Bucket list travel has been a hot topic for ages, but never more so than right now. After travel ground to a screeching halt in 2020, vacationers are anxious to check dream trips off their list sooner rather than later. Of course, jetting off to Africa on a luxury safari usually ranks in the top 10. So, if you’ve been waiting a lifetime to spot one of the Big Five or witness the wildebeest migration, it’s time to book that safari. Here’s all you need to know to plan an epic safari trip.
Setting Up Camp
Kenya is an excellent choice for first-time safarigoers, with large concentrations of game providing the greatest opportunities to see wildlife. Great Plains Conservation operates two outstanding luxury Relais & Chateaux camps in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, Mara Plains and Mara Nyika. You can expect the highest level of service and exceptional accommodations at both of these camps.
At night, you’ll be lulled into sleep by animal noises under a pile of faux fur blankets that were prewarmed with a hot water bottle.
Created by Derek and Beverly Joubert, Great Plains Conservation’s story is one about creating extraordinary travel experiences as much as it is about generating extraordinary conservation efforts. Conservation is the mission behind everything the couple does, and by developing 16 safari camps in Africa, they can bring travelers into that fold. In addition, their Conservation Tourism model includes many responsible travel programs designed to give back and which make long-term commitments to support the conservation efforts that affect the environment, wildlife and local African communities.
Both the Mara Plains and Mara Nyika camps are comprised of a series of giant canopied tents that incorporate elegant comforts — such as hardwood floors lined with Oriental rugs, plush leather furnishings and large steamer trunks — into the design. En suite bathrooms have deep, copper soaking tubs, stand-alone showers and beds made up with luxurious linens. At night, you’ll be lulled into sleep by animal noises under a pile of faux fur blankets that were prewarmed with a hot water bottle. As if that isn’t enough, silver goblets and crystal bottles filled with fresh water are thoughtfully left by your bedside. There is absolutely no chance of roughing it out here.
Attentive, friendly staff members at Mara Plains and Mara Nyika make you feel like it is entirely their pleasure to cater to your needs. With plenty of over-the-top indulgences, you’ll feel completely pampered and well taken care of. All meals and local beverages, including imported spirits and champagne, as well as day and night game drives and Wi-Fi, are included, as are air transfers.
The Mara Plains Camp is one of only five located within the Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Hidden in a forest lining the Ntiaktiak River, this exclusive property sleeps up to 14 guests in tents built on stilted platforms. Most tents overlook the vast plains where zebras often roam. However, if you prefer to listen to the constant cacophony of wildlife noises, ask to be booked into tent number four or seven. Situated directly on the riverbank, you’ll hear the hippopotamuses from your veranda as they grunt, growl and wheeze. Hippos like to spend their days submerged in the water before heading out to graze in the evenings.
In June, Mara Plains added the Mara Jahazi family suite, a two-bedroom tented villa perfect for two couples or a family of five. In addition, the camp has a new library and a wine cellar with an excellent selection of South African and French wines. Mara Plains also has a spa, and in-tent massages can be arranged.
The newest addition to the Great Plans Conservation family of camps, the ultra-private Mara Nyika Camp, which opened in 2019, is located in the 50,000-acre Mara Naboisho Conservancy. It’s an intimate camp with only five suites. The three luxury suites are made of three tents: a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. The two family suites are comprised of five tents anchored by an ample central living space and featuring a bedroom and bathroom flanking on either side.
Set against the majestic backdrop of the Maasai Mara plains, guests of Mara Nyika will enjoy dining on the elevated outdoor deck or at the large table in the main living tent. There is also a separate wine cellar tent which is lovely for private dining.
Guests at Great Plains Conservation camps have complimentary use of a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens. Your guide brings it with you on safari drives and teaches you how to use it. At the end of your stay, you’ll receive a thumb drive with all of your photos. This is very helpful, especially since there is a weight restriction when you fly on a small plane from Wilson Airport to the bush.
You can also pack light, since daily laundry service with ironing is included. And lest you forget anything, both camps also have small boutiques featuring chic safari clothing and accessories curated by Beverly Joubert. Although you should bring layers to accommodate the fluctuating daily temperatures, heavy, fleece-lined hooded ponchos are provided to keep you warm and dry on drives.
