Home home Story stories Slideshows slideshows Videos videos Blogs blogs Booklist booklist Links links Contact contact RSS
Kenya Jan 27 - Feb 5, 2006   Slideshow 19 slideshows   Blog 1 blog
Overview: We spent 2 nights in Nairobi, 1 week on safari, and then 1 night again in Nairobi before continuing our safari into Tanzania.

This 1 week safari was the first half of our Comfort Class (i.e. hotels, not camping) trip through Kenya and Tanzania from GAP Adventures, an eco-friendly small-groups Canadian tour company we highly recommend. This specific GAP trip is detailed here (note that the Kenya and Tanzania portions of the safari can each be booked separately). We took advantage of a one-time discount special at the time :-)
Meals (mostly buffets) but not drinks were included in our package. Accommodations were also included, though I list prices in the sidebar for reference only.
We saw all of the Big Five animals (elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos) in Kenya except for leopards (though these nocturnal animals are there).

Scroll down for the stories, or skip directly to a section:
Airport Arrival, Nairobi, En Route, Mt Kenya, Samburu, Thomson Falls, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara, Nairobi Again, To Tanzania, Miscellaneous

Map is copyright Lonely Planet
For more/better maps, see kenyalogy.com
Satellite Photo: See this satellite map with pushpins and then zoom in at least once.
Airport Arrival: After a long overnight flight from NYC to London Heathrow, followed by another long 8 hour flight to Nairobi (albeit on mercifully empty flights), we landed at 21:20. We breezed through immigration since we already had our visas, but then we waited for luggage. And waited. In Vain. Our luggage did not arrive (along with that of 7 other people, a not uncommon fate here). Foolishly we had not packed a bathing suit and change of clothes in our carry-on. After an hour-long long wait for our turn to file a claim, we received a debit card with £35 each, most of which we immediately withdrew from the airport's ATM (the debit card was also good at some merchants). Our driver, Patrick, sent by the safari company, waited patiently to take us to our hotel.
Just outside the airport grounds, we passed zebras on the highway shoulder!
Nairobi: We spent two nights at the downtown Hilton Nairobi hotel (one night free thanks to Susan's frequent hotel points) instead of the safari's recommended hotel / departure point. In contrast to the lovely hotel (our room had a King bed, A/C, safe, mini-bar, cable TV), the nearby street was quiet sketchy at night. It is not advisable not to walk at night in "Nairobbery" and we could see why. We fell asleep around 1:30 after a nice refreshing hot shower.
The next morning we had a fabulous buffet breakfast with an omelette station, fresh cheese, smoked sailfish, fresh squeezed orange juice etc.
Then we took our British Airways compensation cash and debit card to shop for some a swimsuits and T-shirt each, plus shorts for Susan, finding them at the nearby Nairobi Sports House. This allowed us to hang out at the lovely 3rd floor rooftop pool with shade, sipping 500mL local beer for KES 220 (US$3).
On the busy sidewalks, we did notice a lot of serious body odour as people either sat idly in the shade or strode purposefully to somewhere. A few tour touts tested our waters, but they were neither too persistent nor unfriendly.
In the late afternoon we walked two blocks to the Stanley hotel and its Thorn Tree cafe, where Hemingway had hung out (also, the Lonely Planet message boards are named after the cafe).
Having passed on a day tour with Patrick, he picked us up at 17:00 to drive us on a quick city "tour" prior to dinner. We drove in concentric circles around the centre of Nairobi, staying clear of the seedier "downtown" a block away from our hotel, which is on the good "uptown" side. The unwritten rule for the traffic circles is "nose ahead," i.e. only worry about the car in front of your head, not behind you. We saw horrible traffic, location of the US embassy bombing in '98, parks, university, hotels, government buildings, conference centre, and even a wooden government building burning with no firefighters in sight (I happened to see a floor drop down in the flames). Also big Marabou storks sitting on treetrops above the streets.
Dinner was at the very touristy Carnivore restaurant on the outskirts of town, right next to a game park of all things. Similar to a Brazilian churrascaria, this is all-you-can-eat BBQ meat, in this case including exotic meats like camel (tough meat), ostrich, crocodile (different than alligator, i.e. does not taste like chicken), plus the more mundane lamb, beef, pork, chicken and sausage. Plus six different dipping sauces. Soup, salads, dessert and coffee are also included. There are also indoor/outdoor bars and a huge dance floor at the restaurant, but we were too tired to stay that late.
