David sent me a detailed trip report after his Kenya safari lodge holiday...
|Safari Location:||Kenya: Tsavo West, Amboseli & Masai Mara|
|Safari Company Used:||Gibran Safaris Ltd|
|Duration:||1 week: 22-28 March 2007|
|Traveller Details:||David Templar, UK|
|Rates & Availability:||Plan your own safari. Make an enquiry|
|Table of Contents|
|Between Kenya Safari Lodges
|Tips & Advice
|Which safari company did you travel with?|
Gibran Safaris Ltd (Kenya).
How did they perform?
Wonderful, second time with Gibran: 2006 a taster, 2007 The Real Safari. The guide both years was Ringo who has 25+ years experience.
How were your safari guides?
At the Kenya safari lodge Kichwa Tembo our driver guide Wesley, a gentle man, recognised my wife was still recovering from a dislocated shoulder and found entering and leaving our 4x4 safari Toyota challenging. He could not have been more helpful at every mount and dismount, on several drives he was accompanied by the camp physio, a Mara lass whose sharp eyes were invaluable and massage was magic.
I never did work out how during the late afternoon drives Wesley would have us studying some animals while he discreetly slipped on his anorak. Contrary to many guide books we did not find the Mara cold evenings, we had no need to wear woolly jumpers. He asked us what we wished to see. He also asked us if we would like "extended" game drives and arranged for picnic baskets. A safari picnic on the Masai Mara is itself an enriching experience.
|Where did you stay and what was it like?|
1. Kutazama (new Kenya safari lodge) - "pre-visit" opened 2007. Private lodge and paradise:
Imagine less than 24 hours from London enjoying your own secluded paradise, standing in the warm double-decker pool gazing down at the Manolo River and looking across the valley to The Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary. Sipping a sun downer beside the pools we absorb the sounds and smells of Africa, no musack here. The mystical colours of the sun setting through the Shimba Hills, the bird song and perhaps greatest of all seeing elephants playfully washing in the pools of the Manolo River beneath our veranda.
This is the very private, secluded and eco friendly hotel that is Kutazama. Part vision part dream come true for old African hands Gill and Garry Richardson. They conceived the dream and by the honest sweat of their own hands have created this Kenya safari lodge. Private lodge means private when we visited there was one suite with plans for only two more. The lodge is child free so your enjoyment is not curtailed by other visitors' out of control spoilt brats.
Kutazama is situated on a ridge in the Shimba Hills National Conservation Park half an hour or so from the coast. Its altitude gives fresh air and allows a coolness morning and evening that librates one from the tropical heat. I suffer from Asthma but there was an Alpine like quality to the air here and I had no breathing problems
The Frangipani suite includes a Kilimanjaro size four poster bed with integrated mosquito net, a double luxury bathroom. There is also an outdoor solar powered Jacuzzi that helps massage away the aches and pains from the long haul flight. We felt the whole lodge had an integrated flow and ambiance providing rest and the peace that cannot be obtained from modern corporate glass and steel. There was so much of traditional African design in the Kenya safari lodge: the hand carved doors, the thatched roof, and combined with modern civilised comforts the double decked pool that even the most stressed-out will find rest and peace here.
Visitors may enjoy private safaris, game drives through the Shimba Hills, excursions to the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary. The reasonably fit, able and adventurous will be blessed with a walking safari to the Chitsanze Waterfalls.
I should point out that due to the geography of Kutazama it is not suited to those who have difficulty climbing stairs. It is the perfect location for a second honeymoon, that special birthday or anniversary or simply to enjoy a quiet secluded corner of Kenya listen to the birds, see elephants and rest.
2. Kilaguni Serena Tsavo West - the very best commercial Kenya safari lodge. First class; wonderful - gets better each visit:
Last year 2006 I described the Kilaguni Lodge as a paradise on earth. There is always a danger when one returns to paradise it is not how it was, memory may have been seen through rose tinted glasses.
We arrive at Kilaguni Serena Lodge and are greeted by Felix Ogembo, lodge manager, and some of his team. Registration is most civilised and the charming deputy manageress escorts us to Suite 3. We are dusty and tired needing a shower before lunch but her welcome could not be more friendly and kind. We were given a detailed tour of our upstairs suite and views from veranda were far more impressive than Versailles.
Kilaguni Serena Lodge was even better than 2006. Those good looking black cinder paths that caused pain to the soles our soft feet were being replaced. Last year I criticised the expensive wines, 2007 has seen the introduction of a perfectly acceptable range of Serena House wines.
Sometimes a seemingly small change makes a great difference. There is now a resident ornithologist at this Kenya safari lodge, taking guests on walking safaris. Perhaps he inspired the construction of the two stone bird tables between the restaurant and water hole. At lunch we were able to enjoy the presence and songs from more than a dozen varieties of birds lunching at these tables, and resting on the branches of local bushes.
After lunch I managed to activate the cyber café computer and e-mail my daughters in Yorkshire and Australia.
After-dinner entertainment commenced with a visit to the water hole by a family of giraffes. Other magnificent animals followed, until exhausted from our long day, we finished our glorious nightcaps and retreated to our room remembering "the early starter catches sight of most game". We slept like African mahogany logs wakening refreshed longing for the first Kenya coffee and sounds of pre-dawn birdsong.
