A lot of travellers talk about ticking off the places they want to visit and the things they long to see, but few holidays offer the chance to tick off quite as many experiences as Travelsphere’s Kenya tour - here our travel writer shares their experience of this incredible destination.
"No other holiday I’ve been on has made me want to go right back to day one and do it all over again before I’ve even packed my toothbrush and newly-bartered-for wood carvings and set off on my journey home.
We took a nine-hour overnight flight to Nairobi - short enough to mean that I didn’t get too bored and long enough to ensure that the grey, damp winter weather was far, far away when we landed next morning and were met by our cheery Tour Manager. After a stop for refreshments, a wash and brush up and a ‘hello’ to my fellow travellers, we were on the road from bustling Nairobi into the peace of the Great Rift Valley.
Troops of Colobus monkeys
Game drives were what we’d come here for but the eye-openers started on the journey out of Nairobi. Huge marabou storks weighed down the branches of delicate trees lining the streets while troops of Colobus monkeys reclined below and baboons foraged for scraps by the roadside. Slightly sleepy we may have been but there was no desire to doze on this drive into the unknown. The bumpy roads, referred to with a giggle by our Tour Manager as the famous ‘Kenyan massage’, also helped to keep us alert.
The Ashnil Samburu Camp is located on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River, which draws many species of animals to Samburu National Park. Resident species we saw on our game drives here included elephant, giraffe and Nile crocodile. I also saw some Grevy’s zebra – once widespread in Kenya and Ethiopia but now down to just a couple of thousand. This endangered creature has larger ears and narrower stripes than the plains zebra, as well as a white underbelly.
Next stop was Lake Naivasha, staying in a fabulous lodge situated on banks of the lake. The view from my balcony of several types of antelope grazing, passing giraffe and a frisky horse enjoying a roll around on the grass was delightful and I struggled to tear myself away. After a delicious lunch accompanied by a glass of crisp South African white wine, I decided to explore and to enjoy some quality time in and around the pool. The delights just keep on coming in Kenya - even here I was able to watch giraffe in the distance as they plucked their lunch from the treetops and playful vervet monkeys using a nearby sun-lounger as a slide.
I enjoyed drinks around the lodge’s huge fire before dinner, which was accompanied by more fine South African wines and the excited chatter of friends-in-the-making sharing the highlights of their day and anticipating what tomorrow might bring. Sleep was beckoning when I returned to my room but I couldn’t resist a peek outside. I was rewarded with the sight of a clear night sky strewn with a million stars and strange creatures shuffling through the shadows. Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.
Actually, tomorrow did come soon enough thanks to my early wake-up call. Just one little snooze then I bounded out of bed and into the day. After breakfast we were headed to the Masai Mara, and who wouldn’t want to get up for that.
Masai Mara Game Reserve
I wouldn’t have missed a minute of our road trip. Every now and then we’d pass a small town consisting of a smattering of haphazardly constructed corrugated iron buildings housing pubs, guest houses, beauty salons, not-for-the-squeamish butcher’s displays and the ubiquitous mobile phone shop. Children waved at us on their way to school and Masai people, robed in their colourful dress and beaded jewels, went about their daily routines.
By lunchtime we were in the heart of the Masai Mara Game Reserve - open savannah as far as the eye could see. ‘You wouldn’t think there was anywhere else in the world,’ mused one of my travelling companions. Our lodge in this wonderful wilderness and home for the next two nights was the Ashnil Mara Camp – a place that was soon to be awarded the title: ‘My New Favourite Place to Stay’.
A river full of hippos
We were welcomed with refreshing facecloths and a fruity cocktail before being led into the restaurant – an open-sided haven overlooking the Mara River and ringing to the sounds of exotic birdsong. My fried tilapia fish with pineapple, pepper and celery salad was pushed aside in an instant when the grunts and groans of what turned out to be several hippos were heard in the muddied waters right in front of me – a spectacular sight and sound that was to accompany our entire stay.
Can it get any better than this, I pondered as I was shown to my luxury tent. Tents, on the whole, don’t appeal to me at all, but all thoughts of scrabbling around on the floor, flapping canvas and chemical loos disappeared as I surveyed my huge four-poster bed, marble bathroom and verandah replete with comfy day-bed and a view of the aforementioned hippo-filled river.
Discover the ‘Big Five’
As the day did indeed just keep on getting better and better, there was time for a dip in the pool and a laze in the sun before a late-afternoon game drive. This saw us mark off three of the ‘Big Five’ in one go - elephant, lion and Cape buffalo, as well as many other animals. We saw zebra, giraffe, cheetah, ostrich, warthog, an assortment of antelope species including topi, waterbuck, impala, dik-dik, Thomson’s gazelle, and a group of meerkats, who did exactly what you’d expect: they stretched up high on their back legs and surveyed us as inquisitively as we surveyed them.
Al fresco breakfast
Another roaring fire accompanied our pre-dinner drinks and enthusiastic chat later that evening, and after a fabulous buffet meal I hurried back to my room to spend a little quality time on my verandah. I listened to the grunts of the hippos and the rhythmic croaking of toads before retiring to my bed, only to find a thoughtfully-placed hot water bottle waiting there for me.
My hot water bottle was still warm when I received my wake-up call for the first highlight of the day, an early-morning game drive, after which breakfast was served al fresco in the Masai Mara – what a treat. A short journey took us back to our lodge where some serious rest and relaxation was on the agenda until we set off on our final late-afternoon game drive.
Trip of a lifetime
One of our more gruesome finds this time was a lioness feasting on a fresh kill - an unfortunate wildebeest left behind during the Great Migration across the Mara River - as curious giraffe and zebra looked on. Our driver’s expert knowledge and keen eye also meant we could tick off number four of the ‘Big Five’ today, a leopard, which we saw at slumber under the shade of a tree, no doubt gathering its strength for tonight’s hunt.
The next day brought our safari adventures to an end and saw our road trip back to Nairobi begin, but not before we spotted a rhino. This 11th-hour sighting meant that along with a host of other creatures, we had now seen all of the ‘Big Five’. What a way to end this trip of a lifetime."
Learn more about escorted holidays to Kenya