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Darcy’s Kenyan Safari

Darcy’s Kenyan Safari

Amboseli campsite

Darcy is very lucky.  She has college friends scattered throughout the globe, making vacations with her two teenagers both affordable and exciting.  For the summer of 2015, Darcy decided to visit her friend who was on assignment in Kenya.  The friend contacted us first (expatriates are understandably protective of their visitors) and on passing the screening test we started planning with Darcy for the big adventure.

She had nine days for safari and, as with most family groups, the budget wasn’t excessive.  We agreed on a camping trip to keep the price down, with accommodation at her friend’s house for the nights in Nairobi.  The itinerary covered Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Lake Nakuru National Park, Lake Naivasha and finished with white-water rafting on the Tana River.

Wildlife Escapades in Amboseli

Amboseli was the first stop of their safari and the campsite unfortunately isn’t the best in Kenya, so it was a bit of a leap off the deep end into the Kenyan bush and camping scene.  But waking up at dawn and peering out the tent to a crystal clear view of Mt Kilimanjaro somewhat makes up for the lower comfort levels.  On their game drive they saw ostriches, crowned cranes, a Goliath heron and hippos.  But the highlight must surely be the baby elephants playing in the mud.  They jostled for position, but once lying down in the bath they were not moving for their friends!

Crowned Cranes Amboseli

Fish Eagles

Ostriches

Meanwhile, back at camp, I was fighting baboons.  The biggest baboon in Kenya (I’m sure!) came to check out the food boxes that we had thought were secure enough.  As he sauntered by on all fours, he looked to be about the size of a lion.  The secure boxes were nothing for him.  He crushed the lid of the balsamic vinegar, but must not have liked the taste.  He emptied the coffee tin, also probably not to his taste.  Finally he took off with the five-pack of 2-minute noodles – there is definitely no accounting for taste!  The Maasai who work at the camp heard my girly screams and came to assist, but a bit too late.  The baboon disappeared, but dropped noodles as he left which the Maasai rescued for me.  After that, we put the food boxes in their lockable, baboon-proof shed.  However, it seemed it wasn’t only the baboons I had to watch for; the cook’s assistant didn’t realise some food was ours and nearly got my cabbage (I caught it just in time!).

Safari in Maasai Mara

We returned to Nairobi for the night before heading to the Maasai Mara.  The road was especially rough down to the Mara and poor Darcy was a little green when we finally arrived.  In the afternoon they went for a walk up to the escarpment with the local Maasai for a stunning view over the game reserve.

Buffalo

Darcy, Faye and Kelton spent a full day in the park with Francis, enjoying a picnic lunch in the savannah.  They saw elephants, hartebeest, buffalo, giraffe, and the most amazing leopard sighting ever.  It was sitting up in a sausage tree, but as they watched, the leopard descended the tree giving a clear view of this magnificent and most elusive creature.  They had already seen another leopard earlier in the morning sitting in a leafy tree, so they were already having an above average game drive, but this was a big cherry on top.

Darcy Faye Kelton Maasai Mara

Darcy Faye Kelton picnic Maasai Mara

Giraffe Maasai Mara

Leopard Maasai Mara

 

Kenya’s Rift Valley Lakes

Next stop was Kembu Camp for pizza night!  There was a large group from one of Nairobi’s international schools there as well, but Faye and Kelton were a bit shy to interact, preferring to stay cosy around the open fire with Darcy, Francis and I (which I can definitely understand, as it gets pretty cold there).  The pizza oven and open fire are not the only reasons we were at Kembu though; it is also convenient for reaching Lake Nakuru National Park, which we did the next day.  Buffalos wallowing in the mud, elands covered in oxpeckers (birds who feast on the ticks that dwell in the fur of most of Africa’s wildlife), giraffes, baboons and zebras were the highlights of the day.  They got all the way down to Makalia Falls at the south end of the park.

Faye Darcy Kelton Makalia Falls

That evening we arrived at Fish Eagle Inn on the shore of Lake Naivasha in the pouring rain.  The appeal of pitching tents in the downpour was not high and so they opted to upgrade to a room.  Cycling in Hells Gate National Park had been earmarked in the planning stages as something they definitely wanted to do and so that was the plan for the following day.  It is certainly a highlight of many a Kenyan safari!

The bicycles were selected and they rode the 2km on to the gate while we drove ahead to sort out the entry fees.  Unfortunately, when they got to the gate, Kelton was very unwell and continuing for a full day’s cycle was not going to be pleasant.  So we changed it to a drive in the park with a few stops along the way.  First we stopped at Fisher’s Tower, where Faye and Darcy tried their hand at rock-climbing.  Darcy made it all the way to the top!  We continued all the way to the gorge where the family went for a walk with the ranger through the gorge.  Francis and I found a checkers board with plastic bottle lids for checkers on one of the picnic tables.  Luckily Kelton returned in time to save me from embarrassment as he took my place against Francis.

