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4 Myths that you can dispel and travel Kenya safely

4 Myths that you can dispel and travel Kenya safely

You don’t need to be scared to go on safari.  When CNN described Kenya last year as “a hotbed of terrorism” it called attention to some crazy myths that must be prevailing to prevent travellers coming to Kenya.  I want to address some of these myths to help put your mind at ease and feel confident to experience that bucket list safari you’ve always wanted.  This won’t be a marketing spiel; I live in Kenya so I know the good, the bad and the ugly and will share all of it with you.


Myth 1: Kenya is full of terrorists

CNN’s description of Kenya was outlandish to say the least.  Kenya suffered several terrorism incidents throughout 2013 and 2014, the most notable of which was the attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre.  Most of the activities were much smaller scale however – grenades thrown into bus stations, churches and nightclubs.  In April 2015 the Garissa University was attacked and since then Kenya has not had another attack (time of writing is August 2016, I hope I don’t jinx it!).  Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group from Somalia, are reported to be the key offenders.

Unfortunately today, terrorism occurs everywhere and anywhere.  In the last year we have seen attacks in Paris, Sydney, Brussels and Istanbul.  But travellers still flock to these places.

Fifty million people survive every day in Kenya, so your chances are pretty good that you will come out alive.  Like saying “all Muslims are terrorists”, Kenyans want peace as much as the next person.  Moreover, the parts of Kenya you, as a traveller, would be frequenting are not terrorist targets – there have been no attacks on any national parks or game reserves to date.   There is a terrorist risk near the Somali border and in parts of Nairobi.

The current travel advisory from the Australian government is that only some areas are dangerous, not the whole country.  And the dangerous areas don’t have much of interest to the average safari-goer.


Myth 2:  Nairobi is “Nai-robbery”

A decade ago carjackings, armed robbery, and muggings were relatively common in Nairobi, earning the city the nickname “Nai-robbery”.  But one mayor did a lot of work with the street boys and nowadays Nairobi is just as safe (or risky) as any other big city in the world. says that crime in Nairobi is “opportunistic, unsophisticated, comparable to other world capitals.”  The crime rate has decreased each year since 2012 according to Standard Digital.

I have lived in Nairobi for five years now and I have never been physically attacked.  One evening, my phone was snatched – but who walks in the city centre in the evening alone talking on their phone; it was totally my fault.  However, everyone who saw the thief chased him and I got my phone back!  Nairobians themselves are tired of crime in their city, especially towards foreigners because they don’t want travellers to have a bad experience of Kenya.


Myth 3: Corruption is rife and foreigners are targeted because they are thought to have more money

I cannot say that corruption is not rife.  It is, but as a tourist you are unlikely to encounter it.  If you book a full package safari, there will be little opportunity for police or any other official to ask you for a bribe.  Tourists are rarely targeted.  Foreigners are not an easy target because we tend to ask too many questions and don’t always understand what’s really happening.  It’s not in our habit to slip some money in the door handle for the traffic policeman for example.  Expatriates who participate in corruption means crime continues unpunished and Kenya’s development remains stymied.  The phrase “When in Rome…” should not apply to bribery and corruption.

President Kenyatta says the right things about cleaning up Kenya’s corruption, but it’s going to take a huge shift.  However it’s certainly not a reason to avoid a Kenyan safari!


Myth 4: Tour operators are dishonest and you will lose your money if you pay in advance.

Yes, there are some briefcase businesses, but in this age of the internet you can certainly do you own due diligence and avoid being scammed.  There are plenty of review sites online and many allow you to contact reviewers directly to ask about their experience.  Use Trip Advisor, do your research, check the prices.

The tourism industry has suffered greatly the past four years (due to the myths I’m writing about here!) and tour operators are getting increasingly desperate just to make a sale.  But if park fees are included in your package, check that the total price can cover those fees.  For example, it is $80 for a 24-hour ticket to the Maasai Mara.  So if you are booking a two-night safari to Maasai Mara for $200, you can do some simple maths and calculate that $160 is for park fees, leaving only $40 for transport, accommodation and food.  Park fees are public information so you can do some rough calculations.  If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is!  Either your operator is paying bribes at the park gate, or your vehicle hasn’t been maintained, or your food will be substandard.  Or you could get the trifecta!  Please, it does not help Kenya’s fight against corruption to encourage your tour operator to pay bribes at the gate so you can get into the park cheaply.

The Kenyan Association of Tour Operators and the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism are also working hard to introduce measures to curb cheats.


Sensational media is destroying Kenya’s main industry and the economy is suffering as a result.  So if an African safari is on your bucket list, look beyond the headlines and see Kenya for the amazing country it really is.

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.


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.


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.”


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 today to reserve yours.


