I have spent the last years exploring Southern Africa (in June I spent 3 weeks in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Yet I was excited to return to East Africa this October.
I wanted to track the wildebeest migration across the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and into the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and experience East Africa’s dazzling island, Zanzibar.
I arrived in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, and stayed at the quaint guesthouse House of Waine. It’s close to attractions like the Karen Blixen Museum, Giraffe Center and Elephant Orphanage. Perfect for families and friends travelling together, who want to feel at home and avoid large chain hotels.
The next day I flew to the Isaaten Concession, an hour’s flight to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, where I stayed at Mara Bushtops for two nights. As it’s a private concession, I did a lot of activities: a guided nature walk to the Maasai caves, a night game drive, a local Maasai village visit as well as game drives on the private concession and the neighbouring national park.
The game viewing in the Maasai Mara is just amazing! I was blown away by the sighting I had on my first full-day game drive!
I saw the migration for as far as the eye could see; a river crossing, and a cheetah eating lunch, 9 cheetahs and 13 lions.
Tanzania – Northern Serengeti
From the Maasai Mara, I flew to northern Serengeti (in Tanzania) and stayed two nights at Serengeti Bushtops. I really loved this camp. The view over the Serengeti Plain from my room was amazing and from my hot tub, I could watch elephants and plains’ game in the distance.
The game viewing during the day was good on this side of the Mara River. I saw the migration and two river crossings: one from the hot air balloon and one from the vehicle. I’m glad I added the hot air balloon ride – for anyone who has dreamed of this experience it’s as magical as expected (watch Stella’s video below)!
From the hot air balloon, I saw a hippo running to join his friend in the water and a lion in the distance. From the road, I spotted some lions sleeping on the kopjes, a leopard hidden with her cubs in the rocks, and elephants, giraffes, hippos and buffalo.
Tanzania – Central Serengeti
Leaving the Northern Serengeti behind me, I flew to the central Serengeti for a night at Roving Bushtops. It’s one of my favourite camps in the Serengeti! It’s a mobile tented camp, raised off the ground, with an en-suite bathroom that includes a flush toilet, shower, and an outside hot tub that overlooks the plains.
At one point, the migration was about 20 feet (6 meters) from my tent.
I loved that I didn’t have to leave Roving Bushtops to see the migration and could witness it from my patio chair. The central Serengeti is home to an excellent assortment of wildlife and within minutes of landing, I spotted a leopard in the tree and some lions taking an afternoon siesta.
After my safari experience, I decided to explore Zanzibar.
I stayed at Essque Zalu Zanzibar for two nights (in Nungwi, on the northern tip of the island) and was just listed as Condé Nast Traveler Top Hotels in Africa. This was my paradise. It was great to sit back and relax after the excitement of my safari.
On arrival in Zanzibar, I visited the streets and alleys of Stone Town including a visit to the Old Slave Quarters and the craft market. The following day I enjoyed a Swahili cooking class, a Masaai Ritual spa treatment, and a sunset Dhow cruise. I could not have asked for a better way to end my stay in East Africa!
How is a safari different in Southern and East Africa?
Tanzania and Kenya offer extremely different experiences to Southern Africa, offering the romanticized experience seen in movies and magazines. The Serengeti Plains offer a wide-open expanse, dotted with beautiful kopjes.
When your vehicle is surrounded by thousands of wildebeest, zebra, topi (a type of antelope) and Thomson’s gazelle, it gives you an overwhelming feeling that isn’t experienced in Southern African destinations. This is not to say that Southern Africa is not amazing – I believe both destinations need to be explored!
Tips when travelling to East Africa
- Bring patience! The drives between destinations can be long and bumpy, and it’s worth having a private driver guide and safari vehicle for your game drives.
- Other vehicles will be at big sightings. I have been spoiled in Southern Africa on private reserves where you have a max of 3-5 cars at a sighting – it was a bit of a shock to see twice the amount of cars!
- If flying between destinations with multiple stops, your flight time is a suggestion and not a guarantee.
- On charter flights, you are limited to 33 lbs (15 kg) per person in a duffel bag or suitcase with a soft exterior. Most camps include laundry in their rates (or at a nominal fee) and supply shower gel, lotion, shampoo and conditioner. So, you can leave those at home!
If you’d like more information on East Africa safaris, feel free to contact us.