If you’ve read my last post, you know now how much I loved the safari we went on in Kenya. It was by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. And one I wasn’t expecting to have on this trip!
As much as I’ve always wanted to see all the animals, given how expensive it is, Africa wasn’t always on this current global adventure itinerary. But one goal for this trip has been to visit places that are challenging to get to or far away that a two-week vacation from the States just isn’t very feasible. So safari we went!
There are so many ways to do an African safari these days. With so many options of countries to visit and ways to do a trip, the research and planning is overwhelming for sure. So here are a few tips we gathered along the way.
There are a lot of choices – Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa. The list goes on and trust me, it’s hard to decide. A helpful decision factor depends on the time of year and what animals you’d like to see.
We decided Kenya was the right place for us as it was “green season” in November when we wanted to go. That’s when the “light rains” come, so some showers most every afternoon which scares off most tourists, which means much cheaper prices and almost empty national parks and lodges!
We also appreciated that Kenya has a more established tourist industry as safaris have been big there for decades. That means slightly easier road systems, well-established national parks, lots of English being spoken and numerous lodges and hotels to choose from.
Tour or Self-Guided?
It depends on your budget and interest level but I’d recommend having a guide.
You can certainly do Kenya on your own as a self-drive nowadays. While they drive on the left and not all the roads are in good condition, generally speaking driving in Kenya seemed pretty straight forward. In a few of the national parks like Nakuru and Amboseli, it would be easy to drive along and spot animals along the way. However in the Masai Mara, there were a lot of small, steep dirt roads that I would never have been able to navigate. Plus not knowing where exactly the animals are would take some of the fun out of it.
We opted to go with Audley Travel to set up all of our bookings, lodges and guide. It made it all SO much easier because there are just too many options to choose from, plus then we had our own private itinerary. Our jeep that took us all over the country and through three national parks was comfortable, fully stocked with cold water, and had the coolest popup roof to see animals up-close.
Our guide/driver David though truly made our trip what it was. He is fun, friendly, knowledgeable and clearly loves his job. He knew exactly where to go in the parks, answered our numerous random questions about the animals, and shared so many good stories about life in Kenya and being a guide over the years. He made sure got the experience we were looking for, like spending hours staring at elephants or spending a morning watching hippos. He truly made our trip exceed even our lofty expectations.
Flying or Driving?
Most tour companies will recommend taking those little bush planes between camps as Kenya is quite spread out. However I personally think those planes look like death traps! So I preferred the option of driving a little more rather than flying between safari locations. Sure it took a little longer, but our jeep was comfy and David stopped when we needed, and I felt much safer at all times.
If time is no barrier and you really love animals like we do, I’d recommend 6-7 nights total. We had 9 nights – 3 in the Masai Mara, 3 in Amboseli, 2 in Lake Nakuru and 1 in Nairobi. The three nights in Amboseli was definitely too many, despite how much we love elephants as the park is small. That portion of our trip was also not helped by the fact we really disliked the lodge there (we do not recommend Sateo Elerai).
Where to Stay
The accommodations in Kenya can range from ultra-luxury with fancy beds and all meals and drinks included to real basic tents on the ground and providing your own food. That’s part of why we liked having Audley Travel pick places for us, knowing what is a good location and what previous travelers have enjoyed.
There are lots of options for really any budget or travel style. We did both lodges and tented camps to get a mix of experiences. Some definitions that are helpful when picking:
Lodges are generally larger with rooms that have four solid walls. These are a little more “hotel” like.
Tented Camps have tent walls and roof, but solid floors and real beds. The amenities (and cost) depend on how luxury you go. I loved this at Mara Intrepids as it felt much more safari like and was still really luxury with a fancy bathroom and beautiful patio, but then we did have a lot of bug issues as a result in Satao Elerai.
Also note some can be really large – like up to 100 rooms – but some can be really small – like the 10 cottages at Mbweha Camp we stayed at in Lake Nakuru. We enjoyed the personalized feel of the smaller places.
Also be sure to understand how far away the accommodation is from the national park you want to visit. I recommend opting for in the park if you can swing it. Mara Intrepids was our favorite stay, as it was right in the center of the park so the moment we got in the jeep, we were on a game drive. No spending time going in and out of the entrances, we were just right there in the heart of it all.
One problem we had with Satao Elerai is it is a 30-minute drive from Amboseli National Park, with 20 minutes on super bumpy, terrible roads. That meant it was really difficult for early morning game drives and mid-day breaks.