Welcome to Elsa’s country, the lioness of Born Free fame. Be awed by the beauty of the land she lived in, the rivers and golden plains in the ever-present gaze of Mount Kenya. Relish in her wilderness surrounded by Africa’s big game – the elephants and rhinos; the big cats and the mighty raptors that soar the skies. Discover Kenya’s rich wildlife and its diverse cultures with Rupi Mangat, a third generation local and a leading Kenyan travel writer who lives in this tropical paradise on the Equator, the denizen of big game – lions, leopards and cheetahs; elephants and rhino; and mighty raptors that soar the skies. Imagine waking up every day to a saffron sun rising over the savannah plains teeming with wildlife. Kenya’s tapestry of sweeping grasslands, arid plains and lush swamps with snow-topped mountains is home to spectacular life. Late October is one of the most exciting months to be on safari and watch the land turn lush and green with the start of the short rains after the long dry spell. Typically the days are interspersed with spells of showers followed by hours of sunshine for the wildlife (and us) to soak in. It’s also the time to watch the tail end of the annual migration of a million-plus wildebeest march back into the neighboring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. You will meet Mary Wykstra, a dynamic cheetah researcher who will give you the inside story of the big cats and the African Wild Dog that nearly became extinct a few decades ago.
Here's a day-by-day itinerary of the trip
Fly into Nairobi the capital city of Kenya. You’ll be met at the airport by our representative who will guide you through arrival via a fast track and drive you to your hotel, the Villa Rosa Kempinski. The Villa Rosa Kempinski, overlooking Nairobi’s skyline, lavish and soaked in tropical sunlight, has played host to Barack Obama, Lupita Ny’ongo and many more.
The day is at leisure for you to relax, unwind and recover from jet-lag. The hotel is a few minutes’ drive from the central business district if you’d like to explore. Nairobi is a fast-paced city. The core of the city centre boasts early colonial architecture and modern high-rise towers. You can pop into the Nairobi National Museum with it galleries dedicated to prehistory, ornithology, ethnography and the making of modern Kenya. A guided walking tour can be arranged if you want to see city life or the museum.
We will meet for cocktails and dinner in the evening at 7 p.m. at the Tambourin Restaurant (not included in price) with lively chats about your exciting safari before calling it a night.
Today the adventure begins. It’s an early start to the day. After a hearty breakfast we will fly to Meru National Park 350 kms northeast of Nairobi. This is Born Free country, home of Elsa the lioness’s epic true-life story. It’s a 45-minute flight over Nairobi National Park, and Africa’s second highest massif that is Mount Kenya, the 3-million year old extinct volcano topped with snow on the Equator. Nairobi National Park means while it is the only wildlife park in a capital city that even today it is home to Nairobi’s original in habitants: the black rhinos, big cats and plains game like the Maasai giraffes.
We will be collected from the airstrip and driven to Elsa’s Kopje overlooking the vast plains of Meru that Joy Adamson aptly called the Garden of Eden and where she released Elsa into the wilderness. Although Elsa lived from 1956 to 1961, this amazing lioness made history as the first wild cat to return to the wild and still make contact with humans (the Adamsons) after her release. Elsa went on to have cubs-another remarkable event with a wild lion, which the Adamson's closely documented. This set a bench mark for wildlife conservation in Africa for before then, it was believed that human-raised wild animals could not survive the wilderness.
Sculpted into the kopjes of Mughwano Hill, Elsa’s Kopje is on the original site of the Adamson’s camp where they raised and released orphan lions. We’ll enjoy a game drive en route in our custom-made safari cruisers driven by an expert driver accompanies by a wildlife guide.
The 870-square-kilometer Meru enjoys dramatic vistas. The western flanks show Mount Kenya and the long range of Nyambene Hills that act as the water towers for the park’s 14 rivers including River Tana, Kenya’s longest, that course through Kenya’s arid lands. No wonder Joy Adamson called it the Garden of Eden.
We’ll enjoy a lovely lunch overlooking Elsa’s country with the occasional herd of elephants browsing below…..or maybe even a cat slinking through the grass.
Meru is a great conservation success story. Between 1980 and 1990, at the height of the ivory trade, Meru’s 3,000 elephants were nearly wiped out and many wildlife rangers were killed by poachers. The international community and the Kenyan government stepped in, staffed the rangers and embarked on a re-stocking program to return Meru to its former glory.
In 1999, with peace restored, Elsa’s Kopje opened its doors to visitors. Amongst them was Virginia McKenna, the lead actress who played Joy Adamson in the film ‘Born Free’ along with her husband Bill Tavers as George. McKenna is the founder of the Born Free Foundation.
Later in the afternoon, we’ll embark on a game drive in search of big game like Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s zebra, Reticulated giraffes, crocs and hippos, lions and elephants, plus the rich birdlife before returning to camp at sunset.
