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Into the wild

Where to go in Kenya on safari

Mark Young July 26, 2017

For first time safari adventures, the world-famous Masai Mara and resorts perched on the beautiful shores of the Indian Ocean, Kenya is an ideal introduction to Africa. Mark, our Destination Manager, has explored much of Africa. This was his first visit to Kenya and like many others before him, he fell in the love. 

Fact box:

Time zone: GMT +3 hours
Flight time: 8 hours direct London Heathrow to Nairobi
Best time to go: Wildlife viewing is good year-round, but can differ for each park. The best months for wildlife viewing are during the dry season, from late June to October. The wildebeest migration reaches the Masai Mara in July and remains until October when they move back to the Serengeti.
Currency: Kenyan Shilling
Languages: Swahili and English, though there are 43 tribal dialects

National dish: Kenyan stew

National drink: Dowa

“Kenya is somewhere that everyone should visit in their lifetime. From the Big Five and village tribes of the Masai Mara, to the pristine shores of Mombasa, there really is something for everyone. I’ve only scratched the surface of this incredible country and can’t wait to head back for more.

The iconic Masai Mara offers almost guaranteed sightings of the Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, while other national parks and reserves provide spectacular game viewing and a range of accommodation. Meanwhile, the Mombasa coastline is perfect for some downtime after an exhilarating safari, with resorts perched along the stunning white sands.

Nairobi National Park

My trip began at Nairobi National Park, an unexpected delight for wildlife just a short drive from the city. It’s the perfect introduction to Kenya’s wonderful wildlife such as giraffe, lions and rhino, and I even saw hippos drinking out of a lodge’s swimming pool. It’s the ideal place to spend a night or two before heading off on safari or to the coast. There’s lots of things to do in Nairobi, including the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where you can spend time with elephant calves orphaned by poaching. 

The Samburu National Reserve

After my stay in Nairobi I hopped on board a 10 seater propeller plane for an hour’s journey to the Samburu. The flight was fantastic, seeing the scenery and animals from just a few thousand feet above with a flyby of Mount Kenya, the country’s highest mountain. Unlike a regular transfer to a hotel, our transfer to the lodge transformed into an exciting game drive as we spotted giraffe, zebras and antelope on the way, stopping to take lots of photos.

I stayed for two nights, which included four game drives, not to mention the drive to and from the lodge which provided bonus wildlife viewing. I previously didn’t know much about the Samburu, but I cannot recommend it enough! The game viewing, which always involves an element of luck, was superb. Our driver managed to get us within feet of some of the greatest wildlife Kenya has to offer, though my personal favourite sightings include seeing a pride of lions resting in the shade of a tree after feeding on a zebra, and a cheetah and leopard pretty much posing in the sunshine within 100 metres of one another. Leopards and cheetahs are notoriously hard to spot so luck was certainly on our side! In the evening we enjoyed sundowners on the riverbank and watched the magnificent red African sun set whilst crocodiles relaxed on the bank opposite. That night, as I lay in my bed, I heard some strange noises which at the time I couldn’t place. In the morning we found out they were from hippos, calling each other in the darkness.
 

Nanyuki


Leaving the Samburu we drove to Nanyuki, crossing the equator and of course stopping for the obligatory photo by the sign. Whilst at Nanyuki I visited Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This not-for-profit wildlife conservancy is home to a rhino charity, protecting the almost extinct white-rhino and also homes the endangered black-rhino. It’s one of the best places in the country for rhino viewing and again, our driver took us within metres of these incredible creatures. Whilst here I also visited a chimpanzee sanctuary. Chimps aren’t native to Kenya but the charity cares for chimps that have been mistreated or saved from smugglers. While many may never be able to go back in to the wild, here they have acres of space to explore and are looked after.

The Serena Sweetwaters Lodge within the conservancy offers spacious rooms of all different standards and a great restaurant. However the real highlight and reason why I recommend a stay here, is the waterhole situated on the edge of the lodge which attracts wildlife to drink from there. I literally sat for hours watching a herd of elephant drink, wash and bathe in the waterhole.  

Mombasa and beyond

After days on the go, it was now time for me to leave the animals behind and head to Mombasa for a few days by the coast. I’m not much of a beach person, but after a few days of exploring the national parks and reserves, I was ready to relax. I couldn’t get over how pristine the beach looked. Whether staying on the outskirts of Mombasa or heading south to Diani or Msambweni, the coastline offers endless soft white sand and clear turquoise waters ideal for snorkelling or scuba diving. It’s the perfect remedy after all the excitement a safari throws at you.

This marked the end of my first Kenyan adventure and it left me hungry for more. With countless national parks, each offering unique wildlife viewing opportunities and contrasting landscapes, I can’t wait to return. Here are just some of the other areas of Kenya not to be missed:

Masai Mara

The Masai Mara offers the greatest concentration of wildlife on earth and while not guaranteed, the best chance to spot the Big Five. The photogenic landscape of grassland and savannah also plays host to the annual migration – the incredible wildlife spectacle that sees over a million wildebeest and zebra migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara. If you time your visit with the migration (July - October), you’ll be on the edge of your seat as you witness wildebeest and zebra on their journey, avoiding the danger from crocodiles,  lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas – all waiting for their next meal. You can also visit a tribal village to get a flavour of how the Masai people live here.

One of our most popular places to stay is Governor’s Camp, a luxury tented camp offering an unforgettable fly-in safari experience. I’m talking canvas tents decked out with African carved wood furniture, sundowners by the riverbank and uninterrupted views of wildlife. It really is something special.

Amboseli National Park

For landscapes encompassing the magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro (the rooftop of Africa), head to Amboseli National Park. A balloon safari at sunrise will provide an unforgettable view of Africa’s highest mountain, with wildlife roaming the savannahs below. Amboseli is famed for its high volumes of elephants so you’ll come across herds of over one hundred elephants at any time, as well as lions, wildebeest and rich birdlife.

Tsavo National Park

The Tsavo National Park offers contrasting landscapes and experiences. The park is split into two – Tsavo West is filled with tall vegetation, lava flow and watering holes where you can spot the Big Five, while Tsavo East is home to herds of elephants and buffalo wandering the open savannah.

Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge in Tsavo West is one of our most unique lodges. Perched on stilts in the heart of the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, you have 360° views of the wildlife, with resident elephants visiting the lodge’s water feature for a drink. After an afternoon game drive, sit back on the veranda with an Amarula and watch the wildlife gather below before retreating to your room to drift off to the sound of elephants trumpeting.

Meru National Park

Head to Meru National Park and retrace the steps of George and Joy Adamson, who raised Elsa the Lioness. Fifty years after the biological film Born Free was released, you can stay at Elsa’s Kopje for an exclusive fly-in safari experience.

With so much to experience in Kenya, you’ll return home with unforgettable memories of the wildlife and nature. But one thing that really stuck with me was the warmth and good nature of the people, from the friendly welcomes at each lodge, hotel and camp you visit, to the friendly waves from schoolchildren and market vendors. It’s the people that really makes Kenya magical.”

I hope I’ve tempted you to begin your safari adventures amid the dramatic landscapes of Kenya, or if you’d like to know more visit our safari pages for more inspiration on travelling to Africa.