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OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

The Maasai Mara and Serengeti form a cross-border eco-system that supports millions of animals and is the scene for the Great Wildebeest Migration.  In January, OTA is leading a tour to these parks as well as Lake Naivasha, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, giving guests the opportunity to experience a variety of landscapes throughout their safari.

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Spectacular wildlife in Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater is the biggest draw-card of this safari, but the stunning birding in Lakes Naivasha and Natron is not to be dismissed.  Throughout the safari, we will travel through several different environments, each providing incredible scenery.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional Maasai village.  Travelling in a comfortable safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring and accompanied by an experienced driver-guide, on this trip you will stay in three-star tented camps and lodges.

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Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “Lake Naivasha is the biggest of the Rift Valley lakes and Lake Natron has an alga that makes it look red; both are home to millions of flamingos.  Maasai Mara is famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration that arrives in July and returns to Serengeti in November – that’s where you’ll see the herds on this trip.  Ngorongoro Crater is the caldera of an extinct volcano and local people believe it is the Garden of Eden, especially as nearby Oldepai Gorge is where some of the earliest human remains have been found.”

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OTA’s 13-day Wildlife Wonder Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional and unique safari experience.  The tour cost is US$3460 per person inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fees to Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, and an English-speaking driver-guide.  There are limited seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve yours.

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Nairobi’s Best-Kept Secret

Nairobi’s Best-Kept Secret

On Valentine’s Day 2015 my friend Kirstin and I met George out the front of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nairobi.  It wasn’t some kinky Valentines arrangement, but rather a very informative and entertaining walking tour of Nairobi’s CBD.

From the Hilton, we walked to Kimathi Street where a statue of the war hero General Kimathi stands.  When this statue was being erected, there was significant controversy about whether Kimathi was worthy of a statue or not.  After one year of deliberation he got his place.  Kimathi was a leader of the Mau Mau rebellion which has been viewed by some Kenyans as the great rebellion that gave Kenya its independence and by other Kenyans as a group of rogues who caused needless trouble while more formal efforts were taking place.

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Next we headed up to Kenyatta Avenue where the impressive Sarova Stanley Hotel dominates.  Inside the hotel is the Thorn Tree Cafe where an acacia tree used to stand.  The acacia tree held a message board where colonial settlers left messages for one another.  Nowadays, you may have heard of Lonely Planet’s online travel forum dubbed “Thorn Tree” – that’s where the name comes from!

Also at this intersection, a statue of Lord Delamere used to stand.  It marked the division of Nairobi – to the west of Delamere was the side of the city for the white colonialists and to the east was the rough and tumble of Indian merchants and Kenyan vendors.  Still today you can see the difference between the east and west sides of the city.

Along Kenyatta Avenue, we stopped to admire Cameo.  Not because it’s a popular night spot, but because it is the oldest building in Nairobi at over 100 years old.  Ironically Nairobi’s newest store is located inside – Subway, the sandwich chain has made a foray into the Kenyan market.  Next door is the Bank of India which has had quite a history.  It has been the Parliament House, before the current Parliament was built, and also the National Archives before those too were relocated to their current home on Moi Avenue.

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Turning off Kenyatta onto Wabera Street we found the McMillan National Library.  It’s not hard to find anything if it’s address is Wabera Street, as the street is only 100 metres long!  Next to the library is Jamia Mosque and continuing alongside the mosque to the end we arrived at Chai House and the City Market.  The market sells everything from meat and fish to vegetables and souvenirs.  Despite all the shops though, the market was empty of customers.  Outside however, the rose sellers were doing a booming Valentines trade!

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Our last stop was the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC), the tallest building in Nairobi at 28 floors.  The second floor from the top was a revolving restaurant, but the large empty space was today a place for young couples to hang out.  On the roof is a helicopter landing pad and for a fee you can walk around for 360 degree views of Nairobi.

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On weekends there is an open air market that George offered to take us to for some souvenir shopping.  But it had started to rain and Kirstin and I figured this wouldn’t be our one and only chance to buy souvenirs, so we skipped it and went to a cafe instead.  Over a cup of tea we learnt more about George who had been taken in by Mathare Children’s Fund (MCF) when he was a child and received support from the community organisation to complete school.  MCF also provided him with the training to become a city tour guide, facilitated by the National Museums of Kenya.  George is also attending university, studying economics, and the guiding allows him to earn some money to help him through school.

MCF have trained several young people to be guides on city walking tours.  Even though I have lived in Kenya for over four years, there was a lot we saw on the tour that I had never noticed before (even if I had walked past it a dozen times!).  And things I had noticed, I hadn’t known about.  The tour lasts two hours (not including the cup of tea at the end!) and costs 1000 Kenyan shillings (approximately US$10) per person plus 400KES to go to the top of KICC.

Covering three of Kenya’s lesser-known game parks, OTA’s 6 Day Northern Trails Safari heads up to the arid north of Kenya.  Before the safari, you have the opportunity to explore Nairobi on one of these walking tours.  If you are interested in joining this trip in October, please get in touch: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

OTA’s Northern Trails Safari – culture and wildlife in Kenya

OTA’s Northern Trails Safari – culture and wildlife in Kenya

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Aberdare and Meru National Parks are two of Kenya’s lesser-known parks, off the well-pounded traditional safari circuit.  In October, OTA is leading a tour to these parks and Samburu National Reserve, giving guests the opportunity to experience the unique wildlife of Kenya’s north.

