A safari is on the bucket list for many of us and it was the same for me. I had this on my travel list for a long time and was able to tick this off my list in the summer of 2019. I had planned for my first safari to visit a country in Africa and I was spoilt for choice. Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and so many other choices. After a lot of deliberation with various travel enthusiasts and travel consultants I chose to travel to Kenya for a week. And it was one of the best decisions I made for a first time safari visit. I was introduced to game drives, surviving without electricity from 10 pm to 4 am, no wi-fi, staying in tents within games camps, early morning balloon ride followed by a breakfast in the Maasai Mara plains. Every bit of it was different and an unforgettable experience.
I had read a lot about the Big Five, a term that is used to refer to the five African animals that include the African elephant, Lion, Leopard, Cape buffalo, and the African Rhinoceros. I was for fortunate enough to see all of these from close distance and also many many other animals and a variety of birds. To be so close with nature and observing the animals in their natural habitat is a life changing experience.
Day 1 : Nairobi
My journey started at Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. After arriving at Nairobi late evening, checked into a hotel for an overnight stay.
Day 2 : Nairobi to Samburu
After an early breakfast next morning I was on a long drive of around 7 hours to Samburu Game Reserve in Western Kenya. On the way to Samburu, stopped for lunch at the Trout Tree Restaurant near Mount Kenya. This is a unique restaurant is set inside and around a giant fig tree. Fresh trouts, as the name suggests, are farmed here, freshly cooked and served.
I reached Samburu around mid afternoon and checked in at the Samburu Sopa Lodge. This lodge rests on a hill inside the Samburu reserve and the guest rooms are in the form of traditional Samburu cottages.
Before reaching the lodge, I experienced by first game drive within the Samburu Game Reserve. I saw Grevy’s Zebra, which is larger than the plains zebra, has denser and narrow stripes and is more endemic to Northern Kenya.
Samburu game reserve is visited less other reserves, but this reserve’s arid landscape is home to the ‘dry country’ animals which can rarely be seen outside the park area. Samburu is known for it’s ‘special five’ which are the long-necked gerenuk, Somali ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, oryx and reticulated giraffe.
Quite a lot of cheetahs can also be seen in Samburu and they seem very much used to the safari vehicles. And the Ewaso Nyiro River is a favourite among the elephants as a vital source of water and also for cooling down with a dip.
After the afternoon game drive it was time to enjoy the dinner at the lodge and get some sleep. There is no power supply from 10 pm to 4 am and rooms does not have wi-fi. It was absolutely bliss to fall sleep listening only to various sounds of nature somewhere completely away from the usual crowd and cacophony in general.
Day 3 : Samburu
The next morning breakfast time was an experience in itself. Lots of hornbills were sitting on the trees next to the dining hall and troops of baboons loitering around. It was like having a meal while being part of nature. After breakfast I was out for another game drive and this time around saw more antelopes, reticulated giraffes, lions, beautiful birds, elephants, zebras and many more animals.
In the afternoon, after another game drive and yet more animal sightings, I visited the village of local Samburu tribe. I was decorated by the local women with their bead jewellery and we laughed at each other, no language needed just to appreciate each other and be happy.
Day 4 : Samburu to Aberdare
Next morning after breakfast it was a drive of approximately 5 hours south to the Aberdare National Park. The classic part of the stay here was at The Ark, the design of which is based on Noah’s Ark. where the animals, specially elephants come to the floodlit waterhole and can be viewed from inside the lodge. The rooms in the Ark are called cabins which are set over three decks. The viewing decks with balconies are an exclusive way to see the wildlife closely without leaving The Ark.
Day 5 : Aberdare to Lake Naivasha, via Lake Nakuru
The next morning after breakfast it was a drive to Thomson’s Falls, a scenic waterfall on the Uaso Narok River en route to Lake Nakuru National Park. This park is famous for around 400 species of birds and is a bird lovers paradise.
The other famous habitat of Lake Nakuru area is the Rothschild giraffe. Another animal which can be spotted here are herds of white rhinos.
