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Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Walking safari at Lake Naivasha

Waaaaaay back in May 2014, I sat in Sheila’s lounge room with Sheila and Christine to talk about an African adventure.  They had travelled to South America a few years before and wanted to make the most of their Yellow Fever vaccination, so Africa was the logical next step for them.

Of course they had to come to Kenya, as that is where our little tour company is based and it’s the place for the best safaris in the world (I’m not biased!).  They also wanted to visit Botswana, being fans of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Victoria Falls.  They had three weeks to experience the best of the African continent and so we set to work planning an itinerary.

There were a couple of challenges.  First of all, Kenya has so much and we wanted to show them all of it, but we had to narrow the safari down to just a week.  Secondly was finding an affordable way to travel in Botswana.  Botswana caters to the high-end luxury traveller, and lodges are typically US$400+ per person per night.  For your average retired teacher, this is not affordable.  The alternative is a mobile camping safari and our intrepid ladies agreed.

Eighteen months later Sheila and Christine landed at Nairobi’s airport, looking quite fresh after the 22-hour flight.  We headed straight to the accommodation for a quick shower and then went to the mall to take care of some essentials – changing money, buying things that had been left behind and having a cold Kenyan beer as we discussed the week ahead.

Safari Begins

Our first destination was the Maasai Mara.  The wildebeest migration was in town, and Sheila and Christine could be forgiven for never wanting to see another wildebeest ever again!  But do you think we could find an elephant?  The night before, a herd of about 15 elephants had crashed through our camp, but there was not a trace of them or their friends until 5pm when I glimpsed a big grey face in the bushes.  Elephants do not like all the noise of millions of wildebeest and tend to disappear until the rowdy tourists have gone back to Serengeti (kind of like Philip Island residents on Grand Prix weekend!).  On our ellie hunt though, we were lucky to find five lions – two males and three females – supervising a herd of buffalo.  No one else had found this group, and so we got to enjoy the sighting all alone.  Magical!

Lionesses survey a herd of buffalo in the Maasai Mara

Lake Naivasha

From the Maasai Mara we went to Lake Naivasha for two nights.  The next day started with a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy where we got excited spotting many different birds (see the list below) and getting close to some giraffes who were necking.  Necking isn’t as romantic as it sounds; it’s actually the term for how giraffes fight.  From a distance they look quite graceful and almost gentle as they swing their necks against one another.  But once we got close, we could hear the thumps as they crashed together.  They can cause serious injury or even death as they fight for supremacy of the herd.

We had a very lovely lunch at Sanctuary Farm and then went for a boat ride around part of the shore of Lake Naivasha.  We requested our captain keep us a safe distance from the hippos, and despite his respect of the request, I was still very nervous – I don’t think I should do any more boat trips in hippo-infested waters as I suspect my nerves make everyone else a bit edgier.  But they are really big!

Cormorants in Lake Naivasha

Samburu Safari

Our final destination in Kenya was Samburu.  This is where Sheila and Christine got a bit of a taste of what was to come on their camping safari in Botswana, as we stayed in tents inside the park.  Camping in the park is such a great experience, even if you think you aren’t the camping type, it’s worth trying just once.  Samburu gets really hot in the middle of the day and all the animals retire to the shade, making game driving at that time a little boring.  Fortunately there’s a lodge near the campsite with a pool that one can use for a small fee.  While Sheila and Christine cooled off, Francis and I ducked out to Umoja Primary School.  Last year, Bev had spent a day teaching at the school and later sent some money that her students in Australia had raised.  We used that money to buy hoops and footballs for the school and at last we had the opportunity to deliver them.  The students remembered Bev and I heard murmurs about rockets (one of the activities Bev had done with them) as they gathered to receive the gifts.

Delivering a donation to Umoja School

As we headed back to Nairobi, there was one last stop to make: Kiota Children’s Home.  At our fundraising event in Melbourne earlier this year, Sheila had signed up to sponsor a Kenyan student.  Being in Kenya now, it only made sense for her and the student to meet.  Ndunda is a very shy young boy, but he graciously received the stationery that Sheila and Christine had brought for all the children at the home.  He then showed us around the home, pointing out the place where he kept his school bag and shoes, his homework, his bed, and common areas where they hang out.  We also met Samuel and Simon who are also sponsored by people who came to our Melbourne event.

