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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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4 Reasons Why You Should Go on Safari in Kenya

4 Reasons Why You Should Go on Safari in Kenya

A safari in Kenya is one of life’s most incredible experiences and the ultimate travel adventure.  However, many travellers share some common doubts about security and any media about Kenya seems to bring only stories of terrorism, ebola and road accidents.  But you have to be unlucky to get caught up in trouble of these sorts.  Kenya has much to offer if you can shake off the media’s negative images, so you should go on safari for the following reasons:

  1. To see the Great Wildebeest Migration
  2. Beach, bush, mountains, desert, savannah – Kenya has many different environments and with them, different cultures, wildlife and birds
  3. Poaching is increasing and gloomy predictions say there won’t be any elephants in 20 years
  4. Kenyan people are ready to welcome visitors – low tourist numbers affect the whole economy and Kenyans want to show travellers their beautiful country

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The Great Wildebeest Migration

Tourists flock to the Maasai Mara to witness the Wildebeest Migration, often touted as the eighth wonder of the natural world.  Each year approximately 120,000 tourists come to see the wildebeest cross the river while crocodiles snap at them.  But even if you miss the river crossing, seeing the massive herds (animals in their millions!) grazing the savannah is a sight to behold.  Cameras cannot do it justice; you have to see it for yourself.

Varied environments

Whether you want a beach holiday, bush retreat, mountain climb or desert experience, Kenya has it all.  And you can put together an itinerary that covers some or all of these environments without having to fly long distances.  The most common Kenyan holiday combines a safari with a few days at the beach at the end to wash the dust off.  And along with these different environments comes different cultures and wildlife – Samburu in northern Kenya has five endemic species you won’t see in the southern parks.  For culture, you can visit a Maasai village, experience 14 different ethnic groups around Lake Turkana and then finish in cosmopolitan Nairobi.  The highlight of the central highlands is Mt Kenya, but you don’t have to hike for a week to enjoy the mountains; there are coffee and tea plantations to visit and the beautiful Thomson’s Falls.  Through the Rift Valley and into western Kenya are lakes with the myriad birdlife, including the famous flamingos.

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Poaching threatens the Kenyan safari

There seems to be a misperception that poaching was a problem in years past, but is not now.  Sadly this is untrue, and in fact it is becoming worse.  One prediction is that there will be no elephants in 20 years if poaching continues at the current rate.  Lions and rhinos are also under significant threat, with rhinos disappearing at a rate that is simply not sustainable.  It’s difficult to be optimistic that humans will be able to turn around the trend with market forces so strong for ivory and rhino horn, so it is perhaps better to come to Kenya now to see these magnificent animals before it’s too late.

Kenyan people

Tourism is Kenya’s biggest industry so when tourism numbers are low the whole country feels the economic impact.  Kenyans are naturally hospitable, keen to welcome visitors and show off their country.  Not everyone is a terrorist or a madman; most are proud of their country and excited to meet travellers.  Moreover, there is a lot of positive work being carried out by Kenyans to develop Kenya that goes unseen and unheard.  Come and see for yourself and be inspired!

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A Kenyan safari will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life.  I came to Kenya in 2010 and have now made it my home.  But a word of caution: you may have heard people who have travelled to Africa talk about the “Africa bug” – it bites!

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What are your perceptions of Kenya?  Do negative news reports impact your decision on where to travel or do you ignore the hype and do your own research on a destination?  Please leave your comments below.

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.

Explore 3 Kenyan Parks with OTA

Explore 3 Kenyan Parks with OTA

OTA is launching a series of weekend trips especially for Kenya’s citizens and the expatriate community.  This will give people living in Kenya the opportunity to explore this country’s top parks easily, conveniently and safely.

OTA's weekend trips to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Throughout 2015, OTA will have three-day trips departing every Friday to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu.  This is an excellent opportunity for both Kenyan citizens and expatriates to explore Kenya in the comfort of a safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring.  Starting from 16,300KES inclusive of meals, accommodation, transport and park entry fees, these trips are affordable and fun.  Prices vary according to group size and you can visit http://bit.ly/1sUS18Q for more information.  Any group size can be catered for with transport in safari vans or overland trucks.  All trips are accompanied by an experienced English-speaking driver-guide.  For reservations and enquiries, contact Tracey and Francis on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “After a week of work, these trips offer Kenyans a great way to relax and explore their country.  Boring weekends at home are a thing of the past as you can come and meet other people and see the beauty of Kenya.”

These weekend trips give expatriates and Kenyans the opportunity to explore Kenyan parks affordably.  For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1sUS18Q or contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to make a booking for you and your friends this weekend.

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 www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

OTA's weekend trips to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu www.ota-responsibletravel.com

 

A bird’s-eye view of Southern Kenya

Finally, there it is:  Lake Natron.  What a flight!  Sibera seems like a lifetime ago; I’ve seen so much since leaving the taiga forest – the deserts of Central Asia and Middle East, over lush Ethiopia and now finally Kenya’s lakes where I can stop for some rest, some food …. and some mating!  I hope there’s some pretty chickies to meet down here.

It’s a long journey, but usually it’s worth the effort.  We all gather here for a few months to catch up on what’s going on around the world.  The Spotted Thrush, Rock Thrush and Eurasion Bee-eaters bring the latest news from Europe and the locals catch us up on what’s been happening in East Africa during our absence.  They’ve got a nice life the local guys.  Those flamingos don’t have to travel too far if food runs out.  They have so many lakes like Nakuru, Baringo, Bogoria, and Naivasha within such a short distance.  Not like the months some of us have to travel to find food during the winter.  To be fair, the poor old ostriches can’t even fly so I can’t begrudge them anything.  And the Kori Bustards are so heavy it looks like a lot of effort for them to get off the ground.  I think I’m quite lucky compared to them; at least I can get around and see the world.

The Warblers and Blackcaps will come from around my area.  Everyone loves when the Warblers come in – their songs keep us entertained for hours.  The Kenyan water birds will be there of course, including the crazy old Spoonbill with his ridiculous beak.  And all the Plovers!  There’s always so many of them and I do forget their names much of the time – let’s see, there’s Crowned Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover, Three-banded Plover….

OTA's Easter Birding Tour, Kenya, http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme

I’m looking forward to a good party with all these guys!  The Pelicans can get a bit raucous, which I know annoys the Fish Eagles.  And let’s not even mention the relationship between the sleazy Marabou Storks and the snobby Yellow-billed Storks; it’s hard to believe they are related!  But generally we all get along quite well.  And the great thing about southern Kenya is that if the Hadada Ibis is being too noisy at Natron, we can get some peace at nearby Magadi.

I’m really close now and so far so good; I haven’t run into that unfriendly white-bellied one with the big headpiece.  What’s his name again?  Yes: Go-away-bird!  He’s so rude.  We fly all this way for their Kenyan shindig and he just sits in the tree squawking “Go away! Go away!”  The Hornbills, Kingfishers and Turacos are all fine and in fact I’m looking forward to meeting my old pal the Lilac-breasted Roller.  Some of us prefer the water while others of us prefer the trees…. or I should say shrubs down here.  All the salty water doesn’t make for lush forests.

Hey, there’s Red-and-Yellow Barbet and Masked Weaver.  I’ve made it guys!  It’s time to paaaaaaar-ty!

OTA's Easter Birding Tour, Kenya, http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme

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