The perfect safari vacation started with the stuff of legends. Upon arrival in the capital city of Nairobi, we stayed at the Sarova Stanley Hotel where Hemingway passed many an afternoon “watching the world go by” from its legendary Thorn Tree Café. The institution is steeped in history, many of the rooms paying namesake homage to icons like Karen Blixen and Churchill, who frequented the place.
The next day, we took a two-hour flight to the vast savannas of Masai Mara in the Rift Valley where Alex Walker’s six-star Serian Camp is located. June and July being the peak season, we could see antelopes, giraffes and herds of elephants dotting the seemingly limitless land as we bumped and floated across. Alex Walker’s Serian is no ordinary “camping” experience. While the approach, over an Indiana Jones-style suspended bridge over the roaring river may imply you’ll be roughing it, the experience is top-notch luxury. The Ngare Camp, which is the most intimate and eco-chic camp of Serian, consists of just four large permanent tents constructed over hardwood decks perched at the edge of the unstoppable Mara River. In it, astonishingly large, grunting hippos marinate from dawn to dusk.
For the next three days, we awoke in our private Eden not to the pesky sound of an alarm clock, but natural sunlight and the sounds of nature. A tray with robust Kenya coffee and fresh passion fruit juice awaited on the front deck just as it had been ordered the night before. After that, a full breakfast in the main tent, which is just a few minutes walk through the bush, and where all meals are taken. Then, caked in sun block, and armed with safari hats, cameras and video recorders, we headed with gusto for the much anticipated safari.
Unlike ordinary “wholesale” safaris where your schedule is set and you are shipped off in packed Land Rovers with others, Serian provides a private safari. An exclusive vehicle and tour guides are at your beck and call, serving up a safari tailored to your desired sightings and schedule. Nothing can prepare you for the gradually intensifying experience that starts with a harem of docile deer to a gang of hypnotically striped zebras with that “what’re you look at?” deadpan stare, and finally the encounter with a pack of lions or one of the Top 5. We packed a picnic lunch so that, after a tasty homemade meal of chicken, rotis, salad and fresh tropical fruit under the open, impossibly blue skies, we could continue the game ride well into the afternoon and evening.
Our next and final destination was the coastal city of Mombasa, about two hours flight from an airstrip in the Mara. Much of the charm of Mombasa is culled from the warmth and hospitality of the local Swahili culture. There is a fair amount of romance in the chipped-paint isle’s remarkable archeological treasures, some of which date back at least 2,500 years, according to Roman and Egyptian chronicles. Mombasa is also home to superb beaches and one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. The Whitesands Hotel, where we stayed in one of the more than 300 guest rooms, is magnificently styled in white, Arab architecture and perched on the longest seafront on the North Coast. Set amid more than twenty-two acres of tropical gardens, swaying palms trees and fish ponds, the resort has been consistently awarded by the World Travel Awards. The hotel offered aquatic adventures like jet skis, para-sailing and, for those not entirely proficient with snorkels and flipper, glass-boating.
Sarova Stanley Hotel +254 20 2757000
Alex Walker’s Serian
Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort +254 20 276 7000 http://www.sarovahotels.com/whitesands/
— Ghalib Dhalla.