The Ultimate East African Safari
By: Rebecca Rooney
Photography By: Rebecca Rooney
A jewel of East Africa, Kenya is a country steeped in a rich history of culture, flora and fauna. The country’s wildlife, topography, climate and people are an experience non-pareil, and a ten-day visit promises to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Over the past decade, travel to Kenya has become popular as more Americans are discovering its natural beauty and ancient spirit, as well as appreciating the country’s English-speaking heritage. For optimal game viewing and pleasant climate in equatorial Africa, the dry season from June through October is the best time to plan a safari.
Day 1: Experiencing Kenya begins at the Norfolk hotel upon landing in the capital city of Nairobi. Not quite the colonial hub of yesteryear–the pith helmets and wildlife trophies have been replaced by camera equipment and modern décor–the Norfolk is still a must-visit in Nairobi. Its architecture and central location still speak of a bygone era that’s assimilated nicely into modern day Kenya. The energy of the lobby feels like an international way station for adventurers, writers, photographers, and heads of state. You never know who you will catch a glimpse of at the Norfolk, but it is always an interesting experience.
Day 2: Sleep in to recover from jet lag and see the local sights. After breakfast on the veranda at the Norfolk, take a tour of the Karen Blixen museum and the Nairobi national park. Lunch at Karen Blixen’s bucolic farm is a delight, and the tour of the home takes one right to the set of Out of Africa. After lunch, get acquainted to the experience of game viewing by warming up in the Nairobi National Park. Situated seven miles south of the city’s center, this park is home to much game, including a protected population rhinoceros and lions, two critically endangered mammals.
Day 3: Sojourn north of Nairobi to a part of Kenya known as Nanyuki for a night at the Mount Kenya Safari Club. Founded in 1959, the members’ list when the club opened read like an international “Who’s Who”, and included European royalty and American presidents and movie stars alike. Dressing for dinner is still a custom here, and an elegant evening awaits on the eve of your safari.
Day 4: After breakfast, your safari begins with a drive a bit farther north to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy on the Laikipia plains to stay at the Sweetwaters Tented Camp. An 110,000-acre conservancy, the Ol Pejeta conservancy is home to a plethora of game including the Big Five: elephant, rhino, lion, cape buffalo, and leopard, and a sanctuary for a group of captive orphaned chimpanzees. The combination of grass plains, wooded grasslands, and evergreen thicket make the habitat in Ol Pejeta a diverse haven for the Big Five.
Dinner in the tented camp at Ol Pejeta is its own adventure: elephants, buffalo, warthogs, and impala might come for a drink in the lighted watering hole outside of the restaurant, with bats and birds swooping in as well. Its quite of the everyday to have a herd of elephant as dining companions.
Day 5: After breakfast your guide will take you to see the Sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary in Ol Pejeta, the only place in Kenya where you can see one of the great ape species. The sanctuary provides a large habitat for this group of chimpanzees to roam and play, and has won conservation awards for its design and work. Curious and friendly, some chimps will visit the fence to see the visitors while others will play in a nearby tree.
Day 6: After a second night at the tent camp, head back to Nairobi to Wilson airport where you will catch a flight to the Maasai Mara, a.k.a., “the Mara.” This game reserve is on the Kenya side of the famed Serengeti Plain. The Mara is the landscape that comes to mind when thoughts of Kenya arise: tall grassy plains that camouflage both predators and prey, rolling hills peppered with fig and acacia trees, dramatic sunrises and sunsets, and a river running through it.
Upon landing, you will be met by a camp representative who will drive you to your tented camp. Once there, you will be greeted with a cold drink and towel and taken to your luxury tent to have a rest before your afternoon game drive. Enjoy the sound of jumping monkeys, chattering birds, and—if you are lucky—a pod of hippos in front of your tent floating submerged in the river with an occasional snort as they come up for air.
Days 7, 8 and 9: Three full days in the Mara. The landscape of the Mara is so vast that every game drive is a new adventure, a new terrain to explore, with abundant wildlife throughout. At your camp, there is not much of a need for an alarm clock. The birds will awaken you, as will the camp staff who bring you coffee or tea to your tent before your early morning game drive. After a few hours in the bush to enjoy the early morning wildlife you are brought back to camp for a gourmet breakfast and relaxation time.
Lunch is midday followed by a bit of free time to journal, lounge by the pool, or take a rest. About 4 p.m. each day, your guide will meet you at the Land Cruiser to take you to various parts of the Mara where you could see the great migration of wildebeest across the Mara river, a female cheetah with her cubs stalking an unsuspecting Thompson’s gazelle, an ostrich fluttering about, impala fleeing the threat of a lion nearby, or a journey of giraffes browsing on trees. Toward the end of the evening game drive, your guide and driver will select a unique spot for a “sundowner,” where you and your group will enjoy the serenity of the sunset with a cocktail or beverage of your choice. A simply delightful way to take in the vast beauty of the evening sky as the veil of twilight falls upon the land.
After dinner and sundown, the chorus of the nocturnal wildlife begins, and the jungle comes alive. In your tent, you could be lulled to sleep by a leopard’s soft sawing sound, or the rustling of a bushbaby overhead.
Day 10: After breakfast, you’ll be taken to the airstrip to await your flight back to Nairobi. During the flight, look out the windows for an aerial view of the vast rolling plains of the Maasai Mara, and the people and wildlife who call it home.
Before your evening flight departs, spend a few hours shopping in a few of Kenya’s boutiques: the Kazuri beads shop and the African Lily women’s leather cooperative. These two businesses provide jobs for women who produce high quality leather products and colorful ceramic beaded necklaces. Such souvenirs make great holiday gifts, and are reminders of the beauty and natural resources of a far away—yet now familiar—land called Kenya.
For the best safari guide, contact:
Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network
P.O. Box 47756
2) Sweetwaters Camp
TEL: +(254) 202842000