For my very 1st Safari experience I had no expectations. I had no set goal of seeing “big five” anything or whether my tent would be lion proof or not. In doing so I could be easily impressed by what was to come. This was evident on the short drive from the dusty Kenya airstrip to Encounter Mara camp where we saw a handful of animals in a short period. I would’ve been happy to turn around and go home at that point. Thankfully I didn’t let me easily satisfied attitude get the best of me. Had I, I would have missed out on the most incredible four nights at Encounter Mara, a safari camp that had the unfortunate task of setting the bar for my 1st Safari experience.
Jungle to Jungle
After a zombie-like 8 hours in Rome followed by an overnight flight via Abu Dhabi we arrived in Kenya. Hot, muggy, Kenya. With half a day left in Nairobi, we had the intention of checking out the Giraffe Manor (which I only assume is run by well-to-do giraffes) but our bodies were having none of it. Thankfully we were staying at the comfortable Eka hotel where we checked in and promptly slept for 12 hours. Shame as the place and property is lovely.
Rested and bellies full from an amazing spread at the Eka hotel breakfast line, we headed out for a short flight to the Maasai Mara. It happened to be Valentine’s Day and Air Kenya was handing out roses – a nice touch that made us laugh when thinking about the ridiculousness of this Valentine’s Day trip. So far my 1st safari experience off to a good start.
Welcome to Africa
We were greeted by Encounter Mara manager Collin and were off through the dry Kenya plains. Ostriches, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, and a handful of antelope species greeted us along the way. I couldn’t tell if our excitement was contagious or annoying to Collin as we made him stop several times. As we got to know him over the following few days it was clear that his passion for all things plants and animals runs deep and that our curiosity only fuelled that passion.
We arrived at Encounter Mara and were given a rundown on the facilities and what to expect. Although a tent camp, Encounter Mara is a permanent fixture in the Mara conservatory and impressive one at that. From the dining tent to the lounge the set up is beyond impressive. Then we saw our tent:
This massive tent included everything you need for a comfortable stay in the city, let alone the middle of nowhere Africa. Running water, flush toilet, shower, and a wardrobe were ours to enjoy along with a hammock and lounger bed outside our door. It was ridiculous for a 1st safari experience impression. Even more ridiculous was the heard of zebras strolling by our front door followed by several baboons. We had arrived in Africa.
1st Safari Experience – Game Drives
Game drives take place in the early mornings and late afternoons as animal viewing is best when the sun is not beating down. As mentioned, for my 1st safari experience I had no expectations so each drive was amazing and offered something different. One day it was watching lion cubs feed, another day it was hanging out with hippos. There was also a morning spent following a very pregnant cheetah around. Sadly, no cubs to report.
My favourite animal encounter during my 1st safari experience was watching a lioness stalk a herd of wildebeests in the rain. Although she was eventually spotted, it was fascinating to watch the scene (almost) unfold.
1st Safari Experience – Food and Drinks
What I really wasn’t expecting with my 1st Safari experience was the quality and quantity of food. Each morning started out with a small spread of fresh fruit, cereals, and pastries. Morning drives were followed by a “heavy” brunch of eggs, bacon, sausage, omelets, and sometimes a delicious curry. Afternoon tea included a selection coffee or tea accompanied by savoury and sweet pastries. Afternoon game drives concluded with a “sundowner” where you have your choice alcoholic beverage prepared for you while watching the African sun melt away. One day we drank beer with a pride of lions. Another, we sipped red wine in the rain. It was perfect and a great way to conclude a day. Evenings began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres by the fire before enjoying an always amazing three-course meal. With so much food and booze each day we naturally filled our time in between and with naps. What a life.
1st Safari Experience – Camp Extras
Other extras I wasn’t expecting with my 1st safari experience were the added comforts of hot water showers – which had to be planned because we were in the middle of nowhere after all. On the subject, hot water bottles were tucked into our beds each night at turndown. You may think, as I did, why the hell would you need a hot water bottle in your African? I can assure you it was a welcomed treat every night.
Another interesting extra on my 1st safari experience was taking a walking safari from camp. After spending a couple days on aeroplanes then napping and sitting in a Land Cruiser, this was a refreshing and much-needed change of pace. In doing so we also got a better appreciation for the plants, animals, and the land we had otherwise missed by driving over it. Also, animal shit. We learned a ton about animal shit…and it was fascinating.
1st Safari Experience – Setting the Bar
From epic meals in the middle of nowhere to hot water bottles in my bed, my 1st safari experience blew me away. Encounter Mara truly makes your stay more than just about the animals. In doing so it makes for a place you almost don’t want to get up at 5 AM and leave for your game drive.
Almost. I mean, how do you miss out on a face like this:
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My 1st safari experience was made possible by The Safari Partners through a travel professional educational trip. Although my 1st safari experience was discounted, the experience, opinions, and elephants watched are my own.