Our safari in Kenya was one of our excursions that we had planned and booked before we had even left on our trip. Lynn did a lot of research and finally ended up booking our safari through Africa Safari Classics. Not only was it something that we were really looking forward to, but it also marked the first time on our trip that we had visitors from back home. Lynn’s parents were meeting us in Nairobi and joining us for one of our most exciting adventures on our trip.
During the 7 days of our safari in Kenya we had many early mornings and a lot of driving on rough roads, but through it all we experienced some of the most spectacular sights of nature. Just a few days in and we felt like the number of animals we saw had already well exceeded our expectations for the trip. Everyone except for Lynn that is, who was not surprised that we saw as many animals as we did. Apparently she is more optimistic than the rest of us.
We visited 4 different parks, went on 9 game drives, and saw hundreds of animals on our safari. Most people that go on safari are hoping to see each of the big 5 animals:
Halfway through our 6th day we wondered if we would be able to complete our list of the big 5, but luckily everything came together perfectly and we checked off the final animal on our big 5 list. That afternoon I took one of my favorite photos from the safari, but I’ll get to that later… Let’s start at the beginning of our Kenyan safari adventure!
Kenyan Safari – Day 1
We were picked up pretty early that first morning from our Airbnb apartment in Nairobi that we stayed at for two nights before our safari. Maurice, the owner of Africa Safari Classics, met us at the apartment to see us off and introduce us to our driver for the week, Kasimba.
After the brief introduction, we got the jeep packed up and we were on our way to Samburu National Reserve, the first stop on our safari. We had a long 6.5 hour drive to Samburu, so we kept busy by asking Kasimba questions about everything we saw along the way. We were fascinated by the amount of fruit stands on the side of the road, the donkey carts, and the large number of cattle (cows, goats, sheep) grazing on the side of the road.
Along the way we made a couple rest stops, one of them being at the equator. Lynn and I like to think we’re old pros when it comes to facts about the equator, so we had Lynn’s parents try out a few things that we had learned at the equator in Ecuador. There was also a local guy there that showed us how the water drained at the equator, for which we thanked him and gave a small tip.
In the afternoon we finally arrived at Samburu National Reserve and headed to our accommodations, Elephant Bedroom Camp, where we would be staying the next 2 nights. We arrived around 2pm, which gave us enough time to check out our tents, eat lunch, and relax a little before our first game drive at 4pm.
Samburu Afternoon Game Drive Highlights
We were tired from a long drive to Samburu, but still excited for our first game drive of the safari. We started out at 4pm and within 5 minutes we were up close and personal with our first animal sighting. A small family of elephants were eating and walking along the off-road trail we were driving on. I didn’t know how close we would get to the animals on safari, but this first encounter answered my question. As we tried to stay out of their way, they didn’t seem to care and walked right along side the jeep.
Just a few minutes later we saw our first couple giraffes. There are three different types of giraffes that can be seen in Kenya, and you can tell them apart by the shape and size of their spots. The giraffes we saw in Samburu were the reticulated giraffes. We snapped a bunch of pictures of them walking around and eating leaves from the trees. We also noticed the small red-billed oxpeckers that have a symbiotic relationship with the giraffes. These small birds help the giraffes by eating ticks off of them.
As we were leaving the giraffes, there was a lot of chatter on the jeep radio. The drivers use the radio as a way to communicate where different animals are throughout the park. The drivers mainly speak Swahili, so it was hard for us to ever tell what was going on. Kasimba chatted on the radio and then took off, informing us that there was a small group of lions spotted near the river.
It was pretty amazing to see lions on our very first game drive. The small group of lions included a young male and two females. We watched them hang out under some trees relaxing, and then we moved to another location as they started to walk along the river. With the sun getting close to setting, we had great light for photos. We were able to get a lot of great shots which was the perfect end to our first day on safari.
Kenyan Safari – Day 2
Samburu Morning Game Drive Highlights
We started out early on our second day in order to get out before the sunrise. We spent some time driving around looking for animals near the hills. We ended up being up at a high point which was perfect for watching the sun rise.
Soon after the sun was up we started seeing a lot more animals. There were a lot of impalas out eating, and as we were driving around we had to stop at one point to let a large family of elephants pass by.
