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Is It OK To Book A Safari While In Kenya?

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

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

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  I had a friend who went for this method and it wasn’t until her and her comrades had withdrawn the money from the ATM that they realized they were about to walk through downtown Nairobi and at least one person knew they were carrying masses of cash.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

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

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

Kenya is not all bad!

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

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

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

Responsible Photography

Responsible Photography

When we travel it is natural to want to capture every memorable moment.  Many times these memorable moments are the times when we are struck by something unusual or so different from our experiences back home – for example a pride of lions lounging under a tree or a family of elephants striding across the savannah – these things we don’t see in our normal lives.  But how do we deal with those moments when we see extreme poverty or simply people getting on with their everyday lives in a very different way to our own lifestyle?  Is it OK to photograph that as well?

Often travellers coming to Africa are struck by the poverty and want to take photographs of people and dwellings in slum areas.  There are two sides to the coin of whether this is OK or not and I believe it comes down to your intention.  Is it voyeuristic?  Do you simply want to post the photos on Facebook to show your friends how intrepid and benevolent you are by visiting these poor people?  Or is the purpose to raise awareness of the issues of poverty, showing friends back home how fortunate they are and potentially getting people to think about what to do to overcome the challenges?  Depicting poverty is a minefield and even your best intentions can be misinterpreted.  Showing sensitivity and respect to the community is vital both in your actions to get the photo and in how you use the photo afterwards.

On our safaris, guests often ask us if it’s OK to take photos, whether we are in an urban slum or a Maasai village.  The trouble is that it is not much use asking us – it is the people in your photograph that need to grant permission.  And then it is important to respect the answer.  Many older people in rural Kenya and also Indigenous Australians (among other groups of people around the world) believe that a photograph can have a negative effect on your soul (different people have different beliefs about exactly what happens, but “capturing the soul” seems to be the underlying theme) and so will refuse a photograph.  Or they may just be uncomfortable being the subject of so much interest.  On the other hand, many children in developing countries have swarmed me in their eagerness to have their photo taken and then to be shown the picture (the wonders of digital cameras!).

Often taking photos out of the car window is the only way to get that fleeting shot as you travel through the country.  It seems like a good compromise: you can’t possibly stop and ask permission and the person probably wouldn’t even notice they were being photographed anyway.  But we have also experienced people shouting and waving and generally showing displeasure at being photographed this way.

Overall, I think the best way to approach photography of people is to ask: how would I feel if it were me?  Can you imagine stepping out of your house when a carload of African travellers drive down your street and take photographs of you, your house and your neighbours?  That would be weird surely. www.ota-responsibletravel.com

A final note about responsible photography is to be aware of where you are.  A few years ago in Kashgar (western China), one of my guests was taking a photo of a donkey and cart, without noticing the large military trucks passing on the same road.  She was so endeared by the donkey, she failed to realise the guns and the shouts from the soldiers to put her camera away!  In many countries, bridges, border posts and transport hubs are regarded as strategic interests and photography is prohibited.  Consideration should also be given at religious sites or events.

Do you have an opinion about photography of people and poverty? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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