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We are heading to our first trip to East Africa later this year. This is extremely timely for us.
Neema, from the blog Adventures of An African Dutchess, who last wrote about Prague, Croatia, Douro Valley, Porto, Melbourne and Auckland, recently went on a few safaris in Kenya and Tanzania and here are her practical tips.
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If you plan to visit Kenya and Tanzania, you will get to experience a lot of ‘Hakuna Matata’ – a swahili term commonly used in East Africa meaning ‘no worries”. Remember ‘The Lion King’? I was born and raised in Kenya and never did I get to realize how beautiful East Africa is. Join me as I take you through our two weeks of exploring the bustling city of Nairobi, majestic views of Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli, walking hand in hand with animals where they filmed ‘Out of Africa’, exploring the legendary Maasai Mara, seeing the great wildebeest migration in Serengeti, magnificent sunset views in Ngorongoro and sunkissed in the Island of Zanzibar.
I have always wanted to do a ‘proper’ safari and having experienced a few ‘day’ safaris in South Africa, I decided that Noreen would best enjoy her first ever African safari in my beautiful country. I started planning our trip over 2 years ago because we knew we wanted to do something on our ‘Bucket List’ (safaris can cost less than $2000). We traveled in early June which is the start of the high season (June – September). I selected the hotels, but used Right Choice Safaris to help with all the bookings and plannings. If you are looking for a safari tour company, reach out to them. Their pricing was the best of the five companies we reached out to even with same hotels. They were also excellent communicators answering our questions and demands we had. I recommend an exclusive tour which is what we paid for (food, park fees and everything is included). We both spent $1000 in tips (please tip).
I recommend you fly between the national parks as you will save time so pack light. The roads in Kenya and Tanzania are in bad shape and two hour drive can easily turn to four hours.
We landed in Nairobi at 2.30AM with Turkish Airlines. Waiting for us was our driver from Right Choice safaris to drop us at our hotel. If you are not an East African, carry $50 to get a visa on arrival and be sure to get multiple entries so you don’t have to pay twice if your planning to visit Tanzania and have your flight departing from Nairobi. We checked into our first hotel, Dusitd2 in Westlands which is right off the city. With so many hotels in Nairobi to choose from, I recommend staying away from the city as it can get hectic with traffic. Our wish was to stay at Giraffe Manor and have those ‘instagram’ worthy breakfast with giraffes but even a year into our trip, our dates were already booked.
We spent our first day bargaining our way at Maasai Market and buying as many souvenirs as we could carry and a beautiful dinner at Talisman. The next day was spent kissing giraffes at Giraffe Center to make up for lost stay. My friend said it best “$5 vs $1000” since the giraffes here are also the ones in Giraffe Manor. Later that afternoon, we paid a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum for a brief history of the Danish’s Authors life. Nairobi has so much to offer – visit Nairobi National Park, National Museum or Village Market for an afternoon hangout.
Monday morning saw us waking up at crack of down and heading to Wilson Airport to catch our flight to Amboseli National Park, located in southern Kenya. I have never seen so many elephants in my life. Amboseli is known for its large elephant herds and the gorgeous view of Mount Kilimanjaro. AirKenya was able to get us there in less than 45 minutes instead of three hours drive especially after a rainy season – precious time you could spend catching some views of Kilimanjaro when it decides to show face. We were met by the Amboseli Oltukai lodge team at the airstrip and enroute, had a safari. Oltukai Lodge is such a beautiful place and even though they have other hotels in the area, I would recommend you stay here. Excellent customer service, beautiful cottages with some offering views of elephants from your balcony and the food was yummy. The best thing about a safari is that you spend early morning on a game drive, have the rest of the day to lounge by the pool with a glass of champagne and then go on another safari at 4PM. We could not get enough of the elephants, zebras, cheetah, wildebeest, beautiful flamingos, buffalo and others.
Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island
After two days in Amboseli, we were ready to head to the place where they filmed ‘Out of Africa”. Instead of six hours drive, forty minutes flight to Nairobi and then drove less than two hours to Naivasha and stopped by the Great Rift Valley escarpment. Naivasha is colder – carry a light jacket for the evenings. Before we checked into the gorgeous grounds of Enashipai resort, and had one of the best massages in the world, we had a boat tour of the Lake and saw some hippos and various birds species and then explored Crescent Island where we got to walk hand in hand with giraffes, zebras and impala. Did you know that all the animals here were brought in during the filming of the movie?