Have you met the Samburu Five?

Have you met the Samburu Five?

Situated at the southern corner of the Samburu district in the Rift Valley province, the Samburu ecosystem comprises three national reserves: Shaba, Buffalo Springs and Samburu.  These parks are not as famous as others in Kenya, but within this ecosystem are species found nowhere else in the country, including the Grevy’s Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and Gerenuk.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya

The landscape offers amazing variety from open savannah to scrub desert to lush river foliage, offering fantastic opportunities for excellent wildlife encounters.  Steep-sided gullies and rounded hills formed on the lava plain describe the terrain.  Vegetation in the reserve area is dominated by umbrella acacia woodland with intermittent bush-, grass- and scrub-land. Near the river, Doum Palm dominates the landscape. The fruits of the Doum are eaten by monkey, baboon and elephant.

The climate in this area is typically dry and hot.  Temperatures can reach 40°C in the day with an average low of 20°C at night.  The rainy season occurs during the hotter months between April and June and also November and December, with November usually being the wettest month.  Between January and March it is very hot and dry; July to October is also dry.  The elevation in the park ranges from 800 to 1,230 metres.

Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves are separated by 32 km of the Uaso Nyiro River, which winds its way through Kenya from the Aberdare Mountains to the Loriam Swamp near the Somali border.  The river is the lifeline of this arid region, drawing the water-dependent animals to it during the dry season.  In the Samburu language, “Uaso Nyiro” means “River of Brown Water”.

Located 345km north of Nairobi is Archer’s Gate, the main entrance to Samburu National Reserve.  Established in 1948, the Reserve is relatively small at 170 square kilometres, making animals a bit easier to find than in other parks.  Entry fees for foreigners are currently US$70 per day (2014).

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya

Monkey, olive baboon, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, monitor lizard and Nile crocodile are the most commonly seen residents of Samburu.  Lodges in the reserve have attracted the normally reclusive leopards with bait for several years, so the chances of seeing one are greater than in other parks.  As well as these mammals and reptiles, there are over 300 species of birds, including large flocks of Helmeted and Vulturine Guineafowl.  The five endemic species to the area are: Gerenuk, also known as the “giraffe-necked antelope” as it has a stretched neck adapted for browsing high into the bushes; Grevy’s Zebra, with wide black stripes and a completely white belly; Beisa Oryx; Reticulated Giraffe; and the blue-legged Somali Ostrich.

Accommodation in and around Samburu National Reserve varies in luxury and budget.

Umoja Women’s Campsite is our favourite budget option just outside the park gate at Archer’s Post.  It is a community campsite with bandas (small huts) and simple meals.  It is attached to a women’s village that provides refuge for Samburu women fleeing domestic violence.  Proceeds from the campsite support the women, and you can visit the village to learn more about Samburu culture.  Meet the Chairwoman and Founder, Rebecca Lolosoli, in this interview:

Samburu Intrepids is an eco-friendly option inside the reserve.  They have financed the development of a school, a bee-keeping project and medical services in the community.

Larsens Camp, Samburu Game Lodge, Saruni Samburu, Sasaab Samburu and Elephant Bedroom Camp are other lodges in the area.

The town of Archer’s Post has simple, budget guesthouses and restaurants.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya

OTA is running a eight-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  The tour includes game viewing in Samburu, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Fourteen communities in this remote corner of the world coming together to celebrate their differences – don’t you want to be a part of that?!  Visit the website for more information for more information, or check the event page on Facebook

Thomson’s Falls

Thomson’s Falls

In 1883 Joseph Thomson became the first European to reach Thomson’s Falls.   He was a Scottish geologist and naturalist who was also the first European to walk between Mombasa and Lake Victoria, which he did in the early 1880s.  He named Thomson’s Falls for his father.

Long before Joseph Thomson wandered through, the central highlands of Kenya was inhabited by Kikuyus.  Kikuyus are the largest tribe of Kenya making up approximately 23 percent of the country’s population today.  They are of Bantu origin (Bantus came from West Africa) and moved in from northern and eastern areas to settle in the Mount Kenya vicinity.  The Kikuyus are known in Kenya as business people and good traders.  They are pastoralists, preferring to settle an area and grow crops than live the nomadic herdsman life of their neighbouring Maasai, Samburu and Turkana tribes.  Living in Kenya’s central highlands means their traditional dress is almost reminiscent of Russia, with square woollen hats made from sheep’s skin.  Where the Maasai robe themselves in brightly coloured, lightweight blankets, the Kikuyu have think sheepskin draped around them.  It is very rare these days to see Kikuyu dressing and living in the traditional style but at Thomson’s Falls there is the opportunity to see some people dressed in the costumes for photos.