We were delighted to have returned to Kilaguni Lodge, yes it was better than 2006, we expect it may be even better in 2008. If circumstances allow we will happily return again. The friendly, kind and helpful staff provide all that is needed for novice or seasoned Kenya safari lodge traveller. One day we will stay long enough to test the swimming pool, just didn't have time 2007.
3. Serena Amboseli Lodge - a Kenya safari lodge with potential situated in a great game park but management well below Serena standard ... need to pull their socks up:
This Kenya safari lodge was in a poor state. It can't compare to Serena Tsavo West for location of architectural design. Competent management should ensure that electrical sockets do not hang off the restaurant wall. If man made floor coverings are used in the restaurant then they should be clean, not appearing as if the local buffalo had marched across on a rainy day.
Our room was tight, but enjoyed an innovatively designed bathroom where the shower was good and loo flushed, a comfortable bed, desk and wardrobe - more than adequate for exhausted safari explorers.
It was so sad that a lodge located in a park where there are so many wild animals on the doorstep was so poorly managed. We passed a large looking lodge which was shut and in the hands of the Nairobi courts… let us hope the Serena Group get their act together and provide the service and welcome that is second nature at Tsavo West and Fort Jesus.
4. Kichwa Tembo Tented Lodge Masai Mara Kenya - this Kenya safari lodge was paradise on earth; wonderful:
Our first sight of the Mara was from the air. Even through a little heat haze the magic of the Mara was apparent. We were greeted at the grass airstrip by Wesley who was to be our Kichwa Tembo guide and companion. Straight into a game drive from the airport and we were not disappointed. Eventually we went into camp to "register" see our luxury en-suite tent and enjoy a fine lunch.
The Kenya safari lodge that is Kichwa Tembo is much more than just a commercial "hotel" - it is a centre of excellence and enlightenment. We stayed in a large en-suite tent, hot shower, flushing loo, basin, double bed where the tent maid put two hot water bottles every night and plenty of furniture.
But the most striking features were the voluntary presentations. After lunch on our first afternoon we attended an outdoor talk from one of the Masai guides attired in full regalia. We learned about Masai culture, history, and how he became a qualified park ranger studying at college in Tanzania. Children attended and we enjoyed their questions. We also had the company of a family with two under 12 children on our game drives. They were well behaved and enriched our adventure.
The next evening between the end of the afternoon game drive and dinner there was a magnificent slide show and talk about the Mara. There are battery charging facilities at the main bar for cameras and camcorders.
Additionally in our tented rooms Conservation Corporation Africa (aka CC Africa) had produced two guide booklets. Imagine my surprise when asking at reception if I might purchase these booklets I was told they are free for guests to take away. The first is a detailed eco guide describing the animals, birds and habitat of the Mara with fine hand sketches illustrating trees, leaves, butterflies, birds and animals. The second is headed bird checklist brimming with invaluable advice and sketches.
|How was the food at the various lodges?|
At Kenya safari lodge Kutazama, Arome the butler and James head chef will help plan your meals and ensure your throat remains moist from an extensive fridge and cellar. Meals comprise seafood fresh from the Indian Ocean, local fruits, vegetables and meats, remember Kenya supplies Marks & Spencer with fresh veggies. There is always Kenyan copper coloured tea for breakfast and the glorious aromatic Arabica beans from the Kenyan highlands providing the unique "Out Of Africa" taste for our favourite coffee. You may even persuade James the head chief to produce Kenyan oat porridge for breakfast to compensate for his magnificent gourmet dinners.
At Kenya safari lodge Kilaguni Serena - there was a vast choice from a well prepared and presented buffet for lunch. Given the early start, the exciting journey we needed to refuel our bodies and felt there was plenty of choice for all tastes at this wonderful location.
Dinner at Kilaguni was different to 2006 - we attended "African Night". There was an expansive feast; any seasoned traveller would have been spoilt for choice. We travelled with a young German couple on their first safari… they were stunned, amazed and thought they were on a cruise liner.
At Kenya safari lodge Serena Amboseli - the food at lunch, dinner and next day at breakfast is best described as adequate. It lacked the panache of both Serena Tsavo and Serena Fort Jesus. Far worse was the poor service, tables "half laid" cutlery and cruet sets incomplete. Groups of waiters huddled in deep conversation totally ignoring their customers.
At Kenya safari lodge Kichwa Tembo - the restaurant provided a wide variety of meals and picnic hampers so we could enjoy extended game drives. What better after an early morning game drive than hot porridge and a "Full English" washed down with lashings of Kenyan coffee?
|How was the travelling from one Kenya safari lodge to the next?|
From Kutazama to Tsavo West - we ventured from Mombasa along the Nairobi road just after sun up. Last year (2006) there were 37km of pot holes, this year the Chinese engineers had reduced this to 19. But the 19km with diversions onto hard baked dusty mud seemed far worse than 2006.
It was good to have coffee at the woodcarving "Watford Gap" services, to stretch, to look at the carvings and paintings. We are now on the new road there is so much to see on the journey to Tsavo West.
