Visiting a Maasai village in Kenya – What to expect

by Dec 17, 2021Kenya

Visiting A Maasai Village Maasai Warrior Jump Dance

A visit to a Maasai Village in Kenya offers a unique insight into the Maasai culture and way of life, as well as providing fantastic photo opportunities. But you need to know what to expect and what the Maasai will expect of you.


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Taking a safari in Kenya allows very close encounters with wild animals plus memorable photos but getting close to the semi-nomadic Maasai people of Southern Kenya is another matter. That makes an organized visit to a Maasai village in Kenya a great opportunity during a safari to actually interact with and gain valuable insights into the culture of the indigenous tribe otherwise difficult to experience.

And photographs? Outside of such a tour, photographs of Maasai are no-go because it is considered invasive and insensitive unless you get specific permission, which can be very difficult to get.

Two Curious Maasai Children Portrait

The Maasai are arguably one of the more famous of the 70 tribal groups in Kenya and perhaps in all of Africa. It remains the dominant ethnic group in and around the Maasai Mara, a preserved savannah wilderness in southwestern Kenya filled with wildlife. A nomadic warrior tribe, the Maasai once laid claim to huge swaths of land in pre-colonial Kenya. Even today, the tribe retains many of its traditions and ways of life. Experiencing these traditions up-close takes your safari adventure a step beyond watching animals and enjoying bush camps.

How to visit a Maasai village in Kenya

Visiting a Maasai village can be arranged through the camp where you are staying in the Mara, through your tour operator, or arranged with your driver-guide if you’re hiring your own guide. The price for visiting a village ranges from $25 to $50 per person and is viewed as a contribution to the village. A typical visit last about two hours.

How truly authentic the visit is remains a topic of some debate since every detail is carefully choreographed and ends with a long shopping experience. Still, since the Maasai are a private people, this scripted tour created by select villages for tourists still allows a look into their lives, the ability to ask questions and interact and, quite importantly, the chance to take as many photographs as you want. Photos are permitted and expected. Is it Disneyesque? In some respects, yes. But it is also an opportunity to see inside and photograph a Maasai village that would otherwise be impossible.

Dumont Lou Robin Maasai Warrior Maasai Village

Robin poses with our two traveling lions — Dumont gets a kiss and Lou wonders why he’s looking up at the sky.

In addition, realize that part of the money you are spending for the tour and in their market helps the community pay for food, schooling, cows, and other necessities.

A welcome to the Maasai Village

We visited a village during a photo safari in Kenya in 2021 while we were staying in the Maasai Mara. The village itself was located just outside of the park boundaries and a short drive from Mara Bush Camp. As our jeeps pulled into the parking area, the Maasai warriors paraded out of the entrance to the village enclosure to greet us. Robin, who said he was the chief’s son, welcomed us with short speech. With blasts from an eland horn from the eland antelope, the warriors began vocalizing and dancing about in a photo-worthy performance. When they were done, the women, who had filed out after the warriors, followed in parade as if on cue, singing, laughing, some looking as if they were enjoying themselves, others appearing as if they would rather be somewhere else.

Maasai Warriors Greeting Maasai Village

After the official welcome, Robin led our group into the open center area of the acacia brushwood enclosure, called a boma, which is where a tribe’s cattle and goats would be herded into at night for security. Ringed around the inner edge of the brushwood enclosure were a number of huts, or manyatta as we were told they were called by our guides, made from wooden poles, branches and covered with cow dung and mud. Being able to go inside the tiny huts is part of an organized tour of a Maasai village – after a few more dances and cultural demonstrations.

Watching the Maasai men and women perform

Following another short talk from Robin about life in the village, the women began singing and dancing in place before moving into a snaking line, many seeming shy and at times even unsure. Some smiled graciously for a photograph while others looked as if they were very uncomfortable.

