At the centre of the African safari experience, Kenya offers an outstanding variety of wild animals. Although safaris are its greatest attraction, it is a country of great diversity with much more to offer than splendid wildlife. Our Flightie Michaela Buskell shares her tales of experiencing all that Kenya has to offer on her recent tour with Intrepid Travel, and some helpful tips on deciding which style of trip is best for you:
Last month, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Kenya with Intrepid Travel. Not only did I get to explore the country's culture and wildlife, I also got to experience three of the trip styles they offer – basix/overland, original, and comfort.
Our trip began at the Kivi Milimani hotel in Nairobi. It was a quaint, quiet hotel, with basic facilities, and the rooms were all double or triple shared. We met our guide, Moses (who was fantastic through the entire trip), and had our trip debrief meeting and dinner so we could all get to know each other. After a couple of Tusker's (Kenyan local beer), we headed to bed to rest up for the first big day of our trip!
The basix vehicle we started with was huge! It seats about 24 people all together, and has lots of leg room and storage space. We rode to the New Hope Children's Centre, an orphanage in Nairobi. What a humbling and heart warming experience. We were shown around the centre, and the children sang us some beautiful songs and showed us the jewellery they make themselves to raise money for their home.
After spending some time at the centre, we drove a few hours to Lake Nakuru, our first camping site (with a stop along the way to check the view of the Great Rift Valley). Because our trip started in the Basix style, we were each responsible for setting up our own double-share tents. As someone who's never camped before, I was a bit daunted, but we had lots of help and eventually everyone's tents were set up!
We then did our first game drive, around the Lake. Within minutes of entering the area, we were surrounded by zebras, buffalos, and antelopes. We had the first of our many lucky spotting; a family of lions! Six lion cubs came trotting out of the trees, and settled themselves right next to our vehicle, while their mother growled at them from the bush! We also encountered rhinos, giraffes, jackals, and pelicans.
Lake Nakuru is famous for being inundated with flamingos, but there was not enough algae in the water at the time we were there to entice them (not to worry – we encountered plenty later in the trip). At sunset, we headed back to our campsite where we all helped prepare dinner, and clean up afterward (basix level camping is all participatory). After a campfire under the clearest sky I've ever seen, we headed to bed.
The following day we started our original style trip. This meant that our tents were taken down for us – no more grunt work! A small breakfast was supplied before we went for a tour of a village in Nakuru. We learned how they build their homes and how some of the villagers earn their incomes through jewellery making and fish farming. We took a couple hours to drive to our next campsite at Lake Naivasha. This campsite was much more deluxe, and our tents were all ready for us when we arrived. There sure was a big difference in these tents, compared to the basix style. They were big enough to fit 2 cot beds, and 2 people's luggage in them. We took a couple hours to relax and knock back some Tuskers in the pool before setting off to the lake for a boat ride. I never would have imagined how many flamingos could possibly be in one place before seeing this lake. There were hundreds of thousands of them all around perimeter, and even a few hippos lurking around the edge too.
The following day, we switched to the comfort type vehicle. It was quite a bit smaller than the overland vehicle, but a much smoother ride. We drove to Loita Hills, where we set up camp in a Masai village. How amazing is that – we got to spend a night in a Masai village! We did a bush walk with some of the warriors, and even got to dance with the women of the village.
That night, we all joined around a campfire while our Masai guide told us about their history and culture. The next morning, the Masai Moran (male youths) performed one of their traditional dances, with jumping, and the women set up a market for us to buy some of their handmade jewellery.
After leaving the village, we drove to the Masai Mara reserve, and switched to our last trip style – comfort. Our next two nights were spent in a luxury lodge camp. The lodges were huge and extremely comfortable with two queen beds, a massive bathroom with walk in shower, and a private balcony! Our 3 game drives through the Masai Mara land continued our good luck with animal spotting!
We rounded out seeing the rest of the big five by finding a leopard lounging under a tree. We had the amazing fortune to actually find lions mating in the wild! And to complete our trip, the last two animals we encountered were 2 male cheetahs taking shade under a bush.
Leopards and cheetahs are apparently only spotted by 2/5 groups that visit the Mara, so we were amazingly fortunate to see both! A six hour bus ride brought us back to Nairobi, for our farewell dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant (washed down with some traditional Dawa drinks).
Thinking about taking a trip to Kenya? Here are some tips when deciding which style trip you should choose:
The basix style is what I'd recommend for people who are travelling with a friend or partner. The tents are quite small, and if you're travelling solo, you may find it uncomfortable having to share such small quarters with a stranger. I've never camped before, but I really enjoyed the participatory side of this style, like helping with cooking and setting up our own tents.
The original style is a great combination of a camping experience, with a good level of service included. The tents are much bigger, so it would be much more comfortable for a solo traveler who will be paired up with a roommate. One of the huge advantages of taking an original style tour with Intrepid is getting to stay in the Masai village. Intrepid is the only tour company that features this in their trips and the basix and comfort trips don't include it. There are many fake Masai villages in Kenya, which were built by Masais to attract tourists. Most tour companies visit these fake villages, so if you're interested in Masai culture, make sure you go Intrepid!
The comfort style was a perfect way to experience the nature of the Masai Mara. The lodges and service included with this trip style are incredible and definitely worth the extra cost if you want a more relaxing vacation!
This was a truly a once in a lifetime experience for me, and I'd recommend Kenya as a destination and Intrepid Travel as a tour company to absolutely everyone!
Interested in learning more about Kenya and Intrepid Travel? Michaela Buskell is Assistant Manager at our Commercial Drive location in Vancouver, British Columbia, and can be reached by email or by calling 1-888-718-0841.
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