We just came back from a safari trip in Kenya (Maasai Mara) and Tanzania (North & Central Serengeti/Ngorongoro) - I would really like to share my experience in order to help other people make the best decisions for their once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Note: In this forum I will give my feedback for the Kenya/Maasai Mara part only.
You can combine this trip with either gorilla viewing in Rwanda (if you have available budget, this is what I would do, if I was going back now) or Serengeti visit in Tanzania (I would mostly go to the central Serengeti only, of course this depends on the time of the year and where the animals are) and with many more destinations e.g. lake victoria, zanzibar, tarangire etc.
First of all, I am a nature guy and very focused on the wild life, birds and landscape viewing & photography (my passionate hobby) and less on the cultural experiences. Having said that, if I was going back there, I would really spend at least around 5-6 days in Maasai Mara (will suggest concrete locations/lodges below) to get the best out of it. All in all, I believe that your active "safari" trip should not exceed the 9-10 days, as it then becomes really tiring.
We flew to Nairobi (stayed one night just opposite the Wilson Airport) and then flew to Maasai Mara (several airstrips). Air Kenya, Safari link and other airlines can fly you there and this is highly recommended if you only go for 5-6 days. In general while I enjoy driving through the village, I really recommend you to follow the more expensive route and fly to your destinations - it saves a LOT of time and driving on bumpy/dusty roads might be disturbing.
You can really organize the bookings yourself or with the help of the tented camps/lodges you will choose to stay (just ask them via email).
The area is very beautiful and big - if you want to have the best chance to view the big 5 and a lot more, then you need to cover long distances very early and very late during the day (when the animals are more active). This means that you need to optimize your lodges/tented camps stay to cover a longer distance and maximize your chance to see the wild animals in action.
Another point is that you don't really need to organize it via a safari tour operator - you can really plan it yourselves very easy with the help of the tented camps you will select (they can advise/assist and even book sometimes on the flights and airstrips and they can even provide you the driver and the car for the game viewing - check with them directly).
The two most important points if you are a photographer are:
- to check whether the game viewing is in a shared 4x4 or it is a private one (you need at least one row free in order to freely move to both sides).
- the driver and the animal spotter/guide (better to have two and not one).
We were extremely lucky to have Ben and Edward with us. Very simple people, not driven by the touristic expansion inferno (they don't even work for any operator, they are like free-lancers). They are both local authentic maasai guides with excellent knowledge of the area and its fauna/flora. The positioning of the car for the best angle/light was excellent. I could not have asked for more for my first safari trip. If you want to contact them directly just PM me to send you their phone numbers (whatsup is the best way to contact them) - they can also be your local advisors and may help you better with the trip organization. Please PM me if you would like to have their phone number.
Don't get me wrong, there are hundred of competent and very good Kenyan Safari tour operators and most of them are really good and professional and you cannot go wrong - you can always book with them. There are also tens of very beautiful and nice tented camps and choosing one might be a bit overwhelming, but again you cannot really go wrong there too.
My suggested locations/tented camps (based on my own experience, research and location to cover as much as possible):
- 2 days (to cover mostly the north east part) : Mara Olapa Tented Camp (very authentic and suggested by local people) http://www.maraolapa.com/
All above mentioned camps are really beautiful, intimate, authentic, excellent meals, Eco-oriented, in the bush, by the river, almost inside the park and very close to the real action (so you don't need to drive a lot every day and you get to stay there late as the drive back to the camp is a shorter one).
Hope this helps a bit