Women Dancing Maasai Village

When the women were finished, the men formed a semi-circle and began to chant, grunt and, in short order, jump stick-straight up and down, in what is known as the adumu, or jumping dance. Each warrior tries to levitate higher than his peers in time to the rhythm of the singers. The dance became a visual feast with the vivid colors of the Maasai warrior garments, brightly beaded necklaces, and colorfully beaded belts and amulets. This is part of the special treat in visiting a village — and you get to photograph smiles, bouncing hair and beads, and flying feet.

Maasai Village Visit Men Jumping

What is fascinating is how the Maasai men and women do not have any instruments when they are singing or dancing other than the eland horn used by the men. The music or singing is made up of various vocal rhythms chanted by the group while one person, the song leader, sings the melody. The song then becomes an intoxicating mix of a vocal line sung by the song leader followed by a unanimous response in background from the rest of the group. And of course, you get to snap your heart out with your camera.

Call To Ceremony Maasai Village

After the performances, the men started their fire-making demonstration. We all gathered around several warriors, one of whom was tasked with creating the fire. Fire-making using just a stick rubbed into another stick (although our demo also used a knife blade as a metal base) is a time-honored skill every warrior must master, and it is quite amazing to witness.

Maasai Mara Village Fire Making

Before long a wisp of smoke and then, with gentle breaths from the fire maker, the kindling sparked into flame.

Maasai Mara Village Fire Starter

Heading into a dung hut

Following the fire-making demo, our group was split up, with three or four of us joining one or two of the warriors for the next part of the tour – heading inside a hut. The huts are quite tiny, and a bit crowded with five or six people. While we were led into the huts by warriors — and they were also our hosts inside the huts — it is normally the Maasai women, not the men, who build the huts. Each hut is constructed of a framework of larger timber poles interwoven with smaller branches. This structure is then covered with a mixture of mud, grass, cow dung and ash from the fire pits. The entrances are narrow and take a sharp right-angle turn into the living area – to ensure no wild animals can make it in physically. Each hut is, on average, about 10 feet wide by 16 feet long and 5 feet high, depending on the number of rooms.

Visiting A Maasai Village Hut Inside

It was very dark inside with only a couple of small holes in the walls serving as windows to provide minimal light. There were several tiny rooms – more like nooks — with a central cooking area and a few low stools. Next to the cooking area was a sleeping platform covered in cow hides where Michael sat next to one of the warriors. The other warrior sat on a stool while Therese and the other two in our group crouched or kneeled. Be prepared to take turns jostling for spots to photograph the warriors and the insides of the hut. And, if you are there in the summer, be forewarned it is very hot inside the huts. One of our groups said there was a fire going inside the hut they visited, making it quite difficult to breath with the smoke.

Ask all the questions you want of your Maasai hosts

As we listened and asked questions while taking photographs of our two warrior-hosts, we learned a bit more about Maasai life. Dixon, our lead host, was 25 and married, hoping for children soon, while Nixon was just 23, and didn’t speak a lot of English. Dixon had a college degree in tourism. (Yes, we didn’t make up those names – our hosts were Dixon and Nixon.)


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Despite the heat in the hut, this semi-private session was quite enthralling with the opportunity to hear about life inside of a hut as well as the chance to ask any question you wanted. Our host Dixon had a relatively practiced spiel about the hut’s construction, its rooms and layout, and hut life but answered questions graciously and willingly.

Maasai Village Visit Warrior Portrait

Photographers take note: It is VERY dark in the huts so you will need to be ready to use a high ISO and/or a lower shutter speed. You may want to use auto-ISO if you are OK with very high ISOs and potential noise. Our hosts – and we presume most hosts – know you are also there for photographs and were quite willing to move, turn or even position themselves as you might want for a photograph. Dark, yes, but the light coming in the window also offered dramatic effects.

In between the performances and hut visits, some woman and children who were not participating in the tour stood at hut doors or next to the walls watching us, some a little wary, some quite interested. Most of the toddlers and young children were eager to look at photos we’d snapped, and they eagerly followed us about.

