Kenya Trip Report

Oct 27th, 2012, 09:05 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2006
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Kenya Trip Report

10 Days total in Kenya. First day in Nairobi, then a 4 day - 3 night safari in Masai Mara, one night at Lake Naivasha, one night back in Nairobi, one night in Mombasa, two in Watamu and the last day back in Nairobi.

Nairobi - The Wildebeest Camp - tents are spotless and staff is friendly; dinner is pricey but decent. It is blissfully quiet and peaceful at night. It is convenient for Sheldrick and the Giraffe centre but not for the city center since the traffic is horrific and they are doing construction nearby. The taxi ride back from the city took 2.5 hours.

Lake Naivasha - Crayfish Camp - rooms were a bit run down. Window screens were full of holes and though there were mosquito nets, it meant a long night of listening to the high-pitched sound of circling mosquitos. They try to push full-board and half-board on you, but you are better off skipping the whole board.

Mombasa - I decided to go more upscale to the Castle Royal, supposedly the best in the city center. The room was dingy and the A/C didn't work. The guy at the desk told me there were no other rooms available which I knew wasn't true. After a failed effort to fix the A/C, it turned out they did have another room, several of them, which was better.

Watamu - Several of the places listed in Rough Guide and LP either don't exist anymore or have changed their phone numbers. I tried Turtle Bay which is highly recommended in both books. There too, the A/C didn't work nor did the safe. I went to call the desk to tell them and found the phone didn't work. Then the music from the disco started. There were a total of about 12 people there, maybe three of whom were dancing, but they were blasting music for three hours. They also had a Masai cultural show which no one seemed to pay attention to and which seemed really tacky to me.

I moved to the Barracuda which is entirely Italian, the staff speaks Italian, the food is Italian and all the info is written in Italian. I was the only non-Italian, but the staff seemed excited to have a chance to speak to someone in English. It rained for most of my time there.

Safety - No trouble. I was nervous the first time I walked in the center of Nairobi, but by the end quite relaxed. I was told not to walk outside the hotel at Lake Naivasha at night, not due to hippos but due to the people, though I'm not sure how serious that threat is. And my safari guide was pretty insistent that I not stay in a crowded area in central Nairobi due to grenade attacks but that's the least of my concerns.

Weather - the first few days were beautiful and that was timed perfectly for the safari. Then the short rains began and there was lots of it.

Safari - Finding a safari company was long and frustrating. Everything was either way too expensive, the dates didn't match, wasn't going since they didn't have enough people, or they simply didn't reply to emails. I checked with all of the backpacker places and all said they had lots of options, but they were unable to give me anything concrete. So I chose Bushbuck Adventures and it was one of the best travel experiences I've ever had. Their camp is basic - permanent tents with beds, no electricity or running water and a toilet and bucket shower behind the tent. When I got there it was just a German family and me. An American couple came the next day.

The game drives were just me and two guides. I saw every type of animal I had hoped to (no leopards though). Came close to seeing a river crossing - several hundred wildebeest and zebra were steadily moving toward the river which was filled with hippos and crocodiles and vultures circling above. We waited about two hours with 20 other cars but the zebras saw the crocodiles and opted not to cross. Also got to see three adult male lions together which I'm told is rare and the fact that they sat together peacefully means they are brothers.

I had two amazing guides and I'll give them a plug here - George Mwalu (072-1802870) and David Mburu (072-5308660). They can take you anywhere in Kenya and do rides to the airport, etc... The camp was surprisingly well organized and staff were great. It was great opportunity to get to know the locals and the country. In contrast to a recent trip report on here, I found the Masai to be quite friendly, though I would never do one of the village visits.

Food left much to be desired - lots of chicken, fried eggs, tasteless pineapple and watermelon and a nationwide obsession with toast. Total price for three nights, all meals, game drives, pickup in Nairobi and return to Naivasha was $940. It is of course possible to spend a lot more, and possibly less, but I can't imagine the experience being any better.

Nairobi - I liked it much more than expected. The Sheldrick Trust and Giraffe Center (or Centre) are well worth a visit. And I had a nice day walking around the city center, saw the Nairobi National Museum and the US Embassy memorial park and museum, which I recommend.

