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My Kenya African Safari Travel Report

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Apr 18th, 2007, 03:43 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 14
My Kenya African Safari Travel Report

Well, we returned from our African Safari to Kenya on April 4th, and I have finally found the time to sit down and type out our travel report. We had the trip of a lifetime and I hope my experiences will help others who are wanting to travel to this beautiful country. We decided to travel with Go Ahead Tours (whom we had traveled with before). They are a GREAT tour company and I highly recommend them. They use “Vintage Africa” for their Safari tour—and they were fantastic. Our guide, Daniel had a great personality and was super knowledgeable.

We left Phoenix on March 23rd and flew straight to London via British Airways. We got upgraded to World Traveler Plus for some unknown reason, but we weren’t complaining. Comfort is a must for a 10-hour trip from Phoenix to London. We then flew Kenya Airways from London to Nairobi, which was an 8-hour journey. We arrived in Nairobi at 6:00 am on March 25th, and after 18 hours of traveling on the plane, I was happy to be off!


March 25th-
We met with our Go Ahead Representative and other travelers on the tour at our first lodge stay: The Safari Hotel Club and Casino. There were only 12 of us total which was GREAT. Our Go Ahead Rep gave us a packet of information about our tour and talked to us about what we should expect. Since there were only 12 of us, we were upgraded to 4 x4 Toyota Land Rovers and had only 6 per 4 x4—all window seats. The only problem with this was, there wasn’t enough room for our entire luggage, so we had to repack and only take one small suitcase per couple and leave the rest of our luggage at the hotel to be picked up 6 days later. After our meeting, we had time to rest, clean up and eat lunch before we started our tour around 2:30 p.m. Then we went to the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Karen Blixen’s home (where “Out of Africa” was filmed”) and a short stop at a shop which made jewelry out of clay. That evening, we went to the restaurant “Carnivore” and had a fun time eating and getting to know our fellow passengers.

Overnight at the Safari Hotel and Casino: beautiful place with nice rooms and good service. Highly recommend.

Dinner included

Wish I had brought: A smaller suitcase or dufflebag for the first 6 days. Didn’t realize that our transportation couldn’t hold all of our luggage. I think if we had taken the vans, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

Kudos: Vintage Africa provided us all with hats and binoculars.

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March 26th –

We are off to the Serena Mountain Lodge which has a balcony, lounge and rooms overlooking a watering hole for animals. This place is up in the mountains and has a great view of Mount Kenya. I loved this lodge. It was quaint, rustic, with fabulous service and great views. Once we arrived, we had the opportunity to go on a nature walk with a guide which cost an extra $40. It had rained that day, so it was SUPER muddy, but they provided us with boots and raincoats. I went and had fun. Learned a lot about the different plants and animals of Kenya. We saw elephants, waterbuck, buffalos, civets, and other animals around the watering hole, and they will even give you a call in the middle of the night, if there is a particular animal you want to see.

Overnight at the Serena Mountain Lodge: loved it!

Don’t forget: to go check out the secret bunker which gives you a close up view of the animals at the watering hole.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

Rest stop: Curio shop – I bought a giraffe made out of teak wood and a rhino made out of ebony. They were beautiful but I didn’t haggle enough and got robbed. Don’t buy at the first curio shop you see unless you are great at bargaining. If you wait, there will be better bargains to be had. We also found that the lodge gift shops were much cheaper than the curio/rest stops.

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March 27th –

Only about an hour drive to Sweetwaters Camp which is a luxury-tented camp on a private reserve. You step out of your tent and see zebras and giraffes only a stone’s throw away. Weather was great in the morning, but we had a downpour in the afternoon which somewhat affected our afternoon game drive because of the mud. But we still saw a lot of animals. We weren’t able to explore the chimpanzee sanctuary because there was too much mud. (probably the only disappointment of the whole trip) We did get to pet a semi-tame black rhino and see some hippos. After dinner, we decided to take an optional night time game drive at around 9:00 pm. (additional $80 pp) The night before they saw a lion pride of 20, so we had hoped to see some lions on this drive. No such luck, but we did see a lot more animals than in the day, including giraffes, hyena, etc. I liked this drive, because they went off the path to get right up to the animals. (on some preserves, you can’t do this) We were exhausted but had fun.

Overnight at Sweetwaters Tented Camp: Wish we could have stayed longer. Great place, great service.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

Wish I had brought: My hiking boots! Grr…I left them back at the hotel and my shoes got so muddy from walking. A pair of rubber boots would have been great.

