Gayle Takashima is a Cruise Consultant with nearly 30 years of experience in the travel industry. In addition to cruising to more than 20 countries and a dozen Caribbean islands, she recently went on a Micato Safari to help travelers understand the wonder, delight and pampering luxury of these journeys.
Last November, I had the honor of being selected as a Cruise Specialists representative to travel to Kenya on a Micato Safari to further educate myself and our clients about safaris. In the travel world, Micato is synonymous with Africa. To say they are the industry leader is true, but this label hardly captures the anticipation, the exoticness and mystery, the spellbinding beauty and peace, and the personal interactions I had over the course of my journey.
Micato has been operating safaris for 50 years. It was founded by Felix and Jane Pinto — second-generation Kenyans who worked and raised their three children on a rambling farm in a Nairobi suburb. The Pintos treat their guests as part of their extended family. In fact, all Micato guests who arrive in Nairobi are invited to the Pinto home as a part of their visit. I will tell you more about some of the company specifics as we go along, but first, I’ll paint a picture of what led up to the trip and the itinerary itself.
Micato began engaging with me well before I left home. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I received several packages, starting with a DVD of the classic movie, “Out of Africa.” From there, it was a wealth of preparation documents (including a detailed packing list and reading list); bag tags and a safari journal; even a perfectly sized Micato-branded duffel bag with retractable handle and wheels. Keep in mind, I never once lifted that bag in Africa — it appeared like magic at each place we stayed. The 11-day journey took me on a flight from Seattle to Frankfurt and then to the international airport in Nairobi, Kenya. When I stepped off the plane in Nairobi I was immediately greeted by a Micato representative, Selma, and from there, I was constantly tended to by Micato’s dedicated staff members. As for the Africa itinerary, it began with three days and two nights in Nairobi at Fairmont The Norfolk; a flight to Kenya’s Laikipia Reserve with a two-night stay there; a flight to Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, where we stayed two nights; a flight to Maasai Mara Game Reserve, where we stayed three nights at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club; then a concluding flight to Nairobi where we spent one more night before returning home. Throughout the trip, Micato took care of unending details that are difficult to comprehend unless you have the pleasure of experiencing it for yourself.
THE MANY MICATO DIFFERENCES
Micato differentiates itself through its founding family’s extensive connections throughout Africa. That, along with a laser-focus on detail and a spirit of hospitality, engenders a travel experience that is second to none. Here are some of the ways Micato stands out:
Luxurious Camps and Lodges
The properties we stayed at were simply jaw-dropping. One example of this is when we stayed in the Laikipia Reserve at the Elewana Collection’s Loisaba Lodo Springs. It features eight individual spacious tented rooms with views that reach across the magical landscape of northern Kenya. We each benefited from a Guest Ambassador who graciously catered to whatever we might need. Because this was a professional development trip for me, I also toured Elewana Loisaba Tented Camp, which features spacious and airy tents that are custom-designed with large floor-to-ceiling doors and windows, polished wood floors, and all the amenities you could want while staying in a natural paradise. The Elewana Loisaba properties are within a 57,000-acre nature conservancy and are home to an abundance of animal species, including one of Kenya’s largest populations of lions, plus leopards, cheetahs and more. When we reached the Maasai Mara, we stayed at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club — our tents overlooked the river where hippos lounged and slept during the day. In the mornings, we’d wake up to these nocturnal beasts coming back from the bush.
Micato Safari Vehicles, Bush Planes, Guides & Drivers
On a safari, there is a fair amount of transit, but it’s far from the frenetic pace you may be used to at home. On this journey, I participated in more than a dozen game drives (about two each day I was in the bush). We were constantly on the lookout for, and seeing, wildlife as we drove across the plains or flew between camps and lodges. The vehicles always had plenty of bottled water and we arrived to refreshments at each bush destination. In East Africa, a Micato Safari Director and a Driver Guide accompany every safari. The Safari Directors are native to Africa, are certified and bring Africa’s story to life through a blend of guiding, lecturing and conversations over meals. The highly credentialed Driver Guides communicate with the other vehicles to ensure that if there is wildlife to see, everyone gets a chance. Because we were able to focus so much on our surroundings, we saw countless animals: lions, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, a variety of birds and more, all in their natural habitats. We were able to live in the moment, a luxury we don’t always have in our everyday lives.
