Kenya is the most popular destination in Africa for travelers going on safari. In addition to its own many game parks, Kenya is also very close to the parks of northern Tanzania, making it possible for travelers to take in both countries. While in Kenya, I visited three areas (aside from Nairobi): the Masai Mara, Lewa Downs (a private conservation area) and the Samburu region.
The Masai Mara is one of the most popular destinations within Kenya, and for good reason – it is spectacular. It is the east Africa of the movies: broad open grasslands giving way to mountains on the distant horizon; great herds of elephants, zebra and wildebeest; prides of lions peering down the food chain; and a wonderful variety of other animals and birds. It is also in the Mara that zebra and wildebeest migrate across rivers and struggle against the current and crocodiles in their instinctive drive toward fresh pastures.
And then there are the Maasai themselves, still visible on the Mara in their distinctive red robes, still carrying the spears they have carried for generations and still tending their herds of cattle. The Maasai have hunted lions for so long – both as a test of manhood and to protect their cattle – that the lions are quick to take cover when a Maasai passes even hundreds of yards away.
The Masai Mara is the northern end of Tanzania's great Serengeti plains. The zebra and wildebeest – shadowed by the great cats that prey on them – migrate into the Mara each year sometime in July or August in search of fresher grass. When I was there (July 27 to August 2, 1998), the full migration had not yet reached the Mara – some said it was late because heavy rains earlier in the year left plenty of food still in the south. Nevertheless, we saw huge herds of zebra and wildebeest and did get to see them crossing the small Sand River.
Much less crowded in terms of travelers, but still crowded with wildlife, was the Lewa Downs conservation area. Lewa Downs is north of Nairobi in the area of Mt. Kenya (which should have been visible but for the overcast weather). It is a privately run game park that specializes in a number of distinctive species that I saw nowhere else: Grevy's zebra, reticulated giraffe, the Somali ostrich and white rhino imported from South Africa and given safe haven. The park also boasts many different antelope, elephants, baboons and birds. Lions and cheetahs exist here, but they are difficult to spot because of the high grass and dense brush. Also black rhinos live in the park, but I was never successful in finding, despite a diligent search. The park has a wide variety of landscape. Lewa Downs is well worth a visit of two to three days. I stayed in the Lerai Tented Camp, which was very nice.
While in Kenya, I took a camel trek for a couple of days through the Samburu region and then proceeded on (by vehicle) to the Samburu National Reserve and the adjoining Buffalo Spring National Reserve. On the camel trek I got to spend time among the Samburu people, who are very similar to the Maasai in many ways. It was also a pleasure to get away from the vehicles and the horrendous Kenyan roads for a few days. In the Samburu National Reserve, I stayed at the Samburu Intrepids Club, which was positively luxurious (especially after sleeping out under a bush on the camel trek). The tents were more than comfortable, with lavish ensuite facilities, and there was a very large dining and bar area that featured talks in the evening. The camp is situated on the Ewaso Ngiro River, which flowed past just outside of my tent. On the way from the camel trek to the Samburu National Reserve, we passed through the dry and dusty town of Isiola.
Further information and reviews of these game parks, and the others I visited, can be found in the "Reviews of Game Parks" page. That page includes my reviews of the Masai Mara, Lewa Downs and Samburu Region.