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March 28th –

So long Sweetwaters! We were now off to Lake Nakuru which is known for its thousands of pink flamingos. Before getting there we stopped at Thomson Falls and a coffee and tea plantation. By the time we arrived at Lake Nakuru its around 2:00 p.m. and we were tired. We ate and then late afternoon, we went on a game drive—which was great. Not only were the pink flamingos amazing, but also we saw a ton of baboons, zebras, elephants, and giraffes and towards the end, a leopard walked right by our jeep. If I had reached out, I could have touched it! Our guide said this was very unusual. The evening was spent just enjoying dinner and some nighttime entertainment. We spent the night at Lion Hill Lodge which was beautiful, but they seemed understaffed and not as friendly as the other places we had stayed. Plus, there was a gal who worked at the gift shop who tried to scam several in our group and steal their money. She was promptly fired the next day. Yikes!

Overnight at Lion Hill Lodge – Nice, but understaffed.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

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March 29th – We are off to the Masai Mara and our guides decided to take a short cut to shave some mileage off of our trip. Now, when people say the roads are bad in Kenya—BELIEVE THEM. THEY ARE HORRIFIC. With the exception of Nairobi, where the roads are bumpy, the roads outside of Nairobi are the worst roads any of us have ever been on EVER. I survived because I am only in my 30’s, but I did have some bruises. One lady’s bra strap broke, two people threw their backs out and one lady hurt her neck. If you have back or neck problems, or motion sickness, I would highly discourage someone from riding in a 4 x4 in Kenya. Take a plane. Its expensive, but worth it.

By the time we arrive at the Masai Mara, we are exhausted from the drive. We get to our luxury-tented camp, the Siana Springs, clean up and first visit a Masai village and then go on an afternoon game drive. The visit to the Masai village cost $20, and I am glad I didn’t miss it. It was fascinating. A must see! Then we went on our game drive, which was beautiful. We spent 2 nights at Siana Springs, and I was thrilled. The atmosphere was terrific—but those baboons screamed like banshees—and they kept bouncing on our tents all night. Thank goodness for the baboon chaser. Gotta love it!

Overnight at Siana Springs – Love this place!
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

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March 30th – Instead of doing an early morning game drive and an afternoon game drive, our guides persuaded us to do an all-day game drive. We agreed and ventured out to the Masai Mara. What a day! We saw a bunch of lions up close, got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out, almost flipped into the river trying to scale this embankment (we were literally driving sideways) , saw a bunch of hippos mating, had lunch next to the river where the wildebeest migration takes place and had a bunch of monkeys eat some of our lunch. It was a long day, it was a hot day, but it was such an adventure. The all day game drive is something that Vintage Africa usually doesn’t do for this particular itinerary, but the roads were so bad going back and forth from our tents to the Masai Mara, that I am glad we did it. That night, Siana Springs treated us to a “bush” dinner which was literally out in the “bush.” They all sang us a farewell song and cooked a great meal. We finally rest our heads around 11:00 pm with pictures of lions, wildebeest and monkeys dancing in our heads.

Overnight at Siana Springs
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

Wish I had brought: More shorts! Man it was hot on the Masai Mara. Wish I had also brought a butt cushion for those bumpy roads. Glad I brought my hat and wipes. It was pretty dusty on this game drive. Wondered where all the bugs were. Hadn’t see one mosquito.

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March 31st – It’s a 5-hour journey back to Nairobi to the Safari Park Hotel. Once we return, we have time to repack for the rest of our journey, take a shower and RELAX. The rest of the day is at our leisure.

Overnight at Safari Hotel and Casino
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

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April 1st – We are off to Amboseli National Park, which is known for its elephant population. Once we arrive, we have lunch and then go on an afternoon game drive. The highlight was seeing a wildebeest being born—what a treat! About 6 vans were all lined up, watching this baby wildebeest walk for the first time, cheering for it when it stayed up and moaning when it toppled down into the dirt. The baby must learn to walk within 10 minutes or it will be left behind. The mother and father tried to help and finally the baby found his legs and walked with his mother for the first time. It was an experience that very few people will ever see except on television. WOW!

