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Frances covers the safari areas and beaches of Kenya – December 2016

The Masai Mara is frequently recalled as one of the best game viewing regions in the World. Julia and I spent the first half of our trip travelling to various other safari areas in Kenya, Amboseli National Park, Meru National Park, Samburu Game Reserve and the Laikipia region (which you can read about in Julia’s trip report) and we certainly had a spectacular time. The stunning landscapes, the diversity of habitats, the rarer species, the abundant birdlife, the delightful people and culture and the variety of activities all stood out as highlights. However, within the first half an hour of landing at our airstrip in the Masai Mara we had seen as many, if not more, species of wildlife than we had the previous five nights put together. It really reconfirmed to me why the Masai Mara has this reputation.

We spent five nights in total in the greater Mara, covering the National Reserve, Cottars Conservancy and Mara North conservancy. Travelling in early December, a relatively ‘off-peak’ time due to the short rains, it was a truly beautiful time to be there. It felt like we essentially had the whole area to ourselves. In peak season the Reserve can get extremely busy, with crowds of minibuses and vehicles jostling for the best spot around a sighting, but we rarely came across any other vehicles, let alone having to share a sighting.

A highlight of the Mara for me was our stay at Rekero Camp. The outlook over the Talek River is charming, the food was delicious and our guide Tim, a tall Samburu, was great. Our afternoon game drive from Rekero was most memorable – it absolutely poured with rain as we arrived at the mess tent so we spent the first half an hour huddled in the comfortable lounge, enjoying the afternoon tea delights and listening to the sound of rain on the canvas. Once the rain had cleared and the air was rich with the smell of sweet wet grass, we set off across stunning plains. The colours in the sky were beautiful; pastel blues and pinks transforming into vibrant oranges and reds. The plains were magnificent and everywhere was dotted with wildlife – wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, hyaena, topi, impala as far as the eye could see. We stopped for sundowners with three cheetahs dozing right in front of us but the sunset was so stunning I have to admit I barely gave them another glance.

From the Mara, we took the direct flight to the Kenya coast – a flight time of only two and a half hours – a much simpler and more direct journey than travelling on to somewhere like Zanzibar. You can lunching with hippo on safari, and sipping cocktails by the ocean at sunset. We spent our first night south of Mombasa around Diani – I stayed at the luxurious and exclusive The Ocean Spa Lodge, and Julia was enchanted with the warm and vibrant Kinondo Kwetu – two completely different but wonderful experiences. I was left to my own devices – I swam in the ridiculously enormous pool (apparently the largest in Kenya, if not East Africa) as the moon came up. Later, I wandered down to a quiet dinner of octopus carpaccio and the fresh catch of the day, which after ten nights of a fairly structured safari routine and socialising at the dinner table was a welcome change. Julia, in contrast, was welcomed with open arms at Kinondo Kwetu and enjoyed a sociable affair with pre-dinner drinks and nibbles and a fabulous candlelit dinner on the beach. The next morning, I enjoyed an early morning stroll along the beautiful Msambweni beach before the day (and the heat!) got going and, apart from a couple of locals who just nodded and smiled as I went by, didn’t see another soul.

We spent a full day viewing a variety of beach properties before arriving at Water Lovers in the heart of Diani for itself the night. Diani is a much livelier affair – the beach is beautiful but noticeably busier than further south and despite the policing, you will get approached by the beach boys here. They are not being unfriendly but they are persistent, and you have to learn how to say ‘no thank you’ firmly! The beach is breath-taking, the water crystal clear and so inviting and the laid back vibes of village infectious – everyone’s smiling and relaxed and you can’t help but be swept away with it.

On our final morning, we set off on a snorkelling trip right in front of the hotel – drifting out to sea in a traditional dhow. Our guide, provided by Water Lovers, pointed out many a colourful fish to us, and took us to all the best spots, before helping us get back into the boat, as gracefully as possible! We had just enough time for a final seafood lunch and fresh mango juice, before freshening up and starting the journey back to a grey UK December!

Kenya is truly a delightful country to visit. It is perfect if you want a safari and beach break and the combination of the Masai Mara and the coast is hard to beat, not only in quality of experience but also in terms of value for money. With easy access from the UK (direct flights to Nairobi are available on Kenya Airways and British Airways), it remains one of my absolute favourite safari and beach destinations.

Frances stayed at Palacina Hotel, Tortilis Camp, Elsa’s Kopje, Saruni Samburu, Sasaab, Loisaba Tented Camp, Cottars 1920’s Camp, Rekero Camp, Bateleur Camp, Richard’s River Camp, Saruni Mara, The Ocean Spa Lodge and Water Lovers

Frances site inspected: Ol Malo, Sand River Camp, Sala’s, Naibor, Nkorombo, Little Governor’s, Angama Mara, Kilima Camp, Kichwa Tembo, Olonana, Mara Expeditions, Mara Plains, Elephant Pepper Camp, Serian The Original, Acacia House, Saruni Wild, Kinondo Kwetu, Msambweni Beach House, Pinewood Beach Resort and Spa, Almanara Resort, Afro Chic, Baobab Beach Resort, Diani Blue and OneFortyEight Nairobi.