“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same.” – Brian Jackman
Going on safari has always ranked very high on my bucket list! They say that trips to Africa are life changing journeys. Many trips I have taken have given me a feeling where I feel changed as a person. So needless to say I was very curious to find out what inspires people to say Africa is so life changing. I can confirm that after a little over two weeks there, it has changed my life. Never have I ever been on a trip where I had tears come to my eyes so many times. I felt as though every step I took was filled with emotions. The continent of Africa is so vast that it would be difficult to see it all in one lifetime. However I am not done with this part of the world, and as I sit here putting my pen to paper, all I can think about is when I will be able to go back.
There are so many options to choose from when you decide to plan a safari adventure. I chose the Masai Mara (also spelled Maasai Mara) North area of Kenya. The Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the finest wildlife experiences in all of Africa to track the Big Five and discover rich culture. In this area, one can have a front row seat to the Great Migration which is often dubbed “The Greatest Show On Earth”. The Great Migration sees more than 2 million animals travel from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This reserve in Kenya shares an ecosystem with the neighboring Serengeti of Tanzania, so it is easy to combine these two countries for an extended safari. I decided to couple my safari with some beach time in Zanzibar, which is an island and also part of Tanzania. What an epic trip to combine a safari with tropical beach time!
Karen Blixen Camp
It was very important to me to stay in a place that was not over commercialized. I did not want to feel as though I was in a chain hotel for this trip. I decided on Karen Blixen Camp. Have any of my readers seen the movie “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford? Meryl Streep plays Karen Blixen in this true story that highlights the impact that Mrs. Blixen had on Kenya. When I came across the Karen Blixen Camp in my planning, I immediately knew this was where I wanted to stay. It is an eco friendly luxury camp offering a “yesteryear” experience. All 22 tents sit right on the Mara River. Throughout the day giraffes, elephants, zebras, crocodiles, baboons, and many more come to drink from the river while a large hippo pod lazes the day away. The river brings in many visitors, however the hippos are residents. My alarm clock every morning was hippos snorting in the river. Ha ha! What a way to wake up! This was the main reason I chose this camp. To be so immersed in wildlife and view game right from your tent was just a dream. Que the tears of gratitude!
With so many animals around, the camp takes zero chances with safety. At night and early morning, guests are escorted from their tents to the main camp. When I wanted to leave the tent I would just ring the bell, and security came to escort me which made me feel very at ease.
Although the accommodations are truly tents, they certainly do not feel like it. They have beautiful wooden decks attached with luxurious patio furniture to enjoy your morning coffee or afternoon wine while staring at wildlife on the river. The tents themselves are very large with with a plush comfy bed, bathroom, and outdoor heated shower.
The camp has a restaurant, bar, fire pit for late night parties, pool, spa, and gift shop. Although the camp only has 22 tents, the property is huge. It also houses a cooking school where students learn to become master chefs in Kenya and even graduate to cook at the camp. This brings me to the food….WOW! You will not go hungry at Karen Blixen Camp so bring your animal appetite. The food is phenomenal. Every meal I ate was superb. They serve everything from traditional Kenyan dishes to Mexican pizzas, so there is something for everyone. They also serve excellent wine and offer a full bar. The camp arranges every detail of your safari adventure for you. From flights to meals to adventuring, they tailor your safari based on your likes, and you don’t have to plan a thing.
One other huge reason I chose Karen Blixen Camp is that in this area of the Mara, the vehicles are permitted to go off-roading. In other areas available for safari, the vehicles are required to stay on the designated roads and view game from there. We were able to explore off the beaten path and pull right up next to the animals. This made this entire experience so much more exciting. Our open air vehicle was very comfortable for long days of game driving. I loved the wind in my face while out adventuring.
We were assigned Simon as our safari guide for the week. All of the staff at the camp treated us like family, and I know you can not go wrong with any guide from the Karen Blixen Camp. However, Simon holds a very special place in our hearts. He took us on early morning, afternoon, and evening rides. Each day and each time of the day was a new experience with something new to see. Simon is so knowledgeable and friendly. I feel like I learned so much about the animals, the people, and Kenya in general from him. He was so good at spotting and would drive our vehicle right up to the animals for us to view.
On one drive we came across an elephant that had just passed away either to old age, disease, or injury. This part of Kenya takes poaching very seriously and they have great efforts in place to protect their animals. This gentle giant had become an easy meal to a huge group of hyenas that could not control their laughter and excitement. Hyenas get so excited and create so much noise when they find food that they alert other animals in the area that something appetizing is going on. Later on into the night, we decided to visit the elephant again and check the scene. A male lion was now guarding the elephant and had claimed it as his meal. No more hyenas as the lion is king. We turned off the car in the pitch black and observed the male lion up close. My heart was pounding out of my chest! It was so exciting being in the dark with the lion king. We saw many other lions on our drives throughout our safari, however this encounter was quite exhilarating. Que the tears of adrenaline!
