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Suswa Caves

Kenya is full of hidden gems that we keep discovering and we want to show our visitors all of them!  We recently camped at Suswa Caves, one such hidden gem.  Sometimes you just need to get off the beaten track, and although the road through Suswa is the well-beaten track to the Maasai Mara, the diversion to Suswa Caves is very unbeaten.  So, at the risk of making Suswa Caves Kenya’s hottest destination, I’m going to tell you about our weekend there and how you can enjoy your own adventure.

Eight of us headed to Suswa loaded up with camping gear, food and water.  Laura and Moses came from their camp in the Maasai Mara with their friend Helen who was visiting from the UK.  Kip, Leonie and their daughter Fleur came from Nairobi, like us.  We arrived at the turnoff to Mt Suswa Conservancy at the same time as Moses and Laura so we set off together into the conservancy.  The road was so dusty!  We had to keep almost a kilometre between our vehicles so the ones behind didn’t get lost in the cloud.  On their way in, Kip and Leonie got stuck in a dust drift – that’s how bad it was!

After we entered the conservancy we had to find the campsite and set up camp.  It wasn’t the easiest to find, but some of the local Maasai who take care of the conservancy found us, waved us down and gave us directions.  We were pleasantly surprised to find something resembling a toilet block – a hole in the ground surrounded by a structure with the doorway facing away from the campsite.  There are two campsites in Mt Suswa Conservancy: one is on the rim of the crater (I forgot to mention that Mt Suswa is an extinct volcano) and the other is next to the caves.  We were at the one near the caves.   Apart from the crumbling buildings around long drop toilets, there is no other infrastructure at the campsites so you must bring everything.  Fortunately we are all ex-overlanders so we are used to spending a couple of nights in the bush and had all the requisite supplies for such an adventure.  For a fee the Maasai brought us firewood, but it most likely wasn’t environmentally sustainable firewood.

Maasai water harvesting

The next morning we hiked.  We found a guide to take us up to the crater rim of Mt Suswa.  On the way he showed us the ingenious method the Maasai have been using to harvest water.  Mt Suswa sits in the Great Rift Valley and is one of several volcanoes that caused the Rift Valley to exist; Mt Kilimanjaro and nearby Mt Longonot being two others.  This volcanic activity means there are hot springs and geysers throughout the area.  In fact this activity has resulted in Kenya Power building a massive geothermal power plant in Hells Gate National Park, which is spitting distance from Mt Suswa.  Anyway, the Maasai have put pipes over steam vents in the mountainside in a way that directs the steam down the mountain.  By the time the steam has travelled down the pipe, it has condensed to water and drips into a large jerry can.  Anyone can come and take water from this source.  On our way back to camp after visiting the crater rim, we stopped by the main water collection point and our guide doused each of us in cold water harvested from the steam vents.  It seemed a bit extravagant given the dryness of the landscape, but it was also very welcome as it was so hot.

On our hike we saw rabbits and shy vervet monkeys, a rare species as most vervet monkeys are very cheeky and not at all shy.  We also saw plenty of birds which Kip was thrilled about as he is an avid birder.

In the afternoon, our guide took us to (and through) the caves.  I would never have guessed how extensive they were and how large.  Some were just massive holes in the ground, which might prove a hazard if you weren’t looking where you were going!  Others were narrow passages which weren’t so much my cup of tea.  There were a lot of bats, and I didn’t fancy coming across one trying to get out while I was trying to get in!  We were shown one chamber that was known as the leopard’s eating cave.  I’m not sure if it was true or not, I preferred not to think too hard about it as our campsite was quite close.  One large cave was called the baboon parliament as it is a favourite gathering place for troupes of baboons.  The rocks were shiny and smooth from the baboons sitting on them so much.

Next time we go, I think the campsite on the crater rim is preferable to the one near the caves, if only for the view.  Hikes need to happen in early morning and late afternoon with a siesta to pass the heat of the day.  Conservancy and camping fees are quite reasonable and the man who collects them is very good at knowing that you are in the conservancy – so even if the entrance gate is unmanned, you will still have to pay as he comes to the campsite to check on you.  Keep your receipts though, so you can prove payment in case another administrator comes around to check/collect.