After cocktails, we’ll dine under the stars and exchange the day’s highlights and hear more about the Adamsons’ legacy.
The animals are most active before the sun becomes too hot and lethargy sets in, so we’ll rise early and set out for our morning game drive as the sun rises. The lionesses would rather hunt when it’s cooler but being opportunistic the hunt is on if the prey is easy. Did you know that lions do not have sweat glands; if we get close enough, you can hear them panting!
By 9 a.m. we’ll be back at the lodge for breakfast. Take time to relax, swim, read a book, take a nap, and enjoy the grounds, discovering its many rare plants including the baobab that is the world’s largest succulent.
The afternoon game drive will have us visit Elsa’s resting place with a poem by Joy etched on the tomb stone. Until recently, the grave was a secret venue. We’ll also visit Pippa, the cheetah’s resting place, the spotted sphinx that Joy also returned to the wild after collecting her from The Stanley Hotel in Nairobi.
We’ll return to the lodge by sunset for a refresh, cocktail and another gourmet feast. Meru’s resident naturalist will be on hand to answer any questions about this endlessly fascinating world. before retiring to bed. A nightcap by the fire pit is a nice way to end the day.
After breakfast we’ll drive to Samburu National Reserve in the arid lands, north of the equator. Have your cameras ready. If it’s clear, you’ll see Mount Kenya on the equator. This volcanic mountain at 17,057 feet (5,199 meters) is Kenya’s tallest. When the first explorers reported seeing the snow-capped mountains on and near the equator, they were ridiculed – for who had ever heard of snow on the equator?
Samburu is the land of the Samburu Special, wildlife only found north of the equator and adapted to life in the arid lands such as: the Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx, gerenuk and Somali ostrich. These species have adapted to life without water, surviving just on morning dew. The life-lung of the land is the Ewaso Nyiro River that is to this region what the Nile is to Egypt.
Elsa with the Adamsons’ was a frequent visitor here, frolicking in the great river with close encounters with the crocodiles. The gate to the reserve is dedicated to Elsa with funds donated from her books and films.
On arrival at Samburu National Reserve, we’ll be transferred from the airstrip to the Elephant Bedroom Tented Camp with a game drive en route before checking in and enjoying time at the camp by the river.
At 3.30 p.m. we will embark on another exciting game drive, joined by Mary Wykstra the founder of Action for Cheetahs in Kenya for exciting game drives through the northern regions where ACK’s work is with cheetah conservation. She’ll tell you all about this beautiful spotted cat that is one of the most endangered today. The game drive is through the arid bush and the lush oasis by the river. Look out for cheetah, leopard, lions and elephants and raptors before returning to camp at sunset.
We’ll be back just in time for cocktails by the campfire before a sumptuous dinner freshly prepared under the stars of the northern hemisphere. If you’re a star gazer, this is the perfect spot close to the equator to see the constellations straddling the two hemispheres.
We’ll be entertained by local Samburu dancers with the songs and dances of their ancestors. The Samburu, like the Maasai, belong to the Nilotic ethnic group that came into present day Kenya from the north along the Nile some five centuries ago. Interestingly, the Samburu believe that they hail from the planet Venus.
Enjoy your evening and a good night’s sleep in your luxurious tent.
Another glorious morning in Africa. Rise and shine for an early morning game drive with Mary Wykstra at 6:15 after a cuppa. The landscape is surreal with mountains and rocky insets. Mary will be with us for the day, giving us insights about cheetah conservation today.
We’ll return to camp for a hearty breakfast. After, enjoy the camp lounging by the river or a massage in the wild. It’s not uncommon to see elephants come for a drink … or even one of the big cats.
Samburu is also the home of Grevy’s Zebra Trust that pioneered research of the rare equid, the Grevy’s zebra (named after the French president from the 1800’s because a Frenchman first described this imperial zebra). Before the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, these rare zebra were poached for their skin and meat. Today, the zebra are seen as an asset for the Samburu women, warriors, elders and the children who are now all involved in zebra conservation.
Samburu is also part of the lion project started by Ewaso Lions. The driver-guides will point out to some on the game drives.
After our afternoon game drive, we’ll return for a starlit dinner followed by a night cap by the campfire and finally to a peaceful slumber in your ‘tent’.
A 90-minute flight from Samburu via Nairobi, we’ll land in the Maasai Mara, (via Nairobi), after flying over the Great Rift Valley. It’s the planet’s longest valley on land stretching 6,000km from Lebanon in the Middle East to Mozambique in South-eastern Africa, and best seen in Kenya. The flight then enters the savanna grassland in the mighty Mara that is home to the Big 5 – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard (and cheetah). This is lion country famous for its black manned lions and it is possible to see all the three big cats – lion, leopard and cheetah – in a day.