Nairobi (inc. downtown, Maasai, storks, Carnivore restaurant)
We decided I would go back to the airport to fetch our newly arrived luggage instead of relying on British Airways to deliver it prior to our early morning safari departure. Patrick drove me to the airport, where I entered through the visitor/employee entrance and waited for some unlucky traveler to fill out another missing baggage report before retrieving our two bags. Again I saw zebras near the road as we left the airport.
En Route: After a quick breakfast and checkout we took a brief taxi ride to the Kenya Comfort hotel, arriving at 7:45 and missing most of the 7:00 trip briefing.
The Kenya portion of this safari is run locally by
Kenya Walking Survivors Safari Tours, though they don't sell this itinerary as they operate it for GAP Adventures.
En Route (inc. equator)
There were 9 travelers in our group, all non-smokers (yeah!) from Ontario, Canada, in 2 minivans with pop-top roofs, and 2 drivers/guides named Ken and Kaka (the latter, while being a great source of amusement, is the Swahili word for "brother"). The sister camping group had 7 campers, 2 minivans, 2 driver/guides and a cook; their group was more international, and followed roughly the same itinerary.
We drove north through poor Nairobi suburbs, informal garden nurseries alongside the road, villages, farmland and pleasant countryside. Our minivan came dangerously close to overheating several times (the engine heat gauge was in the red!); Ken solved the problem at a WC / curio stand break. We also stopped at a small town supermarket to buy bottled water; unlike in Nairobi, they only accepted local currency.
Mt Kenya: After a 4 hr drive, we arrived at 12:30 in the village of Nanyuki (near Naro Moru), just west of the foothills of Mt Kenya, which at 5199m is the second highest mountain in Africa, also snowcapped despite being just south of the equator.
Our decent hotel, the 2 star Bantu Lodge, had a nice pastoral setting with flowers, fruit trees, horses (I untangled their ropes) and a school group (possibly from India).
After a simple but filling and very tasty mini-buffet-style lunch, with an excellent soup, salad, stew and fruit, we went on a 3 hr roundtrip "hike" to a "cave" (or "temple," as our guide, seemingly dressed in a Foot Locker uniform, called it). This "cave" was more of a large rock hollow by a lovely waterfall, significant in that Mau Mau freedom fighters hid out there (and in other real caves in the area) during the fight for independence in the early '60s.
While the "hike" was really a level walk, it was tiring and overall not worth the effort. We did get a nice view of Mt Kenya at one point, and our guide showed us several plants and their uses, including: a plant's leaves known as "Maasai deodorant," a tree whose bark can be chewed to help toothaches, and a plant whose leaves, when rubbed, produce a reddish dye.
Rain drizzled on us on the way back, causing literally a ½ inch thick mud sole caked under our hiking shoes, making it a little more difficult to walk.
In the evening it became cool (remember, Nairobi and this area are on a high plateau at 1600m above sea level). Dinner was as simple, tasty and filling as lunch, with the added bonus of a nice warm fire in the dining room.
Mt Kenya (inc. hike to cave and waterfall)
The next morning, we departed post-breakfast at 7:30 northbound, stopping soon thereafter at the equator for photos and a demonstration of water draining from a bucket in opposite directions depending on which side of the equator we stood on (about 10m in either direction of the equator). Two toothpicks floating on the water made the direction of the water swirl very obvious.
Samburu NR: The long 5-6 hr dusty drive north from Mt Kenya started on paved roads, but then became very bumpy, twisty and dusty as we drove on dirt tracks next to a new straight paved road. Samburu is a semi-desert region, and with the ongoing drought it was drier than usual and the main river in the region was merely a trickle. We passed several Samburu villages shortly before the park gate. Once inside the National Reserve, we popped up the roof for our first game viewing, which was very exciting!