Overnight at Ol Tukai Lodge – Once again, another beautiful lodge with great views—walk out and see a heard of elephants grazing. Watch out for the monkeys though—pretty cheeky—they even got into our van and packages looking for food.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

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April 2nd – An early morning game drive—didn’t see much on this drive, however. The rest of the day is at our leisure before an afternoon game drive. I decided to get a much-needed massage which was wonderful. (and only $24!) Not everyone decides to go on the afternoon game drive, simply because they were all exhausted. I went and was glad I did—we were able to see a pride of lions in the distance along with some cute cubs and a baby elephant only a month old. The evening is at our leisure.

Overnight at Ol Tukai Lodge
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. (All buffet)

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April 3rd – Back to Nairobi. (about a 5 hour drive) We have a dayroom at the Safari Hotel in downtown Nairobi which gives us a chance to eat, clean up, repack and relax before heading to the airport. Our flight leaves at 11:50 PM. UGH. Checking in was a nightmare (the people at Kenya Airways are pretty incompetent) and the Nairobi airport is not really the greatest airport to spend 4 hours in. We fly Kenya Airways to London—then United from London to Washington DC (couldn’t get British Airways coming back) and the Washington DC to Phoenix. 21 hours flight time total. We upgraded to Economy Plus on United which was well worth the $90. Loved the safari, but it was good to get home.

Overnight: The plane/MY HOUSE!

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Observations:

I think March is a great time to go. Its just before the rainy season (we only had 2 days of rain) there were hardly any other tourists and there were no bugs. (we saw a total of 2 mosquitoes)

The people were so friendly, and every child who saw us waved and greeted us. The people of Kenya are so poor and yet they seem so happy. It made me grateful for what I have.

The roads were the worst roads I have ever been on, and considering tourism is the 2nd biggest industry in Kenya, the government needs to work on getting some pavement—at least into the Masai Mara. Be prepared for potholes from hell.


The scenery in Kenya was beautiful; the animals looked healthy and there were so many babies, which was good to see. Our lodges and tents were terrific and our guides were incredible.

The people in Kenya love to bargain so be prepared. It was our experience that souvenirs were cheaper at the lodges rather than at the curio shops. The best thing to do is just to walk away if you don’t like the price. They ALWAYS come after you. LOL.

Remember that even the little things cost—so if you attend a lecture by one of the Masai—be prepared to pay money; if one of the rest stops gives you a certificate that says “I was at the Equator” be prepared to pay 300 shillings. If you want the waiter who is going around singing and playing his guitar from table to table to sing at YOUR table, be prepared to pay him some shillings. ☺

We thought about bringing some small gifts for the children, but we didn’t. And I wish we had. There were a lot of children at the coffee plantation we visited as well as the Masai village and they always asked for something from America. Gifts are even great for bargaining. One lady on our trip had 4 baseball caps and she bargained with those at several curio shops.

If you can, bring a camera which has a great zoom feature. 3x wasn’t enough. There were several animals (like cheetahs) in the distance, that we couldn’t get close to, that I would have loved to have gotten close-up shots of.

Don’t expect lions, leopards and cheetahs to be greeting you at every turn. Television makes it seem that way, but the reality is, you really have to be patient and have a good set of binoculars. The predators sleep during the day under shade or in tall grass and hunt in the early morning and at night.

This Go Ahead Tour is rated a 4 out of 4 which means STRENUOUS, so keep that in mind, if your choose to book. But well worth the money and I am so glad I could fulfill my dream!








belgirl is offline  
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Apr 18th, 2007, 04:19 PM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
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Thanks for posting your trip report -- glad you had such a great time! We're have a similar itinerary in Kenya this coming September, so I was especially interested in hearing what you thought of each place.
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Apr 18th, 2007, 05:29 PM
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I would think the complimentary hats were for keeps and the binocs were on loan. Loaner binocs would solve a lot of the worries over what kind to buy and bring. A nice bonus.

Your pricing of the extras is informative.

Lucky Leopard at Nakuru. The gift shop scammer was not so lucky.

Nakuru to Mara is the worst Kenyan road I have experienced. Your group suffered a number of casualties to body parts and bras. Such details drive home the extent of the term “bad roads.” The bright side to the bad roads was the all day game drive.

A wildebeest birth! A thrill indeed! Ten minutes to learn to walk, so much for a pampered childhood.

One comment surprised me—that souvenirs were more expensive in the curio shops than lodges in your experience.

Glad you had a great trip.
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Apr 18th, 2007, 08:25 PM
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Belgirl!

