As far as bucket lists go, Kenya is at the top of many safari aficionados and seasoned travelers’ lists. The fabulous team at Great Plains Conservation had specially designed my itinerary. I was nervously excited to visit for the first time, but I knew I was in for an incredible time.
VIP meet & assist from Tradewinds Aviation Services did a great job processing a late-night arrival at Jomo Kenyatta airport after a direct flight from Cape Town to Nairobi on Kenya Airways. Tradewinds assisted with each step of getting through customs and passport control. Next, I was handed over to the delightful Great Plains driver Joseph, who is also a tour guide. He imparted loads of useful knowledge and alerted me to various interesting buildings and attractions in Nairobi. With an early flight by Safarilink the next morning, I was staying overnight at the vibrant The Social House in the leafy suburb of Lavington, situated to the west of Nairobi city. The rooms are comfortable with quirky color accents, and four different restaurants are on the property.
Joseph collected me for my flight with Safarilink departing from Wilson Airport, the gateway from Nairobi to destinations such as the Maasai Mara, Mombasa, Amboseli, Lamu, Kilimanjaro Diani, Lokichogio and Nanyuki. I flew to Mara Olkiombo, where I spent two nights at Mara Expedition Camp in the Mara North Conservancy. The camp is on private land with easy access to the spectacular Mara North Conservancy.
I was collected at the airstrip by guide Frank, who suggested a mini-game drive en route to the lodge. We encountered a lone Mara giraffe that found shelter under the shade of a tree, a handsome male lion that took a walk across the plains, some Topis, several Thomson’s gazelle with their newborns, and small herds of Burchell’s zebras.
Mara Expedition Camp opened in the second half of 2021, and the feeling of Africa’s safari era resonates with the atmosphere of yesteryear. Awaiting my arrival were camp managers JP and Dee, bar manager Julius, chef Pemba, and waiter Moses. The welcome was warm, as is the custom at all Great Plains properties.
Guests are encouraged to spend time regaling tales of the day sans mobile devices in the communal area. Without realizing it, a few hours can easily be filled with getting to know someone new and relishing the stories they tell over a delicious lunch or dinner. It is a wonderful way to connect with people and disconnect from the incessant technological interruptions that rule our everyday lives.
The six spacious canvas tents are beautifully designed and echo safari chic. Each tent contains a large bedroom with a desk and chair, a bathroom with double vanities, a hot and cold shower, and a flush loo.
Game drives featuring abundant wildlife take place in the 70,000-acre Mara North Conservancy. Frank stopped by a cacophony of Rüppell’s griffon vultures, Hooded vultures, Marabou storks, and white-backed vultures that fought over the remains of a zebra. Other sightings included a banded mongoose, a Martial eagle, a baby eland, a blue-headed tree agama, five different leopards, and the most glorious lion sightings.
Leaving for Mara Plains Camp in the 32,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy, ranger Duncan collected me for the 15-minute intercamp transfer for one night at Great Plains Conservation’s first-ever camp in Kenya. This camp is part of the exclusive Réserve-Collection by Relais & Chateaux, where guests stay in the finest accommodation and dine on high-end plant-based cuisine at each Great Plains Camp.
Following a gentle facelift in 2023, Mara Plains Camp now sports stunning wooden Zanzibari doors at guest entrances, as well as the addition of a large, theatrical, interactive kitchen on the left-hand side of the central main dining area.
My large, tented suite is positioned at the end of a wooden walkway, and the hippos were having a spirited time below in the Ntiakitiak River. The interiors, designed by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, co-founders of Great Plains, are reminiscent of plush colonial living, with wooden accents and the exquisite freestanding copper bath, a signature piece in many Great Plains camps. Camp managers Stella and Douglas, Chef John, and Waiter Sammy ensured that I was well taken care of during my stay.
We departed for our game drive after a delectable farm-to-table lunch. Having been a guide for three years, Duncan is in tune with what guests would like to see, and he did not disappoint. Lying in the shade of a tree, two cheetah brothers were having a catnap, and further afield, we stumbled upon a pride of lions at sunset with the most adorable cubs.
My final stay on this epic Kenyan journey was at Mara Nyika Camp, a magnificent camp in the 50,000-acre Naboisho Conservancy. Guests are ensured exclusivity in superiorly large tents under the umbrella-like canopies of acacia trees during their stay. Assistant camp manager Tikani, waiter Mike, butler Memusi, and chef Livingstone all played a part in making my stay unforgettable.
My tent is near the central area, where leather couches make you want to linger longer. It might have had something to do with the immediacy of the kitchen and the mouthwateringly fresh fare whipped up for guest enjoyment. Walking to my suite, I stopped by the on-site boutique, and I was pleased to see that they stock the enticing D&B Explorer Collection, which they have at every camp. Coveting the stunning leopard print scarf for a while now, and I can finally buy it! The on-site boutique is the place to shop for guests wanting to be stylish on safari.
The accommodation at Mara Nyika Camp is vast – the tent houses three rooms – a lounge, a bedroom, and a bathroom. Staying here was the perfect way to conclude a trip of a lifetime, but not before I ventured out onto the Naboisho Conservancy. I was fortunate to have had Lenkuma as my guide for the duration of my stay.
The area is undoubtedly lion territory, with three prides of varying ages. My favorite sighting was that of three lionesses with three small cubs, whose playful antics had fellow guests clamoring for their cameras. Another highlight was finding a pride of 13 lions, with the younger ones attempting to climb a tree. All too soon, it was time to leave, but not without promising to return one day as I have left a piece of my heart in Kenya.
How To Book with Karell Travel
Run by spouses Norman and Cathy Pieters, and son Craig, Karell Travel is renowned in the travel industry for its commitment and personal attention to orchestrating customized trips to Southern and East Africa. Karell Travel kindly sponsored my international flights between Cape Town International Airport and Nairobi International Airport on Kenya Airways. To book a trip, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call them toll-free at +1 800 434 1323.