I am currently working for a year in Nairobi for a medical NGO. Subsequently I have had the time to review many different safari opportunities within Kenya and talk to many who have gone to the different parks within this beautiful country. The overwhelming majority of responses from Kenyans on where to go on a holiday safari is very simple, if you want the best in Kenya, you go to the Masai Mara.
Next you have to decide between the many different outfitters who provide safaris on the Mara. After extensive research and discussions, it was clear to me that I wanted to be in the Mara North Conservancy (www.maranorth.com). This is a section of the Mara that is on the northern border and consists of ~ 75,000 acres of non-profit managed ecosystem that has only 11 outfitters working there by lease. This Masai community-based organization benefits the people directly and limits the access intentionally to the north Mara. Therefore you have the lowest density of tourists on the Mara = a win-win-win for the Masai, outfitters and those who visit.
The trick is trying to decide which of the 11 camps you want to go with. I chose Alex Walker's Serian main camp for several reasons. First, it is small (7 tents) and caters to photographers. They are set directly on the Mara river - I had tent #6 and woke up every morning to the sounds of bellowing hippos that were < 50 yards away, how cool is that?
Secondly and critically important - you get your own Land Cruiser and two Masai guides, 24/7. You want to go early and shoot a sunrise? You want to stay out late and get a fantastic star shot panorama of the Mara? You want to take a walking safari along the Mara escarpment that no one else but Serian camp guests can go and come face to face with a lion? (Yep, did that...) The key is your daily itinerary is determined by you and not the couple from Queens (no disrespect) who want to go look for something you are not interested in.
Case in point: Second evening I was there we found 2 young cheetahs and their mother hunting. They then decided to take a late afternoon nap. The only other couple in the camp was radioed and they came with their guides over and saw the cheetahs. They were bored in 10 minutes and left. I asked my guides what they thought we should do - "we wait". Sure enough, 30 minutes later after a cold beer and a beautiful sunset, the cheetahs got up and put on a hunt for Thompson's gazelle that was at one point ~ 60 mph chase, right at our truck! Got back to camp the couple asked what happened - "nice sunset..." and some of the best images of the trip.
The camp is "eco-chic" according to their glossy. I will say that it is posh for sure, but not over the top. Take a look at Sir Branson's new Virgin camp in a different area if you want over the top. At Serian, the 4-poster bed, private stone baths, wake up coffee & tea service, fantastic food, wine, beer, etc - all included is 4 stars. How about a 4 course safari breakfast under an Acacia tree ~ 0900 after getting up for the sunrise on the Mara - did that every morning! Lunch can be relaxing back at the camp or you can do that on the main Mara, which I did, or especially if you are there during the migration.
I went the end of May, before the migration started. I have already booked a return trip in September this year to catch the end of the migration which started late. I think the Mara was fabulous during the low season of May - very few people and I saw the "big 5" easily. Saw lions daily. The Masai guides know where the 5 main different lion prides are at most of the time, we had no problems finding them. The Serian is also participating in the Mara Predator Project to help monitor and sustain this critical part of the ecosystem.
I stayed 4 nights, five days which was perfect. I would not stay fewer than two nights, you will regret that because of what will be missed. I recommend flying in via Wilson Airport in Nairobi and let Serian arrange your transport from Kenyatta Airport - traffic in Nairobi is a nightmare at best. You can drive in but it will take all day from Nairobi and you will waste valuable time, unless you have it to burn.
On a side note, you do not need anything longer than 300mm zoom to get fantastic images here. I had to leave my long prime lens at home when I left in January for work. Picked up an inexpensive 70-300 mm which I shot with most of the trip and worked fine. I did run into some guys with nikon D4s and 500mm prime lenses, but funny, they were shooting mostly with their 70-200mm lens... you get very very close to the animals here and do not need a pro camera to get fabulous images. Also note, the images I upload are small email-sized for easy of loading. They do not due justice to the full sized processed images I have.
The Serian is expensive. But it is a special place and if you want a once in a lifetime personalized safari, I would highly recommend it. Especially if you are a photographer or aspiring to be one. Can't wait to get back!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.