Dining is another part of the experience where Micato raises the bar. Most dinners we savored in the comfort of our lodge or hotel’s gourmet restaurant. Menus were similar to what you might expect on a luxury cruise, with ample choices of perfectly cooked steaks, fish, pasta and other entrees; fantastic soups and salads; and scrumptious desserts. Breakfasts were almost more wonderful. Could you imagine my surprise, when, on our first morning game drive, we came to a stop at a peaceful vista and there were several tables set up with white tablecloths under the shade of trees? We were served mimosas and enjoyed an elegant buffet-style breakfast. It’s a special treat that in the middle of your game drive you get to do this, without needing to interrupt a day of sightseeing to go back to a hotel or restaurant to eat. At these times, I really was in awe of where I was in the world, with nothing around me but nature.
Unique Micato Moments
Micato is famous for the delightful surprises they lavish upon their guests. Those are a fun part of the safari I don’t want to reveal. I will say that on every safari, the staff also crafts unforgettable moments such as sundowner cocktails at twilight on the plains or heart-stirring encounters where we met with tribal villagers. Micato really aims to amaze.
Micato’s philosophy is that on a safari, one should never feel the anxiety of how much, who and when to tip. That’s why they include all gratuities, including to the Safari Directors and Driver Guides. At mealtimes, regional wines, beer and bottled water are included. Valet laundry service is included everywhere, every day. (You can return home with clean clothes!) Most camps feature Wi-Fi, as do Micato’s safari vehicles, and that’s also free. They even have a Concierge Team available to obtain a forgotten prescription, find you an extra camera battery or pack the purchases you made on the trip and ship them home.
Because it is so important to convey how Micato takes absolutely every concern out of travel and places their guests’ comfort and pleasure above everything else, I wanted to first share those details with you about service, accommodations and philosophy. It’s because of these Micato distinctions, that for more than a week, I was able to focus with intent and without distraction on the magnificent wildlife we encountered. We roamed savannahs in our vehicles and with our eyes. The land became more than just scenery — we became part of it and we had countless quiet moments of watching lions, elephants, zebras, wildebeests and rhinos. My first game drive turned out to be one of my most memorable events of the trip, because we saw so much in just a short time, and it was there that the circle of life we hear so much about became abundantly — and beautifully — clear. I’ll also never forget sitting on my balcony in the Maasai Mara watching the hippos so up close.
It’s often said that people go to Africa to see the animals, but they leave in love with the people. Thanks to Micato’s dedication to philanthropy, I also got a deeper look at the hope and joy that can blossom in the unlikeliest of places. That’s because for every safari they sell, Micato sends a child to school. In Nairobi, we visited the Micato-Americashare Harambee Community Centre, a multi-building learning and resource center in a city where a staggering number of children can’t afford to go to school. Seeing children engaging with their education in this peaceful oasis, when they otherwise might not be able to, became an unexpected highlight of the trip. Throughout the safari, we saw how Micato contributes to people, communities and animal sanctuaries.
I truly hope that you contact your Cruise Specialists Cruise Consultant, ask us more about this trip and consider doing a Micato Safari. And if you haven’t had the pleasure allowing Cruise Specialists to serve you yet, do contact us. Our consulting services are entirely complimentary. There is a lot to learn and we take time to really listen to what you’d like to do. We will put together a safari that matches what you are looking for. With the stunning landscapes, lavish accommodations and the special people you meet, a Micato Safari feels luxurious and awe-inspiring at the same time.
Really, how could anyone miss having this kind of experience?