How about this Kenya itinerary?


Jun 19th, 2012, 11:10 AM
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How about this Kenya itinerary?

Hello again my Africa experts. I have been all over the map (literary) getting a start on our next trip to Africa. Many of you have been kind enough to read and respond to previous posts about a proposed itinerary to Botswana/Zambia and another that included chimps in Mahale.

I think Botswana/Zambia is off the table for reasons of timing. And Mahale is vastly expensive in travel expense. So on to new destinations for consideration.

To recap; we did the Kenya/Tanz northern circuit on our first trip -- Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Samburu, Mt. Kenya, Masa Mara. We stayed at Olivers Camp, Kirawira, Larsens Camp, Serena Lodge Crater, Little Governors Camp, Mt. Kenya Lodge and the Norfolk in Nairobi.

Our last trip was several weeks in Southern Tanzania. In Ruaha at Jongomero and Mwagusi. In Selous at Selous Safari Camp and Sand Rivers - at times, we were completely alone and we loved it. Both trips were taken in January.

I admit I never gave much thought to returning to Kenya. Always considered it way too crowded for our taste now. But recently I've heard good things about some of the private conservancies in Kenya and we're thinking it might be a reasonable choice. Here's what I'm looking into:

4-5 night in each of the following camps:
-Meru, Elsa's Kopje
-Meru, Rhino River Camp
-Mara, Mara Plains
-Mara, Rekero or Ole Seki

-We want to spend at least 20 days in the bush.
-I like a luxury camp with great staff and delicious food at the end of my day. Jongomero and Selous Safari camps in S. Tanzania are my benchmark.
-We want to be able to off-road and do night game drives,
-We want to see a diversity of game (especially cats which we missed in S. TZ) I like the idea of reticulated giraffe, Grevy zebra and the rhino sanctuary in Meru.
-We like open sided vehicles with no more than 2 passengers in each row. No middle seating! (That is an absolute deal breaker)

- Are these camps on private conservancies?
- How would you rate the diversity, quality and quantity of game in both areas?
- How is the green season in these locations? Game, no game? We have always traveled in January and really like Africa after the "short rains" as things are a bit greener and babies are being born. It also reduces pricing.
- What about either November or January for travel dates? Which would be better?
- Would it be possible to do game drive transfers between the two camps in Meru and between the two camps in Mara?
- Would transfer between the two areas (Meru/Mara) require flying back through Nairobi?
- If one is game driving in conservancies does one still pay the park fees? Or do you only pay the fees if you go inside the park proper?
- In Meru particularly, is the game easy to view once spotted - or is it stitterish? We found we could sit for hours among game in Ruaha, but in Selous it was completely different because of nearby allowed hunting. Game was very shy.

Thanks any and all comments.
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Jun 19th, 2012, 03:51 PM
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Elsa's Kopje is inside Meru National Park operated by Kenya Wildlife Service, not a private conservancy. However there are few accommodations and tourists in Meru so crowding is not a problem. Night game drives are normally not allowed inside national parks. However when we stayed at Elsa's, they told us they were negotiating with KWS to offer night drives. These sounded more like they were going to be extensions of afternoon drives, i.e. an afternoon drive continuing on to 8:00pm or so rather than post-dinner evening drives. You'll need to check with them to see what's currently possible. We had open sided vehicles at Elsa's Kopje and it looked to me like everyone was pretty much assigned their own vehicle, no one shared, even though this wasn't explicitly guaranteed and the camp was full. Off roading isn't technically allowed inside national parks and reserves. Service and food were top notch here.

In 2006 game was somewhat skittish in Meru, comparable to Selous (we went to Selous the same year/season and stayed at Sand Rivers), as the result of heavy poaching in the past. Game may be more habituated now. As far as game density in the green season, I would say that's comparable to Selous as well.

Rhino River Camp is located outside of Meru NP. I had a friend stay here in Jan so will email her a link to this thread.

Have you thought of the Laikipia region? The area is comprised of many private ranches and conservancies Each will have their own rules as far as night drives and off roading. Game density in the Laikipia region at least where I've stayed rivals the Mara (and green season game viewing is good at either) and you can see species such as reticulated giraffe and Grevy's zebra there. Not trying to dissuade you from Meru. I enjoyed my time there. You could easily visit both in the amount of time you have. In Laikipia I've stayed on El Karama Ranch and Ol Pejeta Conservancy but I wouldn't necessarily describe the accommodation options on either as luxurious. You might want to look at Sirikoi Camp on Lewa Conservancy for that.

Rekero is inside the Masai Mara National Reserve (Narok County Council side), Ol Seki is outside of the reserve on Naiboisho Conservancy and Mara Plains is also outside of the reserve on Olare Orok. I don't know about the availability of night drives or off roading at these camps.

When you stay on a private conservancy, you generally pay a daily conservancy fee. These fees vary greatly depending on the conservancy. If you decide to go into a national park or reserve while staying on a private conservancy, you'll need to pay the park or reserve fee as well.

In Kenya, November will generally have lower rates than January. In terms of weather, I think it's so unpredictable it doesn't matter. I've encountered very wet and very dry short rains seasons in Kenya.

I don't see why you couldn't do a game drive/ground transfer between camps within a region/park. You may need to pay extra for it though depending on the distance.

I don't believe there's a direct flight from Meru to the Mara. I could be wrong.

