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Kenya

Historically, a Kenyan safari involved long dusty minibus journeys on rocky roads full of potholes, throwing you around. Now, a short flight will take you to a choice of charmingly designed camps and lodges where you can enjoy a fabulous safari in comfort and style. Or, you can journey by road, as  I did, which although not always very comfortable, meant you got to see true Kenyan life driving through many different villages and towns.

The word camp conjures up images of scout type tents where you can’t even stand up, but these camps are not tents as we know it. Bush camps are lodges are the most basic, but still have proper beds, en suite bathroom, (showers range from bucket showers to proper ones) and the food is plentiful and of a high standard. There may even be a pool to dip into between game drives. Set in stunning remote locations, making you feel close to the wilds of Africa, Bush Camps offer excellent value for money.

A luxury safari camp will be more elegantly furnished and boast a spacious private deck. The suite zips up all around so is completely insect proof and secure.

If your budget is less restricted, there are some very grandiose lodges, offering more space, more lavish bathrooms and a large private deck, There may even be your own private plunge pool!

Time constraints meant I only had a week to spend in Kenya, so I knew the best option was to join an organised group tour which would take all the planning out of it. With so much to see and do in Kenya, I would struggle to plan my own itinerary, so I let someone else choose for me, and it was perfect as an introduction to Kenya and what it had to offer.

After a night in Nairobi, we set off on a 7 hour / 350km drive to Meru National Park, one of Kenya’s lesser known and visited (therefore less busy!) parks. We travelled north, enjoying spectacular scenery and surpsingly smooth roads for much of the journey. (Not all!)  We arrived at our eco-lodge in tome for a late lunch – more like a feast – before heading out on our first game drive in Meru. It was here that George and Joy Adamson raised the famous lioness, Elsa, who featured in their best-selling book ‘Born Free’, later made into a popular film.  As well as spotting lions, we saw plenty of elephants, buffalo and giraffe… all within the first half hour of our afternoon game drive. Inside Meru is a Rhino Sanctuary, home to over 40 White Rhino and 20 Black Rhino.

Our accommodation was at an eco-camp just moments away, in comfy ‘tents’ set snug amongst the lush forest and small streams right at the edge of Meru National Park. Each of the 15 rooms are ensuite with modern décor and small decking area.  In between game drives (there were two a day, one at sunrise, then one to take in dusk) there was a delightful pool to cool off in, listening to the monkeys chattering in the trees around. There was a bar and restaurant, serving only fresh produce sourced from neighbouring farms. After dinner, we would sit around a huge fire listening to tales from the Masai warriors who worked at the camp.

From Meru we headed out back along the shoulder of Mount Kenya, with good views of the twin snow-capped peaks, as we drove across the Great Rift Valley toward Nakuru, a 6 hour journey. Lake Nakuru is one of the Rift Valley lakes, and one of the most beautiful parks in Kenya, famous for its flamingos that flock to the waters. It’s an incredible spectacle to see, the lake is literally a sea of pink! The park is also a great place to see rhino – both black and white rhino are found here in good numbers. Having to stop for a Mum and her baby to cross just inches away from my window gave me the chance to get some close-up shots. There are also lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, waterbucks and a whole lot of monkeys!

We stayed in a very welcoming tented lodge for two nights. This lodge is instrumental in empowering Kenya’s disadavantaged youth through training and hospitality initiatives. The dining was incredible, and evenings very cosy around the indoor log fires.

Finally we head south-west to our next destination, the Masai Mara – probably one of the most famous wildlife regions in the world, and rightly so.  With incredible game viewing, and the fascinating Maasai people, it is an absolute must on anyone’s list.  From July-October, the world’s largest mass land migration takes place in The Masia Mara, with around 2 million animals making the long journey from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. I was there during September so got to witness this for myself. The sound and sight of thousands of wilderbeest charging past our truck was an incredible experience, with huge numbers of zebra too, which of course attract the big cat predators.

Accommodation whilst in ‘the Mara’ was an intimate tented camp set-up. The camp is staffed entirely by Masai people from within the local community, offering a great opportunity to learn more about the Masai customs and traditions. Reminiscent of the old safari camps, it was very comfortable with 12 roomy tents, complete with ensuite facilities. Each tent has an enclosed bucket shower with hot and cold water, prepared on request by the camp staff. The tents are equipped with solar lighting and a supply of water for washing. The dining tent and lounge area is perfect for relaxing in the evening, with the Masai people milling around, dancing, singing and jumping around the fire. At night they stay in camp, guarding us from lions and hyenas who roam close by, as there are no fences. It’s slightly scary when you first hear a lion roaring in the middle of the night, it sounds as though it is directly outside your tent.  What IS directly outside your tent is a Masai warrior with his spear, so no need to feel any danger. Most Kenya safari destinations are at their best between January and the end of March; the climate is mild, mostly dry and game viewing is at its peak. Naturally, this time is considered the best time to go to Kenya on safari but a rainy season visit – between mid-March to June and again between October and December – is well worth considering in order to avoid the peak-season crowds and to take advantage of cheaper, off-season rates on accommodation and tours.

But the Masai Mara is about so much more than just the animals. One of the best experiences I found was visiting a Masai village and seeing how the people live. Chatting with the children, looking around their mud huts, learning about their culture was eye-opening yet inspiring.

From the Masai Mara it is either a short flight of 6 hours by road. Again, I opted for the road. When I go back (not IF I go back) I will probably fly there rather than endure the sometimes uncomfortable terrrain. I would certainly return to the Masai Mara but also visit some of the other reserves, and maybe even a coastal area. There is so much to see and do in Kenya, making it a truly wonderful holiday destination.

Maasai Warriors Dancing, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

 

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