Two Weeks in East Africa

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The savannas of East Africa provide a magnificent setting for a safari. Parts of southern Africa, like the Okavango Delta in Botswana or Sabi Sand in South Africa, may be teeming with wildlife and attract fewer visitors, but they do not possess the epic grandeur of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The immense landscapes of the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and the Serengeti are incomparable.

The best times to travel to East Africa are January to mid-March and June to September. The cool (and driest) season extends from June to August, when early morning game drives can be chilly at an elevation of 5,000 feet in the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti. April/May and October/November are the periods of the Long and Short Rains, respectively, and should be avoided.

If you want to witness the Great Migration of wildebeests and zebras, you should visit the southern Serengeti in Tanzania during January and February, or Kenya’s Maasai Mara in August and September. A less-crowded alternative is provided by the Singita lodges and camps in the Grumeti region of the western Serengeti. There, the arrival of the herds is somewhat less predictable, with mid-June being the time when you are most likely to be in luck.

The itinerary below is based on a recent trip that combined both classic safari areas with lesser-known regions like the Chyulu Hills and Tarangire National Park.

Read our editor’s full trip report from East Africa.

Highlights:

  • View Mount Kilimanjaro from your cottage at Ol Donyo Lodge
  • Go on a game drive with a Maasai guide
  • Stop for sundowners on a scenic ridge with a 30-mile view
  • Hike to see the dramatic lava tubes in the Chyulu Hills
  • Visit a local Maasai community
  • See lions, cheetahs, elephants and wildebeests
  • Take a hot-air balloon trip over the Mara plains
  • See the famous Gol Kopjes outcrops in the Namiri Plains

Day 1: Arrive in Nairobi


Arrive in Nairobi and transfer to the city’s domestic Wilson Airport. (We recommend two hotels close to Nairobi — Giraffe Manor and Hemingways Nairobi — but there is a strong case for making an immediate connection to a game park. The center of Nairobi is best avoided, and the city’s traffic congestion is dire.) There, board a 12-seat Cessna Caravan for the one-hour flight to Ol Donyo Lodge. The property is located on the Chyulu Hills, a range of volcanic peaks in southeastern Kenya that extends for 60 miles along the country’s border with Tanzania. Built in 1987 by well-known conservationist Richard Bonham, it was converted into a luxury property in 2008 by its current owners, Great Plains Conservation.

Constructed from volcanic stone and thatch, Ol Donyo extends along a forested ridge that affords a hypnotizing view of 19,400-foot Mount Kilimanjaro. (During the seasonal rains in April/May and October/November, the peak is often obscured by clouds.) The design of the public areas is traditional, and their atmosphere is private and calm. From the terrace, animals (including elephants) can be observed next to an artificial water hole.

Giraffes in the Chyulu Hills with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background
Giraffes in the Chyulu Hills with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background - Andrew Howard

The lodge’s six spacious cottages and one two-bedroom family suite are decorated in a classic safari style with dark wood furniture, polished floors and king-size beds swathed in mosquito netting. The accommodations are not air-conditioned — one entire wall is screened ­— and at night fans provide ventilation. There are no phones, but the Wi-Fi works well. Huge baths provide walk-in shower areas and soaking tubs. Glass doors open onto private terraces with plunge pools. Overall, the cottages are not overtly luxurious or technologically sophisticated, but they are attractive, well-maintained and possess a distinctive character.

One of the consistent pleasures of Ol Donyo is the excellent food. Have lunch outside beneath an umbrella next to the main swimming pool with a view of the plains below.

In the late afternoon, go on a game drive with a Maasai guide. As the land is relatively dry, it cannot support large herds of buffaloes or wildebeests like the well-watered Maasai Mara, but it does sustain a wide variety of species and abundant birdlife. Lion sightings are frequent but cannot be guaranteed, and the highlight of many game drives is an encounter with the unusually large elephants for which the region is renowned. Stop for a sundowner on a scenic ridge with a stupendous 30-mile view.

Later, enjoy a private dinner in the lodge’s candlelit wine room.

Day 2: Ol Donyo


Aside from game drives, Ol Donyo offers walking safaris and horseback-riding excursions, which all take place on a private concession within the 430-square-mile Mbirikani Group Ranch, a tract of land owned by Maasai pastoralists, parts of which they have set aside for conservation and wildlife tourism.

