Our intrepid clients, Rachel and Richard, refused to be thwarted by omicron and covid travel bureaucracy, and spent 10 days on safari in Kenya in January.
Thank you for organising such a great trip for us.
Our driver, Ambe, was great. His knowledge of the wildlife in Amboseli was excellent and he was very personable and easy to get on with.
Sheldrick (note: this is the Nairobi elephant orphanage) was great. Probably a good time to go with visitor numbers being restricted.
As I already told you, we loved Amboseli. I’m always happy to see lots of ellies and we loved the birds there.
I must admit that when we arrived at Basecamp (note: this was their camp in the Masai Mara) I was worried about how basic it was (even though you’d warned me). However, by the next day I’d settled in and started loving the place. We were lucky and got a land cruiser to ourselves, which I presume is because we were there for five days. We had a trainee with our guide and, again, we got on well with them.
You’re right about the number of animals in the Mara – so many lions! I was very chuffed to see the coalition of four cheetahs (that used to be five), as I’ve seen them on a few TV shows. We were excited to see servals for the first time. We also had better leopard views than I’d ever thought we’d get in the Mara.
Nairobi airport departures! Now that’s an experience! I think it must have been the safest flight ever with the amount of times our bags were x-rayed 😂 We often find though that other airports around the world feel like complete chaos (San Jose in Costa Rica springs to mind).
Now I know why you booked us into the hotel for a meal before flying instead of leaving us at the airport for hours. We paid for health club passes for showers and had a lovely meal there.
We were both a little surprised at how busy Heathrow was and it did go through my mind whether we were doing the right thing or not, but I never had any worries the whole time in Kenya. Covid measures were in place everywhere and it’s such an outside holiday anyway.
The only problem now is choosing which to keep out of the hundreds and hundreds of photos 😃
So thanks again. It was a great trip and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
It’s fair to say that some of us may have been guilty of being a little… sedentary over the last 18 months. So frankly, now we’re able to get out and about again, we’re ditching the game drive vehicles and getting active. Jogging with wildlife rangers, riding with rhinos, walking with Maasai warriors- yes please! Even better- now is the time to go, while parks are empty and special offers abound.
Running with Rangers at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp
Jogging isn’t something you associate too closely with safari, for risk of looking a little too much like… erm, prey. However, when surrounded by a team of experienced bush rangers, we feel pretty safe. Each day the rangers who protect the Ol Pejeta Conservancy head out on an early morning run, and guests at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp are more than welcome to join them. Needless to say, this is something you need to be pretty fit for- running at least 5km without stopping would be an absolute minimum requirement- but then there’s plenty of space for breakfast afterwards!
Walking safaris with Maasai Trails
After the stresses and strains of lockdown and isolation, calming down, slowing down, and reconnecting with world seems pretty appealing. The Loita Hills are an incredibly special area, home to traditional Maasai communities. They’re covered in dense woodland, known as the Forest of the Lost Child, which is sacred to the Maasai. Exploring on foot with Maasai Trails is a fabulous way to get to know the birds and butterflies of the forest, the medicinal plants, and most importantly, your Maasai hosts, usually young, fun warriors who are up to any hiking challenge- we’ve yet to hear of them being outpaced!
Riding with rhinos on Lewa
Lovely Lewa is a conservancy that’s captured many hearts, and the rolling downland is perfectly suited to riding safaris. As an added bonus, this is a stronghold for rhino within Kenya, so chances are, if you’re here for a few days, you’re more than likely to get lucky. There are horses to cater to both beginners and more experienced riders, with a weight limit of 85kgs for beginners and 90kgs for experienced riders.
While riding safaris have long been popular, these days not everyone’s experienced on horseback and mountain biking has much the same thrill. Speeding along tracks in the open air, covering more ground than you ever could on foot, and yet feeling very much part of the bush. Loisaba Tented Camp is a brilliant spot to do this in- the views alone make the uphill bits worthwhile, and downhill is just exhilarating!
It’s red list announcement day today, and the Extraordinary Africa team are celebrating, as Kenya has finally been removed from the list! Needless to say, our sundowners are most definitely of the champagne variety! Safari is by its very nature a pretty socially distant sort of holiday as almost all of your time is outside -you can read here a trip report from John and Mags who travelled to Kenya with us in November.
So, if you are itching to get exploring, here’s our top recommendations for socially distant safaris in Kenya (several of them have some excellent last minute special offers too):
Walking on the wild side
In most of the camps we use the game drive vehicles are open to the elements to maximise your photography opportunities, but if you want to be totally in the open air, a walking safari is the way to go. These are beloved by safari aficionados as you experience total immersion in the bush and get a much more up-close, intense safari experience than you do from a vehicle. Standing nearby a big bull elephant is an excellent way to feel how small your place in the universe is!