The Maasai have co-existed for many years with African wildlife because both the wildlife and the large herds of cattle owned by the Masai need wide spaces to survive.
We’ll be collected from the airstrip and driven with a short game drive en route to our lovely, tented lodge the Mara Ngenche.
After check-in, relax and enjoy an exquisite lunch before leaving for the afternoon game drive at 3.30 p.m. to witness one of the world’s greatest migrations – that of the million-plus wildebeest mowing their way back into the mighty Serengeti.
Return at sunset to the lodge.
Take a few minutes to refresh before we meet for cocktails on you first night in the Mara, dubbed one of the seven natural wonders of the modern world.
Dinner will be under the stars with lots of lively exchanges and talks with the resident naturalist about the wonders of the Mara.
Leave for a morning game drive at 6.15 after a cuppa tea/coffee. Or, you may wish to treat yourself to a thrilling balloon safari at sunrise with a champagne breakfast on landing. It’s a novel way of game watching catching an eagle’s eye view of the land and life below. (NOTE: the balloon ride is an extra charge of $400 USD).
Spoil yourself today. Revitalize with a massage in the wild or simply soak in the splendor of the landscape.
For those who wish to visit a Maasai village, a visit can be arranged.
4.00 p.m. Another exciting game drive in the land that adjoins the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania where Elsa’s three cubs were released. The animals know no boundaries and some of the lions we see may be from Elsa’s lineage.
Returning to the camp by 6.30, we will raise a toast to an African sunset over the savanna plains and later relish another food fest by the banks of the river that is home to resident hippos with a crocodile sometimes snoozing in the shallow waters.
After a sumptuous breakfast in the Mara, we’ll fly back to Nairobi to arrive by midday for your flight home, or onward to the beach if you’re joining us for the trip extension (see below). For those heading home, we’ll decamp to the Four Points at Sheraton at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to relax while you wait for your return flight home. (You’ll have the option of getting a “day room” at the hotel, or booking a room overnight, depending on when your return flight is. This stay is not included in the trip price.)
Saying goodbye to your new friends and this beautiful country will be hard, but you’ll have many wonderful life-long memories to take back home with you.
We hope your African adventure has amazed you. As Joy Adamson said: ‘Wildlife is something which man cannot construct. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Man can rebuild a pyramid, but he can’t rebuild ecology, or a giraffe.”
After a short flight we'll land at Ukunda, Kenya from where we will be transferred to Waterlovers, our gorgeous beach hideout, that’s been a labor of love by Riccardo and Valentina who fell in love with Africa and decided to make it their home.
Diani Beach is rated as one of the best beaches in the world for you to revel in. After settling in, we will enjoy the evening on the beach with a swim and stroll along the wide sweep of the Indian Ocean.
A sumptuous seafood dinner awaits us, prepared with the freshest of ingredients. The cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean and Swahili, so think of exotic fare - crab fagottini with avocado and lime sauce, passion fruit mousse with white chocolate flakes and mint leaf.
The menu changes every day, with choices of fish and meat. You may ask for a personalized menu for vegetarians or if you are on a special diet.
After dinner, we’ll chill by the beach under a star-decked dark sky and enjoy a leisurely night exchanging safari highlight until sleep calls.
You may wish to enjoy a sunrise walk on the beach before breakfast that will be – it’s as easy as slipping out of your bed to the beach. It’s magical watching the sun rise from the ocean.
The beach is adjacent to a lush rainforest, making it an ideal destination for birders and home to the rare breed of Angolan Colobus monkey. An organization called Colobus Conservation has strung 'colobus bridges' across the main road to ensure the safety of the endangered species while crossing to the other side of the forest.
After a fulfilling breakfast full of tropical fruits and freshly cooked – maybe Spicy Swahili or of your choice, the rest of the morning is yours to explore. You can lounge by the turtle-shaped pool, take a dip, or choose to go snorkeling, surfing, or even swimming when the tide is high. Don't miss out on the exciting opportunity to sail in a traditional canoe called 'ngalawa' powered by the wind and waves to the ten-minute sail to the reef.
For those who prefer to relax, you can check in at the Kola spa for a revitalizing treatment.
Lunch will be served followed by a well-deserved siesta or snorkeling session depending on the tide.
Later on, we’ll head out for dinner to Ali Barbour's iconic cave restaurant. The cave has connecting chambers with a huge opening above it, providing an exciting atmosphere to enjoy the finest seafood by the ocean.
After dinner, we’ll return to our stunning hideout at Waterlovers Beach Resort.
