebra darting back and forth across the river, crocs nipping at them underwater, and leopards waiting for them on the other side, we didn’t think any more action was possible…but in the Mara there is no cap on the adventures in a day. Enter the greatest cheetah encounter ever!! We found a mother and baby cheetah relaxing in the shade of a shrub and were totally content enjoying this peaceful moment but then they set out for the hunt. The mother moved with incredible grace and efficiency as she sought out a better vantage point, while the baby scrambled to follow. The mound (see top) she was using was not cutting it, so this cheetah found a new lookout spot…the roof of our car!!!! While we might look calm and collected, our hearts and minds were racing, thinking that her hungry gaze could turn on us at any moment. (VIDEO: Watch this beautiful beast makes its way towards Anne’s head and down the hood of our safari vehicle.)

Sundowners on the Masai Mara, Kenya

The Maasai Mara may be one of the most touristy African safari parks but anything you have to endure to get here or experience it is completely worth it. To see a single acacia tree spring up from endless golden grasslands, the Maasai women dripping in homemade jewelry, and a million wildebeest stampede around you…these are things that only the Mara is made of.

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  1. Wow – breathtaking shots! If you tell me that the cheetah experience wasn’t heart stopping I will not believe you. These are things that mothers need to find out about after the fact! The lion’s teeth look pretty good – no plaque just a tinge of yellow! What a close up shot!

    1. those experiences are ones that are good for anyone to find out after the fact….man when that cheetah jumped up on our car (which didnt really have a roof, but just a metal ridge around the outside)…we were thinking, ok even if he wasnt trying to eat us, what if he fell inside and got frightened….eeekkkk….so crazy!

  2. Kelly McGuirl says:

    And more amazing stuff! You two do not disappoint! My next vacation is going to have to be more adventurous after watching you two! Enjoy the next 200 days!

    1. lol Kelly, glad you liked the adventure…the Maasai Mara was quite sick! thanks for the love, the next 200 are going to be even crazier 🙂

  3. Anna Kate says:

    With so many incredible photos it must have been hard to pick the ones to display on your post! Sounds like an awesome adventure! Especially the cheetah!!!! Thank you for sharing your adventures:)

    1. Anna, you are so right. We had over a thousand photos, and we needed to trim that down to our favorite 100 for the slideshow, then our favorite 11 for the blog…its a lot of work (and hard decisions for sure). thanks for taking the time to comment, glad you liked the adventure!

  4. I just looked at all these with my daughter, Willa — who is obsessed with going to Africa someday (when she’s older than 4…). Willa says, “Your pictures are awesome! I hope you have a good time getting back to your home.”

    What a journey, guys!!

    1. Thanks Sally….you need to take Willa to Africa (and for yourself), such amazing people and animals there….and much safer than we ever heard/thought prior to our trip. And tell Willa it makes us smile to know she liked our photos, and we will have a good time getting back to our home (over the remaining 200 days :)….now that we think of it, we are on our way home now….

  5. Rashaad Jorden says:

    I love the photo of the tiger! Were you nervous getting so close to him?

  6. Thanks so much Nancy Frankenfield, you ROCK! We love hearing from you, and to know we are filling up your bucket list makes me smile 🙂 You totally need to rock Africa…it was so amazing, and not nearly as scary as they make it seem to be. #1. no-one robs you #2. Most towns do not have lions and elephants roaming wild (but some do) #3. you can get min-buses anywhere in the country, assuming your legs are flexible and #4. the people were SO NICE, i mean SO nice!

  7. What an awesome blog. I can’t believe you guys have been on your honeymoon for 8 years now, is that really true?

    1. Prince, it’s totally true. We left on our honeymoon on January 22nd, 2012, and we have literally NOT lived anywhere since then. we have not had an apartment our a house in the last 9 years. Thanks for the love man!

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