Is there such a thing as writer’s block for blog-writers? I pose this question because this instalment has been a while coming and for that I would like to apologise most sincerely to my readers and followers. Having recounted to you our experiences on our first two safaris, I wanted to mark the change between them and our subsequent visits to Kenya. But how? Having spent time, too much time agonising over this, I settled on bridging the gap with some, hopefully, useful hints and tips for those of you have never been on safari. So, sorry for the delay folks, but we are back on track.
So, after two safaris in Kenya we had got the bug! We left Kenya in July 2011 vowing to return. At this, currently, the halfway point in our safari adventures, it was time to take stock and look at how we could improve the experience. Our first two safaris had been with Kuoni Travel, a UK based holiday company https://www.kuoni.co.uk/
As established clients, when they opened their new store in Cambridge’s Grand Arcade shopping centre, just 16-miles from where we live, we were invited to the opening event. Over drinks and canapes we discussed our experience of the company so far, and when we expressed some dissatisfaction with the experinence of staying at Treetops, we were advised that they could put together a tailor-made itinerary for us. We left with an appointment to return later in the week and sit down with one of their consultants to discuss our requirements. Sadly,sitting down with the consultant is as far as it got, because despite several phone calls, the promised itinerary and quote never materialised. We cast around looking for another supplier who could offer us an itinerary that did not include Treetops, but to no avail.
Now, every August we visit an event held on the shores of Rutland Water in England’s smallest county – Rutland. Birdfair is the go-to place if you are into wildlife observation and travel involving watching wildlifehttps://birdfair.org.uk/ Here, for one weekend a year, you will find dozens of companies offering wildlife watching gear, clothing and holidays; accompanied by talks from some of the top experts in the field – Jonathan & Angela Scott; Nick Baker; Martin Hughes-Games; David Lindo; and Chris Packham, to name but a few!
One of our regular stops at this event is the stand of Nature Kenya, the East African Natural History Society, based in Nairobi http://naturekenya.org/ It is always great to catch up with the team each year; to discuss our latest trip to Kenya; our hopes for our next trip; pick up the latest edition of their journal, Birding Kenya; and of course to try out our Swahili! As a result of our visit to them in 2011 I was lucky enough to get a short piece written by me, entitled Kenyan Wildlife – A Visitor’s Perspective, together with three of my photographs, published in the 2012 edition of the magazine.
On our 2015 visit to the Nature Kenya stand we met Justin Coles, the Business Development Manager of Somak Holidays, a company based in north-west London specialising in safaris in Kenya. https://www.somak.com/
Justin showed us their brochure, which contained a sample itinerary for a flying safari, visiting three locations within Kenya, and using aircraft to transit between the reserves. We left with the brochure and Justin’s business card – by the time we had finished our lunch our minds were made up, Somak were about to become the supplier of our next safari experience!
However, before we reach our 2016 safari I want to share some thoughts, advice and guidance on how you can select your safari, and what you need to take with you in order to have the best possible experience.
Getting to Kenya
At the time of writing only two airlines fly direct non-stop between London and Nairobi; British flag-carrier, British Airways http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/destinations/nairobi/flights-to-nairobi; and Kenyan flag-carrier, Kenya Airways https://www.kenya-airways.com/uk/. Outbound to Nairobi, British Airways’ flight is a daytime flight, with the return flight being overnight. Kenya Airways flight from London to Nairobi is overnight, while their return flight to London is a daytime flight.
The only non-stop direct flight between Nairobi and the United States of America is currently supplied by Kenya Airways, who fly overnight in each direction between Nairobi and New York JFK Airport.
Both British Airways and Kenya Airways fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, located on the south-eastern side of the city.
Drive or Fly
Our first two safaris (2008 & 2011) were Driving safaris, while our third and fourth (2016 & 2018) were Flying safaris. So what are the pros and cons of each type?
Driving – Driving safaris are the cheaper and more common option. Every day of the week, dozens of vehicles set out from Nairobi conveying tourists to the various National Parks and Reserves so that they can see Kenya’s wildlife. You will find yourself sharing a vehicle, either a minibus or a 4×4, with other travellers – usually there will be a maximum of six of you with a driver. Each passenger will have a window seat and it is common practice for you to move round one seat per day, so that everyone will sit on either side of the vehicle and at the front and back, during the course of the safari.
All of the safari operators will request that you pack your belongings into soft-sided bags (rucksacks or holdalls are suitable), as these are easier to pack into the limited luggage space of the safari vehicles.
On a Driving safari you will see more of Kenya as you are driven from location to location. The journey will be split into easily manageable sections, with breaks for the driver usually at a roadside curio market where the passengers will have the opportunity to browse, and if they wish to, purchase wooden carvings, bead jewellery and other crafts. All of therse locations also have toilet facilities and some a place where you can obtain a cup of tea or coffee if you so wish. On longer sections there will be a stop for lunch at a suitable restaurant en route. Your driver and vehicle will remain with you for the duration of your safari.
Kenya’s roads vary in their standard – even the main roads can be riddled with potholes, but where foreign investment from the likes of the European Union, and more recently, China, has been used, great improvements have been made in the infrastructure. Travel by road will be long, hot, dusty; and can be tiring.
Flying – Flying safaris are the more expensive option, but will facilitate a quicker transit time between destinations. On most flights you will be in single-engined aircraft carrying no more than 10-12 passengers and flying at an altitude of no more than 10,000 to 12,000 feet. On the more popular and busy route between the Masai Mara and Nairobi, the airlines tend to use larger twin-engined aircraft.
The two main operators are SafariLink http://www.flysafarilink.com/en and Air Kenya http://www.airkenya.com/en (not to be confused with the larger national airline, Kenya Airways). All of our flights on our flying safaris have been with Air Kenya, who we can recommend without any question. Both airlines operate from Wilson Airport in Nairobi, to the south of the city centre.
Again, all of the safari operators will request that you pack your belongings into soft-sided bags (rucksacks or holdalls are suitable), as these are easier to pack into the limited luggage space of the aircraft and also into the vehicles that will transfer you between the airstrip and your lodge or camp. There is usually a 15kg per person weight limit on these internal flights as well.
In the next instalment we will look at camera gear; visas and the all important innoculations. I promise that the next instalment will be along very soon!
Clothing – should be lightweight and comfortable. Once on safari no one expects you to be imaculately attired, even for dinner in the evening, so leave your dinner jacket at home! During the day shorts and t-shirts are usually the norm; while in the evening once the sun has gone down, it will get slightly cooler and you may wish to change into trousers and perhaps put a lightweight jumper or fleece jacket on.