Every visit to a Maasai village in Kenya ends in the ‘gift shop’

There was little doubt we were on the clock (for all we know, another tour was coming….) because without too much time to dawdle, Dixon told us the visit was over and ushered us out. Outside, with the eyes of women and children upon us, we were quickly escorted through another gate around the back of the boma that lead out into a large area looking somewhat like a market square. Around the sides were a couple of dozen large tables, blankets and booth-like areas with all the typical trinkets, from sculptures and wall hangings to beadwork and bracelets. These tables were quite permanently arranged and filled with huge quantities of souvenirs and other trinkets. We were told all of it is made right there in the village, although some looked very much like many you see in every trinket shop you are lead to by guides during your Kenyan safari.

Marketplace Maasai Village Women Beadwork

Women and children sat in the center of the market square under several trees, working to create many of the beaded items for sale – although many were just sitting and watching us. Indeed, a couple were quite busy doing beadwork. We were quite sure this too was just part of the show; nevertheless, photography is allowed and the opportunities to photograph the women as well as the rather playful and curious children were plentiful.

Maasai Woman Pointing Beads

While perusing the goods, each of us was shadowed by our personal warrior/shopping assistant as we moved from table to table to blanket. If we expressed more than just a passing interest in something – goodness knows, if we actually touched something! — he would ask if we wanted it. No price was discussed at this point. But any items you had looked at even half-seriously were gathered up and carried by your personal assistant.

Time to negotiate prices at the Maasai village visit

By the time we finished the circuit several in our group had accumulated quite a haul. Interestingly — and most certainly strategically – when it came to negotiating prices, Robin, who also has a degree in tourism and seemed to be the village tour coordinator, managed every sale individually, keeping each buyer separate from another. Although you may think the prices in the village would be less than the street-side curio shops, they were in fact higher. Robin also was the only one to manage the money, safekeeping all the revenues himself.

Maasai Village Kenya Therese Iknoian Shopping

We were the last to decide to buy something – a Maasai beaded belt for Michael simply because he wanted one and a beaded leather bracelet for Therese who had been searching for something like that. Robin, of course, conducted our negotiation, which started with a very high asking price. We bartered politely back and forth for a bit, with Robin interjecting as a tug at the heartstrings that the money goes to the women and helps the tribe. In the end, the price did not come down very far. Every time you offered a counter, he’d drop a tiny smidgen but not more. We could have kept the negotiation going, and extracted a bargain at some point, but there was also a feeling of being rushed to leave – perhaps part of the plan. Still, a couple of items didn’t hurt, and we both liked our souvenirs a lot.

And just like that, the visit was over. Robin and the warriors remained very friendly and polite but were clearly herding our group toward the parking area outside the boma. Despite being told numerous times that we were permitted to take photos of everything and everybody, Therese tried to take a photo of a woman holding a baby on the way out but did silently mime a request. She was told in no uncertain terms by the woman’s face and body language that a photo was no-go. As we exited, our vehicles had been started, and we were quickly loaded up and whisked back to our bush camp.

Is a visit to a Maasai village worth it?

Yes, as long as you realize you are visiting a village that reflects a level of packaged authenticity. Think of Disney World’s Epcot Center or some luau shows in Hawaii. Many of the Maasai in these villages have gone to college to earn degrees in tourism, and it is very evident these businessmen have become quite adept at delivering a consistent and choreographed experience that tourists do want. Demand created this entrepreneurial supply, most certainly. We did spy a couple of the men pulling out their own cell phones for a photo, and we definitely wondered if they all really lived there.

In the end, though, as a tourist, visiting a Maasai village in Kenya is an education you would not otherwise be able to find, unless you were going to spend a few weeks or months living in Kenya. Realize what it is, enjoy it, and take home great photographs and entertaining tales.

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