(CNN) -- Exploring Kenya's Masai Mara can satisfy that quest for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure within all of us, catering to our childhood dreams of seeing African wildlife up close and experiencing the magic of an unknown culture.
"If you are an adventurer at heart, love good food, want to experience a culture that will change your life, and love animals, you must visit the Masai Mara," iReporter Neal Piper said.
Kenya's most famous national park is rich with safari opportunities and provides a genuine, escapist vacation filled with breathtaking views and unique experiences. But visiting the Masai Mara is an intense adventure, one that requires extensive planning. Tourists should coordinate with a reliable safari company and pack accordingly.
"This is not a spur-of-the-moment, 'let's go over and rent a car' trip," iReporter Linda Lowenthal said. "There are a lot of security and health concerns, and careful advance planning is critical, especially for first-timers."
The planning is well worth the memorable time you're sure to have in Kenya.
"It's been one of the only trips where work and home life have completely been absent from my mind," Brandon Harris said.
What to bring
Traveling to an entirely foreign destination like Masai Mara requires a different kind of packing. Because you never know where a day on the savannah will take you, bring snack bars, bottled water, hand sanitizer and safari-appropriate clothing. To preserve your memories of all the African wildlife, don't forget to bring a camera, either.
"Have a good camera with lots of memory so that you can take as many pictures as possible," iReporter Kevin Jackson said. "The one thing people kept asking me was to take pictures for them because they ran out of room on their camera."
Also, it's a good idea to have cash handy. Venturing into the wild means giving up on the luxury of using a credit card.
"The park fees must be paid in cash and the fee is per person, per day," iReporter Brandon Harris said. "Four our group this ran upwards of $700 USD."
iReporter Jessica Lacher also recommends expecting a rough ride into Masai Mara because the roads are probably not what you're used to.
How to explore
The sheer, vast expanse of what the Masai Mara has to offer is impossible to see in one day, or even repeated safaris across the landscape. Plan to spend some time exploring your different options.
iReporter Gary Fricke decided to take his chances in a hot air balloon. "This proved to be a great way to view wildlife in areas that could not be driven by autos. The balloon rides leave at dawn and are well worth the early wake-up. Most provide a champagne breakfast when you land. Wildlife viewing is what the Masai Mara is all about!"
Odds are, you'll want to see Masai Mara from the ground as well to get up close with Africa's intriguing wildlife. Go for a full-day drive complete with a picnic lunch.
"It is best to have one's trip organized by a certified safari operator because they already know which are the best places to stay given one's budget," iReporter Marlene Francia said. "The safari drivers are also in constant contact with the other drivers once already inside the Mara and often, drivers stop mid-road to ask each other where the latest animal sightings are."
To maximize your sightings, plan your trip based around the migration patterns of the animals. Between June and September is optimal. Wildebeest migrate from Tanzania to the Masai Mara from July to September. iReporter Louisa Wong recommends going in July to see the wildebeest to avoid crowds of other tourists.
Where to stay
To get the most out of your experience in the Masai Mara, staying in the park is a favorite option for many first-timers and repeat visitors alike.
The Mara Sopa and Serena lodges are reasonably priced and located directly in the park, iReporter Soumava Bandyopadhyay said. But don't be surprised by power outages and a lack of electricity and water at times. It's worth hearing the sounds of wildlife right outside your room, adding to the sense of adventure the Masai Mara provides.
iReporter Marlene Francia stayed in the Siana Springs Tented Camp, which combines genuine tents with a bit of luxury. "Each 'luxury' tent is in its own spacious quiet plot with private views, complete with two large beds, sitting area, dressing room, toilet and hot bush shower stalls. Guests are provided with romantic candles to use after the generators are shut off, hot water bottles for extra comfort to ward off the evening chill."
There are also eco-friendly camps for those wanting a genuine experience. iReporter Louisa Wong stayed with her family at the Porini Safari Camps, which are run by the local Masai tribe.
"The only tip I really have is be kind to the Masai ... and they will give you an experience of a lifetime," iReporter Jodi Lupien said.
Visitors often go to see the wildlife, but forget about the rich culture that flourishes in the Masai Mara. Meeting and socializing with locals is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture.
"Keep an open mind, prepare to have fun, be respectful of the people and the wildlife and enjoy what this wonderful country has to offer," Francia said. "East Africa is one of the last places on earth where animals in huge numbers make their annual migration from the Serengeti to the Mara and back and of course, the Masai people, who live in the Mara."