So what really are ''game drives'' in Masai Mara or during an African Safari, as anyone thinking of booking a Safari in Kenya for example will have seen gamedrives indicated throughout the itinerary. Well, the meaning of a safari game drive is an adventure excursion by vehicle into a wildlife area such as a National Park or Reserve, for example Maasai Mara, with the purpose of exploring the park and seeing a variety of wild animals in their natural habitat.
As for how long is a Safari game drive is, typically in Kenya, the drives last 2 to 3 hours per drive in the morning and afternoon hours, with morning timings usually scheduled from 6.30am to 9am and afternoon timings being 3.30pm to 6.30pm, though travelers may sometimes opt for a full day gamedrive generally from 10am to 4pm, in which case the excursion will include a packed picnic lunch to be had inside the Masai Mara reserve at a designated picnic spot, during lunch hours anytime from 12.30pm to 2.30pm.
Regarding the cost of Game drives in Masai Mara, prices start from USD 75 per person per gamedrive and in case you wish to have an exclusive vehicle hired from the camp for a full day drive the cost will be US$ 300 to US$ 550 per vehicle depending on the camp.
However it costs less overall to book all inclusive Safari packages that include several game drives, accommodation, meals and flights from Nairobi.
Most road safaris include private safari gamedrives while Fly~In tour packages, where gamedrives are provided by the Camp, will usually have non-private gamedrives, meaning other travelers may also occupy the same vehicle. Seating capacity of the vehicles is usually a maximum of 8 passengers so not too large a group. Private game drives nonetheless have their advantages as you have a higher level of personal freedom and flexibility in terms of timings and convenience. Tourists with special interests such as Photography or Bird Watching are advised to opt for private drives.
Night Gamedrives are also always a curiosity for many visitors to Masai Mara. Note that night drives are not permitted inside the main Masai Mara National Reserve and only happen on private or group conservancies which border the main Reserve. Timings range from 7pm to 9pm, varying depending on which camp or lodge offers these night excursions to their guests.
Lastly, we often get asked about the difference between a Safari and a Gamedrive. Well, a Safari is an entire Tour that may include many gamedrives at various locations and parks, while a gamedrive is just that, a single gamedrive while on a Safari.
Vehicles used for game drives and other complete safaris in Kenya are mostly provided by the Safari operator especially when you book a Road Safari starting from Nairobi. These vehicles could be Four Wheel Drive Toyota Land Cruiser Jeeps or non 4x4 Tour Vans also known as Minibuses. Certain tour vans also come with 4WD. Both these vehicle types have game viewing roofs and are safari customized.
However if you fly into Masai Mara and book game drives with the Lodge or Camp , then you may find some of these camps offer game drives in 'open' sided 4x4 safari jeeps. These open side vehicles are not suitable for highway travel hence are restricted to ferrying tourists only in the reserve.
These safari jeeps are universally used by Tour operators in Kenya and by most camps and lodges in Masai Mara as they tend to perform best in all-weather and all-terrain conditions. These Land Cruiser vehicles optimally seat 6 passengers but can seat upto 8 adults with an extra seat included and with one person sitting beside the Driver. The cars have multiple game viewing roofs. Reliable, robust and spacious enough while also being marginally more comfortable than the only other option, the Tour Van / Minibus listed below. You may see more detailed information on hiring these safari vehicles in Kenya at this page. Note that these vehicles come in stretched and normal versions, with the latter seating only 4 to 5 passegers. The open- sided versions of these (see below) are used exclusively inside the parks due to not being fully suited for highway travel.
These vehicles offer the best value and unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Safari tourists to Kenya still do Less costly than 4x4 Landcruiser or Land Rover Jeeps, minibuses seat 6 people in comfort each with their own window seat, though some vehicles are configured to take upto 9 passengers. Though not usually 4x4, these safari vans are agile, reliable and are perfectly capable of handling almost all road Safari trips available in Kenya. Only a few select locations in Kenya necessitate using a 4x4 Safari Jeep either due to road conditions or due to local conservancy rules which allow entry only for 4x4 vehicles.
Almost always only found stationed at Safari Camps or Lodges within parks or reserves, these vehicles are popular as they allow an unhindered side view during game drives. Visitors to Masai Mara who absolutely require this type of vehicle are advised to bring this up with their Safari outfitter during the trip planning process and this would most likely result in the operator booking a ''Flying Safari package'' which simply means you take a short one hour flight from Nairobi to Masai Mara, where you will then be provided game drives in this type of vehicle, though you may want to note that there are certain lodges and camps which do NOT use these open sided vehicles and opt for the more common enclosed safari jeep with overhead game viewing roofs. Do check these details at time of booking.
Video footage of a Safari gamedrive in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.