An Unforgettable Kenya Luxury Safari

Connie Ebright is really passionate about Africa and travels there every year to expand her knowledge about safaris so that she can provide the best for her clients. She and her husband took a luxury safari to Tanzania during the migration.

Migration in the Masai Mara, Kenya

Table of Contents
Why Kenya
Tour Operator
Group Size
Luxury Safari Guides
Accommodation & Food
Wildlife & Parks
Other Activities
Tips & Advice
Closing Thoughts

Why Africa, Why Kenya?

Africa is my catnip. I cannot resist it. Every day I hear the heart of Africa whispering my name and I must follow.

For the last six years Kenya has been on a government warning list; now we all realize that it is safe so guests are returning in droves to the country that began my crazy love affair with Africa.

Luxury Safari Tour Operator & Itinerary

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The luxury safari trip itinerary was tailor made by me as I wanted to see these camps and reserves in Kenya. I did not book the lodges directly. It was also expensive because of all the flights included in the luxury safari land price.

I used a US wholesale supplier through whom I book much of my business. They do only Africa and I have never had a problem with any client booked through them – unlike other suppliers I have used.

It started out as a migration trip for just myself and my husband. I stay in touch with my former clients and one by one they asked when I was going to Africa again, so I told them about my and Al's trip for the following year. Even though it was expensive they joined us one couple at a time.

It was the perfect luxury safari itinerary as we began in Tsavo where there is not much game. In the middle was Shampole for a rest from gaming in extraordinary surroundings and we ended with the migration.

We needed to be at Cottar's (Masai Mara) later, probably in September, to really enjoy the migration fully because it was a trek to get to the crossing in the Paradise area from where we were at Cottar's. However, I am glad I stayed at Cottar's. The camp managers made it such a special ending.

Size of Group

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10. I was apprehensive about traveling with even a small group, as I have always considered Africa an intimate, private and almost mystical experience. However, I thrive on change and our luxury safari group is proving to be delightful. I love getting to know our traveling companions and each one contributes something important to the group dynamics.

One of the ladies, Annette, was wonderful, I am so grateful for her. She was the heart and soul of our merry band of travelers. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she was chronicling everything with $10,000 in camera equipment. No one else needed to take a photo. We fought over who gets her in their vehicle because her heart is bigger than Africa and her joy unbounded. She was the best thing that ever happened to this luxury safari group!

She had Al and Ellie doing breathing exercises that prevent air sickness from which they both suffer. By the end of the trip she had completely cured them of air sickness.

When our vehicle got stuck in the mud at Shompole, Annette, ever resourceful, unloaded the sundowner cocktails while the four Masai warriors and the four senior citizen men finally release the vehicle from the clutches of the thick clay. We have arranged the canvas chairs facing the lake full of flamingos and never has a gin and tonic tasted so cold and refreshing.

Luxury Safari: The Guides

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Bush breakfast, Amboseli Simon, our Amboseli guide, is a Masai who speaks with an aristocratic, colonial accent and tells us about each species. What a difference a good guide makes!

He and the Amboseli staff spoiled us with a four course bush breakfast with crystal, white linens, a chef in a tall hat and a full staff of ten just for our party of 10. There was a canvas wash basin with hot water and behind a bush a potty chair with paper on a post. That's what makes a luxury safari special; in the middle of nowhere they have thought of every detail.

Douglas, our Kenya luxury safari guide in the Masai Mara, stops to pick a whistling thorn bush and explain it to us even as the biting ants crawl all over his hand stinging it. He explains how trees can communicate with each other. His booming Shakespearean voice with an English accent is so easy to hear and understand, unlike the Masai guides at Shompole, who had communication problems.

Nick and his wife Betsy from Atlanta so love their work and breathe unbelievable life force into Cottar's camp.

On our luxury safari game drive with Nick, we were followed by other companies' guides but Nick would quickly turn around to lose the pack of hangers on. They know he is the best of the best and they have a better chance of important sightings with him in the lead.

There are 4,000 beds in the Masai Mara but we rarely see another vehicle because of his expertise at avoiding other vehicles while still having incredible sightings. Eight years ago I did the usual lodge circuit and there were 20 to 30 vehicles at every sighting. Here we almost never see another vehicle unless it is a Cottar's vehicle or we are at the main crossing point where there are many white vans.

