Mention safari and most minds typically focus on Tanzania’s vast Serengeti plains or the lodges lining South Africa’s big-name parks like Kruger. But the East African country of Kenya makes safari seem like a real-life scene from The Lion King as herds of almost 2 million wildebeest and zebra make their annual trek to the Maasai Mara during the Great Migration. Not only is Kenya home to the Big Five—meaning you can check spotting leopards and lions off your list—it’s also home to Africa’s second-highest peak, Mount Kenya, a bucket-list hike for serious trekkers and a scenic backdrop for a romantic breakfast in the bush. From sleeping along hippo-lined rivers to walking safaris with rhinos, here’s how to plan the ultimate honeymoon hop through Kenya with sunrises so scenic, it’ll be worth that 6 a.m. safari wake-up call.
Start by flying into Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi, which will be even easier this fall when Kenya Airways rolls out a new nonstop flight from New York’s JFK. Save time by purchasing your eVisa online so you can speed through the airport and hop in a cab to the first destination on your honeymoon hop: Fairmont The Norfolk. Since the historic hotel opened on Christmas Day in 1904, it has served as a starting point for Kenya’s safaris, as well as the lodging of choice for the likes of Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and the duke and duchess of Connaught. Now Nairobi’s who’s who brush elbows at the Champagne-fueled Cin Cin Wine Bar and swanky fine-dining restaurant, Tatu. For your first dinner as a married couple, book the chef’s table banquet overlooking Tatu’s open kitchen, where the team will serenade you with a slew of Kenyan-inspired plates ranging from small bites like crispy fried crocodile to one of the many cuts of chargrilled meat the eatery is famous for.
Ease into the honeymoon mind-set with a couple’s massage at the spa before getting into full-on tourist mode. Nairobi is infamous for its traffic, so don’t plan on packing too much into your day. There are, however, two sites worth seeing before you set off on safari. The first is the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage, open only from 11 a.m. to noon, where you can get up close to 31 orphaned elephants and even “adopt” one, making for quite the story (and souvenir) when you get home. Nearby at the Giraffe Center, you can feed and pet another safari favorite. If you’re looking for an Insta pic no one will expect, go in for a giraffe kiss with a food pellet between your lips for a one-of-a-kind experience that’s definitely photo-worthy.
Looking to stock up on new wares for your newlywed home? If you’re visiting the city on a Friday, the top floor of the Village Market Mall’s parking garage turns into the Maasai Market with vendors selling the tribe’s signature beaded jewelry, woven baskets and hand-carved bowls.
Even the most careful planners will quickly learn they have to let loose to get on Kenya time, especially when it comes to small hopper planes (whose times aren’t exactly fixed). This is the quickest way to reach safari, however, and the bumpy ride to Nanyuki and Mount Kenya is just 30 minutes from Nairobi. Think of this as the precursor to safari, where you can unwind in luxury at one of the charming cottages (with fireplaces lit at turndown service) lining the sprawling Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club Resort’s 100-acre grounds. There’s a reason screen star William Holden chose this spot as his safari retreat and jet-set hideaway, where everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Grace Kelly and Clark Gable would gather.
Straddling the equator, the safari club still very much has that “club” feel today, offering couples plenty of options when it comes to how to spend the day. For a truly magical way to start your morning, arrange an early wake-up call and set out before the sun rises to the slopes of Mount Kenya, where the team will prep a white tablecloth Champagne brunch spread to rival even the chicest of spots in London or Paris (picture a first course of artfully displayed local charcuterie and cheese).
Then you can simply lounge poolside with Mount Kenya’s signature snow-covered peak rising in the distance or head off on a nature walk through the national park or on a game drive at nearby Sweet Waters Game Reserve, home to orphaned chimpanzees (as well as the Big Five). One experience worth checking off your list: a horseback safari ride through the forest reserve alongside antelope and zebra. End your first safari with sundowner cocktails in the conservancy (bonfire included) before a dinner for two back at the hotel’s lantern-lit pond deck, with a private chef whipping up a barbecue-style feast. If you’re in the mood for a nightcap, Zebar is one of the only in the world that sits along the equator, meaning your bartender will have to cross from the southern to northern hemisphere to bring over your cocktail of choice.
Arriving in the Maasai Mara will offer just as much fanfare as when you walked the aisle as the tribe offers a traditional greeting singing and dancing as you step off the small airstrip. Deemed the Seventh “New” Wonder of the World, the Maasai Mara sits in the Great Rift Valley, where you can do everything from game drives and walking safaris with rhinos to hot-air balloon rides over the bush. From July to November you’ll be able to catch the Great Migration, but the open grassland is home to the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino—year-round. One of the best places to lay your head is along the hippo- and crocodile-filled Mara River at the 50-tent Fairmont Mara Safari Club (we recommend booking tent 46 for its private outdoor shower and sun deck). Don’t worry about having to rough it too much, though. These may be tents, but they’re the ultimate definition of glamping with strands of beaded African screens dividing three-piece bathrooms from the super cozy four-poster, pillow-top beds. Don’t expect air conditioning, but as nights cool down, you’ll come to love the warm water bottle placed under your sheets at turndown service ensuring your bed is toasty post–game drive.
Game drives exploring one of the world’s richest wildlife reserves is one of the highlights—with beautiful brunch and sundowner set-ups in the bush—but you can’t come to the mara without visiting a Maasai village, where the nomadic tribe will take you on a tour of their huts (which definitely means more dancing and jumping) before sharing one of their own treasures: a bazaar filled with handcrafted beaded jewelry made by the women. One piece to seek out: a colorful wedding necklace, which brides traditionally wear at their own marriage that will serve as the ultimate souvenir to remind you of your own.