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Our editor-in-chief just returned from a trip to southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, taking in the most famous game park in Kenya, the Maasai Mara, and the most famous game park in Tanzania, the Serengeti. In the 15 days he was gone, he visited six safari camps and one hotel. We couldn’t wait to hear about his experience. While he has been fortunate enough to have been on more than 30 safaris, this one just may have been the most life-affirming yet.
My first trip to the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti was before the age of mass tourism; I saw them when they were empty. That’s when I fell in love with Africa. You could drive around the Mara and not see anyone. I spent five days following the migration in the southern Serengeti and never saw anyone else. It was just me, the guide, 2 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebra. And that was, I thought, something people would want to replicate. Right now, because of the lack of tourism, they can. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
How did you get there and back?
I took a nonstop 13.5-hour flight from New York to Nairobi on Kenya Airways. The flight home was longer: Dar es Salaam to Doha via Zanzibar on Qatar Airlines; that was eight hours. Then from Doha to New York was 14.
What properties did you visit?
Ol Donyo Lodge, in southeastern Kenya, close to Amboseli National Park, which contains some of the world’s biggest elephants. Sanctuary Olonana on the Mara River, and Angama Mara, which is high up on the Siria Escarpment — you may know the view from the concluding scene of the movie “Out of Africa.” Then, a lovely place called Legendary Lodge, outside Arusha, Tanzania. It’s an old coffee plantation that is a gracious place to spend the night on the way to someplace else. It has a 1930s old-fashioned vibe, nice food and charming staff. From there, I flew down to Tarangire National Park in Tanzania and stayed at a lodge called Little Chem Chem — six tents in the middle of a concession that is famous for its elephants. Next I went to the Ngorongoro Crater, which is the world’s largest caldera, and stayed at Asilia’s The Highlands. It was a pleasant enough camp with friendly people but the road to it was diabolical. Then in the Serengeti, arguably the most famous national park in the world, I stayed in a tented camp called the Namiri Plains, which is way out on its own, two hours’ drive from the park headquarters. The architecture and design were rather sterile, but the staff were very nice and you are right on the southern plains of the Serengeti, with immense grasslands stretching on forever. You have a 50-mile view with no other camps and no other people.
Why is the Great Migration such a draw?
There are all sorts of wonderful wildlife areas in the world where there aren’t many people — in Botswana and Namibia, for instance — but the Serengeti is unique. It has the greatest assembly of the mammal species on the planet. The wildebeest migration doesn’t really have any competition. The only things that are in any way comparable are the caribou migration in northern Canada and that of the saiga antelope across Mongolia. The wildebeest are big animals, there are an awful lot of them, and they are accompanied by about half a million zebras and gazelles. And of course there are the predators: the lions eat the wildebeest; leopards eat the younger ones, and cheetahs go for the newborns.