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Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Kenyan Safari

Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Kenyan Safari

Many travellers plan to spend two weeks in Kenya – one week for safari and one week on the coast.  The week on the coast is fairly straightforward with water sports and lounging on the beach in Diani, Tiwi, Malindi or Watamu.  Less straightforward is the decision of how to spend the week on safari.  This article will provide some one-week itinerary suggestions to give you confidence in planning your Kenyan safari.  Most people arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and that will be the premise for the itineraries proposed here.

If you want to travel overland to the coast, then Amboseli National Park followed by Tsavo East, Tsavo West or Lumo Sanctuary make two nice stops between Nairobi and Mombasa.  From Amboseli you can get stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro – this is where you get that quintessential photo of elephants crossing the plain in front of the majestic mountain.  Tsavo East and West National Parks together make up the largest park in Kenya.  Next door is Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary and Taita Hills; animals can roam freely between all four parks.

If you prefer to fly from Nairobi to the coast, then Maasai Mara, Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru are the typical trio for a week-long safari.  To experience the top three parks of Kenya a circuit visiting Amboseli, Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara fills a week very nicely.  If your budget does not extend to all three parks (entry fees are US$80 per day) or if you prefer to stretch your legs in between long days of game driving, swap Lake Nakuru with Lake Naivasha.  There you can do walking safaris, cycling safaris, hiking and boating as different ways to experience Kenya’s wildlife.

For something a bit different you could head north to Samburu, passing Mt Kenya on the way and stopping at Ol Pejeta where Kenya’s only chimpanzee sanctuary is located.  From Samburu, travel west to Thomson’s Falls and Lake Baringo, before heading south to Lake Nakuru National Park and then finish in Nairobi.

To get the most out of the week the following itinerary travels up to northern Kenya and returns to the more popular southern parks.  This itinerary involves a lot of travelling however and you would definitely feel like you deserve a week of lounging on the beach after this!

Day 1: Depart Nairobi early in the morning and travel to Samburu National Reserve, arriving in time for an afternoon game drive.
Day 2: Spend a full game driving in Samburu.
Day 3: In the morning depart Samburu for Lake Nakuru National Park where you take an afternoon game drive.
Day 4: Travel from Nakuru to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the morning, then go on an afternoon game drive.
Day 5: Spend a full day in the Maasai Mara.
Day 6: After an optional early morning balloon flight and/or visit to a Maasai village, travel from the Maasai Mara to Lake Naivasha.
Day 7: A morning boat ride amongst the flamingos and hippos on Lake Oloiden, a hidden gem just next to Lake Naivasha, before travelling back to Nairobi in the afternoon.

There are plenty of other places in Kenya and a week is a very short time to experience all of Kenya’s highlights.  But hopefully this has given you some ideas for your first Kenyan safari which will then whet your appetite for coming back again and again to the world’s premier safari destination.

Lake Nakuru National Park: A bird watcher’s paradise

The Rift Valley province in Kenya is home to seven national parks, including the two premium parks as designated by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).  Lake Nakuru National Park is one of those premium parks and will be the subject of this article.

 

White rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

White rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park

Named the “Bird Watchers’ Paradise” by KWS, Lake Nakuru was first gazetted as a bird sanctuary in 1961.  In 1964, the park was extended to the north, so it now covered the whole lake and a surrounding perimeter.  In 1990, the lake was designated as a Ramsar site – the Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the protection, conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

Flamingoes at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.comCyanophyte Spirulina platensis, the major food source for flamingos, thrives in the lake and supports huge numbers of Lesser Flamingo.  Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos and other water birds are found in abundance, as well as a large variety of terrestrial birds, bringing the number of species found in Lake Nakuru National Park to nearly 450.  There are approximately 56 mammal species residing in the park including both black and white rhinos.  The park hosts unique vegetation including about 550 different plant species including yellow acacia woodlands and Africa’s largest Euphorbia candelabrum forest.

Tree-climbing lions at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Tree-climbing lions

There are three viewpoints in the national park: Lion Hill, Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa.  These are designated areas where you can get out of the vehicle, stretch your legs, and get some stunning photos of the lake and surrounds.  There are also a few hills that are not established viewpoints (so you must stay in the vehicle) that also offer views of the picturesque landscape; Enasoit, Honeymoon and Lion Hill Ridge are three.  Lake Nakuru also has a waterfall feeding it at the south end. Makalia Falls gushes during the wet season and is barely a trickle in the dry.

Makalia Falls, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Makalia Falls

There are two public campsites within the National Park – one near the main gate and one at Makalia Falls.  Although Makalia Falls’ location is preferable, running water is intermittent as are doors on the toilets.  There are also several special campsites dotted around the park.  There are no fences between you and the animals in these campsites, so you must be careful when you are cooking and make sure you do it in daylight hours.  Camping fees are US$25 for non-residents, 500KES for residents and 200KES for East African citizens.

Makalia Falls campsite, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Makalia Falls campsite

To enter the National Park, the fees are US$80 for non-residents, 1000KES for East African residents and citizens plus 300KES for a small vehicle (up to six seats).  There are toilets, a restaurant and a curio shop at the main gate.  Entry permits are valid for the day of entry only, and you must be out of the park by 6pm (or parked at the campsite if staying overnight).  So it’s a good idea to get in early if you only have one day.

Baboon family, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Baboon family

Packing a picnic is a cost-efficient and quite pleasant lunch option – the lookouts mentioned above make good lunch stops, just watch out for baboons!  Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa lookouts both have toilets and covered areas.  There is another picnic site in the middle of acacia woodlands.  If you are in the park for just one day, Makalia Falls is also a nice place for a picnic.

