Kenya is a safari destination that is high up on most people’s travel bucket lists and for good reason. It is a country that has plenty to offer both in terms of its wilderness and its culture, and with one of the highest densities of wildlife across Africa and plenty of fantastic lodges to accommodate you in, it is fair to say Kenya is up there with the best.
First up: Nairobi National Park
1 night at Emakoko and 1 night at Hemingways
I was lucky enough to step out of the office for 10 days to explore some of the wonderful places that we recommend to our guests. My trip started in Nairobi where I was greeted by my compatriots for my time in Nairobi; Otieno and Raphael from Albatros Travel. As I left the airport in Kenya’s bustling capital city, not more than five minutes outside the airport and we had our first sighting, a dazzle of zebra and a couple of giraffes – it felt like we were off to a great start! Having spent the last eight years living and working in some of Africa’s prime wildlife destinations I was keen to see what Kenya had to offer.
We made our way through Nairobi National Park which is famous for being the only national park that backs onto a capital city. It was utterly bizarre seeing rhino, lion and buffalo set against a backdrop of skyscrapers, with trucks whizzing past on the horizon – luckily the animals seemed entirely unperturbed! The park’s proximity to Nairobi means it’s truly accessible to everyone in the city. Often, there is a divide or misunderstanding between local people and the wildlife that inhabits (and sometimes inhibits) their livelihood, and the better educated people are, the more willingness there is to work to protect the wildlife and reap the benefits through tourism.
My first night was at Emakoko, a stunning lodge built on the edge of Nairobi National Park. The property is totally surrounded by wildlife and despite being on the outskirts of a huge city you felt totally secluded. The blood, sweat and tears that the owners Andre and Emma have put into building Emakoko is apparent and a great reflection of their passion for Kenya. The private family house at the top of the hill is without a doubt the place to stay, with exceptional views, luxurious rooms and staff to meet your every request! A sound night’s sleep was inevitable, here you drift away to the noises of the park, the chatter of hyenas and the roars of nearby lions.
Up early the following morning and off to check out another of our guests’ favourite hotels in the Nairobi area, Hemingway’s. This is five star luxury in all its glory, I tried my best to touch each side of the super deluxe king-sized mattress but either I was too short or the bed was made for giants! I succumbed to the challenge and opted for a nap instead! Dinner was no less of a five star affair, with a menu of perfectly cooked steak and an apple crumble that was almost the same size as the mattress! I stumbled into bed feeling rather rotund!
Next up is Amboseli National Park
Two nights at Tortillis Camp
The real adventure started the following day with Elewana’s Sky Safari. This is an all-inclusive six night trip starting and finishing in Nairobi, covering three of Kenya’s diverse national parks, staying in three fantastic lodges and flying in an exclusive plane between each destination. We began our trip heading straight off to Amboseli National Park, known for its Elephants and magnificent views of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Peter the pilot was an absolute delight and calmed any nerves we may have had about flying in a 9 seater plane. A quick 45 minute scenic flight had us on the ground and surrounded by elephants in no time at all.
Tortillis Camp was to be our home for the next two nights which sits at the foot of the legendary snow-capped mountain. I settled into my ‘tent’ which is actually bigger than my apartment in Cape Town (!) and eagerly anticipated my first safari. The game viewing we experienced over the next few days was outstanding – we saw multiple herds of elephants, two different prides of lions, hyenas devouring a hippo carcass and all with the backdrop of the spectacular Mt. Kilimanjaro. It really was the stuff dreams are made of. The food and the staff at Tortillis Camp were delightful and pulled out all the stops with breakfast in the bush and a special sundowner on top of one of the surrounding hills.
Onto Meru National Park
2 nights at Elsa’s Kopje
As we dragged ourselves away from the camp and that beautiful mountain, I left wanting more but excited at the thought of what was to follow, onto Meru National Park! Back into the Sky Safari plane we went, gazing in awe as Peter the pilot looped over our next stop. The only lodge in Meru National Park, Elsa’s Kopje is set up on a single solitary hill giving it outstanding 360 degree views of the bush. From the infinity pool to the private house and romantic honeymoon suites (with outside baths naturally built into the rock formations) it is fair to say this lodge will blow anyone away.
We enjoyed great game viewing for the two nights we were there and even managed to catch a glimpse of two very rare species; the Grevys zebra, a thinner striped cousin of the more common Burchells/Plains Zebra and the Gerenuk, which can only be described as an antelope with the neck of a giraffe. These strange long necked creatures have evolved to be able to stand up on their back legs and browse on the bushes in a vertical fashion, quite a remarkable sight! After two days of searching, I was convinced they were mythical beasts but luckily our eagle-eyed guide Mo found us a herd just as we were heading back to the lodge.
Meru National Park is the place to come if you want to see rare beasts, it’s also great for rhino sightings – usually few and far between in East Africa. Just don’t expect to see a lion or elephant at every turn.
Final stop: Masai Mara
Two nights at Sand River Mara Camp
Our penultimate flight was a scenic journey over Kenya’s luscious tea plantations and farm land. We touched down in the Masai Mara and I can confirm that everything you have ever thought about the Masai Mara is true. Miles and miles of zebra roamed the plains in front of us and it wasn’t even migration season, we knew we were in for a treat! Over the next two days we saw three different prides of lions, numerous elephants, big herds of buffalo and a great sighting of a hyena catching and killing a baby buffalo. Not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s something majestic about viewing nature in its rawest and most brutal form.
The elegant Sand River Mara Camp was our home in-between the exciting game drives and it had everything from outdoor showers to private wooden decks overlooking the river from which the camp takes its name. It’s the sort of camp that surprises you with discreet, thoughtful details throughout your stay and it was my favourite camp on this trip, one I could spend days, maybe even weeks at just to explore the Mara and all it has to offer.
This really was a trip of a lifetime and I’m so pleased I got the opportunity to get to know this beautiful country better and experience all her wonders. Have a look at the trip here for some extra inspiration!