As you awake in your lodge, the African sun sets the sky ablaze with the promise of another spectacular day. You awaken yourself with coffee and a bite, then join your fellow safari-goers for the day’s first adventure: a foray into the dew-flecked morning in search of big cats, hyenas and other astonishing wildlife fresh off their nocturnal hunt. You’ve learned these past few days that your driver-guides are miraculous trackers. They know where animals nap with their full bellies and where they retreat from the heat of the coming sunshine.

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But it’s not only the creatures that inspire you to new heights you never dreamed possible. This primitive, sweeping landscape – vast plains dotted with shrub bush, acacia trees and cloud shadows as far as you can see – stir your soul and awaken your spirit. This is Earth’s most dramatic stage, where predator and prey play out a constant dance of survival and the balance of nature is at its most harrowing … and its most beautiful.

After breakfast back at the lodge, you return to the wilds for more exploration. A new surprise unfolds at every turn: a leopard getting some shut eye in a tree, a towering group of giraffes, a pod of hippos soaking in the current of a lake. Then there are the elephants. Gigantic and graceful, imposing and somehow perceptive.

After lunch, you lay low to let the heat of mid-day pass. Then it’s out into the bush again. For more adventure. For more wonder. And for more gratitude that you’ve undertaken this epic journey in a small group so you can fully appreciate the grand and magnificent scale of Africa, unhurried and fully present.

Samburu National Reserve: A River Runs through It

Home to wildlife rarely found in other Kenya game parks, Samburu National Reserve spreads across the country’s plains and gentle northern hills for 60 square miles. Many of its animals gather at the lush banks of the park’s primary water source, the Ewaso Nyiro River, lined with doum palm groves and riverine forests. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this waterway (pronounced U-aa-so Nyee-ro, and meaning “brown water”) to the wildlife here. Where there is water, there is food, especially in this semi-arid desert. And so a vast array of creatures is drawn to this ecosystem for survival. More than this, the river cuts through a peaceful and unspoiled haven, situated as it is far from any city or industry.

More than 350 species of bird call Samburu home, as do the spear-horned oryx, reticulated giraffe, Masai lion, Tanzanian cheetah and olive baboon. But perhaps Samburu is best known as the setting where conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness, a story famously chronicled in their best-selling book Born Free and in the 1966 movie adaptation.

Aberdare National Park: A Mountainous Wildlife Haven

Located high in the Aberdare Mountain Range, this namesake park covers a wide variety of terrain, from its 14,000-foot peak to its 7,000-foot “lower” elevations. Beautiful valleys of moorland, bamboo and rainforest have been carved here by streams and rivers over millennia. As you arrive, you just might think you’ve stumbled upon Eden itself.

During your stay at The Ark, one of Kenya’s iconic tree lodges, you will have incredible views of a nearby watering hole from the property’s many different terraces. By day, you might spot elephant lumbering up for a drink, or perhaps the eastern black rhinoceros. By night, the pool is floodlit, allowing you to glimpse the secret world of African wildlife after dark.

Lake Nakuru National Park: A Paradise for Flamingoes

Like in Samburu, it’s the water that defines Lake Nakuru National Park. The shallow freshwater lake attracts all manner of birdlife, with hundreds of species recorded. The waters are highly alkaline and lure countless flamingoes, one of the greatest gatherings of winged creatures on Earth. Up to one million of them might appear at certain times of year, making it hard to see the lake’s surface through a blanket of pink. Pelicans and cormorants have been known to compete with the flamingoes for food.

Cheetahs, fish eagles and leopards may also be seen here, grazing on grass or prowling the shores of the lake. The park is proud to host more than 25 critically endangered eastern black rhinos and 70 southern white rhinos, a near-threatened species. It is also not unusual to spot large pythons dangling from trees in the dense woodland.

Masai Mara National Reserve: The Jewel of Kenya

Perhaps the best known game park in Kenya, Masai Mara National Reserve is home to one of nature’s great spectacles: the great wildebeest migration. This massive movement of creatures is a year-long journey that never ends as nearly 2 million wildebeest, a quarter million zebra and thousands of Thomson’s gazelles follow the cycle of grass growth in a giant circle that encompasses the Serengeti plains in neighboring Tanzania and the Masai Mara.

But wildebeest aren’t the only spectacle in this breathtaking wilderness. The Maasai people named this land “Mara” for its vast “spotted” landscape. Across a far horizon, grassy plains are dotted with patches of trees, animal herds and cloud shadows, creating an epic setting for nature’s drama. Perhaps the park’s most distinctive flora is the umbrella-like acacia tree, a symbol of Africa’s plains.

More than the Great Migration and more than the stunning landscape, it is in the Masai Mara that you are most likely to spot Africa’s “Big Five”: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino, an apt ending to your unforgettable safari.

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