Frequently Asked Questions
This is but a selection of questions we get. And of course you will have your own, so if your question is not answered here, be sure to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask away!
Is Nairobi safe?
Traditionally, Nairobi has had the nickname “Nai-robbery”, but this may not be so fair these days. Many Kenyan’s do live in poverty and there are reports of muggings from time to time. But these are opportunistic attacks on people clearly displaying wealth and making it easy for someone to grab. It can be argued that this is the case anywhere around the world – you must always keep your wits about you wherever you are. Violent crime is much rarer, especially against tourists. Kenyans recognise that tourists bring money to their country, and attacks on foreigners are punished severely if they occur at all.
Should I visit Kenya or Tanzania first?
Many travellers combine Kenya and Tanzania for the ultimate safari experience, but deciding where to go first depends on a few factors. Of course the logistics of where your flights arrive and depart make an impact. Nairobi is the main international hub so the chances are you will fly in and out of there. This makes a loop quite a logical answer – start in Kenya, travel either east (to Amboseli) or west (to Maasai Mara) from Nairobi, then cross into Tanzania, traverse the Serengeti and enter Kenya on the other side returning via a park or two to Nairobi. That’s a wonderful itinerary of about two weeks.
If you are flying into one country and departing from the other then you might like to consider how you want to finish. Many people like to finish with some time on the coast, which is usually Zanzibar in Tanzania (although Kenya’s coast is also popular). The time of year also determines which country to visit first. Going first to the Maasai Mara while the Migration is there might present an anti-climax in subsequent parks. The best idea is to chat with your tour operator about your priorities and goals of your trip and work together to make the best itinerary according to all these factors.
How is the wheelchair access in Kenya?
It is improving. Many footpaths and roads in Nairobi are rickety and may present a rough ride for those in a wheelchair. But once at a mall it is smooth sailing. Likewise, out in the bush the paths are often rough. However, an increasing number of lodges in the parks are developing wheelchair accessible facilities. There are not as many taxis that are equipped for wheelchairs in Kenya as in Western countries and public transport is definitely out of the question. But if you talk to your tour operator about your accessibility requirements, the magic of Kenya is that anything is possible.
What are some cheap or free volunteer programs?
Volunteering is rarely free. Most organisations rely on funding from external donors and every penny is put into their projects. To get funding for a volunteer who wants to spend a couple of weeks with no specific skills is difficult. If you do have skills that are needed for the organisation to develop you might have a better chance and indeed they may be prepared to use some of their funding to support you so you can train them with skills they need. But this is rare and at the very least volunteers would be expected to cover the cost of the food and accommodation. This cost varies depending on your preferred level of comfort. Home stays are the cheapest, but also the most primitive with little or no privacy. Many families live in one or two rooms, so you would probably be expected to share a room with the children. If this does not appeal and you prefer your own room, then you can pay any amount of money for various types of accommodation.
SE7EN is a website that specialises in low cost volunteering opportunities. Idealist.com mostly has opportunities for people with specific skills. Or you can contact the organisations directly to find out from them – this should be cheaper than going through a volunteer agency, but also riskier because you do not have a guarantee that the organisation is genuine or not. OTA has connections to several community-based organisations (who we have checked out) to which we can connect volunteers directly.
I have one week for safari and one week on the coast. What should I do in the first week?
If you want to travel overland to the coast, then Amboseli National Park followed by Tsavo or Lumo Sanctuary make two nice stops between Nairobi and Mombasa. From Amboseli you can get stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro – this is where you get that quintessential photo of elephants crossing the plain in front of the majestic mountain. Tsavo East and West National Parks together make up the biggest park in Kenya. Next door is Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary where animals can roam freely between all the parks. At Lumo, a community project works closely with the local community trying to tackle the human-wildlife conflict. Visitors can get involved at the school, going on patrol to check for animal snares, or simply visiting the village and talking to people.
If you prefer to fly from Nairobi to the coast, then Maasai Mara, Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru are the typical trio for a week-long safari. For something a bit different you could head north to Samburu, passing Mt Kenya on the way and also stopping at Ol Pejeta where Kenya’s only chimp sanctuary is located. From Samburu, travel west to Thomson’s Falls and Lake Baringo, before heading south to Lake Nakuru National Park and then finish in Nairobi.
How is the short rainy season (i.e. November)?
Travelling in the short rainy season is not bad. It buckets down for about half an hour, usually in the early morning or evening, leaving the rest of the day dry if not a little overcast. Your photos won’t have a brilliant blue sky, but PhotoShop/Instagram can fix that. An umbrella is a necessary accessory for this time of year, but wildlife viewing is still OK.
Is it better/cheaper to stay in nearby towns to visit game parks (i.e. Stay in Isiolo to visit Samburu)?
It is cheaper certainly, but not better. Guesthouses in Kenyan towns are generally geared towards local drivers who need something dirt cheap and are not fussy about the quality. Local women looking to make some extra money tend to frequent such guest houses, and while the beer is cheap, the company is not always welcome. If you are on a shoestring budget you may consider it, but if you can afford to, our advice is to get closer to the parks.
There are campsites on the outskirts of most of the parks in Kenya, where you can pitch a tent for about the same price as a room in town. The security tends to be tighter and the general ambience a bit more relaxing. If camping is really not your thing, then some campsites do have reasonably priced bandas (huts) or permanent tents, some with and some without en suites.
If you really want to be amongst the action (wildlife that is!), accommodation inside the parks are the best bet. The prices are commensurate with location of course, so be prepared to pay for the pleasure of being in the thick of it. But the service, food, facilities and rooms are often worth the splurge.
Transport is often what keeps travellers in ordinary guesthouses in the towns. Our suggestion is to bite the bullet and find a reputable tour operator who will find you decent accommodation, take you into the parks and bring you back in one piece. Leaving things to chance to find someone to take you into the park from the backwater town you have landed in, is too risky – there are many sham operators, with dodgy vehicles, who are out of sight from the rest of the industry and the authorities. Of course there are also legitimate operators there too, so it is imperative you do your research and ask plenty of questions before sending any money.
The comfort of the journey is another consideration. You’ve found a great local operator who will take you into the park and he’s based in the nearby town, but now he wants to charge you much more than a local bus would to get from Nairobi to the town. So you opt for the local bus.... and spend the next 6 hours with your heavy pack on your lap, banging your head with every bump in the road, music blaring, pressed up against the window as they pack more people into the bus. Hmmm.... is it worth it? For some it is – getting the real local experience is what travel is all about. But for others, hiring private transport is a very sound investment. No judgement, just be sure you know what sort of traveller you REALLY are, before making rash decisions about comfort versus budget.
Last month we went on a safari trip to Sweetwater. We went with OTA for the safari as they gave us the best all incl. price and they gave quality. Tracey and Francis really made this the best safari ever for us.
- Richard, Denmark
Ol Pejeta weekend, March 2015