I love the kitties and we were lucky enough to have a leopard walk right in front of our car one day. Leopards are one of the most elusive mammals on the planet and this beautiful creature just strolled right by us. So incredible!
This part of the Mara is filled with animals. I can’t even count the number of elephants, zebras, baboons, and giraffes we saw. It seemed endless. At one point we were right in the middle of all of these animals having a true lion king moment.
On one of my favorite game drives we encountered a herd of elephants. The smallest of the bunch charged our car with his ears out. It simply doesn’t get cuter than baby elephants! Mama and siblings wanted nothing to do with us, but the baby was handling business. Ha ha! Each ride showed us something different from the circle of life. It was truly powerful and emotional to see these animals in the wild so up close.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Seeing the Mara Conservancy from above was a true bucket list experience. This was my first time in a hot air balloon ride. I’m a bit fearful of heights so I was nervous. The Karen Blixen Camp arranged for a sunrise balloon ride with Sky Ship Company. Ali was our pilot, and my nerves were gone as soon as we took off. The ride was so smooth. I just can’t put into words the magic I saw as I flew over the Mara animals with the sun rising to a new golden morning. The tears keep coming! The balloon noise makes the animals run so it was a different experience to see them being so active as we flew right above. The ride lasted about an hour with a very exciting landing on our side dragging and bouncing. I wasn’t expecting that but it’s normal due to winds in this area. Our ride was followed up with a champagne breakfast in the bush. Someone pinch me!
Visit To The Local School
OMG!! I will treasure this day forever. We visited a local school of the Masai. The kids were so welcoming and sweet. They sang us songs, gave us big hugs, and wanted to take photos. We even got to have some one on one Q & A with the older students who were perfecting their English. This visit was so special, and I had tears coming down my cheeks every step of the tour from feeling so humbled and welcomed with such innocent love.
Visit To The Local Village
The visit to a local village of the Masai tribe was a true cultural experience. It was so interesting to see how the tribe lives off of the land and amongst the animals. The men in the tribe can have up to ten wives and 100 children. My husband sat down with a man of the tribe explaining that 1 wife was enough headache for him. Ha ha! He laughed at my husband and continued to show us his home that housed 7 people. I bought a beautiful necklace from one of the women who was so kind and grateful for my purchase. They live very differently than people in the USA and are content, happy, and welcoming.
Sundowners And Meals In The Bush
Sun~down~er: An alcoholic drink taken at sunset. Picture being on game drives most of the day and pulling your vehicle up to a postcard perfect set up in the bush that includes chairs around a campfire, a full bar, and appetizers…all while out in the open with the wildlife as the sun is setting. I think I could have sundowners in the bush every night on safari!
We also enjoyed a surprise breakfast in the bush by the Karen Blixen Camp. This was on our first morning and we were still taking in the fact that we were here on safari. What a special surprise to kick off this adventure.
On our last evening in Kenya, we booked a private dinner in the bush. This is an absolute “not to be missed” meal with the camp. We had a buffet spread for two with flowing wine, lit only by candlelight and campfire. The staff of the camp were all around us keeping an eye. I think this could have been the most romantic meal I have ever had in my life. After the time we had spent on safari, I felt so at ease and one with my surroundings. Of course I got emotional! It hit me hard on this meal that we were leaving this magical place. The tears and wine were flowing as we cheers to everything that we had seen, learned, and experienced.
My trip to Africa lived up to the life changing reputation. It is simply impossible to compare a trip like this to other vacations. I think the more that I travel, the more that I crave a deeper kind of travel. Don’t get me wrong, I do love sipping margaritas and relaxing poolside. However, trips like this one are so unique and bring my spirit to life. In the words of Karen Blixen, “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions”.
A Few Tips To Prepare For This Trip
I flew from the USA to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. This is a long flight and a big time difference, so I opted to spend three nights in Nairobi to rest up for all the action coming up on safari.
I visited a travel health consultant at Passport Health five weeks prior to taking this trip. I learned everything I needed to know to keep me healthy on my African adventure. These travel consultants will discuss and inject recommended and required vaccinations, prescribe medications such as malaria, and advise you on mosquito repellants. True fact…I get eaten alive everywhere I travel. I followed the guidance of my health consultant and did not get one bite on my two week trip. This a game changer for future trips!
In order to enter the country of Kenya at the time of my travels, one was required to obtain a Visa, a negative PCR Covid Test (regardless of vaccination), and complete an online Health Surveillance Form. This info seems to be consistently changing, so it is best to check the embassy website for what is required prior to entry/exit.
Thank you to to the staff at the Karen Blixen Camp for some of the best travel memories of my life!!