Rolling grasslands, graceful acacia trees, sweeping vistas teeming with wildlife, drifting clouds, and sun filled skies. Welcome to Kenya. Home to the some of the richest landscapes and animal life.
Kenya’s most treasured natural resource is the Serengeti Maasai Mara ecosystem – its two names reflect the two countries that share this landscape: Tanzania and Kenya. In the area’s Kenyan north, the landscape varies with winding rivers and greener tint, and is less savannah-like than in the Tanzanian south. The Big Five (lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, rhino, and elephant) inhabit this region along with 500 bird species and a few dozen other mammal species including a half million gazelles, 1.3 million wildebeest, and 200,000 zebras whose famous migration crosses the border between the two countries year after year.
No matter what month you travel in, there is plenty of wildlife to experience in Kenya. Bucket list trips require advance planning, so starting several months out will enable you to select the accommodations and itinerary that matches your specific requirements. Need a general introduction to kick start your safari planning? Check out my recent article, Safari Planning Basics. Most Kenya safari itineraries include bush plane flights between several of the country’s regions including Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, and the Laikipia plateau. Kenya boasts a variety of accommodations ranging from standard hotel-style to the most lux, boutique-style tented experiences.
My recent trip began with a two-night stay in Nairobi. (Click here, to view my article on Planning a Layover in Nairobi). After our city experience, we shuttled to the local airport and boarded a bush plane for an hour flight to Maasai Mara. Upon landing, we were warmly greeted by Maasai villagers with song, dance, and refreshments before climbing into our safari vehicle to head to the lodge. (The Maasai are a semi-nomadic, indigenous tribe whose ancestral territory stretches across Kenya and northern Tanzania). The safari experience started immediately — we stopped along the way to view the wildlife and enjoy a quick walkabout.
Our home for three nights was the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, a beautiful lodge surrounded on three sides by the Mara River. The main lodge area features indoor and outdoor spaces to lounge or dine including an expansive curved wood deck that winds along the riverbank and offers excellent views to the river below.
The lodge’s bedroom tents, generously spaced throughout the lush property, are set up high along the riverbank and offer a bird’s eye view of the hippo families as they lounge along the riverbank, their ears and eyes just visible above the waterline. Each tent is outfitted with a four-poster pillow top bed, private en-suite bathroom, and outdoor verandah. The décor and furnishings reflect the local community incorporating the patterns and rich reds of the Maasai textiles. Although the sides and ceiling of the tented structure are made from canvas, once you pass through the zippered entrance, the lodging more closely resembles the personality and warmth of a finely appointed boutique-hotel suite.
Days start early on safari with continental breakfast brought to your private verandah (look for my video of a tour of the accommodations at the end of this article). Most mornings, I drank my hot coffee under the watchful eyes of visiting silvery-gray vervet monkeys eyeing my plate of biscuits. After a quick walk down the paths to the lodge entrance, we climbed into our safari vehicle stowing our day packs filled with cameras, batteries, phone chargers, and sunglasses. The safari vehicle with its pop-up top and zip-down windows, was outfitted with binoculars, charging stations, wool blankets, and a cooler filled with beverages. Not sure what to bring on your safari? Check out my article, Safari Packing Tips.
Our mornings were spent on long meandering drives across the savannah led by our experienced guide and ambassador. Kenya guides are experts in botany, ornithology, geology, wildlife tracking, and identification. Our guide would radio other guides to share logistics on interesting sightings: a mama couger playing with her cubs, a lion relaxing in the shade of an acacia tree with her young brood, vultures circling a recent kill, or wildebeest and zebra drinking together from a watering hole.
Mid-morning, a full breakfast was served on a grassy plain, under an acacia tree complete with table linens, hot coffee, and a mix of culinary delights. (Plus, a port-o-potty with a view!) With our bellies full, we continued our trek to farther savannahs and then returned to the lodge midday, for a leisurely al fresco lunch.
In the late afternoon, we set out for our next game drive. Every day on safari is unique – there is always something new to see and experience. One day, our guide pulled over to the side of the path and instructed us to quietly tip toe through the brush. Not knowing what to expect, we were mesmerized to come upon a closely guarded rhino kept company by an around-the-clock armed guard to protect against poachers. So sad that these beautiful creatures are so endangered, but happy to know there are local organizations protecting them.
One day, we visited a Maasai village and met the residents and the village elder who gave us a personal tour of his mud home and showed us how to create fire with just sticks. We wandered through their outdoor marketplace and purchased locally made crafts including wooden sculptures, intricate beaded bowls, and richly colored woven blankets. (Look for my video of the Maasai village at the end of this article).
Afternoon game drives slowly stretch out into the early evening and end with partaking in MY most favorite end of safari ritual, “Sundowners,” which is an African happy hour. What’s required? Just sitting by the glowing campfire, cocktail in hand, watching the sun slip below the horizon, and dreaming of the next adventure.
Ready to plan your Kenya safari? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership. I am happy to help you book your next safari adventure.
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