After 36 hours in Nairobi where got a glimpse of Kenya´s Capital City (you can read all about it in my previous blog post), we took an early flight to Masai Mara for the next leg of our African adventure. All the different camps throughout Kenya are connected through small 12 people planes that operate like Uber Pool between the different camps in Massai Mara, they make quick stops at each campsite dropping off or picking up and sometimes you have to wait in the airfield for a smaller plane to pick you up and fly you to your final destination, it´s all part of the adventure and it doesn´t hurt that while you are waiting for your next flight there´s zebras and giraffes hanging around. When we landed we were picked up by our private guide and spotter they were our hosts for our entire stay. I can´t say enough about these two awesome guys who made our experience extra special and super fun! They quickly found out that our family has a dark sense of humor and started making practical jokes, which comes in handy when you spend 8 hours cramped up in a car.
We were not prepared for the amazing level of service we got from the moment we stepped down from the aircraft. The guides had set up a bar right there in the field for us to have a refreshment before heading out for a quick drive to the base camp. We were blown away! I mean I was drinking champagne in the middle of nowhere... little did I know at that time that this was just the beginning of an amazing trip and these amazing people that can turn any remote place into a bar, picnic area or fancy lunch. I still can´t figure out how they can pack some much in those cars. You can literally have lunch and dinner with zebras and wildebeest for company and go to sleep listening to the sounds of the whooping Hyenas and hear lions roaring from your bed (not nearly as scary as it sounds I promise).
We stayed at the Mara Bushtops tented camp nestled in their own private wildlife conservancy in Massai Mara. Upon our arrival at the hotel, the staff and manager greeted us with you guessed it more champagne! welcomed us, showed us everything and immediately made us feel at home. The lobby area opens up to impressive views of the Mara and an infinity pool and from here we went down to see our rooms.
The tents have a deck overlooking the savanna where you can be within 10 meters of a Giraffe, zebras, elephants... you name it! It has a hot tub that your guide can arrange with the hotel so it´s ready for you when you come back from the Safari tired and grubby hahaha.Although is a tent is not your childhood campground, these tents are amazing! Plush king size bed, indoor/outdoor shower and all the comforts of a regular hotel room with the perks of being in the wild. The camp is right in the middle of the reserve so anything can stroll on in; We could hear footstpes and all kind of sounds at night from our tent needless to say wandering around after dark and in the day are a no-no; there’s strict rules when you’re going to and from your room and you’re always escorted back and forth after dark by one of the Masai´s guards which only makes the whole thing feel more exciting.
The camp has a delicious restaurant with a la carte menu and delightful waiters and chef that will always go the extra mile to make sure you are having a great experience. There´s a big terrace outside the restaurant near a salt lick so there´s always different animals around creating the perfect view while you sip south African wine and eat delicious food.
When we booked our trip some of my family members where a bit anxious about the number of days we were going to spend in each camp "doing the same" since we are always used to city trips and being always on the go seeing new things every hour but oh boy were we wrong... once we got into what we called "Africa time" it becomes the most memorable trip of our lives. Every day we will see different animals or the same ones but with a different routine, also the peaceful and quietness that we experienced while in the savannah was unparallel.
Here is what you do on a typical safari day:
Early wake up call so we could catch the predators while having their breakfast. They will give us coffee, tea, fruit juice and cakes before we would head out on our daily game drive. We will then rush to get to the park before sunrise (be there by 5:30 am) so we could spot the lions, lionesses and other predators hunting for food before they went for their nap. Afterward, we will stop and they will set up an amazing breakfast spread, were we could stretch our legs, walk around and take awesome pictures. Once our bellies were full we will continue the game drive and look out for specific animals and work out our hunger for another stop for a bush lunch with crisp white wine and sometimes even a quick nap. We usually would be back at the hotel around 4 pm to rest, use the pool, gym, spa or simply read a book on the terrace. At night we will go to the dinner tent for cocktails and a lavish dinner before heading out back to our tents for a much-needed sleep.
While at the camp we also did a night game drive which was exhilarating and nerve-racking... picture this: pitch black environment in an open side car with a hyena walking right down your car so close you could hear her (I´m pretty sure it was a she LOL) breathing... we only stomached to do the night safari one, they also have night vision cameras so we could see in the built-in screes in the car what type of animals were crossing by.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting a Masai Village. We had an eye-opening and meaningful experience here. We were received by the "warriors" of the village with dances and the males of our group had to join and afterward, all the ladies of the village welcomed and invited us to dance with them and we all went inside the village. The chief of the village explained to us their magnificent and simplistic life philosophy where the entire community is seen as a family and contributing to the wellbeing of all. We learned how to make fire, did some shopping (amazing craftsmanship) and just spent a wonderful afternoon filled with laughs and love.
We did a sunrise hot air balloon safari which I recommend greatly! Although we had to get up at 3am it was a fantastic experience to see the sunrise from the air and fly above the animals. It´s so quiet and peaceful. I felt like I was transported to this dreamy world where everything stands still for a while.
I´ve probably written a lot of adjectives like awesome, wonderful, incredible and great... because this place deserves all of these and more and I´m no writer so I cannot think of better ways to describe the best trip of my life. The best part of Kenya is its people! Never met more kind, friendly and happy people. I left a part of me in Kenya and I can´t wait to go back!
