Our great Kenyan adventure started with a rather uneventful flight from Heathrow to Nairobi. To be honest, this is exactly the start parents want with 2 children in tow. Meals that they enjoyed, movies on tap and the opportunity for us all to sleep as it was an overnight flight. On arrival in Nairobi we were met by our Serena driver who transferred us to the brand new train terminal for the next leg of our journey – The Madaraka Express. This transfer took 15 minutes so it is very easy to connect it with the overnight KQ flight.
Security is taken extremely seriously for the Madaraka Express, so be prepared for your luggage to go via sniffer dogs and for you and your luggage to go through 2 additional Security screens. Once inside this vast and very modern terminal we made our way to the First Class Lounge. How grand and VIP this sounds. In reality, it means you get a separate sitting area, a free cup of tea and your own entrance onto the train! On board however, the seating is more spacious, you can sit closer to your luggage and again, you get a free cup of tea! For the cost of US$ 40 for 2 children and 2 adults from Nairobi to Amboseli it is well worth it. The train is clean and spacious with lovely staff. In style very much like a modern inter-city train in the U.K.
2 and a half hours later we arrived at Emali where Denge, our Serena driver met us for the hour long transfer to Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge. Actually, Denge is the wonderful naturalist at Amboseli Serena which was a great start to our trip as we had our first game drive straight away enroute to the lodge! Before we even entered Amboseli we were greeted by our first sighting of giraffe. Interestingly, you don’t find giraffe within the actual Amboseli National Park but rather grazing outside due to the vegetation.
Amboseli National Park is one of the most important national parks in Kenya and one of the largest. It is home to over 66 elephant family groups which make up an elephant population of over 1400 elephants. During our 2 nights here we would see in excess of 15 family groups and 140 elephants.
Amboseli National Park has the iconic African savannah landscape with the picture perfect snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro as your backdrop and majestic elephants slowly making their way across the vast plains and Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge has the perfect location in the park. The low rise buildings blend beautifully with the surroundings giving way to grounds overlooking a water hole. Here we saw zebra, wildebeest and various antelope grazing and coming to drink. In the afternoon we would sit and watch this unfold whilst the monkeys watched and waited for any possible opportunity to come and steal our snacks! We realised very quickly how important the Masai staff were in keeping these lovable but naughty monkeys in check. This in fact is the key role of the Masai at the lodge as the monkeys start to identify the red robes of the Masai and know that they are there to challenge them and see them off!
As a family we had a family room which is one entrance and two separate bedrooms off of it, connected either through the main entrance or through the one shared bathroom. We also had 2 patio areas. This worked brilliantly for us travelling with a 9 year old and a 13 year old. Plenty of space but the confidence that you would know if the children tried to wander! The rooms are painted with individual local artwork which really adds to the tribal feel.
So we arrived in time for lunch and left 2 days later having spent 2 nights at this lovely lodge. During our stay we spent most of our time with Denge the naturalist, Joseph, our Safari guide and Kevin, our Masai guide – yes I did get the name right! We however felt welcomed by each and every staff member we encountered. We learnt about the Masai culture and Daisy tried some Masai dancing. We enjoyed a bush dinner with more Masai entertainment and where Hayden was able to help keep the fire lit.
As a family we each planted a tree as part of the Serena conservation programme and last but by no means least, we went on 2 incredible game drives. Here we saw over 100 elephants, 2 prides of lion, jackals, zebra, buffalo, baboons and wildebeest. Also to my great surprise we saw both the lesser and greater flamingoes on the lakes in vast quantities. A wonderful spectacle.
2 nights and 3 days was the perfect amount of time as we were going to be heading onto Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge in Tsavo West next. I was actually feeling a little nervous – how could Kilaguni Serena and Tsavo West hope to match the incredible experience that we had at Serena Amboseli….
But match it, it did! As the earth turned a beautiful red, we realised why it is so wonderful to experience both Amboseli and Tsavo West. It is only a 2 hour drive through the parks between lodges but a world of difference. You have moved away from the open plains of Amboseli and on entering Tsavo West you feel like you are entering a true wilderness that is just ready for you to start exploring. Even though we didn’t off road, bumping along the rutted tracks with the thick acacia woodlands and the overhanging branches grazing the sides of the vehicle, you really felt like an adventurer truly tracking the game.
We arrived at Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge and were met by the most incredible sight. As you walk through the open plan main area of the lodge you are drawn towards the watering hole that sits just a couple of hundred yards from the building. Here great herds of elephant were going about their daily business. We would discover to our delight that this took place day and night, so whilst we enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner, a drink or a game of cards, the elephants enjoyed ambling down for a drink of water or to bathe often joined by zebra and on occasion a cheeky hyena!
At Kilaguni we were lucky enough to stay in 2 inter-connecting suites giving us ample space to spread out as we had 2 enormous bedrooms and bathrooms plus 2 spacious lounge and dining areas. However if guests are looking for a more affordable option, the standard interconnecting rooms are lovely and give plenty of space as well.
Again, we stayed for 2 nights which I would certainly recommend. This way you can experience the Lion Rock Bush breakfast, breakfast out in the bush on top of a massive rock. Amazing. The big attraction however in Tsavo West is Mzima Springs. Here you go on a nature walk with an armed guard down to the springs where you can view the hippo and crocs from different vantage points. We also took 2 game drives with Anthony, the Naturalist at Kilaguni where we spotted Leopard, elephants, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and dik-dik. Here you feel truly immersed in a real wilderness of your own.
All this activity at both Amboseli and Kilaguni gave way to some greatly anticipated meal times. In my mind, Serena has always been known for its amazing vegetable curries. Well my husband Steve and daughter Daisy really could not get enough of these. They loved trying all the options as did I. Hayden who is quite a typical 9 year old boy, is not so adventurous! As such it is good to note that both Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge and Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge are incredibly flexible with their food – pancakes with Nutella for breakfast and a great pasta station kept Hayden happy. For the rest of us, the buffet was fantastic.
Sadly it was time to leave the bush. 30 minutes by vehicle and we were back at the train station, this time Mtito Andei, and ready to board the Madaraka Express once more to continue our journey to Mombasa and the Swahili coast. The Mombasa train station is a true sight to behold and all the locals getting off the train couldn’t help but take numerous selfies with this wonderful new station. It truly is a fantastic transport addition. We swiftly found our Serena driver who navigated the crowds and we were soon back on the road and heading for Serena Beach Hotel & Spa and a few days chilling out by the pool.