The ultimate African Experience by Richard Schwartzel, Africa Specialist, DSA Vacations
When I received the invitation to travel to Kenya with a group of travel professionals who specialize in selling Africa, I pinched myself with the prospect of exploring this incredible country.
If the bug does bite, as it does for many of our DSA Vacation travelers, Southern and East Africa has lots of diversity in their choices of Safari Experiences. Such as:
- Kenya’s neighbor, Tanzania with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
- Kruger National Park in South Africa.
- The vastness of Botswana from Chobe to the Okavango with its four distinct Eco Systems.
- Rwanda, a country of a thousand hills with Gorilla Trekking and pristine rain forests.
- Namibia with its spectacular wildlife and desert picturesque landscapes.
- Countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique and many more.
The Masai Mara (Sometimes called the Mara)
The Masai Mara alone covers an area of 690 Square miles, add the Mara with the Serengeti across the river, combined the park is a huge 6,400 SQ miles. All regions are different with spectacular wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and each experience unique.
Having grown up in South Africa where I spent most of my life, each safari experience for me has been absolutely amazing.
After my arrival in Nairobi, I was transferred to Hemingways for the first night. A truly special property.
The Elewana Sky Safari plane was our transport for the next 7 days between Meru National Park (Elsa’s Kopje), Loisaba and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
There are many ways to Safari in East Africa, one can have a tailor made safari customizing the experience by flying into a park and staying in specific lodges, or enjoy visiting several parks on a set itinerary which can be with a group or an individual basis in a comfortable safari vehicle (where everyone has a window seat) or experiencing the Elewana Sky Safari in a private (Group 9 Max) aircraft as we did.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, our group met for a hearty English breakfast and our pre departure safari meeting.
We provided our passport details and information, the very first perk of the Sky Safari. One check in and one check out at the end of the safari experience, allowing more time for our safari experiences.
After arriving on the runway at Meru Airport, we were greeted by our driver guides who were with us for two days in the park. Meru is only six miles North of the equator at 2,000 feet above sea level. The park covers 545 SQ miles, with a 53-square mile Rhino Sanctuary for the protection of Rhino. The park has only two lodges and famous for large herds of elephant, rhino and birdlife.
The view from our lodge in Elsa Kopje.
With the rain set in, our 6.30AM morning game drive on Day 1 was delayed. After a nice relaxing breakfast and many cups of Kenya coffee, we headed out on a first game drive experiencing some amazing sightings of elephant and giraffe.
Even in the downpour of rain which was pretty set in for a few days, animal sightings were amazing with rhino, elephant, giraffe, and in the early evening at dusk a partial sighting of a lioness in a tree. On this day, we could tick off two of the Big 5, and we had a great time viewing multiple sightings of elephant and rhino.
We all fell in love with the park and Elsa Kopje. The staff were always attentive to every detail. The experience of a small lodge was very enjoyable.
Loisaba Tented Camp
We boarded our private aircraft for the less than hour flight to Loisaba Conservancy. . This was our opportunity to see the Grevy Zebra, found only in Northern Kenya. The park is also known for leopard and a black leopard. Our guides were all excited as a pack of wiid dogs which they thought disappeared from the region, had been seen heading towards Loisaba.
Laikapa County is bigger than ten of the worlds fully fledged nations in size and home to three Elewana Safari Camps.
On arrival, we were handed our keys. The tented accommodation was spectacular, quiet and very private with amazing views over the Savanah landscape.
It did not take us long for our first leopard sighting just below the Loisaba camp. The Big 5 list now completed.
With our rain ponchos on, we set out for our late afternoon game drive in Loisaba. Even with the rain, the ground was still firm and thick with vegetation enabling us to go easily off road for premium close up game viewing opportunities.
We also had our first sighting in the distance of the Grevy Zebra and saw East African reticulated giraffes as well. The rain has clearly not affected our game viewing. We enjoyed viewing the elephants for about an hour and observed them rolling in the river and mud.
SAND RIVER MARA CAMP with the Serengeti across the Sand River.
The Mara – a Masai word meaning Spotted, because of the Acacia trees and wildlife dotting the park.
With no checkout required and pressure to make our flight we set off for the airport for our final leg to the Masai Mara.
Cloudy skies and a quick take off on the approximately hour flight we made our way to the Mara 1.5 degrees South of the Equator, crossing over the famous Rift valley, very visible from the air. We flew over beautiful Lake Nakura and many local villages, a park where we book many clients. The Masai Mara at altitudes between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level, makes the temperature typically a pleasant mid 70’s all year round.
Landing at Keekerok Airport in the Masai Mara, we made our way to the lodge and within minutes we saw another leopard. For about thirty minutes we tracked the leopard as it made its way through the ravine and surrounding trees. We definitely had some leopard karma.
We set out for our late afternoon game drive with our Masai warrior driver guide dressed in his traditional gear, peak hat designer glasses and smart phone clutched in his hand. It did not take him long to spot two female lions sleeping in the short grass, with a very large elephant herd in the background and in close proximity to each other.
The following morning, we headed out to a different part of the park and had my first opportunity to see cheetah in the wild. Then there they were the Fast 5 boys, as a group, they are amazing hunting machines now resting and sleeping under a tree, bellies full from their feast. At times we were only a few feet away. I felt goose bumps as one of the Cheetahs deciding to walk up to our vehicle and lie down up against the back wheel. You could not get any closer to a cheetah.
This morning we headed out before breakfast to the east side of the park, and visited Black Pride Rock, one of the many Mara names used in the most recent Lion King movie. What a treat, there were at least 5 or 6 female lions and a litter of cubs everywhere to be seen. No sighting of a male lion but there was more to come as in the afternoon we spotted our first male lion sitting in the distance on a hill in the long grass observing his domain.
Our final breakfast in the bush overlooking the Sand River, cannot beat this setting and view.
After our final checkout, we made our way back to Keekerok airport, scanning the horizons for our last sighting. On the distant hilltops we saw some movement, whipped out the binoculars and confirmed only minutes from the airport alongside the road a cheetah and its three cubs, playing together with mom taking a rest.. . What a way to end a Safari.
If budget can allow the higher cost, you gain at least an extra 14 hours in saved time, with no waiting for a plane, no going through security. No waiting to disembark from the plane. No stress if you are running 15 minutes late, the plane will wait, no check in and out at each location, gaining nearly a full day on Safari and a much more pleasant travel experience, it’s like having an extra day on safari at no additional charge. For you to use the time as you wish, more game viewing, or more activities or simply more time to relax.
Good by Kenya for now but not forever, I look forward to returning back again soon.