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Thrilling Safaris that show the Best of Kenya

Thrilling Safaris that show the Best of Kenya

If you had friends living in Kenya you’d definitely have to take advantage of the safari opportunity presented by visiting them, right?  That’s exactly what Koen and Puteri’s friends did.  The only challenge was how to schedule all the parks they wanted to visit amongst their obligations in Nairobi.  Simple: three short safaris rather than one long one.

The first trip was to Maasai Mara….of course!  As Kenya’s premier tourist destination, it is on top of most people’s lists when they come here.  Sadly, Kenya’s premier tourist destination is accessed by one of the world’s worst roads and so the group opted to fly there.  Koen, Puteri and their two children accompanied their friends for a three-day weekend in “The Mara”.  They stayed at Mara Siria, a tented camp on the Oloololo side of the reserve.

A few days later, the three friends set out with Francis to Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks.  This was a four-day trip with mass herds of elephants and stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro the highlights.

The first day they drove down Mombasa Highway to Lumo Community Sanctuary.  They stayed at the beautiful Lions Bluff, a tented camp perched atop a ridge overlooking the plains to Mt Kilimanjaro.  Their bar is The Best place for a sundowner in Kenya (IMHO).

The next day saw them cross the road into Tsavo West National Park, Kenya’s largest park and, together with Tsavo East National Park, takes up 4% of Kenya’s area.  The animals in Tsavo West tend to be a bit shy compared to other parks; I think because it’s such a huge space, quite bushy and less visited, so they don’t get used to passing traffic.  The travellers stayed at Voyager Ziwani, another tented camp again facing Mt Kilimanjaro for a dramatic sunset view.  There is also a waterhole by the camp and they saw no less than ten Giant Kingfishers fishing.  Leslie went for a walk near the waterhole and although she saw the crocodile, she thought it was a fake – you would, wouldn’t you?!  But suddenly as she approached, it dived into the water.  I don’t know who got the bigger fright!

The final stop before returning to Nairobi was Amboseli National Park.  Rather than returning to the highway, it is possible to skirt around the base of Mt Kilimanjaro from Tsavo West to Amboseli.  Travelling this way takes you through the Shetani Lava Flows, from the last time Kilimanjaro erupted.  They stayed at Kibo Camp where the pool was a very welcome break from the vehicle.  On their game drive in Amboseli, they saw a lion at last.

What’s lurking in the bushes?

Leslie went home after this safari so there were only two who went with Francis to Samburu and Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in the north of Kenya….and in the northern hemisphere as they crossed the equator to get there.

Their first day in Samburu saw them chased by an elephant.  Their second day in Samburu saw them reversing and retreating as an elephant was blocking the road and was not willing to budge for anyone.  They saw a lion at the river and a caracal – not a common sighting.  They stayed at Samburu Intrepids, a tented camp inside the park.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy was the last park for these epic travellers, and probably the highlight of their whole time in Kenya.  They watched a lion hunt a baby rhino.  Fortunately (for the rhino!) the lion was unsuccessful, but what an amazing thing to witness!  They stayed at the Serena Sweet Waters Camp, one of Kenya’s nicest tented camps as the dining room and tents arc around a large waterhole.  In the evenings, animals congregate at the waterhole – there’s almost no need to go out on a game drive!  I remember arriving there one evening myself and as I entered the dining room, I was greeted with the sight of about five rhinos just outside the window!

Would you like to experience your own safari in Kenya?  We would love to hear from you! Get in touch via tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com and we can start planning your adventure today.

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Kenya and Tanzania – Where to Travel First?

Kenya and Tanzania – Where to Travel First?

Many travellers visiting East Africa come to see the Wildebeest Migration, climb a mountain, and relax on the beach.  Kenya and Tanzania offer all these experiences and the quintessential safari combines the three experiences across the two countries.  But where to start?  Planning any holiday is fraught with challenges as you want to make it perfect, so here’s a short guide to help you plan your East African safari.

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Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya is the biggest transport hub for international flights, so the chances are you will arrive there.  Therefore it makes sense to start your safari in Kenya.  You can take a shower and rest in Nairobi after your long flight or set off immediately to the game reserves.  After an international flight, do you really want to transfer onto another flight to Tanzania or spend your first day in Africa driving along a highway from one city to another?

