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A Wild Welcome In Kenya

Vicky Bell, assistant manager at our Jarrolds travel agents in Norwich, took the trip of a lifetime to the Kenyan Masai Mara. Here’s a look at the wild adventures she got to enjoy.

Destination: Kenya – Mombasa & Masai Mara
Operator/Host: Somak Holidays
Accommodation
(Hotel names/Ship name): 
Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge, Ashnil Mara Camp, Mara Intrepids Camp, Voyager Beach Resort, Leopard Beach Hotel, Kinondo Kwetu.
Airline: Kenya Airways
Duration: 8 Days

Flights

Kenya Airways were very good. The smiles from the stewards are probably the best in the airline business, which was very welcoming. The seats were not the biggest, with not an awful lot of knee room, but I didn’t find this a problem. A hot dinner was served within the hour of take off with a beverage of your choice. Drinks were served whenever you requested them, all of which were included in the cost. An hour before landing a breakfast of bread, jam, croissant and juice was served. The seat-back TV was very good, showing hundreds of different genres of films, including some very recent ones too. There was also a music channel where you could choose the music which was played.

Accommodation

I had a different hotel each night of the trip. Our time in each accommodation was very short, not arriving until after dark sometimes and often having to leave by 7 am. All in all, I had 19 different hotel visits in 6 days, the below are the ones in which I stayed.

Masai Mara Lodges/Tents

Giraffes Masai Mara

Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge

These lodges are situated about 20 minutes from Lake Naivasha and the grounds are incredible. The main part of the lodge is in a round building, almost like a tree-house, with a lovely restaurant offering views out on the grounds. There was a bar with a big, round indoor campfire and traditional style seating to enjoy the scenery. The accommodation itself takes the form of a lodge; they are round like the main part of the hotel, with big bedrooms and a seating area with doors opening to your own private patio. The park itself has hippos, zebra’s, gazelle and monkeys wandering the grounds. You do need a park ranger to escort you to and from your lodge as these animals roam freely around.

Ashnil Mara Camp

Ashnil camp was my favourite place of all. The accommodation comes in the form of the most luxurious tents you could imagine. There are big four-poster beds, luxury bathrooms, showers and most of the tents also open up onto Lake Mara where you can hear the hippos at night. It is incredible. The reception and restaurant area is again tented, with open sides so your views around you are out into the open of the Masai Mara. The food here is buffet style and the choices are never ending. It wasn’t a case of not knowing what to have, it was more a case of not knowing what to have first.

Mara Intrepids

Mara Intrepdis is very similar in style to Ashnil; everything is tented, including the reception and the restaurant.  However, here you feel you are even further into the wild. Some of the tents are situated within the trees and some along the Mara River, where all you can hear is the hippos and the sounds of nature like you have never heard before. The food here is superior to Ashnil as it is ordered from a menu (still included in the cost) and, again, the choices are never ending. In the morning, breakfast was just brought to us so you could order a hot breakfast of your choice. There was no menu; the waiter just took your preference. The rest of breakfast (pastries, fruit and bread) were brought to the table whether you wanted them or not. This was definitely the way to dine. So, food-wise the Intrepids was far superior to Ashnil, but for accommodation and style, I preferred Ashnil.

Mombasa Hotels

Mombasa Beach

Voyager Beach Resort

The Voyager is rated as the top hotel on TripAdvisor for Mombasa, so we were all looking forward to our stay here. However, it was a bit of a disappointment. It’s all-inclusive and was so busy and noisy, even being slightly out of season; we were all in a bit of shock after the peace of the Mara. That aside, the Voyager Hotel is run in the style of a cruise ship, so lots of cruise ship style activities going on through the day and into the night. It has a few pools where there is always a game on the go, a huge buffet style restaurant where you can choose to dine indoors or out and is situated along the beach.

There is a big, American-style indoor sports bar, but the hotel is so big and noisy it’s really only suited to a family or couple who like to get involved with lots of games, dancing and activities. There is a nice quiet bar at the bottom of the gardens overlooking the sea, that’s probably the only place you can grab some peace and quiet. The rooms itself are quite big but quite basic in design. The staff that looked after us were very welcoming, friendly and very happy to have us there, so the service here was top class.

Leopard Beach (Diani Beach)

This hotel is a very luxurious five-star property, situated south of Mombasa on a beautiful private beach. The grounds are huge, with golf buggies to take you around if you need them. There are lots of gardens to walk through and the accommodations are scattered around, so you can request a particular area of the grounds. Like a lot of hotels in Kenya, it has an outdoor sheltered reception area where staff are ready to greet their guests with cold towels and a welcome drink.

We were treated to a night in the residence suites, which are absolutely incredible. Three of us shared a private suite, consisting of three luxurious double bedrooms, a spa bath, lounge, dining area, private entrance, garden and a pool, which a local monkey took a fancy too. This place was heaven and we all felt it was a shame we only had one night there. Dinner that evening was a barefoot barbeque on the beach, which they provide for their guests once a week. The hotel also has a very luxurious spa and adult only pool. It’s in a very peaceful part of the property and almost feels like you are in your own private garden.

Kinondo Kwetu (Diani Beach)

This property was perfect. It is a barefoot hotel run by a Swedish family and consists of about 30 rooms. It is all privately built on a private piece of land; there is no hotel entrance and just a security gate which takes you down a long dirt track to your own slice of paradise. The couple who own the hotel makes it their business to greet every single guest, welcome them and show them around the property, which is really quite small, but perfect. The reception area is open with big, comfy chairs for guests to rest on whilst they are being checked and welcomed.

