RSS Feed

Tag Archives: tourism

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

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

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:

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

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 for more information, or check the event page on Facebook

Interview With Rebecca Lolosoli, Chair of Umoja Women’s Group

After visiting Rebecca several times over the course of a year, OTA interviewed her in September 2013 to share her story of Umoja Women’s Group.  She founded Umoja in 1990 to help Samburu women suffering from domestic violence and other abuses find a safe refuge.  Over the decades she has met incredible opposition from the Samburu men, but against the odds she has established a haven currently housing 58 women and recently ran for a political position in her community.

My name is Rebecca Lolosoli. I work with Umoja Women’s Group which was started in 1990.  We started a women’s village and in 1990 we had three women; now we are 58 women.  It’s a village where women run to, like a shelter for the women.

We are fighting for the rights of women, the rights of weak families, and the rights of girls.  Samburu women don’t have rights.  So we fight for our girls to go to school, to choose their husbands and to own anything like land and livestock as any other human being can.  This village is the shelter for women where women and girls run to during their problems, such as early marriages, early pregnancy, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  We also try to help those girls that get pregnant before FGM because their baby will be killed so we try to protect the girl and protect the baby.

OTA's Turkana Festival Tour in Kenya

And now also the women work fighting for peace. We need peace in Kenya and we want to have peace with other communities like our neighbours – the ones who are fighting with Samburu: Borana, Turkana, and Pokot.  So we think the women are to bring these changes of peace and we want to network with our neighbours (the Borana, Turkana and Pokot).  We want to visit each other and try to see how we can bring peace between us because we are the victims.  It’s always the women and children who are the victims.  That’s why we have to think again about peace because there’s no development without peace and that’s what we are trying to do with Umoja Women’s Group.

OTA's Turkana Festival Tour in Kenya

You can visit Umoja Women’s Village at Archer’s Post, near the gate of Samburu National Reserve.  Rebecca also runs a campsite close to the village where tourists visiting the Reserve can stay.  The proceeds from the camp support the women in the village and their ongoing fight for women’s rights in the Samburu community.  Visit for more information.

OTA is running a nine-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve and Thomson’s Falls in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  It includes game viewing in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Ten 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 for more information, or check the Event page on Facebook

Thomson’s Falls

Thomson’s Falls

In 1883 Joseph Thomson became the first European to reach Thomson’s Falls.   He was a Scottish geologist and naturalist who was also the first European to walk between Mombasa and Lake Victoria, which he did in the early 1880s.  He named Thomson’s Falls for his father.

Long before Joseph Thomson wandered through, the central highlands of Kenya was inhabited by Kikuyus.  Kikuyus are the largest tribe of Kenya making up approximately 23 percent of the country’s population today.  They are of Bantu origin (Bantus came from West Africa) and moved in from northern and eastern areas to settle in the Mount Kenya vicinity.  The Kikuyus are known in Kenya as business people and good traders.  They are pastoralists, preferring to settle an area and grow crops than live the nomadic herdsman life of their neighbouring Maasai, Samburu and Turkana tribes.  Living in Kenya’s central highlands means their traditional dress is almost reminiscent of Russia, with square woollen hats made from sheep’s skin.  Where the Maasai robe themselves in brightly coloured, lightweight blankets, the Kikuyu have think sheepskin draped around them.  It is very rare these days to see Kikuyu dressing and living in the traditional style but at Thomson’s Falls there is the opportunity to see some people dressed in the costumes for photos.

It’s difficult to imagine how Joseph Thomson could have found his way to the Falls looking at the terrain.  At the top of the Falls is Thomson’s Falls Lodge, a colonial structure that has remained as a hotel over the decades.  From the Lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the bottom of the Falls to get a different perspective.  The hike down takes approximately 20 minutes through forest.  The path is steep and made slippery by the spray from the waterfall.  The track is quite well-defined however, unlike it would have been in 1883 when Thomson came through!  Back at the top of the waterfall is another hike (turn right from the top lookout instead of left) to the highest hippo pool in Kenya.

From Thomson’s Falls Lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the bottom of the waterfall, meet traditionally-dressed Kikuyu and show you the hippo pool.

The waterfall tumbles out of the hippo pool and falls 72 metres to the bottom.  The water comes from the Aberdare Mountains and forms part of the Ewaso Ng’iro River.  Thomson’s Falls is located two miles from the town of Nyahururu (formerly called Thomson’s Falls as well) in central Kenya.  Nyahururu is Kenya’s highest town at 2360 metres above sea level.

