There is no greater bucketlist item for adventurers and nature lover’s than a safari, where you head into the great wilderness in search of viewing untamed animals in the wild. Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is a protected habitat for animals to roam and thrive. We went on Alex Walker’s Serian, where only 10 camps are allowed access to Mara North Conservancy. It feels very private, where you rarely run into other vehicles. I learned about this safari through Elise Joan, a well established yoga instructor and friend, who was partnering with Alex Walker’s Original Serian to do a yoga/safari retreat. I had heard Elise’s retreats were amazing from other friends, so the decision was made to jump on board! It’s a decision I will never regret!
This safari is a week long, a perfect amount of time to get a lot of game drives in to see all the animals, since you find something new every day.
We arrived in Nairobi early afternoon feeling pretty fresh. We did a long layover in Zurich on the way so we could spend an evening and stretch our legs. A shuttle was waiting to take us to the Four Points Sheraton Nairobi airport, a posh hotel with high security. Here we met with most of the group, changed, and headed to the gorgeous rooftop restaurant for dinner and a night cap.
We started our day with breakfast at the hotel, then packed our bags back up and took a small plane to the Mara North Conservancy. When heading out on a small plane, you have to pack light, 33lbs to be exact. The flight was pretty nauseating to someone like me who gets motion sickness. Definitely not the best hour of my life, but better then 6 hours on a bumpy dirt road. As we started getting close to the reserve I could already see herds of animals from above. We touched down and were immediately greeted by the sight of a couple giraffes nearby. We boarding two Land Rovers and headed to camp with a fully stocked cooler with wine and beer so we could stop and see animals all along the way. That’s what I’m talking about! What a great way to start a trip!
As we drove through the wilderness, I was amazed at how many animals were everywhere. Zebras, baboons, giraffes, ostriches, topi, Thompson gazelles and more. I thought we’d be searching for animals on a safari, but most animals are in herds, dazzles, and packs grazing together in harmony as we cruised along in open air vehicles taking in the magnificent views of beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. All this while sipping white wine with a vivacious group of people.
Animals you see a LOT of are Zebras, Giraffes, Thompson’s Gazelles, Grant’s Gazelles, Waterbucks, Topi’s, African Cape Buffalo, Impalas, Lions and African Elephants.
The harder to find animals are the Leopards, Aardbarks and the Black Rhinoceros (I never saw a Rhino or Aardbark, but some people in our group did). Below are some of the days best shots. I rented a Canon EF 270-200mm f2.8 lens from Samy’s Camera. The zoom os incredible, the and the photos are super crisp. Definitely worth lugging the extra weight around for some of the shots I got.
Alex Walker’s Original Serian Camp is along the Mara River, nestled into the brush. It feels very bohemian rustic, with thatched rooftops, weathered wood, and decorative accents like plush couches and nooks to lounge on. We were shown to our rooms, spacious glamping tents made of canvas. The tents are not overly posh, they are more rustic bohemian, comfortable but not overly luxurious. Our room was right on the river overlooking a family of hippos, with a detached bathroom a few feet from the tent (see slideshow below).
We had pre dinner “sundowners,” which is basically Africa’s way of saying happy hour, on the deck around a fire for camp orientation. First, there are Masai Warriors guarding all the rooms at night. You are literally among the animals, so they are there to keep you safe. Not going to lie, it was scary walking the 5 feet to go to the bathroom at night! Life at camp starts early so you have plenty of time to get out and see the animals. We started every morning between 5:45am-6:30am. Since it’s still dark out when you leave, you need to flash your light to call a warrior down to escort you. If you scare easily, the nigh time experience could be a bit much. For me, it added to the adventure! (except the bathroom part, that shit is cray!)
Dinner that night was incredible! At Serian, they grow all their own food. It’s incredibly fresh and loaded with veggie dishes which I love, healthy and delicious. The ambiance is beautiful, a softly lit dining area with hints of floral, flowing wine and good company. There is also a wild “house cat” called a Genet that stops in for some leftovers each night. Super cute!
On our first full day at camp we woke up in the dark to see the sun rise in the Serengeti at Elise Joan’s first yoga class of the retreat. Elise is a master yogi, walking us through breathe and meditation every morning during the week. Her words of encouragement and reflection are heart felt and always teach us how to embrace or let go of the things that are going on around us, or happening to us. It was such a privilege to start every day with her words of wisdom.
Right after yoga, we immediately headed out for our first morning game drive.
Highlights of game drive were:
A lions drinking from a watering hole
Lots of giraffes and lots of zebras (zebras are everyone, all the time)
A huge family of hippos
A family of cheetahs being bullied by a gang of warthogs (this was hilarious to watch!)
We had breakfast out on the reserve. Our guides, the Masai (local tribe), set up a table with chairs near the hippos and served a delicious meal with granola, hard-boiled eggs, sausage, yogurt, coffee or tea. At first it feels strange being out in the open with all the animals. Then we quickly start to understand that the Masai know the animals patterns and their habitats, and therefore they know where it’s safe get out of the vehicles.
