During our time in the Masai Mara, we had the opportunity to go on a walking safari when we stayed in Eagle View Camp, in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy. Naboisho is not technically part of the Masai Mara National Reserve, however, it is part of the same ecosystem. While you cannot do walking safaris in the Masai Mara itself, you can do so in the Mara Conservancies.
What is a Walking Safari
A walking safari is a guided walk, out in the African bush, with nothing between you and nature. The walking safari is not a physically demanding activity, although participants need to be moderately fit, as the terrain is uneven and there will be gentle uphill climbs. Walking safaris can be short strolls around your tented campsite or longer ones that take you further out into the bush.
Walking safaris enable safari-goers to see nature from a different perspective. Firstly, on a walking safari, your viewpoint is lower and at a more natural angle. This was how humans had experienced nature for aeons – on foot, with nothing but our wits and some simple weapons to protect us.
Secondly, the safari experience is incredibly tranquil without a jeep’s noisy diesel engine which can bother some animals. Finally, there is the incredibly liberating sensation of being on foot in the savannah. After all, we did spend millions of years evolving in this environment, and we did it all on foot. I think the experience does touch something very primal within us and is an adventure that everyone should try at least once in their lives.
Are Walking Safaris Safe
All walking safaris will have guides leading the guests. As long as you stay with your guides and follow their advice, you will be safe. Wild animals behave predictably and do not attack humans unless provoked. While we were on our walking safari, our guides stayed close to us at every moment. Everyone in the group had one Maasai assigned to them. Even if you fall behind the group, your guide will ensure your safety.
The Maasai guides with us have walked freely through their lands since they were children and know how to avoid danger. They also know how to deal with threats. Many of them have been in dangerous situations before and lived to tell the tale. The truth is, most animals only attack as a last resort, as any attack brings with it some measure of risk. However, the first step is always avoidance. For example, if the Maasai see a lion, they will steer well clear of it.
Our Walking Safari Experience
Our Maasai guides walk on ahead of us, their colourful shukas floating above the tall, yellow grass. The dry blades rise to my knees, and it is as if I am walking in a sea of grass. This landscape stretches out all around us, reaching towards the horizon. Dotting the pale green fields of tall grass are many woody bushes, characteristic of Mara’s Naboisho conservancy.
The tall grass worries me – most certainly, there are snakes, hidden in the thick vegetation. Our Maasai guides tell us this is not something to worry about. The snakes will sense vibration from our footsteps and slither away before we get too close.
Beginning the Walking Safari
It is mid-morning, and the day is beginning to heat up as we start our walking safari out into the African bush. There is an excitement in the air, a sense of play, as we venture out from the premises of our lodge, Eagle View Camp. We are accompanied by six Maasai Ascari, three of whom were once lion hunters, as was the tradition of the Maasai. Today, they are all conservationists belonging to the community that looks after the grasslands of Naboisho.
Safari goers to the Masai Mara usually undertake an expedition in a 4×4 vehicle. Wild animals are accustomed to these large, sturdy jeeps and, for the most part, pay them no heed. As long as you are in the car, you’re safe. You can get quite close to top predators like lion, leopard, cheetahs and hyenas and be secure knowing they will not attack.
Safety First, Weapons Second
A walking safari is different. It’s just you, out in the wilderness, on your own two feet. There is nothing between you and nature. The Maasai that guide you are your lifeline. They are fearless and have known the land and its animals since childhood. Fearless, but not foolhardy. These men do not take unnecessary risk. They can spot a lion from miles away and will avoid getting too close. On the African savannah, the best way to prevent dangerous encounters is to go around it altogether.
A few of them laugh and talk among themselves in Maa, their local language, as they scout ahead of the group. Their colourful dress and relaxed demeanour set the tone for the walk. As long as nobody does anything foolish, there is nothing to be afraid of. As we walk along, we marvel at their courage. These Maasai do not carry modern weapons. Instead, each wields a spear and a throwing club. These weapons, along with their fearless attitude, have been their defence against predators for millennia, and continue to protect them today.
A Lesson on The Mara’s Flora and Fauna
As we continue walking, knee-high grass gives way to recently grazed, green plains. Our guide leads us unhurriedly through the land, stopping us when he sees something interesting.
As we pass an orange croton bush, he tells us about its insect repellent properties. Animals, especially lions, like to relax in its shade because it rids them of annoying flies. He also alerts us to the sandpaper plant, with leaves are like sandpaper. The Maasai use it to polish their spears and clubs.
Then, there’s the sodom apple, named after the famed biblical city near the Dead Sea. This poisonous fruit is as ancient as civilisation itself, dating back to the time of the prophets. Throughout history, the fruit and its plants have had many uses. Today, the Masai continue to use its anti-bacterial stems as toothbrushes and make tea from its roots to relieve stomach pains.
We also encountered some peculiar while balls, drying out under the sun. These are hyena droppings, and they are white because of their high calcium content. Hyenas, after all, consume bone. Luckily for us, these droppings were made quite some time ago, and there were no hyenas around.