Hope this helps.
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Jun 19th, 2012, 03:52 PM
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(I'm no expert on Kenya) Seems to me you're looking for rather specific interests and help with a lot of details. Hopefully "sandi" will reply with some quick answers for you. If it seems good, I'd recommend you work with a travel agent to work it all out and would very much recommend sandi. Sandi who posts here is at Africaserendipity, knows Kenya safaris thoroughly.

regards - tom
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Jun 19th, 2012, 04:49 PM
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Spending 8-10 nts in the Mara makes perfect sense to me. Spending that amount of time in Meru seems like a lot of time, unless you are doing a documentary on lesser kudu. Meru is a good place to see them.

The animals were skittish in Meru in comparsion to other places.

I think the flight stops in Samburu enroute to Meru, but you wouldn't have to get out.

This "Sell Me on Meru" thread might help. I was sold for 3 nts.

This is an album of 50 Meru photos. #15-19 are of Kinnas Bandas.
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Jun 20th, 2012, 04:23 AM
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Thank you all, very much.

Patty: wonderful detail. I really appreciate it. Looking at Laikipia more closely now.

Tom: I will, of course work with an agent to book and for final details, but we're quite up in the air about where we want to go right now...and I have a serious distrust of most agents (especially in the States) who will tell you everywhere is "perfect". It's my trip and my money and ultimately MY responsibility to make it right for me. My criteria isn't always the same as an agent or even other travelers. I have to do my research.

Lyn: I have read your trip report and the mentioned posts. Very good information. Thanks for the heads up on the amount of time needed for Meru. Maybe a combination of Mara and northern Serengiti would be more productive. Looking at Meru because of the lack of other vehicles.

Thanks again.
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Jun 20th, 2012, 08:38 AM
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I'm here -

Good ideas. Meru is lovely and Patty layed out all areas very well. However, with the amount of time you have, I'd consider splitting the 8-10 days you want to spend up north between Meru and maybe Lewa or Laikipia. Diverse landscapes and game.

Based on flight schedules, you'd visit the northern area/s and then fly south to the Mara for the remainder of your time. There are scheduled flights to Meru and Lewa and Laikipia, and from each then to the Mara.

If traveling in January, know that it does tend to be hotter in the northern areas than if in the Mara... it is their 'summer' (between Dec-Mar) though rain is always a possibility. November is great and while going into warmer weather and likely a bit more wet, it's still rare for this to be daily, all day or if any. Prices will also be more favorable in November.

None of the northern parks are crowded, as there are few properties and thus less vehicles, if you even bump into others from the same camp/lodge.

In the Mara, except for Rekero which is located inside the Reserve and only pay the Reserve fee, the others - Ol Seki or Mara Plains are on private conservancies, where the daily fee is higher than if in the Reserve. However, at least one day's fees allows for game drives inside the Reserve. Any additional, you'd have to pay directly.

As neither January or November are 'migration' months, there may be no reason to even go into the Reserve proper. There's game on the conservancies, or why else would these properties be located there?

Night Game Drives - are no longer done after dinner as it was determined to inhibit game from hunting. Rather these are extended afternoon game drives to about 8pm when you return to camp for dinner. At Meru, if wishing night game drives or bush walks, there is a fee due KWS, which is minimal... believe $20/person for each.

If you wish to split your time between camps on one conservancy or within the Reserve (or between) this is a road transfer with a fee attached to it and will vary depending on property/ies doing the transfer.
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Jun 20th, 2012, 11:13 AM
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To add to Sandi's comments about temperature, Meru/Samburu/Shaba/parts of northern Laikipia are at lower elevation so will be hotter. Southern Laikipia as you get toward the Central Highlands are about the same elevation as the Mara so cools off at night.

Nowhere is going to be as hot and humid as Selous so if you can tolerate Selous in January (it was barely tolerable for me in December), you'll have no problem in Meru.
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Jun 20th, 2012, 02:37 PM
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Another alternative at Meru is Offbeat Meru Camp, which is not actually in the park itself, but in a national reserve next to the park. They allow evening drives and walks. They also have sister camps such as Sosian in Laikipia and Offbeat Mara in the Mara North Conservancy. Staying at a combination of these camps would give you a discount. I'll be at the two Offbeat camps next month.
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Jun 20th, 2012, 05:01 PM
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Thanks Patty. Selous in January was barely tolerable heat-wise. Ruaha was much evenings.

Thanks, Shay. If we go to Meru, I'm pretty sold on Elsa's. It looks lovely. Just having so much trouble deciding on destination.
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Jun 21st, 2012, 01:45 AM
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Having read your proposed itinery, I think that Mara Plains will meet your expectations. One one drive we didn't return back until 9pm as we were with a leopard (who made a kill) and her cub. Other camps returned early for s scheduled dinner and missed the experience. We had an exclusive vehicle and determined our own schedule with meals being organised around us rather than the other way round. You do however pay for this. We also visited Rekero (which was 40% cheaper) which was also very nice but, being in the reserve, it had less flexibility.
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Jun 21st, 2012, 04:28 AM
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Mara Plains will be shut from 1st Nov '12 for 5 months of rebuild. Till then they offer 'unlimited' access to the main reserve and MNC without any restrictions..i.e. daily if you wanted, though most people wouldnt do that as OOC is rich with sightings..hopefully this access will still remain once they open next year...Kicheche allows for 1 day's access to the main reserve, every 3 nights booked but you could negotiate for more..They dont have open vehicles exactly like Mara Plains but what they have, gives a very open feel-not the regular pop top and regular windows...

You could check out Porini or Kicheche in OOC if you were going between Nov'12 and March '13.
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Jun 23rd, 2012, 10:17 AM
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There's a wonderfully evocative in progress trip report here covering Laikipia, Shaba, Tsavo and Amboseli (all uncrowded except for Amboseli) that you might want to read
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Jun 23rd, 2012, 12:16 PM
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Thank you. Patty. Wonderful report! Can't wait to read more.
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