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Off the beaten track

Kenya travel guide

Ian Dines January 30, 2014

To say I was apprehensive about a week long safari would be an understatement. A whole week, with people I didn’t know, up early and looking at the same animals certainly wasn’t my first choice of holiday. But the thought of a week on the beach at the end to chill out was keeping me going and after all, it was my Dad’s lifelong dream to visit Kenya and see the Big Five, so off I went!

We flew to Nairobi and immediately transferred to the Sarova Stanley hotel. Totally not what we expected; really colonial, great food and fabulous bedrooms. After a long flight, a dip in the pool on the roof was really welcome. It was off to bed early ready for the first day of safari. I remember tweeting “First day of safari tomorrow, up at 5.30, wish me luck”. I didn’t need it!

We met our guide for the week in reception, a brilliant guy called Jones. He’s been doing this since before I was born and what he doesn’t know about the parks, lodges and animals isn’t worth knowing. In my opinion, Jones literally made the week for me with his story telling and relentless desire to ensure we had the best holiday ever. Nothing was too much trouble for him.

We headed out of Nairobi, en route for the Samburu and Shaba game reserves and the Sarova Shaba lodge for our first two nights. We did our first game drive that afternoon and I was immediately blown away by the excitement of a safari. In two hours, we had already seen zebra, buffalo, antelope, two lions and a cheetah! WOW! My Dad was so excited, snapping away on his new camera. There really are no words to describe the feeling of seeing these animals in their natural habitat. The next morning, in Shaba, we saw a herd of elephants. They were so close we could have touched them. There was so much emotion in the vehicle at this point – they were simply remarkable.

Lake Nakuru Kenya

Over the proceeding days we visited the Great Rift Valley and Lake Nakuru, where we saw plenty of baboons, buffalo and flamingos, and the Masai Mara with its vast planes and incredible silence. The Mara was amazing, especially when two lions literally walked right in front of our bus. A magical moment that’s hard to describe in words. A picnic lunch in the open air, having just seen a herd of hippos, and the hot air balloon at 5am, followed by a champagne breakfast were definite highlights of the Masai Mara for me.

My personal highlight was Treetops, the place where Queen Elizabeth II discovered the death of her father and her succession to the throne in February 1952. The bus stops just a short distance from the entrance where you walk to the hotel, past the vast watering hole already occupied by elephants and buffalo. After a tour and having checked in, I discovered that my parents had been allocated the ACTUAL room, occupied by the Queen and Prince Phillip when they returned in 1983. Needless to say they were quite surprised and excited! One of the most exciting  parts of Treetops is the viewing gallery on the lower floor. At night, the staff keep watch for any animal sightings and should you wish, an alarm will sound in your room alerting you to get up and see the creatures! This alarm wasn’t needed that night. The group were so excited by this, after dinner, blankets were taken down and for many hours we sat and watched a poor buffalo who had become stuck in the mud and for whom we knew the inevitable would occur quite soon. It goes without saying what happened that night, and although ghastly, was one of the most spectacular acts of nature.

All of the lodges on safari were spectacular, Sarova Shaba, Treetops and Sarova Lion Hill. My favourite was definitely the Mara Sarova Tented Lodge. I honestly expected a boy scout’s tent but it was fabulous! So comfortable and so exciting! I was worried about the food in Kenya but it was delicious. All buffet while on safari with African and Indian influence and plenty of hearty soups, refreshing salads and scrumptious desserts! No one should worry about the food in Kenya. It’s  mouth-watering and there’s something for everyone.

After the exhilaration of a safari, nothing is better than heading to the Mombasa coastline for some R&R on white sandy beaches. After heading back to Nairobi to catch my flight to Mombasa, I was more than ready to spend some time relaxing after the early starts on the safari. Although we drove back to Nairobi from the Mara, you can fly direct to Mombasa, which if money is no option I would highly recommend!

In Mombasa, we headed to the famous Diani Beach, which lies just south of Mombasa, and the Baobab Beach Resort & Spa. The resort has a postcard perfect location overlooking a white sandy beach and is set in the grounds of an ancient indigenous coastal forest so the environment was completely different to what I had just experienced  on safari – the two make for a perfect combination. Food, again was superb – with a wide range of restaurants on offer I was spoilt for choice and the all-inclusive package meant I really could get into relaxing and enjoying all the resort had to offer. The Baobab offers a wide variety of activities for those looking for less relaxation and even more adrenaline – a variety of watersports, tennis, volleyball just to name a few. In the evenings, a relaxed atmosphere was abundant, listening to the sounds of the Indian Ocean whilst dining was something I will never ever forget. I also won’t forget the little monkey that came into my room and helped himself to my chocolate bar!

Kenya is more magical and more spectacular than I ever imagined. It did something to me which I didn’t expect to happen. I fell in love with Africa. I fell in love with the people and the culture and it made me wake up and think how shallow some of my previous holidays have been. Just flying and flopping for two weeks with nothing more than two autobiographies and endless cocktails to keep me entertained. Yes, I still desire and need those holidays. But the opportunity to combine that relaxation time with an experience which enhances your thinking, your well-being and your life has made me really think about what it is I do next for my much needed vacation. In summary, Kenya is a country full of warmth and wonder and I’d be hugely surprised to hear of anyone who doesn’t have as magical experience as I did.