Yellow Fever vaccination check
Malarone for malaria prophylaxis- check
REI safari clothing- check
We were ready!
Kenya was our safari experience. We used a travel agency to help coordinate our travels since we are newbies to African travel. We stayed at three different parks and traveled via air. We decided to fly between parks to save on the driving time between parks (and that was a great decision). The roads in the parks are very much like our Namibian 5 hours rocky road experience. We also wanted a sponsored safari; which meant we were never responsible to finding our own way! We were met at Nairobi airport by a guide and then driven to our hotel for one night. We were met again the next morning and taken to the smaller airport for our first safari flight. We were met at the airstrip by each safari camp for each of our three camps. Upon our return to Nairobi, we had arranged a guide for the day and then transportation to the airport the following morning. There are many other options for traveling throughout the parks but this option provided us with several days of stress-free travel.
Each stay was completely different with regards to lodging, terrain, guides, and animals seen. Each park offers a unique safari experience. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, there are 23 terrestrial National Parks, 28 terrestrial National Reserves, 4 marine National Parks, 6 marine National Reserves and 4 national sanctuaries in Kenya.We spent 2-3 days at each park. The landscapes were completely different between all three parks. It would be hard to pick a favorite since each one was so different. At each camp, we also interacted with guides from local tribes. The guides were extremely knowledge of the park and its animals in addition to being very patient with children.
A disclaimer I am pretty bad at identifying birds, so our feathered friends are not mentioned much in this posting. Kenya would be a bird watchers paradise; but I struggled just to learn the names/identifying features of the larger animals!
The Park and Lodge
This park was our first park. It was a wonderful start to our Kenyan adventure! It was a semi-desert park located in the Rift Valley. The Uaso Nyiro River cuts through the park and attracts game. We witnessed the water level of the river change nearly daily even though we never saw rain (the water source is mountain rainfall). The terrain is mainly open savannah (grassland) with clusters of acacia trees, forest, thorn trees and grassland vegetation. Of the three parks, it was the least “Serengeti-like” but it had its own beauty. We saw a double rainbow on our first safari drive. The animals are not as plentiful as other parks but we saw various animals on each safari drive. And elephants– we saw elephants everywhere. I don’t think I can ever tire of watching elephants! Hands down….this family could watch elephants non-stop!
The camp consisted of several tents (for guests) and a main lodge (for meals). The camp was the smallest of the locations we stayed at which meant the service was more individual and we learned more about the staff. Breakfast was a buffet service with menu lunch and dinners. The camp had limited generator power and electricity was limited to a few hours. We were pretty much off the grid for internet service; which was great for our stay of a few days. We had use of a plunge pool in every tent and it helped with the afternoon heat. We took advantage of two safaris drives a day with our trusty guide, James.
Animals that are easy to spot in this park: elephant, giraffe, hippo, and zebra. Unique to this park is reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, and oryx. The Big 5 have been renamed “Samburu Five” for this ecosystem: gerenuk, the reticulated giraffe, the somali ostrich, the Grevy’s zebra, the beisa oryx (we saw all of those multiple times).
We had such a special time at Elephant Bedroom Camp. Our guide James really made our time here special! However, I think we will remember the sundowner along the river and a breakfast safari drive for our favorite safari moments.
Our family favorite is Stephen (the 12 yo) shrieking one morning. The staff would bring coffee and hot chocolate to our tents for a nice wake-up for our morning safari trips. The kids forgot to bring the biscuits into the tent and close the doors; and monkeys appeared from every tree to take them!
But most of all, elephants would roam between the tents. The camp was not enclosed and all game was free to roam (monkeys to baboons to elephants). The staff used slingshots to redirect monkeys and baboons as needed. They used sticks/batons for elephants. The staff would also ensure our safety as we moved around camp in the early morning hours and after sundown. We saw elephants in the camp at least twice a day and we had regular monkey visitors in the afternoon. Of all three parks, Samburu gave us the closest view of the animals.
The Park and Lodge
When one hears “African Safari”; the mind instantly flashes to Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti. Masai Mara was established in 1961 and covers over 700 square miles. It is an extension of the Serengeti ecosystem. In this ONE park there are a million wildebeests, 250,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 250,000 zebras, 70,000 impalas and 30,000 Grant’s gazelles. I felt like we saw all of those animals (in those numbers). This park is where you see animals; lots of animals. We missed the wildebeest migration (maybe next time) by just a couple of weeks.
We stayed at Mara Serena Safari Lodge which is situated high on a hill overlooking the savannah. It was massive compared to Elephant Bedroom Camp! The décor is meant to reflect the Maasai beehive huts made of mud and cow dung. Our rooms had views overlooking the savannah. The lodge was high enough on the hillside that large game would not enter the camp but still open to monkeys, birds, and dassi. There was a gate around the lodge to ensure the predatory animals and larger animals stayed outside. This lodge (and park) was always bustling with activity which was in stark contrast to the serene and quiet Samburu.
Animals easy to spot in this park: elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hyena, buffalo, hippo, and rhino (I would argue these were hard to spot!).
Breakfast at the hippo pool! One morning instead of heading back to the lodge for breakfast, we headed to the hippo pool! And just around the river bend, was the croc bank of the river. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the dassie and her babies right outside our room. The kids were worried every night that some predatory bird would snatch one of the babies away; but they survived at least the two nights we were there.
The Park and Lodge
We had views of Mt Kilimanjaro while in this park. The park is just northwest of the mountain (maybe we will climb next time we visit Kenya!) The lodge is located near a swamp and was always full of game. The deep emerald-green of the swamp stood out against the dusty plains. These wetlands are a dominant feature of the park. There are several habitats in this park- open plains, acacia woodland, thornscrub, swamps, and marshlands.
The lodge was part of the Serena network and we preferred this lodge to Masa Mara Serena. The property had fewer rooms and the resort had a smaller feel. The meals were similar to Masa Mara with buffets offered for all meals. We didn’t have a gym though. Masa Serena had a small gym with a pretty amazing view over the park.
The animals easy to spot in this park are elephant, giraffe, hippo, zebra, wildebeest, hyena, and buffalo. Elephant viewing is well-known in this park. The elephants spend most of the day in the swamp and are found walking around early in the morning and early evening. The elephant has been well-protected in this park for many years and are accustomed to safari traffic. The swamps were always full of animals as the water source. It was a stark contrast to have water and grassland suddenly appear in the landscape. The view from Observation Hill was a panoramic 360 of the park. The “swamps” are formed with natural water seeping up from amongst lava rocks.
We were familiar with how mischievous and quick the monkeys could be. However, we had been lucky to not have any visitors in our room or have any items missing. That changed at the pool. When an adult beverage was delivered with a tasty piece of fruit on the rim; it was too much temptation. The monkey had the pineapple and was gone before I could even sit up! And the drink wasn’t knocked over!
We had an incredible experience in Kenya. We gained such an appreciation for these animals while observing them in the wild. Not only are zoos ruined for us; but I don’t think I will ever be able to visit the Safari at Animal Kingdom again!
The term Big 5 started with hunting. It was given to the game that were the hardest to kill due the danger involved. Traditionally the big five are elephant, rhino, cape buffalo, leopard, and lion. We didn’t see a leopard- even though our guides really searched for us! We were lucky enough to observe rhino and cheetahs.