The Unforgettable Experience of an African Safari

July 29, 2019

When we flew into Nairobi last December, a host greeted my family and ushered us into two Jeeps stocked with cold beers and safari-style wide-brimmed hats. My husband and I booked the African safari as our first Inspirato trip, bringing along his parents and our three children. Our route to the hotel cut straight through Nairobi National Park. 

As soon we entered the park, my kids poked their heads out of the top of Jeep to snap photos of a lioness a mere 2 feet from our vehicle. We were still close enough to Nairobi to see the backdrop of the city, yet we were suddenly immersed in a jungle setting with a rhino and a pride of lions in the distance. It was completely wild and surreal. 

The next day we flew to the Chyulu Hills area and landed in the middle of the bush. Our driver and guide, Seki, a tall man with a big grin and calm and gentle presence, met us in a Land Rover with elevated seats and drove us through the flat, dusty plain to Ol Donyo Lodge. On the drive we saw zebras, elephants, and giraffes.

 At the hotel, you could see the watering hole used by the area’s elephants. Our rooms had a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, private swimming pools, and a rooftop bed for sleeping under the stars. Two of the nights Seki took us out for “sundowners,” where he drove us out into the savannah and pulled out pewter cups for cocktails and a table for hors d’oeuvres. 

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A surprising perk of the trip was having everyone unplugged from cell phones and iPads. My son Wilson, 22, made friends with the staff and went out to play volleyball in a rigged-up court out back. We read books by the pool and played cards as a family at night. There were horse stables right off the property, so we spent a day on horseback, viewing giraffes in the distance. 

My husband and I went mountain biking and saw a Maasai man dressed in red warrior-looking garb herding cattle across the plain. Young children ran alongside the cows and stopped to wave to us. We toured a Maasai village with mud huts. Women and children sold wares and my children bartered for knives and spears, which they somehow managed to get through customs on the way home.

On our fifth day of the trip, also Christmas morning, we boarded a charter flight to the Bateleur Camp. Our pilot flew low over the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, giving us a spectacular aerial view of hippos, elephants, and giraffes. It was one of the most exciting parts of the trip and something I will never forget. 

Just off the airstrip, our hosts set up a table with cookies, juice, and champagne. It was such a special greeting. Bateleur Camp was mostly wood and had an open-air living room and bar. Our fixed tents had thatched roofs and stone showers. I felt like I was on a movie set. Monkeys hung out in the trees and warthogs wandered across the lawn. 

Each day we headed out on game drives, traveling along bumpy dirt paths over rolling green hills. We witnessed a lion trying to chase down a zebra (the zebra got away), other zebras lingering near a river with more than 50 visible crocs, and two cheetahs eating the remains of a recent kill. We saw hundreds of elephants and got so close to giraffes that we could have touched them. 

Each day after the tours, we returned to the tents for a delicious family-style meal. I was a little concerned at first since my son and I are vegetarians, but our hosts were extremely accommodating and always made sure to offer us a meat-free option. For our Christmas dinner, the tables were covered in rose petals and lined with candles and crystal, a truly beautiful experience. 

After arriving in Kenya, we learned about hot air balloon rides and decided to add it to our itinerary. Toward the end of our trip, we floated over the spectacular landscape at sunrise. Besides the noise of the balloon inflating, it was completely quiet and peaceful. I highly recommend it. 

I have my mother-in-law, Sally Knapp, to thank for giving us the idea for the trip. She’d previously attempted to organize a family safari about a decade ago and it never panned out. Now that she’s in her mid-70s, my husband and I really wanted to make it happen for her. We’re so glad we did. She loved it. It was the trip of a lifetime.