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Is It OK To Book A Safari While In Kenya?

Is it OK to book a safari once you arrive in Kenya or is it better to book in advance?  This question repeatedly comes up on various travel forums.  Many travelers (including myself) like the freedom of landing in a country and seeing how it flows without being locked into a set itinerary where you are told when and where to eat, sleep and go.  So let’s explore how you can go on safari with some sense of freedom while remaining safe, comfortable and within budget.

Let’s start with “Yes”, it’s OK to book a safari once you arrive in Kenya.  If you wander the streets of Nairobi’s CBD, you will be approached by touts selling cheap safaris.  It is very easy to go along with one of them.  The vehicles are usually parked near City Market, so if you are ready to go, you could go immediately.  They accept cash so you just need to go to the ATM, withdraw, hand it over and you’re away.  Simple.

For those who are happy with doing things quickly, simply and are flexible in their expectations, this is perfect.  For others, this might sound a bit dodgy.  I had a friend who went for this method and it wasn’t until her and her comrades had withdrawn the money from the ATM that they realized they were about to walk through downtown Nairobi and at least one person knew they were carrying masses of cash.  It suddenly seemed a foolhardy approach.

So we move to “No” it’s perhaps not a good idea to book a safari when you arrive in Kenya.  Safaris aren’t cheap….or you definitely get what you pay for!  If you find a deal on the street that seems too good to be true, then it probably is.  You might find yourself eating zikuma (kale) and ugali (maize meal) for a week and every day dealing with the results of a poorly maintained vehicle.  Remember, fuel is the same price as at home and the roads are in bad condition (like, worse than you could even imagine), so running a vehicle here is an expensive proposition.

You want to trust your tour operator.  You are about to hand over a large amount of money to make this once-in-a-lifetime safari the one you’ve always dreamed of.  Why would you risk that by picking any Joe off the street?  Take time to do your research.  Read reviews of tour operators (Trip Advisor, Safari Bookings and Your African Safari all help), and start an email conversation to get a feel for how they respond to your wishes.  While it’s not necessary, you may also want to check with industry bodies such at KATO (Kenyan Association of Tour Operators) whose members tend to be more reliable and competent than non-members.  You also want to know who you are dealing with – an agent or an operator.  Of course if you are dealing with your travel agent at home then they will connect you with a reputable tour operator.  But some Kenyan agents can look very much like operators on their websites.  This means they will not be responsible for vehicle maintenance and be “selling you” to a tour operator.  In this case you still don’t know who will be responsible for your comfort and safety while on safari and whether you trust them.  And agents in Kenya are not held by the same rules and guarantees as agents at home, so if they disappear with your money there’s not much recourse.

Kenya is not all bad!

But it’s not just about avoiding shady people (I don’t want to sound like Kenya is full of conmen!), it’s also about availability.  Most people want to come for the Wildebeest Migration in July and August.  These months are also summer holidays in the US and Europe so accommodation in Maasai Mara is around 97% booked throughout the period.  Christmas is also a peak period, with a lot of Kenyans travelling at this time as well as international tourists.  Accommodation and vehicles can be difficult to source in these peak times if you leave it to the last minute.

If you are not fussy about food, the vehicle, or which game park you go to and are on a budget, then you can take a chance with booking your safari when you get to Kenya.  But I recommend you spend some time researching reputable tour operators with good reviews so you know you are safe.  Unfortunately, Kenya is perhaps not the best country to trust strangers on the street who have “the best safari deal for you!”

Overland Travel Adventures has excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and we love working with our guests to personally design their dream safari.  We are a family-run business with husband and wife team, Tracey and Francis, taking care of you from planning through execution.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning your holiday today.

Travelling in Kenya for People with a Physical Disability

Travelling in Kenya for People with a Physical Disability

Travelling in Africa can provide many challenges for people without a disability, but is it a complete no-go zone for people with physical impairment or other special needs?  Harun Hassan of NONDO (Northern Nomadic Disabled Persons Organisation) says definitely not and encourages travellers to “experience the excitement of getting through the hardship”.

While facilities in Kenya for people with disabilities have been slower to come to the fore, there is legislation in place to ensure that all buildings are accessible.  Moreover, there are several community-based and non-governmental organisations that advocate the rights of people with disabilities and the results of their work are becoming increasingly evident.  Shopping centres are very accessible and there are several hotels including Sarova Stanley, PanAfric and The Boma (all in Nairobi) that have excellent amenities.

The 2010 constitution has specified a certain number of people with disabilities must be elected to parliament to represent the needs of the community.  In Kenya, there is not so much discrimination against people with disabilities as a lack of awareness.  Having members of parliament with disabilities is one step to increase awareness as they speak about their impairment and how their lives have been growing up and now as a public figure.

