One of the main reasons we wanted to go to Africa was because we wanted to go on a safari. We’ve had a few other chances to connect with wildlife while traveling, but nothing quite like this. There’s something about seeing the intricate balance of an entire ecosystem that just changes your whole perspective. It helps you see that we are just one small piece in something so much larger. And let’s be honest, what Lion King watching child didn’t have secret ambitions of one day visiting Pride Rock in all its glory?
The Mara region of Kenya is an ideal place for a first safari. It’s a part of “The Great Migration,” the migration route of the wildebeest herds throughout East Africa. It’s an expansive region that houses some of the most dense wildlife population in Africa, particularly large cats. If you’re looking for a way to see the Big 5 (Lions, Cheetahs, Leopards, Water Buffalo, Elephants) the Mara is going to give you the best chance! This trip was actually part celebration of our 5-year anniversary and well, the Big 5 for our Big 5 made sense right?? Okay we think it’s funny. Okay we’ll stop now.
Because it was our anniversary we wanted to make sure we got it RIGHT the first time. As you guys know we’re big about trying to make the most of the time we have by having one-of-a-kind type of adventures. When we stumbled upon Hemingways Ol Seki Mara camp, we knew we’d found the ultimate Safari Escape!
We typically don’t use travel agents. We find joy in booking our own itinerary and doing all the research. But in Africa, with all the small regional airports and flights (some of which must be booked through the airport itself) we decided to have an agency help us. We were also traveling near Christmas Holiday, which is high season, so we didn’t want to chance any hiccups. We used Go2Africa and were thoroughly impressed with their level of service and professionalism. They helped arrange for the small regional planes between camps and coordinated all of the pick-ups.
Be Aware - You can’t pack more than 40 lbs each on the regional planes. And they really do weigh the bags before you depart. These are small planes (we’re talking 10-15 people max) and they can’t handle excessive cargo. If you packed a lot of things, airports are happy to hold your bags for a few days. We took advantage of this because of all our camera gear, and we knew we were going to be spending time at the beach after. We brought our safari essentials on the plane then stored everything else we needed for the beach at the airport! Not too difficult, just takes a little bit of planning/packing/repacking.
You come in on a small plane and there are guides there to pick you up and take you on your first drive. You literally land in the middle of a field where the antelope and giraffes all scatter to make way. The guides come prepared with cold water (it's Africa after all and the days are TOASTY) and you get your first taste of exploring the park.
After 1-2 hours of safari, depending on how tired you are, the guides drive you to the main lodge. It’s a gorgeous complex of airy white glamping tents, decorated in an airy bohemian, yet completely “safari” style. Trust us, its everything you could ever want for a chic African getaway.
Here’s a peak at what your day could look like:
You’ll wake up before the sun so you can get ready to be out and about between 6-6:30AM, right in time for sunrise. They bring you biscuits with hot tea or coffee for waking up (still trying to find a way to get this service back at home ;)...)
Animals are most active at dusk and dawn because predators are actually mostly nocturnal, except cheetahs. You’ll see a lot of action at this time as they are wrapping up their nightly hunts, and it’s not as hot as midday when most animals tend to try and find some shade.
You’ll go out for 2-3 hours and come back for a breakfast spread.
DURING THE DAY
Each day is typically structured with a game drive in the morning and late afternoon each lasting 2-3 hours each. You can also add in other activities like:
hot air balloon rides
village tours, massages
relaxing at the camp: taking a little nap and maybe reading a good book as you look out over the view of the park is not too shabby. We did this most days because the thrill of game rides really does wear you out!
You tend to have the same guides the whole time, which makes it fun as you get to know them and their background. They are an absolute wealth of knowledge.
Special Tip: Guides actually have to go through certification and there are different levels within that certification. The highest is Gold, next being Silver, and entry level at Bronze. If you are curious to learn a lot about the animals and their social orders, try for a camp with Silver or Gold level guides. It makes a big difference in the level of information they can share. At Hemingways they are required to be either Silver or Gold.
Nights at Hemingways can be quite magical. Before going back to camp on your late afternoon ride they take you to a spot to appreciate the sunset and a have nice sun downer or little hot tea as twilight starts to cool down. You get out of the car and watch the sun melt into the horizon. It’s magic!
Dinner is back at the main camp. You dress up a bit nicer as it’s served by candle light. You can even arrange for a special meal down by the fire pit if you want. After dinner they have a sitting room you can linger in or take in all the stars that come out over the wide open skies of the savanna. Relaxing under the beauty of the night sky, you can begin to wind down as you prepare for another early morning! Make sure you take the time to appreciate the beauty of the night though, African nights are so dreamy!
This is where Hemingways really shined! They have dedicated chefs on sight that prepare 3-4 course meals every time you sit down to dine. The exception to that could be breakfast where they have a spread of fresh fruits, coffee/tea, granola, and made to order eggs, bacon, and sausage. Its simple fresh food done exceedingly well.
Lunch and dinner are a new delight every time. The chefs were so kind and always took our dietary requests into consideration, allowing us to thrive and feel our best on vacation. Depending on if you want to keep things plant based, paleo, gluten-free, extra-gluten, or even double desserts, they are happy to accommodate. Basically they just let you live and eat your best life.
WHAT THEY GOT RIGHT
· Little touches of personalization - you can customize your stay in many different ways from the activities during the day to the tea they bring you in the morning. Everything is about YOU and structured to make you have the trip of a lifetime.
· They try to delight you with surprises. One morning our guides told us we were going to see “dinosaurs” (nice cover guys) as they drove us down into a bush breakfast feast for all 3 families staying at the camp. It was beyond thoughtful.
· The tented camps are roomy and airy. We were glad to have some time to spend at the camp because it was the kind of place you could relax at all day long!
· It’s a conservancy - this means they own the land and can drive wherever they want. Unlike state owned parks, where you can only drive on set paths, conservancies provide the freedom to cover every inch of the savanna.
Any questions about planning your next African Safari adventure? Ask away, we’d love to hear from you!