RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Nairobi

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.

P1050746

  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. 

DSC_0897

  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.

bev and GV 054

  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.

DSC_0581

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.

Advertisements

Mt Longonot National Park

Mt Longonot National Park

Mt Longonot National Park is situated approximately 90km from Nairobi and provides a wonderful hiking opportunity for the hale and hearty.  Labelled by Kenya Wildlife Service as “Sheer Adventure”, it certainly can feel like that as you traverse the narrow track around the rim with very little between you and a steep fall either down the mountain or into the crater.

Located near Naivasha in the Rift Valley Province and Central Kenya region, Mt Longonot covers an area of 52 square kilometres.  It rises 643 metres from base (2146m above sea level) to summit (2789m).

It’s a fairly steep ascent for about 3km from the base to the crater rim – it was a volcano.  You can then opt to circumnavigate the entire crater rim, which is approximately 7km, before descending back to the base.  From the top you have expansive views of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Naivasha.  Guides and porters are available upon request.

Being such an easy day trip from Nairobi, one sunny Saturday a group of us decided to go.  It was the beginning of a training regime to prepare us for climbing Mt Kenya.  I have decided that Mt Kenya will have to wait a while – my (un-) fitness level was embarrassingly revealed on Mt Longonot!  On weekends Mt Longonot is a very popular outing for many Nairobians and we saw people of all ages running and walking on the mountain – elderly men, training athletes and a swarm of children participating in a sponsored activity.  As a result the path up to the rim was almost like a highway and the first point you reach at the top was crowded.  Fortunately most were simply climbing up to enjoy the view from that point and then descending.

As we had all day, and we figured 7 km wasn’t too far, we decided to take the track around the crater rim.  I supposed that 7km was not too far on flat ground, and I supposed the crater rim would be somewhat flat.  I was wrong on both counts.  On the western side of Mt Longonot the rim rises sharply and it is a bit of a rocky scramble to get over it.

Stunning views are the reward for the slog – as you circumnavigate the crater you first see over Lake Naivasha and its surrounding flower farms to the west, then south and east towards Maasai Land and finally north to the Aberdares.  My hiking buddy was Agnes and she told me that in years past, this was a place local Maasai men would come to throw themselves into the crater if life became too difficult to deal with.

The track up the mountain is also the only way down.  It’s very sandy, and I could not say which direction is easier: two steps up resulted in one and a half steps down as you sink in the sand while one step down resulted in sliding down the equivalent of three steps and worrying about knee joints.

Perhaps I’ve painted an unfairly grim picture of this mountain, but please understand that my sedentary lifestyle means that mountain climbing isn’t awesome for me!  My climbing companions loved it and couldn’t wait to do it again.

 

OTA is offering trips to Mt Longonot National Park for US$100 per person (non-residents’ price; 7450 Kenyan Shillings for East African residents), including park entry fees and transport between your accommodation in Nairobi and the mountain.  That’s a 25% discount if you simply quote the code: MLNP@ezine in your email to tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  And this is valid until the end of 2014!

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage

The crowd gathers at the barrier from around 10am.  It’s a mixed bag – foreign tourists, Kenyan families bringing visiting relatives and friends, and several dozen small school children.  At 11 o’clock the rope barrier is dropped and everyone enters the Elephant Orphanage.  The crowd scuttles past the stables where the baby elephants sleep at night and down a narrow path to pay the entrance fee and continue down to a large clearing with another rope barrier.  As the visitors find their place for the best views of the elephant orphans there is a sense of excitement and anticipation.  At last everyone is in and suddenly from the bushes in the Nairobi National Park appears the first group of baby elephants.  They scamper down to the clearing where massive bottles of milk wait for them.  Some of the elephants can hold the bottle with their trunks and feed themselves, while the smaller ones need assistance from the keepers.  They guzzle down the milk; those who are feeding themselves throw the first bottle down and nudge the keepers for a second.  Cameras are snapping wildly and the school children are a bit nervous and a bit excited all at the same time.

In 1948, David Sheldrick became the founding Warden of Tsavo National Park, the largest park in Kenya, where he was forced to deal with the problem of armed poachers.  After his untimely death in 1977, his wife Daphne established the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  Among other activities, the elephant orphanage is one of the projects of the Trust.  It supports baby elephants that have lost their mothers due to death from injuries, natural causes or poaching, or the orphan has gotten lost in the wild.  Baby elephants (like human babies) cannot survive without care and the dedicated team at the orphanage provide both the physical and emotional care required.  When the elephants come of age, they are released back into the wild after an extensive rehabilitation process.

