Tour to Diani Tsavo and Amboseli
Kenya has been a long-time favourite safari destination of mine. A quick 8 hour direct flight from the UK makes it an easy destination to visit, even for short breaks. The 3 hour time distance means that limited time is lost to jet-lag, and I am not sure whether it is just sheer luck, but the animal sightings I have in Kenya are always just exceptional!
My latest trip in November 2022 was just 8 nights, but we certainly packed it in and it honestly felt like we had been away for much longer. The trip was a mixture of business and pleasure as we wanted to visit some of the mid-range lodges and lesser visited parks we are looking to add in to a ‘short-break’ itinerary for 2023/24. We opted to look at a Diani Tsavo Amboseli route that combined both beach and safari as this is always a well-loved combination that offers the intense enjoyment of wildlife spotting alongside the full relaxation and rejuvenation of the crisp white sand beaches on the Indian Ocean
The trip started with three nights relaxing along the beautiful Kenya coastline in Diani. Normally the choice would be to end a trip with a chilled beach stay, however, work has (thankfully) been so busy that it just felt right this time to get some well-needed down time before embarking on the early morning safaris and bumpy Kenyan roads! From Diani we headed over to Tsavo East for one night, followed by Tsavo West for a night before ending our safari adventures with two nights in Amboseli. Owing to the Kenya Airways flight times we did need to do a night in Nairobi before the flight home – but this gave us the opportunity to visit the always enjoyable Giraffe Centre to feed the giraffes before heading over to our airport hotel for the night. This itinerary can easily be done in reverse, for those who prefer the more traditional approach of ending with the beach.
As mentioned above we opted to fly with Kenya Airways as this airline continues to offer exceptional value for money, particularly in low season – with our return flights costing just over £500pp. As we did our international with KQ we automatically booked the connection with Kenya Airways on to Mombasa in order to get to Diani. In hindsight this was a mistake, and we should have instead booked a separate internal with Jambo Air to take us direct to the smaller airstrip of Ukunda that is right in the heart of Diani. Despite Mombasa only being 25 miles from Diani the journey was extremely hot and stuffy in the city and the journey took well over 2 hours, with a considerable wait for the 10 minute car-ferry crossing that is unavoidable from the airport.
In Diani we stayed at the luxury Baobab Beach Resort. There were three of us travelling in one room so we went for one of the Deluxe Sea-View Rooms, which had a fantastic big balcony with a double day-bed and table and chairs. Inside the room were 2 queen beds and a full size single bed that easily fit in alongside the desk, wardrobe, coffee table and chairs. There was excellent air-con and a ceiling fan to help escape the 30 degree sun, and the beds were extremely comfortable. The bathroom, whilst large, was slightly dated and we did have issues with low water power in the toilet and shower, however nothing too major, and it was easily fixed.
The resort was split into three areas and we were in Maridadi, which after visiting the other two parts to the resort, we decided was the nicest! We had three pools, one of which was a beautiful infinity pool that overlooked the stunning beach, the second was an adults only quiet pool and the third pool came with a swim up bar. We spent our full days here simply lazing around in or around the pool, taking an occasional dip in the sea (whilst trying to avoid the many hawkers) or just reading a book on the comfortable sun-beds/covered day-beds. The weather was just perfect in November to simply sit and chill – all whilst surrounded by phenomenal views.
The staff at the resort were all fantastic, always ready to help and extremely friendly. Meals were buffet style and whilst the choice was decent, I would say the quality was ‘buffet average’. The exception being the freshly cooked pasta as this was always delicious. We certainly didn’t starve as there was food on offer all day as part of the all-inclusive and I was also impressed at the variety of drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) included with the package from 10am until midnight every day.
Even though we were all inclusive we did decide to spend one evening having a meal at Ali Barbours, which is a unique restaurant 10 minutes from the hotel where you dine in a cave. The atmosphere here was relaxing, and the food just amazing! I opted for the seafood as we were on the coast and I had oyster gratin to start and lobster thermidor for a main – both were fresh and tasty and great value for money. For a little bit of food theatrics to finish I chose the Crepe Suzette for dessert that they flambéed right at the table – a great end to a great meal.
The three of us absolutely loved our stay at Baobab, however this does come with a big caveat. At the time of our visit there were maybe 300 people staying at the resort over the three areas as the recovery from Covid is still slow. This resort accommodates over 800, and I do feel that had that many people been there it would have felt over-crowded and just too busy, which personally I would find very off-putting. I would go back to Diani as it had the most wonderful ocean views. However, I think I would look at a smaller property such as Elewana AfroChic. Although, with the smaller properties comes a much higher price-tag, which does then move the tour from more mid-range costs to high-end.
From Diani we had our own private guide for the safari portion of the trip from one of the fantastic local companies that we work with. The first day it took approximately 5 hours to get to our lodge in Tsavo East, but with only a very small proportion of the trip on bumpy dirt roads – it was a great drive. Our lodge for one night was Ashnil Aruba, which is widely classed at one of the best lodges in the area. However, I personally wasn’t overly keen as we did have some issues. Whilst (as always) the staff were all fantastic I found the cottage rooms where we were staying to be dated, and in need of general repair. In addition, the room was stiflingly hot. Now I of course do realise it is Africa and it is hot – even during low season (November), but this was one of the only lodges I’ve stayed in (and there have been hundreds) where the rooms were simply unbearable. There was only a small fan attached to the wall, which didn’t work, so they had provided a standing fan. The issue with this was the lack of plug sockets meant it could only be plugged in to one area of the room, making it all but useless when trying to sleep as it didn’t reach the bed area. In addition, the lodge have opted for thick, dark curtains that just means the room retains heat as it has nowhere to go – even when the small window slats were opened to try and let some air in. However, the good news is that the lodge does also have luxury tented accommodation available, and this is definitely my recommendation for anyone staying here as these rooms are far more comfortable. The food at the lodge was buffet style, and the freshly cooked Indian food was really good, with the other pre-prepared food being fairly standard. The pool area was great, and there was a lovely fire-pit for the evening. There is also a big waterhole for lodge-side game viewing. We unfortunately didn’t get to experience this because of the extreme droughts in the area, but I could just tell it would be a lovely place to sit out, and the size of the waterhole would attract a wide variety of animals.
We had an amazing time in Tsavo East on our game drives where we saw a huge variety of animals and birds. The highlight had to be the two separate close-up encounters with lions who had both recently had a kill and were either feeding on their prey or sleeping off their meals right in the middle of the road. There were also big herds of elephants and buffalo, and we saw many giraffes, zebra, and antelope. Tsavo East has a very dry and barren landscape, which is great for safari as it is so much easier to spot the animals. The bright red sands, also make for great photographs with the contrast of the bright blue skies. Overall, I loved the area, and for one night the accommodation at Ashnil was fine because it was in a good location, and the animal sightings were much better in East Tsavo than West.
Our journey over to Tsavo West was a mixture of game drive and tarmac road, and took approximately 4.5 hours, with lots of photo stops. Tsavo is the biggest national park in Kenya and you really get a perspective of this when crossing between the two distinct areas. Tsavo West has a completely different look to Tsavo East as the west is lush and green, with towering hills framing the park and offering great panoramic views. Here we got to experience Mzima Springs as we went on a short 30 minute walk in the area with an armed and extremely knowledgeable Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) guard. We saw a HUGE and active hippo pod and got to see giant fish under the crystal clear waters from the well positioned underwater hide, which is a completely unique safari experience – fish are definitely overlooked on typical safaris!
Our lodge in Tsavo West was Serena Kilugani. This is a relatively big lodge, and there is a great restaurant and bar here that directly overlooks a waterhole – so we got to sit and watch elephants, wildebeest, impala, marabou storks and zebra all from our ringside seats at the bar – with a wine in hand of course – Perfect! The rooms are basic, but have everything you need for the stay. The selling point of the rooms though is the balcony that looks out directly into the park. From here we got to see waterbuck, dik dik, mongoose, zebra, wildebeest, guinea fowl and impala all before breakfast and all incredibly close to our room. What a great start to any day!
After the one night in Tsavo West it was time to head over to Amboseli. The journey we took was through the park via the Shetani lava flows, and all I can say is WOW what a journey. The views were simply breathtaking with a landscape of undulating hills, rock formations, lush green trees and of course the suspense of what animals might greet us at every turn! My photos simply do not do these landscapes justice…. I just looked on in awe.
It took about 5 hours to get to our next destination, and this was mainly a safari drive with only the final section on good quality tarmac roads, so the time just flew by. In Amboseli our accommodation was Kibo Safari Camp– and we all absolutely loved it here. Our room was a large traditional safari tent with a thatched roof, and excellent en-suite bathroom. We had three separate beds, all with individual good quality mosquito nets and a lovely porch area to sit out on during our down time. We had two nights here but wish we had made it three! The food was excellent and offered the usual buffet, but with the addition of made to order wood-fired pizzas and a different freshly cooked ‘chefs choice’ each evening. There was a lovely pool area to relax, with its own bar, and you could also get a range of spa services on site. The staff were exceptional, the communal areas welcoming and comfortable and this is definitely a lodge I will be both recommending and returning to.
The game drives in Amboseli were again phenomenal. For me the highlights were sightings of two of the more unique animals in the region – the caracal and the bat-eared fox. Both of these sightings were both brief and completely unexpected as these are notoriously shy animals, but so memorable nonetheless. Perhaps most surprising was that the bat-eared fox was sat out completely in the open in the middle of the day, when these are typically nocturnal creatures. Just beautiful. We also spent about 30 minutes at a wonderful hyena den, where we got to watch tiny hyena cubs playfully fighting and just generally annoying their parents!
There is an abundance of game in the park so there is so much to look at all day. What is unique about Amboseli is the swamp areas where you get to see hippo, a huge variety of birds, buffalo, elephants, wildebeest and antelope in the water all munching away on the rich green plants. The other unique aspect of this park is of course the back-drop of mighty Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately for our stay the mountain was shy and largely stayed hidden behind cloud, but occasionally you got a quick glimpse of the sheer height and towering presence of the world’s largest freestanding mountain.
Sadly, Amboseli was our last stop for safari on this trip, but what a fantastic way to end. The road back to Nairobi is on excellent tarmac roads, but just a little slow going due to the sheer volume of lorries taking the same route. My advice though is to just sit back and enjoy the fascinating views of Kenyans going about their daily life as you pass through many villages and towns of varying sizes.
The roads in Nairobi are notoriously gridlocked at most times, so to avoid any (very) early morning pre-flight stress we opted to stay at the Crowne Plaza on site at the airport. Fantastic hotel, with great rooms, a lovely rooftop pool with bar and a tasty buffet breakfast, all just 5 minutes complimentary transfer from the terminal ready to fly home! Will definitely be staying here again on our next Kenyan adventure.
All in all it was another successful and enjoyable trip to Kenya. One thing that we all commented on at the end of this trip was that it felt like we had been away for much longer than 8 nights, as we had easily managed to fit in so many memorable and enjoyable experiences without feeling rushed or like we were missing out. It really is a fantastic way to spend a week’s leave, and all from just over £200 per person per day (based on 2 sharing) including all meals, private guide, transfers, game drives and accommodation.
If you would like a similar trip in 2023 or 2024 please see here for details: