ADVANTAGES OF STAYING IN THE MARA CONSERVANCIES

The Maasai people have occupied the savannah grasslands of Southern Kenya for centuries. Their lifestyle and their warriors (morans) have kept the rangelands free from settlement by other communities, and the Maasai people’s taboo against eating wild animals, combined with 2 rainy seasons a year have allowed the wildlife to flourish.

In the early days of tourism in Kenya (1960s), the Maasai Mara National Reserve was established in these lands, where visitors could come and photograph the teeming masses of wildlife. Keekorok Lodge was the first lodge to be built in the Reserve, allowing visitors to overnight in the Reserve.

In 1968, the Land Act was passed, establishing Group Ranches in the greater Mara ecosystem, where large tracts of land adjacent to the Reserve, were allocated to local communities who were supposed to manage the number of cattle on the land, and earn revenue from beef production and the sale of cattle.

This led to huge increases in livestock numbers and consequently over grazing of the land. Now there was pressure to subdivide the land further and issue title deeds to individual owners. This was done in some areas, but there was a concern that this would lead to the loss of wildlife habitat.

Therefore, some Maasai leaders came together with private sector investors to create conservancies along the borders of the Reserve, with strict guidelines on their management.

So what does this mean for the tourist visiting the Mara? These are the advantages of staying in the conservancies:

  • Low density tourism is practiced with the formula of one tent per 700 acres, with a limit of 12 tents per camp so the conservancies are much less crowded
  • There is no human settlement, homestead or livestock boma in the conservancy, so it is a purely wildlife viewing experience.
  • Only 5 vehicles are permitted per wildlife sighting putting less pressure on the individual animal and giving you excellent sightings.
  • No tree cutting, cultivation or ploughing is allowed in the conservancies so as to allow the land to regenerate so you are staying in a pure wilderness.
  • There is virtually no poaching in the Conservancies.
  • There is more emphasis on the safari experience with qualified Maasai guides holding KPSGA certification (Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association).
  • Camps use eco-friendly solutions like solar energy, sewage management, refuse disposal etc, all of which are certified by Eco Tourism Kenya
  • There is a high density of wildlife in the conservancies with the highest concentration of lions in Africa.
  • Day visitors are not allowed into the conservancies for game drives so you will not find crowds of minivans during your game drives.
  • In addition to game drives, you can do guided walks, bush meals and night game drives, all of which are not possible in the main Reserve.
  • Off road driving is allowed in the conservancies, thus allowing you to get closer to the game.
  • You can still visit the main Reserve for game drives as most camps include a full day visit to the Mara Reserve during the migration season
  • As most of the staff working in the Camps are recruited from the local Maasai tribes, you will have daily contact with them, thus adding a cultural element to your stay.

ROAD VERSUS AIR TRAVEL

There are 2 basic ways to travel within East Africa – by road in either a minivan, or a 4WD vehicle, and by air – aircrafts normally used are Caravans, Twin Otters or Dash.

So why should you choose one over the other? Let’s find out the advantages and disadvantages.

Road Safari

Advantages

  • Allows you to observe the culture of the country as you can see how the the local people live, trade and work.
  • You are able to appreciate the scenery unfolding around you.
  • Allows you to interact with the local people, when you stop along the way.
  • It is pocket friendly if you are travelling in a group of more than 4 persons.
  • It brings to mind, the adventure and romance of safari.
  • Allows more time for bonding, especially if travelling with family or a group of friends.
  • You can carry more baggage than on the flight

Disadvantages

  • Strict speed limits are observed so the journey can get long and tedious.
  • The condition of the roads is not the best, so the ride is bumpy.
  • Travelling with your children can get difficult due to the length of time spent in the restriction of the vehicle.
  • The costs of travelling by vehicle in East Africa can be quite high, if you are less than 4 persons.
  • As it takes longer to reach your destination, you may be tired on arrival and not in the mood for further activity.
  • Travel is difficult in extreme rain, and/or stormy weather

Air Travel

Advantages

  • A quick and efficient way of getting around the country – most places are within an hour’s flight away or 90 minutes away
  • Not tiring so you arrive at your destination fresh and ready for adventure
  • Game drives are done in Camp vehicles which are open vehicles, with driver/guides who are based in the area so are very familiar with the fauna in the area
  • Quite affordable, especially if travelling solo or in a group of less than 4 persons
  • The aircrafts are very comfortable with complete access to the pilots
  • You can fly through floods and storms
  • Allows you to visit more places in a shorter span of time
  • As check in time is an hour prior to departure, there is more flexibility in travelling to and from the airport

Disadvantages

  • Many people feel nervous about flying in smaller planes
  • Baggage is restricted to 15 kgs per person, in soft, squashy bags
  • You cannot see much of the scenery nor can you interact with the local people.