Thomson’s Falls tumbles out of Kenya’s highest hippo pool and falls 72 metres to the bottom

Have you been to Thomson’s Falls in Kenya? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Voluntourism – my thoughts

Declared by Ian Birell in The Guardian on 14 November 2010, voluntourism is “the fastest-growing sector of one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet”.  As with many fast-growing sectors that give little time for impact analysis, there is much debate on the benefits and pitfalls of voluntourism.  This article explains voluntourism and its pros and cons.  The article will conclude with the question of whether there is really a need for do-gooder rich tourists to come and save the poor people, or whether the need is for those rich tourists to broaden their education and experience in order to find better solutions to solve the challenges of the developing world.  My view is a bit of both: cross-cultural dialogue and genuine capacity development is beneficial for both sides.

Voluntourism is basically travel which includes volunteering.  It is becoming the travel trend for high school and college students looking to improve their resume.  Recently, however, there has been an increase in baby boomer volunteers.  Regardless the age, voluntourists tend to be people who want to make a positive change in the world while also enjoying some holiday travel.  They want to increase their awareness of other cultures, understand the challenges faced in developing countries, and generally educate themselves about the wider world.  At the same time many want to have an experience that might give their life new meaning and change the way they think.  Others are simply wanting to give to others during their experience and do not believe it will change how they think or live when they return home.

There are benefits for both the volunteer and the beneficiary in voluntourism.  Projects that receive volunteers have access to more resources, both financial and human.  The local projects can have access to expert knowledge if they specifically request a volunteer with needed skills.  With these resources the project can probably grow and have greater impact than it would otherwise.  For the volunteer, they gain a new perspective and have the opportunity to truly experience the culture, the food, and the people.  Making friends across cultures can only benefit the wider world as understanding of our differences increase tolerance and decreases racism.

The pitfalls are more widely publicised.  The corruption and exploitation of the communities which the projects are supposed to be helping, just to access the above-mentioned resources is a major problem.  Tour operators and voluntourism agencies that facilitate the experiences cater to the needs of the volunteers rather than the project because that is where the money is coming from.  There are reports of projects deliberately kept in bad condition to ensure the funding continues.  Construction activities are not really helpful as labour is a job anyone can do, so bringing a rich tourist to dig holes or lay bricks means that a local person does not have a job.  The organisations hosting the volunteer have to provide someone to look after the volunteer, taking a valuable human resource away from their real work.  In orphanages, abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to carers and it can be traumatic for them to constantly have those attachments broken by each volunteer returning home.  In the same Guardian article quoted in the introduction, Alexia Nestoria who worked for a voluntourism organisation said that “the funding [the volunteers] bring with them is the attractive part” and often the work they do is unnecessary.

Does that mean we should just send money and forget about the experience?  I don’t think so, but there are a few measures that can be taken to make sure the experience is beneficial for both parties:

  1. One of the most important (and most often neglected) steps is to talk to the community and ask what they need.
  2. The project should focus on development that involves local people directly
  3. It is essential that volunteers are qualified and well-informed.  A working with children check or a police check should be required if applicable.
  4. Ensure you are not taking a job from a local.  For example, there are many foreign volunteers teaching in Malawi and it has become cheaper for the government to rely on those volunteers than pay local teachers.
  5. Investigate what happens when the volunteers leave.  Is the project sustainable and supported by the community?  There is no use installing a water pump if no one in the village is trained to maintain the pump.
  6. Ask questions.  What am I doing that’s truly helpful?  What does the volunteer agency do to give back?  What happens to my money?

It would be better to simply travel and spend money through normal transactions if the time and useful skills are not available.  It doesn’t improve anyone’s situation to do something just to save our own consciences.

Living in Kenya, my own views rely on my experience here.  But I believe you could replace “Africa” with “Asia” or “South America” in this paragraph.  It is fallacy to think that a few foreign volunteers can “save Africa”.  Only Africans can save Africa.  But voluntourists with specific skills can train people in those skills.  True capacity development should be the focus rather than people simply wanting to “do good”.  On the other hand, it is not about the impact on Africa necessarily.  Just as important is the impact on the volunteer.  If their world view is changed, if their tolerance is increased, if their prejudice is decreased, if their awareness is raised, if their education is broadened, then it is a good thing.  You don’t know which college student spending a month volunteering in Kenya will go on to wield significant influence in business or government and have that experience of Africa to help him make positive decisions for a better world.  Ian Birell cynically suggests that “voluntourism” is more about the self-fulfilment of westerners than the needs of developing nations.  I agree, but I’m not convinced it’s entirely a bad thing.  A foreign voluntourist allows the opportunity for cross cultural dialogue, which    reduces prejudice on both sides.  For example, last year a young Ugandan wrote to me through my business Facebook page asking for any opportunities to work.  Although I didn’t have anything available for him an email conversation ensued and we shared our stories.  One day he asked to connect through my personal page and he was shocked to realise that I wasn’t a black Kenyan, rather a white Australian.  He said that if he had known he would not have shared so much and written a much more formal email in the first place.  I told him I would not have tried so hard trying to find him a position elsewhere if he had written as such.  Our friendship has grown over the months and I think his attitude towards mzungus (foreigners) has changed.