Elephant Orphanage, OTA - Kenya Safaris, www.ota-responsibletravel.com

During visiting hours, the elephants are fed and the keepers introduce each orphan and tell their story.  It’s a rare opportunity to see these young elephants play together and interact with their keepers and potentially you!

The Elephant Orphanage is a great activity for children, conservationists and anyone who loves elephants.  It is located adjacent to Nairobi National Park, not far outside Nairobi’s city centre.  The entry fee is 500 Kenyan Shillings (approximately US$6) and the feeding and talks last for about one hour.

Are you keen to visit the baby elephants in Nairobi?  Contact OTA on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to find out how.

The Best Location to See Giraffes

The Best Location to See Giraffes

The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) in Kenya conducts conservation work throughout the country.  But, by far, their most famous project is the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi.  One of the most popular tourist attractions in Kenya’s capital, the Giraffe Centre gives us the opportunity to come eye-to-eye with these gentle, graceful creatures.

Giraffe Centre, Nairobi; OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

As you mount the stairs, a ranger issues you with a handful of pellets.  Now that you are at eye (and mouth) level with these giants, you can see up close their beautiful long eyelashes and long blue tongue.  They hungrily eye off the pellets and if you are a bit slow in feeding them, you may receive a gently head-butt as a reminder.  And if you are super-keen to get personal with them, simply pop a pellet between your teeth and get a big sloppy giraffe kiss!

The centre is home to Rothschild Giraffes and the AFEW has a breeding program to prevent this endangered species from becoming extinct.  They also conduct conservation education for Kenyan youth and teachers.  Your entry fee as a tourist goes towards this work and helps the AFEW offer free entry to Kenyan children.  The staff also present information sessions at various times throughout the day for visitors, so while you are there be sure to ask them to let you know when the next session is.

The giraffes have a large acreage on which to roam and at the other end of the land is the Giraffe Manor.  This high-end accommodation offers a unique experience for a city stay, with the Manor lawns extending out to the acreage.  There are no fences, giving the giraffes free reign over the space.  And they take advantage of it!  It is not uncommon to have a giraffe pop its head through the window while you are enjoying breakfast or afternoon tea.  You think that only happens for the promotional photos, but believe me, it happens when the camera isn’t there as well!

Do you fancy sharing afternoon tea with a giraffe, or perhaps getting a kiss from one?  OTA can help you plan your Kenyan adventure, so contact us today: www.ota-responsibletravel.com.

Giraffe Centre, Nairobi; OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Is Nairobi Safe?

Is Nairobi Safe?

Perceived issues of personal safety and security are often of concern to people wishing to travel in Kenya.  This has increased in the wake of the Westgate shopping centre attack, with travellers questioning the safety of Nairobi and whether they should travel to Kenya.  The answer is YES!  New York, London, Madrid and Bali have also suffered terror attacks and travellers continue to visit.  But Nairobi is treated differently, and it probably has a bit to do with its old nickname “Nai-robbery”.  Ten years ago the name may have been true, but much has changed in the last decade and continues to change with the current “Safer Cities” initiative by the Nairobi City Council.

OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Many Kenyans do live in poverty and there are reports of theft and muggings from time to time.  But these are opportunistic attacks on people clearly displaying wealth and making it easy for someone to grab and run.  It can be argued that this is the case anywhere around the world – you must always keep your wits about you, wherever you are.  Some easy ways to avoid being mugged include:

  • Not wearing jewellery
  • Checking your change and putting all money safely away before leaving the bank, foreign exchange office or shop
  • Using hotel safes to store what you do not need for the day

Violent crime is much rarer, especially against tourists.  Most Kenyans recognise that tourists bring money to their country, and attacks on foreigners are punished severely if they do occur.  If you do find yourself in a situation however, it is best to submit to the demands of the attacker – violence is often not an assailant’s first preference, they just need money.

Harassment is not a physical danger necessarily, but it can make you feel uncomfortable and nervous.  Walking alone at night is definitely to be avoided.  Always go out with two or three other people and take a taxi after dark.

Scams show up as locals drawing on the compassion of sympathetic travellers.  They may take on the role of a political refugee requesting money for their family or they might pretend to be a student collecting contributions for their education.  Use your common sense and if you are in doubt about their story, then you are probably right.

There are also local customs to be aware of, but by observing how other people behave you can easily fit in.  There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Kenya, particularly in coastal and rural areas.