Accommodation & Food While On This Luxury African Safari

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Giraffe Manor, Nairobi The Cheli and Peacock Kenya hotels, or rather camps, where we are staying are the top of the line in Kenya and over the moon expensive.

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi (1 night) - part of a giraffe preserve outside of town. It was built by Betty Melville, founder of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, and with only five bedrooms it is like staying at your wealthy aunt's antique filled home. It is the perfect start to our luxury safari.

During pre-dinner cocktails the waiter bangs his metal pan of giraffe food and they come running to the open dining room windows, reaching in with their long necks so we can feed them from our hands. What a photo session it is and a delightful way to have cocktails with the wildlife.

Dinner in the candlelit dining room with the other guests is a convivial affair complimented with excellent African wine.

At breakfast, the giraffes put their heads through the dining room windows again for food.

Finch Hatton's, Tsavo West (2 nights) - the luxury safari tents are lovely and right on a river full of snorting and belching hippos and sinister looking crocodiles gliding eerily by as we relax on our terrace facing the river. Wind billows our tent walls and sweet sage scents the air.

On our walk to dinner there are three huge hippos, finally out of the water grazing near out tent. Our Masai escort carries a bow and arrow when he escorts us after dark, but I would be more comfortable if he carried a high powered rifle

Tortilis Camp, Amboseli Reserve (2 nights) - lunch at Tortilis is served on an open sala with fabulous views of the golden plains.

A camp garden provides flowers, along with delicious herbs and vegetables for meals. The food is gourmet in taste and presentation. A luxury safari is no place to diet.

The meals are frequent and delicious. At dinner we had such a divine chocolate mouse that eating it should have been a private act.

Loisaba Star Beds (2 nights) - there is a long and treacherous swinging bridge over the roiling river that we must traverse to get to starbed camp, a favorite luxury safari camp with free internet access.

There is a fire in the pit with chairs gathered around and drinks are served. We are an intimate group of four with a staff of ten, so we are well looked after for our candlelit dinner.

The Koija beds are hand crafted beds on wheels covered with a mosquito net that are rolled out onto an open raised platform for sleeping under the stars. Inside they are partially covered with a thatched roof, but outside on the platform they are open to the sights and sounds of nature.

Shompole Private Concession (2 nights) - the accommodations are over the top gorgeous and unique. Every 3,500 square foot room has an infinity plunge pool and numerous streams and sand gardens running through it. The 9' by 9' bed has an enormous two story tent surrounding it. The sides are open to the sky with a beautiful thatched roof and unbelievable vistas.

Al says it is the most beautiful room he has ever stayed in and as the hotel queen, I agree with him.

The pale handcrafted furniture and the double rock sinks are all fashioned from materials indigenous to the 150,000 acre group ranch. It is a partnership with the local Masai, who will eventually take over full ownership.

There are only 6 luxury safari cottages so we have the place to ourselves for total privacy.

Up the hill at Little Shompole are two more suites that are 5,000 sq ' each with their own vehicle. They are bigger than many homes and very exotic in design. Activities include bush walks, mountain bikes and cultural visits.

My 3 showers a day rule for our luxury safari is abandoned at Shompole where hot water is only available at capricious times like during dinner and game drives.

This is a place to rest from game viewing for a day or two, so do not expect great gaming, but the accommodations are beyond imagination.

Cottar's Camp, Masai Mara Cottar's 1920's Camp, Masai Mara (2 nights) - situated on the border of the Masai Mara. Al and my luxury safari tent is six gorgeous rooms plus a patio, all separated by white canvas walls for privacy. Our oversized king bed with multiple hot water bottles and pillows is under a tent inside the main tent.

All of the furniture is antique with oriental rugs, needlepoint pillows, lace tablecloths, antique lanterns and we have a fireplace set with wood for burning. We refer to it as the "Taj Mahal".

Cottar's main lounge is decorated with photos of the line of Cottars who have continuously owned and operated the camp since 1919. It is currently owned and operated by Calvin Cottar, the great grandson of the original Calvin Cottar, who is here with personal guests. The floors are covered with Oriental and zebra skin rugs.

Even though it is a very spiffy place people appear at dinner in casual safari wear, sensible shoes and the lingering scent of mosquito repellant. Although, I suspect some of the safari wear is from FA Allen on Madison Avenue and their attire may well cost as much as their luxury safari.

