Big Cat Week
There are many ways in which to spend a week. If you’re a wildlife devotee, not many of them are better than photographing big cats undergoing alchemy from the ethereal light several hours each day, taking your dream scenes from the television in your living room to the endless plains of the real world, where it all unfolds before your eyes.
Not many of them are better than Big Cat Week.
- 5 fascinating nights in the midst of one of the best locations in the Mara
- Only three participants in each 4WD Landcruiser safari vehicle, with assured window seat
- No road journeys; only charter flights for transits
- Unlimited drives for the duration of the Tour
- Extensive photography assistance and natural-history learning both on and off the field
To the green at heart, a mention of Africa evokes its primordial picture — plains, prey and predators teaming up to spawn the most spectacular wilderness site on the planet, where large animals still maraud wild, free and photogenically. And Masai Mara is its best showpiece; a miniature paradise with a flourishing population of lions and the rest of the Big Five.
A part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem and covering 1510km2, the Masai Mara National Reserve is home to what is effectively a bona fide wildlife symposium, with over 250 species of birds and the greatest show of mammals on Earth.
Such is the opulence of its natural treasures, that an infertile visit under Toehold’s guidance at any time of the year is as unlikely as a deluge in the Atacama. And with local air transfers included so you land in the middle of the Mara and commence viewing wildlife from the moment you set foot on its soil, life can seem a nice, double-smooth ride.
Chief exhibitor at the extravaganza is the apex predator and the very emblem of African Wildlife — the lion. Without a doubt, the imperious cat is the centrepiece of the wonderland, with the spotlight rightly on the emperor of all he surveys. And having thrived through the bounty of the migration, many females are rearing small cubs at the time of the Tour. But the relatively easy pickings of the Migration having now gone by, these custodians of the land must be mobile to earn their dinner, which keeps them on their toes.
This prevailing climate of profuse felinity thus spawns a great chance to photograph big cats to your heart’s content. The many unknown facets of natural behaviour unfurl themselves on the plains each day as individuals of various ages and standing in lion society may be observed hunting, playing, grooming and resting on the picturesque open plains in spectacular light, all in the public gaze.
Here will also lie a great opportunity to photograph the notoriously elusive leopard, which is often seen arresting the watcher’s breath by flaunting its beauty from atop a tree or on the ground. And where there is a cat, a spotted hyaena with its trademark psychedelic calls is never far away, plotting relentlessly as it does to usurp an adversary’s hard-earned kill.
The Mara is also a land of terrestrial superlatives. The world’s fastest land mammal — the cheetah — is often found sitting pretty on a termite mound, surveying the plains to locate breakfast, while the planet’s largest land mammal — the African elephant — takes its size in its stride as it moves about in genial majesty.
The largest living bird on Earth — the ostrich — always likes things to be to its satisfaction. And to top all this, the giraffe — the world’s tallest land mammal — uses its ground clearance to look down on one and all from the upper floors of its neck. Decidedly, the denizens of this system appear to love setting records.
Rather less ambitiously but with equal beauty, an impressive variety of antelope roam the rolling plains, while warthogs and hippopotamuses are always around the corner, and so are diverse birds such as the beautiful crowned crane and the magnificent bateleur eagle.
Clearly, there’s only one thing that you have to do — be there.
If the Mara is a theatre of dreams, the camp we’ll be staying in during the Tour is its hospitality box, providing quick and easy access to all the celebrated big-cat headquarters you’ve seen on the BBC’s Big Cat Diary, including the Musiara Marsh, Leopard Gorge, Rhino Ridge and Bila Shaka Lugga.
Located strategically, the camp is the best possible base from which to launch your Mara dreams every night under the canvas of your tent, and set out in pursuit of their fruition the next day under the endless Mara skies.
The tents provide uninterrupted views of either the Talek River or the rolling plains of the Maasai lands as you relax in the verandah, and are stylishly decorated with a shower room that offers 24-hour hot water. Early morning tea and ginger biscuits are brought to our tents, meals are scrumptious and serving times are flexible so we won’t miss lunch if we spent too long watching lions in the open 4WD vehicles that lend themselves beautifully to photography and ensure there’s nothing between us and the infinity of the Mara.
Please note: This Tour will commence at Nairobi on 27 December 2019 at 08:00 a.m. and end at Nairobi on 1 January, 2020 at 11:45 a.m. You will need to arrive a day earlier (26 December) and stay overnight in Nairobi at additional cost, or take the KQ flight on day one of the Tour (27 December) to be on time for your charter flight out of Wilson Airport.
For the return on 1 January, please book your flight out of Nairobi after 04:00 p.m.
Onward and return domestic charter flights between the destinations are included, but international flights are not.
27 December 2019, Friday
Participants who have opted to arrive the previous night and stay in Nairobi will be transferred to the Wilson Airport after breakfast, and any participants joining us directly from Jomo Kenyatta Airport will be picked up along the way and everyone will then be transferred to Wilson Airport for a scheduled flight to Masai Mara.
