Cameras clicked. Everyone sat motionless. I peered through a pair of binoculars at five cheetahs laying in the afternoon shade. My family was in one of the four safari vehicles that had gathered for this rare sighting. We watched as one cheetah slowly got up, stretched, walked several feet, and lay down again. Another twitched its ears and yawned. I had seen cheetahs before at the zoo, but that did not at all compare to seeing them in the wild in Kenya. It was simply majestic.
In June of 2017, my family took a trip to East Africa for 4 weeks, touring Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. While there, we visited friends and non-profit organizations, rested, and went to three parks for safaris: Nairobi National Park, Naboisho Conservancy in Maasai Mara in Southern Kenya (where we saw the cheetahs), and Akagera National Park in Eastern Rwanda. Each safari was different and had its own advantages and disadvantages. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I will give you a basic understanding of how to choose between safari options.
During our time in the Naboisho Conservancy, we saw lions, leopards, elephants, zebras, antelope, impalas, ostriches, hippos, hyenas, wildebeests, monkeys, baboons, and giraffes, in addition to the cheetahs. This was the largest selection of animals of any of the three parks we visited, but Nairobi and Akagera had other animals that were not native to the Mara. At Nairobi National Park, we saw rhinos, cape buffalo, and eland, and at Akagera, we found many different species of birds that we would never find in Naboisho. Each park has different animals to see, and some animals can only be spotted in select parks. Researching what kinds of animals are in each park before you go on safari helps you decide which park to go to, and so that you won’t be disappointed the animals you wanted to see are in a different park.
We rode in different vehicles on each safari: a pop-top van in Nairobi, an open Toyota land cruiser in Naboisho, and a bus in Akagera. The van was great for pictures, but you had to stand basically the entire time. The bus was high up, which was also good for photos, but it was difficult to see out the front. The land cruiser, though, was the best vehicle. Not only did we have a full view of our surroundings, we were also able to go off-road and get close to the animals. Picking an appropriate vehicle for your safari is very important, and significantly affects your experience.
We also had different guiding experiences on the safaris. Our guide in the Mara was simply fantastic. Dixon new where to find the animals, contacted other guides to locate wildlife, and could name birds by their calls. Over the two days we spent with him, we got to know him and learned from him. Having a knowledgeable and personable guide is an indispensable part of a perfect safari. Some parks do not require visitors to have a guide, but I would highly recommend hiring one.
Because of the wildlife, vehicle, and guide, our time at the Naboisho conservancy was remarkable. This is not to say that the other safaris were not worth the time or money, but our experience in the Mara was just outstanding. My family had an unforgettable time on safari, and I hope you have the opportunity to see the spectacular wildlife of Africa for yourself.
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