Sheila and Christine hand over donations for Kiota Children's Home

I can’t write too much more about Sheila and Christine’s adventure, as they flew out of Nairobi the next day and left us behind.  They went to the mighty Victoria Falls for a few nights before heading to Botswana.  They had a night in the Chobe Safari Lodge where they did a boat cruise on the Chobe River.  That’s an amazing cruise as the animals come down to the water to drink in the evening.  Chobe has the highest population of elephants in Africa – it certainly must have made up for the ellies’ absence in Maasai Mara!

Seeing Sheila and Christine off a the airport

Then they joined their camping safari, travelling to Savute, Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta.  It was surely an adventure, and I hope that they have written about it somewhere so we can hear all about it!

What we saw

Birds

  • Common Ostrich
  • Great White Pelican
  • Great Cormorant
  • Long-tailed Cormorant
  • Cattle Egret
  • Common Squacco Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Purple Heron
  • Black-headed Heron
  • Hamerkop
  • Marabou Stork
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Sacred Ibis
  • Hadada Ibis
  • African Spoonbill
  • Egyptian Goose
  • Yellow-billed Duck
  • Secretary Bird
  • Lappet-faced Vulture
  • Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • African White-backed Vulture
  • African Goshawk
  • Augur Buzzard
  • Long-crested Eagle
  • Tawny Eagle
  • African Fish Eagle
  • Francolin
  • Yellow-necked Spurfowl
  • Vulturine Guineafowl
  • Helmeted Guineafowl
  • Black Crake
  • Red-knobbed Coot
  • African Jacana
  • Blacksmith Plover
  • Crowned Plover
  • Sandpiper
  • Gull
  • Yellow-throated Sandgrouse
  • Ring-necked Dove
  • Go-away-bird
  • Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl
  • Swift
  • Grey-headed Kingfisher
  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Lilac-breasted Roller
  • Green Wood-hoopoe
  • Ground Hornbill
  • Red-billed Hornbill
  • Grey Woodpecker
  • Plain-backed Pipit
  • Common Bulbul
  • Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
  • Rattling Cisticola
  • Long-tailed Fiscal
  • Brown-crowned Tchagra
  • Cuckoo-shrike
  • Common Drongo
  • Black-headed Oriole
  • Pied Crow
  • Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starling
  • Superb Starling
  • Wattled Starling
  • Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Rufous Sparrow
  • White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
  • Sparrow Weaver
  • African Golden Weaver
  • Baglafecht (Reichenow’s) Weaver
  • Red-headed Weaver
Vuturine Guineafowl

Vuturine Guineafowl

Animals

  • Cape buffalo
  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Spotted hyena
  • Burchell’s Zebra
  • Grevy’s Zebra
  • Maasai giraffe
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Eland
  • Impala
  • Thomson’s gazelle
  • Grant’s gazelle
  • Wildebeest
  • Hartebeest
  • Topi
  • Waterbuck
  • Bushbuck
  • Beisa’s Oryx
  • Gerenuk
  • Dikdik
  • Rock hyrax
  • Warthog
  • Olive baboon
  • Vervet monkey
  • Hippopotamous
  • Crocodile
  • Skink
Lioness in Samburu

Lioness in Samburu

Emily and Lee’s Kenyan Safari

Emily and Lee’s Kenyan Safari

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I love starting trips on weekends.  The traffic to escape Nairobi is clear and we don’t have to start a safari in a jam.  Emily and Lee conveniently started their journey to Mombasa on a Saturday morning, and we found ourselves bright and early at Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen.  It was a reasonably unremarkable drive, therefore, to Amboseli.  The only potential for disaster arose when I inserted my foot firmly in my mouth with a cynical remark about the aid industry…. only after the words were out did I remember that Lee works as a fund raiser for an NGO.

But their humour remained intact, even after the 22 kilometres of corrugated road on the last stretch to the park (it’s nothing compared to the road to the Maasai Mara, but not having that for comparison, 22 kilometres can also be tiring).

