Every year we like to embark on at least one big adventure. This year we decided to really go for it and check one of the biggest items off our bucketlist. And being a firm believer in the value and worth of time, we also knew if we didn’t do it now, it might be a bit trickier to pull off until further down the road. So after a good deal of research, we landed on spending three days at &Beyond Kichwa Tembo Camp in the Masai Mara, set in the foothills of the scenic Oloololo Escarpment at the rim of the Great Rift Valley. Kichwa Tembo and the Masai Mara tick all the boxes for that iconic sprawling-savannah safari, and I can safely say this was one of the coolest, most jaw-dropping experiences I’ve had so far.
After a 24 hour jaunt flying from the States to Nairobi, we connected to the Masai Mara via Safarilink and flew for about 40 mins from Wilson Airport to the Kichwa Tembo private airstrip. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Christopher, who would be our personal guide and tracker for the duration of our stay. Coffee and tea plus snacks of cookies, nuts and dried plantains made the perfect welcome treat before our drive to camp. The airstrip is really just a long, empty strip of dirt in the middle of the game reserve so its not unlikely to see animals meandering between planes landing. Kichwa Tembo Camp can be seen just off in the distance, and is about a 30 min drive away. With so much game surrounding us, we made a few detours and had close encounters with wildebeest, zebra, hippos, rhino, and elephants all before even checking in.
The first thing I noticed straight away was the incredible level of hospitality provided to every aspect of your stay. No detail goes unnoticed, beginning from your arrival to the airstrip and followed your arrival to camp, where you are greeted by several members of the staff welcoming you with song and dance. From there you are provided with a welcome cocktail, a tour of the camp, an overview of all the services, and are introduced to your personal waiter and butler. Nearly all of the staff are locals, mostly Maasai but some from other tribes—our guide Christopher being a Kalenjin, who are known for their unmatched running skills (i.e. they’re very frequently the winners of Gold Medals and marathons!)
&Beyond does a really wonderful job of working with the local communities and keeping sensitive to the environment, with solar panels, their own vegetable and herb garden, and a layout that really invites the outside in (including the resident warthogs trotting around the grounds). Their core values include “Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, and Care of the People,” and they were even awarded a Silver Eco-Rating Certification by Ecotourism Kenya. The award focusses on the camp’s compliance to certain ecotourism principles and practices, namely: environmental, socio-cultural and economic criteria. A huge part of their mission is working with the locals to aid in their health and education by improving schools, living environments and providing extensive employment. So while you are treated to a bit of glitz you also feel a good sense of keeping in touch with the environment and the overall wellbeing of the surrounding communities.
^^Beautifully furnish lounge and bar area ^^Pool with an unforgettable view overlooking the Mara ^^Gorgeous open dining room with indoor and outdoor seating^^In house garden where they grow many of the herbs and vegetables for the kitchen
^^Our tent! Feels like a tent from the outside but a hotel room on the inside complete with plush queen size bed, two closest, and full bathroom/shower/vanity.
After touring the grounds and settling in, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and headed out on our first official game drive. Neither of us were prepared for just how many animals there would be. All around were zebras, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests—for as far as the eye can see. It was such an incredible site to see all these beautiful wild animals at home in their native habitat. We were fortunate to see 4 out of the Big 5 all within the first day of being in the Mara: Lion, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo. The elusive Leopard would have to wait.
Afternoon game drives usually take place from around 3pm-6:30pm depending on what you and your guide/safari mates decide on. Each day you decide what you want to focus on and what times you want to schedule your drives. We were so fortunate to be paired with two incredibly sweet couples both also from the States, Earl and Sandy from Hawaii (in their 80s!) and newlyweds Catherine and Tim from Washington D.C.
^^fun fact: a large grouping of Zebras is known as a Dazzle <3 ^^Back at camp after our first game drive and loving every second of being at Kichwa Tembo.
Pants | Current Elliott
White Buttondown | H&M (similar)
Sunglasses | Ray-ban
Shoes | Palmairas de Menorca
Since games drives typcially take place early morning and early evening, it’s important to wear layers, especially with the Land Cruisers having open sides with lots of breeze rushing in. But being right at the equator, mid day can get quite hot, especially on sunny days. We visited in early September which falls at the end of “Winter” and within the dry season (July-September). Our first day was overcast with a few tiny sprinkles of rain and our second two days were sunny and clear.
In the Summer season there is more rain and fewer animals grazing, so the landscape appears more green with much longer grass, sometimes making the animals harder to spot. Each season has its high points, with the winter season being the time of the Great Migration—when over 2.5 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle make their way up from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and back down again. ^^Delicious chef prepared dinner served every night, with loads of vegetables and many protein options for the healthy eater
Mornings began with Coffee or Tea and cookies before an early morning game drive. On our first full day our group decided to take our lunch with us and spend the entire day out on a quest to view the Great Migration. The 9 hours that would follow were some of the most excited and adventurous hours I’ve ever experienced.
There is something so wonderful about finding a quit spot in the bush and setting up lunch. It really doesn’t get much better than this in my book. ^^Tuskers in the Land Cruiser to celebrate the viewing of what must have been 15,000 wildebeest crossing the river.
