It was early November 2013 – just at the finale of the great migration I had the opportunity to visit. Boarding a treacherous 6:30 am flight wasn’t enough reason to deter my intrigue for this lesser known place, one that I’d only watched on the television for a good part of my childhood.
As soon as those wheels touched the tarmac at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, I had a feeling I’m in for an adventure unlike ever before.
Day / Reason 1: Acquaintance with the bustling capital city
I was headed straight to my hotel in Nairobi, the wonderful Southern Sun Mayfair. A real charming sanctuary this one. Inspired by colonial heritage and boasting of lush tropical gardens – it oozed calm and comfort in a country buzzing with energy.
Hunger struck rather quick and the Golden Spur Steak Ranch at the hotel was the choice.
The order was a no-brainer; a chilled glass of local pale ale and juicy double patty tenderloin burger at medium doneness. It’s the sort of compatibility that makes you believe that true love does exist.
Day / Reason 2: The ultimate cocktail of wildlife & scenery
This day, we jet set off to Amboseli National Park which is about 230 km (4 hours) south-east of capital city. This stepbrother of Masai Mara, and probably the 2nd most popular National Park is prime to any Kenyan itinerary.
The enigmatic Mount Kilimanjaro, just across the border in Tanzania, provides for some real Instagram-worthy postcard views as this stunning mountain range stands tall in all of it glory showing off its snow-capped peaks. The amalgamation of that and the game viewing – makes it truly phenomenal!
After a two-hour game drive (most parks in Kenya close by 6 pm) we checked-in at the lovely Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge for the night. I’m going to let these pictures do most of the real talking for this one.
Not winning the posing game for sure.
Talk about a pool with a view!
No need for 3D or 4K High Definition here.
Tasteful rooms designed with real character. Space is a bonus.
And after a good day’s game viewing – this is probably where you’d want to unwind.
Day / Reason 3: Luxury in the mountains. It’s only Fairmont.
After breakfast next morning, we were on the road again – headed to Mount Kenya National Park . The 420 km odd drive (approx 8-9 hours) can get a bit harrowing as some roads are calling for real maintenance.
Post a quick meal – we finally reached our destination, the opulent and very highly acclaimed Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club around late evening.
What makes this property truly special you’d ask? This particular Fairmont is right on the equator and it does have a lot going for it. For starters, it’s over 100 acres and boasts of plenty of activities to keep you entertained all day long. Heck, the bathroom in the Presidential Suite literally cuts half into the Southern & Northern Hemisphere.
The night doesn’t do much justice to the ravishing scenery and what you have to settle for is an exquisite meal at their Tusks Restaurant (who’s complaining?).
Grilled Chicken Breast with red wine infused jus topped with veggies and some creamy mashed potatoes. Gold medal, right here.
There’s no combo quite like a good nap after a great meal. The rooms definitely didn’t fail to impress. To my luck, I was upgraded to a suite. It was quintessentially Fairmont. Elegantly crafted spacious havens that set a benchmark for classic luxury hotels.
The living room had a very cozy feel with some nice touches like a fireplace to keep warm. November was bearable (still cold for me) but expect cooler weather if you’re traveling in December & January as you’re 7,000 feet above sea level.
This gem of a hotel shines with all its glory as the sun hits its surface. Luscious gardens, an outdoor heated pool and did I mention, a 9-hole golf course? It makes for a view that’s hardly flawed, if at all.
Day / Reason 4: Sweetwaters & Salt Waters
After painfully and rather reluctantly biding adieu to our home for the night – I was unsure if the experience could get any better.
Our first stop was the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Personally, I don’t believe in encouraging any form of animal tourism for the horrific way in which entities make money by caging wildlife for monetary gains – this sanctuary is different.
Not native to Kenya these primates have been rescued from West & Central Africa post the 1993 civil war. Sweetwaters provides a home for them with excellent facilities for them to start a new life. It’s a must visit.
Next, we stopped for lunch at the Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp. In retrospect, I wish I did spend a couple of nights here as it was nothing short of fantastic. The views, the feel and the vibe of this place – fantastic.
Our final stop for the day was one that truly blew me away. The Ark Hotel at the Aberdares National Park is an experience that you’d have never have imagined before. The concept is simply brilliant. The property has been built around the largest watering hole in the National Park.
What this does is, gives you front-row VIP like seats to the best spectacle on show. Species of all types flock here to quench their thirst. The day time makes for a great viewing but the real magic happens once the sun goes down.
Each of the rooms has a bell, that promptly notifies guests of animals that are around the watering hole. This is mainly because most of the rare species come by around the wee hours of the morning just after they’ve made their kill. One bell means it’s a regular animal. Two means it’s rare. Three bells or more a very rare and it’d be absolutely criminal to sleep through that. Of course, the bell can be switched off but at your own risk.
