The grand, glamourous, unabashedly luxurious safaris favoured by princes and princesses, potentates, plutocrats, and ex-presidents (Teddy Roosevelt’s epic 1909 safari was one of the first of its sumptuous kind) are central to East Africa’s heritage as one of the world’s most desired destinations. This Grand Safari is homage to those old and romantic days, to their indulgent and exquisite grace.
The Grand Safari’s six flights make travel between game preserves and luxury camps a seamless, time-saving joy. And our stays in places like the airy Tortilis Camp in Amboseli; Bateleur or Governor’s Il Moran camps in the Maasai Mara; the charmingly luxe Four Seasons Safari Lodge in the Serengeti; and, of course, the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club bring us into close and comfortable contact with some of Africa’s richest game lands and most stirring landscapes.
Day 1 En route
Your adventure begins today as you enplane for Africa.
Days 2 & 3 Nairobi
Upon arrival in the Kenyan capital, we’ll be met by our Safari Director and driven to the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, where most—if not all—of those potentates and royals stayed, dined, and chummed around before setting out on safari.
The next day, we’ll tour the occasionally spellbinding, always excellent National Museum, wend our way over to the Giraffe Centre for some interspecies camaraderie, and visit the former home of Karen Blixen, author—writing as Isak Dinesen— of Out of Africa, one of the most evocative books ever written about any earthly place. And we’ll head over to Lavington, the nearby home of Felix and Jane Pinto, founding couple, for a hearty, familial, and story-flavoured lunch.
Days 4 & 5 Amboseli
We fly south this morning over the Athi Plains to the natural wonderland of Amboseli National Park. Mount Kilimanjaro, the still-glaciated monarch of Africa, presides over Amboseli, thrusting three dizzying miles above the park’s grasslands. As Peter Matthiessen wrote in The Tree Where Man Was Born, “A snow peak in the tropics draws the heart to a fine shimmering painful point of joy.”
Tortilis Camp is our base for visits to Maasai villages and game drives in this almost incomparably rich animal kingdom. Our spacious, luxuriously furnished, thatch-covered tents nestle under the huge and reposeful Tortilis acacia trees from which the camp takes its name. Unwinding on our veranda, we might, like Isak Dinesen, watch a parade of elephants “pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world.”
Days 6 & 7 Mount Kenya Safari Club
For the past 50-odd years (ever since actor William Holden and some of his hunting buddies founded it), the Mount Kenya Safari Club—now part of the Fairmont collection—has been a magnet for just about every safariing nabob. Reflecting Jane and Felix Pinto’s original membership and long and happy relationship with the club, we’re greeted with exceptional hospitality. Along with stunning views of Mount Kenya, the club offers tennis; trout fishing; croquet; horsebacking; walking in gardens bubbling with exuberant tropical flowers; visits to nearby game reserves; and some of the most satisfying dining in either hemisphere (the club straddles the equator and so occupies both the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres at a salutary 7,000 feet above sea level).
Days 8 & 9 The Maasai Mara
This morning we’ll fly over the planetary rumple of the Great Rift Valley—it makes “the Grand Canyon look like a line scratched with a toothpick,” John Gunther wrote in Inside Africa—to the Maasai Mara, the northern sector of the bigger-than-Belgium Serengeti–Maasai Mara ecosystem, unquestionably the earth’s greatest haven for large mammals, more than 70 species of which go about their business in the oceanic Serengeti–Maasai Mara grasslands.
Based from equally splendid Bateleur Camp or Governor’s Il Moran Camp, we’ll game drive throughout the Mara, spend rewarding time with the local Maasai people, and make side trips to the Mara River and its tributaries for a gander at leviathan crocodiles and hippos. And we’ll have sundowners in the gentle evening warmth of Ms. Dinesen’s true world, breathing its clean and guileless air, watching Africa’s showy stars come out to dazzle, feeling like we might have dallied in these parts, 10,000 years ago.
On our second day in the Mara, we’ll sweep in a hot-air balloon above the siringet, or the “endless place,” as the Maasai call this great land (normally an additional cost, ballooning on the Grand Safari is part of the luxe experience). And at flight’s end, we’ll savour a champagne breakfast; we’ll already be a little giddied by the plain’s beauty and our good fortune to be so welcome and at ease in its presence.
Days 10 & 11 The Serengeti
We fly to the Serengeti via Nairobi and Arusha, Tanzania. Three million or more large mammals—elephants, cheetahs, gazelles by the gazillions, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes “floating across the plain” (thanks, Ms. Dinesen), lions, rhinos, and going on 60 more species— inhabit the great grassland, its riverine forests, and bustling, set-piece kopjes, rock islands that pop up from the plain.
We’ll spend our two Serengeti nights in either the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti or Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp. The magnificently conceived Four Seasons is set on a fine collection of kopjes, looking out at what seems to be a golden eternity, with sunrise skies “banded with rose and lemon and the colour of flamingo wings,” as Elspeth Huxley wrote. Grumeti is a chic, 10-tent camp set along the banks of an oxbow lake, bustling with stunningly sizable crocs and hippos, always heftier than we remember. These are the kinds of African places that loves to introduce our guests to, places that seduce us into slowing down.
Day 12 & 13 Ngorongoro Crater
Today, some of us may wish to visit the Olduvai Gorge, which—with a touch of poetic license—we honour as the jumping-off point for humankind’s incredibly rapid colonization of the earth.
After paying our genealogic respects at the consequential gorge, we make the lovely drive across the Crater Highlands and up to the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, perched on the rain-forested rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, one of our solar system’s greatest geographic ornaments.
In The Tree Where Man Was Born, Peter Matthiessen captured one of the crater’s enigmas: “How did the hippopotamus find its way up into the Crater Highlands, to blunder into the waters of Ngorongoro? Today one sees them there with wonder, encircled by steep walls.” Indeed, meandering around the softly lush caldera floor, we may feel like Professor George Edward Challenger and Lord John Roxton in Arthur Conan Doyle’s thriller The Lost World. True, we won’t see any Aardonyxes or Zupaysauri, but—as we often say—once you’ve really looked at a rhino, or contemplated the gigantic unlikeliness of an elephant, your old sadness at never having seen a dinosaur will be lightened.
Day 14 Depart Nairobi
After breakfast and a last look at the Edenic lands below, we’ll drive to Lake Manyara and hop on our flight to Nairobi, where we’ll have a day room at the Norfolk and get a bite to eat before being driven to the airport for our late flights back to the Northern Hemisphere.
Day 15 Connect in Europe
…for flights home.