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Feedback on Kenya accomodations with a little bit of Tanzania - long post!

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I'm primarily looking for feedback on our accomodation choices, but any general comments on our itinerary are welcomed as well. We could be traveling anytime from late October to early December. We prefer small camps or lodges, slightly off the beaten path, and a mix game viewing and non game viewing activities. I guess we fall into the category of those who start to get 'game drive burnout' after 5-6 straight days. Since this trip will be longer than our first, I'm trying to keep the activities/scenery/accomodations varied (no big lodges though). Cost is also an issue. We can't afford the top places and are trying to keep our nightly budget on safari to $500 for both of us. Will consider spending more if a place is particularly 'splurge worthy'.

On to the outline - approx number of days is 18, not counting flights to/from LAX:

Nairobi - we'll probably stay at the Hilton using HHonors points again. Hard to pass up a 'freebie'. One or two nights here depending on our flight schedule. I want to visit the National Museum which we didn't get a chance to see last time, do some shopping, and recover from jet lag.

Samburu - 3 nights here staying at Larsens Tented Camp. I picked Larsens over Intrepids due to its smaller size and the fact that I was told it's been recently redone. But if anyone thinks Intrepids is superior, let me know. Intrepids is slightly cheaper by about $40pp per night.

Lake Nakuru - 1 night here at Mbweha Camp. I haven't found much info on this one but it seems like the only choice in the immediate vicinity of the park other than the two big lodges. We also considered Kembu Cottages in Njoro but it's probably not worth going out of our way for a 1 night stay.

Lake Baringo - 2 nights at Island Camp. Again haven't found much info about this camp either. Sounds a bit rustic but maybe fine for 2 nights. Here we can take a break from game drives and just relax, go for boat rides around the lake, enjoy the views, the birds, go for walks. I've asked for a price to stay at Samatian Island too (the open air cottages look lovely) and am waiting to hear back. Perhaps here's a good place to splurge a bit.

Lake Naivasha area - 2 nights at Malewa River Lodge in the Kigio Conservancy. Another area with different types of activities both on site and nearby. I thought about visiting the Elsamere Conservation Center, has anyone been there? If so, was it worthwhile? How about Hells Gate National Park? As an alternative to Malewa River Lodge, we may stay at Malu which is a little closer to Lake Naivasha. Both properties offer horse riding which is a plus. I think Malu might provide more of a contrast to the other places we're staying. I'm waiting for a price on Malu as well.

Masai Mara - 3 (or possibly 4) nights. I was pretty set on Kicheche here until I found Ilkeliani camp yesterday. Is Ilkeliani a newer camp? Does anyone know exactly where it's located? It's not on any of my maps or guidebooks. The advantage I can see is that Ilkeliani set along the river, and the chaise lounges in front of the tents look inviting - I can see myself spending many hours lying in one of those :D On the other hand I've gotten good feedback on Kicheche and Ilkeliani is more of an unknown. I believe the two are comparable pricewise. If they're located in different areas and I can stretch our stay to 4 nights, maybe we should try both?

Right now the Kenya portion is pricing out at $2407pp for 11 nights staying at Larsens, Mbweha, Island Camp, Malewa River, and Kicheche. This is an all drive safari. I know we have 4 very long drives on the itinerary, but we didn't mind the drives last time. Probably wouldn't want to it a third time, but for this trip, I think it's OK. We still might add a flight back from the Mara depending on where we're headed next.

One other place I originally wanted to stay on this trip was Il Ngwesi but just found out that no traffic is being permitted through Lewa Conservancy from Oct 21 to Dec 1. We could fly and I'll have to find out exactly what the situation is - whether we have to fly to the Il Ngwesi airstrip in which case it would be a charter or if we can fly Air Kenya into Lewa and transfer to Il Ngwesi. I'm not sure whether they mean no outside traffic is permitted to drive through or no traffic period. If the only option is by charter, then it's probably too costly for us.

We have another 4-5 days free and this is the part we've been going back and forth over. I started looking at Selous, but the flight connections coming from Nairobi aren't ideal and I think it may be better left to another trip devoted primarily to southern Tanzania. Thought about gorilla trekking in Rwanda but the cost is scaring me. What's looking most promising right now is a horseback safari in northern Tanzania (I posted a separate question about that yesterday with more details). It sounds interesting and would provide a very different experience than the rest of our trip.

Whew! That's it for now. If you're still reading this, thanks for taking the time. Thoughts, comments, suggestions appreciated.

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