After our game drive, we relaxed for a while then Adam and I had booked a complimentary night at “The Nest.” Anyone staying at the camp can stay for free, you just need to reserve. “The Nest” is basically a tree house, complete with a toilet, where you can spend a night among the animals and have a romantic dinner. Or you could spend the evening chatting and eating with the locals who walked us over and brought the dinner and wine. We were really interested in talking to them and it was a really great way to understand Masai culture. Also all the Masai are amazing humans. Everyone we met were genuinely kind and welcoming.
After a night at The Nest we walked back over in the morning to have breakfast at camp, then were driven to meet up with the rest of the group who had already left for a morning game drive. The great thing about Alex Walker’s Serian is that you have access to cars and drivers any time you wish to go on a game drive. Everyone in our group was happy to go out every morning and evening to make the most of our stay. We piled into two cars every ride which made for fun group rides, especially since most of them we made into “Party Safari’s.”
Party Safari Tip: When drinking on a bumpy off-roading safari, start with a beer, then use your beer bottle for wine… less spillage. ;) Or if you’re into drinking beer you’re golden.
Highlights of game drive day 3 were:
A huge herd of Cape Buffalo (They are 1 of the Big 5)
A couple of wandering lionesses stalking a zebra (they never went for it, we waited… probably for the best)
A group of 4 lions wandering outside of their territory
Weird eagle thing
Towards the end of our evening game drive, the Masai drove us to some open plains for sundowners (as before-mentioned, happy hour). We had already had our share of wine, so we turned on some music and had a little impromptu dance party while the sun set in the Serengeti. Our amazing Masai guides, Jonathan, Mark, and Kim requested the tune “Waka, waka” by Shakira and we all danced together. It moments like these that capture the essence of travel, experiences that you hold in your heart forever. Sunset, laughter, dancing, and joyful human connection.
Another day, another fresh start with a 6:15am yoga sesh, then off for a bush walk! The Masai led us on a leisurely walk, pointing out all the different plants and their purposes for the Masai tribe. It was enlightening, because even when I go on local hikes, I don’t know the names of a lot of the plants, or what they might be useful for. It was a reflection back on our culture, especially myself coming from the big urban city of Los Angeles. As city goers, we take an occasional hike or visit a National Park, but am I one with it? It seems to me that the Masai are one with nature, and understand the circle of life and how everything hangs in balance and serves a purpose. Let’s face it, The Lion King got it right. Also, how far removed have we become with the emergence of industry and technology? This is something I’ll be pondering for a while.
Highlights day 4 were:
Throwing spears with the Masai
Giraffes galore! Lots of babies eating. And lots of giraffes in general.
Finally spotted some hyenas
After yoga and our long bush walk, we were ravished and ate a late breakfast, then went on a short lunch game drive. In the evening we did another game drive with dinner out in the bush.
We had drinks in the library post game drive.
We left camp for another 6:15am game drive. The sun had just started to rise when Adam thought he spotted a cheetah. Suddenly our guide shouted “It’s a leopard, it’s a leopard!” Leopard’s are an elusive animal in the Mara, and sighting are few and far between. There she was, drinking from a pool of water. Then she gracefully wandered right towards our car and just past it. Such a beautiful creature!
We left extra early for a game drive at 5:45am, when it was pitch black outside. It was our final full day, and we were greeted by a cloudy sun rise, with giraffes and zebras walking through the trees and mist.
Highlights of the day’s game drives:
Baby hyenas trying to bite at our tires
A herd of African Elephants with little babies
Another encounter with the family of 4 cheetahs
Saw a few Dik Diks (smallest antelope)
A family of hyenas
Close encounter with an elephant (he was about 3 feet from our car staring right at us, I don’t think he was happy with us being in his shade).
The evening game drive was when we saw the lions mating. It was such a special thing to see on our final night at sunset. Apparently, lions mate for 4 days, for about 10 seconds every 20min. We couldn’t get a hold of the other car to tell them to come over. While we were watching new life, they were watching new death. A hyena eating a freshly killed Thompson Gazelle.
The sunset was the most spectacular of all our nights out on the Mara. It’s as if they knew it was our last night, and we were being sent off with all the colorful beauty of nature. The sky changed from bright orange and yellow to pinks and purples. Then once the sun went down, a storm rolled in and there were light and dark blues with lightening rods lighting up the entire sky. We could see the streaked of rain falling in the distance.
We finished the night off with a family dinner back at camp, reflecting on what an amazing last day it had been. Lots of babies, animals mating, animals dying, a spectacular sunrise, and an even more amazing sunset. A reminder of the circle of life, and a reminder that every day if a gift.
Our final morning we drove out and did yoga and had breakfast on the Mara.
We did one last game drive to the airstrip, waving goodbye to all the amazing animals along the way.
When we arrived at the tiny airstrip, we found out our plane was arriving an hour late. We out on some music and had a few drinks while we were waiting, and even went back out on a ride for a bit. About 20-30min later a heavy wind and rain began on the Mara, a little scary considering we were heading back on a small plane. We were incredibly nervous, because it was looking like we might be spending another night. Our plane arrived, and we crossed our fingers as the rain let up enough for us to head skyward. An hour later we arrived in Nairobi safe and sound.
Who do you want to go on a safari with?