After a refreshing breakfast, we’ll embark on an adventure further south. We'll board a dhow, an ancient sailing vessel, which powered the winds and waves that brought in ancient mariners from the East, giving rise to the Swahili civilization. We’ll sail to the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Reserve famous for its dolphins, turtles, and spectacular reef for snorkeling.
We'll sail to Wasini Island for lunch after exploring the marine reserve. Wasini Island is another seafood paradise that will delight your senses.
After a relaxing lunch followed by a swim or a stroll on the mangrove walkway, we’ll head back to our resort by late afternoon.
You may choose to enjoy a massage at the Kola Spa or relax until dinner.
On our last day, we’ll relish a healthy tropical breakfast spiced with exotic flavors.
You will enjoy the morning lounging by the beach, soaking in the sun, or treating yourself at the Kola spa for one last time.
Lunch will be served around noon, after which we’ll begin our journey back home, departing for the airport at 2 p.m.
We’ll arrive at Nairobi at 4.45 p.m. for our onward flight home, leaving behind cherished memories of Kenya's amazing wildlife and beautiful landscapes.
Villa Rosa Kempinski offers European luxury while you are immersed in Kenyan hospitality.
Elsa’s Kopje sits on the original site of George Adamson's campsite. You can indulge in bush breakfasts, sundowners and an infinity pool with views of the brush.
In a breath-taking location in the heart of the Maasai Mara, lies Mara Ngenche a small, intimate, luxurious and elegant Camp.
Diani Beach Waterlovers is a true paradise! Enjoy the Mediterranean cuisine beachside after your snorkeling in the blue lagoon.
Rupi is a travel writer with a particular concentration on wildlife conservation and sustainability. She’s 3rd generation Kenyan who’s been on safari countless times since she started writing professionally in 1998. She works with the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya as the editor of Komba, the magazine to promote wildlife conservation amongst schoolchildren. With her strong connections with conservation not-for-profits like the East African Wild Life Society, Nature Kenya, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya (to name a few), we’ll be given an insiders view of the amazing and often challenging world of today’s wildlife.
Mary Wykstra began working in Kenya in 2001. Mary's love for Kenya started through fundraising for conservation, and later she travelled through Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia where volunteer opportunities made her realize her passion for animals in the wild. After working with Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, Mary initiated her own research in Kenya. She completed her Master of Environmental Management at Yale University to enable her to further develop the Action for Cheetahs in Kenya program alongside of local staff and partners. Under Mary's leadership, the Action for Cheetahs Project works closely to monitor cheetahs across the vast Kenya landscape where her team has visited nearly every village where cheetah and people coexist to provide science led decisions on cheetah management. Mary is a bronze level Kenya Professional Safari Guide and leads trips for several university programmes as well as joining her colleague Rupi to share her passion for Kenya's big cats and their relationship with people.
If you are eager for your own African experience, there are plenty of fascinating places to explore in Kenya. The country is steeped in history, lauded with bountiful natural beauty, and renowned for refining its rustic ambience and cultural elegance
Everything stated in itinerary above including meals plus wine or beer with your evening meal (except otherwise noted)
Lodging at 5-star tented camps
All guides, experts and entry fees
All in-country transport
Roundtrip airfare to Kenya
Additional wine, beer, or spirits beyond what is offered at meals.
All personal souvenir purchases
Travel and Medical Insurance (required)
Additional outings as indicated such as the Balloon Ride
Any additional spa treatments desired than what's described
You will want to fly into Nairobi which is the capital of Kenya. You will be flying into the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Weather in October in Kenya is warm and humid at the coast, cool and humid in the central highlands, and hot and dry in the north and east. Across most of the country, rainfall is strongly seasonal, although its pattern, timing and extent vary greatly from place to place and from year to year. Rainfall peaks in most areas are in October and April. Temperatures range between Daily high temperatures are around 75°F, rarely falling below 70°F or exceeding 80°F.
We will have a zoom call about 6 weeks before the trip starts to discuss all that information and give you a packing list Here is a great website that we love that will help you with packing and travel trips.
You do need to fill out and pay for the E-Visa before you travel to Kenya. A single-entry visa (valid for 3 months) is $ 50 USD. We will go over all this information in detail on the zoom call we have about 6 weeks before the trip starts.
Don’t forget your Passport. It’s the one item that’s tough to replace. Please be sure you have enough empty pages without stamps in your passport and that it is good for a full 6 months after the date you return from your trip.
The trip officially starts on Sunday October 22nd, but if you are traveling across an ocean to get to Kenya, you may want to consider arriving a day early so you have time to relax and get acclimated to the local time zone. If you do decide to arrive early, please let us know and we will take care of booking your room for you and make sure that you are kept in the same room as you will be in when the trip starts.
You are lucky and have two guides on this trip. Rupi Mangat and Mary Wykstra. To read more about them HERE is a link to their bio's.