Our arrival at Kibo Camp was like a homecoming for Francis and me.  First Charles, the supervisor, cracked a big smile in welcome as he saw us emerging from the van.  Francis had only been there a few days before, but I was pleasantly surprised they remembered me after several months.

We checked in and Charles generously gave us a new guest tent.  The tents are floored with stone and covered with cow-hide rugs.  The four-poster bed in the middle of the room is surrounded with a mosquito net which is set up during the evening turn-down service while we have dinner.  At the rear of the tent is the en suite with flush toilet and hot shower.  The water is solar heated – part of Kibo’s eco-friendly efforts.  No time to linger in our luxurious tent though; it was lunchtime.

As Francis and I entered the dining room our old friend Gona was preparing our table.  When he turned and saw us, it was like meeting a long-lost pal.  “Mama and Papa Overland” he cried and shook both our hands energetically.  Nothing is too much trouble for Gona – as he says “my name is Gona and I’m gonna serve you.”  Gona had christened us Mama and Papa Overland on my first visit to Kibo in 2013.  We were quietly tickled by the name and are glad it’s stuck.

Safari in Amboseli

Emily and Lee had their first game drive that afternoon.  They were lucky with an early lion sighting!  Even better, it was a lion couple on their honeymoon.  Of course they also saw plenty of elephants and a hippo with her baby out of the water.

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Emerging from our tents at sunrise the next morning, we were greeted with a perfect view of a naked Kilimanjaro.  Usually covered in cloud during the day, early morning is the best time to see the mountain and Amboseli is the best place for those views.  Francis whisked Emily and Lee off to the park for an early morning game drive.  Over breakfast, Lee marvelled at the incredible variety of birds they had seen during the drive, many of which they had never heard of, including the Secretary Bird.  We all had a giggle at Francis’ imitation of the Secretary Bird as it hunts.  Amboseli National Park comprises a large swamp in the middle of a massive arid area and thus attracts many water birds including water rail, egrets, herons, ibis, kingfishers and plovers.

After breakfast we bid our farewells to the awesome staff and started back to Mombasa Road.  The highway between East Africa’s main port and the rest of the region is only single lane in each direction with some trucks hurtling along at hair-raising speeds while others barely make it up the gentlest of inclines.  Side mirrors are a needless accessory it seems and rarely used.  It’s not my favourite road to travel on and so I like to either turn around to talk to people behind or pretend to sleep – anything to not look at my impending death over and over!  Francis is masterful though and navigates the other drivers’ craziness with cool calm.

Elephants and Leopards

Our destination was Taita Hills and Lumo Sanctuary.  It took us about six hours from Kibo to Taita Hills but it was worth it as Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge came into view.  A herd of elephants were wending their way through the lodge’s stilts as they made their way to the waterhole.  I had tried to describe how the waterhole is at the reception area, but it’s difficult to understand that elephants can be just a few metres away as you check in, until you get there!

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Once you are there it is even more difficult to tear yourself away from the incredible proximity you have with these beautiful creatures.  However, after enjoying sunrise over Kilimanjaro that morning we felt it a fitting end to have a drink watching the sun set over the mountain.  The only trouble was that we got distracted by a couple of lionesses feasting on a zebra on our way.  By the time we got to Lion’s Bluff, the sun had all but disappeared.  The thing about being so close to the equator is that sunset happens in about five minutes – not the two-hour romance we get in Melbourne!  But Lion’s Bluff still has one of the best balcony bars in Africa, so we indulged in a glass of wine anyway.

There’s a rocky outcrop in Lumo Sanctuary where on one of my earliest visits another driver-guide told us he had just seen a leopard.  We scoured the outcrop, fully circling it, looking for the leopard with no luck.  On every subsequent visit I search that outcrop desperately for the leopard.  I look among the tree branches and in the cracks and crevasses of the rocks, always suspecting the leopard will be in the most hard to see place and really wanting to be the first clever cat to find it.

So the third day of the safari saw us on an early morning game drive close to this outcrop with me desperately craning my head to find the elusive leopard.  As I carefully searched the branches of a particularly large sausage tree (a leopard’s favourite), everyone started talking about something else remarkable: the large elephant that almost seemed stuck under the very same tree.  Had I really missed that?!  He was perched somewhat tenuously on a ledge and munching on the leaves of the sausage tree.  As he backed up, his side rubbed against the rock giving an audible demonstration of how thick his skin must be.  After watching him for some time and satisfying ourselves that he wasn’t really stuck, we continued our circuit of Leopard Rock.

