Whether a first time or return visitor, there are a host of exciting options for exploring this gorgeous destination. Charter company Scenic Air Safaris (www.scenicarisafaris.com) provides guided aerial wildlife viewing en route to all safari destinations in Kenya, as well as throughout east and southern Africa. Guests don’t have to spend uncomfortable hours driving on bumpy, unpaved roads or deal with long waiting times and delays often associated with commercial carriers. And the stylish Cessna Grand Caravans with swiveling leather seats are far superior to the usual safari transport.
The planes fly low enough so you can see the stunning African landscape and animals. I saw wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, the Ngong Hills, site of Karen Blixen’s farm in academy award winning film Out of Africa, a lake with pink flamingos and more. The company also creates tailor made itineraries that include relaxing at Kenya’s beautiful beach resorts post safari such as Hemingways Watamu.
After a 45 minute flight from Nairobi, the Cessna touched down on the dirt landing strip near Mahali Mzuri, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition luxe safari lodge in southern Kenya within the renowned Maasai Mara Reserve. It’s hard not to be captivated by the utter majesty of the setting. Everything here has been done with exquisite attention to detail and with such regard for each guest’s pleasure and preference, it’s not surprising that many say this is the best experience they’ve had on the African continent. www.virginlimitededition.com/en/mahali-mzuri
Twelve spacious tents, considered the most luxurious in the region, are more like stand alone cabins and are perched on a ridge overlooking the plains where animals meander about. They all have generous seating areas, en suite bathrooms with tubs, supremely comfortable beds and huge decks offering spectacular panoramas. Families should opt for one of the two tents that include a sofa bed to accommodate children over eight.
One of the many things that sets this intimate lodge apart is the wildlife viewing. Usually you pile into vehicles with other guests, all vying for a good seat and then, when an animal is spotted the sighting becomes a traffic jam. Situated within the wildlife rich Olare Motorogi Conservancy and with only 12 tents, Mahali Mzuri guests have front row seats for prime animal viewing year round. And it’s right in the path of the annual Great Migration (usually May through late October). Whether you’re on a game drive, dining at the lodge restaurant or lolling in a lounger on your private deck, there are endless opportunities to see these gorgeous creatures.
In between drives, guests enjoy dips in the 39 foot long heated out door pool and pampering treatments at The Nasaro Spa with superb therapist Vera. Everyone gathers around the fire pit for cocktails and conversation before dinner. Meals are excellent with tasty International dishes such as Moroccan tagine, hoisin glazed salmon, lamb with honey mint sauce, king prawns and grilled everything at a romantic dinner in the bush.
Anyone who has been on safari knows the importance of a good guide and mine, Betty Maitai, a member of the Maasai tribe and one of the few female guides in Kenya, was outstanding. That Betty went to school to study and became a successful guide in this traditionally male field in Africa is a testament to her talent and determination. A consummate professional, Betty knew everything about the animals including their personalities, families, mating habits and how to track them.
I saw a giraffe nibbling an acacia tree, lion brothers playing, an elephant herd with adorable young ones, a cheetah family on the prowl for food, and weeks old cubs suckling a mother lioness, among other wonders. Betty is as friendly and warm as she is knowledgeable, and also gave me a window into the Masaai culture with her anecdotes. One afternoon, the lodge arranged a visit to a local Maasai Village where I met the people and learned more about their traditions. Afterwards, I hopped into Betty’s vehicle to marvel at wildlife followed by sundowners as I basked in the glorious African sunset.