In/Outbound (inc. zebras, ostriches, dik-dik, oryx)
Then we checked in to our fabulous 5 star Samburu Game Lodge, set on the banks of the (currently very dry) river with lots of trees, Vervet monkeys and baboons. Our room was on the upper floor of a 2 story room block facing the river, with a nice sized balcony, mosquito net, screened windows allowing a nice cross-breeze, fan and a toilet separate from the tub/shower and sink.
The buffet lunch was excellent and very filling - the sign of a bad trend beginning (too much food!). We then had a little rest time; while Susan napped, I went for a brief swim in the pool and explored the lodge's grounds. Apparently the guided bird walk was very good.
Lodge (inc. birds, elephants, monkeys, baboons, giraffes, gerenuk, crocodile, lizard, beetle)
From 16:00 to 18:25 we did a great game drive, where Susan's camera unfortunately decided not to work. The safari drivers talk to each other on radios to give animal location information, and often many mini-vans show up at the same place. While only Kaka's minivan had a radio, Ken's was 4WD and was more comfortable: it had some extra padding around the rooftop opening, and the roof raised 2 inches higher (though still not enough for Susan and I to stand fully upright).
Game Drive #1 (inc. antelopes, elephants, giraffes, water buffalo)
The next morning's game drive started from 6:30 to 8:00 started before breakfast, though coffee was available. With the heat in the middle of the day, only early morning and late afternoon game drives make sense (plus night drives when available, which usually aren't except in private reserves).
Game Drive #2 (inc. eagle, lion, water buffalo, antelope, baboons, giraffes)
After a hearty buffet breakfast with a made-to-order omelette stand, we left the park to visit a traditional Samburu village named Supalek. The Samburu people are nomadic cousins of the Maasai people. The visit began with a welcome dance/song by the women, and our group's women were invited to join in. Then an elder gave us informational talk and held a Q&A, which was very interesting. We peeked inside a stick/mud/dung hut, witnessed a successful fire-starting demonstration (rubbing stick against wood and dried dung), saw a blacksmith's work area, and bought some bead bracelets at the crafts tables. They also sang a good-bye song as we left. Susan gave stickers, which she had brought from home, to the kids.
Tribal Village (inc. colourful tribal villagers, kids)
Before the afternoon game drive at 16:00, we saw a crocodile in the dry river bed. This time the game drive crossed the river, which also afforded us a new and different view of our lodge.
Game Drive #3 (inc. lionesses, giraffes, vultures, crocodile, antelope)
We had a 30 min power outage that began just before we headed down for dinner, but they had set out lots of candles in the restaurant providing a lovely atmosphere (it was a shame when the lights came on).
Meals continued to be excellent and enormous, and the fruit was in perfect condition, especially the pineapple, papaya and watermelon.
Thomson Falls: After breakfast and a 7:30 departure, we drove for 7 long bumpy dusty hours to Nakuru, with a brief stop at Thomson Falls (aka Nyahururu Falls) along the way. Seven long hours before lunch.
Thomson Falls (inc. waterfall, dressy tribespeople)
Lake Nakuru: We finally arrived at 14:30 at our dumpy Hotel Genevieve in dumpy Nakuru, the fourth largest city in Kenya. Lunch was very disappointing and the hotel lived down to its 2 star status (in fact, it was the worst hotel in the whole 2 week safari). The sink drained onto the bathroom floor near the shower, sharing the floor drain.
At 16:00 we left for a game drive in the terrific lakeside national park. Highlights include being able to exit the vehicle at the lake shore, and large quantities of pink flamingos covering the lake; as a group of them on shore walked into the water ahead of tourists, it looked like a receding pink tide. We also saw a flamingo, close to shore, keel over suddenly and almost immediately was devoured by waiting storks.
Lake Nakuru NP (inc. flamingos, storks, pelicans, eagles, white rhino (baby!), warthogs, water buffalo)
Afterwards we drove into town to an Internet café and a supermarket. I tried to get my digital photos burned to a CD, but it would take too long on the slow equipment. This was unfortunate because the amount on my 1GB SD card at that time would just fit on one CD; later in Kenya I would have to constantly delete and shrink some photos on the camera to make room for new photos.
Dinner was only so-so, highlighted by a loud TV showing a Kenyan minister in a funny speech regarding a money scandal, and Kaka singing a little song for us.
