The Land Rover paused as a small herd of zebras crossed the dirt road in front of us, and a giraffe stood off to one side among tall trees regarding the vehicle with caution. Suddenly, our guide and driver, a Masai tribe member from a nearby village, said, “There’s a lion in that tree!”
by Matt Sims
I strained my eyes to see where he was looking, but could see nothing unusual. Without warning, he turned off the road and steered the vehicle toward a range of hills at least a mile away, and before I knew it I was staring up at a large lioness yawning sleepily in a thorn tree. For the life of me, I could not understand how the guide could have seen the animal, or even the tree in which it rested for that matter, from so far away. After taking lots of pictures, we sped across the dry landscape in search of other animals. By the end of the day, we had seen herds of wild elephants, hippos and crocodiles splashing in the Mara River, and rare black rhinos grazing beside gazelles and hungry lions.
This was a typical day on safari in the Masai Mara game preserve in Kenya. Each morning began with personal tea or coffee service brought to our luxurious tents to help us wake up, followed by a delicious breakfast at the Kichwa Tembo resort restaurant. Although the accommodation at Kichwa Tembo (maasaimara.com) is technically a “tent,” the structure actually more closely resembles a luxury villa on a platform among the trees. The days could be spent out in the vehicles looking for wild animals and taking photos or just relaxing around the pool. In the evening, you can dine on gourmet steaks, salads, pastas, and desserts and perhaps be treated to a traditional Masai tribal dance around a campfire.
For anyone wanting to go on safari, there are many such camps in the Masai Mara, as well as Kenya’s other wonderful game parks. Nairobi National Park is just outside the capital city and may be visited on a day trip with other area attractions such as the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage (sheldrickwildlifetrust.org) where you can see and pet baby elephants, and the Giraffe Center (giraffecenter.org) where visitors can feed giraffes and learn about them. You will definitely find yourself falling in love with Africa after seeing a small herd of baby elephants stampede toward you to feed from oversize milk bottles. During the process, you can pet them as they tumble around and play with each other and their handlers. Just watch out for your toes as these babies can weigh several hundred pounds. Giraffes may not be as cute, but they are graceful and quite fascinating to watch, and you can feed them by hand from an elevated tower or at ground level. Neither place feels like a zoo since you and the animals are meeting in their natural habitat – the wilds of Africa within sight of city skyscrapers. It is not uncommon to be anywhere outside the city and have a warthog wander up and munch on the grass nearby.
Other popular safari parks include Amboseli National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, and Hell’s Gate National Park. All of them possess unique landscapes that draw many visitors from all over the world. Safaris can be booked directly with a resort or through the travel desk at any of Nairobi’s finer hotels. Trips typically include all meals, lodging, guides, and transportation with airfare from Nairobi’s domestic airport to the game reserve.
While in the capital city of Nairobi, the Sankara Hotel (sankara.com) provides a luxurious five-star refuge from the hectic streets of Kenya’s largest city. The rooftop pool and bar are the hippest places in the city to see and be seen, and the hotel’s three restaurants will thrill your palate with dishes from around the world. Although the rooms and amenities are definitely first class, it is the personal service that really sets the Sankara apart from other hotels at this level. Whether it was the kind greeting from each of the staff members in the club lounge who knew my food, beverage, and seating preferences, or the front desk staff who went out of their way to direct me to the city’s best shopping and dining experiences, I found the friendliness and efficiency of
the staff to be the equal of any hotel in the world. Have them arrange a car for short trips around town.
For other dining experiences away from the hotel, Nairobi’s best restaurants are only a short walk or taxi ride away. Nairobi’s finest Indian restaurant, Haandi is located in a small shopping center across the street. The small but well-known Westgate Mall is 10 minutes away and is home to Artcaffe, the city’s nicest bakery and café, as well as the city’s best Spanish restaurant, Tapas Ceviche Bar. You can also find a plethora of authentic souvenirs at this mall if you don’t have time to visit the other area markets.
Nairobi is not a pleasant city for long wandering walks as the traffic and road conditions can be a challenge, but it is an easy city to discover if you have a sense of adventure and don’t mind taking a taxi or private car. The real attraction in Kenya is the country’s wildlife and the natural environment they inhabit. It is also said that people in Kenya are among the world’s friendliest. After a stay at the Sankara and a trip out to one of Kenya’s great national parks, you will probably agree.