After spending all morning tracking the heard with no crossings, we stopped for a lunch in the bush while our guide Christopher kept his incredibly trained eyes alert for any movement off in the distance. Not more than 15 mins after setting up our picnic, we scurried to finish our plates, pack everything up, and went flying across the plains making our way to what would be an incredible crossing. Luckily (at least for the wildebeest) there were no crocodiles posted up and all the wildebeests made it across safely. We are eternally grateful for Christopher and his magician-like tracking skills—witnessing this “8th wonder of the world” event was really something spectacular. ^^The dark line in the background is thousands of wildebeests making their way to the river ^^At the border of Kenya and Tanzania
Khaki Jacket | Old from Gap, similar here
Black Puffer Jacket | Patagonia
White Sneakers | Converse
^^After the crossing we came upon some Cheetahs resting against a tree. Such sleepy big kitties. ^^Group of 5 male lions resting by a watering hole waiting for unsuspecting wildebeests to take a sip. We watched one wildebeest creep right up to one of the hidden male lions on his way to the watering hole. The male lion would have had a successful kill had he not jolted at the wildebeest a bit too prematurely. Needless to say it was a huge adrenaline rush and felt like watching Nat Geo right before our very eyes.Heading back to camp after 9 hours in the bush—incredible! After a short break back at camp, we made our way back out to enjoy sundowner cocktails overlooking the escarpment with our new friends Catherine and Tim, as well as the kitchen manager Mike, our waiter Lazarus, our guide and tracker Christopher and several other members of the staff including one of the chefs who cooked some delicious curried chicken kabobs on the grill. This was one of my favorite experiences during our time at Kichwa Tembo. Having a chance to really chat with some of the staff and in such a beautiful setting with an abundance of drinks and delicious food was simply spectacular. A classic safari drink: The Dawa made with muddled lime juice and honey with vodka or whiskey
^^After several drinks and bites, we were treated to some traditional song and dance by the Maasai men, many of whom also work at Kichwa Tembo. And if my dweeby-ness in the above photos give you any indication as to how much fun we were having, they are worth the addition to the post :P^^Sundown over the Mara
Chilly morning game drives usually take place from 6-9am, whereupon you return to camp very much ready to devour the piping hot full english breakfast. Made to order fluffy omelettes, bacon, sausage, beans, roasted tomatoes as well as yogurt, fresh fruits, granola and pastries are all waiting for you—and after several hours of traversing the bush, everything tastes better than ever.
In choosing where to safari, I must say the pool at Kichwa Tembo was a very persuasive perk on top of everything else wonderful the camp offers. We spent an afternoon relaxing and enjoying the views between games drives and couldn’t help but imagine spending a week by that pool completely disconnected, with ample time to finish a good book or two.
Linen Shorts | H&M
Black Linen Button Tank | Reformation
Sunglasses | Ray-ban
Hat | Lack of Color
Black Slides | Posse
Waking up early while on vacation may seem counter intuitive, but on safari you almost can’t sleep you are so excited for the next days adventure and practically leap out of bed when the alarm goes off. Watching the sun come up over the Mara is no doubt one of the most beautiful sites on earth and something I will not soon forget.
We also had the chance to visit a nearby Maasai village where we were given a glimpse at what its like to live as a Maasai and what a typical day consists of. We were given a tour of the village and even had to opportunity to go inside one of the homes—and were again treated to lots of singing and dance from both the men and women of the tribe.
On our final morning before leaving, our guide Christopher asked us what we would like to focus on during this last drive. We mentioned we would love to see more of the baby lions and just like every drive before, he delivered with flying colors. We were able to pull right up to a big group of lioness and cubs finishing their wildebeest breakfast, and while I’m not one to enjoy and seek out carnage, it was a pretty incredible sight to see. The circle of life is very much a reality and it’s something you come to understand and respect. It’s also pretty incredible to note how calm and easy-going the lions are with Safari vehicles—they don’t seem to have any issue with them as long as you stay inside the vehicle and you aren’t messing with their food or babies. I was not expecting to get so close to all the animals and while it seems like it would be a bit scary, you can really sense their ease to it all.
Our time at Kichwa Tembo, the Masai Mara, and the people we met along the way is something we will never forget. With a staff next to none, incredible views overlooking the savannah, top chef quality food and perfectly appointed natural rustic furnishings, Kichwa Tembo lives true to the company’s name….beyond expectation in every way. And for that we say Asante Sana Kenya, until we meet again!
Wear lots of layers as the temperature can be quite chilly in the mornings and evenings but very warm mid day. Also pack some light gloves and a hat or ear warmers as there is a lot of wind rushing into the vehicle since they are open sided.
We did not encounter any bugs whatsoever, however we did take Malarone to prevent Malaria to be on the safe side. We took our pill in the mornings to help with crazy dreams.
Plan for tipping each of your personal stall members daily including your guide, waiter and butler.
Pack a good portable charger such as the Anker PowerCore as many safari camps have limited outlets and also make sure to bring the proper outlet converter. Apple chargers are dual voltage so you will not need a voltage converter but check any other chargers you may be bring to decide whether you also need a voltage converter.
Make sure all your vaccinations are up to date and you make an appointment with your doctor or a travel clinic to receive any suggested vaccinations prior to departure including Yellow Fever, Hep A and Typhoid.
Depending on how you arrive to your camp, most of the small flights via Safarilink or other companies have baggage restrictions. Soft sided bags are required as the planes have limited cargo space. There are also weight restrictions, so make sure to check your respective airline.