After another early morning breakfast we departed for a long 4 hr drive along good sealed roads, followed by terribly bumpy and potholed dirt roads (or more accurately, tracks beside the road). There were "private" work crews on the road, meaning that the drivers would stop and tip them. We passed through the Great Rift Valley again, and stopped for lunch at a new hotel in Narok, the last town before the Masai Mara. Nearby was a big white and green mosque. This hotel (we didn't stay there) was much nicer than the one in Nakuru, and the food (beef stew, rice, veggies, fruit) was simple but very good, including outstanding chiapatas.
Masai Mara NR: Two hours past Narok we finally arrived at the Masai Mara (which means "spotted plain"). It was also very dry due to the prolonged drought, and it was very hot in the mid-afternoon sun.
When we left 2 days later, we saw a black (hook-lipped) rhino, (which is more aggressive than the white (square-lipped) rhino, though both are in fact grey in colour) and a water buffalo with placenta hanging out (we were hoping to witness a birth, but no such luck).
In/Outbound wildebeest, water buffalo (baby!), black rhino, warthog
We stopped at a Maasai tribal village in the hot dry landscape before entering the park. This was similar yet different to the one in Samburu. For one thing, the Maasai are very tall, and their mud huts are a little taller too (though not tall enough to stand up in). One of the 94 year old chief's 30 children led the tour after the warriors did a welcome dance with lots of jumping barefoot straight up in the air. We looked inside his mother's smoky hut, which had 3 beds for the men, women and children resp., and a room for calves. After the brief talk and Q&A, we looked at the river where they washed clothes, and a fire-starting demonstration which took longer than the Samburu demo. At the requisite crafts tables they were much more persistent than the Samburu; two kids touched my legs, and one young child sitting under a table plucked a hair from my calf! Susan's stickers and other travelers' gifts caused mayhem amongst the kids and their mothers. Did I mention lots of dried dung in the central courtyard? Overall, we enjoyed the Samburu visit much more.
Tribal Village (inc. colourful tribal villagers, kids)
Maasai Mara Jumping Dance with sound! (all videos)

Five minutes down the road we were inside the Masai Mara Nature Reserve, and went on a game drive prior to checking in at the hotel. Most exciting was the cheetah (see below) and two sets of lions with cubs, including a male lion who walked right past our minivan.
Game Drive #1 (inc. antelopes (hartebeest, topi), lions (cubs!), hippo, eagle, vulture, antelope, giraffe)
Cheetahs are the only big cats to hunt in the daytime. They can run 115 km/h (70 mph) but only for 300m, so they must sneak up close to their prey before attacking. This mother and 2 cubs walked right by our minivan (within 2m!) without even looking at us; then the cubs sat patiently watching momma spent 30 min sneaking up to some gazelles before pouncing unsuccessfully. I counted a crazy crowded 36 safari vehicles watching this event!
Cheetah (inc. 2 cubs hanging out while momma chases)
Video: Cheetah strolling past our vehicle (all videos)

We arrived at the fabulous 5 star Keekorok Wilderness Lodge, one of 8 lodges in the Masai Mara. Our room was a posh semi-bungalow with a king bed, the best retractable mosquito net we've ever seen, a large bathroom, nice wood desk and furniture, plus a little patio with a chair and table. The bungalows fringe large manicured grounds containing a nice pool, plus an elevated boardwalk with views onto the plains and an attached bar hut overlooking a water hole.
The buffet dinner was excellent, though the dining room was jam packed due to a very large group of Japanese tourists; coffee was self-serve on the lovely patio.
Susan woke me at 2:30 in the middle of the night due to strange noises: a water buffalo was grazing 3m behind our rear window, and we could hear the grinding teeth on every chew! Additionally, there were 2 hippos about 75m in the lit lawn (they graze on land at night and rest in water during the day). The presence of these large animals explains the barn-like horizontally split door on the bungalow!
Lodge (inc. group photo)
We set out post-breakfast at 7:30 for an all-day game drive, with a boxed lunch we ate later under a lone tree in the plains where our group also cleaned up a lot of trash including many cigarette butts!
