Elephant spotting on safari, snorkelling with dolphins and dancing across the Equator –honeymooners will need to rewrite their bucket lists after a trip to Kenya
For a long time, my most enduring experience of Africa was from the movies: exploring its vast savannah grasslands with Meryl Streep in Out of Africa – or seeing all of the ‘big five’ in The Lion King. But a recent trip to Kenya took me off my sofa and allowed me at long last to see some of the great continent for myself. With the new cultures, colours and terrains of just this one east African country fresh in my mind, ‘surprising’ and ‘amazing’ doesn’t quite cover it.
After a particularly comfy overnighter in Kenya Airways’ business class, I landed early morning in Nairobi. To beat the traffic, it was straight to the five-star Fairmont The Norfolk. The warm greeting of ‘karibu’ (welcome) was a nice touch at one of the capital’s most prestigious hotels. Its colonial-era architecture and tropical gardens are a tranquil oasis away from the hullabaloo of the surrounding city.
Members of the Samburu tribe will take you on camel treks, explain their extraordinary culture and perform traditional dances
Dinner at Nairobi’s much-loved Carnivore restaurant – just a short drive from the hotel – was the day’s big spectacle. Meat-loving couples can enjoy a ‘beast of a feast’ that sees the likes of ostrich, camel and crocodile flame-grilled over a huge open pit on traditional Maasai swords. Carnivore might not be for the faint-hearted – I tried a bull’s testicle (once was enough) – but, having welcomed 2m diners since opening in 1980, it’s well worth a visit.
The Fairmont is also a handy base for Wilson airport, from where I flew with the airline Safarilink to visit some of the country’s famous natural attractions.
Perched on the lofty edge of the pool at Ol Malo Lodge, as giraffe roam across the Samburu County landscape below, it’s hard to believe that you’re only an hour’s flight from the capital. This family-owned, 5,000-acre property offers easy access to the remarkable game animals within the surrounding range.
Newlyweds looking for privacy will enjoy the thatched-roof Lodge, which has just four rooms. More gregarious couples can head up to the main house, where owner Andrew and his wife Chyulu host group barbecues and family-style dining.
The real highlight, though, is the time spent with the local guides. Members of the Samburu tribe will take you on camel treks, explain their extraordinary culture and perform traditional dances. Guided by Leuya and Samwel, I spotted zebras, elephants, giraffes and ‘pumbas’ (warthogs). If you’re really lucky, you might see an aardvark.
If Ol Malo gives you the Out of Africa experience, Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki is more Mogambo. With a guestbook that includes the signatures of Winston Churchill, William Holden and Bing Crosby, the members club-turned-hotel retains a suave, jet-set atmosphere.
The bumpiness of the 4x4 ride from Ol Malo is soon forgotten when you catch sight of the mountain after which Fairmont Mount Kenya is named. ‘It’s like a magic mountain,’ says hotel GM Nils Axing of Kenya’s highest summit. Loved-up couples should head on horseback to its slopes for a romantic early breakfast, where a chef and his team cook alfresco as you soak up the unforgettable views of the Unesco World Heritage Site over a chilled glass of champagne.
A walk around the hotel’s animal orphanage and a bike trek to see white zebras are the other outstanding activities. The Equator runs through the middle of the hotel; walk across it hand-in-hand and you’ll get a certificate to mark the occasion.
Nearby Ol Pejeta Conservancy is special: it’s home to the last three northern white rhinos on the planet. Seeing Najin, Fatu and Sudan is quite something, and feeding Baraka, the blind black rhino, is as close as you can get to one of these 1,400kg ungulates. Swing by and say hi to the chimpanzees too.
White sandy beaches might not spring to mind when you think of Kenya but, south of Mombasa, Diani has plenty of them waiting to be discovered. Head for the water from Ukunda airstrip – I flew in via Nairobi – and you’ll meet the colossal Swahili Beach Resort. With its Arabian-influenced architecture, the resort is not short on photo ops: they start as soon as you enter the lobby. The splendour extends to the rooms – my executive suite included a maze of rooms, a canopy bed and a sunken bath.
You can lie back and relax around numerous pools, but adrenaline-chasing couples will be pleased to hear that Diani offers activities by water – and air.
Spend a day snorkelling on a dhow safari with Pilli-Pipa. From Swahili Beach, you can be driven down to Shimini early where you’ll meet a traditional dhow. The on-board pros are experienced in teaching beginners, taking small groups out to spot dolphins, giant turtles and other colourful creatures.
After a swim, you’ll be whisked inland to the village of Kisite for a ‘help yourself’ feast, introduced by singing Swahili women. They’ll even crack piles of fresh crab claws at your table.
Not high-octane enough for you? Skydive Diani can help. The only place to do a tandem jump in Kenya, the centre’s relaxed HQ has experienced instructors from all over the world who’ll take willing participants up to 12,000ft, then let them free-fall at 125mph for almost a minute. The next five minutes, with the parachute out, is a chance to take in the endless expanse of blue water below before making a soft, mostly dignified beach landing.
I won’t be doing it again, but the looks on your friends’ faces when you get home are worth the fear factor. Reward yourself with lunch at The Sands at Nomad. In 26 acres of pristine beachside forest, the hotel makes the freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten. With a stretch of Indian Ocean for a backdrop, those pre-skydive nerves will be a faint memory.
Kenya Airways flies Heathrow-Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta daily overnight, with economy-class returns from £540. Safarilink flies to all major game parks and coastal resorts. Flights from Wilson to Loisaba (for Ol Malo) start from £180 one way.
Fairmont The Norfolk, Nairobi from £150pp per night. Ol Malo Lodge, Laikipia County has rooms from £610pppn. Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, Mount Kenya National Park from £150pp per night. Swahili Beach, Diani Beach from £125pp per night.
Entry to Laikipia County is £27pp per day; Mount Kenya National Park is £33pp per day; Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park and Reserve is £13pp per day; Skydive Diani is £270pp.
For more info, contact the Kenya Tourism Board on 020 7593 1731.
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This article was first published in SquareMeal Weddings 2017