Ready for the ‘Big Five”? Despite weather challenges, we left Loldia airstrip (Naivasha) with Safarilink and touched down in Maasai Mara in less than 40 minutes. One of the best things about these planes is they get to drop passengers off to the various parts of Maasai Mara so be prepared to enjoy stunning views and wildlife. Maasai Mara is known to accommodate over 1.5 million wildebeest that arrives from Serengeti, but the best part for us was staying at Olare Mara Kempinski in Olare Matongi Conservancy. Honestly, this is one of the best hotels I ever ever stayed in. Driving in, Noreen and I were welcomed with the elegant giraffe crossing the road, a Maasai dance and off course, cold towels and fresh juice. Staying in the luxury tents was a dream come true. Beautiful rooms, gorgeous bathroom, huge beds with the best sleep, sounds of animals at night was something out of this world – something magical about being in the middle of nowhere with just calm nights and sounds of lion. In addition, they have a garden where they grow all their food. We got to see 4 of the 5 including the elusive hyena. What I love about Olare is you can drive so close to animals which is different compared to visiting a national park like Serengeti or Amboseli where all safaris happen on the road. The staff at Olare offered more that we could have asked for and with Maasai Mara offering so many beautiful hotels such as Mahali Mazuri, andBeyond Camp, Angama Mara, Governors Camp – we were so happy with our choice. If you wish, you can also take a day trip and visit one of the Maasai villages that you can pay for.
$450 broke saw us taking off in the wee hours of the morning, floating in the sky, drifting with the whim of the wind, overlooking the plains just in time to experience a breathtaking sunrise and catching a bird’s eye view of the reserve. We were then treated to a luxury breakfast overlooking the endless plains. The hot air balloon ride is cheaper in Kenya than Tanzania.
Crossing into the Serengeti
‘Endless Plains’ is how I would describe Serengeti. From the map, it’s easy to just cross but it will take you over ten hours drive which is so exhausting due to the roads. You can fly from Mara to Arusha and connect to Serengeti or use Safarilink to fly to Migori where they organize car hire to help you cross the border (immigration) to Isebania and then take Coastal flight to Serengeti (our choice). Do remember to carry your yellow fever card as well as money for visa. We had some flight delays but arrived in time for enjoying a good game drive on our way to the Four Seasons Serengeti.
Everyone should experience the beauty of Serengeti in their lifetime. Most people would do a whole day game drive but we preferred morning and evening game drives and spending the rest of the afternoon enjoy the quietness of the hotel. We were lucky to see the start of the great migration and it was something that left me in tears. We passed this place during our morning game drive and there were animals and when we come back in the afternoon and there was over 200,000 wildebeests and zebras crossing the road and stopping traffic. SPECTACULAR. Serengeti also offered us gorgeous sunsets, endless lions with some coming to car and catching a nap from the shade. Honestly, visiting Serengeti changed my life and I have a newfound appreciation for the beauty of Africa. It is said that the ‘migration’ starts from June all the way to September but it differs every year. Did you know that the Serengeti is over five thousand miles compared to Maasai Mara which is only five hundred and eighty three?
The Rim of Ngorongoro Crater
We ended our safari with the hope of catching a glimpse of the rhino in Ngorongoro. I hated the drive which is about three hours. It was rough but once we got to the unique caldera park, all of the drive were forgotten as we enjoyed a viewing of animals and lions that greeted us with love. We checked into Neptune Ngorongoro for the night for a rest before driving to Arusha to catch our flight to Zanzibar. And we never got to see rhino.
Sunkissed in Zanzibar
Located in the Indian Ocean, 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania, there is an Island called. While most people would think of it as a blissful beach destination with soft-sand, white beaches and shimmering waters, this island offers so much to see, smells and tastes that left me feeding my soul and wanting to go back every year. We arrived late afternoon from Arusha and got picked up by our Hotel Car. We checked into our beach front villa at Tulia Zanzibar Unique Beach Resort in Nungwi – pure bliss with ocean sounds and endless views. Zanzibar is a destination that has lots of history, cultural perspective, lots of adventure and eco-tourism. Take a tour of Stone Town and learn about the past and present history, negotiate your way by buying local goods such african bags, follow the smells of exotic spices in the local markets and streets, enjoy water activities such as diving, explore The Jozani Forest Reserve, swim with turtles in Mnarani or just go beach to beach within the fishing villages.
The magic of East Africa is that it is a multi-faceted destination, offering a unique blend of culture, exotic wildlife, endless plains, warm and kind people, idyllic beaches, luxury hotels, tasty cuisine and intriguing history. I am here to help if you want to experience ‘hakuna matata’
About the Author
I am a Kenyan-American who is adventurous, foodie, wine lover, shoe addict, photographer, yogi and a runner. I also consider myself extremely blessed child of God. I enjoy flying cheap by subscribing to the Flight Deal but staying at the best hotels you can find in the city. I spend my days dreaming and planning my next trip. My preference is traveling as a local. I love sharing stories of the places I visit and I do so through photography. I currently work in the Bay Area as a Marketing Professional. My free time is spent catching up on my favorite TV shows, reading, running and yoga. You can follow me on Instagram to see all my adventures
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