It’s difficult to imagine how Joseph Thomson could have found his way to the Falls looking at the terrain.  At the top of the Falls is Thomson’s Falls Lodge, a colonial structure that has remained as a hotel over the decades.  From the Lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the bottom of the Falls to get a different perspective.  The hike down takes approximately 20 minutes through forest.  The path is steep and made slippery by the spray from the waterfall.  The track is quite well-defined however, unlike it would have been in 1883 when Thomson came through!  Back at the top of the waterfall is another hike (turn right from the top lookout instead of left) to the highest hippo pool in Kenya.

From Thomson’s Falls Lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the bottom of the waterfall, meet traditionally-dressed Kikuyu and show you the hippo pool.

The waterfall tumbles out of the hippo pool and falls 72 metres to the bottom.  The water comes from the Aberdare Mountains and forms part of the Ewaso Ng’iro River.  Thomson’s Falls is located two miles from the town of Nyahururu (formerly called Thomson’s Falls as well) in central Kenya.  Nyahururu is Kenya’s highest town at 2360 metres above sea level.

Thomson’s Falls tumbles out of Kenya’s highest hippo pool and falls 72 metres to the bottom

Have you been to Thomson’s Falls in Kenya? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Celebrating five years of Amani Kibera

Celebrating five years of Amani Kibera

In 2008, in the wake of the post-election violence, a group of young people in the Kibera slum decided enough was enough and it was time for peace.  Kibera was one of the places worst hit by the violence, largely due to the density of population and the diversity of tribes living so close to each other.  The election violence was fought along tribal lines, as the election itself was contested.

Amani is a Swahili word, meaning “peace” and that is Amani Kibera’s goal.  Since establishing themselves as an NGO, the organisation has worked hard to achieve significant impact in their community.  The main activity is to promote peace through sport and so they established a football competition in Kibera, providing uniforms to teams and umpires.  This simple act instils a sense of belonging in the young players, most of whom are young men who are most susceptible to the negative influences of drugs, alcohol, and idleness from unemployment.

In February 2011, Amani Kibera opened the only public library in the slums (where between 1 and 2 million people live).  Everyday students flock to the library.  Often the home environment is not conducive to effective study, as most houses are only one room where the cooking, eating, sleeping and living all occur.  So the library provides a space for students to concentrate, and also to get assistance from volunteer tutors.

Amani Kibera also established a girls group, where the young women learn how to make bead jewellery which they sell to raise money for their school fees.  For those who are too old to return to school, Amani Kibera has started a fashion institute where the women learn how to design and produce clothes so they have a trade and a way to earn some money.

In December, Amani Kibera celebrated its fifth anniversary with a football tournament and a series of peace concerts.  It was timely to have a large celebration of peace as election campaigns are currently in full swing and there is an uncertainty of what will happen this time.  The theme of the festival was “Ukabila ni Ujinga” – Ethnicity is Stupidity.  It’s time for Kenyans to think of themselves as Kenyans, not along tribal lines; and it is time for the political aspirants to stop campaigning along those lines as well.

Peace Concert 081212 (8)

Teams from all over Kenya were invited to participate in the tournament, following the goal of promoting peace through sport.  The day of the finals had such a party atmosphere.  Music blared from the speakers and local dance troupes performed for the crowd while the games progressed.  I’ll have to confess that all the commentating occurred in Swahili, and I was so distracted by the acrobatics off field, that I lost track of who was playing and even who won in the end!  I was honoured with the privilege of presenting some awards to the players…. although again I’ll confess I wasn’t exactly sure what they were!

Dancing competition

The peace concerts were held each weekend for the month of December.  Local artists were invited to perform and I was so impressed by the talent hiding in Kibera!  We took a parade through the slums, singing peace songs and flying banners with messages of peace to promote the message.  My banner read “Umoja ni ngovu”, which means “togetherness is strength”.  At one stage a man we passed by, got swept up by the parade and with joy told us that he had thrown his panga (machete, which is a useful tool and it’s common to see people carrying them everywhere.  However it’s also the weapon of choice in Kenya) in the drain and was ready for a peaceful election.  Another man asked me if I was a political aspirant, to which I smiled and replied that Kenya needed to be led by good, strong Kenyans – how could I presume to represent Kibera in the parliament?!

Peace Concert 081212 (2)

Both days I visited the celebrations, I was overcome with the positive and inspiring atmosphere.  I really got the feeling that Kenyans do not want to live through another terrifying event such as 2008 and they are striving to unite and encourage each other to live peacefully.  There is little tolerance for political aspirants to push a strong tribal message.  There is still some healing to be done, which was neglected by the nation’s leaders after the 2008 violence, but on the whole I’m quietly confident that, although there may be minor spats here and there, Amani Kibera’s message is felt and supported throughout most of the country.