Naivasha and Hell's Gate - I took a long walk with a guide and saw some zebras and a giraffe or two, then hiked through the lower gorge. The gorge was nice but there was nothing I hadn't already seen and I probably could have skipped it. The ride from Hell's Gate back to Nairobi, normally 1.5 hours, took 4 due to traffic.

Mombasa - I was excited to go, with its mix of African, Arab and Indian cultures. It is loud, dirty, crowded and run down, which would all be fine and well, if there were some sites worth seeing. I saw Fort Jesus and a couple of temples, but the Jain Temple is "closed to tourists" according to the guard and the Sikh Temple was also closed, and non-Muslims can't go into the mosques. Other than that, the old city is a lot of crumbling buildings, muddy alleys and impoverished residents.

Watamu - The drive north from Mombasa is beautiful, lots of little villages with quaint houses and rows of palm trees. The town itself is attractive and friendly with a few good eating options. But every inch of the beach was covered with seaweed. After dreaming of a tropical beach, it felt like Chevy Chase arriving at Wally World. According to everything I read, October to March is the prime beach season. Not this October. And it rained for 24 hours straight. But while the sun was out, I had some nice pool time.

People - I found Kenyans to be incredibly friendly and helpful, particularly along the coast. There are lots of touts in Watamu and the beach boys are ready to pounce if you even approach the beach, but that was really the only hassle. I tripped and fell flat on my face on a crowded street in Mombasa and while feeling like an idiot, everyone around was extremely helpful. I was in front of a hair salon where the employees insisted I go in and they cleaned up my bloodied face. Then when I decided to get checked by a doctor (the US embassy could not have been less helpful in pointing me to one), one of the hotel employees came with me in the rickshaw and waited with me in the office, which was helpful since the 24 hour clinic actually closes at 6:30 and we had to go elsewhere. and the lady working there spoke so softly that I couldn't understand a word she said. After that, I had the pleasure of everyone I came in contact with ask me "What happened to your face?"

Beware - The LP guide is brand new, just published in June, yet is full of mistakes. In Nairobi, the numbers for the Kenya Comfort Hotel, the Upper Hill campsite, the Kahama (which is one of their "picks") and even the Nairobi Hilton, are all wrong.

In the end, I'll say I have mixed feelings about Kenya. I could have skipped Mombasa and would have avoided the coast had I known about the seaweed. It is also not as easy to travel independently as it is in say Ecuador or Vietnam, nor is it as cheap. But I liked Nairobi and I loved the safari and my guides, and most of the people I met. If I could do it over, I'd have concentrated more on the game parks and less on the coast.
trebex is offline  
Oct 28th, 2012, 11:25 AM
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Thanks for your report. Glad you enjoyed Nairobi and your safari. Bummer on the fall.
Patty is offline  
Oct 28th, 2012, 05:59 PM
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Thanks for your report and hope your face has healed. Can you tell us the dates of your travel?
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 28th, 2012, 06:50 PM
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Great trip report with info many will find helpful.

Hope your bruises and scrapes have healed. It's one of those things that are crappy when they happen but make for good story telling once home.

Would love to see some of your photos when you have time.
KathBC is offline  
Oct 28th, 2012, 10:21 PM
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Thanks for the trip report, Trebex. I did the same thing , tripping over a bump ona sidewalk, falling flat on my face, feeling mortified, and looking like someone had beaten me.

Glad to hear you were, desptei that, ok!

Also good to hear you enjoyed the Kenyan people. It is good to read a TR from someone who is not spending $700/night for tented accommodation, and STILL has a good time. Thanks too for names of your guides.

Did you hire the as "private" guides, or were they via Bushbuck ?
CaliNurse is offline  
Oct 30th, 2012, 04:29 PM
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Thanks also from me for this report, I'll be in Nairobi shortly and reassured to hear you felt you could wander around on your own without a problem.

Could you tell me a bit more about the 3 night safari in Masai Mara? Where did you stay (where approximately is the camp?) and how did you get there (vehicle or flight)? If driving, how long was the journey to the camp? I would also like to know if your guides came with Bushbuck Adventures.

Any more tips for sightseeing in Nairobi? Could you tell me how you got to The Sheldrick Trust and Giraffe Center? Of course I have a guide book but it's good to hear it first-hand from someone who's just been there! Are taxi fares reasonable?

tockoloshe is offline  
Oct 30th, 2012, 06:03 PM
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I was there from October 5-15th.

