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OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

The Maasai Mara and Serengeti form a cross-border eco-system that supports millions of animals and is the scene for the Great Wildebeest Migration.  In January, OTA is leading a tour to these parks as well as Lake Naivasha, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, giving guests the opportunity to experience a variety of landscapes throughout their safari.

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Spectacular wildlife in Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater is the biggest draw-card of this safari, but the stunning birding in Lakes Naivasha and Natron is not to be dismissed.  Throughout the safari, we will travel through several different environments, each providing incredible scenery.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional Maasai village.  Travelling in a comfortable safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring and accompanied by an experienced driver-guide, on this trip you will stay in three-star tented camps and lodges.

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Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “Lake Naivasha is the biggest of the Rift Valley lakes and Lake Natron has an alga that makes it look red; both are home to millions of flamingos.  Maasai Mara is famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration that arrives in July and returns to Serengeti in November – that’s where you’ll see the herds on this trip.  Ngorongoro Crater is the caldera of an extinct volcano and local people believe it is the Garden of Eden, especially as nearby Oldepai Gorge is where some of the earliest human remains have been found.”

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OTA’s 13-day Wildlife Wonder Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional and unique safari experience.  The tour cost is US$3460 per person inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fees to Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, and an English-speaking driver-guide.  There are limited seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve yours.

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Why East Africa Is the Perfect Family Destination

Why East Africa Is the Perfect Family Destination

School holidays roll around four times a year and each time you want to keep your kids entertained and once in a while treat them to something really special.  Well here today, I’m presenting the ultimate school holiday treat for the whole family!  Often, family travel focuses on a destination suitable for children but can be a bit of a drag for the parents.  East Africa is NOT such a destination – it offers plenty for everyone from your primary-school-aged son to his grandmother.

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East Africa has so many activities for all ages.  Many people just think of a typical safari, looking at animals from a safari vehicle.  When parents are considering a holiday for their young children, spending days in a car does not sound attractive.  But there’s so much more!  At Lake Naivasha you can go cycling in Hells Gate National Park.  In the Maasai Mara and Serengeti you can go in a hot air balloon.  Many lodges have swimming pools to break up a big day of game drives.  You can head up to a beautiful viewpoint for a sundowner in most places you might be in the region.  Walking safaris are available in Central Kenya, Lake Naivasha and Lake Eyasi in Tanzania.  Or perhaps a boat ride at Lake Baringo, Lake Victoria, Lake Kivu (in Rwanda), or on the Nile River in Uganda.  At the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda, the teenagers can go white-water rafting downstream while the elders relax on a lunch cruise upriver!

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I mentioned earlier that parents tend to worry about their young kids spending full days in a car.  What if they get bored?  What if they need a toilet?  Oh it could just be a disaster.  Wrong!  There are ways to make game drives fun and entertaining with games or a scavenger hunt or get them to fill out a field guide if they are a bit older.  That will keep them engaged and interested in finding the next animal.  You could have prizes for the most obscure find for the day.  And anyway, the animals you are seeing are lions and elephants and giraffes!  One family took their two children aged 3 and 5 on a safari and they had prepared their guide that they may have to cut things short if the kids became ratty.  But it never happened.  The children were thrilled with seeing the animals and lasted the whole day!

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Meeting local people and learning how they live is a fantastic experience for all generations.  But in East Africa there is a lot of issues and life is really different to what we are used to in the West.  We have witnessed profound impact on teenagers especially when they have interacted with kids their own age living in the slums or in a Maasai village.  Visiting community-based organisations and seeing their projects can inspire young people to start thinking how they can make a difference in this world.  We have had family groups visit schools and donate books.  Other families have visited traditional villages and it’s so fun to see the children playing together despite a language barrier.

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So if you are starting to think that it might be OK for finding things to do, but now you start thinking about the logistics.  Where will you stay?  How will you travel?  Again, East Africa has you covered.  Many accommodation places have family rooms.  We also understand that travelling with a family can be expensive, so if you are travelling on a budget then consider a camping trip.  It is really exciting camping in the national parks listening to the sounds of the bush around you at night!  As for transport, there are a range of vehicle sizes, depending on how many you are.  A typical safari van or Land Cruiser seats 6-7 passengers but if you are looking to bring the extended family for a multi-generational trip, you might hire an overland truck.

