The anthem Circle of Life rings true in this real-life African safari
If there was ever a stage set for the Disney classic Lion King, it is here, in Maasai Mara, a national reserve sheltered in southwest Kenya, a magnificent topography of sand, grasslands, plateaus and wide-open plains. Trees are scattered and stand on their own, showcasing the magnificent view of the distant mountains and the lovely gradients of the sky once the sun dips into the horizon. This, perhaps, is the inspiration behind the nickname “Mara,” a local term for “spotted,” implying that the single trees appear like dots from the distance. Maasai Mara is home to the Maasai people, as well as a famous game reserve that has lured eager game watchers from around the world.
Unlike in the Disney animation, animals don’t break out in choruses, but one can marvel at their real-life sounds in their natural habitat. What is known as the Big Five thrives freely here at Mahali Mzuri, lions freely prowl in their arid grasslands, occupying the Nkuyana rock that mimics the same atmosphere as Simba’s Pride Rock. In a different terrain, away from the king of the beasts, leopards chase in their spotted glory. Elephants appear mightily in numbers, tramping on the grounds. Rhinos intimidate with their hefty bodies and strong horns, while buffalos graze around the greener pastures. Aside from these majestic creatures, other animals coexist with each other; at the Mara Plains, giraffes, zebras, gazelles and impalas feed on grass and races swiftly away at the sight of the predator. Warthogs a la Pumbaa can be found scouring for their soil-sodden delicacies with their snouts.The red-billed hornbills, like Zazu, are constantly pecking the Acaia trees for their regular dose of insects.
Celebrating the “Circle of Life,” Virgin Limited Edition—a luxurious collection of otherworldly retreats immersed in nature—finds its way in the middle of Maasai Mara. This season, Sir Richard Branson props up his opulent tents in the middle of the safari, giving one a peek of the beloved Lion King characters, this time, less animated, more true to life. Gaze at new Simbas and Nalas born into the Dikidik pride at the Olare Motorogi Conservancy—best visited during calving season during November rainy seasons. Be wary; in the wet season, the ground is muddy and the atmosphere misty, making it hard for one to observe at a distance. At best, visit the game reserve during its dry-cool months from July to October. Coincidentally, this is also the season for the Great Migration of wildebeest.
Game drives are done twice a day, led by expert guides pointing at the remarkable terrains and unexpected animal sightings. When done, go home in one of the 12 luxurious tents lodged inside the camp, surrounded by the lush scenery and lit by the glittery night sky. Tours include unlimited visits to the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, tours to the local market, scrumptious meals and drinks—not forgetting a glass of wine or two—and wireless internet, to quickly posts snapshots of the day’s adventure in the social media. Safari should be enjoyed by kids, too. Until December 2019, the Maasai Mara Virgin Limited Edition allows a kid’s Go Free option. Rates start from US$ 1,380 per head, with 4 nights of minimum, consecutive stay.www.virginlimitededition.com ◼
© This article was first published online in August 2019 – World Travel Magazine.