On a Kenyan safari, barefoot luxury and expansive views go hand-in-hand with the thrill of the chase
It was as if topiary’s answer to Banksy had nipped out and trimmed manes and teeth into the acacia trees. Everything looked convincingly lion-shaped on our first night drive at Ol Donyo Wuas. Moses, our guide, had heard of a sighting just a few miles away and our nerves were sharpened to a point.
“There’s one,” I whispered eagerly, nodding towards a leonine bush. Moses shook his head gently and we sank back into our seats. After a few more foliage-based sightings, we stopped and Moses shone his torch into the darkness. Eyes glowed and tails twitched as he pointed out genet cats, impala and gerenuk. I don’t know if it was his fascinating commentary or the animals around us but sitting in that 4WD under the implausibly bright stars, I became a fully-fledged safari addict.
Ol Donyo Wuas is just an hour’s flight from Nairobi, so it was the perfect place start to our Kenyan safari. The lodge is tucked up in the Chyulu Hills, overlooking expansive plains. On a clear day, your eyes roam across the grassy savannah, right up to the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro. It’s a gorgeous sight, especially from your chalet in the morning when you’re cuddled up in a four-poster bed. When it was time to leave, we couldn’t help wishing we could stay a little longer, lingering by the waterhole, bumping across the plains and lounging on the deep, comfortable sofas. But our little plane was waiting for us on the grass runway and we had a lot more exploring to do.
Borana is built on the steep hillside, close to the curiously curvy Mount Kenya. It’s a working ranch as well as a game sanctuary and it takes its name from the humped-backed boran cattle that thrive on the ever-changing land. There are so many elephants around the ranch, you’re practically guaranteed a sighting. We learnt how to identify individual animals with the expert help of David, our guide. Lone males, protective matriarchs and cute, crinkly babies, barely batted a long-lashed eyelid when we pulled over to watch them. It was a photographer’s dream.
When we weren’t out snapping elephants, giraffe and zebra, we spent the evenings in our chalets, relaxing by the crackling log fires and listening to the monkeys scampering over the roofs. Sometimes it seemed as if there were as many animals around the chalets as there were on the ranch. Little lizards lazed by the pool, monkeys leapt between the trees, and a couple of times the squirrels crept into my bathroom and took a few cheeky bites of the handmade soap.
A direct flight from Borana took us to our next home from home – Ol Seki Mara Camp, on the edge of the Masai Mara. There we met Betty, one of the few female Maasai guides in the country. She arranged to take us to a nearby Maasai boma, a seasonal settlement, where we could meet other members of the community. She changed out of her usual safari gear into traditional dress and we walked to the boma together, chatting about everything from nail varnish to baboon dung. When we reached the village, the sun broke through the clouds as the women welcomed us in with a dance. They showed us around the boma and invited us into their homes, laughing as I tried out the Maasai greetings Betty had taught me on way. The Maasai move around with their livestock, but Ol Seki Mara can arrange for you to drive to a boma if there’s not one close by when you stay.
The Masai Mara is known for its abundant wildlife, so it’s a great place to top up on your game drives at the end of your trip. When the guides at Ol Seki Mara heard we hadn’t seen a lion, they eagerly rose to the challenge. Once they got wind of a sighting, they would track us down, morning, noon or night and take us out for a drive. It made for an exciting stay. One minute I’d be taking a bedtime shower in my tent and the next I’d be out on the plains, bumping through the darkness with my wet hair drying in the breeze.
Our last game drive was a huge success. We clocked up 18 sightings before we returned to camp. Maybe we spotted the same lions more than once? Or maybe that topiary expert had hitched a ride in our plane?
Safarilink offer scheduled and charted flights between lodges
Virgin Atlantic fly from London to Nairobi from £348
British Airways fly from London to Nairobi from £349
Qatar Airways fly from London to Nairobi from £349