January is usually my least favourite month of the year. January 2020, however, taught me that Januarys can be pretty darn great.

In January 2020, Andreanna and I paid a visit to one of our oldest clients – Bushtops. Bushtops run some of the most luxurious safari camps in breathtaking locations in Kenya’s Masai Mara and the Tanzanian Serengeti. We knew we were in for an incredible trip from what we’d heard from Ryan, Stephen, Martin and Matt’s previous visits, so our expectations were pretty high, but boy were our expectations met and then some! 

Wallop has had the pleasure of working with the Bushtops team for over six years, but ahead of beginning a new project together, we went to meet in person to discuss their goals, and challenges to help us lay the foundations for a successful strategy with our full team back in Vancouver. 

Armed with sunscreen and bug spray, Andreanna and I said farewell to Vancouver and began the journey to Nairobi, narrowly escaping one of Vancouver’s snowiest weeks on record! Up to that point, we’d be in touch with Bushtops’ incredible reservations team who helped us with everything from insurance, to transfers, what to wear and even ensuring the camp was completely nut-free to cater to my allergy! Being able to eat all dishes on a menu is probably the height of luxury for me! But of course, the luxuries extended well beyond that. 

After spending our first night in Nairobi recuperating from our long journey, we headed for the small airport where we boarded our bush plane into the Masai Mara. Upon landing, we were welcomed with drinks and freshly baked cookies by Mara Bushops’ head guide Nelson, a local who grew up in the area, and our wildlife spotter Jackson who was part of the Maasai community. After some introductions we climbed into our private safari vehicle and headed for camp. On our way, we were incredibly fortunate to witness a cheetah hunting a young gazelle. The young gazelle did not share our good fortune, but there we saw first hand, the circle of life.

Andreanna with Bushtops staff at sunrise

This was my second time in Kenya (and Tanzania) so I was prepared for warm hospitality, but on arrival at Mara Bushtops camp, the hospitality was beyond warm – it was on fire! Lawrence, the camp manager, made us feel like royalty. We only spent two nights at the Mara camp but managed to fit almost everything into those few days including dozens of animals, a walking safari, an afternoon at their award-winning spa, an evening in my personal hot tub looking out at a passing elephant and the most delicious, nut-free, food. It feels absurd to say, but on leaving, it felt like I was waving goodbye to lifelong friends. To this day, I still miss my time with Nelson, Jackson, Lawrence and the team.

Andreanna looking out at the giraffes
Andreanna & Gemma with their binoculars

We next crossed the border into Tanzania, with the expert support of Bushtops organized guides, and spent two more nights at Serengeti Bushtops and another night at Roving Bushtops. The warm hospitality continued. At each new camp, we were welcomed with our favourite drinks and snacks. We thought they were mind readers, turns out Nelson and Lawrence had shared our preferences with the team at Serengeti and Roving Bushtops. 

January is one of the quieter East African safari seasons so we experienced utter tranquility. Hakuna matata at its purest. We even had a private bush plane on one occasion! The peace and calm made it a perfect time for honeymooners. In fact, for a few days, Andreanna and I were the only guests who weren’t on a romantic honeymoon! 

After five nights of wild luxury in the bush, we returned to Nairobi. While it was sad to leave, we were looking forward to finally meeting the family behind the exceptional Bushtops experience. Again, our expectations were high as we’d heard how lovely the Stuart family are (especially from Martin, who wanted to make sure we said hello to everyone for him), but once again, our expectations were exceeded. We spent the day running through our discovery session, discussing our experience, the future of the company as well as plenty of random chit chat.

After the challenging few months COVID-19 has presented, the Bushtops team remain some of the loveliest people to collaborate with and we look forward to continuing our relationship in the coming months and years as we launch a new website and future campaigns.

Inside the tent