Most first time safari-goers head for the famous Maasai Mara or Serengeti but for those in the know, Kenya’s Meru Park is where the wild things are. Five hours north of Nairobi, the landscape is unlike any other with bright red cotton soil, the multi-branch doum palms, and 13 winding rivers that draw thousands of animals to its shores. Being an insider spot not only lends itself to fewer crowds, but more intimate accommodations like the six-tent Offbeat Meru. We have so many favorite African safari spots but when it comes to feeling at ease, having fun, and unreal animal sightings, Meru is where our heart is.
From the staff to the design, there is no pretension at Offbeat Meru. The charming manager team Tanith and Sean welcomed us into camp, as did the all the other waving and smiling guests that were enjoying themselves in the pool. We continued on to the open air lobby for check-in, settled into the chic linen sofas, sipped a cold Stoney ginger soda, and had the feeling wash over us…it’s going to be a great stay.
Built in the the true safari-tent style, each canvas and screen room embraces the outdoors with just enough luxuries to make us feel like we weren’t totally vulnerable to hungry lions. Our king-size canopy bed and outdoor living room was like a hotel suite but the bucket shower and monkeys scurrying across the roof reminded us this is what safari camp is all about.
One thing we particularly loved about Offbeat was their choose-your-own-adventure approach to itineraries. In the evenings, game drives were always available but activities like walking safaris or fishing at the watering hole were also fantastic options. We signed up for a walking safari our first night but when we saw the crew catching huge catfish, sipping Tusker lagers and having a grand old time on the river, we joined in the next two nights.
The next morning we got up before sunrise to watch the animals awake from their slumber and on the way caught this fireball over the horizon of doum palms. The golden glow illuminating the gangly branches and red earth below was simply spectacular.
All the safari vehicles come equipped with traditional Maasai blankets to combat the morning chill. Our guide Bernard gave me the inside scoop on how to wear one like a local.
Bernard’s tracking skills combined with tenacity always brought us to the forefront of the action. We were driving along and suddenly Bernard pulls into the bushes, and low and behold there was a male lion relaxing in the shade. I’m still not sure how he knew this, but his sixth sense never ceased to amaze.
For breakfast we picnicked at this lush watering hole filled to the brim with hippos. Instead of just hopping back in the car on a full stomach, we got to extend our stop at the river with a bit of fishing upstream. We caught four fish in a matter of minutes which added such fun to the morning and a whole new way to appreciate time in the savanna.
A family of giraffes whizzed past us. To watch them gallop with their long necks leading and their thin little legs trying to keep up is quite the sight.
After two months in Africa we’d seen hundreds elephants, but never had we seen one with tusks as massive as these. These long swaths of ivory seemed to stretch for miles and slash through the air like swords. We certainly knew this was not the kind of pachyderm you’d want to mess with, but he gave us a mock charge and a few snorts just to make it extra clear.
Just when we thought we’d had the most eventful morning, we had perhaps the most exciting sighting from the comfort of camp. According to our East African wildlife field guide, the Beautiful Sand Snake has never been seen alive in Kenya…until it crawled right past our dining tent! The fearless assistant guide Mark saw it slither by and snatched it up before the moment was gone forever. This delicate, precious reptile seemed more legend than reality so in the name of science, the team held on to the snake until the specialists could come in to examine it. History was made and we are proud to say, we saw it first at Offbeat Meru!
Full of energy from our legendary sighting, we wanted more hands on discovery so we set out on walking safari. Elephants, bush bucks, go-away birds, and scorpions, all made an appearance but the most exciting was by far the bush baby! This primitive primate is rarely seen without night-vision goggles and this odd little cutie was out for us in plain sight!
On our last morning we arrived at the park’s premier event….the Meru Rhino Sanctuary! Poaching is a serious problem in Africa so the the Kenya Wildlife Service has created large protected areas for these 67 rhinos to roam safely. To even see an endangered rhino chewing grass is exciting but we were lucky enough to catch the most incredible father-son moment. Watch this elder rhino school his young on how to use the horn to defend himself and territory.
From unexpected meals to fishing to pool-time, we love that Offbeat Safaris is about so much more than game drives. The remote and intimate nature of camp combined with a staff that is devoted a delightful stay, make this safari camp and park teeming with animals Kenya’s best kept secret.