When Marty and Patti asked us to put a holiday through East Africa together for them, we were immediately filled with excitement. It’s not every day that we get the chance to plan a 47 day itinerary through some of East Africa’s most celebrated landscapes!
Most visitors only have limited time to travel, but these Africa Aficionados wanted to spend time immersing themselves into the places they visited, and bar climbing Kilimanjaro (which they are saving for another trip), their aim was to experience all the famous corners of an East African safari in one trip.
Armchair travel with us as we dip into their travel diary and take you on their journey – You’ll go on safari in the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, witness the wildebeest migration, interact with the Maasai people, go gorilla trekking and then explore magical Stone Town and the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar …
The journey begins in Kenya’s capital with an international flight directly into bustling Nairobi, East Africa’s main gateway. There are plenty of sights to take in here with guided tours to the Karen Blixen Museum, the Daphne Shedricks Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Centre. We were booked into the Palacina Hotel which is the perfect starting point for any East African safari. Known for its simple elegance and warm hospitality, this boutique hotel is within easy reach of downtown Nairobi and shopping centres.
After a couple of days in Nairobi, we were whisked off to Kinondo Kwetu Hotel, a resort situated on the tranquil tidal beach, just south of Diani on the Southern Kenyan coast. This remote location is famous for its rocky cliffs and endless beaches. We relaxed in the sun with a cocktail and went snorkelling in azure waters with a multitude of colourful fish. You can even go deep-sea fishing, horse riding or do early morning yoga on the beach. Kinondo Kwetu specialises in scuba diving and is equally ideal if you are looking to complete your beginners diving course or if you are an experienced diver.
Situated merely an hour’s flight away from Nairobi lies the next stop on our epic adventure, Tawi Lodge. This eco-friendly lodge is situated at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro with spectacular views over this famous mountain on a private conservancy of 6000 acres bordering the well-known Amboseli National Park, renowned for its massive elephant herds. It is also known for its emerald swamps that attracts a variety of plains game such as wildebeest, buffalo and zebra.
Our next transfer was to Samburu National Park known as much for its unique landscape where rolling plains merge with rocky outcrops and thorny bush, as for its rare animal species such as the reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra and Oryx Beisa. The terrain also lends itself to a vast number of bird species. More than 400 birds including the Somali ostrich with its indigo neck are found here. We stayed at the Elephant Bedroom Camp which is set on the banks of the Ewaco Nyro River in the heart of the Samburu Game Reserve. What makes this camp truly special is the spectacular setting of luxury safari tents with all the amenities that you could wish for, set amidst rugged rolling hills with incredible game viewing opportunities which include lion, cheetah, elephant and the endangered black rhino.
For the ultimate Kenyan safari experience our next stop was at Kicheche Laikipia Camp, an exclusive tented camp situated in the shade of the second highest peak in Africa, Mount Kenya. Overlooking a watering hole and located at the start of an indigenous forest, this camp is perfectly placed to view game from the comfort of your own veranda. Home to the largest population of Black Rhino and set in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, this is wild, uncrowded Africa at its best! Activities at this camp include the usual game drives (day and night) as well as walking safaris, kayaking, lion tracking and visits to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Wildlife Education Centre and Northern White Rhino enclosure.
Next we boarded a flight to the famous Masai Mara. We stayed at the Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp, situated about an hour and a half’s drive from the Masai Mara Game Reserve, at the foot of Loita Hills. This area is great for observing animal migrations as the reserve and surrounding conservancies are unfenced. It was amazing immersing ourselves in the tribal ways of life by witnessing traditional dances at the Maasai Widows village, learning about traditional beadwork and cooking and experiencing Maasai warriors in training with their distinctive dress. The Maasai are quick to share their world with you and it’s a true privilege to get a glimpse into their colourful culture.
Next stop on our trip-of-a-lifetime was Bateleur Camp and one of the most well-loved game reserves in the world, the Masai Mara National Reserve. Set close to the spot where the famous last scene from ‘Out of Africa’ was filmed, this camp boasts classic safari styled tents with sweeping views over one of the greatest game viewing regions in the world.
Famed for its huge lion populations and Great Migration (best seen from late August to November) when wildebeest herds cross the Mara River from the Serengeti in the south, there is no better place in Africa to see such a vast concentrations of animals. Called ‘one of the greatest spectacles on earth’ the migration can be observed by driving off-road throughout the Masai Mara, whilst the Serengeti only has designated driving areas. We were thus guaranteed to see game up close and personal!
The journey continues after a couple of airborne transfers to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where Southern Destinations had booked the Kigali Serena Hotel for us. This five star establishment is well-known for its Rwandese cultural art and its relaxed, elegant interiors is perfect for getting acclimatised before heading into the rainforest.
After a couple of days, we were transferred by road to Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge which lies at the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes, some 7000 feet above sea level with incredible vistas over the rolling hills of Rwanda. Conveniently located within 3 km from the Volcanoes National Park boundary (known as a haven for the mountain gorilla) the lodge is ideally placed for gorilla trekking.
This area is covered in rainforest and bamboo (which gorillas love to feed on) and was first made famous by the zoologist Dian Fossey, who used the park as her base. The adult Silverbacks (thus called because of their broad backs that are covered with silvery hair) can weigh anything up to 250kg and are the largest of all the primates as well as the rarest of the three subspecies of gorilla. Renowned for their intelligence and fearlessness of humans, there can be nothing more thrilling than trekking through the rainforest and coming face to face with one of these legendary mountain gorillas.
On Safari in Tanzania
For the next stage of our epic journey, we flew via Nairobi to Kilimanjaro where we stayed at Lake Duluti. This lovely countryside retreat made up of romantic African styled chalets is situated on the outskirts of Arusha (a city in northern Tanzania) on an active coffee farm. We booked a pampering massage treatment, toured a coffee plantation, went on a birding expedition and booked a place with a private ranger to take us on a day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro to experience the vistas from Africa’s highest mountain with the sweeping African plains below.
First on the bucket list for our safari through Tanzania was Lake Manyara where we stayed at the Escarpment Lodge with expansive views over the lake and gorge upon which the lake perches. Located at the base of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara National Park is a scenic jewel made up of grassland, forest, woodland and swamp and is home to the famous tree-climbing lion, buffalo, baboon, zebra, giraffe, hippo and wildebeest, as well as more than 350 different species of birds, including the vibrantly coloured flamingo. We watched the sun glide behind the hills and pelicans swoop in the skies whilst having sundowners on our deck and listening to the distinctive sounds of the African bush.
Next stop on our incredible trip was Tanzania’s lush Ngorongoro Crater, a Unesco World Heritage site and considered by many to be the ‘Eight Wonder of the World’. Southern Destinations reserved the Pakulala Safari Camp for us because of its breathtaking location perched on the edge of the natural beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater and the camps close association with the iconic local Maasai community (who were re-located there from the Serengeti). We had the incredible opportunity of interacting with these nomadic travellers and getting a glimpse into their intricate traditions and ceremonies by witnessing their dances and attending talks on their way of life. The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s biggest volcanic caldera covering an area of 8300 square kilometres with several different ecosystems. It is thus unsurprising that roughly 30 000 animals (including The Big Five) live inside the 600m deep caldera and that this is the only habitat to sustain the birth of half a million wildebeest calves.
Lastly (but by no means least) a 4×4 transfer was arranged so that we could visit the most famous Game Park in the world: the Serengeti National Park. The Serengeti has become legendary mainly thanks to the annual spectacle of millions of migrating wildebeest. This is a must-see destination and any safari-goer’s paradise. We stayed at the Serengeti Under Canvas, an intimate and luxurious mobile tented camp which is able to follow the migration, and were lucky enough to witness the great wildebeest migration.
We were keen to venture deeper into the Serengeti and so Liesl arranged for us to stay at the Soroi Serengeti, a stylish lodge situated in the Western corridor of the Serengeti National Park positioned high on the natural plateau with endless vistas over the sweeping Serengeti plains below.
To end of our incredible East African journey, we flew to Zanzibar and stayed at Jafferji House and Spa, for some much needed relaxation. This elegant boutique hotel (which was recently restored) lies deep in the heart of Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town and cleverly combines Zanzibar’s rich history with modern creature comforts and romantic touches. We lost ourselves in Stone Town with its colourful streets packed with a myriad of small shops, mosques and churches, bustling markets and eateries reminiscent of Marrakesh, and visited one of the famous spice plantations where a profusion of exotic spices are grown.
For arguably the best beaches in Zanzibar and the ultimate in barefoot luxury, we then relocated to Kono Kono Beach Villas, located on the south-eastern coastline of Zanzibar. Tucked away for absolute privacy, we enjoyed a sundowner on our private veranda, far away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, and this was the perfect ending to our East African adventure.