A result of the lack of awareness is that when travellers with disabilities approach a safari operator, often their enquiry is ignored because the operator puts them in the “too hard basket”.  In Kenya, there are hardly any wheelchair-accessible vehicles – those Kenyans with physical impairments must be able to transfer themselves into taxis.  But that should not be a reason to dismiss Kenya as a holiday destination.  Rather, have a good conversation with your tour operator about your needs and find one that is prepared to work with you to plan your safari.  It will be up to you to inform the tour operator very specifically what you require, and it is probably not realistic to expect all the smooth mechanics you might be used to at home such as chair lifts, but the great thing about Kenya is that anything is possible!

If you are thinking about a Kenyan safari, you may contemplate including the Desert Wheel Race in your travel plans.  Held every August in Isiolo, the race is designed to give people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in sports and raise funds for children with disabilities to attend school.  NONDO works in partnership with the county governments from the seven counties participating in the event and willing partners and sponsors such as CBM in ensuring the event is well organized. In northern Kenya most communities are nomadic pastoralists and many people with physical impairment have never even seen a wheelchair.  Inter-tribal conflict has caused disabilities (for example one of the founding members of NONDO was stabbed in the spine with a spear as a child by a raiding tribe) resulting in the further marginalisation of people living in an already marginalised community.

Desert Wheel Race, Isiolo, Kenya Photo courtesy of the CBM database

In 2015, the Desert Wheel Race will be held on 22 August and OTA is organising a safari from Nairobi to participate in the event.  Please contact Tracey and Francis for more information: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com

Desert Wheel Race, Isiolo, Kenya Photo courtesy of the CBM database

All photos courtesy of CBM picture database

3 Smart Tips for Experiencing Your First Safari

3 Smart Tips for Experiencing Your First Safari

Africa is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers, as people find it easier to tick off that “Safari” bucket-list item.  Flights are getting cheaper, tour operators are plentiful and travel agents in countries far from the African continent are becoming well-versed in the myriad options available under the Safari concept.  But Africa can also be a daunting destination.  The media is plagued with stories of civil strife, political tension and personal security issues.  This article offers three smart tips for those wanting to embark on their first safari.

  1. Personal Security

Listening to foreign news about Kenya, one would think the whole country was at war.  Reading government travel warnings about South Africa gives a similar impression.  While it is prudent to heed travel warnings and other information about the safety of your destination, it is also advisable to connect with people living there to find out how they are experiencing daily life.  In general, people want to get on with their lives and the majority of citizens are not throwing grenades or robbing tourists.  As with anywhere (including your home town!) you should keep your wits about you, but there is no reason to cancel your safari because the media has hyped up a situation.

  1. Know what you have booked

Tour operators are a dime a dozen in many countries of Africa as tourism becomes increasingly lucrative.  In Kenya, tourism accounts for approximately 13% of GDP, making it the largest industry of the country.  So it is important that you thoroughly research your selected tour operator and ensure they are the real deal.  There are plenty of review sites on the internet, and a tour operator should be prepared to connect you with previous guests (if those guests give permission of course!) so you can check them out.  Ask plenty of questions about the mode of transport, the standard of accommodation, what activities are included in the price, which meals are included, whether you will be picked up at the airport, etc.  If you are clear on what to expect then the chance of nasty surprises spoiling your holiday will be minimised.  And don’t take anything for granted – if you assume something, then it is almost guaranteed that your assumption will be wrong.  Africa behaves differently to other places in the world so it is vital to ensure everything is explicit.

  1. Interact with locals

There are a lot of “flying packages” where you fly into the capital city, transfer immediately to a charter plane to fly to a game reserve, spend a few days looking at wildlife and then fly back to the capital and home.  You might have a chat with your safari driver or the staff at your lodge, but that would be the only chance you have to interact with a local.  While this suits many people, my opinion is that there is no point in travelling if you don’t meet the people and see the culture.  The safari experience is enriched when you take some time to visit communities and talk to people about their lives.  There are a lot of kitsch tourist villages to visit, but there are opportunities to engage with people in a meaningful way, if you use a tour operator committed to sustainable and responsible tourism.

Africa is the ultimate safari destination with opportunities for the most sublime wildlife encounters and eye-opening cultural encounters.  Sadly, much of the wildlife is in grave danger from poaching and shrinking habitat.  Tourism provides an income stream that encourages the protection of the wildlife which is crucial right now.  If a safari is on your bucket list, start your research, find a reputable tour operator and come to Africa!  You won’t ever regret it…. and perhaps it will just be the beginning of a love affair with this amazing continent.

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