Gretchen’s Kenya Trip Report: Part 3

February 3, 2012  By: Gretchen

After an early breakfast, we set out for an all day game drive with site inspections. Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is in some ways probably best known because of its location. The park is watched over by Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli is the place where the most iconic views of Kili can be seen. The mountain is best seen at dawn and dusk when the clouds dissipate and reveal the massive massif. That said, there is no guarantee that you’ll see the mountain, so if it’s important to you, ask us about the best times of year to try and see it and then cross your fingers when you visit as nature offers no guarantees. We were lucky during our stay and saw it on multiple occasions.

The park itself is quite dusty, some of which is from overuse, though there are efforts underway to reduce off-roading and to remedy the erosion. It is fascinating to watch dust devils spring from nowhere and dance across the landscape. Strangely, along with the dust come large marshes that are incredibly lush. We frequently found elephants neck deep in water and vegetation feeding on the abundance.

Speaking of elephants, they are probably the park’s other biggest attraction. The open landscape hosts elephant numbers well over 1000 strong and they live in their natural social structures of matriarchal families and bull elephant groups. During our time in Amboseli we saw hundreds of elephants, including a two-day-old baby. Additionally, we saw hyena, raptors and scavengers alike feeding on a dead hippo; as well as gerenuk, bat-eared fox, dozens of bird species, a leopard tortoise, and the usual safari suspects such as impala, giraffe and warthog.

We also visited three of the park’s properties, each with a very different flavor. First up was Tortilis Camp. Tortilis is named after the flat topped, umbrella thorn tree, the Acacia Tortilis, and is situated just outside the Park in one of Amboseli’s few remaining areas of unspoiled woodland. The camp has 17 spacious tents, all with en-suite bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. Each tent has a king-size or twin beds and modern bathrooms with hot showers and flush toilets. Tents are raised up on a wooden deck and have a thatched roof overhanging a large veranda – the perfect place for afternoon relaxation.

The common areas are up on a hillside and are quite open with lovely views. The pool would no doubt be refreshing on a hot day and entertaining for kids needing to burn off a bit of energy. With its location outside of the park, Tortilis has game walks on offer, or if that’s not your cup of tea, they are only a moment’s drive from enjoying game driving in the park.

After Tortilis, we had an enjoyable and restorative picnic stop, and took a few minutes to climb Observation Hill after our lunch.  The walk was quite easy and provided very rewarding views for very little effort.  From there, we drove to the Amboseli Serena Hotel. It is a well-situated property and its low physical profile provides stunning views of the plains. An avenue of beautiful euphorbia trees lines the passageway to the 96 comfortable guest rooms, each with its own uninterrupted view over the ever-changing vistas of the African plains. Rooms have an en-suite bath and shower and come in every variety imaginable; king, queen, twin, triple, connecting – you name it. Rooms are styled in a Maasai theme featuring bead work, gourds, hand-painted murals and the architecture of the lodge is based on a traditional Maasai homestead.

The Serena has a swimming pool and other facilities include bars and restaurant as well as a spa for beauty treatments or massage. Baby-sitting facilities are also available from the housekeeper. With the extensive facilities this would be a good choice for families and larger groups.

Our final site visit of the day was to Tawi Lodge. Tawi is located on a private conservancy of 6,000 acres just five minutes from Kimana Gate, the eastern entrance to Amboseli National Park. The lodge is a good choice for luxury travelers. Each of the 12 cottages has its own wooden-deck veranda and a fabulous view of Kili (on a clear day) and the dramatic surrounding landscape. Cottage design is such that guests get the same stunning view from the comfort of their beds or bathtubs as well as the veranda. Cottages are double or twin and all have spacious en suite bathrooms fitted with both a bath and shower. Each cottage has its own fireplace and a mini bar for private sundowners. Lighting and water systems are solar powered and a charging facility for cell phones and camera batteries is available. As a final touch, butler service is provided for maximum privacy and comfort.

Massage services are available and there is a ‘natural’ swimming pool (which looked beautiful but I didn’t find very inviting for a swim with its ‘natural’ filtration system), lovely common areas and an impressive wine cellar. Game drives are available and for an extra charge, they can arrange helicopter rides.

After enjoying a restorative cup of tea, we departed Tawi for a game drive back through Amboseli to Selenkay.  There was no shortage of animals en route;  more elephants than we could count, along with plains game in abundance.  We also got to enjoy a stunning rainstorm on the flanks of Kilimanjaro while we stayed dry.  We stopped to watch the sunset, which lived up to the idyllic picture that so many of us have in our minds when we think of Africa.

Upon returning to camp, we were greeted with an outdoor barbecue under the stars. A delicious and magical meal to end a stunning day.