Last Updated on February 28, 2023
By Jim Ferri
For many travelers, a safari is a dream come true. In fact, for many of us, it is the opportunity of a lifetime, especially if it’s one of the Kenya and Tanzania safaris.
For my trip, I joined Friendly Planet’s Best of Kenya-Tanzania Safari. It was a wonderful experience, a bit different from other trips. It let me see the fabled wildlife of Africa, plus experience the unique culture of two indigenous African tribes.
But, one might wonder, is it worth trekking halfway around the world for a Kenya and Tanzania safari experience?
In a word, yes. It’s always exciting to see something you’ll see nowhere else, like animals. But the real thrill of a safari is just how you see the animals.
In most national parks in the U.S. and Canadian, you primarily stay on the road and see animals near you. But conversely, on a safari, the animals stay put, and you drive into their natural habitat to find them. It’s all up close and exhilarating.
Also, unlike the experience in North American parks, you’re never allowed to leave your vehicle. Break the rule, and you could become part of the local diet.
On Kenya – Tanzania Safaris in Search of the “Big Five”
You quickly discover that some species aren’t always easy to find since habitats change daily, especially for the “Big Five.” Those fabled five – African elephant, lion, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard – are all the legendary quests of big-game hunters.
Except during the time spent driving between parks – which can be pretty long – you’re off-road all the time, mostly on twice-daily, three-to-four-hour “game drives.” Nevertheless, the drives during the Kenya and Tanzania safaris are exciting, entirely different experiences.
Our drives, as most are, were in pop-top safari vehicles, which provided excellent views for everyone. Since most animals don’t fear vehicles, the driver-guides can get incredibly close to them. That’s not to suggest you should ditch that telephoto lens, however, since you always remain at a comfortable distance.
On the other hand, on several occasions during our safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, lions walked right up to the side of our Land Cruiser. And a young male elephant once got uncomfortably close, trumpeting his displeasure at where we had stopped. Our guide quickly shifted into reverse.
Off to Kenya
I experienced one significant glitch early on when at the last moment, Lufthansa canceled my flight from Frankfurt to Nairobi.
Fortunately, I could re-book later, and Friendly Planet had a representative meet me at the airport in Nairobi. So I was soon off to join the safaris through Kenya and Tanzania but unfortunately lost a day.
I caught up with our small group at the Sweetwaters Tented Camp in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. A 90,000-acre wildlife conservancy, Ol Pejeta is best known for its efforts to save the near-extinct northern white rhino.
I didn’t know what to expect at Sweetwaters but found the word “tented” a bit misleading since the tents are not on the ground but on large platforms high off it. Each has a four-poster bed and private bath. It was comfortable, with good food, and the bar was up to par.
As in all the camps where we stayed on our Kenya and Tanzania safaris, an electronic fence encircles Sweetwaters. It allows animals to come within viewing distance and ensures one’s safety. For example, the first night I looked out from my tent doorway, I saw a rhino grazing about 200 yards away.
As expected, we found plenty of wildlife the following day, including gazelles, Cape Buffalo, giraffes, rhinoceros, and numerous colorful birds.
However, we didn’t expect to see a simple monument dedicated to several rhinos that poachers had killed. There we found small tombstone-like markers that stood like little sentinels in memory of the animals under a solitary tree on the equator.
VIDEO – Kenya and Tanzania Safaris:
Samburu Game Reserve
Before setting off for the Samburu Game Reserve the next day, we set out on another game drive. Each was unique and productive, and that morning we found ourselves amid a large herd of elephants. Watching the pack with their young move so quietly while feeding on the grassland and brush was fascinating.
After three hours, we drove north to the remote Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya’s Rift Valley for two days.
Samburu is a semi-desert savannah that was inaccessible for many years. Although small compared to other Kenyan parks, it attracts numerous wildlife. Its Uaso Nyiro River also has a large population of Nile crocodiles.
Animal sightings on game drives are a communal effort on Kenya and Tanzania safaris, which usually start slow.
But after about an hour, guide radios come alive as guides share their discoveries. You’re soon racing off on a bouncing ride cross-country, camera at the ready. In Samburu, that was how we found the elusive leopard, which we followed for an hour.
Visiting a Nomadic Tribe
Another good experience in Samburu was an afternoon visit to the Samburu Tribe, the region’s nomadic herders.
We enjoyed a fascinating hour discussing tribal culture and daily life with Samburu tribesmen. We never encountered language difficulties in Kenya since English is one of the two official languages, the other being Swahili.
Our lodgings were at the Samburu Intrepids Lodge, another upscale “camp.” I found our accommodations to be upscale on both Kenya and Tanzania safaris.
Several members of our group who had been on other Friendly Planet tours said they continued to book with FP tours because of the value it offered, the experience of its guides, and the quality of the hotels.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Six days into our Kenya and Tanzania Safaris, we headed to Lake Nakuru National Park, considered one of Kenya’s finest. It’s on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, the colossal trench that stretches 3,700 miles from Lebanon to Mozambique.
En route to the park, we passed tea plantations covering the hillsides before stopping at an overlook for a view of the southern end of the Rift Valley. It was an impressive site, also welcomed as a break on the long ride.
We dropped our bags at the Sarovia Lion Hill Game Lodge on arrival. With clusters of individual rooms on a shaded hillside, it provided a different atmosphere than our previous accommodations.
The park is another rhino sanctuary and home to the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes and other wildlife. It also provided our first glimpse of pink flamingos. But, unfortunately, since rising water levels made roads near the lake impassable, we could only view them from afar.
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya’s most famous reserve, is famous for the annual migration of millions of wildebeests and zebras from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. As a result, Maasai Mara Serengeti is ground zero for sightings on both Kenya and Tanzania safaris.
However, Maasai Mara is an incredible place at any time of year. Its grassy plain and lush outcrops are home to an astonishing number and variety of wildlife. They include lions, cheetahs, zebras, hippos, buffalo, elephants, wildebeest, etc. It also has a fantastic range of birdlife, including ostriches, cranes, and storks — everything you’d want to see on a safaris in Kenya and Tanzania.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Maasai Mara. Virtually everywhere you turn, there is animal activity – lions with their kill, cheetahs lolling beneath an acacia, and hippos wallowing in their pools.
The numerous animals are so overwhelming that you can become nonchalant at the news of sightings. But then again, who can remain blasé at the sight of a half-dozen ostriches herding 40 or so young?
As in Samburu, we also visited a local Maasai village in Maasai Mara. Again, it was fascinating as the warriors discussed their lives and polygamous customs with us.
Our “Out of Africa” Safari Experience
We enjoyed one of the best experiences on our Kenya and Tanzania safaris in the Maasai Mara. It was an early morning hot-air balloon ride, and 16 of us watched the sunrise while taking pictures and viewing wildlife. In addition, we enjoyed the most amazing views of the African plain.
Following our hour-long flight that morning, we found an equally incredible safari experience on the ground.
We each became immersed in our own “Out of Africa” experience as we sat on a vast green plain where great herds of animals grazed in the distance. A long tablecloth-covered table before help glasses of Champagne, mimosas, and Bloody Marys. There were plates full of fresh fruit, omelets, pancakes, French toast, freshly great baked croissants, bacon, sausage, etc.
Nowhere else could we feel we were more part of the old British Empire. Admittedly, an additional $450 per person was expensive but well worth the experience.
A Wonderful Experience on Our Kenya and Tanzania Safaris
Two-thirds of the way through our safari, we returned to Nairobi. The following morning our trip would turn southward to Tanzania to explore the abundant wildlife in its national parks.
First, however, three events still awaited us in Kenya, all in Nairobi.
The first was the Karen Blixen Museum, the former home of the author of “Out of Africa.” Whether you are a fan of the film or not, you’ll likely find the museum fascinating. The house and grounds are lovely, and the background given by the guides is both interesting and intriguing.
The last was the “world-famous” Carnivore Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat dining experience. As a carnivore, I was looking forward to the occasion, expecting to sample game meat. It doesn’t serve game, however, only beef, chicken, pork, and turkey, most of which I’ve found much better elsewhere.
However, the second, the Langata Giraffe Center, was over-the-top. The Giraffe Center protects the Rothschild’s Giraffe, which is near extinction in western Kenya.
In 1979, only 120 of the species survived. Today, thanks to the center, the population is over 300, with many released into parks, including Lake Nakuru National Park. It is, as Lonely Planet says, “one of Kenya’s good-news conservation stories.”
Making the news better is that you can hand-feed the giraffes from a raised wooden structure at the center. You can even hug one. And kiss one, which I can tell you from personal experience, is quite an experience.