Taking off at 09:15 a.m., we enjoy some spectacular aerial views of the savannah before touching down in Masai Mara at 10:00 a.m., upon which we are immediately transferred to the camp. After checking in and refreshing ourselves, we’ll meet for a scrumptious luncheon around which we get to know one another better.
Post-lunch, the Skipper will brief the group about the park rules and facilitate a natural-history orientation, following which we venture out for our first safari, during which we acquaint ourselves with the topography of the region and get to know the many animals big and small we’ll be getting to know better over the next few days.
After hopefully a productive ride, we return to camp, unwind and retire for the night.
28 to 31 December, Saturday to Tuesday
Over the next four glorious days, we will enjoy memorable morning and afternoon rides in Masai Mara, photographing the big cats and the various other wildlife that teems in this paradise.
This is not a sightseeing trip or relaxed holiday. On this Tour the objective will clearly be to show you great wildlife and assist you in every way in getting outstanding images. Suitably, therefore, we will make an early start every morning to catch animals at first light. This is when big cats are at their most active and the light is at its best, so we seek to make some evocative images. We carry packed breakfast so we don’t have to return to camp in a hurry and can stay out shooting as long as we want.
Each of our four-side open 4WD vehicles, custom-made for wildlife viewing and photography, will be shared by only three Tour-participants, to ensure ample space for everybody to stow their equipment and shoot from a comfortable angle.
Participants will take turns to share the vehicle with Skipper to take maximum advantage of his experience. Our Skipper, who has visited the Mara more than a dozen times, loves its wildlife dearly and knows it intimately, will be at hand at all times to ensure that the vehicle is positioned ideally in relation to the wildlife to get the best images possible without unduly disturbing the animals.
All vehicles will be in constant radio contact with one another so nobody misses out on great opportunities. Meanwhile the Skipper will constantly monitor the situation and strategize with the drivers, who have been chosen carefully on the strength of their merit and experience, to make our time worthwhile.
Together they know many of the lion prides, leopards and cheetahs individually, and are in a great position to share some fascinating anecdotes of their encounters with them – all of which will help you relate to the animals and appreciate their individuality when you actually get to see them yourself, making for a highly personal experience and helping you connect with the wildlife to a profound degree.
There will be no fixed agenda as every day in the bush is different. We will go by the reported sightings of the day and decide either to stay put in one place waiting for the anticipated action to unfold, or roam around finding something on the go.
If there is an opportunity for exceptional images or a unique experience, we may spend several hours in the same place or travel miles to get to the right place. The Skipper will make these decisions as required, of course in consultation with you, with the goal of optimizing photo opportunities and helping you witness memorable wildlife moments.
In the evening we will stay right until sunset and pick a spot and an animal to try different images, including silhouettes, backlit and side-lit ones. This is when participants can pick the Skipper’s brain on all the technical and subtle artistic aspects of such photographs and make giant strides towards making images that stand out.
Back at camp, we’ll be treated to the highly insightful and interactive ChaayaaChitra, ChitraTantra and CharchaaLoka sessions every day in the evenings, and depending on our schedule, afternoons too if possible.
These sessions impart a wealth of knowledge on all matters photography and natural history, and you can immediately put the knowledge thus gleaned into practice on the very next ride, making the experience truly progressive and enriching. And based on the group’s consensus, these flexible sessions can also be customised to suit the preferences of the participants.
Amongst others, we will have a post-production session where the Skipper will illustrate some important processing techniques, image presentations that will showcase some exemplary images and discuss various shooting techniques, from which you can learn and take inspiration, and an image-review session where where the Skipper will critique your chosen images so you know precisely how you can get better.
1 January 2020, Wednesday
After a leisurely breakfast, we are transferred to the airstrip within the Mara on time for the departure of our scheduled flight at 10:15 a.m., and arrive at Nairobi at 11:45 a.m. The Tour ends after we’re transferred to Jomo Kenyatta Airport for our homebound flight, but your love affair with Africa has just begun.
- Per Person on Shared Accommodation
- Per Couple on Shared Accommodation
- Per Person on Shared Accommodation
- Air transfers between Nairobi and Masai Mara in scheduled charter flights
- Twin-sharing accommodation in tents unless single occupancy purchased at extra cost
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and hot beverages (coffee and tea)
- All safaris in 4WD safari vehicles
- All entry fees
- Services of a safari guide and Photography Skipper
What’s Not Included?