Unexpected Encounters in the Bush
As the Maasai walk, they occasionally thump the butt of their spears into the ground. There’s no real reason for this; perhaps it’s merely a way to distribute weight while walking. However, once, an Ascari’s spear landed near a low bush, startling a furry creature resting among its leaves. The animal, a bat-eared foxed, jumped out in surprise and ran away at an incredible speed. It was not our intention to surprise the resting creature, but all the same, we were glad to see it. After all, bat-eared foxes are nocturnal and almost impossible to spot on safari.
Up ahead, we can see trees clustering along a riverbank. Unlike the woody bushes and thorny acacias that cover most of the landscape, these trees have thick green leaves and provide dense shade. Many are enormous fig trees with sturdy, thick branches. It is just the sort of tree leopards love. A grown fig tree’s branches are strong and broad, sufficiently robust for a leopard to haul her kill into. High up in the tree, her meal is safe from thieving by other predators like lion and hyena.
The Most Dangerous Animal on the Savannah
There are no leopards today, or at least none we could see. The river, however, is filled with pods of hippo taking shade from the warm African sun. We approach them cautiously, careful not to cause alarm. All of them are in the water, so staying by the river banks is enough to ensure our safety. Nevertheless, we have to make sure we do not get too close. A Maasai Ascari takes a tentative step down the gentle slope leading into the river. Unbeknownst to us, there is a hippo right below him, and it rears its head up and grunts a warning. We back off after that, keeping our distance.
We continue along the riverbank, observing the hippos go about their day. During the heat of the afternoon, not much goes on. Mostly, they stay in the river, their heads bobbing up and down the mud-coloured waters. Once, we observed a large hippo marking his territory with a spray of excrement, fanning the waste across the banks with a vigorously flipping tale. Even from fifty meters away, the stench was significant.
How Scary are Crocodiles?
We leave the hippos and make our way to a drier part of the river. One of the Maasai have spotted a crocodile on the far bank. It’s almost too far away to see with the naked eye, its light brown scales the colour of the sandbank it lay upon. Through the long lens of a camera, however, we were able to catch sight of it. The creature was huge, and we approached it cautiously. Even from a distance, it sensed our approach. In a blink of an eye, it scampered down into the dry river bed and came out the other side. It was a reminder of how even the most fearsome creatures of the savannah are more wary of us than we are of them.
Let Nature Set the Pace on Your Walking Safari
It was nearly high-noon, and the sun had climbed almost directly overhead. We had walked many kilometres out into the African bush, and it was now time to make our way back. Assuming we set a good pace, and we did not stop along the way, it would still take us an hour to return to camp. But we were in no hurry. In Kenya, there is a saying people are fond of. “Pole, pole”, meaning “slowly, slowly”. After all, nature is never in a hurry, so why should we be?
A Demonstration of Masai Weapons
We make our way back, leisurely crossing the golden-green savannah. Along the way, our Maasai guides demonstrate how they use their primary weapons, the stick and the spear. We were surprised to learn how powerful their simple stick was – this tool, a mere foot and a half long could be used to defend themselves against large animals.
In the distant past, the Maasai also used it in warfare. All it took was good momentum, and a well-placed aim between a creature’s eyes, and the animal would be knocked out. That said, these Maasai no longer hunt animals for sport. These days, they only use their weapons in self-defence.
Our guides show us how they use their spears. These weapons are longer and more massive than the sticks. Some almost as high as their bearer. Throwing them far, and with accuracy, takes skill and strength. Two of our guides, Wilson and Johnson, demonstrate the technique.
There is an art to it – first the body has to be positioned in a slight crouch, giving momentum to the run, which will add speed to the final throw. After a few leaps, they twist their bodies, placing all their power in their shoulders and arms. Then, with great accuracy, the Maasai makes the throw. Despite the spear’s weight and its bearer’s lean frame, the Maasai can launch them far into the distance.
A Lion in Our Midst
Entranced by this fascinating show, we did not notice the sudden disturbance in the nearby bushes. It was not until an entire herd of zebras and wildebeest came dashing out we realised there was a predator in our midst. From the way the animals were running, our guides surmised it was most likely a lion.
The animals, about two hundred of them, came running out into the open field, making a wide semi-circle around us before stopping. We looked around, hoping to spot the predator that had disturbed them, but did not find anything. Soon, the animals, previously alert, began to mill about once more, grazing calmly at the grass under their hooves. It seemed their attacker had given up for now.
Our Walking Safari Concludes
It was now beginning to get late and quite warm. We were all eager to make it back to the comfort of our lodge for a nice lunch and a cold drink. Together, we trundled our way across the rolling green fields that stretched out into the distance. Soon, we notice the short, green grass give way to the tall golden meadow which surrounds the campsite. As we wade into the long grass, we know we are almost home.
FAQs for Walking Safari Kenya
A walking safari is similar to an easy hike out in the African savannah. The only difference to a hike is that you will see plenty of wild animals during your walk.
A walking safari is safe as they are always conducted with experienced guides. These guides, who are armed, know how to avoid conflict with wild animals and deal with danger should any arise.
Lions are wild animals and you cannot do walking safaris with them. Our Maasai guides explicitly told us if we encountered lions we would make sure to walk some distance around them. This is what the Maasai do themselves when they encounter lions out in the bush.