<a href="">Google</a>

Slum Tours – good or bad?

The image of a group of affluent white tourists with intrusive cameras staring at poor people is reasonable cause to be outraged at “Slum Tourism”.  As community engagement and responsible travel become more popular principles, so the slum tourism concept gains strength.  This article will describe what this concept is; examine its benefits and pitfalls; and give tips on how to participate in such tours ethically and responsibly.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures

Amani Kibera is a community-based organisation who have a number of projects working towards peace and assisting young people in the Kibera slum. Guests can visit their library and other projects and learn how the projects change lives.

Slum tourism, as the name suggests, involves visiting impoverished areas or slums in developing countries.  The key countries where one would find these tours include India, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia and South Africa.  Although the concept began in London and New York in the late 1800s, it was during the 1980s in South Africa that it started becoming more prominent.  Black residents organised “township tours” to educate the white local government officials on how they lived.  The tours started to attract international tourists wanting to learn more about apartheid.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures

Enjoying lunch in a local restaurant in Kibera slum

Despite these positive intentions, some township or slum tours have devolved into little more than another safari, voyeuristically looking out the bus window at the squalid conditions, turning poverty into entertainment.  Watching people struggling for their basic needs does not really help anyone and, it can be argued, it robs those people of their dignity.  Tour operators are seen to be essentially exploiting the misfortune of others.  Often tour operators do not give back to the community and fail to seek consent from the residents to treat their home like a zoo.  It also encourages a hand out society if donations are not controlled – tourists randomly throwing money and sweets out the window teaches children that they don’t need to go to school, rather they can trail after tour buses waiting for the riches to rain down.

Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures

Silverplate School in Korogocho slum/ the school was set up by Lucas who saw large numbers of children picking through the local dump site instead of going to school.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad; there are benefits to these tours, both to the communities and the travellers if conducted with the right attitude.  Often the tourists wanting to participate in a slum tour are from developed countries and have never seen such destitution.  It increases awareness of poverty and issues around poverty, making it a real concern rather than something that happens in a far off land of no concern to them.  Many tourists often come to the slums to put their life into perspective (see #firstworldproblems).  For travellers, it is a chance to see how people live and how hard they must work to provide for their families.  It is also good, however, to see that slums and townships are not just places of destitution and misery, but are actually vibrant communities with shops, schools, laughter, and optimism.

Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures

The students pay what they can, but for Lucas the priority is for them to get an education.

The tours give an opportunity for the local economy to benefit.  Travellers can buy lunch, use a local guide and buy souvenirs from craft-workers.  Employment and income for these people usually results in their profit being invested back in the community, creating a flow-on benefit.  Many slum tours are organised by community-based organisations with the intention of creating jobs and extra income for residents.  During a slum tour, travellers can donate directly to those in need (rather than having half their donation lost in “administration costs” when donating to large NGOs at home).  There is the opportunity to visit community projects, schools, and other non-profit organisations.  Donations can be in the form of money or goods such as stationary for schools or clothes for an orphanage.  Many travellers feel more inclined to donate after experiencing a small slice of day-to-day life in the slums.

Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures

Being from the area himself, Lucas is able to work with the community to garner support for the school and encourage families to ensure they send their children.

So if the bad effects are so bad, yet the good effects are so good, how does one decide whether to participate in a slum tour or not?  Here are three key things to look for in choosing your slum tour:

  1. Are local guides being employed?
  2. Does the money you pay for the tour go back into the community?
  3. Does the operator genuinely support the community?

You should ask plenty of questions of your tour operator to ensure they are ethical and responsible in their conduct of slum tours.  A few considerations you should ask about include:

  • The size of the tour group – a big group is very intrusive and there is no way you can have proper interaction with community members while small groups can interact respectfully with residents.
  • Is it a walking tour or will you be travelling in a bus, just clicking your camera from the window?
  • How much is the community involved in working with the tour company?

The Boston’s University’s paper on “poverty tourism” says that slum tours should be conducted in” a well-established collaborative and consensual process”, much like the “fair trade” process.

Sharing the challenges, dreams and aspirations of communities provides the opportunity of getting connected with our global village.  Participating in slum tours need not be a voyeuristic exploitative process, but can be a mutually beneficial relationship between visitors and residents.  The opportunities to connect to further the relationships for capacity development or simply facilitating donations are aided by the direct interaction slum tours can provide.  It is just important to ensure you use ethical, responsible tour operators who work with communities rather than just use them for their own gains.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures

Kids playing in the school yard in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum

%d bloggers like this: