I had the opportunity to visit Kenya for the second time in November and now I can finally say that I have ticked off the famous Masai Mara... and so much more!
I headed over to Kenya to experience our 8 day Kenya Highlights tour. The Kenya safari tour includes the opportunity to experience the largest concentration of animals in Africa - found in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. This is followed by the Samburu - home to lions, leopards, the rare and unusual reticulated giraffe, Lake Nakuru National Park which is famous for its flamingos and pelicans and Ol Pejeta Conservancy which will astound you with its quantity and diversity of wildlife.
First though... Nairobi!
Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya, easily accessible by all the big airlines including Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and South African Airways. Most people seem to want to avoid Nairobi but my advice is to stay at least two nights and explore the big city! It has so much to offer and a great place to work off the jet lag with a bit of exploring.
Start your morning with a visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage which provides a safe haven to orphaned baby elephants. It is only open for one hour from 11am to noon and the minimum contribution of $7 US dollars / 500 Kenya shillings per person is money well spent as you get to see about 30 of the beautiful elephants interact with each other, play in mud and you might even be lucky enough for their truck brush against you. At the end of the experience, you have the opportunity to adopt and elephant for a minimum annual fee of $50 US dollars. It was incredibly sad to hear about the recent passing of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, founder of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. She was an incredible woman, with a huge heart, indomitable spirit and a great purpose. She left a huge legacy and continues to inspire us here at Bench to do whatever we can to protect Africa's wildlife and wilderness.
If you aren’t lucky enough to stay at the exclusive boutique Giraffe Manor on your Kenya safari tour then don’t be disappointed. You can you visit the giraffe centre which is located on the same grounds as the hotel. Get up close and feed the majestic animals and maybe even steal a sneaky kiss! Your entrance fee costs just $10 US dollars per person and you can stay as long as you want - learning and feeding the giraffes.
Continue to the grounds of Karen Blixen where you can indulge in a delicious lunch in the lush gardens followed by a walk through her farmhouse at an entrance fee of $11 US dollars per person. Get an insight to where Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa lived between 1914 and 1931. End the day with a visit to Kazuri Beads which is a tiny workshop employing single mothers in need who handcrafted ceramic beads. There are no entrance fees but if you’re a shopper like me then you might want to purchase some unique jewellery, which will have friends and strangers asking where you purchased it from.
After a day of exploring Nairobi it's time for our Kenya Highlights tour to kick off! Our group is met at our hotel by a familiar face - Kevin from Southern Cross Safaris. I had met Kevin on another Kenya safari tour previously and was absolutely thrilled to see him again. Bags are packed in the back of the safari minibus which seats 7 passengers and is equipped with Wi-Fi and complimentary water. We're briefed on the itinerary and how long it will take to take to make our way to the Masai Mara, we are pre warned that the last 2 hours driving into the Mara will be on some of the worst conditions we have ever driven on in our life but I believe this is all part of the adventure.
Five hours later and we have arrived at our lodge - our home for the next two nights. This afternoon we visit a local Maasai village for some colourful Kenyan culture. The experience costs just $20 US Dollars per person and we had the opportunity to listen to their stories. Dances were performed and we were welcomed into their homes and had an incredible insight into their everyday living. Afterwards we headed off on an afternoon game drive which would be one of many. The Masai Mara National Reserve provides visitors with one of the best game viewing experiences in Africa. The ultimate safari experience featuring the Big Five, set against the breathtaking backdrop of sweeping savannah grasslands. The Masai Mara's biggest drawcard is that it forms the stage for the annual Great Migration though. As we travelled in November there was no sign of the migration - long gone now - we weren't fussed though as there are still 100,000 resident wildebeest. We saw so much more than we ever expected, truly a remarkable turn out.
When you do the Kenya Highlights everyone should budget into their trip a hot air balloon flight over the Mara! It was a true highlight of my trip. If you are happy waking up at 4:30am then for AUD $610 per person you can spend about one hour silently floating over the savannah in a hot air balloon - it's something you will never forget.
You take off in the wee hours of the morning, float in the sky, drifting with the whim of the wind, overlooking the plains, just in time to experience a breathtaking sunrise and catch a bird’s eye view of the reserve. After the flight, you will be treated to a luxurious breakfast to complete the experience as you relax and absorb what is likely to be one of the highlights of a lifetime.
Today our journey takes us to Lake Nakuru National Park, famous for its flamingos and pelicans. In recent times however the lake has flooded and so the salt of the water has dropped, sadly so has the numbers of flamingos. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of flamingos on the lake (rumour is they are flocking back so watch this space!)
Flamingos aside the park also boasts a large population of rare black rhinos, white rhinos and the endangered Rothschild giraffes there is still plenty to see here - in fact this is one of your best opportunities to see rhinos in the wild in Kenya. Because it is in the Great Rift Valley, the soil here is wonderfully rich and the vegetation is abundant, attracting birds from all over the world - it is truly a bird watcher's paradise!
A long seven hour drive was ahead of us as we made our way on to Samburu National Park situated in the dry area of northern Kenya and on the banks of the Ewaso River. A second village visit is on offer where the nomad tribes, the Samburus, the Rendilles and the Boran live. Something special happened whilst our group was staying here. Samburu is in a very dry area but the clouds opened and the rains came down hard, something that they hadn’t seen in over six years. Staff members were dancing and rejoicing, taking endless pictures. They didn’t know how long they would have to wait to see this again. The pleasant smell that accompanies the rain in Africa, especially in the bush is in absolutely indescribable. Samburu is one of the smallest national parks, yet probably one of the richest from a game point of view and our second day here we got to experience all it had to offer. Apart from lots of elephant observations, I also watched lions up close, the Samburu Special Five which include ostrich, Reticulated Giraffe, Grevy's Zebra, Generuk and Oryx.
Our last safari experience was ahead of us as we made our way to Ol Pejeta Conservancy - a pristine environment with the ‘Big Five’, and the one and only chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya. Our seven hour drive took us to Sweetwaters Camp, an elegant tented camp and location for our very last night in Kenya. Our afternoon had us visit the Sweetwaters Chimpanze Sanctuary which aims to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from West and Central Africa. Onto Baraka the blind black rhino who lost his right eye defending his territory from another bull. His total loss of eyesight meant he could no longer survive in the wild so Ol Pejeta have created a home for him to live out his remaining days in safety. Our day came to an end with a drive to see Sudan the world's last male northern white rhino who was living under armed guard protection. Sadly Sudan passed away in March 2018. The work that is being done on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to conserve wildlife and provide a sanctuary is remarkable and donations are welcome.
Back to Nairobi we travel to bid and say goodbye to an amazing week that was had in Kenya.
The Kenya Highlights tour was an incredible way to see the vast and diverse country of Kenya. Yes, there is a lot of driving but most of it is scenic and enjoyable and all a part of the adventure. The alternative is of course to fly which is easily arranged. There is also the opportunity to upgrade from the safari minibus to a 4X4, which would be my recommendation if you have the budget to do so.
Here's a customer review from one of the ladies who was travelling with us on our Kenya safari tour.