10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AN AFRICAN SAFARI

  1. Accommodation

Kicheche-Valley-2012-92

Although you may be booked to stay in a luxury Camp or Lodge, the accommodation will not be like staying in a city hotel. This does not mean that you have to ‘rough it’, but do take note that most Camps do not have airconditioning. A lot of the Camps don’t have proper shower facilities but use ‘safari showers’ – a contraption where water is filled in a canvas bag which is then hoisted up and fitted with a shower nozzle. Also a lot of Camps do not have running water in the individual tents, or even 24 hours electricity. However, all this serves to bring you closer to nature and you will enjoy your safari even more.

  1. Driving there

paws vehicle

If taking a road safari, the ride is likely to be bumpy and not very comfortable, as you will be travelling in a 4WD safari vehicle, more suited to savanna grasslands than tarmac roads.

  1. Flying there

airkenya

Flying to the various game parks and reserves is an awesome experience, but do know that if travelling in East Africa, these small planes can make upto 3 stops before landing at your airstrip. This is to drop off and pick up passengers from other Camps & Lodges, and is true for the return journey as well. If you are nervous about flying in smaller aircraft, you need to check on this to take this into consideration.

  1. Mobile reception

mobile internet

Most places in the bush have poor cell phone reception, so more often than not, you will not be able to upload pictures and other digital data. In extreme cases, even calling out is difficult and you may need to stand in a certain spot to capture the elusive signal, just to make a phone call. Once you are out on a game drive, the reception seems to get better.

  1. Bugs, bugs and more bugs

dungbeetle

There will be bugs in your room, your bathroom and your vehicle, as well as the dining and reception areas of the Camp/Lodge. If going on a walk, you will be accosted by flies, mosquitoes and all sorts of flying insects. Well, this is Africa ….so get used to them.

  1. Food, glorious food

You will never go hungry on safari – there is an abundance of food, starting from the early morning cookie with your wake up tea/coffee, to the breakfast buffet, salad lunches, decadent afternoon teas, sundowner nibbles, and delicious dinner menus. Your day is filled with fresh, tasty and yummy cuisine.

  1. Early starts

Being on safari means waking up before dawn and leaving your tent as the sun starts to show in the sky. However, don’t worry….you won’t be sent out without sustenance as early morning tea/coffee is served in your tent before you leave for your early morning game drive, or balloon safari.

  1. Rest room stops

There are no toilets on game drives which could last upto 4 hours, and the only alternative is to use the bush. Don’t forget to carry spare tissues and practice your squats beforehand. If you are squeamish about going in the bush, try to restrict your fluid intake until you are back at the Camp/Lodge.

  1. Extremes of weather

aws-the-nest-early-morning-tea

You may be exposed to extreme weather conditions, ranging from chilly early mornings on morning game drives and balloon safaris where you will need a light jacket or sweater, or gloriously hot, sunny late mornings and early afternoons, where even a t-shirt is an intrusion. Temperatures will drop at sunset, so if heading out for a night game, don’t forget the blankets, Maasai or otherwise. The key to comfort here, is layering.

  1. Hydration

Drop Falling into Water

It is very easy to slip into a routine where drinking water does not play a role, especially in Camps & Lodges where soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits are included in the cost. But do remember to keep hydrated as this will prevent illnesses that come about due to dehydration.

 

Take these 10 things into consideration for your African safari, and get ready for an epic safari!

 

 

5 TIPS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR AFRICAN SAFARI

A safari in Africa is an incredible experience, and for the safari newbie it can be a little overwhelming. The right safari etiquette will allow you to take maximum advantage of the wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as ensure your fellow travelers enjoy the trip. As a tour operator, I have witnessed literally hundreds of people on safari, and I know the importance of the right safari etiquette. If you are travelling to Africa for the first time, there are 3 articles I have identified that will help you with the right etiquette.

The first article is from GoAfrica – What NOT to do on Safari in Africa, where the writer gives some tips on things to refrain from doing on safari, based on her personal experiences as an Africa Travel Expert.

safari

The second article is from Sabi Sands Reserve in Kruger National Park – 5 Things not to do on a Safari, and this highlights some relevant safety tips while on safari.