- International airfare
- Visa fee (USD 50 per person)
- Optional hot air balloon ride and visit to Maasai village
- Lunch on the day of departure in Nairobi
- Any kind of personal expenses or optional tours, extra meals and beverages ordered
- Insurance, laundry and phone calls
- Bottled water and soft drinks
- Alcoholic drinks
- All applicable taxes
- Anything that is not included in the inclusions list
- 15% of the Tour fee as booking amount (non-refundable)
- 50% of the Tour fee 176 or more days before the Tour
- 75% of the Tour fee 146 or more days before the Tour
- 100% of the Tour fee 116 or more days before the Tour
- 15% of the Tour fee 168 or more days before the Tour
- 50% of the Tour fee between 167 and 137 days before the Tour
- 75% of the Tour fee between 136 and 106 days before the Tour
- 100% of the Tour fee on or after 105 days before the Tour
Please note: The date of written (email) communication of intent to cancel is the date considered for calculation of the cancellation fees.
While Toehold Photo Travel is one of our most popular offerings, we work as a travel agency without bringing the photography guide element in to your travel. In short you would be using our travel experts service to just plan the vacation and execute it.
- Unlike a Photo Travel experience, your Vacation is completely personalised.
- The dates, style of travel, class of hotels and lodges, destinations, everything is tailor-made to suit your custom requirement.
- A Skipper or a photography guide doesn’t travel with you to guide you unless you decide to take our customised and guided photo travel experience.
So take advantage of the immense experience and field knowledge that we bring in to your Vacation’s planning without having to pay for our time and costs. Plus, we don’t charge an additional fee for our time and travel planning services.
Who should participate in this Tour?
This Tour is open to everybody of a minimum age of 18 (unless accompanied by a guardian), and anybody enthusiastic about wildlife and/or photography will enjoy it. Apart from interest, fitness, a valid passport and yellow-fever and polio vaccination cards, there are no other requirements.
I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold’s eminent Skippers. In fact if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away! However, in order to make the most of the Tour photographically, we recommend that you be familiar with photography fundamentals. If you’re not, we suggest you join an Art and Science of Photography Workshop right away!
Is vaccination against yellow fever and polio mandatory?
Yes; the vaccination is mandatory in many countries including India. Once you sign up we’ll be happy to advise you on how to get one.
What about the visa?
You’ll need a Kenyan visa, which is applied for and issued online. More information will be shared, and assistance provided, when you sign up.
Is an earlier vaccination card valid?
Yellow fever vaccination is valid for a period of 10 years from the date of administration, but polio vaccination is valid for only a year. Please check your vaccination card to verify validity. Please note that the vaccination must be valid as on the date of your return to your country after the Tour.
How many participants will share a safari vehicle on this Tour?
Our Photography Tour is designed to offer participants an excellent balance between photography convenience and economy. Each vehicle will be shared by only three participants, or three participants and the Skipper, to ensure everybody has ample space to move around and shoot comfortably.
How sure are you about photographing wildlife?
Considering the meticulous attention to timing we pay while scheduling Tour and the local expertise we leverage, we believe that it would be extremely unfortunate if our sightings and photography were unsatisfactory. Also, the exhaustive itinerary should offer ample opportunities for a productive time. However, since we will be in an uncontrolled environment, we stop just short of claiming that sightings are guaranteed.
What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
A wide-angle or normal zoom is a staple for landscape and general photography. For birds and mammals, a focal length of at least 300mm is usually necessary. An additional 100mm often proves very effective especially for birds. However, if you do not have appropriate equipment, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras and lenses for hire, so you can always hire what you need. What’s more, you enjoy a 10% discount on any equipment you hire for the Tour. Visit our Rental Store to see what we offer.
How different are your Photo Tours from ordinary tours?
Unlike travel agents who plan your holiday from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven’t experienced themselves, Photo Tours offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the guidance of a professional photographer. The common ingredients in all our Photo Tours are fun and a lot of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, most or all of our Tour participants are photography enthusiasts, which keeps the group in harmony and helps make your experience focussed.
We spent five beautiful days in this great place Masai Mara, and were able to see all the three big cats. The highlight was the cheetah hunt, when five cheetahs charged and killed a male impala – It was a fantastic experience. The way the tour was organised and the places we stayed in were simply fantastic.
After seeing five different prides of lions, two cheetah hunts, following a leopardess and six days of bliss in the Mara, I can safely say this is one of the best weeks of my life. All I have to say is: just go with Toehold; don’t think about it!
Highly recommend traveling to Africa with Toehold! Great learning for my kids and a very enjoyable experience.
I never imagined to see such professionalism and personal touch in a young company. My worries were laid to rest the moment I landed in Nairobi. Salute Toehold and thank you for this experience.
First I want to thank you for making this trip a memorable one for me, I was really very happy with the kind of audience we had in this group. It was a very good learning experience for me in the filed of photography and I being a novice I got immensely benefited with this tour.
I am constantly impressed by the efficiency, knowledge and quality of the Professional services offered by Toehold team. The Location of accommodation was very good. Being a Vegetarian, I didn’t face any problems in finding suitable food option in the buffet. It was a totally Successful trip.