Faye Hells Gate

The white-water rafting was to be the last activity before returning to Nairobi.  But it wasn’t to be.  Kelton wasn’t getting any better and rafting was the last thing he felt he could do.  It was a shame because it had been him that had been the most excited about it in the lead up.  So instead we went back early so he could get to a doctor.  They still had a trip to the coast organised and it was generally agreed that it would be way better for him to be able to enjoy his time there, rather than jeopardise it further with a rafting excursion.

All ended well and they had a wonderful time at the beach!  It was great travelling with Darcy, Faye and Kelton and we do hope they will return someday.

If you would like to plan the ultimate family safari in Kenya, please contact OTA via email: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  Or visit our website www.ota-responsibletravel.com.

Four Brilliant Ideas for a Kenyan Long Weekend

Four Brilliant Ideas for a Kenyan Long Weekend

Easter holidays, Eid, May Day, Kenyatta Day – there are plenty of long weekends throughout the year and if you live in Nairobi you might be wondering how to spend a four-day weekend.  This article will give you four ideas of how to spend a long weekend and explore Kenya beyond Nairobi’s city limits.

1. Lumo and Amboseli

Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary lies adjacent to Tsavo West National Park and offers stunning sunset views of Mt Kilimanjaro.  It’s about a seven-hour drive from Nairobi so you can arrive in time for a late afternoon game drive on your way to your accommodation.  The next day, spend the full day searching for leopards around the rocky outcrops and wonder at the red elephants that inhabit the sanctuary.  The shy Lesser Kudu is prevalent and many birds can be seen.  Depart early the following morning for Amboseli National Park where you can again enjoy a late afternoon game drive to your accommodation in the middle of the park.  Wake up to sunrise views of Mt Kilimanjaro as you head out for a morning game drive before making your way back to Nairobi.  Alternatively you could swap Lumo for Tsavo West.

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2. Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru

Depart Nairobi early for the famous Maasai Mara, where you can go for an afternoon game drive after lunch.  Spend the whole next day game driving including a visit to the hippo pool and seeking out the lions that became famous through the BBC’s Big Cat Diary.  There are opportunities to go for a hot air balloon flight at dawn, visit a Maasai village or walk with the Maasai up to the escarpment for stunning views over the reserve.  On the third day drive to Lake Nakuru National Park, where you can find accommodation inside the park.  Evening and morning game drives provide opportunities to see rhinos and Rothschild giraffes before returning to Nairobi.  This itinerary could be just as enjoyable going to Nakuru first and then to Maasai Mara.

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3. Lake Naivasha and Maasai Mara
It’s a short two-hour drive to Lake Naivasha leaving you most of the day to enjoy the activities available there. You might want to cycle through Hell’s Gate National Park, hike up Mt Longonot or take a boat ride on the lake. Early the next morning you might opt to go for a walking safari at Green Crater Lake or Wileli Conservancy before heading to the Maasai Mara.  An afternoon game drive can be enjoyed, followed by a full day in the park the next day.  Before heading back to Nairobi on the last day, there is time for a final morning game drive and perhaps a visit to the neighbouring Maasai village.  Again, this itinerary could be done in reverse – heading to Maasai Mara for two nights first and then enjoying the final night at Lake Naivasha and doing the activities on the day you return to Nairobi.

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4. Lake Magadi

If you are interested in heading off the beaten track a bit and not spending so many hours driving from place to place, Lake Magadi and the surrounding area offer a different experience.  This is also a fantastic trip to see the migratory birds that visit Kenya at this time of year.  On the way you can hike Ngong Hills, stop at Olepolos for lunch and then stay at the Olorgesailie Pre-Historic Site for the first night.  The next day continue to Magadi town and into the Lake Magadi Conservation Area where you set up camp for the second night.  The hot springs are very hot if you are brave enough for a swim, otherwise you can take a walk, do some bird watching or just chill out.  From Lake Magadi head to the cooler Nguruman Escarpment where you can camp not far from the town at a campsite in the wildlife corridor between Maasai Mara and Amboseli.  In the morning go for a walk with the camp staff to see the wildlife and birds of the area before driving back to Nairobi.

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On the first three trips, there are options to stay in lodges or to camp, while the Lake Magadi trip is camping only.  You are welcome to contact OTA to discuss your weekend plans further.

Tsavo West National Park

Tsavo West National Park

In March 1898 the construction of the Mombasa to Kampala railway reached the Tsavo River.  Colonel J.H. Patterson was sent to Kenya to supervise the construction of the railway and the Tsavo River Bridge.  For several months, two man-eating lions reined terror on the 3000-man labour force of Indian and African workers at Tsavo River.

In December the same year, the lions brought the rail works to a complete standstill for three weeks as they had taken 28 Indian workers and an unrecorded number of African workers.  On 9 December, Colonel Patterson killed the first of the two lions.  He had been hunting them for several months and finally succeeded (whilst being propped up on a flimsy structure), approximately 1200 metres from the lions’ cave.  On 27 December, the Colonel killed the second lion from a tree 1800 metres from their cave, effectively ending the terror and enabling construction of the railway to continue.  In early 1899 the railroad head progressed to Nairobi.