Ngong House, Nairobi - we used a dayroom before our flight home. It consists of only four two story tree houses built in the sky and accessed by a steep stairway. The main luxury safari lodge is centered around a fireplace with comfortable sofas and chairs for relaxing by the fire.

Wildlife and Parks

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TSAVO - at camp, we hear the hippos splashing in the river and voicing their grunts, snarls and bellows all night long. Annette got a photo of them in front of our tent mating in their watery love nest.

The second day at breakfast there were five huge crocodiles lounging in the sun by our breakfast patio. We stood only 7 or 8 yards from them to have our photo taken.

Away from camp the game is very dispersed and difficult to find. Our two game drives are disappointing.

It is also the most unique reserve because it has northern animals that need little water and southern animals that must drink every day. Here the roads are rough and rocky and the animals are hidden well.

AMBOSELI - on the short drive from the airstrip to camp we saw more wildlife than we did in two days at Tsavo: hyenas, a plethora of zebra, wildebeest and impalas.

Elephant mothers give us a dazzling display of parental affection as they muzzle their miniature offspring and carefully keep them in the center of the moving herd. A baby twirls his trunk around a branch and strips the leaves clean, in one motion stuffing them into his mouth, dropping a few leaves on the way. Other elephants are sloshing through the wallows having a grand time at their local spa.

Our afternoon luxury safari game drive is wonderful, but dusty as Simon finds a huge herd of elephants and a lion feasting on a Cape buffalo carcass.

The next morning we find the full bellied male lion and his lady sleeping off their feast drowsy and rolling over. The male's face is still covered with blood, dirt and entrails, but the female is sleek and shiny. She licks her paws and face with her tongue to groom and looks quite glamorous. She stretches and preens for our cameras and looks at us with her searing golden eyes.

LOISABA - on the way to camp we saw beautiful kudu's, their horns spiraling into the sun; and a giraffe giving birth with the baby's legs and one hip hanging out the back. We do not have time to see the complete birth as we must be at the starbeds soon.

Soon after falling asleep the first night in our luxury safari star bed, Al and I are awakened by the sounds of large animals munching and tramping the brush just below our bed. They are so close Al could put his arm out and touch them. In the morning we see huge elephant footprints below our platform deck and there they are as we awake, two huge elephants just the other side of the river grazing. They were wet up to their bellies from crossing the river.

In the afternoon we began our search for the resident pride of eighteen lions at Loisaba. The dominant lion has a tracking device around his neck like a collar or we would never have found them on the 62,000 acre ranch. All eighteen of them are resting in the shade of trees, occasionally getting up to stretch and pose for our cameras.

SHOMPOLE - we take an afternoon game drive to Lake Natron to see the pink flamingos. Other than that, the game drives are bumpy and dusty with little wildlife.

MASAI MARA - this is the time for the wildebeest migration, an event chronicled so often on Discovery channel, but one that must be seen to be believed.

On our first day we drove to the Sand River for gaming not to be believed! Everywhere you turn there are thousands of animals, most of them moving somewhere. It was an exhilarating day and we arrived at camp at 8pm exhausted.

The second day is another full day at the Mara River where we watch as the wildebeest and zebra queue up to cross the river. There are thousands and thousands of them marching toward the river. They stop and look into the water, trying to screw up their courage to make the crossing. There is a dead wildebeest in the water from the crossing a few hours ago.

The animals spend the days lining up for the crossing and then changing their minds and leaving the banks of the river. Back and forth they go all day for many days, sometimes making the crossing but most often not.

Three quarter million wildebeest, 400,000 zebra and 400,000 Thompson gazelle and 12,000 eland comprise this ancient spectacle of nature each year as they travel in a circle in search of greener grass.

Other Activities Undertaken During This Luxury Safari

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Nairobi - we visited the Animal Orphanage, upscale boutiques and craft shops and site inspected several suburban hotels and guest houses.

Tsavo - because the game is scarce, we opt to pay $20 per person to go to a Masai village. The children are ragged and dirty but they welcome us with a song and their Masai jumping dance. They walk two hours each way to the nearest water source to bathe and carry back water for drinking and cooking. Tiny bare bottomed babies are slung on the backs of small siblings. The rice and cornmeal the $200 would buy them could feed them for a month if it did not go in to the pockets of the politicians. Babies with runny noses are crying and my heart breaks for them and their dusty world of poverty. There, but for the grace of God, go I! At first I resent the $20 per person charge, like they are a circus act, but at the end of the visit I want to empty my pockets for them.