Engaging the services of a tour operator will assist in avoiding most of the above-mentioned security issues.  Your driver-guide will have the latest information on your destinations and know where he/she is going.  They know the travel times and will ensure you have arrived at the accommodation before sunset.  Moreover, most tour operators will package up the prices for national park entry fees, accommodation, and transport, limiting the amount of cash you need to carry.

Finally, don’t forget to register with your home country’s embassy or high commission in Kenya for the duration of your visit.  Comprehensive travel insurance is also highly recommended.

Overall, Nairobi is just like many other large cities around the world: there are rich people, there are poor people and there are people in the middle.  Most Kenyans don’t look twice at foreigners in their capital city.  The worst that most tourists encounter are children in rags accompanying them for about a block asking for money – while it’s heart-wrenching, it’s hardly a reason to avoid visiting a spectacular destination that has much to offer an enthusiastic traveller.

OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Is Kenya on your bucket list, but recent events in Nairobi have you hesitant to tick the item off right now?  Overland Travel Adventures offers tailor-made itineraries for individuals and small groups with a focus on excellent customer care, safety and responsible travel.  Contact us today: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com or visit the website www.ota-responsibletravel.com.

OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

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.

OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

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.  

OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Hiking Ngong Hills

After nearly three years living in Nairobi, finally I got into the Ngong Hills in January this year.  The first thing to greet us after we entered the reserve area was a wind farm.  We continued up the hill to the large radar from where aeroplanes flying into Nairobi’s international airport get their navigation signals.  This is where we parked and started our walk.

Karen Blixen suggested the name “Ngong” came from the Maasai word for “knuckles” and indeed the row of hills do look like a set of knuckles.  The full Maasai name for the hills however was ‘Enkong’u-e-nchorro-emuny’, which simply proved too difficult for the explorer Joseph Thomson to pronounce and so he named them “Ngong” for short.  The Maasai story of how the hills were formed tells of a giant who was stumbling north from Mt Kilimanjaro, who tripped and as he fell stuck his knuckles in the ground leaving the formation we see today.

The Ngong Hills seem to form a boundary wall between one environment and another.  On our left (as we headed in the direction of Corner Baridi), lay bustling Nairobi and her suburbs while on our right was a larger drop to the dry and under-populated Great Rift Valley.  The differing amounts of development on either side was contrast enough, but what struck me stronger was the difference in colour – green on the left and brown on the right.

I’ll have to confess right now that we did not get very far!  Our intention to get all the way to Corner Baridi certainly didn’t come to fruition.  There are buffaloes roaming the hills so it is a good idea to hire a guide if you are feeling energetic enough to go all the way.  We weren’t and were happy with the birdlife we could spot in the trees on the closer hills.  We tried to sneak up on an Auger Buzzard for a nice photo, but he didn’t allow it.

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

Black-bellied Bustard

So instead we sat atop one of the knuckles and put together a marketing plan for OTA.  What a wonderful place to get creative and let the mind be free!  It will probably need to be our regular “thinking place”.

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

Secretary Bird

It is chilly up there, so if you do plan to take a hike on Ngong Hills then it’s wise to wear layers – climbing up of course breaks a sweat, but the wind on top as you marvel the view cuts right through you.

It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks and water before you get into the reserve as there is nowhere to purchase food up there.  Ngong town has supermarkets and is the last stop before entering the reserve.  Carry a trowel and toilet paper as there are no toilets up on the hills.

If you want to hike all the way from Ngong to Corner Baridi you should allow four to five hours and organize someone to pick you up at the other end.

The Ngong Hills are where Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen’s lover, is buried and your guide should be able to point to the exact location.  The hills were a favourite place for Blixen and Finch Hatton to go hunting, especially for lions.  The lions are gone now though, so it is safe to walk and enjoy the same beautiful scenery the couple enjoyed 100 years ago.

Travelling to Lakes Magadi and Natron, hiking in Ngong Hills and visiting the forests around Nguruman, OTA’s Easter Birding Safari is your chance to view a myriad of species in different environments.  Kenya’s southern lakes are a breeding haven for water birds and migrants between March and June so this April you will surely be rewarded with many exciting sightings. 

This Easter Birding Tour focuses on excellent customer care, safety and responsible travel.  Plus we are offering a FREE Nairobi tour before or after the trip including visits to the Giraffe Centre, Elephant Orphanage and Kazuri Beads factory.  

Visit http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme for more information.

%d bloggers like this: