I've visited many interesting places, but nothing compares to the otherworldly experience of landing in the heart of the African savanna, where looking through the window of the tiny plane, I felt like I was inside a scene from the Lion King. Looking down at herds of wildebeest, gazelles, and other antelopes running about, eating, or being targeted by predators, is to see nature at its most beautiful.
I always wanted to travel to Africa, and I did so in 2011. But Africa is a big continent with so many incredible places to visit. How do I pick where I go? I did not have months or several weeks to travel around and go from one marvel to the other?
Also, depending on what part of the planet you are on, it can take a very long time to get to any of the Sub-Saharan countries. In my case, I had to consider the 72-hour flight I would spend going back and forth. Since I had less than 15 days for my vacation, I needed to pick the best destination to fulfill my dream.
I'm also the type of person who likes to stay in one place and survey the area, which allows me to explore the different habitats, reading the light, observing animal behavior, and having a clear idea of the photographic opportunities.
Following some research, I decided on Kenya, specifically the Masai Mara, which is home to 25% of Kenya's wildlife. The Mara is an Important Bird Area (IBA) with over 500 different bird species, as well as the natural habitat for 95 African mammal species including the popular Big Five: Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and the critically endangered black rhinoceros. More about the plight of the rhinoceros here.
I must confess though that I take exception with this list. I believe that calling it the Big Eight and including giraffe, hippopotamus, and my favorite big cat, the cheetah would be more accurate.
Every year, the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem plays host to the world's greatest wildlife display. Between April and November, 1.2 million wildebeest, half a million zebras, numerous gazelles, and other large mammals migrate through these lands. This natural occurrence is the world's largest and most diverse wild mammal migration. More about the great wildebeest migration.
The massive migration of ungulates also attracts all kinds of predators including lions, leopards, hyenas, and crocodiles looking for a superb source of protein.
Kenya was my first African destination for these reasons. Not knowing whether I'd be able to return to this lovely continent, I wanted to witness one of the world's ten natural wonders.
This gallery is about raw beauty, the one that left me breathless the moment I landed on a bare airstrip in the heart of the Masai-Mara.