Basecamp Eagle View 187

The third article is from Landlopers – 5 Things you should know before going on Safari. This article touches on some misconceptions people may have about African Safaris.

reserve-august

Drawing on my experience as a tour operator, I would recommend these 5 tips for correct safari etiquette on safari.

  • Don’t expect to see the Big Five on your first game drive – wildlife are unpredictable and there are no guarantees that you will see it all.
  • Keep your distance from the wildlife – remember these are wild animals, and will charge if they feel threatened.
  • Be aware of the people around you – refrain from shouting or talking too loudly and using your cell phone on a game drive as loud noises can scare away the animals. Muting your camera is a good practice.
  • Leave no trace – ensure you don’t throw away plastic and other rubbish in the bush, as the animals might eat and choke on it.
  • Always listen to your guide – he is responsible for your safety, while also looking out for the wildlife and the environment.

Follow these 5 simple tips to get the best out of your African safari.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination, https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/ and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .

 

AFRICA’S BEST DESTINATIONS, BY MONTH

chobe river

So your dream is to travel to Africa….but Africa is a huge continent with a vast array of landscapes, wildlife and culture, so where do you go? How do you choose? How do you make sure you are not missing out on iconic experiences? Just for you, we have, the perfect calendar for making the most of Africa, month by month, to enable you to plan your African safari.

JANUARY

TOP PICKS

wildebeest birth raggett (1) (800x533)

The Southern Serengeti & the Western Ngorongoro Conservation Area – January heralds the start of the wildebeest calving season where thousands of wildebeest are born every day, all dropping at the same time. The predator action is intense, with huge lion prides, & great concentrations of cheetah patrolling the plains, and spectacular kills can be witnessed over the following weeks.

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia – one of the coldest months on the mountain, this is a great time to visit as the skies are very clear and there is little chance of rain.

 

FEBRUARY

TOP PICKS

diani beach

Diani Beach, Kenya – Gorgeous weather with long, hot days and balmy nights, temperatures never dropping below 30 degrees C. Perfect water clarity  and visibility in the ocean. Whale sharks visit the coastline in huge numbers during this time so this is best time to see the sharks here, when out on a snorkeling excursion.

The Seychelles – after the turtle nesting season, this is the time the baby turtles hatch and scuttle back to the sea. Your chance to see this in action.

MARCH

TOP PICKS

Botswana pans

Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana – a series of pans interspersed with sandy desert , these are large salt flats, believed to be one of the largest in the world. When the rains come, they transform the dry, salty clay into a water wonderland that attracts flamingoes in their thousands as well as huge numbers of zebra.

Mt Kenya region, Kenya – warm, toasty accommodation in which to take refuge from the rains. Venture up the mountain on horseback for a lovely breakfast on the slopes of Mt Kenya.

APRIL

TOP PICKS

CHYULU

Chyulu Hills, Kenya – as this is the low season in Kenya, it is the perfect time to take a flying safari to the Chyulu Hills, which is otherwise quite costly. Enjoy the pristine wilderness, with its views of Mt Kilimanjaro and the Chyulu Hills, and interact with the Maasai people while helping them retain their heritage.

Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe – the Falls are in peak flow due to the summer rains, and the tower of spray is visible from as far away as 30 miles. The spray is so thick that it rains upwards, and through the mist, you can catch glimpses of a wall of water thundering down with a roar – truly an exhilarating experience.

MAY

TOP PICKS

elephant bedroom camp

Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya – After the rains, the reserve is lush and green & the elephants are feeling  fat and frisky, the females anticipating the arrival of the dominant musth bulls.

Botswana – the weather is perfect, with warm, sunny days and mild nights, though with a touch of chill as we head into winter. Large herds of elephants start appearing in the Chobe River, and the Okavango Delta start filling up with water. Most animals head for the Delta as the rest of the plains dry up.

JUNE

TOP PICKS

lewa marathon

Lewa Conservancy, Kenya – the Lewa marathon takes place in the Conservancy on the last weekend in June. This marathon is unique in that it is run in the Conservancy, home to rhino, elephant and a large assortment of plains game, with breathtaking views of Mt Kenya in the south, and Samburu and Mt Ololokwe in the north. It draws competitors and spectators from all over the world.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda Travelling through the rainforest in the wet season, you are subjected to constant downpours and permanent damp. Travelling in June, which is one of the drier months in the region, is more comfortable for trekking and with more sunlight coming in, you will have the opportunity to take some marvelous pictures of the gorillas.