I´m taking a break from the Africa posts to share with you what I should call the NYC Travel Guide for non-first timers... maybe I should work more on the title ;). NYC is one of those cities that I love going over and over because it has so many layers that there´s always new to discover. I´ve been to NYC multiple times and I feel like I never have time to see everything I wanted to because I get lost in beautifulness strolling through the neighborhood streets and then puff time is up!
My birthday was this past February 28th so my awesome husband gave me as a present what I like the most: a trip! We spent 4 perfect and cold days in NYC. Since we moved to Costa Rica about 9 months ago I´ve been missing the winters so I was more than happy to pack up my coats and boots. Traveling off-season especially to a big city like New York, has many advantages, there´s much less tourists so it is easier to navigate the streets without bumping into somebody every 20 seconds, it is much more relaxed , airline and hotel fares are lower and you can get tickets for most of the Broadway shows, of course, the downside is that it is cold and sometimes the weather won't let you do everything you wanted to.. like biking over the Brooklyn Bridge or biking at all :( but I´ll take that over crowded streets.
Where to Stay
We stayed at ROW NYC hotel which is located two blocks from Times Square long enough to escape all the noise but close to everything. We walked EVERYWHERE from the hotel and and for those rainy days, the subway is only one block away so it´s perfect! Location, location, location! This is a big hotel with the boutique hotel charm that I love the most! When I was searching for hotels and came across ROW NYC I was blown away by their attention to detail in every space, super cute rooms, location and most important a fair price.
ROW has super cool amenities, there´s a food hall named City Kitchen right at the lobby level where you can find everything: from doughnuts to sushi but if you are looking to satisfy your sweet tooth there´s also Sugar Factory with their famous milkshakes, dessert and everyrthing delicious and if you want to burn it all off you can head over to CYC Fitness cycling studio. ROW offers discounts to their guests to all these amenities. We had a great experience at the hotel and waking up to amazing city views from our bed. Check out their website and deals here.
What to do:
As I mentioned before this was not my first time in NYC so we didn´t go to most of the main touristic attractions but rather re-visited some of our favorite and strolled through new neighborhoods.
Top of the Rock: In my opinion is way better than the Empire State Building Observatory. My tip here is to arrive early in the morning to avoid crowds and to get truly spectacular pictures of the city without tons of heads in it. Also, head up to the 69th & 70th floor´s decks first because most people stay in the main observatory.
Grand Central Terminal: come here to appreciate all the architectural details and to grab delicious Danish baked goods at the new Great Northen Food Hall by the famous Danish restauranteur Claus Meyer.
New York Public Library: there´s always cool exhibitions going on plus the building itself is beautiful! Right behind is Bryant Park.
Central Park: every time we come to NYC we make our way here to explore different parts. There´s a Le pain Quotidien Cafe inside which sells the most amazing Belgian Waffles. Our plan was to use the Citi Bikes and burn some of those waffles and explore the northern part of the park but the rain didn´t let us.
Rockefeller Plaza: Stop by Bouchon Bakery to sip coffee and fresh pastries and shop a little bit.
Nolita: We went to a fantastic Food and Culture walking tour of Nolita & little Italy with Foods of NY Tours. We loved it! I´m always a bit hesitant with food tours because they tend to stop only at tourist traps but this one was different. Our tour guide was from Nolita so she walked us through history and we got to try out 6 really good restaurants, those that only the locals know. Totally recommend taking this tour.
High Line: walk around, get amazing views of the skyline on your way to the Chelsea Market for delicious eats. This is one of the sights that´s much nicer in the Spring/Summer but definitely worth a while.
Chelsea Market: Stop by to browse cool stores and sample delicious foods. There are snack type restaurant and seat down ones as well.
Meatpacking District: walk around this area before or after visiting Chelsea Market and the High Line. There are super cool and trendy shops.
Guggenheim Museum: We took advantage of their free admission day every Saturday after 4:00 pm.
9 11 Museum: We took the train and got down inside the Oculus transportation hub shopping mall which is an architectural masterpiece and then headed outside to the museum. It took us about 2 hours to walk around the entire museum and in my personal opinion, it was tastefully done.
Broadway Show: Catch a show and dinner. We went to see the Book of Mormon and it was great! There´s so many good options right now.
Where to eat:
and dinner at Lillie´s which is to die for! the decor
Flora Bar: located in the lower flor of The Met Breuer Museum is this hidden gem that serves tapas style plates and delicious cocktails.
Morimoto: hands down the best sushi I´ve had! In my experience far better than Nobu. It´s located right next to the Chelsea Market. Splurge and get the Morimoto Omakase tasting menu, you won´t regret it.
La Pecora Bianca: in NoMad this is where your instagrams dreams come to life! The place it self is soooo beautiful! and food was delicious!. It is a quaint neighborhood style restaurant.
Lillie´s Victoria Establishment: they had me at Victorian haha. This gastropub it´s located in the teathre district and we came here after watching The Book of Mormon. The decor inside it´s inside! most of their furnishing and decor comes from an 1800´s ballroom in Ireland. Upscale delicious bar food and drinks.
Cafe Boulud: We came here for the pre fix menu lunch, is tucked away on a side street on the Upper East Side.
Le Pain Quotidien: A must for breakfast! Their belgian waffles and avocado toast are the bomb!
Thanks ROW NYC for a lovely stay at your hotel!