Working backwards in planning your trip also gives some clues about the order of the itinerary.  The majority of travellers like to finish their safari on the coast where they can spend a few days washing the dust off in the Indian Ocean.  Both Kenya and Tanzania have beautiful coastlines, but it’s mythical Zanzibar, off the Tanzanian coast, that attracts most people.  Especially with the recent spate of attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, the Tanzanian coast is increasingly popular.  There are regular flights from Zanzibar back to Nairobi to catch your departing flight home, so finishing here is a relaxing end to your holiday.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or Mt Kenya is another popular pursuit that travellers to East Africa often include in their itineraries.  So surely it’s better start with the climb and then you can relax for the rest of the safari?  Not really.  It is better to start with the safari and climb after you have enjoyed the animals and sights.  Despite the numbers of people tackling Kilimanjaro’s summit, it is not a walk in the park and the altitude and physical exertion can knock a person around.  You don’t want to be sick or flaked out in the back of the safari vehicle while your fellow passengers are watching a lion hunt.

So in planning your East African safari holiday, start in Kenya with the famous Maasai Mara or other game reserves before heading south to Tanzania to climb Mt Kilimanjaro or enjoy the beaches of Zanzibar.

OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Are you planning a safari in East Africa?  What experiences are on your bucket list for the trip?  OTA offers tailor-made itineraries for individuals and small groups with a focus on excellent customer care, safety and responsible travel.  We work closely with our clients to design their ideal itinerary according to their objectives, budget and time, incorporating both sightseeing highlights and visits to local NGOs and community projects.  

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Northern Tanzania

Since the last post, we have arrived safely back in Nairobi…. despite the flood alert we heard on the radio upon crossing the border!

Usambarra Mountains, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The view from halfway up the mountain on the way to Lushoto

We made a stop in Lushoto, a small mountain village in the heart of the Usambarra range.  With Mt Kilimanjaro so close, hiking in the Usambarras does not often make it onto many itineraries, but there’s no reason not to explore this region.  For a start it is A LOT cheaper than Kilimanjaro!

Usambarra Mountains, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

On the way to Lushoto

Lushoto is a lovely town with several local tour companies operating various hikes and cultural programs.  There is a strong community focus here, with a few of the companies contributing a percentage of their profits to development projects.  For example, Friends of Usambarra Mountains works with schools and the wider community on conservation education and tree planting.  TAYADEA is a youth organisation and the proceeds from the tours assists young people get into skill training institutions so they can become employable.  We also stumbled upon the guide who Francis worked with many years ago.  They were quite excited to meet after almost six years.  While he is still conducting tours, Jerome’s focus now is on building a guesthouse.  He invited us to his place a bit further up the mountain.  He has a beautiful garden with plenty of space for camping as well as six rooms.  It’s an ongoing project as he saves some money to invest into it, but when it is complete I’m sure it will be a wonderful place to stay.

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Waterfall in the Usambarra Mountains

And finally we got to Arusha where our mission was to find a suitable Tanzanian partner.  The politics between Kenya and Tanzania makes it necessary for tour operators to work together to give guests seamless trips but with local guides in each country.  It’s not bad for tourists, because it means you have Tanzanian guides with their local knowledge of Tanzania and Kenyan guides with the local knowledge of Kenya.  After a couple of false starts with some contacts, again Francis’ network of past colleagues came in handy.  As we were chatting to Henry who had worked alongside Francis for a long time he revealed that he too had started his tour company, Voyage Africain.  They specialise in Serengeti and Ngorongoro safaris and Mt Kilimanjaro hikes.  We were shown the tents they use: special hiking tents for Kilimanajro and safari tents for the Serengeti, as well as toilet, shower, dining and kitchen tents.  So we are happy with our new partnership and can’t wait to start welcoming guests for combined Kenya-Tanzania trips!

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The tents for camping in the Serengeti

Arusha, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The camp toilet if you hike Kilimanjaro

Mt Kiliomanjaro, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The tents for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

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The campsite at Ndoro Hunter’s Lodge 

 

Return from south to east: Livingstone to Arusha

The nicest thing about being in southern Africa was the lack of hassle from the traffic police.  Since entering Tanzania two days ago, we have been stopped no less than 15 times!  We have not been speeding or driving dangerously – these are simply routine stops to check you have driving licence, insurance, fire extinguisher, warning triangles, first aid kit, that your lights all work, etc etc.  This morning we got a fine for the light over the number plate not working.  Meanwhile real crimes are happening but the police are too busy getting money from us “rich tourists”.  Tanzania is pushing their tourism in foreign media currently, but after the way the police have ben speaking to us (the one this morning was shouting at us because we wanted to go to the court to check the fine was genuine) how can we recommend people to come if they will get treated so rudely?

That’s my rant over, now onto the nice aspects of our week travelling.  We said farewell to our guests in Livingstone, but before starting the journey home we had to spoil ourselves just once.  Francis and I went to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, the most expensive hotel in Livingstone.  It sits on the Zambezi River just at the top of Victoria Falls and you can sit on the sundeck sipping a cocktail while the sun sets over the water.  One cocktails cost more than our typical dinner for both of us, but that wasn’t important at the time!