Grumeti River, Western Serengeti, Tanzania – the wildebeest herds start arriving from the Seronera into the Western corridor, and begin to bunch up at the Grumeti River. As they start crossing the river, they provide an annual feast for the crocodiles of the Grumeti River.

JULY

TOP PICKS

maasai-mara-kenya

The Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya – the Great Migration of wildebeest begins with the first herds of wildebeest rolling in, a precursor to the hundreds of thousands to follow. As the migration season is just beginning, the Mara is not as crowded as it will get in August and you will be able to enjoy the migration, with all its dramatic river crossings, in a less crowded setting.

Okavango Delta, Botswana – the Delta is now flush with water and draws to it a huge array of game, pursued by the predators like lions, cheetahs and wild dogs. The cold and clear winter air is also great for photography.

AUGUST

TOP PICKS

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda – habitat to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, this is a good time to visit as the cool weather makes it quite comfortable for trekking.

hermanus

Hermanus, South Africa – in South Africa’s whale watching capital this is the best time to see the Southern Right whales. As these whales are extremely susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer, they shy away from the sun, and only make their way to South Africa during the winter months when the sun is weak and the waters cooler. Hermanus is best for land based whale watching as the whales come right up to the shoreline, and the cliffs offer a superb viewing point. You can also pick up whale watching cruises here.

SEPTEMBER

TOP PICKS

tarangire-safari

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania Due to the dry weather, large groups of wildlife congregate near the Tarangire River (some of the highest concentrations in Tanzania) and the park receives many elephant visitors at this time.

Namibia – waterholes and rivers are crowded with game at this time, and elephant sightings at Etosha National Park and Chobe River are high.

Namaqualand, South Africa – wild flowers start to bloom in this semi arid Northern Cape area, which is then transformed into an outstanding floral display in the desert. Every year, the flowers are different, depending on the weather, and you may want to stop at the local tourist bureau to find out where the best flower displays are. Remember flowers follow the sun, so drive backwards or with the sun.

OCTOBER

TOP PICKS

ruaha

Ruaha & Katavi National Parks, Tanzania the long, dry season is coming to an end, and the rivers are the only source of water for miles, causing wildlife to flock to the rivers. This high concentration of wildlife at the rivers make them easier to spot. While Katavi boasts of a high numbers of lions, Ruaha lays claim to the largest herds of elephants.

Mahale Mountains, Tanzania – considered the best time for chimpanzee viewing here as towards the end of the dry season, the forest paths are at their driest and least slippery, and the chimps are closest to the shore.

NOVEMBER 

TOP PICKS

LamuD

Lamu, Kenya – the home of the Lamu Cultural Festival  – a celebration of the past and the future which include fun events such as donkey races, dhow races,  traditional poetry, henna painting and bao competitions. It attracts visitors from all over the world who fall in love with its peaceful and relaxing lifestyle.

Seronera Valley, Serengeti Park, Tanzania – the migration to Mara is over and the herds are returning in search of fresh food and water. Patiently awaiting the herds, on the plains of the Serengeti are the biggest lion prides and great concentrations of cheetah.

Zanzibar, Tanzania – great diving as underwater visibility is at its best. As it is whale shark season, you may have the opportunity to swim with these gentle beasts.

Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks, Botswana – With the onset of the rains comes the migration of upto 25,000 zebra through these parks from the Boteti River in the north. Following on the heels of the zebra, are the large predators. Also with the rains, comes the birth of young animals, particularly the zebra.

DECEMBER 

TOP PICKS

The Kalahari Desert, Botswana – covered in greenery after the rains, this area is now brimming with birds and wildlife. Thousands of zebras, wildebeest, and even some buffalo arrive here, and into the mix, throw Springbok herds giving birth en masse, and predators like leopard, lion, cheetah, wild dogs and hyenas.

manta

Tofo & Barra, Mozambiquethese villages are located along the Mozambican coastline where you can see 2 species of Manta ray when diving – the Reef Manta and the Giant Manta. The number of mantas increases during the summer months and diving with the Mantas is an absolute thrill, but note you need to be a qualified diver to be able to do this as you will encounter them at depths of 20 – 30 m.