The highlight of our morning drive was definitely the single lioness that we saw wandering around. Kasimba told us that she was probably out looking for food to feed her cubs, so if we followed her she may lead us back to her cubs. Along the way though she stopped when she noticed a couple warthogs ahead of her. We thought that we may see her try to get a kill, but she just watched them from a distance until they walked further away in the opposite direction.
Later that morning we also saw our first zebra, which we noticed looked a little different than the zebras we see at home. The zebras we saw in Samburu are known as Grevy’s zebras and you’ll notice that the stripes are thinner than the stripes on the Plains zebras that you’ll see later in this post.
Samburu Afternoon Game Drive Highlights
One of the cool things about our game drives is that we don’t always see something new and exciting, but we always see a lot of animals. During our afternoon drive we came across another large group of elephants. This was the first time that there were so many of them and so close to the jeep that we were able to get some pictures of us in the jeep with the elephants behind us.
One of the highlights from our afternoon drive was when we got stuck in some deep sand while trying to cross a dry riverbed. Kasimba had to call another driver on the radio to drive over and help pull us out of the sand. Lynn’s dad and I got out to help, but there wasn’t too much that we could do except remove some weight (ourselves) from the jeep as they pulled it out. It wasn’t overly exciting, but it gave us a story to tell later.
That evening after our drive as we headed back to camp, we were brought to a spot along the river where we were served special drinks so that we could relax and enjoy the sunset. Our camp had a table set up with a small drink station and some snacks that we could eat before our dinner. It was not something that we were expecting, so we truly enjoyed our happy hour along the river in Samburu National Reserve.
Kenyan Safari – Day 3
The next morning we were up early as usual and headed in the jeep to Sweetwaters Tented Camp within the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It was another long drive, so we didn’t arrive at our camp until around lunch. Again, we had just enough time to check out our rooms and eat lunch before we were headed out on our afternoon game drive in Ol Pejeta. I managed to find a few extra minutes to take some pictures of some animals at the watering hole near our camp. I was most excited about a large adult buffalo that was bathing in the mud. It was the first buffalo we had seen on our safari and helped us check off another one of the big 5.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy Sanctuaries
Within Ol Pejeta there are a couple of sanctuaries you can visit as well as doing a traditional game drive through the conservancy. We visited both of these during our drive through Ol Pejeta.
Chimpanzees are not native to Kenya, but this sanctuary was created to take in chimpanzees that were orphaned or mistreated in other ways. Even though it was nice to see that the chimpanzees had a home and were being cared for, it was sad to see them confined within a fenced area.
The rhinoceros sanctuary takes care of and protects the last 3 remaining northern white rhinos in existence. There are 2 females and 1 male that are under heavy guard by the sanctuary. They are currently trying to figure out a way to use IVF to hopefully grow the population.
The sanctuary also helps other rhinos like the black rhino that we were able to see up close during our visit. Unfortunately, the rhino that we saw was completely blind after losing 1 eye in a fight and the other due to an infection. We were able to break some sugar cane into pieces and feed the rhino while we were there.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy Afternoon Game Drive Highlights
Even though we only did one game drive in Ol Pejeta, we saw a ton of animals that afternoon. I actually didn’t even realize how many different animals we had seen until I started going through the pictures.
Black rhinos – We saw a few different adult rhinos, but also came across a mother with her young rhino. Our rhino sighting also checked off another one of the big 5. Four down and one to go (leopard)!
Lion – We had already been lucky enough to see a few lions in Samburu, but this was a large adult male that was just sitting in some high grass. We drove off the path quickly, snapped a few shots and were back on our way.
Plains zebra – We had seen the Grevy’s zebra before, but this was our first sighting of the plains zebra. If you compare it to the picture of the Grevy’s zebra from earlier, you can see the difference in the width of the stripes.
Young spotted hyenas – As we were driving out in the middle of open land we just happened to pass by 3 young spotted hyenas that were resting on the side of the path. They just sat there and stared at us which helped as I got some great shots of them.
Kenyan Safari – Day 4
On the fourth day we were up around the same time as previous days so that we could drive to our next stop in Lake Nakuru. It wasn’t as long a drive compared to the other days and we arrived at Lake Nakuru Lodge a little before lunch.
On our way to Lake Nakuru we stopped along the side of the road to enjoy the view of the Great Rift Valley. We enjoyed the stop, but decided to head out when we started to get hassled by a couple shop owners.
