The reaction when you tell someone you just returned from safari is quite interesting. The first question: Did you see the big five? The second, did you travel through Abercrombie & Kent? The answer to the former is almost; the latter is a resounding yes.
For anyone who has dreamed of touching down in this majestic corner of the world, Abercrombie & Kent is your first call. Long known as the leader in luxury tour operations, the outfitter has been designing adventures in 100 countries on all seven continents since 1962. The ease and perfection with which these pros plan take all the guessing out of your dream safari. On booking my expedition, I opt for a city and safari itinerary—getting the best of both worlds. But, really, there are no requests big or small the company can’t accommodate.
The initial leg of my journey takes me to Nairobi, where, upon landing, I’m greeted by an Abercrombie & Kent team member. I feel at home instantly. Here, I visit Giraffe Centre and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where I’m introduced to the critical rescue and rehabilitation work of orphaned elephants. I even get to tour the home of famous author and one of Kenya’s most celebrated residents Karen von Blixen, of Out of Africa fame.
Then, it’s on to my final destination. This particular excursion takes me to the Masai Mara, a national reserve in southwestern Kenya. While spotting the big five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo to those new to safaris—is my main goal, it becomes evident very quickly that the beauty of this vast landscape is filled with the most memorable wildlife, from the time you fly overhead to your landing on the grassy airstrip. Luckily, Abercrombie & Kent’s knowledgeable and fascinating experts are on hand to guide you as soon as you arrive. During the short trip to my accommodations (also seamlessly arranged through Abercrombie & Kent), I receive a virtual lesson in the animals that populate the land.
My home for the next six nights is Sanctuary Olonana (October suites from $850 per night, sanctuaryretreats.com), a stunning luxury lodge that sits on the Mara River. With only 14 suites, the decor expertly blends the natural surroundings with the ultimate in high-end service. As I check in—refreshing cocktail in hand—hippopotamuses splash in the river below. These giant creatures become my constant lunch companions as I dine in the property’s beautiful restaurant overlooking the river. Dinners are also served on the patio, with the sounds of rushing water providing the perfect backdrop to delicious meals.
My room has the air of a midcentury home, with multiple areas to lounge and an open-air rain shower I am still dreaming about. Truth be told, Sanctuary Olonana is such a breathtaking setting that it’s difficult to leave for daily excursions, which, of course, are deftly planned by Abercrombie & Kent. During early morning rides, I spy rhinoceroses, and, on a late afternoon safari, lions are spotted. I see a mesmerizing wildebeest crossing (unexpectedly early this year). A sunrise hot air balloon ride, which concludes with a Champagne breakfast, is worth the 4:30am wake-up call. I even opt for the walking safari, during which I learn about Masai culture and visit a Masai village. While the elusive leopard evades me, it’s not without the effort from my personal guide, Anthony Lekumok Ole Mpikas, who not only knew instinctually where to take me, but made me feel safe at all times.
I soon begin to think there should be a new definition of the big five. Perhaps, it should include the landscape, the sunrises and sunsets, the star-filled nighttime skies, the warmth of the locals, and the colors and beaded necklaces the Masai make and wear. On my return to the U.S., I’m introduced to a term well-known to anyone who has visited Africa: mal d’Afrique. It’s the feeling of nostalgia and the longing to return. This has proven true for me—I’m already planning my return.