Would you like to visit Mt Suswa and its caves?  Get in touch with tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com and we’ll help you get there.

Why the Heck Is Conservation Important Anyway?

Why the Heck Is Conservation Important Anyway?

Last year we lost Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, leaving only two females remaining in the world.  However, the people at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are dedicated to protecting those two rhinos, not to mention rescuing chimpanzees from circuses and other unpleasant situations.  This post takes you on a tour of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, looking at their various projects, as well as the practicalities of how you can visit.

Located three kilometres south of Nanyuki, Ol Pejeta is one of many conservancies in the Laikipia region.  Conservancies are privately owned (as opposed to National Parks which are government-owned) and usually come about as ranchers set aside a part of their farm for conservation purposes.  The vegetation is allowed to grow naturally and wild animals come to these safe havens away from human habitat encroachment.  Ol Pejeta also works closely with the community, establishing a school and helping other farmers in the area with sustainable farming techniques and human-wildlife conflict.

What to do in the conservancy

As with other game parks, the most common activity is to go on game drives through the conservancy.   Lions, waterbucks, (southern) white and black rhinos, leopards, hippos, topi and other antelopes can all be found at Ol Pejeta.  There are two specific places however, that make Ol Pejeta unique: the Endangered Animals Enclosure and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

The Endangered Animals Enclosure is where you will find the two Northern White Rhinos pondering the demise of their kind.  Together with other stakeholders, Ol Pejeta is raising funds to attempt IVF for the female Northern White Rhinos.  The rhinos are aging however, so it’s a race against time and increasingly it looks like they will have to use a southern white rhino as a surrogate.  Recently, the conservancy started to offer horse rides through the Endangered Animals Enclosure, adding another level of excitement to visitors’ experience of the conservancy.

The Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place in Kenya where you can see chimps.  The chimpanzees have all been rescued from abusive situations whether they were in a circus or kept as pets or other entertainment.  As a result, they can be a little unfriendly, but after some time getting to know their new family and adapting back to the wild they settle into their new life.  The first time I visited, one chimp seemed to be carrying a lot of anger and was throwing sticks at visitors – fortunately there’s a fence between humans and animals.  But his aggressive behaviour was indicative of the circumstances he had lived in before coming to Ol Pejeta.  A ranger will take you on a guided walk around the sanctuary and tell you about some of the chimps – they have names and each has its own story.

There are several accommodation options within the conservancy ranging from the luxurious to the basic.  There are three public campsites that require you to bring all your own food, tents, cooking equipment and carry your rubbish out.  They supply firewood and will dig a toilet if you book in advance.  No showers though.  The largest lodging is Serena Sweet Waters Camp; a luxurious tented camp arced around a large waterhole.  The tents are spacious with en suite bathrooms and four-poster beds.  Meals are buffet-style and the dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the waterhole – dinner AND a show!  Pelican House is a self-catering guesthouse perfect for families and small groups to rent exclusively.  The Stables are a budget accommodation with full service while at the other end of the spectrum is Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages, Kicheche Laikipia Camp and Porini Rhino Camp.

For those interested in spending a longer amount of time to learn more about the conservation and community work of the conservancy, two-week volunteer programs are available.  They also have a Junior Ranger program for children aged 4-12 years, making this conservancy one of the most family-friendly in Kenya.

Ol Pejeta is about a four-hour drive north of Nairobi on a decent highway.  The last 20 kilometres is on a dirt road from the highway to the entrance gate.  If time is limited, you might prefer to fly from Nairobi to Nanyuki from where your accommodation in Ol Pejeta can arrange a pick up.

Would you like to visit Ol Pejeta?  Get in touch with us at OTA to organise your visit, either as part of a longer safari or as a special weekend away.  We recommend at least two nights if Ol Pejeta is to be your only safari destination, but it also makes a great overnight stop on the way to Samburu National Reserve.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning this exotic safari experience.

