After arriving into Nairobi on the late night British Airways flight, Michele and I sat on the patio of Hemingway’s Nairobi and enjoyed a much needed Tusker. My excitement for what the next fourteen nights would entail was apparent as I don’t think I stopped talking. Nothing can beat that feeling!
The following morning, the safari began! After contending with the infamous Nairobi traffic, we connected with the mid-morning flight to the much talked about Laikipia region of central Kenya. I spent four nights in the region. The first night at Laikipia Wilderness, a relatively small wilderness camp in the Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch, owned and managed by Steve and Annabelle Carey. This area is popular with guests hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive wild dog, and the guests we spoke to described their numerous exciting encounters with them during their stay. Unfortunately, due to our short one night stay, we saw spoor but not much more. The following morning, Michele, Steve and I departed camp with the aim to walk to the neighbouring Sosian Ranch. As we walked along the river bank (the river acts as a natural border between Ol Doinyo and Suyian Ranch) the vast number of starving cattle and pastoralists on the previously lush well-managed ranch brought home how severely the much publicised drought was affecting the region! Experiencing a safari on foot provides a completely different perspective, allowing you to focus on the smaller aspects such as tracks, insects, birds and other things that are easily missed when in a vehicle.
After site-inspecting Sosian and Loisaba Tented Camp, we spent the night at Ol Malo House. Home to the Francombe family, this owner run lodge has some of the most spectacular views in the region. We had a very authentic Kenyan dining experience. After drinks around the fire, Michele and I were summoned by the chef who helped us to produce (in my opinion) award winning chapattis, which were eaten with ugali (a Kenyan staple of maize meal), sukuma wiki (a local green vegetable similar to kale) and nyama choma (barbecued meat) – it was a great and very tasty experience under the big African sky!
The next morning, we had breakfast at the next door Ol Malo Lodge before flying south-east to the Lewa Conservancy. Michele had told me about her experiences there previously and the number of rhino she had seen, but it wasn’t till we landed that I could finally believe her – on the drive from the airstrip to Lewa Wilderness we saw 9 white rhino which, sadly, in 21C East Africa is extraordinary. The conservancy currently has a rhino population of approximately 157 (83 black rhino and 74 white rhinos) which constitute 15% of Kenya’s entire rhino population. We spent the night at Lewa House, staying in their beautiful ‘Earth Pods’.
The following morning, we enjoyed a spectacular light aircraft flight southwards to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy where Michele ‘dropped’ me off and continued to the Masai Mara. Another very well managed conservancy has led to wildlife flourishing. Home to the last three Northern white rhino on the planet, this destination provided another contrasting experience to Lewa. I stayed at Kicheche Laikipia, and their key ethos of excellent guiding, hosting, accommodation and food was evident. We had fillet of Ol Pejeta beef for dinner and the enjoyment was there for all to see on the other guests faces. Our excellent host Andy Webb had the table in the palm of his hand with his exhilarating dinner table stories. The work of the chefs in these camps is incredible – they produce exquisite food in the most basic of conditions.
>Next was the famous Masai Mara. I had visited the Mara once before in 2009 with my parents, but this time I was intrigued to see the safari industry from a different perspective. My first night was spent at Asilia’s Rekero camp, which coincidentally is one of the camps I had stayed at on my previous trip. Even on the drive from the airstrip, I was amazed at the spectacle of wildlife. We saw numerous giraffe, antelope, zebra, hyaena and a cheetah carrying a young Thomson’s gazelle in the space of 25 minutes! It was hard to envisage the spectacle of over one million wildebeest and zebra covering the plains during migration season. A reminder of how excellent the game viewing is in the region is the fact that as we were watching two male lions (Blacky and Lipstick – they are aptly named) Jonathan Scott (of Big Cat Diaries) casually drove by and had a brief chat with my guide Pius before continuing his filming for the latest series of Big Cat Diaries. I spent one night in the main reserve before heading north to the neighbouring conservancies.
All three of the conservancies I visited (Mara North, Olare Motorogi and Naboisho) differed in terms of wildlife viewing, landscape and accommodation options so much so that it is definitely worth combining at least two of the conservancies in one safari. All of the conservancies offer a much more exclusive experience than the neighbouring main reserve, without hindered game viewing. There are no fences between the reserve and conservancies meaning wildlife is free to wander in and out. The conservancies also offer more varied game viewing options, with walking safaris, night drives, fly camping, fishing and horse riding (Ride Kenya, a horse riding based safari has started operating out of Olare Motorogi Conservancy – we visited the stables).
With the Mara delivering experience after experience game viewing wise, it is hard to narrow down one key highlight. During my time in the conservancies however, there was one particular night drive at Offbeat Mara that was very memorable. After dinner, my guide and I departed camp with full stomachs. We ventured out onto the vast plains surrounding the camp hoping to see the 28 strong Offbeat lion pride. As we traversed the pitch black grassland following the spotlight with our eyes. We saw a shape in the distance. A quick flash and the hunt was on, within seconds, the neck of a Thomson’s gazelle was in the lioness’s jaws. We watched two lionesses tucking into their evening meal before scanning the plains with the spotlight to see the eyes of the other 20 or so lions waiting for their turn to eat. You really feel you are in the lions world at night as this is when they really come alive!
The Masai Mara is exceptional. Game viewing-wise it is arguably the best destination on the continent. For a quintessential safari experience of vast open plains, big herds of animals with the added cultural experience of local Maasai guiding you through their homeland, then this has to be the destination for both first time travellers as well as those more seasoned safari goers.
During Joe and Michele’s visit to Kenya, they stayed at Hemingway’s Nairobi, Laikipia Wilderness, Ol Malo Lodge, Lewa House, Kicheche Laikipia, Rekero Camp, Mara Plains Camp, Naboisho Camp, Offbeat Mara Camp, Richards River Camp, Serian ‘The Original’, Saruni Wild, Kicheche Mara Camp, Kicheche Bush Camp, Kicheche Valley and Ol Seki Hemingway’s Mara.
Between them, they also site inspected Sosian, Loisaba Tented Camp, Lewa Wilderness, Serian Nkorombo Mobile Camp, Ngare Serian (and Serian’s ‘Nest’), Mara Expedition, Karen Blixen Camp, Saruni Mara, Encounter Mara Camp, Topi House, Naboisho Camp, Boma Inn, Ole Sereni and the Eka Hotel.