Just like the other camps we had time to relax and enjoy our lunch before we left for our afternoon game drive.
Lake Nakuru Afternoon Game Drive Highlights
We considered our game drive in Lake Nakuru to be one of our less interesting, but again when I look back at our photos we still saw quite a few animals. Many of the animals we had seen before, but there were some new ones and quite a few different birds.
Baby zebra – On our drive into Lake Nakuru we saw a bunch of Plains zebras and one group had a couple young zebras. The young zebras dark stripes look almost brown and you can see that their fur is a lot longer than the adults.
Birds – One of the first things we did on our game drive was stop close to the lake where we saw a lot of different birds:
- White storks
- African spoonbills
- Pied kingfisher
- African Hoopoe
Cattle egret – At one point we stopped to take some photos of a large herd of buffalo. Many of the buffalo had large white cattle egret standing on their backs. The cattle egret feed off of the bugs that are attracted to the buffalo.
Baboons – We had seen many baboons during previous game drives, but this time we were a little closer and were able to get some better photos. We also saw a very young baboon riding on its mother’s back.
Rothchild’s giraffe – The Rothchild’s Giraffe is the second type of giraffe that we saw on safari. If you compare it to the picture of the reticulated giraffe that I posted above, you can see the difference in the shape and coloring of the spots. We saw a few of these at Lake Nakuru, and even a baby giraffe in the distance, but it was too far away and not the best lighting to get a good picture.
Kenyan Safari – Day 5
We were excited to move on and head to our final game reserve at Maasai Mara National Reserve. We had another long drive ahead of us, but from what we had heard, Maasai Mara is one of the best reserves in all of Kenya. From July through October, you can witness the great migration, when over two million wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
After a few hours of very bumpy roads we arrived at Basecamp Explorer, our camp for the final two nights of our safari. We arrived in time for lunch and were treated to a special private lunch by the river.
Maasai Mara Afternoon Game Drive Highlights
There are two ways to get into the reserve:
- The long way of driving back around through a town and then entering the national reserve
- The short way of walking across a bridge from the camp and entering the national reserve
Either way, the jeep and our driver always have to go the long way because you can’t cross the bridge with a vehicle. During our first game drive we took the long way with Kasimba and our new Maasai Mara guide, Richard. Even though the route through town is longer, it was interesting to see a local village on our way to the reserve.
Our afternoon drive started out slow, but picked up fast and became one of the more memorable game drives on our safari.
Mother impala with baby – As we entered the reserve looking for animals we just happened to see a single female impala standing out in the field. As we got closer we realized that she had a small baby standing behind her. We had seen a lot of impalas, but this was one of the youngest babies we had seen so far.
Maasai giraffe – We were able to check off the final type of giraffe, as we saw a single Maasai giraffe walking through the tall grass. Again, if you compare the spots on the Maasai giraffe with the others I posted you will see how different this one is from the other two.
Hippos – I was starting to wonder when we would see a hippopotamus on our safari and my question was answered when we got to Maasai Mara. We stopped along the river and saw a small group of hippos bobbing their heads in and out of the water. We didn’t get to see much more than the tops of their heads, but it was interesting to listen to all of the noises they make as they go under water and then surface again after a few minutes.
Cheetahs – Then there was the main highlight of our day… a mother cheetah with three young cheetah cubs. The cubs weren’t babies, but they were still pretty young and active, running around playing with each other. We hung around watching them for a while, but they didn’t seem to be bothered by us being there. The mother seemed interested in finding something to eat, but the cubs were too busy playing and chasing each other around.
Kenyan Safari – Day 6
After our cheetah sighting the night before, we were looking forward to two more game drives on our second day in Maasai Mara. At this point we had checked off 4 of the big 5 animals on our safari, but were still waiting and hoping to see the very elusive leopard. I had set the odds of seeing a leopard pretty low at this point, but Lynn was still optimistic.
Maasai Mara Morning Game Drive Highlights
Our morning drive brought us the long way around into the reserve again, but it was a little more difficult this time because the rain the night before had made the road and trails very muddy and slippery.
We made it into the reserve and the trails seemed to be a little less muddy than the roads to get there, but we could tell Kasimba was being cautious so that we did not get stuck some place in the middle of the reserve.