Day / Reason 5: Lake Nakuru National Park
Bird lovers rejoice as this premium park in Kenya’s rift valley is home to hundreds of species of birds and especially Flamingos which makes for a stunning viewing. Set on a backdrop of marshy grasslands and almost always gloomy skies – Lake Nakuru National Park promises to leave you bedazzled with its near perfect setting.
After a few hours wandering around the lake, we checked-in to the very beautiful Sarova Lion Hill Lodge – one of the two properties within the park.
Set on Lion Hill, this fabulous Sarova offers panoramic views of Lake Nakuru. The property by itself is nothing short of mesmerizing with its tall trees, winding walkways, lovely landscaping and a relaxing spa.
Day / Reason 6: Maasai Mara National Reserve – The Great Migration & The Big 5
Often said – one has to wait for the best things to come along. Almost a week into my East African journey, it was time for the real deal.
Home to one of mother nature’s most magical spectacles – The Great Migration, during which millions of wildebeest and other animals travel from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener lands of Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya between July & October, this is one place that is sure to leave a mark on you.
Apart from the so-called World Cup of game viewing – Maasai Mara is also one of the few places on this planet where you can be almost sure of spotting the Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino & Buffalo).
“Oh! More visitors to see us migrate, great!”
The biggest of the Big 5!
Typical of Leopards. Kill swiftly, ascend with their prey quickly & pose like a million bucks. Sounds like a good days work to me.
Our haven for the night was the Sarova Mara Game Camp – another beautiful lodge within the Sarova chain of hotels portfolio. Well situated in the heart of Maasai Mara, this property like most, has an electric fencing all around it.
Comfortable tents coupled with great views of the reserve make for an enjoyable stay at this lodge. They also offer family tents or club tents depending on your preferences and requirements.
Day / Reason 7: Maasai Mara National Reserve – Maasai Village & Governor’s Camp
Maasai Mara calls for at least two game drives a day (early morning & afternoon) if you want to be sure to make the most of your limited time there.
The early morning game drive was a real treat as we stumbled across the world’s fastest land animal upon a hill-top. This Cheetah was hardly 10 feet from our safari vehicle scanning its surroundings thoroughly as they usually do.
As we were returning back to our lodge – we were even treated to feasting lions that weren’t particularly happy about our presence. Hey, who likes to be watched eating?
Our next stop was the Maasai Village. Our interaction with the humans that are native to these wonderland and hear tales about their culture, tradition and survival was truly inspiring.
Though tribal & very nomadic, the Maasai have come of age and have modernized their ways of living to a great extent for the betterment of their tribe and children. Education & work has become an important part of their lives while a fair of their ideology still remains traditional like hunting & ancient rituals.
Our home for the night was the very special Governors Camp Il Moran. Known for its intimate setting, this small property with just 10 tents is as real as an experience you will ever get on an African Safari.
It’s one of the few properties in the National Park which does not have an electric fence. Instead, what they have is rangers armed with guns that patrol the property day and night – giving it in incredibly exciting feel.
While it may sound dangerous, no casualties have ever been reported. Personally, I had an incredibly unforgettable experience as well during my stay with an Elephant literally standing right outside my tent and calling out to his mates.
I’m pretty sure it wasn’t further than 15 feet away from my bed with just some cloth of the tent between us. It was literally so close that I could hear the elephant breathe as the nights are silent. Truly an unbelievable experience!
Day / Reason 8: Food coma at Carnivore
As with all good things that come to an end – we weren’t done just yet. An early morning game drive beckoned and it was probably one the highlights.
We drove a few miles from the camp arriving at a large grassland to find a pride of young lions. Their dad wasn’t in sight and mom was away hunting, so we had a chance for a real up-close and personal encounter with these predators of tomorrow.
It was finally time to say good-bye to this magical National Park that is Maasai Mara. We headed straight for the airfield for our charter flight back to Nairobi.
There was only 1 thing left to experience – which we’d all heard tons of praise about. The Carnivore Restaurant – known for its impressive concept, it’s strictly and definitely a meat lovers paradise. Crocodile, Camel & Ostrich are among the few things on the menu.
Cooked in a massive fire-pit which is right in the centre of the restaurant, the meat is brought to your table and carefully carved out on your plate. It’s an explosion of flavors and a gastronomic experience you won’t forget easily thanks to the wide array of exotic meat.
It was a great way to end a journey of many miles and it was time for me to head back home.
Kenya has indeed left a deep mark on me and it’s one of those experiences where I’ve seen more than I remember and remember more than I’ve seen. Thank you Kenya – until next time
– Gaurav Punjabi
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