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Samburu and other northern adventures

Samburu and other northern adventures

Samburu, Aberdare and Meru National Parks are not on a typical safari circuit.  But these are the three parks that Ian had his heart set on when he was planning his Kenyan safari.  He had seen two three-day itineraries on our website and asked to combine them into a week-long trip.  Being a specialist in tailor-made safaris, we of course said yes and put together a tour that took him off the beaten track into Northern Kenya.

By the time we met Ian, he had completed two weeks on a group tour through Kenya and Tanzania.  Needing a bit of a break from long, bumpy drives, he spent a day in Nairobi between safaris doing a walking tour of Nairobi’s city centre.  George is our local guide for these tours.  He was trained by MCF Panairobi, an NGO educating street children in the Mathare slum.  Armed with training and experience, George recently stepped out on his own to establish a tour company specializing in city and slum tours.  For Ian, the opportunity to learn about life in Nairobi, as well as the colourful history of Kenya, from a local who had grown up on the streets was a highlight of his time in Africa.  So much so, that he kept in touch with George after returning home and the continued relationship led to him contributing a large amount of money to a school that George was involved with.  We absolutely love when our guests make connections such as these.

Aberdare adventure

The first stop on Ian’s northern trails safari was Aberdare National Park.  He stayed at The Ark, named for its shape which is a likeness of old Noah’s vessel.  Aberdare is divided into two sections – the moorland and the salient.  The moorland is at a higher altitude and features a number of waterfalls that you can walk to.  The salient is quite dense bush and where the wildlife prefer to be.  The Ark is in the middle of the salient and has a marvelous walkway that is strung high above the ground giving guests an excellent vantage point to view elephants, bushbuck and, if they’re lucky a bongo.

Heading further north into Kenya’s arid area, Ian next visited Samburu National Reserve.  Here he camped in the middle of the park in a simple A-frame tent enjoying the bush cooking of our safari cook.  Samburu is one park where leopards are relatively easy to spot – it’s never a guarantee, but you’ve got a better chance in Samburu than in most other parks.  Ian got really lucky and saw a leopard out on a hunt!

The third and final destination was Meru National Park.  In seven years of operating OTA, we have only had two guests go to Meru; it is out of the way and definitely off the beaten safari track.  But it is an excellent park to spot rhino, which Ian did.  He stayed at Ikweta Camp, a beautiful (and very affordable) tented camp just outside the park gate.

On his return to Nairobi, he had a night to spend before flying out.  He availed himself of our spare room which we rent out on AirBnB and we took him out for a quintessential Kenyan experience: nyama choma.  We chewed on overcooked goat and sipped on Tusker beer, and reflected on Ian’s African adventures.

Ian’s Trip Advisor Review:

Way way more than just a specialist in day tours!

It’s such a shame that OTA (Overland Travel Adventures) comes up in the category of “Private Day Tours” since the reality is that they offer day tours as well as much longer adventures. Tours can be customised or set itineraries and dates can be joined. Either way, a first class experience can be guaranteed. My tour was a customised six day tour for one (me) and from start to finish I was hugely impressed. My goal was to see some of the lesser travelled parks in Northern Kenya (having already been on safari for two weeks in the south of Kenya and northern Tanzania) and with Tracey and Francis’ expert knowledge we settled on Aberdare NP, Samburu NR and Meru NP. Although I live in Australia (Tracey’s origins too), the planning went without a hitch and the whole trip was a wonderful addition to my earlier trip. Highlights were many but I think the day traversing Aberdare NP West to East (barely seeing another person) was one of the great day drives of my life; mind you the stark semi arid landscape of Samburu and its fantastic wildlife also stood out; as did rhino spotting in Meru. All in all, Francis (a born a bred Kenyan) was a wonderful guide; accommodation was exactly as I had hoped (waterhole room in Aberdare; bush camping in Samburu; Safari Lodge in Meru) and the trip, a perfect addition to my Kenyan and Tanzanian adventures. Just to top things off, Francis and Tracey have an Airbnb room so I finished the trip at their place and went out to dinner for some Nyama Choma and a Tusker beer or two.If you want a small local company, that provides outstanding service and value for money while being socially and environmentally responsible then you can’t go past OTA.

John’s Trip

Have you ever been so dehydrated you’ve seen green elephants, green hippos or a giant weevil about the size of a cow?  On his descent of Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania, John had these hallucinations, but that didn’t stop him from continuing up three more mountains in a two month East African adventure!  A solo traveller on a mission to climb the peaks and visit the mountain gorillas in Uganda, John was looking for pocket-friendly ways to see the region.  Joining group tours is always a gamble, and he regaled us with tales of the fellow travellers he met on the tours we organised for him.

Before John came to Kenya, he had spent a lot of time in Tanzania climbing three mountains (Ol Doinyo Lengai, Meru and Kilimanjaro), hanging out in the Serengeti and visiting a Maasai village.  His other African goals included scaling Mount Kenya and tracking the gorillas in Uganda.  So we helped him find a tour to Uganda which had the added bonus of travelling via the Maasai Mara, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru National Park and Jinja.  As with all group tours there is a chance that your travel mates might not be compatible, but it is certainly a convenient and affordable way for a soloist.  He visited Elsamere, the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame, took a cruise at the source of the Nile River, and visited orphanages at Lake Bunyonyi and Nakuru.

While he was in Nairobi between trips, John stayed in our spare room, which we have on AirBnB.  We were regaled with tales of his travels (he has travelled all over the world!) and he got to experience a very “local” life in Ongata Rongai.  We took him for dinner a couple of times to our favourite local for nyama choma, as well as the more touristy sites of the elephant orphanage and the giraffe centre.  He also went into town to visit the National Museum, which gives an excellent history of Kenya from pre-history to present.  We took him to Kibera to visit the community projects of Amani Kibera and a day hiking in the Ngong Hills.

Mt Kenya was the big climax though for his Kenyan experience.  Again being a soloist, the climb can be prohibitively expensive, but our colleague in Nanyuki was taking a group up and said John could join.  It was a school group, as it turns out – so John hiked up the mountain with 40 teenagers!

After leaving John to hike up the mountain, Francis and I decided to take our own adventure.  We spent some days exploring the area, checking out different accommodation, and having a break from the bustle of Nairobi.  We ended up at Naro Moru gate for the night where we camped at the public campsite.  We drove up the mountain as far as we could and then continued walking….for about 20 minutes!  I don’t think I can say that I’ve hiked Mt Kenya!  With rain clouds on one side and clear blue sky on the other, the weather on the mountain is unpredictable and can change suddenly.  Francis wasn’t keen on lingering as there was a high chance of getting stuck if the road turned muddy.

In the morning we wandered up to Batian Guest House about a kilometre from the campsite.  It is a self-catering house that sleeps eight.  Stunning views of the mountain would greet you in the morning as you ate breakfast on the balcony.  On our return to the campsite, baboons were running amok!  Our food was safely locked up, but the creatures were everywhere!  As Francis approached, they scattered but not before one broke the side mirror as he slid off the roof to the ground!

Our next stop was Aberdare National Park – a new one for me!  We had a bit of a challenge finding the campsite but finally we slid down an embankment into a clearing.  It was beautiful!  Surrounded by trees with a river running by, we had the forest to ourselves.  The next day we went for a drive around the forested Salient where we saw plenty of buffalo and bushbuck, before we headed to the moorland.  Aberdare is not a big park but it is divided fairly definitely into two sections – the salient and the moorland.  We thought that our chances of spotting animals would disappear on the moorland, but we were wrong.  We saw elephants and then the elusive bongo!  Bongos are incredibly shy and notoriously difficult to spot, so I held no hope of seeing one.  But we saw two!

We visited Fishing Lodge, a self-catering guesthouse that sleeps 14 people (seven in each cottage).  It is in a great location from where you can fish in the river and walk a few kilometres to the waterfalls.  Aberdare has landscape one doesn’t normally associate with Africa: waterfalls, forest, and babbling brooks.  So it is quite an interesting addition to the typical safari itinerary if you are looking to experience Kenya in all her diversity.

If you are looking for some (or all) of the experiences described here, please get in touch.  We love planning interesting itineraries tailored to your interests and budget, and as you can see there is much more to Kenya than savannah plains.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning your safari today.

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