Just the concept of safari in Kenya can make anyone’s eyes glaze over as their imagination conjures extraordinary adventures. It’s near the top of every traveller’s list. So with stakes so high, I was a little nervous it would be a letdown. Perhaps I would find it tedious staking out animals. Perhaps I wouldn’t see the big five. Perhaps it would be contrived or over-touristed. I needn’t have worried.
Kenya is the rare pearl that exceeds every expectation,
no matter how high.
It’s near-impossible to distill such an enthralling two weeks into a top 10, but I’m a sucker for lists, so here goes.
10. The first tower of giraffes
You never forget your first. Matter of fact, I didn’t even know that the collective pronoun for giraffe was a ‘tower’ until someone informed me at the very moment I snapped this epic photo.
9. Hot air ballooning over the Masai Mara
A startled cape buffalo bellowing at us.
8. Getting chased by an angry elephant
As we came down a hill in search of lions, a large lone bull didn’t want our jeep to pass. He didn’t want us on his road at all, instead flaring his ears, churning up dust with his feet, and marching forward while giving off a general air of don’t-tempt-me-to-charge. We had to reverse for about half a mile before he finally left us alone. It was awesome/terrifying.
7. Watching a hippo yawn
With those teeth, who’d have thought these formidable hulks were vegetarian?
I’ve never seen the sun rise so many times in two weeks. And what a daily delight.
The view I woke up to after sleeping in the Loisaba Star Beds. The reflection is a hippo pond. They bellowed all night, like hostel snorers. It was magnificent.
5. Seeing a rhino and a pride of lions at the same time
The Masai Mara was my third stop, after Amboseli and Loisaba. I’d heard that every corner of the Mara is teeming with wildlife, and I certainly found that to be the case when, not one hour into my first safari, we discovered our first pride of lions at the exact same time as we spotted a rhino from the other side.
4. Finding elephants in front of Mt Kilimanjaro
Amboseli national park is famous for its views of the mighty mountain, just over the Tanzanian border. The first time I saw an elephant in front of the Kilimanjaro, I lined up the perfect photo… just in time to hear the sound of gushing pee…
Thankfully, the next morning the mountain had even greater visibility. I couldn’t believe my luck.
3. Being scared witless by the prospect of a big cat jumping into the jeep
When my guide said there was a lioness, I pulled out my binoculars. But it turned out she was barely 6 feet away, staring straight at me. And she looked hungry.
This cheetah was protecting her cub. Her legs were so powerful… there’s no way I could ever outrun her.
But the big cat highlight was definitely staking out a leopard who had strung up a wildebeest in a tree nearby. There were a lot of other jeeps searching for her, but they all gave up. By the time she made an appearance, we were the only ones who had stuck it out long enough. We were rewarded with an incredibly close solo encounter. Breathtaking.
2. Visiting a Maasai village
Many safari camps in Kenya offer a visit to a local village. I had heard that some embellish the truth into a spectacle for tourists. I chose to explore the camp near Loisaba, because it was in the least-touristed region I was visiting, and while the camp was part of a conservancy that provided vital support for the local village, it had only been open a few years. I hoped this would enable me to find a realistic glimpse of Masai life and culture.
We were welcomed by the village women, who sung and danced for us.
They quickly dragged the men in to dance with them, grabbing my hands and making intense eye contact while they sang in Swahili, passing me around with a cheeky grin.
While their mothers put on a show, I found myself more captivated by watching the children.
Next, the young warriors competed to see who could jump the highest. This continued for the entire length of our village visit, long after the group of visitors had been led to look at other things.
I won’t soon forget those kids.
1. All the impossibly adorable baby animals
How could anything but baby animals possibly be at the top of this list!!??
This tiny giraffe was just five days old.
This lion cub was three months old.
There are still so many mind-blowing moments that don’t quite fit into the list.
From watching an incredibly rare rhino run with a bird on her back (which tbh would .definitely have been included if there wasn’t already a rhino entry)…
…To seeing a rainbow over the Mara after a morning rain…
…To the endless tableaus and silhouettes of wild animals exploring a habitat so vast it stretches to a horizon no zoo could dream of replicating, and which I could never have truly comprehended until I saw it with my own eyes.
In short, Kenya is extraordinary. Africa is extraordinary. Planning a trip there may be complicated, but it something everyone should aim to do in their lifetime. You can and should do it. Just find a way to do it ethically, through a tour operator and camps that respect nature and support the local communities.