The guides were through Bushbuck, but you can also hire them privately when they are not working for the company, which seems to be often.

My pics are all on Facebook - Josh Trevers - They should be viewable for everyone.

I believe the camp is in the Lemek Conservancy. I went by car, which is an extremely bumpy 5.5 hour drive. There are a few airstrips nearby so flying is also an option.

I hired a driver to take me to Sheldrick, the Giraffe Center and the Karen Blixen House. I was already staying in that area, so it was a relatively short ride. My original thought was to take a cab to one and then get cabs to the others, but that would have been difficult since cabs don't wait at any of those places. Most people come on tours or with private drivers. I paid 3000, which might have been negotiable, but I had just come off of two overnight flights with little sleep and was in no mood to bargain.
trebex is offline  
Nov 1st, 2012, 05:39 AM
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Hi Trebex - is the Giraffe Center worth visiting? Can you wander the gardens and spend as much time as you like there, or are the visits limited in time like Sheldrick?
Cateyes555 is offline  
Nov 1st, 2012, 09:47 AM
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Similar question to Cateyes555 - if you visit Sheldrick at 11 (1 hour?) do you think you can you kill enough time at the Giraffe Centre until you can return to Sheldrick for the 5pm visit? Thanks
tockoloshe is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2012, 08:25 AM
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You can spend as much time as you like at the Giraffe Center, but there is not that much to see. You can feed the giraffes, pet them and take some pics, but that's about it. They also have a nature trail which will take about 20 minutes.

I didn't know there was a 5PM visit at Sheldrick. You could go to the giraffe center, then to the Karen Blixen house and follow that with a long late lunch at the Karen Blixen Coffee House. If you have more time to kill, the Galleria Mall is nearby.
trebex is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2012, 08:49 AM
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A few other ways of killing 5 hours in between:

Kazuri Beads
Utamaduni (there's a restaurant here too)
Nairobi National Park
Patty is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2012, 11:04 PM
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Trebex u say you paid 3000 for the ride to Karen, which is about $36. That is too much. To put it into perspective, I was in Kenya in August with my family and was hiring a car to drive in the villages and to the national parks.
A Nissan Pathfinder cost me $44 for a 24-hour-day use.
A smaller car was $30 for 24hrs.
Best thing for a tourist is the contacts like the ones you shared of pple who have access to a car and they will take you places privately or get their trusted associates to drive you when they are working.
The public 14-seater vans famously called 'matatu' also ply those routes but again you might need a local to be with you and show you how to use them.
Best part about kenyans( full discloser,I was born there and now live in TX), they will go out of their way to meet your needs and make sure you get where you need to go.
Most tour companies take advantage of tourists and exorbitantly overcharge.
Again great plugs like the guys mentioned above will make a huge difference in your budget.
Karibu Kenya!!
georgennganga is offline  
Nov 4th, 2012, 03:53 AM
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The 5pm visit at Sheldrick is open only to sponsors (ie those who donate). Thanks Patty for the other ideas. We will land at Wilson airport at 11:45 am and don't fly out of JBO until 10:30 pm so we do have many hours to fill.... love to hear from others what they think best to do. Sounds like the Giraffe Center is only good for another hour.
Cateyes555 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2012, 08:26 AM
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Good Trip Report

Thanks for posting
Percy is online now  
Nov 4th, 2012, 10:11 AM
Join Date: Jan 2012
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Hi Trebex,

I am inerested in finding out details of your visit to the doctor who attended to your bloody face. Was it in a hospital, and if so, did you pay for the medical intervention? Pleae elaborate, as this can happen to anyone and we should all know how to deal with it. Hope you are all healed by now.

With thanks....
baraca is offline  
Nov 26th, 2012, 08:21 AM
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Sorry, I've not been on here in a few weeks. when I called the US embassy, they told me to go to the emergency room at Mombasa Hospital. I will not go to a hospital unless there is absolutely no other option, so I went to a private clinic. I believe it was the Aga Khan clinic. The total for seeing the doctor, having a nurse dress the wounds and for painkillers was about US $13.
trebex is offline  
Nov 26th, 2012, 02:58 PM
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baraca is offline  

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