Heading out from Nairobi, our first stop in Kenya was Tortilis Camp, which is located in a conservancy adjoining Amboseli National Park. Amboseli is known for its large herds of elephants. Cynthia Moss has studied the elephant families in the park for generations and many elephants in the park are followed closely by researchers. Amboseli is also noted for the incredible views of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. However, depending on the cloud cover, you will not always be able to see the mountain. We were lucky to get several really good views while we were there. Tortilis Camp has some beautiful vantage points of Kilimanjaro, and due to the clear weather, we were often able to see it from the main dining area and bar.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, located inside Nairobi National Park, is one of the most moving places I have ever been. It is an orphanage for young elephants who have been rescued all over Kenya and brought to Nairobi. Baby elephants are not able to survive without their mothers' milk, so the staff at Sheldrick feed them a special formula that mimics elephant milk. (Milk from cows will cause them to die.) Unfortunately, Sheldrick receives more and more baby elephants all the time due to poaching. The baby elephants eventually move to another park in Kenya where they are slowly introduced to other elephants in order to join a wild herd. They have had amazing success with these transitions. The keepers' dedication and love for elephants is heartening. They feed the babies, teach them to browse for food, and even sleep in the stalls at night!
Giraffe Manor is nothing short of magical and I was so happy to return for a second visit two nights in June. Our British Airways flight arrived in the evening and we encountered quite a line at immigration, but we were warmly greeted and offered drinks and dinner despite the late hour of our check in. The staff at Giraffe Manor is very helpful and friendly across the board, check in time is no exception. We stayed in Marlon's Room our first night, the only room available when we booked. It is small, and does not have giraffes visit for pre-breakfast treats. We moved to Daisy's Room the next morning, which has a small terrace and a nice view out over the patio and the wooded area where the giraffes sometimes hang out (see below.) To be sure you get a room that has giraffes come directly to the window, book very early! No matter where your room is, you will have visiting time with giraffes at breakfast, in the breakfast room and along the patio. You will also get to feed giraffes at tea time.
Our next stop after Phinda was the AndBeyond Ngala Tented Camp. The Tented Camp is nearby the Ngala Safari Lodge, but is a separate entity. To reach Ngala from Phinda, we were able to fly directly from one airstrip to another. While this is usually more costly than taking scheduled flights followed by a road transfer, it is worthwhile to ask about including it in your rate. The time saved may be worth the cost. Our transfer was included in our rate as we booked everything through AndBeyond.
The absolute highlight of Ngala Tented Camp was the wildlife available for viewing. The tents, the food, and the guides were fantastic-but the game viewing was just incredible. I was blown away by the leopard and wild dog sightings. These are animals you do not reliably see on game drives, so it was a real thrill. We also spotted smaller animals such as jackals, which I had not had much luck viewing in the past. In addition, we saw lions, elephants, hippos, giraffes, and many other animals.
Other things I liked about about Ngala Tented Camp:
I was so happy with my stay at Ngala Tented Camp that I am planning a return visit next summer. Wild dogs do move their dens and territories quite frequently, so I am hoping above all that they return to Ngala's game driving concession.
One stop during my trip to South Africa was the Phinda Private Game Reserve, in the KwaZulu-Natal area. The reserve had four options for accommodations, and we chose the Vlei Lodge. The Vlei Lodge was in fact a camp set up, not a large lodge. The thatch roofed chalets were separated from each other by bushes and trees, which created a nice sense of privacy. The rooms and the large bathrooms were beautiful. The main building was at the center of the camp, just a two minute walk down a path. The main building had a nice sitting area and shady deck looking out over the vlei (grassy area) in addition to dining tables. Lunch and breakfast were served outside on the deck, which was lovely and warm mid-day.
One day we had lunch on our own porch, but ended up running inside with our trays to get away from the little monkeys that constantly scampered around the camp! At the main building, the monkeys still tried to take food, but they were afraid of the employees and a little less bold about jumping right on your table.
To me, the highlight of the game viewing at Phinda was the number of rhino sightings. Rhinos are hunted illegally for their horns throughout Africa, and the poachers are hard to stop in some areas. Phinda has done an amazing job keeping the poachers at bay, largely due to their good relationship with the local community. The reserve's land is actually leased from the local community and they have a mutually beneficial financial partnership. People in the community alert their friends on the anti-poaching force if they see someone new or suspicious in the area. We saw rhino each day we went on game drives, and were lucky enough to spot this baby rhino at the water hole with his mother.
Other sightings included elephants, giraffe, buffalo, hippos, a group of three cheetah brothers, and two prides of lions. As you can see above, the one pride had several young lions that were a riot to watch. At times, you had to drive a bit between good sightings, but overall there was a good variety of game in the reserve and the trackers did an excellent job of finding the animals. We had at most six people per open topped vehicle, so nobody sat in the dreaded middle seat where the view is not good.
Another note about Phinda Vlei Lodge-the food was out of this world. A woman named Happiness was the chef, and she was an incredible cook. Homemade bread and desserts, imaginative and varied menus, and lots of fresh fruit and produce from the area all made for memorable meals. She was sure to make a vegetarian option for me at each meal, and they were all exceptional.
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