Eliza shares her 15 top moments of a Kenya honeymoon
10 Jun 2022
13 Feb 2023
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A Kenya safari is our most popular honeymoon destination, and with good reason!
At the end of September, Jonny and Eliza jetted off to Kenya for a once-in-a-lifetime safari honeymoon, heading first to the Masai Mara – staying at Saruni Mara – and then onto Lewa, staying at Lewa Wilderness. Eliza has since become the Marketing Manager for Far and Wild, partly as a result of how much she enjoyed her holiday. Here, she shares some of its many highlights.
1. Lion cubs in the Masai Mara
Jonny and I were both blown away by the sheer volume of game we encountered. The last safari I had done was in a Sri Lankan game park that had been badly hit during the civil war and was still recovering, so game was thin on the ground. In contrast, everywhere we looked in the Masai Mara we saw something new: giraffes, elephants, springbok, buffalo, ostrich, hyenas … the list goes on, but a real highlight was the chance to see lion cubs feeding and playing with their mums.
We were lucky enough to see these on our first night staying at Saruni Mara in Mara North private reserve and we first watched the little cubs feeding as their mother lay back, relaxed, feet in the air, as the little lionesses pawed like little kittens to get milk out. Once they had had their fill, we watched them playing together, tumbling over one another in the long, breezy grass and creeping up behind each other. Truly magical – and incredibly cute.
A big advantage of being in a private reserve was that we were able to go off-road, meaning that we were close to the lionesses and there weren’t hundreds of other 4x4s crowding in to watch the lions. We were able to sit and marvel for a long time.
2. Tea and biscuits in bed
Everyone knows that safaris call for early starts – something that seems counter-intuitive on a romantic honeymoon – but if you are going to have to get up at the crack of dawn, you can’t beat being brought a cup of tea and biscuits in bed as part of your wake-up call. A lovely little luxury that makes getting up in the dark that bit easier and something I have yet to persuade my husband to replicate at home…
3. Bush breakfasts
We thought tea and biscuits in bed was a pretty good start to the day, but that was nothing compared to the breakfast that was to come! After a couple of hours’ game drive, we stopped by a river for an al fresco breakfast, complete with scotch eggs and yoghurt with mango and granola, plus a few crocodiles and hippos below us for company.
Each bush breakfast we had was in a different location, making it a unique and wonderful experience – from under a ginormous tree filled with purple flowers in Lewa to in the middle of the Mara plains surrounded by zebra calmly grazing the long grass … and always with a delicious array of food. A must for any Africa honeymoon.
4. Cheetah cubs and a near-catch
We knew that the Masai Mara was famed for its big cats, but having been lucky enough to see lion cubs on our first night in the Mara, we didn’t expect to be able to top that. Yet the following day, after our bush breakfast, we were incredibly fortunate to see a cheetah with six cubs. What’s more, we were the only car there!
We were surprised by just how fluffy the cubs were, with a mane of fur the entire way down their backs, giving them fantastic character and showing them in sharp contrast to their sleek, slim mother.
We sat and watched for a long time as the cheetah cubs tumbled over bushes, playing with each other. We watched the lively cubs climb a small acacia tree and giggled as they struggled to get down again in an unsettlingly similar way to that of a domestic cat stuck up a tree.
After a while, the mother spotted some prey. We watched as she patiently herded her cubs – which had boundless energy – out of the way, before crouching down low in the strawy grass and slowly making her way towards her quarry. It was an intense 10 minutes as we watched her gradually get closer to the prey, but just as she was almost within striking distance, a couple of warthogs scared the buck, ruining her hunt. The cheetah took off after it, but she hadn’t got close enough and the hunt was over before it had even begun.
Definitely some of the best gin and tonics of my life. You simply can’t beat having a cold drink in the back of a Land Rover as you watch lions relaxing at the end of the day, with the sun slowly sinking from the sky, casting a golden shadow over everything.
6. Sunrise hot air balloon
If there was one image that had captured my heart before we went on safari, it was that of hot air balloons drifting slowly over the Mara plains at sunrise – and the experience didn’t disappoint.
With an especially early start, it was pitch-black when we left Mara North and set off towards the Masai Mara National Reserve, arriving at the hot air ballooning station while still dark. We helped ourselves to tea and coffee as we watched the giant balloon being filled with air.
Once it was ready, we climbed into the basket – this is done with the basket lying down, so that you are lying flat on the ground – before they finish filling the balloon with air, pulling the basket up and into the sky.
Drifting gently over the plains as the sun slowly fills them with light and emerges from the horizon gives you a unique chance to watch the animals with a birds-eye view. There was one slightly hair-raising moment as we floated down towards a herd of elephants that looked rather disgruntled at being disturbed, but we soon floated up again to safety. Being up in the sky allows you to appreciate the Masai Mara’s vastness and to see the wide variety of vegetation from the Mara River, where the famous wildebeest river crossings happen, to the riverine forests and sprawling savannahs.
Once we’d landed (with a bit of a bump), we enjoyed a prosecco-filled breakfast in the middle of the bush, complete with freshly-cooked scrambled eggs.
7. Spying a leopard in a thunderstorm
As we had seen two of the three big cats, we naturally wanted to go for the hat-trick and see a leopard. We kept hearing that there had been a leopard in Mara North, but we couldn’t find this elusive beast!
On our final night in the reserve, it was not looking promising. The sky had darkened and we could see great rainclouds on the horizon. After an hour of trawling alongside the bushes, staring up at the trees, we gave up and went to say goodbye to our favourite lions.
The team at Saruni Mara had a sweet honeymoon surprise for us: they had brought along a bottle of fizz and a cake for us to enjoy as our final sundowner, so we drank our bubbly while a thirsty-looking lion – with his eyes fixed firmly on our bottle – came rather too close to our vehicle for comfort.
Then, just as the rain started to fall, the news came over the radio. The leopard had been spotted. Our guide set off at great speed over the bumpy plains, fizz bouncing around in the back, sleet coming in through the sides of the car and lightning lighting up the sky as we went to try to find our final cat.
Hidden in a muddy ditch, given away only by her surprisingly blue eyes, we found her. The photos are fuzzy from the rain, but the memory wonderfully clear.
8. Incredible food
I had previously been on a relatively basic safari in Uganda, so one thing I wasn’t anticipating was such incredible food. It was completely different at each lodge, but utterly delicious nonetheless.
Saruni Mara is Italian-owned, so the cuisine had a strong Italian flavour to it, with many of the ingredients being imported directly from Italy. Delicious pastas, creamy risottos and freshly-baked bread – the food there was absolutely divine (and my personal favourite).
At Lewa Wilderness, there was a strong focus on local and fresh food, with much of the produce coming from its own large, organic vegetable garden, which you can visit.
We also loved that – because we were on our honeymoon – both lodges accommodated, ensuring that we could have some private candlelit dinners in our room, rather than joining the big group table for every meal, which was a lovely touch. On our final night, Lewa Wilderness surprised us with a special candlelit supper under the most incredible stars and with a romantic swing and blankets on which to enjoy a post-supper drink.
9. Watching hyenas enjoy their kill
The Lion King movie has much to answer for in terms of how many people view hyenas … I certainly wouldn’t have expected watching hyena cubs eat a kill to be a trip highlight, but these creatures were more akin to Paddington Bear than the mean, skinny, scary-eyed and tongue-lolling animals depicted by Disney! It was fascinating to see them work as a team, trying to drag the kill into the bushes, and learn from our guide about how they live.
10. Gorgeous interiors
While both lodges had impressive interiors, Lewa Wilderness was particularly special, as our cottage had a glass front looking over the valley below, with a stream running through it where elephants bathed. The main house also had a communal sitting room, where you could help yourself to hot drinks and which displayed wonderful, purchasable drawings of the animals around Lewa, some of which now hang on the wall in our house as a lovely reminder of our time there.
The main terrace, where you had your gin and tonics, also had spectacular views over the valley and was a wonderful spot to sit and watch elephants playing in the river below. It was also here that we developed an addiction to the highly competitive game of Bao (or mancala), which is a traditional East African board game and the perfect way to while away a drink.
11. Varied Landscapes
I would definitely recommend visiting two, or even three, different areas on safari so that you can appreciate the varied landscapes that Kenya has to offer.
The Masai Mara was vast expanses of land, dotted with acacia trees, waterholes and some rivers. In contrast, Lewa was much hillier – with Mount Kenya forming an incredible backdrop – with denser forest that was often roped off to protect it from the elephants that had stripped much of the acacia trees bare.
The Masai Mara was teeming with wildlife and we saw a large number of big cats there. In contrast, Lewa was more sparsely populated with wildlife, but after the plethora of the Masai Mara, having to work a little harder to find it made the experience all the more fun! We also saw many rhino in Lewa (the last of our Big Five to spot) and got the chance to try some other activities, which were some of the best moments of our trip (more on these below).
12. Camel Rides
I’m unsure if this should technically make it into my ‘favourite’ moments, as if I am honest, riding a camel is incredibly uncomfortable and I was rather relieved to get off it when we returned from the lodge. It was certainly memorable, however, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
At Lewa Wilderness, we were surprised after a bush breakfast to be told that we would be riding a camel back to the lodge as the final part of our game-drive. It was a slow plod back to camp, which gave us ample time to admire the scenery around us.
13. Horse-riding with giraffes
Undoubtedly one of our top safari moments was horse-riding in Lewa. We didn’t venture far, as we were a little nervous of seeing a lion, but we truly enjoyed riding out with our guide on the plains among the zebras and giraffes, before going down to the water to see the baboons.
The Lewa Wilderness horses are all ex-polo horses, meaning that they are hugely responsive. They graze out on the plains, so the animals are used to seeing them and are very relaxed. When you are riding, the animals tend to see only the horse and not you on top, allowing you to get much closer to them than usual.
Our favourite ride was to venture near giraffes eating, as you could sit almost within touching distance and watch them eating the acacia and mimosa trees as oxpeckers removed ticks living on them. Even if you head out only for an hour or so, I’d highly recommend a riding safari.
14. Walking into the sunset
A final highlight was a walking safari that we did on our last night at Lewa Wilderness. If you had told me before we went that I could do a walking safari, I would have refused, thinking it far too dangerous. Yet as you acclimatise and chat to your guides, it starts to feel surprisingly safe and was undoubtably one of the best things we did – I don’t think either of us had ever felt so alive as when walking through the African bush, senses on high alert and heart pounding.
We did an evening walking safari and were accompanied by a walking guide, as well as someone with a gun. I wasn’t sure whether to feel comforted or full of trepidation by the fact that the gentleman carrying the weapon was also the local pastor – and that when I asked him if he had ever had to use the gun, he said only once in 15 years, when a bull elephant charged, so I don’t know how much target practice he had had!
Our walk was fascinating, giving us a chance to learn about some of the smaller animals, as well as the fauna, and picking our path to avoid the more dangerous animals we came across. I was surprised by just how much we saw – we watched a family of rhino going about their daily lives with the safety of a large dip separating us and kept an eye on the wind direction as we passed them because while their sight is weak, they have an extremely strong sense of smell. We kept our distance from a lone buffalo and a black rhino, watched hyenas clambering around rocks on the hillside and slowly picked our way up a hill to the clifftop, where we were greeted with a well-earned drink and the most incredible view of the sunset. Lewa’s answer to Pride Rock.
15. The People
Last and by no means least, it was the people we met on our trip who made our experience so rich and memorable: from when we first landed and were met by Far and Wild’s permanently-employed driver – who told us about how his work had completely changed his life by allowing him to provide for his family – to the guides who were incredibly generous in sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for the local wildlife, as well as about their culture. There were the Maasai tribes, who taught us about how they jump as high as possible to compete for women in their local village, plus how to light a fire using just sticks. Then there was Cecelia – the first female, black manager of Saruni Mara, who was rightfully proud and who joined us for dinner one night, sharing details of her upbringing, including telling us about her father’s 10 wives. We will also never forget the Craig family, who own Lewa Wilderness and who joined us for lunch – with Will sharing how he grew up hunting, but now has different views on conservation, and how his father had been killed by a lion. Wherever you are headed, make sure you talk to the people you meet – hear their stories, ask them questions and learn about their culture