Rob returns to the Chyulu Hills, Amboseli, Laikipia and Masai Mara in Kenya – March, 2016
Kenya is one of our favourite countries in Africa principally because of the wonderful levels of personal hosting our guests receive, but also due to the superb guiding on offer, the beautiful scenery and in places, the unbeatable game-viewing. My recent trip to Kenya, which was a bit of a ‘run around’ certainly showed me these many sides of Kenya and much more.
I began my trip in the Chyulu Hills, known locally as the ‘Green Hills of Africa’ for their lush vegetation created by higher than normal rainfall on account of the relief of hills themselves. The volcanic hills form a beautiful backdrop across the arid plains of southern Kenya, and as I flew over them I could clearly see vast lava flows (long ago cooled) spilling out onto the surrounding plains. On my previous visit to the region many years ago I had been told of black rhino living secretive lives among the dense vegetation of the lava flows, not to mention leopards, huge rock pythons and the odd brave band of poachers. Flying over them, you definitely had that feeling of there being a ‘secret world’ down there. On the ground the following morning, after a wonderful sleep under the stars on my private roof top terrace at Ol Donyo Lodge, I was taken to explore a vast lava tunnel, of which there are many, several of them still unexplored today. Having checked for resident leopards and keeping an eye out for pythons, we descended with our torches into caves and tunnels, emerging into sunlight every now and then. It was certainly a different and very interesting African safari experience! After the walk we enjoyed breakfast overlooking the plains below with the looming figure of Kilimanjaro in the background. With no other tourists, or for that matter locals, in sight all morning it was one of the most ‘exclusive’ mornings I can remember spending in Africa.
The evening before I had driven across the plains and had good sightings of gerenuk (a rare long-necked antelope found principally in eastern and northern Kenya) before retracing my steps from a previous visit to one of my favourite sunset spots in Africa. With Kilimanjaro once again in the background and baboons squabbling on the rocks behind us, I was rewarded with something really special – the best view of a Lanner falcon I have ever had, perched on a rock just 20 yards or so beneath us.
It had definitely been too long since I had spent time in the magical Chyulu Hills, where you can also ride horses, visit local villages, watch elephants at the lodge water hole and learn more about conservation in the area from the excellent Big Life Foundation
After my lava tunnel adventure I was driven westwards to Amboseli National Park, whose swamps were full of water and birdlife. I spent a night at the excellent Tortilis Camp, watching lions through binoculars from a hilltop and elephants dust bathing in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Amboseli can become busy in the heart of the park, but the location of Tortilis is fantastic for enjoying a little exclusivity in what I also found to be the prettiest section of the park.
A flight via Nairobi took me the Lewa Conservancy where I specifically wanted to stay at Lewa House, an owner run affair offering the kind of ‘bush home’ experience that was much more widely available 20 years ago. Hosts Calum and Sophie Macfarlane create a fun and friendly atmosphere with the game-viewing, views and varied activities of the Lewa Conservancy at your fingertips.
A short low-level flight over the Loldaiga Hills saw me land early the next morning in the heart of the Laikipia region, where I stayed at the excellent Laikipia Wilderness Camp. Run by Zimbabwean professional guide Steve Carey and his wife Annabelle, Laikipia Wilderness is another throwback to the old ways with relatively simple tents and a home from home atmosphere. The mission that afternoon was to locate the local pack of wild dogs, using the signal from a radio collar on one of the dogs to drastically increase our chances of finding them. Never-the-less, seeing them is not a foregone conclusion and it took us a couple of hours of searching over the rolling hills of Laikipia before we were rewarded with a late afternoon sighting. In Kenya this is definitely one of the best spots for seeing wild dogs. We finished the day with a back to basics bush dinner, eating a scrumptious dinner on our laps around the camp fire under a starlit sky – the theme is authentic but the quality is still good!
From Laikipia I spent a night on the beautiful Solio Game Sanctuary where the quality of the game-viewing makes up for the ‘not so wild’ location, before I flew to the game-rich plains of the Masai Mara. It is always such as pleasure to meander across the Mara, checking thickets for lions and hoping a serval pops its head out of the swaying grass. The grasses were long and the scene majestic, though the longer grasses did make game-viewing a little more of a challenge. I spent three nights in the Mara, staying at Sentinel Mara, Kilima Camp and the new luxury lodge Angama Mara. I enjoyed the personal bush camp feel at Sentinel and the early morning views from Kilima, but I was most interested to stay at Angama Mara, a luxury property built on the edge of the Siria escarpment right next to the ‘Out of Africa’ knoll where Robert Redford and Meryl Streep performed those famous scenes. The lodge itself has really stunning views, and is built to exacting standards, but there are a couple of negatives to also consider, such as the drive up and down the escarpment and the proximity of the rooms to each other. However, the bush picnic site on the Out of Africa knoll is something special – your own private, romantic viewpoint over the plains of East Africa – an amazing place to fritter away a few hours in between game drives!
My final morning in the Mara was spent exploring the ‘Mara Triangle’ – the area of the Mara to the west of the Mara River. With most of the day at my leisure we covered the entire region and I loved the exclusivity of the more remote south-west region – not another vehicle in sight for over 3 hours. We found lions quenching their thirst in the midday sun and three cheetahs relaxing after an early morning hunt. I passed several ‘crossing’ points on the Mara River, and whilst all was quiet on the migration front at this time of year, I could imagine the carnage that takes place between July and October. One day I’ll visit when the migration is full swing!
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