Colonel Patterson found the lions’ cave, declaring it to be “beyond all doubt the man-eaters’ den” as hundreds of human bones and skulls were discovered inside.

In February 2013, we went to Tsavo West National Park to learn more about the history of the legendary man-eating lions and explore the second-largest park in Kenya.

Its label as the “Land of Lava, Springs and Man-Eaters” gives quite a good idea of what one can expect to find in Tsavo West National Park.  Located in Kenya’s Southern Region, 240km from Nairobi, Tsavo West is a massive 9045 square kilometres.  Closer to Mombasa than Nairobi, the park makes an interesting diversion from a coast holiday for a few days while not having to travel too far.

Accommodation is a bit limited on the Tsavo West side compared to Tsavo East, but there are a few lodges and campsites inside the park.  Voyager Ziwani, Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, Severin Safari Camp and Finch Hattons fill the upper range of accommodation.  Expect to pay around US$450-500 per person per night including all meals (a bit more at Christmas, New Year and Easter).  Game drives, bush walks, laundry service, spa treatments and sundowners are available at the lodges.  Finch Hattons was awarded Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge in the 2013 World Travel Awards.

If you prefer something a bit more budget-friendly, there is a campsite near Chyulu Gate.  Kenya Wildlife Service also provides accommodation with Kamboyo Guest House and Lake Jipe Cottages.

There are a few sights around the park that are worth visiting.  Poacher’s Lookout provides a great view over most of Tsavo West including the lava flows.  At Mzima Springs a guide can explain the history of the area as you walk around.  Most of the spring’s water goes to Mombasa while the rest flows into the Tsavo River.  There is an underwater observation room where you can see the various fish species that inhabit the pool.

To visit the Man-Eating Lions’ Cave, you can get a ranger to escort you from Tsavo River Gate.  There is a walking trail to the cave but being within the national park, you need a ranger while you are outside the vehicle.  Tsavo West is also home to a Rhino Sanctuary which is free to visit with plenty of animals.  It is only open between four and six in the evening however.

The wildlife you can see in Tsavo West includes hippos, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, dik diks, elephants, zebras, giraffes, Cape buffalo, black-backed jackal, eland, oryx, warthogs, impala, klipspringer, and lesser kudus.  There is also plenty of birdlife including kingfishers, hornbills, starlings, helmeted and vulturine guineafowl, hoopoes, waxbill, barbet, mousebirds, and bush-shrike.  The landscape is mostly brushy woodland making animal spotting a little bit more challenging than the open savannah of other parks.  The elephants are red due to the colour of the soil with which they bathe themselves.

Have you visited Tsavo West National Park?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.  Or if you would like to visit Tsavo West please visit our website www.ota-responsibletravel.com and send us an enquiry today.

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!

Kilmanjaro’s Royal Court… Otherwise Known As Amboseli

Kilmanjaro’s Royal Court… Otherwise Known As Amboseli

Known as the “Kilimanjaro Royal Court”, Amboseli National Park is nestled at the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain.  Amboseli is a top destination in Kenya for wildlife and one of the classic African images is that of a herd of elephants strolling across the plains with the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro in the background.  It is to catch this sight that people flood to Amboseli National Park.  While Kilimanjaro is actually across the border in Tanzania, Amboseli has a perfect view of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain which rises an impressive 5895 metres above the plains.

Amboseli is approximately a half-day drive from Nairobi, meaning you can leave early in the morning and arrive in time for lunch and an afternoon game drive.  Some of the lodges and camps in the area offer a walk with local Maasai warriors and it’s definitely worth taking the opportunity for a sunset or sunrise walk to view Kilimanjaro.  The best time to view the majestic mountain is at dawn, when the clouds lift and the light is clear and soft.  Early morning walks are very good photo opportunities as you witness the African sunrise lighten the mountain and distribute golden rays to the dry savannah of Amboseli National Park.

You can spend a full day game driving in the park, which contains swamp grounds where elephants and hippos are in abundance.  A variety of plains game, antelopes and birds can also be seen.

There are several camps and lodges both inside and outside the park.  Maasai Simba Camp is run by the local community and profits support the hospital and schools in the neighbouring village.  Kibo Camp is very close to the main gate and offers outstanding service at a very reasonable price.  Inside the park is Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge which won Africa’s Leading Eco Hotel in the 2013 World Tourism Awards.  Part of the Serena Hotel chain, a stay here includes game drives with professional guides, bush dinners with a campfire and Maasai dancing, and village visits.  Tortilis Camp is a classic luxury safari camp with stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro.  In nearby Selenkay Conservancy is Porini Amboseli Camp where your stay includes game drives in Selenkay Conservancy plus one full day with picnic lunch in Amboseli National Park and a visit to a Maasai village.

If driving 250km is not your thing, Amboseli also has an airstrip with regular flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

Why not book a weekend trip to Amboseli? With beautiful lodges inside the park it is possible to travel there on Saturday and return on Sunday – what a unique way to spend a weekend for a Nairobian!  Get in touch today (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) to book.

amboseli

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.

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

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