A Honeymooner's Guide to Traveling to Kenya's Maasai Mara
Here's what you need to know about booking your first married trip to one of Africa's most picturesque game reserves.
You've decided to honeymoon in Africa, which means you're guaranteed an adventurous start to married life. If you've talked to other couples who also took their post-wedding vacation on the continent, they've likely told you stories about the beauty—and the incredible wildlife—of South Africa, which has become one of the most popular spots in the world for safari honeymooners. We'd encourage you, however, to turn your gaze east and upward, to Kenya. Home to 13 national parks and seven game reserves (we recommend heading to one of its best, the Maasai Mara!), there's so much to uncover in this region, which isn't as highly trafficked by honeymooners.
Have we convinced you to book a trip to this incredible country? You're in luck: Traveling to Kenya, especially from the United States, has never been easier. Ahead, you'll discover everything you need to know about preparing for, booking, and plotting out your trip to Kenya, right down to the most granular details—from the mandatory vaccinations you'll need before your travels (and the pills to take before, during, and after to prevent malaria) to the direct-to-Nairobi airline currently operating out of New York City. Of course, we've featured the trip highlights, too, including the the luxury safari lodge to call home for your stay and the excursions (from safaris that deliver Big Five sightings all year round to hot air balloon trips that culminate in Champagne brunches) that will make your Africa honeymoon a memory to treasure forever.
Use the following recommendations on where to stay, eat, and celebrate in Kenya to ensure that your first trip as newlyweds becomes a voyage you'll talk about years after you return home.
How to Prepare: Vaccinations
Traveling to Africa means double-checking your vaccinations to ensure most are up to date—and scheduling a time to get a shot you likely haven't yet received: the yellow fever vaccine, which is mandatory for entry into Kenya, specifically. While mainstream pharmacies and doctor offices used to offer this shot in house, you'll now have to make an appointment at a travel clinic for yours. Be prepared for the cost—due to a shortage in the United States, the yellow fever vaccination will likely set you back around $200 (plus an office fee, since most travel clinics don't accept insurance).
Also consider getting boosters for Hepatitis B and C and typhoid fever (these shots are typically offered by your general practitioner or pharmacy and are usually covered by insurance). Your doctor will also prescribe you anti-malaria pills, which you need to take exactly as directed in order to protect yourself.
It is important to note, however, that many places in Kenya are low-risk for malaria, the Maasai Mara game reserve included.
How to Get There: A Direct-to-Kenya Airline
Good news for newlyweds on the East Coast: Kenya Airways now offers a direct-to-Nairobi flight out of John F. Kennedy Airport. Clocking in at just under 15 hours both ways, the flight eliminates pesky layovers (all other airlines' offered flights to Kenya come with at least one stop). You'll still be spending the majority of your travel day in the air—which is why you'll want to consider upgrading to business class (you're on your honeymoon, after all). The roomy cabin offers seats that transform into beds, endless leg room, and several gourmet meals—not to mention the top-of-the-line service from your designated crew member.
How to Get There: Your Second Flight
That's right—once you step onto Kenyan soil, you'll be back up in the air again shortly. If you're traveling to the Maasai Mara, bookmark Air Kenya. Operating out of Wilson Airport, their charter flights make plenty of stops around the major game parks in Kenya, including the Mara (just be prepared for a few take-offs and landings, in case your lodge isn't the first stop on the route). Try to sit near the front, so you can get a first-hand view of the pilots operating the tiny aircraft.
Another key tip: Since getting to a safari lodge in Kenya virtually always involves taking a smaller airplane, you'll need to pack accordingly. Hard suitcases often aren't allowed on these types of aircrafts; there's also typically a weight restriction per bag, so be sure to do your research to ensure that you'll be allowed to board your second (and final!) flight.
Where to Stay: Hemingways
If you decide to delay that second flight, however, to spend a few days or hours in Nairobi, put Hemingways on your radar. The boutique hotelier offers day rates, which means you can rent a luxurious room (draped four-poster bed, double sinks, butler service, and all!)—and take advantage of the property's pool and bar—to freshen up post-first flight before continuing onto the game reserve.
Where to Stay: Angama Mara
You'd think it would be impossible to find a luxury safari lodge that feels like home—after all, when you're new to the wild, how could it? Angama Mara, however, has done it. Complete with two main camps (North and South), curated canvas-and-glass tents filled to the apex with upscale amenities (fun fact: the lodging's design was predicated on the iron baths in each dwelling), and a staff whose mission is to make you part of their extended family, Angama Mara is the best possible place in the Maasai Mara to kick off the honeymoon of a lifetime.
Other highlights? The impressive menu, which features fruits and veggies grown on the property's resident garden, called the shamba, regular game drives (factored into the all-inclusive rate are trips into the game reserve located just below the lodge), an on-property photo studio (top-of-the-line cameras are available for rent), and, of course, the unparalleled views of the Mara. You'll be able to spot elephants from your tent's front-facing deck—and, if you're really lucky, get a private audience with a family of baboons (Angama is unenclosed, which means your neighbors likely walk on four legs).
Be sure to ask about the Out of Africa picnic, which Angama Mara offers to couples—this involves a tasty meal on a breathtaking vista (the very same one made famous by the Meryl Streep and Robert Redford film, Out of Africa).
What to Do: Game Drives
Though your safari lodge will transport you into the Maasai Mara, you need to factor one other cost into the equation—visitors are required to pay a park fee (equivalent to $80 American dollars per day) to enter the reserve. It's a small price to pay (and a meaningful one! All funds go towards animal conservation and protection) for the adventure that awaits—watch baby elephants tussle in the grass, lazy male lions snooze under sausage trees, and giraffes gallop across the park's plains. Most safari-goers rise early for their first round—animals are most active in the morning, before the sun reaches its peak—return back to their lodge for an afternoon siesta (and a gin and tonic!), and then go back out for a late-afternoon drive. Whatever you do, spend as much time among the animals as you can.
Pro tip: Planning your trip around the Great Migration (the period during which tons of animals cross over from Tanzania into Kenya's Maasai Mara)? Know that migration predictions aren't an exact science; while the animals might venture over in late July one year, they might travel in early August the next. Regardless, there's no right or wrong time to visit the Mara—you shouldn't value the "peak-season" over the "off-season." You're just as likely to see the Big Five—lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and buffalos—during the off-season as you are during the Great Migration.
What to Do: Hot Air Balloon Ride
…meets Champagne brunch. You'll need to rise early (as in 4 a.m.) to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime excursion with Governors' Balloon Safaris, but the wake-up call will be worth it (promise!). Soak in the beauty of the Maasai Mara—and get an overhead view of all of its residents, from elephant families to water buffalo—from 1,000 feet in the air, as you rise up and up with the sun. After you come back down to earth, enjoy a full bush breakfast, mimosas included.
What to Do: The Karen Blixen Museum
When your safari excursion on the Mara has come to a close, you'll have to head back to Nairobi before hopping on your plane. While there, consider checking out a few of the city's hotspots, which includes the home of author Karen Blixen, who penned the autobiographical novel Out of Africa. Learn all about her incredible life, love affair included, in the home located on the grounds of her former coffee plantation (which she ran single-handedly, with the help of her beloved staff).
What to Do: David Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage
Nairobi's David Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage—an animal protection organization that rehabilitates orphaned and injured baby elephants and rhinos before releasing them back into the wild—is open to the public just one hour per day, but it's a must on your honeymoon itinerary for the cute factor alone. Like the Karen Blixen Museum, the orphange is a great post-safari excursion, since it's located within the city (and therefore, near the airport). At the sanctuary, you'll be able to watch these small animals feed (they drink human baby formula!) and best, of all, touch them (as long as you stand still and quietly, bold elephants will come right up to you).
This isn't, however, the time to break out your best honeymoon dress—the elephants douse themselves in mud and dust to keep cool under the African sun and think humans are perfect back-scratchers. Before you leave the orphange, consider adopting and sponsoring one of the little creatures in your new spouse's name as a post-wedding gift.
What to Do: Giraffe Centre
Where to Eat: Nyama Mama
Beat the honeymoon's-almost-over blues by stopping for a taste of Nairobi on the way back to the airport. Though Nyama Mama's most impressive dish is its tiered meat platter (think BBQ, Kenya-style), it has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options (the Ugali fries with garlic sauce are a must).