 Peace Concert 081212 (7) Peace Concert 081212 (6) Peace Concert 081212 (5) Peace Concert 081212 (4) Peace Concert 081212 (3)

How Safe Is Kenya? How The 2013 Elections May Impact Your Safari

With elections proposed for March 2013, security questions arise for those considering an African safari. The last election in December 2007 resulted in 800-1500 Kenyans savagely murdered and 180,000-250,000 displaced (figures vary according to different sources). Although the violence was inter-tribal, it was horrific and severely damaged the tourism industry. So as we approach the next election the question is “Will it happen again?” This article examines recent events in Kenya and the opinions of various parties about the situation. This article will not advise you whether to travel to Kenya in March or not – my intention is to illustrate the situation so you can make an informed decision.

Kenya has always had conflict around elections, but it has usually been in small pockets around the country. The post-election violence in 2007-8 was the first time it broke out throughout the nation. Those deemed responsible for inciting violence are on charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) currently, including presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. It seems a strange situation to have a man charged with crimes against humanity being allowed to run for presidency! The other main candidate though, Raila Odinga, spent most of the 1980s in jail for his involvement in a coup attempt, and was the one who called foul on the 2007 election results, potentially prompting the violence.

There are very few Kenyans who want a repeat of that violence and Kenyan security agencies assure us they are doing everything in their power to prevent that. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) does not believe a situation like 2008 will happen again. Similarly, Andrew Limo, training coordinator for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), says they have made measures to ensure that Kenyans are protected during the election and that it runs smoothly.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Kenyan Red Cross are less optimistic. Some incidents this year have led those non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be sceptical of a peaceful election.

In early July, three musicians were arrested and charged with inciting violence through their music. If they are found guilty, they could face three years in jail. Inciting violence through music, speech or other means has become a very sensitive issue since the 2008 violence and indeed a criminal offence. Joshua Arap Sang, due for trial before the ICC for crimes against humanity, was a radio executive who allegedly incited violence in 2008 through coded messages on the radio.

Limo, from the IEBC, has advised journalists to be on the front line in preaching peace by reporting fairly. “Journalists you have big role to play in making sure that the general election is conducted peacefully by reporting fairly and objectively, by not siding with any individual or group, because our work is to inform Kenya accurately.” He also said scribes should be focused on reporting matters that will unite Kenyans.

But despite the majority of Kenyans saying they do not want a repeat of the violence, stories such as the one that emerged in late August of 52 people (mostly women and children) murdered in the coastal Tana River Region does put that sentiment into question. On 22 August, 31 women, 11 children and six men (and 60 cows) were murdered with pangas (machetes). On 10 September a further 39 were murdered in a retaliatory attack. The conflict is between the Pokomo and Orma tribes, triggered over a fight for pasture. Resource scarcity and food shortages are the primary causes for conflict in Kenya. It is the same motivation that drives Kenyans to mug tourists – they are hungry and have children to feed. The fight for arable land and water is what drove those Tana Delta killings in a conflict between crop growers and cattle herders.

The riots in Mombasa on 27 August however were not borne of resource scarcity, but rather a religious conflict, which does not bode well for election security. Analysts from international NGOs suggest this is a sign of worse to come, although the Kenyan government seems to be working quickly to suppress the troubles, charging 24 people on August 29. Muslims were protesting the killing of cleric Rogo, destroying churches, private property, and government installations. Rogo was a terrorism suspect who preached jihad and who was a divisive figure even within Islamic circles, but who had strong militant support throughout the coastal region.

As we consider whether violence will break out again in March, one thing to remember is that

in Kenya, power is worth fighting for. Corruption is rife through all levels of the public service, meaning that it is possible to become very wealthy if your friend is the president. The best jobs tend to go to fellow tribe members. That is why it becomes very important to ensure the man at the top is from your tribe, and desperate people will believe their situation will be improved if their tribesman is in power.

Fiona Herring, a post-graduate student of Refugee Studies at the University of East London, suggests that violence at the time of the elections will probably be limited to certain areas, specifically Nakuru, Naivasha, Eldoret, Mombasa and Kibera. It may be more widespread in April though, when the ICC trial is set to take place, especially if Kenyatta wins the election.

But in the post-election violence of 2008, even the white Kenyans were largely left alone and it was certainly never aimed at tourists. The impact on the tourism industry was, however, dire. Being that tourism is Kenya’s top industry, it is unlikely that tourists would become a target in any election violence as it would be so detrimental to the economy. Most crime against tourists is opportunistic, so it is doubtful that it will increase with any election conflict. However, if you are on safari, be aware that the your driver’s ethnicity may affect your movement should conflict occur. But again, even Kenyans do not want to see any election violence, let alone get caught up in it.

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