Karisia Walking Safaris, run by Kerry and her husband James is easily amongst the best walking safari options in Kenya. You can walk out for a few days or weeks- with each day tailored to your interests and how energetic you are feeling. Our favourite thing to do is to use the walking safari as a transfer between two remote safari camps so you have a dose of luxury to start and finish your adventure.
Private safari houses
Kenya has always been the go-to choice for family friendly, owner-run safari lodges, and staying in a private safari house is really a natural extension of this. The whole schedule runs around you and your family, mealtimes are just for you, and if you want, you can choose to see no-one but your staff for the duration of your stay.
Some of Kenya’s safari camps are deliberately tiny, to really emphasise your sense of remoteness and escape from the outside world. So if you want privacy, but with the romance of canvas, this is the way to go. Saruni Wild for example has only 3 tents- gather your friends (or family, if you haven’t seen enough of them over the last few months) and get packing!
Take private driving transfers.
While numbers on light aircraft flights are still fairly low, chances are if you’re using them to access remote game reserves you’ll be sharing the plane with other passengers. So you can either choose to charter, or to take private transfers to your lodge or camp instead (there are a series of strict protocols our drivers use to make sure you are protected!) Some areas are just too remote to make this feasible, but Amboseli, Samburu and certain Laikipia properties can be reached in a fairly easy drive from Nairobi.
For example- the Safari Series (the newest, and most fun camp on the block in Laikipia) can be reached in under 4 hours from Nairobi, travelling mainly on tarmac roads. So you could be having sundowner drinks in Heathrow and brunch (or at the very latest, lunch) in the bush.
We can also arrange private drivers to help you reach the Masai Mara, though the roads here are a bit more of a mixed bag (we once saw a pothole big enough that it’d absorbed most of a mini-bus) so we’d pick the camps for you a bit more carefully!
If all else fails- there’s always a private flight!
Needless to say, our safari camps have some pretty serious anti-covid protocols in place- (some of the manuals we have run to multiple a4 pages of details!) Most of these are behind the scenes so you may not notice them, but you can expect things like being asked to wear masks on light aircraft flights, increased hand sanitising and separate dining when you’re staying in safari camps. Some camps may also take guest temperatures on arrival.
At the time of writing to fly to Kenya from the UK you will need to show a negative PCR test taken no more than 96 hours before travel. Children under 5 are exempt.
We’re packing our bags- want to get the ball rolling so you can pack yours?
John and Mags, two of our most experienced, and intrepid, safari-goers report back.
Our daylight flight with BA was very good, with only 70 passengers onboard. John had treated us to First Class and we had a wonderful experience.
We were a bit confused who would be meeting us… later the hotel bus turned up and the driver took us to the hotel, leaving all the BA Crew waiting as they were also staying at the hotel too ! So it all turned out fine. We had a lovely spacious, well equipped room and slept very well. (Editor’s note- this was the airport Crowne Plaza–we use it a lot for an overnight crash-out).
The next day, following an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we were met by Emmanuel, our Asilia driver/guide… Emmanuel proved to be an excellent and considerate driver, and we liked him very much for the duration of our first few days. We had opted to drive from Nairobi down to Amboseli, avoiding the inevitable gridlock of traffic crossing to Wilson Airport, and also to avoid mixing with too many other people which we thought was a great choice.
Tortillis Camp is set in a lovely location, with the main area, deck and dining area and bar set on the ridge, with views out to Mt Kilimanjaro (weather permitting – which it rarely did for us, but that’s down to luck and time of year). The highlight of Amboseli was undoubtedly the prolific game, which we had hoped for but not expected. The huge herds of elephants, including the huge Matriarchs and Bulls with their enormous tuskers were a sight to behold.
And without exception, all the animals had young at this time of year (Editor’s note- late November), which was a bonus, and a real treat. We were surprised just how many areas of water there were. Apart from the actual lake, the rainwater from Kili and the recent rainfall had created large swamp areas, which was a haven for thousands of birds and hundreds of animals. In particular we were surprised how many thousands of flamingos there were, and apparently all the ones at Lake Nakuru and Naivasha have left that area which is now badly flooded, and they were all down at Amboseli. A wonderful sight : clouds of pink.
We also very much liked the Asilia Touring style safari vehicle, and its layout, which suited us well. It was very comfortable and spacious, yet still provided excellent game viewing from the 360 degree top opening.
Our private transfer from Tortillis up to Lewa with TropicAir went very smoothly. We had a Caravan to ourselves, piloted by Ian. We arrived early at the airstrip, and the plane arrived just as we did, so we left soon after and arrived early up in Lewa, a short flight of I hour 10 minutes.
