In Kenya, you can combine all the thrills of a tropical beach holiday (kite-surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving from a dhow) with watching lions at dawn on safari in the Masai Mara – a winning formula
Coming face-to-face with a lion that had hunted down and killed a zebra right in front of me was not what I expected to be doing at eight o'clock in the morning. Yet, as the dawn mist cleared, I found myself within touching distance of both the big cat and its kill. Luckily, the lion had dragged the zebra right up to our Jeep on the way to a rare area of shade on these majestic African plains.
Being of a cynical nature, I assumed our safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve would be boring, with long periods of inactivity punctuated by infrequent and brief glimpses of wildlife in the distance. I also assumed the accommodation would be uncomfortable. How wrong I was. We stayed at the Governor's Camp, where the food was of decent standard, the service fabulous and the tents incredible. My girlfriend and I stayed in an enormous one with a large, fully functioning and well-designed bathroom complete with shower and sink, situated right next to the Mara River. We could watch hippos frolic and crocodiles laze right on our doorstep.
The safari itself was sublime, with non-stop action provided by lion, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, hyenas, vultures and pretty much everything else one could care to mention. We didn't personally see cheetahs but we spoke to a number of other couples who did. The animals would pay us little attention, happily walking up to the Jeep for a quick nose around before wandering off to do their own thing. Our guide, Moses, was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife and the area, and seemed to have a natural instinct for leading us to these truly breathtaking sights.
Our safari lasted only two days, with a one-night stay at Governor's Camp, and included three game drives with Moses. Longer safaris are available. Ours cost about £500 per person, booked through Kuoni (www.kuoni.co.uk) but this included flights and connections from Mombasa. If memory serves me correctly, an extra night cost about £200 per person.
We were in Kenya for two weeks in total, staying at Pinewood Village in South Mombasa when we weren't in the Masai Mara. Pinewood is an exceptional hotel and, other than the horrendously slow internet service (which, in fairness, is to be expected), it is impossible to find fault with. Set in a lush tropical environment, it provides guests with the opportunity to hear tiny birds singing their hearts out and see monkeys roaming around, playing among themselves and enjoying the glorious sunshine. The service is second to none, the food exceptional and the atmosphere extremely relaxed.
If you get bored of lazing (or drinking) by the pool, take a two-minute wander on to the beach and go kite-surfing, windsurfing, snorkelling or scuba diving – though, for the last two, I would recommend a day out on the Dolphin Dhow instead. On such a boat trip (bookable through the hotel), I went scuba diving with turtles. At £50 per person, it was well worth every penny and could easily be repeated a number of times during a two-week stay. Windsurfing lessons were also cheap – about £30 for my girfriend and I, for four hours each. By the end of that time, we were both up and away, thanks in no small part to the proficiency of our instructors. The two weeks at Pinewood, also booked through Kuoni, cost about £850 per person half-board, including flights.
Racking my brain for negatives, I can honestly say there weren't many. The private flight from Mombasa to the Masai Mara is in a small charter plane and is not very comfortable, particularly if there is turbulence. Mombasa city is a horrendous place, and I would warn people against going there on a day trip; there is little point. The weather was also a little temperamental, but that is to be expected when you visit at the start of the rainy season (we were there in mid-April). Finally, I felt the Kuoni trips were a little on the pricey side – though we definitely got our money's worth with both of them, so the old adage rings true: you get what you pay for.