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Sunset over the top of Victoria Falls from the sundeck at the Royal Livingstone

The next morning we started the long drive back to Nairobi.  We decided to take it a bit easier than we had on the way down, so our first stop was Bridge Camp on the banks of the Luangwa River.  The border with Mozambique is on the other side of the river here and reports are that they will be tarring the road between there and Livingstone through Lower Zambezi National Park.  When that is complete, it will be a great new route – much more interesting than following the main highway through Lusaka.

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Elephant spotted out the window as we drove through Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

We continued into Malawi, the land of missing speed limit signs but plenty of police with speed guns.  I was told there by a policeman that I “should not use my thoughts” and to just follow the signs.  So because many signs were missing, I thought we were passed the village and we were safe to go at speed again.  But the speed sign was still to come, unbeknownst to anyone.  I explained that other signs had been missing so I assumed this one also was because there were no houses around to slow down for and I had been stuck doing 50km/h for about half an hour earlier waiting for the signs that never came.  That’s when he said I shouldn’t think and just need to follow the signs (that don’t exist??!!).  Are there any questions about Malawi’s lack of development if the man in the uniform tells me I should not be thinking??

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Poor goat!

We stayed at Flame Tree B&B, run by the lovely Maggie.  It was a surprise to find such a place in Mzuzu, which had previously struck me as a market hub but not worth spending much time in.  The food was excellent and we met an English couple who have spent many years in Malawi and had recently set up a charity working on improving agriculture and supporting education.  Normal farming practices mean that during the rains, all the topsoil gets pushed away taking all the nutrients with it.  The charity was teaching farmers methods to keep the precious topsoil and thereby improve their harvests.  And they are enjoying success.

We were almost glad to be back in Tanzania (or East Africa), although we discovered that on our way down the officials at Namanga had cheated us on some taxes.  But we found a great guesthouse, had a reasonable dinner and continued through the dozens of police check points the next day.  We got as far as Morogoro before continuing into Dar Es Salaam yesterday.  We had two missions in Dar: meet Investours and learn about them, and buy new tyres.  New tyres are fitted now and we are really excited to start introducing Investours into our itineraries.  They are an NGO that ensures tourism dollars are actually getting to the local population.  It started in Mexico, but now has a branch in Tanzania.  An excursion with Investours only involves a day and you visit two entrepreneurs who have applied for a micro-loan and by the end of the day you are to decide which of them gets the money that you have paid for the tour as their loan.  You are also taken to the Woodcarvers Market to meet some entrepreneurs who have benefited from the program and a traditional lunch with locals is included, providing those women with some income as well.  The entrepreneurs who are qualifying for the micro-loan must live under the poverty line which is a measly 950 shillings per day (approximately 65 cents).  They receive a $200 interest-free loan to be paid back in three months – this ensures they pump the money into their business and work hard to grow it so they can meet their obligations.  Investours is planning to expand to Arusha and Moshi, opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs in those towns and also enabling visitors to Kilimanjaro and Serengeti to participate in this fantastic program.  We cannot wait to start supporting this organisation, so we hope some of you will also get excited about it as well!

Investours, Dar es Salaam, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Meeting Peter from Investours in Dar es Salaam

And now we are on our way to Moshi and Arusha where we will be researching all the good accommodation, updated prices of Kilimanjaro climbs and Serengeti safaris and maybe have a little relaxation with some friends before getting back to Nairobi.  We heard it’s raining in Kenya, so I’m not in a super rush to leave the sunshine down here.

Nairobi to Kigali Tour Part 1 – Nairobi to Maasai Mara

The mess of traffic provided immediate entertainment for Chris and Tom when they arrived in Nairobi.  Roundabouts with traffic lights and policemen all sending conflicting messages to drivers creates a show for new arrivals.  We managed to arrive at Roussell House in one piece, and enjoyed a welcome Tusker (Kenyan beer) in the beautiful gardens.

The trip started with a visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.  Elephant orphans from all over Kenya are rescued and reared here after their mothers have died as a result of poaching, falling in a well, or natural causes.

Afterwards we headed to Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum and the second largest on the African continent.  Ben and Pius of Amani Kibera met us and we enjoyed a local lunch of pilau (rice with spices and meat).  After lunch we walked to the library and the girls’ centre both established by Amani Kibera.  Despite being confronted with the poverty, Chris commented that there was a ray of hope through Amani Kibera’s work and we were not left with a feeling of hopelessness as often happens when visiting such a place.  Instead, the positive energy from the Amani Kibera team could only inspire us.  At the girls’ centre, a meeting of local performers had just concluded a planning meeting for the upcoming Amani Kibera festival.  We spent time talking with some of them about their work in the community before they invited us to the pub to watch football – go Gor Mahia!  We had been completely embraced by this community and no longer felt the tourist/local divide.  What a great welcome to Kenya!