We were met by David, our driver/guide whom we both liked immediately. He wore his red Masai clothing with pride every day. His English was excellent, as were in fact all of our guides, and all were easy to understand. We LOVED our time in Lewa House and were very glad we had chosen to spent 5 nights there : thank you for the suggestion ! We loved the terrain and the variety of game. On the way from the airstrip to the House, we passed 5 rhinos wallowing by the road, with others in the near distance too. Lewa House is a beautifully appointed family home, owned by Calum and Sophie MacFarlane. Calum came to Kenya 10 years ago, but Sophie comes from Lewa and the original ranching family. They were the perfect hosts.
We had a GORGEOUS room, Room 1/Waterhole (overlooking the waterhole) which was conveniently very near the house. We had both an indoor and outdoor bathroom and a lovely private patio. We ate breakfast on the lawn, usually with the children (11 and 8) and their adorable puppy ; lunch was by the pool ; aperitifs by the log fire in the spacious lounge and dinner (set menu) usually in the adjoining dining room, at one huge table which seated 10 socially distanced. And Calum and Sophie ate with us and were excellent company.
On our Anniversary a table had been laid for us in a separate entertainment area with lights and lit Chiminea in the walls making it warm and cozy with our own waiter John who showed us proudly his “oven” to keep the food warm. We were led by torchlight down a path with lantern lights and it felt like we had gone a long way from the lodge, but the reality was we had not gone very far as we realised after the meal !
2 ponies and Jersey cows also graze contentedly on the lawn and the waterhole attracted Somali Ostrich and other game whilst there were lots of birds helping us to breakfast too ! Perfect ! I should also mention that they have a super gift shop where I bought a LOT of things ! (retail therapy fix). You can see Mt Kenya from the house and all the rooms will have had wonderful views. Wifi was only available up at the main house, not in the rooms.
The game was outstanding. We were literally tripping over rhinos (both white and black) at every turn, often close and often in small groups. Grevy zebra were plentiful too and this is one of their last strongholds. David was also an excellent driver. About the only thing we did not like particularly was the vehicle we used, which was a more traditional (and less comfortable) old Toyota Landcruiser with open top and sides, but no opening doors. Which meant you had to haul yourself up and over the sides to get in (which we managed, but as we get older, will find increasingly tricky ). It also means you cannot stand to see game.
I did go for a ride at nearby Lewa Wilderness Camp (about 20 mins away) for an hour with Miranda, a super English girl. They have 45 horses. Bizarrely though, they only cater for guests 12 stone or under (Editor’s note- apparently it’s down to the horses they have and the weight they are able to bear). But I had a wonderful hack, riding right close to eland, waterbuck and zebra. I would highly recommend this.
We were very sad to leave Lewa, and said we would love to return. With your help we chartered an Air Kenya Caravan (2 pilots) to take us to the Masai Mara to Rekero Camp, which took 1 hour 10 mins, and we saw some wonderful scenery along the way – once again just the two of us!
At the Mara, we were met by Francis, who we also liked immediately. He was a very experienced driver (which was essential when we encountered rivers he had to ford, and deeply rutted muddy roads). He was great fun too and we got on very well indeed. It was only a short 20 minute transfer to the camp, which is set on the banks of the Talek River, and has stunning views from the main deck. The staff were extremely welcoming and friendly at all times.
In the evenings, there was a campfire and they also had a small private dining area, which was delightful. We did notice some mozzies and tetsies here. The food at Rekero was excellent, thanks to Clapperton the chef and his assistant Wilson. The waitstaff were very attentive and friendly too .
We had visited the Masai Mara many many times over the past 40 years and never have I seen it so deserted, with so few tourists. Which was excellent from our point of view, as sightings were undisturbed by dozens of vehicles all crowding around a single animal, which we hate (Editor’s note: us too!). Many, if not most, of the wildlife had young which is a big draw for us travelling in November, and although we did have rain it usually came at night and only stopped us going out one afternoon. And we were astonished at the profusion of game and birdlife too and put this down partly to the location of the camp but also the lack of disturbance by other vehicles. We were extremely lucky to see cheetah with very young cubs, leopard, a lion pride also with playful cubs, to name but a few.
We took the 1615 scheduled Safarilink from the Mara back to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, (which was very late and had 10 of the seats occupied Which of course we thought of as strange !) where we were promptly met by Asilia guide Rufus, who then took 1 hr 45 mins to get across the city to the International Airport. Even he thought this was not great, but there was nothing much he could do as the traffic was completely gridlocked. We had a good supper at the Crowne Plaza hotel before our flight back to London at Midnight.
I took 7600 photos over the 14 days, which says it all. We both feel it was without doubt one of the best safari’s we have ever been on. The combination and order of the camps we stayed at worked perfectly, with differing terrain and vegetation and a huge variety of game and birdlife.
We have come home feeling wonderfully refreshed and bringing back many very special memories.