The Safari Experience
Getting to your camp will have probably already given you a glimpse of the wildlife that awaits: Your flight from nearby Wilson Airport will circle the city, going right over the Nairobi National Park, where you might spot one of the many mammals that live there. Much like a crosstown bus, the flight takes just over an hour but makes several stops at small airstrips along the way. Spend the rest of the flight looking out the window, hoping to catch your first glimpse of a gazelle, giraffes or buffalo.
But your safari actually begins from the moment you land at your designated airstrip. A Great Plains Conservation guide will pick you up in a 4×4 Land Cruiser. After a quick refreshment, you’ll begin the drive, and your guide will immediately start to point out gazelles, hyenas, ostriches, antelopes and wildebeest as you make your way to camp.
You should feel completely safe with your guide in the vehicle, even as you encounter the most seemingly dangerous predators. Your guide is always looking, searching and listening to spot wildlife, often spotting them long before you do.
Coffee and Carnivores
Early-morning drives can result in fantastic animal sightings, like a cheetah protectively walking the plains with her newborn cubs. Of course, this means a 6 a.m. wake-up call. A staff member will deliver a thermos of coffee and steamed milk to your tent, making it a bit easier to get out of bed. By 6:30, you’ll head out into the conservatory.
Your well-equipped Land Cruiser comes with a camera, leather-bound guidebooks, binoculars, snacks, drinks and even power outlets, so your guide is always prepared for the unpredictability that the day may bring. As you drive, let your guide be your Google. Search his knowledge base to answer all of your questions about the wildlife living in the conservatory.
The morning light is magical for photography. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the sunrise and come upon a pride of lions after the hunt as they eat their catch. Or you might think you’re looking for hippos when in fact your driver turns the corner, where you are met by Great Plains staff who have set up a beautiful alfresco breakfast in the bush complete with fresh-squeezed juice, pastries, fruit and made-to-order omelets.
Lunch and Siesta
Although your guide does most of the work, by late morning, you’ll be hungry. It is surprising what a bumpy drive through high grass, across rivers and through the trees in search of game can do for one’s appetite. Back at camp, a multicourse lunch made up of both plant-based and nonvegetarian options will be waiting for you. Then it’s time to relax or take a nap in your tent. The evening game drives usually begin around 4 p.m., after tea and a snack.
Evening is the best time to spot the animals. The colorless landscape of Kenya makes it easy for the animals to blend into their surroundings; however, your guide, with a trained eye, can spot a lion sleeping in the grass before you even get out your binoculars.
On certain nights after your game drive, staff members will have set up for a sundowner. If you are not familiar with this term, it means they will have a full bar, nibbles, a bonfire and seating in the bush so that you can watch the sun go down over the vast African skies. Then, when the last of the brilliant orange glow is gone, you’ll head back to camp for a gourmet dinner.
Mastering the Logistics of Safari Trips
New adventures are thrilling and nerve-wracking, yet nothing quite prepares you for your first trip to Africa. If you’re taking the journey of a lifetime, you’ll want it to be a stress-free as possible. Using a well-established, experienced tour company ensures everything will be adequately cared for, leaving you to enjoy your vacation entirely.
One option is The Africa Adventure Company. For more than 35 years, the company has offered top-notch, personalized safari planning from start to finish. Before your trip, a specialist will be in touch regarding visa and vaccination requirements, packing suggestions and to coordinate domestic flights to and from the camps. Additionally, all of their bookings also include a regulation-size rolling AAC duffel bag that is perfect for the small planes out to the Maasai Mara. They are also able to assist with accommodations and day tours in Nairobi.
Flights from the United States to Kenya typically arrive the evening before you are scheduled to fly out to the camps. Therefore, you’ll need overnight accommodations in Nairobi. Located in the Karen district near the Giraffe Sanctuary, the Eden Nairobi is the perfect respite after a long day of travel. Formerly the private home of Tonio and Anna Trzebinski, the Eden was transformed into a nine-room boutique hotel filled with the family’s own spectacular African artwork and sculptures.
Enjoyed this? You might also enjoy these articles from the fall edition of ClubLife:
Inspired new openings from around the globe