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I returned to looking in all the hidey holes when a minute later Francis suddenly hit the brakes and said “Leopard!”  And there, lounging in plain view on a Pride Rock-style arrangement was indeed a leopard!  What luck!  And we were the only ones there to enjoy this magnificent sighting.  After several minutes however another van approached, but too fast and too noisily.  The leopard jumped lightly off his rock lounge and disappeared into the grass.  (Note: suggest to your driver-guides they drive slowly in the parks, especially as they approach another vehicle that is obviously looking at something, so you don’t miss out on exciting sightings.)

Leopard at Taita Hills, Kenya

Leopard at Taita Hills, Kenya

We were happy with our sighting anyway, and headed back to the lodge for breakfast.  This morning the zebras were having their turn at the waterhole, but not before having a bit of a chase around with the elephants.

Kenya’s coast

Then it was time to drive to Mombasa.  To avoid driving through the city centre, we turned off at Mariakani and drove through rolling green hills.  It became a rough road but the scenery was quite beautiful (aside from the large rubbish dump in one part).  Finally we got to Nyali where Francis and I took our bearings from the dentist’s office he had visited in 2013.  As he had been under the influence of strong painkillers at that time, I suggested he trust my directions…and eventually we got there.

We had such a great time with Emily and Lee and we can’t wait to welcome them in 8-10 years when they bring their baby daughter for safari!

For us, we found a campsite and sat down to a cold Tusker and a chat about how long we were going to enjoy our beach holiday.  The silver lining of Kenya’s tourism decline is that we didn’t have to rush back to Nairobi for the next safari…. lucky us??!!

After a lazy morning, we headed 11 kilometres north to Jumba la Mtwana, the ruins of an Arab trading port.  It was very interesting; the guide taught us a lot.  And it was so beautiful – ruins of stone and coral buildings amongst trees of so many shades of green.  The port was active between 1350 and 1450 and has three mosques and many houses including a hotel of sorts for the traders who sailed in.

Francis tests the acoustics in the remains of a mosque.  This is the alcove where the Imam stood to preach...although I think Francis should be facing the other way to get the amplifying effect!

Francis tests the acoustics in the remains of a mosque. This is the alcove where the Imam stood to preach…although I think Francis should be facing the other way to get the amplifying effect!

In the morning before leaving for Nairobi, we visited Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Centre.  Established in 1969, Bombolulu is a craft workshop employing people with disabilities.  They design and produce jewellery, bags, clothes, wood carvings and many other crafts.  It’s a fantastic project employing around 100 staff (that number used to be 350 before the global financial crisis).  Accommodation is provided for the staff if they wish and there is a school and day-care centre for their children.  It is well worth a visit if you stay on the north coast.

If you would like to experience a safari like Emily and Lee, please contact us today (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) to start planning your Kenyan holiday.

Emily and Lee collage

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

When Is the Best Season to Travel in Kenya?

When Is the Best Season to Travel in Kenya?

People often ask us about the best time of year to come to Kenya, so we decided to put together this guide to help you plan your own safari.  There are pros and cons for every time of year, so it largely depends on what you want to see and how you prefer to travel.

The high season in Kenya is the dry season which runs from July to September.  The grasses are low so you can get better animal sightings and you can access more places when it is not raining.  The biggest highlight at this time of the year is the Great Wildebeest Migration when massive herds cross the river from Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya around July.  This is Kenya’s most popular attraction and, as it conveniently coincides with summer holidays in North America and Europe, it is the busiest time of year.  This results in higher accommodation prices and of course many more tourists.

Travelling in Kenya; OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Conversely, the low season is also the wet season, beginning in March and finishing around June.  The main reasons to visit at this time of year are the reasons you wouldn’t want to go in high season – lower prices and fewer people.  During this period, you might even find a lodge safari at the same price as a high season camping safari.  However, the rains mean the grass grows quickly and thickly making animals harder to spot.

