This spring, vacation advisor Tracy Carr had an opportunity to take an adventure-of-a-lifetime, bucket list trip – an 11-day safari of Kenya and Tanzania with luxury tour operator Kensington Tours.
An East Africa Safari is a Vacation Like No Other
WOW! As I prepare to write about my Kenya and Tanzania safari experience, I’m reminiscing about each marvelous day and so many incredible moments. I’m not sure I could pick just one as a favorite. Each day was different from the last and every day I learned something new about both Africa and myself. The Dark Continent embraced and graced me as I observed the wild and natural world, learned about cultures and lifestyles far different than my own, and got a lump in my throat at a children’s school. Don’t miss the video at the end of this post!
Nairobi is the capital of Kenya with a population of approximately three million. During the colonial period under the British, it became a center for the coffee, tea, and sisal industry. Today it is a thriving financial center and the airport of entry for most east Africa safari tourism. Tracy’s tip: Two very important things to know:
- The Yellow Fever vaccine is required for East Africa, but it is not readily available so you need to plan ahead to get it.
- In 2017, Kenya instituted the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags. It is strictly enforced with fines up to $40,000 or jail sentences up to four years.
Since it’s a very long flight from the U.S., a luxurious hotel makes for an easy travel recovery before setting off for the bush. I stayed at Hemingways Nairobi, a 5-star boutique hotel with a plantation feel. Each of the 45 suites enjoys an abundance of natural light and a magical view of the Ngorog Hills. You can indulge in the spa, relax beside the pool or meander through the breathtaking gardens. My personal butler, William, knew my name, my wine preference, and how I preferred my morning coffee. Unsurpassed attention to detail is the standard here.
My Kensington tour included the most interesting sites near Nairobi. First, we went to the Giraffe Center to meet the world’s tallest animals up close. Tracy’s tip: I fed the gentle giants by hand and found out giraffe kisses are the best!
Next, we visited the Karen Blixen Museum where the Danish author lived until 1931 and made famous in the movie “Out of Africa.” The historic house and beautiful grounds draw you back to a bygone era.
Our next stop was Kazuri Beads, an all-women cooperative. The craft workshop was founded to help single mothers become self-supporting. The women handmake ceramic jewelry and pottery; no two are ever the same. They take great pride in showing you their workshop and assisting you in finding just the right gift.
Last was the world-renowned David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. I could’ve stayed here all day. The center rescues and rehabilitates elephants and rhinos. Since 1977, the center has reintegrated more than 150 elephants back into the wild. Tracy’s tip: Yes, I did adopt a baby elephant that poachers had tried to cut her trunk off! She is such an inspiration – even given her challenges she has a quiet nature about her. As a foster parent, I got a special behind-the-scenes visit with the staff.
Ngorongoro Crater and the Great Rift Valley
An hour flight from Nairobi, we entered a different world. A 16-passenger bush plane flew us to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania where we landed in an open field with security waiting beside a tree! Tracy’s tip: Luggage in bush planes is limited to 32 pounds and must be soft-sided with no wheels.
Our guesthouse there was rustic Gibbs Farm, originally a coffee plantation overlooking the centuries-old Great Rift Valley and the Ngorongoro Forest. 17 luxurious cottages offer spectacular views, fireplaces, and outdoor showers. Tracy’s tip: The serene grounds include gardens, ponds, and vegetable gardens with inviting nooks for enjoying a glass of wine or Gibbs coffee while taking in the breathtaking vistas.
The massive Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World’ because of the “Noah’s Ark” of animals that live in the verdant volcanic caldera. During my safari experience, there was one “Wow” after another! Seeing the vastness of the open land, the abundance of wildlife streaming for miles and the way so many different species both protect and hunt each other was awe-inspiring.
Serengeti and Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania
My east Africa safari adventure continued as we drove to the famous plains of the Serengeti. We stopped at the Olduvai Gorge, also known as “The Cradle of Mankind” for views of the 30-mile long steep ravine. More amazing game drives followed where we saw great herds of grazing buffaloes, giraffes and elephants munching on trees and shrubs, and lightning fast impalas and gazelles trying to evade carnivorous lions and cunning hyenas. Tracy’s tip: The Serengeti truly epitomizes the “circle of life” in a beautiful and sometimes poignant way.
In the eastern Serengeti, we stayed in a tented lodge called Lemala Nanyukie. The luxury canvased tents held king-size beds draped in romantic (and useful) mosquito netting. A soaking tub and indoor/outdoor shower in the oversized bathroom and a private sunken deck with a plunge pool raise the luxury level far beyond what you might think of a normal “tent.” An inviting central lounge, bar, and dining area are decorated in traditional Masai artifacts.
The Masai Mara of Kenya
We flew in another small bush plane to the Kenya border and continued our safari in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Masai refers to the people who live there and own the land. Mara is their name for the savannah land. The bio-diversity is staggering. This is where we tracked the African Big 5 – the African elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard, and the king of the beasts, the lion. Tracy’s tip: I never got to see a leopard in the wild, but that just gives me the motivation to return to Africa!
The Landrovers Kensington uses for safari are fantastic. The ride was quite comfortable, even on some less than smooth “roads” through the bush. They seat up to eight and have open sides and tops to put you right in the center of the savannah without any obstructions. Tracy’s tip: This trip is a photographer’s dream! I took nearly 5,000 photos – most of which are blurry from my excitement!
In the Masai Mara, we stayed at &Beyond Bateleur Camp, a lovely tented safari camp with a social area that felt like a British hunter’s living room of the early 1900s. From here I had three very special experiences.
Before sunrise one morning, we set out for a different kind of safari – a hot air balloon ride over the Mara. Only 16 of us, plus our pilot, floated above the Mara River watching all the animals come to life. It was a sight to behold! After landing safely, we enjoyed a bountiful bush breakfast – including champagne toasts – right in the midst of the grasslands. Tracy’s tip: Do NOT ever pass up the opportunity to do this. It is something I will treasure forever.
We also enjoyed traditional Sundowners (evening cocktails) and dinner in the bush of the Rift Valley. Masai warriors danced, the campfire glowed, and new friends celebrated comradery of the experience. Tracy’s tip: This was a “pinch me” to make sure it’s all real event.
One last experience touched my heart in so many ways. We visited the Kensington Cares School in Masai Mara. The school has two dormitories – one for girls; one for boys – to help kids who live far from school stay in school longer. We took much-needed bedding, school supplies, and some candy to them. These kids wear their tattered uniforms with such pride and were so grateful for a pencil. It was humbling. The girls performed several beautiful songs of hope and greetings. When the words “I love you” brought tears to the eyes of a child and he said he never heard that, my own eyes welled up, too. Tracy’s tip: I was reminded that our words and actions make a difference. Spread love generously.
Kensington Tours operates tailor-made journeys carefully crafted with your travel advisor so you enjoy a life-changing, bucket list adventure, personalized precisely to your desires. That’s exactly what I got on my east Africa safari adventure. If I can help you design your own, please contact me.