Amboseli - some of us opt for a bush walk instead of a luxury safari bush drive. It's a two mile trek with William, a Masai warrior, ending on top of a mountain with a spectacular view for sundowners.

Loisaba - the first morning after breakfast we had a camel safari along the river back to camp.

Maasai people We also pay a visit to an authentic village where we are greeted by the native women who take our hands in theirs and welcome us with a traditional song and dance. The warriors are dance-jumping three feet into the air vying for the attention of the unmarried maidens of the village who are eligible for circumcision and to be chosen as warrior brides. Our guide, Solomon, is a warrior from this village so he joins the dance. Even our mature camp manager, Rachel, is a good sport and joins the conga line dance.

The second day Georganne and I go on an early morning horseback safari. The ranch has 10 beautifully groomed horses and it is a cool morning, at last, with beautiful vistas. The horses mask our scent so we can get close to the animals.

However, I agree with Oscar Wilde that horses are dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. Although we rode English saddle for more comfort, the best part was looking at the stunning, chiseled, ebony face of Perez, the stable manager who accompanied us.

Shompole - we take our bags of school supplies to the local school. With the village chief in tow we drive to Pakese Primary School. Their only teaching aid is a dusty blackboard with some words printed on it in English. When we entered the classroom the children in unison stood and remained standing until the chief motioned for them to sit.

As Bob and Ellie passed out the pens and notebooks the children began murmuring excitedly. The village chief said to me, "The children are very excited because no one ever visits them or brings them gifts." He raised his hand and there was instant silence. He is the chief of this village of 600 people and is highly respected.

It was also market day at the village where they take their cows and goats to buy or sell. We ford rivers and cross streams to the local village, accompanied by the chief. I feel so unworthy driving through their incredibly poor village in our expensive luxury safari vehicle, while they labor on foot or an ancient wobbly bicycle.

The previous day we saw the natives herding their livestock to the village as they began their multi hour trek to market. Many sleep overnight in the nearby fields with their animals so they will be ready for the most important event of the week.

Makeshift stalls were set up under the trees in the market and we were the only white faces. Annette buys everything in sight and I chuckle at the courtesies that accompany every transaction. The Masai have an innate kindness even in the world of commerce, although the US hygiene police would shut down the place in an instant.

Cottar's - this luxury safari camp is known for nature walks and we began with a walk among the giraffes with Nick, our rifle toting guide and camp manager.

God in his infinite wisdom saved the best spectacle for our last night in the bush. On our night game drive we had brief flashes of lightning and thunder. Just as we finished dinner El Nino cut loose with pelting raindrops the size of half dollars and thunder and lightning that echoed across the plains. It is truly a finale extravaganza.

Tips & Advice For A Luxury Safari

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I recommend flying in between camps on a luxury safari, like we did - we had seven scheduled or private charter flights between camps to maximize game viewing time. I heard a guest at Tortillis, who was furious at his USA travel agent who arranged overland transfers. The unreliable vehicle has broken down twice and they have missed three of their four game drives so far. He couldn't get through to his local contact as the phone and radio lines are both down, a common occurrence in the bush, even on a luxury safari.

We brought school supplies as gifts to schools and an orphanage, to make the native children's lives a little easier and to assuage our guilt of conspicuous consumption. It was received with great thanks.

Closing Thoughts

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Connie and Al Ebright Africa took me out of my myopic city life and put this Iowa farm girl into her place in nature. A luxury safari is so much more than fun - it is a profound experience, one that leaves its mark on you forever. I have clients who tell me they will measure all travel for the rest of their lives by their African safari.

It is my chance to rethink life's priorities. I have left behind my fast moving life and come to a place where the world seems to stand still and it is an unforgettable adventure. Africa is like being inside a poem.

A safari changes your life in ways both subtle and profound. Nearly everyone who goes to Africa makes an emotional connection with the place. The people you meet and everything you see touches your heart in a powerful way. In Africa I feel my prayers are like emails - sent and received.

Safari Location: Kenya: Nairobi, Tsavo West, Amboseli, Loisaba, Shampole Private Concession, Lake Natron, Masai Mara
Safari Company Used: Ebright Travel
Duration: 2 weeks, August 2006
Traveller Details: Connie Ebright (travel agent), and her husband Al (CA, USA)
Rates & Availability: Plan your own luxury safari - make an enquiry

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