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Annie in Kenya

written by
Sue van Winsen
Sue van Winsen

From North to South: Traversing Kenya’s Diverse Landscapes

Niarra’s Head of Reservations, Annie Lin, spent an extraordinary three weeks travelling across Kenya from the rugged north to the verdant south, ending at the laid-back coast. Niarra Travel’s Content Writer, Sue van Winsen, caught up with Annie to find out what she learnt from her first visit to Kenya, the Pride of Africa.

While Kenya is well-known for the wildlife-rich plains of the Maasai Mara – there is far more to this captivating country, as Annie quickly discovered. Beginning with a brief stopover in Nairobi, she flew straight to the mountainous terrain of Samburu, rich in culture and unique wildlife. Next on her itinerary was Amboseli, famous for its majestic Super Tusker elephants and picture-perfect views of Mount Kilimanjaro. From there, she ventured to the world-famous Maasai Mara teeming with mega-herds and endless green landscapes as far as the eye can see, followed by an action-packed stay in Laikipia. Finally, it was time to slow down the pace and enjoy the warm waters and sandy beaches of the Kenyan Coast.

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What were your first impressions of Kenya?

What struck me first was the rich cultural heritage of the destination – Meeting the Maasai and Samburu was incredibly enlightening. Both tribes live largely traditional lifestyles with a rich legacy of storytelling. As many lodges are staffed and run by members of the local community, there is depth of cultural experience that I believe is truly unique to Kenya.

Another aspect that stood out to me was just how different the landscape is compared to Southern Africa, from the endless mountain ranges in Northern Kenya to the endless green and flat plains of the Maasai Mara.

Who did you travel with?

I started the trip solo, but later joined a travel agent familiarisation trip. There were eight of us in total, a mix of agents from around the world and hosted by Simon Beck of Orbital Communications.

What did you hope to come away with from this trip?

I wanted to understand the main differentiators between Kenya and Southern Africa so that we can pair our travellers with the perfect safari experience for them. Additionally, I wanted to familiarise myself with the logistical aspects of travelling in Kenya, from local flights to road transfers, to better assist our clients.

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How did your trip begin?

flew directly to Nairobi from my home city of Cape Town in South Africa. I landed quite late in the evening so I went straight to my hotel which was the charming Karen Gables, a property with lovely leafy gardens and big pool to laze alongside during the warm afternoon. But there was no time for that for me, as I had to leave in the morning for Wilson Airport and my flight to Samburu where I stayed at two properties: Saruni Samburu and Sasaab.

Tell me about your stay in Samburu?

Saruni Samburu’s breathtaking cliff-top views and the truly passionate lodge team made it truly memorable. The entire team comes from the local village and they truly look after the lodge and guests as though it is their own business. They always go the extra mile with infectious warmth and care.

There are number of special experiences to enjoy at Saruni Samburu including game drives around the conservancy and into the Samburu National Reserve where you can see the Samburu Special 5 which are only found in Northern Kenya: reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, beisa oryx, Somali ostrich and generuk. I also had the closest elephant encounter I’ve ever experienced in the wild – with one coming almost within touching distance of our vehicle. The elephant was incredibly relaxed and it was such a special moment.

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From there, I travelled to Sasaab, a two-hour road transfer away. Immediately I was struck by the sense of space – the rooms are huge with your own plunge pool that somehow always has refreshingly cool water despite the hot climate of Northern Kenya. Sasaab has all the finesse you’d expect from a luxury lodge, along with fantastic food. As this property is part of The Safari Collection, it was wonderful to see what a great job they do of communicating the wonderful work they do for conservation and local communities.

Again, this is a lodge that prides itself on an exciting range of activities from camel rides in the wilderness, to quad biking along a dry riverbed – and of course game drives to explore the landscape. The breakfast here was a real treat as the guide pulled a gas stove out of the safari vehicle and prepared a delicious hot meal in the middle of the wilderness.