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The biggest concern for families considering coming to East Africa is safety and security.  When you book through a reputable tour operator, you will be fully escorted the whole time by knowledgeable local guides.  By booking a full safari package and paying up front for everything, you do not have to carry so much cash on you.  And remember the national parks have never really been a target for terrorists or criminals – big cities are much more lucrative for them.  On a safari you will be spending most of your time in national parks and minimal time in cities so your risk of encountering these bad guys is reduced.

So what are you waiting for?  It’s time to build amazing memories together.  You might use it to celebrate a special occasion – for example we had a family group reunite in Kenya to celebrate the grandfather’s 70th birthday. Regardless, a family holiday to East Africa is a bucket list event no one will ever forget.

“Absolutely relaxed and responsible safari!”

“Absolutely relaxed and responsible safari!”

In January, Jasmin and Josh became our first ever AirBnB guests.  Jasmin had been studying on exchange here in Kenya and her boyfriend Josh came to visit her at the end of semester so they could travel together.  After a week in Kenya, Jasmin’s brother Fabio also joined them and Jasmin and Fabio decided they wanted to go the Maasai Mara after Josh returned home.

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We were able to find them two other travel buddies from Argentina so the four of them set off from Nairobi early one morning for a three day trip to Kenya’s top tourist destination.  They stayed at Mara Explorers and headed into the park almost immediately.  They spend the afternoon and all the next day in the game park watching wildlife.  Some of the group also went in for a final game drive on the last morning before returning to Nairobi.  That was the best game drive, because that was the time they saw lions on a hunt!

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Jasmin and Fabio came back and stayed a few more nights in our spare room before they went home, saying goodbye to the friends Jasmin had made during her semester here.  It was a pleasure to host Jasmin, Josh and Fabio both in our home and on safari and we hope they will return to Kenya again someday!

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Jasmin left us a lovely review on Trip Advisor: “Absolutely relaxed and responsible safari!”

Me and my brother made a safari to Masaai Mara. We already knew Francis and Tracey because we’ve spent some nights at their place in Rongai. They are really nice and helpful people and we had an amazing time with them. The safari to the Mara was one of the highlights of our time in Kenya.

I think Francis is a really good driver and I felt so relaxed in his car. This is important because it is quite a distance to the Mara park from Nairobi. Also in the park we felt that he really knows the area and that he exactly knew when he can drive through a waterhole (this time there were a lot of them) – we never got stuck. He also drove respectfully when animals were around, what I appreciated a lot. He really asked what we wanted and did not just stop at any souvenir shop like I knew it from other safari organizations (and I think can be a bit annoying). Finally, the place where we went for the two nights was also a great spot (The Mara explorer’s camps).

I totally recommend to travel with OTA because it is a small, really personal safari organization of such a nice couple with experience and knowledge.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g294207-d3561827-r369153929-Overland_Travel_Adventures_Private_Day_Tours-Nairobi.html#
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A wonderful great experience

Last August Matthew and Mathilde came to Kenya for their honeymoon and we were honoured they chose us to take them to Amboseli for the special occasion.  This is what they said about their trip:

“To start our honeymoon, we spent two days in the stunning Amboseli National Park. Tracey and Francis took wonderful care of us, and booked us into an amazing room at the Amboseli Serena Lodge. The elephants were a highlight of our whole trip, and getting up early to see Kilimanjaro was well with it.

I have only good things to say about making the arrangements for the trip. Tracey always respond quickly to my emails, and we’re really pleased that we chose OTA.”

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And this year in May,Ashton and her mother Sandra travelled with Francis to the Maasai Mara, describing it as a “Great experience!”.

“We traveled with OTA for 3 days from Nairobi to Masai Mara and back and overall it was a great experience. Tracey had sent us all possible information before our trip and was very helpful and flexible with planning. Francis was extremely informative and helpful during the trip – plus the lunches that he set up under the trees overlooking the plains was just a lovely little touch. Would definitely travel with them again!”

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We are so grateful for your positive reviews and for supporting our company and Kenyan tourism!  We hope more of our friends and fans will come for a safari soon!

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?

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  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.

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  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. 

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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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.

Explore 3 Kenyan Parks with OTA

Explore 3 Kenyan Parks with OTA

OTA is launching a series of weekend trips especially for Kenya’s citizens and the expatriate community.  This will give people living in Kenya the opportunity to explore this country’s top parks easily, conveniently and safely.

