When I saw The Lion King as a young boy I longed to see Africa and now I was just a meter away from two majestic lions in the heart of Kenya.
One of them growled to let the other know it was time to move on and resume their beat. It felt like a dream to hear them roar, to be near them as they played, teased and snuggled together in their natural habitat as the sun went down.
Kenya is like nowhere else I’ve seen, a magical haven for wildlife. From the moment we arrived on safari I was fascinated by the wide rivers, the green lush grass on the plains and the brown mountains in the background.
Travel is rebounding from the pandemic hiatus and it seems like bucket list travel has found a new appeal. For me, that meant a safari, a trip that may require some planning. The climate in Kenya is warm and temperate all year round, but the Masai Mara, the stunning area of the vast plains where I have observed these lions up close, is at its peak during the green season between April and June.
And it wasn’t just lions. Rhino, leopard, elephant and cheetah – the so-called Big Five, representing the safari royalty – were all sighted during our trip. In fact, there are more than 25,000 different species of animals across the country and a huge mix of up-close experiences.
A Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride with Governors’ Balloon Safaris (Governorsballoonsafaris.com; from €396 to €491 per person) offered a different perspective of the continent. We spent about an hour soaring over rustling trees, rippling water and the animals below us – the altitude adds to the grandeur of the Kenyan plains. Landing with a bump was also a rush.
After our time in the sky, we were treated to an al fresco picnic breakfast of eggs, meat, vegetables and fresh fruits such as the mango, very popular in Kenya.
Our first base in the Masai Mara in southwest Kenya was a camp called Emboo River. It claims to be the first fully eco-friendly camp in Kenya, with electric-powered jeeps (allowing for much quieter game drives) and eco-friendly products from Grounded, which I’m told are being sold by an Irishman in Kenya. The company was founded by Limerick native Eoin Flinn and his wife Megan Root, who live in Nairobi with their two children, Afiya, seven, and Ollie, four. A native of Croom, Flinn also runs 254 Brewing, a name inspired by Kenya’s international code. Kenya is “a special place to live”, he tells me later.
The food at Emboo River was delicious too. Most of my meals were vegan, including vegetarian kofta korma, grilled matoke (a type of banana) with lentil stew, chapati bread and ugali (a type of solid cornmeal porridge) served with spinach and a vegetable stew, kachumbari (a spicy Kenyan salad with onions and tomatoes) and mandazi (a type of pastry we ate stuffed with bananas alongside kashata, a sweet bite that’s part of Kenya’s street food scene). A chickpea burger with fries and baobab mayonnaise was particularly tasty.
After a day on safari, dining under the stars followed by a roaring campfire is an experience not to be missed. The stars were bright, the African air felt crisp and we had the added security of guards around the camp – ensuring we were safe from roaming animals during the night.
Many Kenyans speak English in addition to their mother tongue, Swahili. I loved learning from them throughout the trip – for example, we were shown how to harvest Maasai by William Partois Ole Santian, an experienced hunter and one of the camp’s founders, along with Belgian couple Valery Super and Loïc Amadò Used bows and arrows.
Our friendly guides, 22-year-old Emily Silantoi and 21-year-old Naserian Kimongo’o, wore the tribal colors of the Maasai – a famous tribe that has retained some of their culture and traditions despite the changes in modern Kenya. During our stay, Silantoi shared her views on how important tourism is for the country to continue to grow as an economy and create local jobs.
On our game drives, the highlights kept coming. Young wildebeest that looked just like Pumbaa The Lion King. Giraffes chasing their mothers. We learn that lions sleep more during the day and come alive at night when their exceptional eyesight helps with the hunt.
On the way we also learned more about Kenya. As coffee connoisseurs know, the country is known for its coffee and tea. It is also the most successful African country at the Olympic Games with a total of 113 medals so far.
After three days in the Maasai Mara it was time to head to Diani on the coast south of Mombasa for a change of scenery and white pebble beaches. Bi-centre routes such as this are popular with many travelers to Kenya and East Africa, including honeymooners, as the coast can be delightfully refreshing after a safari experience.
Our hotel was the Sands at Nomad with amazing views of seafood and the Indian Ocean and we also took the opportunity to take a trip to the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park. Here we were able to see other species of wildlife – dolphins, starfish and coral reefs – while snorkeling 6 km off the Kenyan coast. After the plains bushlands, the sight of Wasini Island felt like a tropical paradise.
For our final night we stayed at a camp very close to the Kenyan capital called Gamewatchers, Nairobi Tented Camp – which meant we didn’t have to go far to the airport when we left for home. It’s the only camp in Nairobi National Park, surprisingly close to the city.
A bucket list adventure? Majestic Africa is truly a sight to behold and great Kenya is a wonderful place to experience the best of safari and beaches.
Do not miss
A visit to a Maasai cultural village helped me understand their culture. We visited mud and water houses, learned about their lives and I felt that their respect for animals like cattle and nature is something many Irish would identify with.
Colin flew Qatar Airways from Dublin to Nairobi via Qatar. Kenya Airways also flies via Heathrow. qatarairways.com; kenya-airways.com
Colin stayed at Emboo River Camp (emboo.camp; from €425 per person for game packages); The Sands at Nomad (from €115 per person per night; thesandsatnomad.com) and Nairobi Tented Camp (www.nairobitentedcamp.com; from €150 per person).
Colin was a guest of the Kenya Tourism Board. magickenia.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/world/its-like-nowhere-ive-ever-seen-my-bucket-list-safari-in-breathtaking-kenya-41901682.html “I’ve never seen anything like it” – my bucket list safari in breathtaking Kenya