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Which destination did you travel to next?

After another quick overnight in Nairobi, I flew to Amboseli with Scenic Air landing at Kimana Airstrip and within minutes I was gazing at the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. Here we were staying at Angama Amboseli which opened in October last year. The team here was excellent and rooms were lovely and spacious. This little lodge has a nice range of experiences, from ‘pyjama safaris’ to enjoy the best view of Kili early in the morning, to trips into Amboseli National Park where we saw an impressive amount of flamingos. But the highlight was getting to see one of the last ‘Super Tuskers’ of Kenya – elephants with tusks so large they sweep the ground as they walk. We were able to spend more than an hour with him and we were the only vehicle – it was a truly memorable moment.

From there we took a scenic low flight to the Maasai Mara to get an aerial perspective. You are able to see animals from the aircraft as we flew past beautiful landmarks from the Great Rift to lakes and salt pans.

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Can you tell us a bit more about your time in the Maasai Mara?

In comparison to the Samburu, the Mara was so green. We stayed at Angama Mara and of course, the first thing you notice is that famous view; in my opinion, no one can beat it. From the Mara we went up in a hot air balloon, and also enjoyed a lunch in the huge kitchen garden or Shamba, which reminded me of Babylonstoren in the Cape Winelands.

We were also able to spend a night at Angama Safari Camp which felt more luxurious than any other mobile camp I have experienced but you are able to enjoy the night sounds and a sense of being surrounded by the wildlife of the Mara. In fact, the group that stayed there the night after us saw a lion kill a hippo just across the river from the camp!

We weren’t there during the Great Migration, but there was still a decent amount of resident game in the Mara Triangle and saw a big pride of lions as well as an amazing cheetah sighting. What struck me the most about the wildlife here is the sheer size of the herds of various animals, often numbering in their hundreds.

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Can you tell us about the rest of your itinerary?

From there I travelled back to Northern Kenya, this time to Laikipia to stay at Ol Lentille which is a very interesting place with a strong focus on culture. The land where the lodge is located is owned by two Maasai and two Samburu tribes and our guides and the lodge team told us about how the lodge has improved their lives in the local villages. This property is particularly well-suited to active guests who want to do lots of walking.

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Next, I flew to the Kenyan Coast, staying at Alfajiri Villas where we enjoyed excellent Italian food, daily massages (included in the rate!) and a big private pool at every villa. The second property I stayed at was Kinondo Kwetu where I was treated to local entertainment before dinner and a lovely sundowner in a special spot on top of a viewing deck.

The trip ended with a final night in Nairobi, this time at Giraffe Manor, which needs no introduction. I was particularly impressed with the new Retreat, which offers day rooms, giving guests access to all the facilities, and you can freshen up, and relax alongside the pool, if you are unable to spend the night.


What were the stand-out moments from your trip?

Firstly, it was the landscape in Northern Kenya with the beautiful mountain ranges – I will never forget that view. And seeing Super Tusker Craig and Mount Kilimanjaro was also very special – we were lucky with wonderful views of Kili as the ‘shy mountain’ is often under cloud cover and not visible, especially later in the day.

What are some of the top tips you’d like to share with travellers?

  1. It is definitely worth combining Northern Kenya and the Mara into a single trip – don’t be tempted to just do the Mara as you don’t get the whole overview of the country – and also the landscape, wildlife and culture is so different between the two.
  2. Remember that you need to travel with soft bags weighing no more than 15kg for local flights.
  3. Don’t feel you have to travel during the peak period – animals are there year round and you can enjoy fewer crowds off season, making wildlife sightings all the more enjoyable.

Who would enjoy a trip like this?

Kenya is really a destination for everyone but it’s important to have a company like Niarra Travel select the right lodge for you as the choice can be overwhelming. There are lodges perfect for families, and others ideally suited to honeymoons, for example, so it helps to have a Travel Researcher get to know you and pair you with the right fit for your individual needs.

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