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Africa Expert Top Tips: Kenya Wildlife Safaris

by Lara Behrens
12th October 2017 Safari
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Kenya Wildlife Safari Tours with Bench

Kenya, home to the authentic safari!

Kenya is where the safari was born, as was the very word itself, meaning 'journey' in Swahili. For some it is also the spiritual home of Africa and to me it's just... home!

Hells Gate, Kenya - 2015
Hells Gate, Kenya - 2015

Kenya boasts an extensive range of habitats and safari options for a range of travellers. It is a diverse country, straddling various climate zones which means that it has a huge variety of different landscapes for you to experience. What makes Kenya so special, in my opinion though is that it is so wonderfully welcoming. It has an unusually vast range of fascinating cultures, and is home to over 70 different tribes, each of which is rich in unique culture, such as the colourfully dressed Masai and Samburu tribes.

Once you've decided on Kenya as your destination of choice (well done!), selecting where to go in Kenya to experience the best wildlife safaris will be your biggest challenge because each area has something unique to offer.

Bench to the rescue!

Check out these Kenya highlights and my top tips to get the ideas flowing for your Kenya wildlife safari tour.

Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park

The major entry point in East Africa and of course the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi has a 117-square kilometre national park smack-bang in the centre of it. This park is incredibly unique due to its accessibility. Within 30 minutes of leaving Jomo Kenyatta Airport you can be surrounded shy wilderness on a safari in the shadow of the city skyscrapers. A true paradox,  Nairobi National Park is a genuinely worthwhile and well kept safari destination. One thing that's special about the park is their high population of black rhinos. In fact, here you are more likely to see black rhinos than anywhere else in Kenya! Unfortunately though, it is not a Big Five game reserve as there aren't any elephants in the park but is home to most other plains game in southern Kenya, including wildebeest, zebra and gazelle, eland, giraffe and impala.

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Why not stay at The Emakoko? This lovely luxury boutique lodge is positioned right on the edge of the park and is the perfect place to wind down after your city safari experience.

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi
Giraffe Manor, Nairobi

Nairobi is also home to the famous Giraffe Manor, The Giraffe Centre and David Sheldrick’s elephant orphanage which you absolutely need to experience whilst you're there.

Most trips to East Africa will begin and end in Nairobi so why not take the day to explore the wildlife in the city? 

Masai Mara National Reserve
Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara National Reserve

The Masai Mara (or just "The Mara" if you're in the biz) is Kenya’s most famous national park and is what you have in your mind when you think of the quintessential safari. You might call it "Lion King" country as the landscapes from the cartoon were inspired by the Masai Mara. It's safe to say that most visitors to Kenya will visit the Masai Mara. And for good reason...

Masai Mara is home to the momentous annual Wildebeest Migration. It is in Kenya that the thundering herds reach the rivers and try their luck against the aggressive river currents and hungry crocodiles. The Masai Mara is also home to the Big 5, a large population of lion and is one of the great parks of Africa.

Masai Mara - Bush Breakfast
Masai Mara - Bush Breakfast

Enjoy incredible wildlife viewing, a hot air balloon ride, game walks and make sure that you put some time aside to spend time with the locals. The famous nomadic Masai tribe are a fascinating people so I recommend that you visit a Masai village whilst you're in the area. I was lucky enough to experience a hot air balloon ride the last time I was in the Masai Mara. It was so special gliding over the plains and watching the sun rise, with the wildlife waking up to the morning beneath you. This was then followed by an indulgent champagne breakfast in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but wilderness and the odd inquisitive impala.

BENCH AFRICA - EXPERT TIPS

Migration Safari Masai Mara
Migration Safari Masai Mara

If you plan to visit the Masai Mara during the wildebeest migration then please make sure that you book your accommodation as early as possible so that you don't miss out! My recommendation is to stay on a nearby conservancy so that you can avoid the crowds. From here you can drive into the Masai Mara National Park and experience the migration but your other game drives will be unaffected by the hoards of tourists that flock over to see the migration. I love Karen Blixen Camp, located in the Mara North Conservancy. It's a laid back camp, on the banks of the Mara River, wonderfully eco friendly, and invested in the local community. Here you can have a bush dinner, an outdoor cinema experience, head out on game walks and go off road to get much closer to the wildlife, none of which you are permitted to do in the national park.