I'm curious to hear more about Ol Tukai lodge? How did it compare with your other lodges? How was the food?

Tell me!
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Apr 19th, 2007, 12:18 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2007
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HI Belgirl
Thanks for this report. I enjoyed it. I have to point out though that buying curios made from ebony & teak is a very bad idea. You may have heard of Wangari Maathai - the Nobel Peace Prize winner? She is trying desperately to get the Kenyan forests back into something like their former glory. Deforestation (for whatever reason) exacerbates poverty. Teak & ebony are hard woods i.e. they take a long time to grow. If you have to buy something in wood try balsa wood.
On another note: the best gifts you can take for people/children is writing materials (colouring pens, paper, etc). Also old magazines are sooooo welcome. You cannot believe how faces light up when they get a magazine to browse through.
As we all need to do our bit against global warming and poverty alleviation I hope you'll take this as constructive.
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Apr 19th, 2007, 05:34 AM
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thanks for your report. well written and insightful
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Apr 19th, 2007, 06:58 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2006
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Thanks for the trip report. Especially liked your addition of the costs of extras i.e. night game drive, etc. Also supirsed that you found the lodges to be cheaper then curio shops. Great format i.e. including thought on lodging, things you wish you ahd brought, etc. Does this mean you'll be going back ?

Cheers,
Juliet
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Apr 19th, 2007, 08:33 AM
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Ol Tukai lodge was great--although I will say we kept getting weird little bugs in our room. Not ridiculous--just annoying. BEAUTIFUL grounds and the food was great. I would recommend this place to anyone--just watch out for those monkeys peering through your window!

Yes--the binoculars were on loan--very nice bonus. Vintage Africa really took care of us.

I was also surprised by the cost of souvenirs at the lodge gifts shops as compared to the curio shops. By the end of the trip, we weren't even buying at the curio shops unless we really wanted to haggle. Everyone was getting stuff at the lodge gift shops.

Another surprise for me was how clean the bathrooms all were. Even at run-down locations, the bathrooms were still clean--yea!
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Apr 19th, 2007, 08:34 AM
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I think I still need to recover from this adventure before even thinking about going back. If I did it again, I would take a small plane to the Masai Mara--and fly business class all the way!
belgirl is offline  
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Apr 19th, 2007, 08:41 AM
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Here is a link to Ol Tukai Lodge which will give you some more information about the lodge. Great animal viewing here too--herds of elephants always walking by.

http://www.oltukailodge.com/ol_frame_page.htm
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Apr 19th, 2007, 12:18 PM
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Thanks for your report, belgirl!

Lynn & Juliet,
I've had similar curio shop experiences as belgirl although I've found that asking prices can vary greatly depending on factors such as how heavily touristed the route is, whether it's high or low season, etc. I also started joking that prices fluctuated according to how many A&K vehicles were in the parking lot

I'm referring to curio shops along roads heading toward the parks, the ones with the conveniently clean bathrooms, not curio shops in Nairobi (which generally have reasonable prices). On my first trip at the obligatory equator stop, the asking price for a small wooden animal (oops, I'm not supposed to be buying those) started at 4500 KES. I "bargained" it down to 1200 KES only to later find very similar items selling in a hotel gift shop for 800 KES and less from street vendors.

Much of the "ebony" carvings are painted black. I don't know what's used for the base wood, probably something equally un-PC. I've seen them being painted as we drove by.
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Sep 10th, 2008, 06:32 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2006
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I enjoyed reading your report as we are heading out with GoAhead Tours in less than 3 weeks.
OUr accomodations are the same as yours although we have added Tanzania and Zanzibar afterward.
Very insightful. Im worried greatly about my back!
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Sep 11th, 2008, 09:43 PM
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Hi Belgirl: We are going with our children to Kenya for 4 nights only in mid October. We are getting stressed after reading so much about the traffic and bad roads in kenya, but shaking it off by thinking of the great safari experience. We are not wasting time staying at nairobi at all since our flight timings allow us the liberty to do so. We are going to Lake Nakuru on our 1st day and than to masai mara. We could have stayed 2 nights in masai mara and covered another park, say amboseli/ mt kenya / sweetwaters, but we thought that we would spend another half day commuting from one place to another, and instead opted to stay back in masai mara for another night and enjoy the great reef valley and improve our chances of seeing the migration. Is our decision correct? Please advice!!
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