Road block at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Road Block

It is definitely worth spending a day exploring Lake Nakuru National Park.  As one of Kenya’s premium national parks, it is famous as the home to thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The park also provides sanctuary for Rothschild giraffe, rhino and leopard.

Leopard at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Leopard

Lions and rhinos and … a Serval Cat! Oh my!

Kenya certainly put the weather on for Lindsey this week!  December is supposed to be a dry spell between the short rains and the long rains, but these days who wants to be involved in predicting weather?!

So it was a showery Sunday morning when Lindsey flew into Nairobi.  Since the arrivals terminal burnt down in August, the interim measure means those waiting for passengers must stand outside.  Once the rain starts however, the security guards move us inside.  Then we are moved outside again when the rain stops….and inside once more when it starts raining again.  Amidst this mess of people moving in and out are passengers trying to exit and/or find the sign with their name on it!

While Francis waited with the sign, I went looking in case she had come out while we were being herded to and fro.  While asking one girl who appeared to fit the profile (Australian, late 20s, female), behind her popped up “I’m Lindsey.”  So the first challenge of the day was solved: found the guest!

We were heading straight to Lake Nakuru National Park, but first needed a breakfast stop.  Foolishly forgetting that is was Sunday, we also planned on exchanging money and going to the supermarket while at Village Market at 8.30am!  We did succeed in getting breakfast, but the rest would have to wait.

On our way out of Nairobi OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

On our way out of Nairobi

As we drove through Limuru to the Rift Valley escarpment we were tempted by the vibrant colours of the apples, plums and (we suspect) rhubarb…. that is until we caught up with a truck belching exhaust over each fruit stand as it passed!

We made the obligatory stop at the lookout over the Great Rift Valley before getting to Nakuru.  After dropping the admin assistant (me!) in town, Francis and Lindsey headed straight into the park.

What a treat for one’s first day on African soil!  Lake Nakuru National Park is famous for its rhino population and, unbeknownst to us, rhinos are Lindsey’s favourite animal!  There was even a baby rhino.  Plenty of flamingos were in the lake and close to the shore too.  Giraffes were gracefully fighting – they swing their necks around to crash into each other.  It almost looks like a dance as it is quite a slow movement, albeit with a hefty thud.  They even saw a kill!  A lilac-breasted roller took on a grasshopper and won.

Spoonbill in Lake Nakuru National Park OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Spoonbill in Lake Nakuru National Park

The next day we drove the short distance to Lake Naivasha.  After a traditional Kenyan lunch of beef stew, mung beans and chapatti, we continued around to Lake Oloiden, a small soda lake adjacent to fresh water Naivasha.  More flamingos, plenty of hippos and many varieties of birds detracted from the drizzly weather.

We took Lindsey to our favourite pub for dinner for another traditional Kenyan meal: nyama choma, literally translates to BBQ meat.  We enjoyed roast potatoes, mukimo (mashed potato with maize kernels and finely chopped kale mixed through), kachumbari (tomato and onion salad) and of course a cold Tusker, Kenya’s national beer.

On Tuesday morning we picked up local guide Mwangi and went to Wileli Conservancy for a walking safari.  With so few predators, the conservancy is one of the few places in Kenya were you can be with the animals on foot.  As they walked, Mwangi and Lindsey found themselves in the middle of a huge herd of giraffes!  Who was looking at who now?

I joined Lindsey and Mwangi on what was to be a village walk, but became quite the hike.  It’s school holidays, so children were everywhere and before long we were starting to feel like the Pied Pipers of Naivasha with our entourage chanting “How are you! How are you!” (Note that it’s not a question.) We climbed up a mountain on the other side of the village for a spectacular view over the lake, flower farms and Maasai villages dotting the hillsides.

Lindsey, the Pied Piper of Naivasha OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Lindsey, the Pied Piper of Naivasha

Wednesday took us to the Maasai Mara, the trip’s grand finale.  About an hour after Francis and Lindsey left for the afternoon game drive it started bucketing down with rain.  At camp, we watched nervously as the river rose wondering if the tents would be washed away.  I also quietly prayed that Francis wouldn’t get bogged!  When they returned from the park safely, they were full of stories of seeing many other vehicles stuck in the mud (usually due to going off road in pursuit of animals, which is illegal so I’ll put it down to karma).  But also stories of seeing a lion, a cheetah and more giraffes.

Giraffe in the Maasai Mara; OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Giraffe in the Maasai Mara

Yesterday Francis took Lindsey for a full day in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  And finally Lindsey had some luck with the weather – no rain all day!  Some of the vehicles that were stuck the day before were still there, but the main highlight of the day was stumbling across a lion and lioness on their honeymoon.  At the Mara River there was a newly-born hippo who had only arrived that morning.  In fact baby animals seemed to be a theme for the day with baby elephants, a baby hyena and a very anxious Blacksmith Plover defending her nest … which she had built in the middle of the road.  Towards the end of the day they even saw a Serval cat!  I was quite jealous of that as I’ve never seen one.

Serval Cat! OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Serval Cat!

This morning they went on one final game drive before visiting the village of Kimaru, a Maasai who works at Mara Explorers Camp where we were staying.  The Maasai are fiercely proud of their culture and hold on to their traditional way of life in the face of globalisation and modernisation.

Chilling in the Maasai Mara; OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Chilling in the Maasai Mara

And so now we return to Nairobi for Lindsey to continue her African adventure to the south of the continent.  It’s been quite a big week of wildlife and she has many more opportunities to see the magnificence of Africa over the next six weeks of her travels.  Safari njema Lindsey and Asante sana for visiting us!

Mwangi and Lindsey on our hike; OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Mwangi and Lindsey on our hike

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