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Spectacular wildlife in Samburu and Meru National Park is the biggest drawcard of this safari, but the stunning birding in Aberdare is not to be dismissed.  Throughout the safari, we will travel through a variety of environments, each providing incredible scenery.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional Samburu village.  Travelling in a comfortable safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring and accompanied by an experienced driver-guide, on this trip you will experience a variety of accommodation from a luxury lodge in Aberdare, to bush camping in Samburu and a tented camp in Meru.

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Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “Samburu is my favourite park in Africa!  You find animal species that you cannot see in the southern parks.  Heading to northern Kenya gets you away from the crowds of the Maasai Mara which gives great opportunities to enjoy the wildlife in peace.”

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OTA’s six-day Northern Trails Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional and unique safari experience.  The tour cost is US$1295 per person for non-Kenyan residents inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fees to Samburu National Reserve, Aberdare and Meru National Parks, and an English-speaking driver and guide.  There are limited seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve yours.

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OTA offers trips in Kenya where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country.  We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.  Visit http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

Protecting Kenya’s Wildlife at the Maasai Olympics

Protecting Kenya’s Wildlife at the Maasai Olympics

Safari to Maasai Olympics in Kenya

The Maasai Olympics is a biennial event in Kenya that started in 2012. 2014 saw the second Olympics and we are very excited for the next one this year. So in the lead up to the next event, we have a look at what it is all about.

Big Life Foundation and Lion Guardians work closely with the Maasai communities in the region surrounding Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks in southern Kenya to hold this event. The Maasai traditional initiation rite was to hunt and kill a lion. But a few years ago, in 2008, the elders of the area recognised the practice as unsustainable and approached Big Life Foundation to assist in setting up a different way to prove the manhood of the Maasai. And so the Maasai Olympics were born, to educate the communities and gain their committment to conserving wildlife and habitat for the future and to recognise that this is their only sustainable way of life.

The Olympics consists of five events: rungu throwing, spear throwing, high jump, 200-metre sprint and five-kilometre run. A rungu is a club that most Maasai men carry (you often see it tucked into their belt) and the throwing competition tests accuracy while the spear-throwing competition tests distance. The high jump is not the standard high jump we think of in the west. The Maasai traditional dance involves a lot of jumping where the men simply stand on the spot and jump as high as they can, staying as rigid as a pole. Trophies, cash and even a prize bull are up for grabs for the winners. The two winners of the five-kilometre run in 2014 even received a sponsored trip to the 2015 New York Marathon!

Changing the tide to conserve lions (and other animals) is vital for the survival of Kenya’s delicate eco-system. The initiative taken by the Maasai elders a few years ago is admirable and the Maasai Olympics stands as an example to other communities to work towards conservation and education of their youth. More information can be found on Big Life Foundation’s website.

The Maasai Olympics takes place every two years in December usually somewhere in the Amboseli-Tsavo eco-system. If you would like to be join OTA’s safari in Kenya which includes attending the event, please contact us on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com and we will add you to the list and let you know as more information becomes available.

Kenya’s Madaraka Day

Kenya’s Madaraka Day

On 1st June each year, Kenya celebrates Madaraka Day, a day which commemorates the beginning of Kenya’s self-governance.  “Madaraka” is a Kiswahili word meaning “responsibility” and 1st June signifies the day the British colonial rulers handed over the responsibility for governing Kenya to the Kenyan people.

Throughout most of the 1950s, the Mau Maus had been fighting in Kenya’s central highlands against British rule.  Tens of thousands of Kenyans had died during the struggle with the British suffering relatively low losses.  However, the rebellions led to increased political involvement being granted to Kenyans and eventually, on 1 June 1963, the British handed over the reins to the Kenyan African National Union (KANU) and its leader, Jomo Kenyatta, became Kenya’s first Prime Minister.

Although Kenya now had internal self-rule, it was not yet fully independent from the colonial power.  So Madaraka Day is not the same as Kenya’s Independence Day – that is celebrated in December.  Independence came six months after Madaraka on 12 December 1963.  Another year later Kenya became a Republic and Kenyatta’s title was elevated to President of the Republic of Kenya.

Nowadays, Madaraka Day is one of Kenya’s big celebrations.  The main event is the President’s address at Nyayo Stadium along with singers and dancers from all over the country performing traditional songs.

In 2013, Kenya celebrated its Jubilee – 50 years of independence.  There were mixed reactions from the population about Kenya’s progress over the past 50 years and as a foreigner living in Kenya, it was very interesting to hear the comments.  Some people said that with the high levels of corruption in the government, Kenya has not progressed at all since independence, while others were positive about Kenya’s development and simply enjoying the fact that they had been free from the colonial power for 50 years.

Madaraka Day Safaris

Madaraka Day is a public holiday in Kenya and usually marked by a long weekend that gives Kenyans a chance to travel.  It is at the tail-end of the rainy season as well, giving Kenyans all the more reason to get out of town and enjoy a holiday.  Rhino Charge, an incredible 4×4 rally in isolated bushland, is held on Madaraka Day weekend each year.  Even for non-competitors it is a fun event: camping out, watching some amazing driving feats, and enjoying the party each night.  In 2015, the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival was also held on the Madaraka Day weekend, but it is not yet confirmed whether it will remain on these dates next year.

Rhino Charge, an incredible 4x4 rally in isolated bushland, is held on Madaraka Day weekend each year

Rhino Charge, an incredible 4×4 rally in isolated bushland, is held on Madaraka Day weekend each year

Kenyans definitely know how to celebrate their public holidays so as you are planning your safari, have a look at the calendar and try planning it around one of these events.  Or you can contact us (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) and we can give you some ideas of holidays and festivals you might enjoy in Kenya throughout the year.

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