Cheetahs (again!) – It just so happened that one of the first things we saw that morning was the same family of cheetahs we had seen the night before. This time they were all very wet and doing their best to dry off by staying on top of the large rocks in the park.
Lions – At this point we had seen lions in each of the other parks, so it was only natural that we would see some in Maasai Mara as well. As we were driving around the reserve, there was suddenly a lot of chatter on the radio. We had no clue what was going on, but Kasimba turned around and got us headed in the other direction. As we were on our way we nearly got stuck in a very wet area, but luckily Kasimba kept the jeep moving and we made it out. I’m pretty sure if he had stopped at any point we would have been stuck waiting for someone to arrive and pull us out.
Kasimba had told us that there was a lion sighting and that’s where we were headed, but we had no clue how exciting this particular lion sighting would end up being. As we approached, we noticed that it was not just a lion or a couple lions, it was an entire pride. This particular pride, the marsh pride, is one of the largest and most well known in Maasai Mara. They were all gathered around feasting on a kill from earlier that morning or the night before.
When we arrived the alpha male and an adult female were cleaning up the last of the kill. We learned that the young eat first, then the males, followed by the females. This of course makes little sense, especially when you learn that the females are the ones that do all the hunting.
Most of the lions were laying around resting after their big meal. We got some shots of the younger cubs as well as the younger brother of the alpha male, who was looking very full and passed out about 50 feet away from the rest of the pride.
Even though we didn’t witness the actual kill, it was pretty amazing to see this part of the whole cycle. Hanging out close by was a black-backed jackal, and as we left the area we saw a spotted hyena arriving to see what might be left after the kill.
Maasai Mara Afternoon Game Drive Highlights
After a little rest and another great lunch at Basecamp Explorer, we were told that we would be walking across the bridge and meeting Kasimba in the reserve for our afternoon game drive. We all enjoyed this because it cut out the longer ride through town, which meant we were able to just hop in the jeep and start our game drive.
Since the sun had been out most of the day, this meant that everything wasn’t as wet and muddy as it had been earlier that morning. It made getting around the reserve a lot easier.
Waddled plover – Our first sighting of the afternoon was an interesting looking bird called the waddled plover. The plover is a light grey bird with long yellow legs and a yellow beak to match.
Maasai giraffes – We had seen a couple Maasai giraffes the day before, but this time we saw what our guide told us is referred to as a “johnny” of giraffes, or a group of giraffes walking. When they are eating it is called “browsing”. This was the largest group we had seen on safari, and we even got close enough to snap some photos with the giraffes behind us.
Up in a tree… After spending some time with the giraffes, we knew something was going on after Kasimba received a call on his cell phone and headed off quickly in another direction.
As we arrived at a small area covered with large bushes and a few tall trees, we still had no clue what was going on. We could see a couple jeeps that were stopped and looking at one particular tree. Kasimba told us that he had completed our checklist of the big 5, as there was a leopard sleeping in the large tree about 50 feet in front of our jeep. It took us a few seconds to see her, but there she was laying across a few branches. Just a few feet below her was what looked like a half eaten gazelle draped over another branch.
We sat there for quite a while just watching and waiting for her to move, or do anything that was more exciting than just sleeping. Since she hadn’t moved at all we decided to get a different angle to try and get a better shot of her in the tree. From that position we were able to see a little more of her head.
Some of the other jeeps started to leave, but we told Kasimba that we were OK with waiting around a little longer. When one of the jeeps changed positions, we asked Kasimba to move up to the area where that jeep had just left. This was probably the best decision we made. Just a few minutes later we saw her start to move and then she stood up and turned around. Just as that was happening, someone noticed movement further down the tree. We looked down and noticed it was a young leopard perched across one of the lower branches.
As I was trying to take photos of the young leopard I noticed that the mother was starting to climb down the side of the tree. I quickly adjusted my camera and just as the mother reached where her young cub was, she stopped and looked right at me. Amazingly this was one of the clearest shots I got of her and definitely my favorite photo of the entire safari.
After I got that photo, the mother quickly climbed down the tree and her young cub followed slowly. Just a couple minutes later we couldn’t see them, but we could hear crunching in the brush below the tree. Our Maasai guide, Richard, told us that the mother was breaking bones to make it easier for the cub to eat.
So, Lynn’s optimism paid off and we were able to see all 5 of the big 5. It was pretty much the perfect end to our safari and we still had another morning drive before it was over.
