On Safari: Kenya


A balloon ride
A balloon ride at Fairmont Mara Safari Club is the ultimate way to get a bird’s-eye look at the spectacular landscape.

Luxury Travel Advisor this summer journeyed to Kenya with Micato Safaris to sample the company’s Bespoke program, which offers a made-to-order safari experience. Our 10-day adventure took us to Nairobi, Mount Kenya National Park and the Samburu and Masai Mara national reserves. Along the way, we set up camp, literally and figuratively, with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts to check out some of their recently renovated East Africa properties.

After deplaning from our South African Airways flight in Nairobi, Micato’s staff escorted us to a waiting safari truck for our transfer into the city. A similar VIP welcome was issued at Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel. At the historic Norfolk, whose red-brick façade was recently replaced by fresh-looking stonework, guests stay in 165 rooms and suites arranged by wing. Our second-floor Acacia Suite overlooked the central courtyard and gardens, across from the busy lobby and Tatu Patio.

Guests begin their first full day in Nairobi with breakfast on the hotel’s famous Lord Delamere Terrace. We loved looking on as groups of uniformed kids giggled and filed onto the grounds of an adjacent school. Following an official welcome and briefing, clients are introduced to their safari director, who captains their entire stay.

Our encyclopedic guide, Philip Rono, started things off on a nostalgic note with a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum, the house Blixen kept for 17 years as the centerpiece of her ill-fated coffee plantation. It was also the setting of Blixen’s autobiographical novel, Out of Africa.

If your clients adore animals, suggest stopping at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Orphanage, a charitable facility and haven for orphaned elephants and black rhinos established in memory of the renowned naturalist. Sheldrick’s widow, an international authority on wildlife preservation, Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, continues to reside at and oversee the facility.


Fairmont Mara Safari Club,
At Fairmont Mara Safari Club, game drives and bush walks have a dash of luxury.

We were treated to a rare audience with Daphne, who gave us an outline of the history of the project and some insight into the rehabilitation process. A fitting follow-up is a visit to Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre, home to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife.

Before moving to their next destination, Micato clients in Nairobi are invited to an intimate dinner at Lavington, the hilltop home of Micato founders Felix and Jane Pinto. At the end of our long day, we sipped cocktails and were serenaded in the Pintos’ family room before sitting down to dinner.

Tip: For an unforgettable restaurant experience, Carnivore, on Langata Road in Nairobi, is what Americans will liken to a Brazilian-style steakhouse. It cooks up an array of pit-fired game meats (think crocodile and antelope).

Our next day began with an early flight to Samburu National Reserve, where we stayed overnight at Larsens Camp on the Uaso Nyiro River. Larsens comprises 20 freestanding tented accommodations, each with its own private porch. (We watched as a pair of elephants waded through the width of the shallow river, filling up on foliage and fresh water.) Tents are equipped with electricity, which is shut off at scheduled times. Tip: If they’re on-site, get to know managers Mike and Sue, who recounted their fascinating upbringings and interesting history in Africa.

At Larsens, guests alternate between game drives, bird walks, swimming, relaxing and lazy meals by the river, but the highlight of our stay in Samburu was a visit to a local village. Guests who opt to visit various villages are warmly welcomed with traditional song and dance and are invited into the villages for an exceptionally rare glimpse into the Samburu way of life. Tip: Village women will likely want to sell their wares to visitors and can be quite aggressive in their efforts. Guests who wish to contribute but opt not to shop may instead make a small donation to the village’s school.

A two-plus-hour overland journey southwest took us next to Mount Kenya National Park, where we checked in at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. The club, famously founded by William Holden, and popular with Golden Age A-listers such as Bing Crosby and Winston Churchill, offers 120 cottage-style accommodations set on more than 100 acres of meticulously landscaped gardens. Although game drives and bush walks aren’t on the menu, guests will find no shortage of ways to sate their inner adventurer. During our short stay, we went mountain biking and horseback riding, navigated a labyrinth and visited an animal orphanage.

A short drive to Nanyuki and another quick flight took us to the Masai Mara National Reserve, where the Fairmont Mara Safari Club stands on the banks of the meandering Mara River. The club’s 50 tented rooms feature four-poster beds and an impeccable blend of textures, colors and materials.

As for activities, game drives on the Masai Mara brought us face to face with lions, hyenas, elephants, buffalo, zebra, a variety of antelope and innumerable other creatures. We found a bush walk the perfect way to examine plants and insects up close and, in our down time, we caught up on some needed R&R by the pool. Note: On clear, windless days, guests can lift off on a hot-air-balloon safari.

Philanthropic finale: Back in Nairobi, to prepare for our flights home, we ventured into the heart of Mukuru slum, an area just outside the city comprising 20 villages with a population of 600,000 stricken by extreme poverty, overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. It’s also the home of the Harambee Centre, a community center erected by AmericaShare, Micato’s nonprofit arm, as a place where residents can gather for lectures, meetings and educational sessions. (Because the organization was developed as a means for children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic to get a quality education, a strong emphasis is placed on sexual and AIDS education as well as traditional academics.) The center is also among the few places in Mukuru where residents can obtain a supply of fresh water. Here, Micato guests can meet and greet students whose sponsorship by fellow Micato travelers allowed them to attain education up to and beyond high school.


Children at Samburu Village
Larsens camp guests can visit and engage with children at Samburu Village.


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