If you want to cut down on costs then a group tour is the way to go so check out our Migration Safari.

Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park

Amboseli National Park

Amboseli National Park is one of the most iconic wildlife areas in Africa. If you've ever seen a photo of an elephant with a snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro in the background then that was taken in Amboseli!

On the border of Tanzania between the Masai Mara and the coastline, Amboseli National Park is famed for its herds of elephants (this is a good place to see the large tuskers) and stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro rising up from Tanzania, just across the border. Amboseli is a 'Big Five' park, home to 370 species of birds, so a safari here offers up a plethora of wildlife sightings, set against the ultimate backdrop!

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Satao Elerai - Amboseli
Satao Elerai - Amboseli

Again, Amboseli gets very busy so I would highly recommend that you stay in one of the neighbouring conservancies so that you can get away from the crowds. One of Bench's own camps, Satao Elerai is close by on a 4000 hectare private conservancy, and has arguably the best position of any camp in Amboseli overlooking the majesty of Mount Kilimanjaro from your tent. From here you can go for game walks with the local Masai guides, night drives and sundowners in the shadows of the mountain.

Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park

This national park isn't too far from Nairobi and is home to a shallow, alkaline lake loved by flamingos. In recent times however the lake has flooded and so the salinity of the water has dropped, sadly so has the numbers of flamingos.

It is still worth spending a day here. It is home to reasonably large populations of rare black rhinos, white rhinos and the endangered Rothschild giraffes. Because it is in the Great Rift Valley, the soil here is wonderfully rich and the vegetation abundant so the birdlife here is second to none!

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I like staying in Elementaita when visiting Nakuru, that way you can get away from the crowds. My favourite place to stay is Lake Elementaita Serena Camp, a serene, luxury camp on the edge of Lake Elementaita.

Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East National Park 

This is an elephant lovers paradise! At 13,747 square kilometres, Tsavo East is a very large tract of extremely arid land which offers a subtle but potentially fruitful safari experience. The elephant population within the Tsavo Ecosystem is the largest in Kenya. It is home to approximately 12,000 elephants, one-third of all the elephants in Kenya, and many of the big tuskers also live here. On Christmas day, last year I saw a herd of over 500 elephants! Where this used to be common place when I was younger, it is very sadly a rare occurrence these days. It was just one of those wow moments! And these elephants are not like the elephants you see anywhere else. These elephants are huge, they are wild and they are terracotta red from the richly coloured Tsavo earth. They are truly magnificent!

Tsavo is one of the 'Big Five' parks that has remained relatively undiscovered by Australians. It hasn't always been accessible if you're travelling from Nairobi. However, with the new railway line running from Nairobi to Tsavo East this has made it cheaper and much more accessible. You can now get there in just 3 hours!

BENCH AFRICA - EXPERT TIPS

Satao Camp - Tsavo East NP
Satao Camp - Tsavo East NP

My top tip for visiting Tsavo East is to go in the dry season and stay at Satao Camp. This is one of the only water sources for hundreds of miles so you don't even have to leave camp to see the eles. Sit on your verandah, G&T or Dawa in hand, and watch as thousands (quite literally) of elephants queue up in a surprisingly orderly fashion to have a bath and a drink at Satao Camp's waterhole.

Southern Cross Safaris
Southern Cross Safaris

Bench Africa has offices in Kenya. Southern Cross Safaris is our parent company, based out of Mombasa, and is widely acclaimed as one of Kenya’s foremost tour operators. We have 2 Kenyan safari camps (Satao Camp and Satao Elerai), a fleet of 4X4's and light airplanes, as well as our heroes - our amazingly knowledgeable and passionate safari guides.

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Get in touch today to discuss your Kenya wildlife safari tour!
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