From Tsavo West to Amboseli National Park - I would not estimate the miles but it is a long ride on bumpy dusty roads. It was unfortunate that the exit barrier was down at the Tsavo West exit. The park rangers, like some 1960's British trade union officials were on work to rule. No matter how loud Ringo and 20 other safari bus guides pleaded, the barrier did not open a minute before the allotted time.
The first stop was for the Shetani Lava flows; what an incredible sight. The lava stretches in both directions and safari traffic has created a bumpy track across. We take photos, stretch legs and motor on. Later we are stopped at a road barrier for a Masai village where the enterprising try to sell wood carvings and souvenirs. There was a short comfort refreshment break later, then we sense we are arriving at the Amboseli plains.
|What wildlife did you see on your Kenya safari lodge trip?|
Rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion, baby leopard (no adult 2007), wildebeest, warthog, zebra, gazelle, giraffe, hyena, crocodile, hippo (in & out of water), birds too many to list.
We went on this Kenya safari lodge trip to see live animals - both the big five and many others in their natural habitat. The afternoon game drive did not disappoint. My photo albums record elephant, zebra, giraffe, baby leopard, various gazelle, buffalo, hyena and many bird species. Regrettably we did not see rhino in the Rhino Sanctuary but early rains had stimulated growth and lush foliage. This did not prevent us seeing a classic African sunset.
It is traditional to visit Mzima Springs before breakfast. These springs are the ecological soul for the dry Tsavo area. The location is likened to an oasis, as the bubbling waters erupt from volcanic boulders having travelled from the Chyulu Hills. The volcanic geology is responsible for the clear waters that attract so many animals in the dry seasons.
We first saw buffalo taking their early morning drink, then hippos before entering the submerged viewing tank to see barbels of all sizes.
Returning to Kilaguni Kenya safari lodge we observed ostrich, Sykes monkeys, buffalo, elephant, gazelles and tortoise.
How can one describe the wonder that is the Kenyan Wildlife Service Amboseli Park, an area of 150 square miles, 3700 feet above sea level with 56 species of mammals and 215 species of birds? Amboseli has Mount Kilimanjaro with clouds and snow as a perfect backdrop. It seems every mile presents different animals as did every hour of the day. Towards dusk we witnessed a herd of more than 50 elephants going off towards Kilimanjaro and Tanzania for supper.
Next morning we were the first out of Amboseli Safari Lodge in that wonderful pre-dawn African light to be greeted by mummy lion and her cubs resting in the centre of the road, then hippo out of the water grazing, zebra feeding her young, wildebeest, antelope, a family of monkeys with one on guard at the top of a branchless tree, countless elephants, buffalo, then there were the birds. Ostrich, pink flamingos, many waders in the lakes and countless song birds.
The early morning and post breakfast game drives in Amboseli were the best we had enjoyed so far in Kenya. Amboseli has a wonderful magic of its own, so much to see and Mount Kilimanjaro one minute hidden by cloud, next just the middle covered and snows visible at the top then fully naked with its full beauty exposed briefly for all savvy explores to enjoy. Radio messages were exchanged we arrived at a grass airstrip, said good buy to Ringo and boarded our flight to the Mara.
Masai Mara Kenya:
I could from my photos give a list of all the birds and animals we saw on our game drives - it is better to view at leisure. Seeing so many wild animals in their natural habitat is humbling and inspiring.
The greatest sight was two rhinos strolling together through the red grass on the last morning. The young cheetahs and families of lions would delight every cat lover. Elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, even the fat Nile crocodiles in the Mara River have their part in this great eco-system. Every minute of our stay on the Mara was inspirational and brought great happiness and satisfaction to both of us.
|Did you get in touch with, or meet any, local people during your Kenya safari lodge trip?|
Kutazama is much more than epicurean delights with sumptuous accommodation. The location provides opportunities to explore both The Shimba Hills and local villages. There are cultural tours of local Digo and Duruma villages.
If readers are planning a Kenya safari lodge trip, they should remember to bring gifts for local schools - 100 pencils will be received as manna from heaven, old style lined exercise books are in short supply: donate a pack of fifty to help keep one class studying. Many Kenyan schools have budget problems and a cash gift will receive a written thank you.
|Do you have any tips or advice to give to people planning a similar Kenya safari lodge holiday?|
|How would you rate your safari overall (on a scale of 1-10)?|
9+. Would have been 10 if Serena Amboseli had been on the mark.
It is fashionable for tree hugging greens to spout on about carbon footprints etc. If there were fewer tourists there would be fewer jobs for native Africans and far greater pressure to develop this paradise which itself would destroy the Mara. Would we want to go again? You bet - this Christmas we are researching hard and hope to return 2008.
We are most grateful to Gibran Safaris for tailoring this great package, to the Richardsons for giving us an insight to their vision at Kutazama, to Ringo our guide from Mombasa to Amboseli, and Wesley and all the staff at Kichwa Tembo who shared their paradise with us.
We would love to return and unreservedly recommend this type of Kenyan safari to all as a time for peace and paradise on earth.