That leaves the shoulder season between October and December.  This is a nice period to visit as the wildebeest herds are still in the Maasai Mara, although they start to leave in November or December.  Some lodges drop their prices somewhat between the high season and Christmas.  However this season is also defined by the “short rains” (it rains for a short period of the day, as opposed to the long rains in March to June where it rains for a long period of the day) and if you end up staying at accommodation that retains a high rate right through to Christmas then putting up with a bit of rain may not be worth it.

Finally the Christmas period from December to February is marked by hot and dry weather and a high concentration of wildlife in the major parks.  The best feature of this season is the migratory birds arriving in Kenya in their millions.  On the other hand, the mass migratory herds have usually moved back to Tanzania by this time.  Christmas and New Year supplements are often charged on accommodation.

So given all that, what’s the verdict?  If pushed to make a recommendation, we suggest September to November.  The rains are not so bad, you can find accommodation that has reduced prices, the migratory herds are still in the Maasai Mara (usually until around November), there are not so many tourists because the summer holidays are over, and the migratory birds start to arrive in November.

Travelling in Kenya; OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Has this helped you to decide the best time of year to come to Kenya for a safari?  Visit www.ota-responsibletravel.com for some great itineraries or contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to kick-start the planning of your African adventure.

Looking Back: Tourism in Kenya

Looking Back: Tourism in Kenya

Mzungu!”  This oft-heard cry directed at travellers comes from colonial times when the British were travelling from Mombasa port to Nairobi and back.  To the Kenyans at the time, all the British looked the same and so they thought it was the same person going around in circles. Mzungu means something that rotates!  Tourism in Kenya has come a long way since then and this article will look at its development from early traders to the growing industry of today.

Foreign invasions

Around 800AD, Arab traders arrived under the command of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Mostly slave traders, these visitors were not the most welcome in Kenya’s history.  The Portuguese took control of the coastal area in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the Arabs soon took it back.

In 1895, Kenya became a British protectorate.  Tourism began with the colonial settlers in the early 1900s.  The settlers enjoyed going “on safari” to hunt The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo).  Luxury camping with numerous servants was the standard, and they either travelled by motor car or on horseback.  The movie Out of Africa has some excellent scenes of a typical safari during this time.

Independence
In the 1960s and 70s tourism throughout the continent was hit by independence struggles, but the hunting safari remained popular.

Shortly after independence, the Kenyan government realised the tourism potential of the country and the impact on the nation’s economy if the industry were to be developed.  The main obstacle however was the lack of qualified people.  So the government, together with the Swiss Confederation, established a training program which produced the first Hotel Management students at Kenya Polytechnic in 1969.  In 1975, the Kenya Utalii College was founded as a dedicated hospitality and tourism training institute.

Promotion Abroad

Also in 1975, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) was established to assist the new African nations develop their tourism infrastructure.  In 1980, the Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa (APTA) was born out of the ATA.  It seems to have much the same objectives, namely to promote education of tourism to African business and to promote Africa as a destination to the rest of the world.

Election Disaster

In the wake of the 2007 elections, inter-tribal violence caused upheaval in Kenya.  Although none of the violence was directed towards foreigners (it was tribes fighting to have their man in the presidency) it impacted the industry significantly.  Tourism slumped by about 50%.

Onward and Upward

Despite the violence early in the year, April 2008 saw Kenya win the Best Leisure Destination award at the World Travel Fair in Shanghai.  In 2010 Kenya received over one million arrivals, a record number to that time.

Last year, both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto pledged their commitment to growing Kenya’s tourism industry during their inauguration speeches.  Currently Kenya is receiving approximately 1.5 million tourists a year.  But Ruto stated that this government is committed to growing that number to 3-5 million in order to turn around the economy and increase jobs for young people.

At the 2013 World Travel Awards (Africa), Kenya was well-represented among the winners.  The Kenya Tourist Board won Africa’s leading tourist board award.  Nine accommodation categories were taken by Kenyan lodgings in categories such as eco, green, meetings and conferences, spa, and tented safari camp.  The Maasai Mara was named Africa’s leading national park.