3 TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE RIGHT SAFARI OPERATOR

Choosing the right operator for your African safari can be quite confusing as there are literally thousands of them to choose from. As a participant in the Coursera and North Western University Social Marketing Program , as well as having over 20 years experience in the safari industry as a tour operator, there are 2 articles I suggest you read before making your choice.

The first article is on Wiki How  – How to Choose the Best Safari Operator for your Safari  and it gives you 5 clear and concise tips tips on the criteria you need to use to narrow down your choice of tour operator, including asking the right questions of your operator, and checking their authenticity and reputation.

lion-in-tree

The 2nd article is by Nomadic Matt  – Choosing the Right Tour Company, and although not specific to African tour operators, he shares some very relevant tips on choosing the right tour operator. He addresses the issue of responsible tourism and environmental impact, both of which are a global responsibility today.

In my experience as a tour operator, and drawing on these 2 articles, I have listed 3 critical points to consider when choosing your safari tour operator.

  • Ensure the company you sign up with is actually the company you will be travelling with – this will prevent you from falling for scams
  • Cheapest is not always best – check for hidden costs and costs not included.
  • Check the credentials of the company – most reputable companies are members of their country’s tourism association.

Follow these 3 simple tips to experience a trouble free and great African vacation.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination, https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/ and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .

 

‘World Wildlife Cup’ in the Mara Reserve

masai-mara-migration-crossing

During the months of July, August and September, all eyes turn to the world renowned Maasai Mara Game Reserve, situated in south-western Kenya, for the incredible wildebeest migration from the Serengeti to the Mara. Known as the ‘World Cup of Wildlife’, this is an incredible experience to witness and if there is ever a safari to go on, this would be it.

This is a massive movement of over 2 million animals , not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Not only do the animals have to cross the Mara River where the crocodiles are waiting to prey on them, but once they arrive in the Mara, they will be hunted down by the larger predators, lion being the most common as the Maasai Mara has one of the largest populations of lion in the world.

So how did it all start? How old is the migration? It started in the early 1970s, after a widespread immunization campaign against rinderpest in cattle led to the disappearance of rinderpest in wildebeest and buffalo. This, together with an increase in dry season rainfall, led to an increase of the wildebeest population, and the migration began spilling over to the Mara.

The migration starts in June….the red oat grass in the Reserve is so long by this time that the only animals visible are the larger animals like the elephant or giraffe, or a lone topi atop a termite mound. Although there is a stillness in the air, the lions are waiting, resting in the shade of the acacias. Then by the Sand River, can be seen small specks rising to become clouds of dust – the wildebeest have arrived! Within a few days, thousands of wildebeest are snaking through the long grass towards the Mara River.

Image courtesy of Kicheche Camps
Image courtesy of Kicheche Camps

The river crossings are spectacular and exciting, earning the attention of the media and tourists alike. The wildebeest gather on the banks of the Mara river, in greater and greater numbers. The river is filled with huge crocodiles, anticipating this bi annual feast. wildebeest migrationThe wildebeest are nervous, moving around, not wishing to be the first to plunge into the river which is filled with the sharp jaws of the waiting crocodiles.

Suddenly one wildebeest is pushed into the river, and is followed by hundreds more, swimming desperately to make the opposite shore. But many will not make it. Some will die at the hands of the crocodiles, while others will drown and still others will be trampled to death in the excitement.

There are 3 popular crossing points on the Mara River – two are in the Mara Reserve, at Little Governor’s crossing point and at Serena crossing point, and one in the Mara North Conservancy at the Kichwa Crossing point.

Once they reach the plains, it is the actual spectacle of so many animals filling the landscape in shifting columns that is awe inspiring and is a spectacle that cannot be seen anywhere else on earth.

Then the wildebeest move out to the private conservancy areas to graze the plentiful green plains and to mate. The mating ritual lasts a few days only, ensuring that all calves are born at the same time, for greater protection.

The wildebeest begin their return trek to the Serengeti in mid October, giving birth to their calves on the plains of the Ngorongoro Crater. As the area dries out and water & grass begin to get scarce, the wildebeest keep moving, again & again, and so begins another migration – trekking the vast distance from the Serengeti to the Mara. The wildebeest cover an estimated 3000 km in their annual migratory cycle, with newborns in tow.

Photo courtesy of Speke Camp
Photo courtesy of Speke Camp

Will you be one of the lucky ones to catch the migration this year?