Most exciting in the morning was the lion kill (see below), touching the Tanzania (Serengeti NP) border, and the hippos and crocodiles at a bend in the Mara River (where an armed guard escorted us in case the hippos charge). Hippos' skin secretes stuff that is both antibiotic and a sunscreen; they rest and digest in the water in the daytime, and feed at night, up to 10km away from their water hole!
Game Drive #2 (inc. water buffalo, elephants (baby!), hippos, wildebeest, zebra (baby!), lizard, stork)
We watched this early morning feast of a water buffalo by a group of lions; we did not see the kill happen as lionesses hunt at night.
Lion Kill Warning: not for the faint of heart!
The post-lunch drive was relatively uninteresting as it was very hot and the animals tend to hide/sleep in the shade. We did see some vultures; there are in fact many animal bones lying about on the ground. Arriving back at the lodge at 15:30, we spent a lovely afternoon cooling off at the pool, and I managed to order drinks in Swahili :-)
Game Drive #3 (inc. lions, hyena, vulture, topi, stork)
Nairobi Again: After a 7:45 departure for the long drive back to Nairobi, just as I was giving up hope, we finally stopped at 14:00 for a box lunch in a curio shop with tables and a mini-restaurant, though their only drink was a lukewarm cola for KES 50. Shortly thereafter we were heading up the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, stopping at a scenic viewpoint with vendors in rickety shacks built on stilts on the hillside. Ken drove like a bat out of hell all the way back to Nairobi, arriving at the Kenya Comfort hotel at 16:00 sharp, the time he said we would be back. The hotel did not have our room reservations (included, with breakfast, in our 2 week safari package) but 20 min later we were checked in to a decent room on the 4th floor and the building had good security.
We walked to the Nakumatt shopping centre, half a block away on the side street, which had an Internet café and a supermarket called Nakumatt Lifestyle where we bought water, coffee beans (gift), plus nuts and raisons for creating trail mix. I also had my digital camera's totally full 1GB memory card burned to 2 CDs, and our driver from a week earlier, Patrick, sat down at the computer next to me!
After a shower and returning to pick up my CDs and memory card (at which point I banged my head on the corner of a glass shelf, causing a bleeding gash a few minutes later), and using the crude map we were given, we walked 3 blocks to catch up with the rest of our group for dinner at a restaurant called Ranalo. The hostess immediately led us to our group was on the rooftop patio, assuming correctly that we were with the only Caucasian group in the restaurant. Ken had recommended it as a place for local food. It was full of locals watching and cheering soccer on TV, and a good band played danceable music. We could hear how Caribbean calypso had derived from these Africa rhythms. The simple food (small dishes of beef, rice, chiapati, fried spinach) was OK but we were at the tail end of the food service so choice was limited. There were big water tanks behind us, and the guy filling them lost control of the huge water hose, almost spraying us down!
Two of our travelers left immediately after dinner for the airport, as they weren't going on the second week of the safari in Tanzania. Michelle agreed to take my two photo CDs home with her, as I was worried they might get lost or stolen on our long Africa trip.
The rest of us got into 2 cabs, as it was now dark and unsafe to walk the 3 blocks back to the hotel. Our taxi driver started heading to the wrong hotel, which we figured out when the ride seemed longer than expected, but luckily the map I had for the restaurant was on the back of our hotel's card so we could set him straight.
Exhausted but happy, I fell asleep at 21:00 for 10 straight hours!
To Tanzania The first day of the second week of safari!
Early the next morning we left at 8:15, all 15 of us (7 remaining "lodgers", and 8 "campers") crammed into one minivan and one Land Rover, heading south for 2 hours to the town of Namanga, on the border with Tanzania, en route to Arusha. Details of the border crossing are on the
Tanzania page.

Safari Tips:
  • Avoid more than 3-4 passengers per vehicle or it will feel cramped both when driving and when viewing wildlife.
  • You need lots of optical zoom on your camera.
  • You want a set of binoculars per person.
  • Generally you can't get out of safari vehicles, so sport sandals (e.g. Tevas) can be comfortable footwear.
  • You will get dirty (dusty); bring some detergent to wash some clothes in your hotel sink, plus a travel clothesline.

  Last modified on 2013.07.27 13121 visitors since 2006.07.25
Copyright © 2003-2024 Jan Trabandt