On the world stage, Kenya was also well-represented in the nominations in the categories: golf destination, tourist board, eco-lodge, green hotel, new hotel, resort, spa resort, and private game reserve.  Kenya won the World’s Leading Safari Destination.

Kenyan tourism is growing from strength to strength.  Long gone are the hunting safaris; now the only shots taken are with a camera.  Despite the terror attack and airport fire last year, Kenya has been recognised globally as a leading destination.  Security remains an issue for many travellers coming to Kenya but, with the government’s renewed commitment to developing the industry, it is a safe place to holiday.  And as the general population recognises and profits from the economic benefits of tourism, the support of the nation will only increase Kenya’s attractiveness as a destination.

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.

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

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

Have you met the Samburu Five?

Have you met the Samburu Five?

Situated at the southern corner of the Samburu district in the Rift Valley province, the Samburu ecosystem comprises three national reserves: Shaba, Buffalo Springs and Samburu.  These parks are not as famous as others in Kenya, but within this ecosystem are species found nowhere else in the country, including the Grevy’s Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and Gerenuk.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The landscape offers amazing variety from open savannah to scrub desert to lush river foliage, offering fantastic opportunities for excellent wildlife encounters.  Steep-sided gullies and rounded hills formed on the lava plain describe the terrain.  Vegetation in the reserve area is dominated by umbrella acacia woodland with intermittent bush-, grass- and scrub-land. Near the river, Doum Palm dominates the landscape. The fruits of the Doum are eaten by monkey, baboon and elephant.

The climate in this area is typically dry and hot.  Temperatures can reach 40°C in the day with an average low of 20°C at night.  The rainy season occurs during the hotter months between April and June and also November and December, with November usually being the wettest month.  Between January and March it is very hot and dry; July to October is also dry.  The elevation in the park ranges from 800 to 1,230 metres.

Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves are separated by 32 km of the Uaso Nyiro River, which winds its way through Kenya from the Aberdare Mountains to the Loriam Swamp near the Somali border.  The river is the lifeline of this arid region, drawing the water-dependent animals to it during the dry season.  In the Samburu language, “Uaso Nyiro” means “River of Brown Water”.

Located 345km north of Nairobi is Archer’s Gate, the main entrance to Samburu National Reserve.  Established in 1948, the Reserve is relatively small at 170 square kilometres, making animals a bit easier to find than in other parks.  Entry fees for foreigners are currently US$70 per day (2014).

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Monkey, olive baboon, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, monitor lizard and Nile crocodile are the most commonly seen residents of Samburu.  Lodges in the reserve have attracted the normally reclusive leopards with bait for several years, so the chances of seeing one are greater than in other parks.  As well as these mammals and reptiles, there are over 300 species of birds, including large flocks of Helmeted and Vulturine Guineafowl.  The five endemic species to the area are: Gerenuk, also known as the “giraffe-necked antelope” as it has a stretched neck adapted for browsing high into the bushes; Grevy’s Zebra, with wide black stripes and a completely white belly; Beisa Oryx; Reticulated Giraffe; and the blue-legged Somali Ostrich.

Accommodation in and around Samburu National Reserve varies in luxury and budget.

Umoja Women’s Campsite is our favourite budget option just outside the park gate at Archer’s Post.  It is a community campsite with bandas (small huts) and simple meals.  It is attached to a women’s village that provides refuge for Samburu women fleeing domestic violence.  Proceeds from the campsite support the women, and you can visit the village to learn more about Samburu culture.  Meet the Chairwoman and Founder, Rebecca Lolosoli, in this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1zuCNemmPo.

Samburu Intrepids is an eco-friendly option inside the reserve.  They have financed the development of a school, a bee-keeping project and medical services in the community.

Larsens Camp, Samburu Game Lodge, Saruni Samburu, Sasaab Samburu and Elephant Bedroom Camp are other lodges in the area.

The town of Archer’s Post has simple, budget guesthouses and restaurants.

OTA Turkana Festival Tour, Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

OTA is running a eight-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  The tour includes game viewing in Samburu, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Fourteen communities in this remote corner of the world coming together to celebrate their differences – don’t you want to be a part of that?!  Visit the website for more information http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information, or check the event page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/OverlandTravelAdventures

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