Day 3: Ol Donyo

This morning you may wish to go on a hike to see the dramatic lava tubes in the Chyulu Hills. Seven miles in length, Leviathan Cave is the longest lava tube in Africa. In the afternoon, pay an escorted visit to a local Maasai community to experience its traditional way of life.

Day 4: Angama Mara

View of the Maasai Mara from a deck at Angama Mara, Kenya
View of the Maasai Mara from a deck at Angama Mara, Kenya - Angama Mara

Return to Wilson Airport and connect onto a 50-minute flight to the Maasai Mara. A 580-square-mile reserve in southwest Kenya, contiguous with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the Mara is justifiably famous for its year-round profusion of wildlife, the abundance of big cats and the tumultuous crossings of the Mara River each August and September by thousands of wildebeests during the Kenyan phase of the Great Migration.

From the airstrip, it is a short five-minute drive to Angama Mara, a superb lodge perched 1,000 feet above the Mara plains atop the Siria Escarpment with an astounding view that extends for 20 or 30 miles to the northern edge of the Serengeti. The name “Angama Mara” is a Maasai phrase that means “suspended in midair.”

Angama was the brainchild of Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald, who for many years presided over the Conservation Corporation Africa, a company that was later renamed and is now part of the well-known &Beyond brand. It was designed by leading South African safari lodge architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens and comprises two separate camps, each of which has 15 tented suites, plus its own dining room, bar and library.

Enjoy lunch marveling at the astonishing view. The food at Angama is consistently imaginative and attractively presented, with many of the ingredients coming from the lodge’s own 1-acre shamba, or kitchen garden.

In the late afternoon, descend in a Land Cruiser to the plains, which lie at an elevation of approximately 5,150 feet. The area is famous for the remarkable density of its lion population. Cheetahs and leopards can also be seen. Elephants and hundreds of grazing antelopes and buffaloes are dotted across the lush grass.

Day 5: Angama Mara


This morning, get up before sunrise in order to take a hot-air balloon trip over the Mara plains.

In the afternoon, you may wish to go on a walking safari. On foot, it is possible to come quite close to animals such as zebras and giraffes.

Day 6: Angama Mara


Safaris can be tiring, so this morning you may prefer to sleep in. Afterward, spend time by the spectacular horizon pool. Later, you could take a photography class or browse the lodge’s boutique, which offers an extensive selection of Maasai artifacts.

In the evening, enjoy a barbecue dinner, served in a nearby forest glade and illuminated by candles and hurricane lanterns.

Day 7: Legendary Lodge


Fly back to Nairobi and connect onto a plane to Kilimanjaro International Airport in northern Tanzania. From there, it is a 33-mile drive to the city of Arusha. Rather than take a third flight to Tarangire National Park, spend the night at Legendary Lodge, a handsome colonial-style mansion surrounded by manicured lawns and gardens, which was constructed in the early 1900s as the centerpiece of a coffee estate. The 12 freestanding cottages are set amid lawns and jacaranda trees and come with leather sofas, large log-burning fireplaces, sizable bedrooms and well-appointed baths. After relaxing on the terrace of your cottage, enjoy dinner served outside on the veranda of the main house.

Day 8: Little Chem Chem


Arusha’s small domestic airport is located a 15-minute drive from the lodge. The 65-mile flight south to Tarangire National Park takes just 20 minutes. The famous Northern Circuit of wildlife reserves in Tanzania includes the Tarangire, Arusha, Lake Manyara and Serengeti national parks, plus the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

A sizable reserve, Tarangire is an intriguing mixture of swamps, acacia woodland and savanna scattered with enigmatic conical hills and crisscrossed by long granite ridges. Its name derives from the perennial Tarangire River, which meanders through the park into Lake Burunge. As the flow is year-round, the reserve has a large permanent wildlife population.

You will be picked up at the airstrip and driven to a 62-square-mile private concession that has been leased to Little Chem Chem camp. The property’s six large tented suites, as well as the lounge and dining areas, survey an expanse of an open savanna that extends to the shore of Lake Burunge. Spacious accommodations come with king-size beds, rush matting, freestanding fans and campaign-style furniture. Dressing areas open into baths with twin sinks and both indoor and outdoor showers.

After lunch, relax, and then go for a game drive on the private concession. Tarangire National Park is particularly well-known for the size of its elephant population, with herds up to 600 strong. Unlike other areas of Tanzania where the elephant population has been decimated by ivory poaching and the survivors are extremely aggressive, the Tarangire elephants have not been harassed or hunted. As a result, they are astonishingly calm.

At the end of the drive, go for a sundowner on the shore of Lake Burunge. Sit by the log fire and watch the stars populate the night sky.

Day 9: Little Chem Chem

Aside from morning and evening game drives, activities at Little Chem Chem include animal tracking, Maasai cultural visits and hot-air ballooning, Alternatively you may wish to spend time in camp, reading and watching the animals — kudus, waterbucks, elephants — that come to graze on the short grass extending down to the lake.

Day 10: Little Chem Chem

Flamingos on Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Flamingos on Lake Manyara, Tanzania - Getty Images

Today, make an excursion to Lake Manyara National Park, a 90-minute drive to the northwest, which is home to see the vast flocks of pink flamingos, as well as its famous tree-climbing lions.

Day 11: Namiri Plains

After breakfast, fly back to Arusha and connect onto a 90-minute flight to Seronera at the center of the Serengeti National Park. This spectacular aerial journey crosses the Ngorongoro Crater, before skimming over the grass sea of the southern Serengeti plains, an apparently limitless expanse of savanna, dappled by shifting cloud shadows.

In much of the Serengeti, the wildlife viewing is seasonal, as there is no permanent water, and the animals must follow the rains and move to areas of new grass. From January to March, the main herds of wildebeests and zebras are concentrated in the southwest of the park, around 50 miles from Seronera. In November and December, the migration passes through Namiri Plains camp, a two-hour drive to the east of Seronera. However, this area has sufficient underground sources of water to sustain a permanent wildlife presence, which includes lions, scattered herds of buffaloes — some 200 or 300 strong — as well antelopes and gazelles. Namiri Plains is also notable for the density of its cheetah population — there are probably more here than anywhere else in Africa.

Namiri Plains camp opened in 2014 and was completely refurbished and upgraded in 2019. There are still no other properties nearby. Although close to the open savanna, it is backed by slightly more tangled terrain, with large numbers of acacia trees that attract herds of giraffe. Both the public areas and the 10 tented suites have walls made of calcrete, compressed volcanic ash, covered by khaki canvas roofs. Accommodations come with king-size beds and generous quantities of hanging space. Glass walls with screened sliding doors open onto sizable terraces with daybeds and tubs, from both of which it is possible to lie back and survey the Serengeti grasslands.

In the late afternoon, take a game drive in search of the big cats for which the area is renowned.

Day 12: Namiri Plains

Lions on the Gol Kopjes, Tanzania
Lions on the Gol Kopjes, Tanzania - Getty Images

The principal reason for a stay at Namiri Plains is the camp’s proximity to the famous Gol Kopjes, volcanic outcrops that emerge from the grasslands like rocks in a gigantic Japanese Zen garden. These are only a 45-minute drive away. In addition to large lion prides (up to 25 strong), they provide a home for a cheetahs and leopards, as well as a resident population of wildlife filmmakers.

Leave the camp before sunrise and spend several hours in one of the greatest and most celebrated wildlife areas in the world. There are few places in Africa where big cat sightings are so routine. In fact, they are virtually guaranteed.

Day 13: Namiri Plains

Safari on the Namiri Plains
Safari on the Namiri Plains - Namiri Plains

Today, as well as returning to the Gol Kopjes, head out into the immense short grass plains. From December to March, these incomparable savannas are covered with tens of thousands of grazing animals and provide an unrivaled setting for wildlife viewing. Birdlife is also prolific, with huge numbers of raptors. (In the dry season, from June to October, the landscape turns brown, and the plains can be almost deserted.)

Day 14: Nairobi

Drive back to Seronera and fly to Arusha. From there, you will be taken to Kilimanjaro International Airport for the trip back to Nairobi. Then you will be escorted from Wilson Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, approximately an hour away, depending on the traffic. Return to the United States on an overnight flight.

By Andrew Harper The editor-in-chief of Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report has spent his life traveling, visiting more than 100 countries on every continent. If pressed, he cites Italy as his favorite place in the world, but he is also strongly drawn to wilderness areas, especially in the Himalayas and southern Africa. He has lost track of the number of safaris he has taken, but the total is probably close to 50. In addition to wildlife, his passions include fly-fishing and hiking. After working with the founder of the company for five years, he took over as his chosen successor in 2007.
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