In Swahili, safari means ‘journey’, a fitting translation for what is arguably one of the most evocative words to infiltrate the English language. But before you don a floppy hat and slip into your pocket-lined field vest, consider the following author-tested tips for planning the perfect Kenyan safari.

Where & When to go?

However clichéd it may be, the image of khaki-clad tourists peering out at the Masai Mara from open-top vehicles is the single key selling point for Kenya’s tourist industry. When the annual wildebeest and zebra migration fills up the park with upwards of one million hulking herbivores, a good number of which are silently stalked by hungry felines, the wildlife watching is truly unparalleled.

However, clued-up visitors face an infinite choice of alternative settings and activities. The various Rift Valley lakes offer an aquatic complement to the savannah, while Mt Kenya is home to alpine highlands and glaciated ridges. Samburu National Reserve showcases arid specialists such as the Beisa oryx and Somali ostrich, while Malinidi Marine National Park harbours sea turtles and whale sharks.

Possibly the single most important influence on the behaviour of wildlife (and therefore your chances of seeing it) is rain. The main tourist season runs during the hot, dry months of December and January, and the cool, dry months from June to August, although Kenya can really be visited at any time of year. When the long rains fall from March to May things are much quieter, there are fewer tourists and accommodation prices come down, but note that some places close completely.

How & What to book?

The majority of midrange and upmarket travellers prefer to get all the hard work done before arriving in Kenya by booking in advance. This practice also ensures that you’ll be able to secure a spot at the more famous lodges, especially during peak seasons when places start filling up months in advance. However, if you’re going for the budget route, it is often much cheaper to arrange everything on the ground after you arrive.

Most safari operator price quotes include park entrance fees, full room and board, transport costs from the starting base to the various parks, and the costs of fuel plus a guide for wildlife drives. Drinks (whether alcoholic or not) are generally excluded. Price quotes usually assume double occupancy, with supplements for singles ranging from 20% to 50% of the double-occupancy rate.

Most midrange safaris use lodges, where you’ll have a private room and eat in a buffet-style cafeteria. A disadvantage is that they may have somewhat of a packaged-tour or production line feel. Private lodges, luxury tented camps and even private fly-in camps are used in top-end safaris, all with the aim of providing highly personalized experiences without foregoing creature comforts. Most budget safaris are camping trips that keep to a no-frills setup with basic meals and a minimum number of staff.

The safari experience

Game drives are the backbone of most safaris, with the idea being to spend as many hours as possible in the bush searching for animals. A game drive can be done at any time of day, but early morning, mid-morning and late afternoon, with a break early on for breakfast, and another in the middle of the day for lunch, is the usual plan. Night drives are also an excellent way to view nocturnal animals, although they’re not permitted everywhere.

A few key accessories can greatly improve the quality of your safari experience. Field guides depict the flora and fauna of a specific area alongside photos, identification pointers and distribution maps. If you’re into photography, invest in a high-quality digital SLR with a 100-400mm zoom lens and a small, collapsible tripod. Finally, a quality pair of binoculars is probably the most important piece of equipment on safari – even a cheap working pair is better than none at all!

Source: Lonely planet

Itinerary Details

Day 1: Arrive In Nairobi

Meet and greet on arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by The Earth Safari representatives. Thereafter receive a short briefing about your safari which gives you a clear idea on the places you are going to visit as well as the accommodation arrangements. After the briefing get transferred to your hotel for relaxation and overnight.

Day 2: Nairobi - Masai Mara Game Reserve

After breakfast you will check out from yuor hotel and depart to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, home to the big five and numerous plains game.

Welcome to the Masai Mara, an undisputed paradise for the sheer quantity and variety of wildlife. Renowned for its lions and for the annual Great Wildebeest Migration, Kenya's greatest reserve is as magical as your wildest safari dreams.

Everything about Masai Mara is outstanding. The wildlife is abundant and the gentle rolling grasslands ensure that animals are never out of sight. Birds, too, are prolific. Including migrants, well over 450 species have been recorded, among them, 57 species of birds of prey. The climate is gentle, rarely too hot and well-spread rainfall year round. Rain, when it falls almost always chooses the late afternoon or night.

Between July and October, when the great wildebeest migration is in the Masai Mara National Reserve, the sensation is unparalleled. Masai Mara is one of the best plains' game reserve where you can actually encounter a live Discovery Channel, a haven for viewing a congregation of all sorts of animals in a five-mile radius: A pride of lions can be spotted ready to make a run for a gazelle.

Welcome to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, an undisputed paradise for the sheer quantity and variety of wildlife. Renowned for its lions and for the annual Great Wildebeest Migration, Kenya's greatest reserve is as magical as your wildest safari dreams.

Enjoy a sumptuous lunch at your lodge before departing for an afternoon game drive till evening.

Days 3, 4 & 5: Masai Mara Game Reserve

Spend 3 days enjoying Morning / Afternoon game drives or Full day game drives in 4X4 Land Cruisers within the extensive and beautiful Mara reserve looking out for the Great Migration & big five with all meals being served at the lodge.

You will guided by the expert driver guides to spot the big five game among other like, Thomson’s and Grant's gazelle, Topi and Eland and many more species of plains' game offer a rich choice of food for the dominant predators; lion, leopard and cheetah which hunt in this pristine wilderness. In the Mara River, hippo submerges at the approach of a vehicle only to surface seconds later to snort and grumble their displeasure. Seemingly, the drowsy crocodile sunbathe on the riverbanks, mouth agape, and waiting with subtle cunning for prey at which to strike with lightning swiftness.

The reserve is home to all the “big five” and it is also possible to observe; baboon, eland, ostrich, bat-eared fox, jackal, Cheetah, and the rivers abound with hippos and crocodiles.

Day 6: Masai Mara - Lake Nakuru National Park

Enjoy a last morning game drive in Masai Mara. After your sumptuous breakfast, depart for Lake Nakuru and drive via Naivasha to Lake Nakuru national park. Nakuru is one of the alkaline Rift Valley lakes and a fantastic bird sanctuary, its shores populated at times by more than one million flamingos. The famous ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson defined it as "the greatest bird spectacle on earth".

Lake Nakuru is famous for, there are approximately 400 other species of birds found there. In addition, a large variety of game can be found in the Park including the introduced Rothschild's Giraffe, Black and White Rhino, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Baboon and many species of plains game.

Arrive at the lodge in time for lunch. Later proceed for an afternoon game drive in the park.

Day 7: Lake Nakuru - Departure

After breakfast depart from the park enjoying a brief game drive enroute and return to Nairobi. Upon arrival get transferred to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to catch your onward flight.