Each accommodation has its own quirk and private part of the gardens. Mine was a round hut with open windows and wrap around balcony made of wood and stone with a thatched roof. I described it as my hobbit house; it was perfect. Here, you can sleep with the doors and shutters open and just listen to the sounds of the sea and nature (just make sure you do up your mosquito net around the bed). Other accommodation options were quite similar to mine but bigger with a separate lounge and some with an upstairs for other guests. Each of the accommodations is different (you can’t really call them rooms).

There are two pools here, one of which looks out to sea. There are no words to describe how perfect this place was. It’s the ideal stop for those who have had a very busy few days doing game drives in the Masai Mara and are looking for peace and tranquillity.

Excursions

Hippos In Lake Naivasha

Our trip included game drives for each of the days we were in the Mara, all meals, and private guides throughout the whole trip. We had an included excursion to the elephant sanctuary where you get to see rescued baby elephants and hear about how they are raised and then released into the wild. Also, we had a stop at the Daphne Sheldrick giraffe centre and got up close and personal with the giraffes.

We had an organised boat excursion on Lake Naivasha, where you sit in little speed boats and are taken deep into the lake in search of the hippos and birds.

There was a visit to a local school in the Mara. It was really interesting to see where the local children go to school and hear how it is run. This can be organised for paying guests as well and you are encouraged to leave a donation. We were also taken to a local village run by a traditional Masai tribe. We were welcomed into their homes (mud huts) and learned how they live and why they choose to this way of life to keep the Massai tribe going. They also treated us to a traditional welcome dance. Again, a donation is required to enter this village.

Trip Highlights

There are too many highlights to mention, but these are a few.

The whole of the stay in the Masai Mara; staying in tents in the wild, doing game drives to see the animals.

Our stay at Kinondo Kwetu.

The visit on Lake Naivasha

The food!

The people. Kenyan people are the warmest, most welcoming people I have ever come across.

Possible Improvements

There is not a lot that could be improved on, but a couple of points that I think we should have been pre-warned out.

The itinerary we had was full-on from the moment of arrival until the moment we left. Some days we covered hundreds of miles in driving, a lot of it over very bumpy ground. It would have been nice to be of this as if someone suffered from travel sickness this would have been almost impossible for them to take.

That aside, the trip as a whole, along with the experiences we had along the way, was a trip of a lifetime. You could not improve upon that.

Recommendations

I would most definitely recommend this trip to anyone. You don’t have to be an animal fan to appreciate it. It’s ideal for anyone wanting to experience something different to what they would normally do on their holidays. However, for anyone who does love animals and all things nature, it is perfect for them.

I would recommend a 4/5 day safari followed by a stay at one of the hotels on the beach, Diani Beach being the preference. After being bumped around for a few days in your jeep in search of the animals, getting dusty and dirty, living in cargo clothes, it is perfect to then enjoy a week on the beach for that well-deserved rest and relaxation. For those who may not have the time for a beach stay, it is well worth the extra money to stay at Hemmingway’s, in Nairobi, for a couple of nights prior to your flight home – just for the relaxation, luxury and wonderful food.

I would also recommend the stop at Lake Naivasha for a night. The Sopa Lodge here is incredible and the trip on the lake is one of the best things I have ever done. It’s truly wonderful to be in amongst all that nature.

Additional Comments

Masai Tribesmen

From never having done a safari before, these are a few tips I would recommend to someone wanting to do this holiday:

Be prepared for the amount of driving you will do. If you suffer from travel sickness then make sure you take some medication for it.

Be prepared for the intense heat.

The drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara is about seven hours in total. The drivers do stop at a couple of local villages along the way, so it is quite an interesting drive (I’m glad I got to do it). However, if you are keen to cut down on the amount of driving, Nairobi has an airstrip where you can fly directly into the Mara.

Staying in a tent in the Mara is far more fun than staying in a lodge.

You shouldn’t visit if you are afraid of all things nature; it is everywhere.

The flight from Nairobi to Mombasa is under two hours, but to get to the south of Mombasa (which is where you get the better beaches) you have to travel across the river which is ‘interesting’. Be prepared to wait for hours in traffic to get onto the ferry and be prepared for the volume of people and cars around you. Be prepared for the smells, the fumes, the heat and the street sellers surrounding your jeep asking you to buy stuff. It’s great to experience it all but the nervous traveller may feel a bit anxious about it. There is another airport you can fly into in Mombasa to avoid this river, but flights are not very regular so an itinerary will have to be worked out in order to fit this in.

For anyone feeling slightly nervous about security at the moment, Kenya was one the safest places I have been too. Most of the hotels have their own security, the beaches have their own guards on them and, if you feel a bit annoyed about the beach sellers, all it takes is a ‘look’ from the security and they back off. Having said that said, they are very friendly anyway. The security at Nairobi and Mombasa airports was the best I have seen anywhere I have travelled to. You and your entire luggage have to go through security before entering the airport. The people out here are really the friendliest and jolliest people I have met.

It is incredibly cheap out in Kenya and there are lots of lovely things to bring back. Most meals will be taken in your hotel but your guide can recommend other hotels for you to eat in for lunch or an evening meal. Looking at prices in the places we ate in, it doesn’t cost the earth to eat out at a neighbouring first class hotel.

Must see? The animals on the Mara
Must do? Boat trip on Lake Naivasha
Must try? Local Kenyan beer

If you’re looking for the ultimate safari or luxury holiday in Africa, we can help arrange your trek into the wild. Call into one of our travel agents in East Anglia or on the south coast and speak to a member of the team today.