Kenyan Safari – Day 7
Our final day was somewhat bitter sweet, as we felt there was no pressure to see anything big that we hadn’t seen (which felt good), but it was also the end of this adventure and we would be saying goodbye to Lynn’s parents later in the afternoon. Our final morning in Maasai Mara would consist of an early game drive, breakfast, and then we were back on the road.
Maasai Mara Morning Game Drive Highlights
We told Kasimba that he had fulfilled all of the items on our checklist, but there was one last thing that we would like to see if possible… a hippopotamus out of the water. Well, that and a zebra eating ice cream, but we thought that may be a tough one. Kasimba said he would do everything he could, but we had been told previously that hippos spend the majority of their time in the water, so seeing one out of water is not common.
We started out our game drive enjoying the sunrise and watching some of the hot air balloons start their tours in the morning. It was one of the more colorful sunrises we’ve had on our safari.
Shortly after watching the sunrise we came across a large male elephant that seemed very photogenic as he positioned himself perfectly for me to take a picture.
In our search for a hippopotamus out of water we ended up doing a little off-roading. At one point we took a turn around a bush and got stuck in a huge divot. Lynn and I both thought there was no way we would get out and we would probably have to call for someone to help us, but Kasimba turned the wheels back and forth and after a couple minutes managed to get us out. We didn’t come out unscathed though, as mud had flown up and in through the top of the jeep. The seats got the majority of the mud, but some of us had mud on our clothes and even in our hair. Not a big deal though, as it gave us a story to tell and made our jeep look like we had done some serious off-roading.
A few minutes later as we approached the river, we saw our hippo out of the water. We scared it though and it took off making a beeline for the water. We got closer to the edge of the river and managed to watch that hippo and another make their way back into the water to join a large group hanging out in the water.
So, Kasimba had delivered on another request and from that point on whatever we saw was considered a bonus. Our bonus turned out to be something that not a lot of people get to see either… As we left the hippos, we continued down the edge of the river and noticed another hippo walking along the edge of the water. This one was being followed by a very tiny baby hippo. Richard estimated that the baby was probably no more than a couple days old. We watched as the mother got into the river and helped the baby get in and stay afloat.
That was it. We were done. We had seen it all. Well, almost… there was one last lion to see, that was perched on the dirt cliff that overlooked the river. Kasimba said, “Mr. Lion just wanted to say goodbye.” I couldn’t help but think, “Do they plan this stuff out?” Needless to say it was a great end to our safari.
Drive to Kijabe
After breakfast we gathered our luggage together and we were back on the road. Lynn and I would be dropped off in Kijabe to meet up with the parents of her cousin’s college roommate (long story), and Lynn’s parents were headed to Nairobi to catch their flight home.
On our drive out of Maasai Mara we still had a couple more animals to see. First was this pretty awesome (and large) bird called the Kori bustard. We had seen one earlier on the safari, but we never got close enough to get a good picture.
Even though most of the wildebeest had migrated, Kasimba told us that there are a few herds that stay in Maasai Mara. On our way out of the reserve we were able to see a few in the distance. I was able to get a quick shot of one of them, so I can at least say that I saw a wildebeest!
We arrived in Kijabe in the early afternoon and met up with our hosts for the one night we would be spending there. We said goodbye to Kasimba and thanked him for his masterful driving as well as his guidance throughout the safari. Then we said our goodbyes to Lynn’s parents and wished them safe travels back home to the States. We were so thankful that they were able to join us for the safari, as it was so nice to finally see our first guests of our trip. We also appreciate them being our official mules… bringing us some much needed items and hauling back a bunch of stuff that we needed to offload. Thanks again!
I probably don’t need to make this article any longer than it already is, but I have to say that our safari was definitely one of the best weeks of our entire trip. I had no clue that we would see as many animals as we did, and I think the thing that surprised me most was how close we actually got to some of the animals. To say that my expectations were exceeded would be an accurate statement.
Everything for our safari was pretty well planned out and most of that credit goes to Africa Safari Classics, the company that Lynn booked the safari through. From our driver, to the accommodations, the food, and the quality of the game drives… they were all pretty close to perfect. I’m not sure if we would ever need to go on safari again, but I can say that I would recommend Africa Safari Classics to anyone interested in going on safari.