From Lake Nakuru, I continued my journey to Lake Naivasha. This is a nearly circular and a shallow fresh water lake. This lake is also a bird’s paradise and large pods of whites pelicans can be seen almost everywhere. The other resident of this lake is the African fish eagle, it’s swift dip to catch a fish is something to look out for.
My night stay at Lake Naivasha was in a lodge which has quite a few resident animals within it’s 150 acre area and I had to call a security person every time I had to leave my room and go to the dining hall or the reception area.
Day 6 : Lake Naivasha to Maasai Mara
Next morning after breakfast, it was around 6 hours of drive to reach my final destination and highlight of the safari. The Maasai Mara, also called the Mara, is named in honour of the Maasai people as they described the area as Mara which means spotted in the Maa language of the Maasai, due to all the trees dotted over the vast Mara plains.
The Maasai Mara is home to the Big Five, big cats, and a lot of other wildlife. This is also the place to see the wildebeest migration from Aug-Oct every year.
It was my first experience of staying in a game camp tent which had all the comforts of a high end hotel room. The canvas tents had canopied beds with en suite facilities. For a change no keys were required!
During the afternoon game drive, I experienced the vastness of the mara plains which seems all encompassing, miles after miles of vast open area where you can see various wildlife, some in their hundreds, just ambling around and sometimes staring straight at you. I was also lucky enough to see the shy and elusive leopard perched on a tree.
Day 7 : Maasai Mara
The next morning, I opted for an early morning hot-air balloon ride over the Maasai Mara. It was a very early start and I was driven to the plains where I could watch the sunrise and also watch the balloon being prepared for take off.
The balloon ride gives a whole new perspective of the Maasai Mara, as the balloon drifts upwards with the sky turning orangish and the dawn breaks in. The vast plains with the the wildlife roaming below was a spectacular sight. The balloon ride was followed by a Champagne breakfast which tables set up over the Mara plains.
After that it was time for another game drive. I saw Maasai giraffe, lions, cheetahs, the African rhino, elephants, hippos, hundreds of wildebeests and plains zebras, crocodiles on the Mara river, most of which I had so far only seen in BBC documentaries.
I also visited a Maasai family compound called the Manyatta in the afternoon. The Maasai people performed warrior dance and showed around the area and the huts. Two of them also showed how to light fire only by rubbing two sticks until they cause a spark.
Day 8 : Maasai Mara to Nairobi
I left Maasai Mara after breakfast and reached Nairobi around lunch time. It was about 6 hours drive. In the evening it was time to catch the evening flight and travel back to reality.
The memories of my first safari remains vivid and when things are back to normal I would love to go back for another safari. It’s a life changing experience.
Here are some reasons I can think of on why one should go on a safari at least once in your lifetime.
- Being so close to nature brings you closer to beauty of this planet
- It reaches you to be patient. Patience brings its rewards, whether it is hunting a prey or waiting for that shy leopard to come out in plain sight
- You learn to survive without power, wifi and being one with nature
- It teaches about survival of the fittest
- You realise how vast the plains are, hundreds and hundreds of miles of empty spaces
- It is a welcome break from the city life, it’s pollution, confusion and cacophony
- You learn that animals normally don’t care about humans, they are busy in their own world, hunt-kill-rest and repeat
- It shows you what an important thing instinct is – whether to cross the river, walk across the plains; the survive strategy all depends on instincts
- Whatever the reason, you’ll definitely love a safari. It a must do, you won’t be disappointed, that’s a guarantee!
- Kenya Visa can be applied online or available on arrival.
- Please check vaccinations required before your travel.
- Mosquito Repellent is a must. In my experience there are more mosquitoes in Nairobi than in the national parks
- We were told to drink only bottled water and even used bottled water to wash the mouth after brushing.
- Electricity in most parks are switched off from 10 pm to 4 am. So a small torch is useful.
- Evenings can feel cooler, so a light jumper, jacket and scarf is nice to have.
- Light linen or cotton clothes in neutral colours are best to wear to be comfortable during the game drives.
- Carry a powerful binocular as some shy animals can hide in the trees or be at a distance.
- Be ready for long drives between parks and not so smooth road conditions.
- Most safari vehicles carry 6 passengers and soft bags are preferred over suitcases.
Looking forward to my next travel hopefully sometime soon…
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