Five Fresh Ideas to Experience Kenya

Five Fresh Ideas to Experience Kenya

There are so many hidden treasures within a few hours’ drive of Nairobi, Kenya, that are often overlooked when Nairobians set about planning their weekend getaways.  The trouble is that the big game parks, which are often favoured, are further away and usually require a three-day trip from Nairobi.  So where can you go if you want to leave on Saturday morning and return on Sunday evening?

other weekends

  1. Lake Magadi

This vast salt pan attracts myriad water birds, especially flamingos.  Nearby are Shompole Conservancy and Ngurumann Escarpment which are part of a wildlife corridor between the Maasai Mara and Amboseli.  Departing Nairobi on a Saturday, stop at Olorgaisailie Pre-Historic Site about half way between Nairobi and Magadi before continuing to Magadi town for lunch.  After lunch, enter the Lake Magadi Conservation Area where you can walk, do some bird-watching, swim in the very hot springs or just relax.  On the Sunday you can enjoy a lazy morning of swimming, walking or birding before leaving the conservation area to head back to Nairobi.  On the way, stop at the famous Olepolos restaurant for nyama choma overlooking part of the Great Rift Valley.  OTA offers this tour for 23,000KES per person including meals, accommodation, transport and conservancy fees.

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  1. Ol Pejeta

Home to a rhino sanctuary and Kenya’s only chimpanzee sanctuary, Ol Pejeta is located just south of Nanyuki in central Kenya.  You want to leave Nairobi as early as possible on the Saturday to arrive at Sweetwaters Tented Camp inside Ol Pejeta in time for lunch.  Stop at the equator just before turning off the highway for the obligatory photo as you cross into the northern hemisphere.  In the afternoon, go for a game drive in the conservancy.  On the Sunday, go for a morning game drive and return to Sweetwaters for a hearty brunch before heading back to Nairobi.  OTA offers this tour for 28,700KES per person including meals, accommodation, transport and conservancy fees. 

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  1. Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is one of the most popular destinations for Nairobians looking for a weekend escape.  However it still bears mentioning as its proximity to Nairobi makes it a perfect candidate for this list.  You can leave Nairobi early on Saturday morning and get dropped at the entrance to Hell’s Gate National Park for a cycling safari.  Once your energy is spent on the bicycle, you can relax with a late afternoon boat cruise on Lake Oloiden to see the spectacular birdlife of the area.  On Sunday morning, go for a walking safari in one of the conservancies next to the lake to see giraffes, zebras, eland, impala, and gazelles up close.

Lake Oloidon (5)

  1. Lake Baringo

A little bit further afield, but so beautiful it is definitely worth a visit. With over 450 species of birds, Lake Baringo is a paradise for bird-watchers. Leave Nairobi early on Saturday morning to reach Lake Baringo in time for lunch.  In the afternoon you can go for a nature walk up to the escarpment overlooking the lake.  On Sunday morning take a cruise on the lake to see the water birds and hippos waking up for the day.  Fishermen are also out on the lake in their dugout canoes.  Enjoy a relaxing breakfast after the boat cruise (it is best to get out on the lake around 7am for the best bird-watching opportunity) before driving back to Nairobi, stopping for lunch in Nakuru.  OTA offers this trip for 24,850KES per person including meals, accommodation (camping), transport and a two-hour boat cruise.

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  1. Suswa Caves

On the way to the Maasai Mara as you enter Maasai-land is the small town of Suswa and Mt Suswa rises to your left as you travel towards Narok.  It’s a very dusty road as you turn off the highway and head into the Suswa Conservancy.  There are two campsites, one right above the caves and another on the rim of Mt Suswa’s crater.  Local Maasai guides can take you for hikes to the crater rim and through the caves – it is recommended to do one hike on the Saturday afternoon and the other on the Sunday morning.  Neither is very strenuous but it can get very hot with little shade.

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If you are an expat or Kenyan citizen living in Nairobi these five ideas for two-day weekend trips should help you explore more of Kenya.  If you would like further information, advice or assistance in planning your weekend escape please contact OTA via tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

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