Tom donates some books to the Amani Kibera library

The following day the “real safari” started.  In the morning we drove to the Amboseli region where we would spend two nights at Maasai Simba Camp.  After lunch we were introduced to the people who run the camp and learnt about the community projects supported by the profits.  In the late afternoon we went for a walk with some of the moran (warriors) to see the sunset over Mt Kilimanjaro.

A full day was spent in Amboseli National Park, one of Kenya’s premier parks.  Before we entered the park we were greeted by dozens of giraffe along the side of the road.  Inside the park we saw elephants, reedbuck, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, waterbuck, warthogs and an array of birdlife including egrets, Grey Heron, Blacksmith Plovers, Crowned Cranes, ostriches, Fish Eagle, weavers, Superb Starlings and African Jacanas.

Early the next morning we went for another walk with the Maasai and we were so lucky to see a “naked” Kilimanjaro!  The mountain is usually covered in cloud but this morning it was completely clear.  As we stood on top of a hill and watched the sunrise over Kilimanjaro, our guides showed us how to clean our teeth Maasai-style, with a special stick that breaks down into a brush.  As we descended the hill we found the tree whose sap provides the toothpaste.  We saw a black-backed jackal as we walked, which made us wonder what else was lurking in the undergrowth, but only met some hornbills.  On returning we said farewell to our hosts and headed back to Nairobi, where Tom and Chris went for complete contrast by having dinner at the historic Stanley Hotel.

Tom and Chris brush their teeth “Maasai style”

To the Maasai Mara next for another wildlife spectacular!  We set off early in the morning for the reasonably arduous drive to Kenya’s top tourist attraction.  We were greeted immediately by warthogs, impalas, giraffe, zebras, a mother elephant and her baby and finally some lions.

Join OTA between 3rd and 23rd November for another Kenya to Kigali Adventure.  Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to book your place today!

My Visit to Tsavo Volunteers

After a year of promises to visit, a couple of weeks ago I finally made the trek out to Tsavo Volunteers.  I met the manager of the project, Patrick Kilonzo, last year in Nairobi after we connected through the CouchSurfing website.  Then he had told me about the activities his volunteer organisation was involved in, particularly focusing on dealing with the human-wildlife conflict that exists in many parts of Africa.

Tsavo Volunteers is based in Lumo Community Sanctuary, which is part of the Tsavo eco-system.  Lumo was set up by the local community, with residents contributing their land for conservation.  Community members are still allowed to graze their cattle in the Sanctuary, but its primary purpose is for wildlife protection.  The park entry fees collected from visitors are fed back into the community and distributed amongst the approximately 2500 shareholders.  This goes some way to ensure community members are not tempted to engage in poaching activities.

Sarova Salt Lick Lodge where the elephants congregate night and day

While I was there, a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) conference was being held in the adjacent Taita Hills Sanctuary.  The delegates came to Lumo to learn about the activities being conducted to protect elephants.  CITES are currently undergoing an investigation into releasing ivory onto the market.  There is pressure from Southern African nations who hold large stockpiles of ivory, but Kenya Wildlife Service is against it.  Even though elephants are enormously destructive (indeed throughout Lumo there were large swathes or land with not an upright tree in sight), opening the ivory market could see the end of these beautiful creatures.

Sunset over Mt Kilimanjaro

The day I arrived, Patrick treated me to the best experiences of the area: a glass of red wine at Lions Bluff Lodge watching the sunset over Mt Kilimanjaro, followed by dinner at Sarova Salt Lick Lodge seated by the window watching herd of elephants come to drink water at the water hole located just outside.  It was challenging to have a conversation over the bellows of the elephants though!

The following day, we went on patrol.  Two volunteers were already at Lumo when I arrived: Elizabeth from the US and Nils from Germany.  Together with Patrick and Agnes (wildlife specialist) we patrolled the Sanctuary, making sure none of the animals had snares and everything was as it should be.  As well as elephants, we saw ostriches (courting and mating, what a show!), waterbuck, impala, gazelle, striped hyena, buffalo, and plenty of birds.

In the afternoon we visited the school where Patrick is working on a chilli-growing project.  Elephants do not like chilli, making it a good crop for villagers to grow.  They can sell it at market or exchange it for other vegetables from other villages.  Other activities they undertake include making paper out of elephant dung to sell to tourists.  Instead of fighting against the elephants, Tsavo Volunteers is dedicated to working with the community to find ways of using the elephants to generate income sustainably.

This buffalo just stood right on the road and did not care about our approaching vehicle!

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