OTA's weekend trips to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Throughout 2015, OTA will have three-day trips departing every Friday to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu.  This is an excellent opportunity for both Kenyan citizens and expatriates to explore Kenya in the comfort of a safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring.  Starting from 16,300KES inclusive of meals, accommodation, transport and park entry fees, these trips are affordable and fun.  Prices vary according to group size and you can visit http://bit.ly/1sUS18Q for more information.  Any group size can be catered for with transport in safari vans or overland trucks.  All trips are accompanied by an experienced English-speaking driver-guide.  For reservations and enquiries, contact Tracey and Francis on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “After a week of work, these trips offer Kenyans a great way to relax and explore their country.  Boring weekends at home are a thing of the past as you can come and meet other people and see the beauty of Kenya.”

These weekend trips give expatriates and Kenyans the opportunity to explore Kenyan parks affordably.  For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1sUS18Q or contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to make a booking for you and your friends this weekend.

OTA offers trips in Kenya where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country.  We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.  Visit www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

OTA's weekend trips to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu www.ota-responsibletravel.com

 

How a Ugandan Student Found a Sponsorship Opportunity

How a Ugandan Student Found a Sponsorship Opportunity

If you have been following this blog for some time, you may remember a post from Jared at the end of 2012.  Jared was a 27-year-old Ugandan, volunteering at a palliative care clinic, but by 2012 he realised that volunteering wasn’t going to pay any bills and so he started contacting several companies asking for employment, including us at OTA.  The employment market is tough however, and he wasn’t successful.  Also his heart wasn’t totally in it – he would much rather go back to university and complete his Public Health degree.  The cost of university fees made this dream impossible, so Jared requested some assistance.  He compiled a request letter and his previous results which we published on this blog to see if anyone might be able to assist.  No one was more surprised than us when Bev answered the call!  And so we connected Jared and Bev directly to organise the sponsorship.

A university education is life-changing in East Africa but many young people miss out because of the expense.  Finding a sponsor is an incredible opportunity for a young person to break out of the poverty cycle, developing themselves and also their country.  Of course there was a bit more to the story than the abridged version above describes and so this article offers three tips to ensure your sponsorship is effective and legitimate.

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  1. Ask for references

Jared and Bev were connected through us.  Bev had travelled with Tracey in 2009 for five weeks from Beijing to Istanbul – this journey undoubtedly built a high level of trust between the two.  And Jared had been communicating online with Francis and Tracey as well as having the opportunity to meet in Kampala.  Sending school fees to random email requests is fraught with danger, but being able to check with a trust-worthy source means you can be confident that your money is headed in the right direction.

  1. Conduct regular check-ups with the university

The student should be sending the sponsor regular updates of their academic progress.  In Bev and Jared’s case, the updates flew thick and fast as they also got to know more about each other’s lives, families, and cultures.  This is not necessary but receiving the results at the end of each term or semester means there is some accountability for the student to make the most of the opportunity.  If the sponsor has the name of the university, it is sometimes also possible to check directly with the university that the student is attending classes and performing well.

  1. Be aware of requests for “extra assistance”

During 2013 Jared’s bike lost its gears and needed repairs.  Jared rode fifteen kilometres to university and found the bus cost too much.  It wasn’t until he asked for help to repair the bicycle that Bev realised more help was needed.  Since then she has sent him a monthly allowance and also ensures he can attend conferences or other university activities.  However, she is quick to stress that Jared is not a “taker” – he contributes by getting holiday jobs as a laboratory assistant.  Also she has never heard from any of Jared’s friends or family members asking for her to assist them.  This can sometimes happen where sponsors get bombarded with requests from the rest of the family asking for more.

This year, Bev came to Kenya and Uganda both to see the sights and to meet Jared in person.  The emails the two exchanged over the 18 months had brought them close enough to call each other “mum” and “son”.  Now there was the opportunity to travel together so Jared could see more of his own country and get to know his benefactor.  After the safari, Bev spent a week in Kampala seeing Jared’s life – they visited the university, met his family, saw plenty of hospitals (Jared is studying Public Health after all!) and also did the tourist highlights of the city.  The relationship was cemented and Jared can continue his studies as well as take on extra-curricular activities such as attending the East Africa Health Conference in Tanzania.

How a Ugandan Student Found a Sponsorship Opportunity; OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

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