No one will forget their first experience of Africa. It first imprinted on my heart in the early ‘90s, on safari with my parents at the end of my first term of university. The sights and sounds of the animals and landscape left a thirst to return and a life-long love. I have been lucky enough to spend time there both personally and professionally in the intervening years. But fast forward nearly 30 years and, excitingly, just after Christmas, we were to introduce our boys –twins age 11 and our 13 year old - to this incredible land for the first time…
Naturally I hoped the boys would love Africa too and felt a lot of self-imposed pressure to get the itinerary just right, in which I was ably assisted by Anita, SWM Founder & MD, and bona fide Africa guru. I wanted them to experience the ‘true’ Africa, have great game viewing opportunities yet also perhaps safari activities beyond game drives, that would keep their younger appetites whetted during8 days in the bush. Oh, and an essential bit of R&R at the end.
I don’t think you can beat first safari in Kenya, where my first impressions were formed. SWM works with Naibor Camps in the Masai Mara, who offer classic, authentic bush safari, and, knowing the Mara offers exceptional game experiences, this was a perfect option for us. We kicked off, however, with some time at Loisaba Tented Camps (not a client) in Laikipia, northern Kenya, with NYE in the magical Star Beds. Finally we decided to round off with some sun, sea and pampering with another client, Zanzibar White Sands on Paje beach. I knew this trip would give me invaluable insight into two of our clients from the ‘guest’ perspective and moreover I couldn’t have been more excited for the boys to have their first taste of this incredible continent.
LOISABA TENTED CAMPS
Although not a SWM client, it would be remiss not to eulogise about our first destination, Elewana’s Loisaba Tented Camps as an exceptional first stop for family safari and, frankly, a brilliant ‘twin’ with a classic fully game-based safari like Naibor. Game drives with our engaging Samburu guide Solomon, interspersed with a diverse range of other options to experience the landscape and its wildlife, got the whole family tuned in beautifully. We viewed the plethora of game from a variety of steeds – not just mechanical! – but also from camel and horseback; we undertook a fascinating, informal visit to a local Samburu village; and busy days were rounded off with unbelievable sundowner locations with endless vistas stretching from Mount Kenya in the distance across the sweeping plains and hills of the breath-taking Laikipia plateau.
Kenya is a leader in eco-tourism and Loisaba interweave conservation, community and tourism so expertly and we were all truly inspired hearing about and witnessing these elements in mutually beneficial balance. Having just hosted a large family Christmas at home, happily this was also luxurious safari living! – a choice of two stunning infinity pools, mouth-watering menus and exceptional customer service.
The Camp is discretely fenced so parents can rest easy that younger guests will not have an unexpected meeting around the site and there was even a running track for the more energetic guests wishing to sweat off the excesses of Christmas /Safari (which didn’t include us!).
We saw in New Year’s Eve at Loisaba’s Star Beds – four poster beds, pulled out onto a wooden platform and open to the elements in an exquisite hillside location. Sleeping directly under a clear, ink-black sky illuminated by a myriad of bright stars, with the stillness of the night punctuated by the nearby call of hippo and elephant- It is a memory that I hope will long outlive the decade that night saw in.
Loisaba might have seemed a hard act to follow but thankfully I knew Naibor Camps well and so was confident that it would prove the perfect complement. Classic,authentic safari at a stylish camp on the banks of the Talek river, teeming with hippos, and with such a deep sense of connection with its environment thatI felt reassured the children would probably pay heed to the instruction not to walk alone after dusk without our Masai chaperone! Naibor is a camp that feels steeped in the heritage of safari.
Any preconceptions about a teenager’s ability to lie in should be reassessed in the bush. In theUK William is not known willingly to appear before 11am; however here he would take no second bidding, at the 6am hot-chocolate wake-up call, to throw on his clothes and clamber onto the safari vehicle just as the sun started to rise and the mists to lift, to see what the Mara would have in store for us that day.
Being a National Reserve, in the Masai Mara it is all about the game drives, and the game is replete and dramatic. Although it was great to have had the more varied itinerary at Loisaba I was impressed by how the adrenalin of a game drive is enough to keep younger safari-goers riveted. This was facilitated by our exceptionally experienced Samburu guide, Dowdy, who had a finely-tuned antenna for any bush drama and it was fascinating learning from him as he read the subtle clues of the bush to hone in on any action.
The day’s activities commenced at dawn with a game drive and we tended to opt for breakfast in the bush (why wouldn’t you!?), heading back to the camp late morning for some relaxation and a buffet lunch in the shade by the river.
The afternoon game drive would set off about 4pm but as a family you will most likely get a private guide and game vehicle so the schedule is as flexible as you want it to be. Sundowners somewhere incredible, surrounded by whichever wildlife chose to keep you company, before heading back by nightfall, as per Reserve rules.
Never have I experienced such incredible leopard sightings, and the rest of the Big Five(excluding rhino) thrilled us all - but it was also (as it so often is) the more humble creatures who captivated us equally: a tiny baby mongoose being carried by its mother as they evacuated a flooded den; a buffalo-weaver fastidiously cleaning the nostrils of its host; and the boys falling for the hyena pups in the den by Naibor whom we saw each morning, somewhat controversially declaring hyenas to be “cute” (and The Lion King defamatory).
Despite the glorious sense of un-tempered immersion in the bush, Naibor offers the luxuries and comforts that make safari such an undeniable indulgence: massages, delicious food, and lovely, friendly staff on hand to help with every request… The hot bucket showers, hoisted up on request, were incredibly welcome after dusty games drives, and would delight glamping enthusiasts and aspiring structural engineers alike!
We stayed at ‘Little Naibor’ which is the best family option: 2 spacious tents inter-joined by an open living area, which means that you have the reassurance of your children being close by, with the space to ensure you are not on top of each other. This would also work well for friends travelling together. Naibor also has the option of ‘Main Naibor’ – 7 luxury tents with gorgeous views, privately positioned along the river bank; and ‘Naibor Wildnerness’ – 3 tents slightly set apart in the riverine forest and perfect for exclusive use.
We took the opportunity to take a Hot Air balloon one day at sunrise which was incredibly memorable: such serenity and peace, floating over the Mara, spotting the activity of the bush as it came to life far below, with the light of the day.
I know I am not alone, as a mother of pre-teens / teens, to be occasionally driven completely insane by the fact the mobile phone is apparently surgically attached to this generation. For8 blissful days I hardly saw the things, (unless they were out for taking photos, though they preferred nicking my proper camera due to the zoom – the blighters!).
That is one of the privileges of safari: perspective; tuning out to all the extraneous ‘noise’; and tuning in to our incredible planet. And that applies equally, whether you are 8, 18, 48 or 80.
So was our family safari a success? Both destinations offered an exceptional family safari experience and complemented each other beautifully. I can honestly not think of a thing I would have changed. (Happily though we didn’t spot a rhino… so we’ll simply have to come back!!)
Ed: “Dowdy was a very knowledgeable guide and knew lot about the animals. We saw lots of wildlife and it surprised me that we saw so much of the rare leopard.”
Will: "It was so cool seeing so many animals including crocodile. It was great having breakfast and watching the weaver birds build their nests. I loved going in the hot air balloon.”
Joss: “I loved safari. Our guide, the camp, the food and the rooms were all amazing,It was exciting being close to the hippos but feeling safe even though they were right next to us in the river. We had an amazing time watching the leopard in the tree. The cheetah was so beautiful.”