K is for Kenya
Gerenuk Feeding - Samburu
One of the many countries still on my travel list, as well as Kazakhstan. Hopefully will get there one day when it is safe to travel again. In the meantime, my good friend Claire at Safari Horizons is an expert in Kenya and has kindly agreed to contribute to the A to Z Travel Blog series with K is for Kenya. Hope you enjoy reading and discovering more about 'all of Africa in one Country'.
K is for Kenya
Often dubbed, ‘All of Africa in one Country’, Kenya straddles the equator on the East coast of Africa. It’s famous as a safari destination, wildlife being the main magnet. Here is the quintessential savanna, the land of Big Cat Diary and the Great Wildebeest Migration, the greatest wildlife show on earth. Unlike other parts of Africa, it has two rainy seasons, which give rise to higher concentrations of wildlife. In addition, Kenya has endemic northern species of game (such as reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk and Somali ostrich) and spectacular birdlife.
A country the size of France, its magnificent landscapes range from the snows of Mt Kenya, the second-highest mountain in Africa, to the northern deserts, the Great Rift Valley, the fertile highlands (growing wheat, vegetables, flowers, tea and coffee), freshwater and soda lakes and the white sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean. Consequently, temperature varies with altitude, giving rise to a diverse fauna and flora. Even at the coast, the tropical heat is tempered by trade winds while the highland areas have warm, sunny days and cool nights.
While the natural environment is well known, Kenya also boasts a rich cultural heritage – from the origins of early man in the Cradle of Mankind to some 42 different tribes, some of whom retain their customs. Among these, the Maasai, a pastoralist people, are among the most iconic, with their traditional red blankets knotted over one shoulder and spectacular beadwork jewellery. There are plenty of regional artisan crafts for sale, like wood and soapstone carvings, or items made from recycled glass or rubber flip-flops.
Getting there and around
Safari Breakfast - Masai Mara
Flights to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, and Mombasa, at the coast, are the usual gateways to Kenya for international tourists. Most visitors require a visa which can be purchased online, or on arrival. Nairobi is a major hub for the whole of Africa, a diverse, dynamic, modern city with glittering skyscrapers, high tech businesses and horrendous traffic. It is the starting point for most safaris and many people opt to get out of the city as fast as possible to get to the main wildlife destinations, such as the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, Nakuru, Laikipia and Samburu. If you do have time to spend in Nairobi, consider visiting Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Centre, Karen Blixen’s house (of Out of Africa fame) and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s orphanage for rescued baby elephants and rhinos; or opt for a visit to the National Museum.
Roads in Kenya vary considerably – many are badly pot-holed, and distances can be long and dusty. It is well worth considering a flight into the prime game viewing areas. This has the added advantage of wonderful aerial views and gives a sense of scale to vast horizons. There’s a comprehensive country network of small planes operating from Nairobi’s Wilson airport. Safari vehicles also vary enormously, from minibuses with pop-up hatches to comfortable 4WD.
Choosing a Safari
Lion Clubs Playing - Masai Mara
Do spend time considering what you want to see and do, and how you’d like to experience it. This will dictate the best time to visit. The range of activities (from Climbing Mt Kenya to diving the coral gardens of the Indian Ocean,) and accommodation (from basic camping to luxury tented camps, lodges, hotels, homestays and Airbnb) are comprehensive. Cuisine is primarily European – delicious meals of fresh produce with mouth-watering tropical fruits. But there is often an option for a traditional meal of ugali (a maize starch), meat and beans. You’ll also see fast food outlets like Kentucky Fried Chicken in some main towns. There’s always something to suit most budgets – but be prepared for hidden costs such as park fees and tipping.
There are two key aspects to selecting a safari. Firstly, one which operates responsibly – respecting local people, the wildlife and its habitats, ensuring that local people derive some benefit from tourism. Secondly, having an expert safari guide can make the difference between merely being a spectator and actually learning and gaining an understanding about the country, its peoples and natural history. Long term, it is vital for conservation that people who live alongside the wildlife have a vested interest in ensuring its survival. Providing jobs in tourism can keep poaching at bay – lions, elephants, rhinos and giraffes are all at risk.
When to go
The dry season is from June to November, and December to March and considered the best time to see wildlife. The green season has its own attractions, with dramatic skies and light – and it usually only rains for part of the day. However, climate change has impacted on weather patterns and rainy seasons are less predictable. Witness the severe flooding in the past year.
What to take
Among the most important things to remember are anti-malarial prophylactics, a pair of binoculars for going on safari and a sense of humour if things don’t always go according to plan.
Kenya’s tourism industry is not immune from the current COVID-19 pandemic, but it is resilient and will bounce back when we can travel again. A warm welcome is guaranteed. Further information: www.magicalkenya.com www.kenya-airways.com https://ecotourismkenya.org
© Claire Foottit 2020 http://safarihorizons.wordpress.com