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.

10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AN AFRICAN SAFARI

  1. Accommodation

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

 

CHAMPAGNE AND CRISP MOUNTAIN AIR

Linda, tighten the reins, Clipper, keep up…….the clear voice of the head syce floated on the crisp morning air. We were on our way up the slopes of Mt Kenya on horseback….this was part of a weekend away for 4 girls and we wanted to take advantage of every possible moment.

When planning this trip, the extra activity of “Breakfast on the slopes of Mt Kenya’ caught everyone’s eye and it was a unanimous decision to book this trip as soon as we arrived at the Mt Kenya Safari Club  in Nanyuki.

We started off from the Club at 8 am this morning…the 2 syces brought out the horses and they looked impossibly high for us amateurs to mount. Luckily, the staff had foreseen this and we made use of a metal bench on the grounds to mount the horses, with lots of help from the Club staff. After some brief instructions on how to handle our horses, we were off, suitably attired in long pants, sturdy boots and helmets.

It was a gorgeous day and we walked down by the river and into the Mt Kenya National Park….a line of 6 beautiful horses, walking sedately in a line. The forest looked dark and mysterious in the morning light and we could hear lots of rustling in the trees and bushes. Don’t worry…we were told..the horses are used to the wildlife. That may be, but what about us? We surely were not used to the wildlife!!

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We rode along the trail, in single file as the horses did not like being overtaken….traits of human competitiveness? On the 30 minute ride up the mountain slopes, we saw monkeys and bushbuck, while the trail winded up and down. Being total amateurs on a horse, we were advised to lean forward while going up and lean back with heels down on the downward trails. It took a little getting used to, but after a while we got the hang of it and began to enjoy the morning ride through the forest.

The mountain remained out of sight for the entire trip up, until we came to the clearing and saw the breathtaking view of the mountain. Luckily there was no cloud cover on the mountain top and there she was, revealed in all her glory…we were indeed fortunate to have seen this beautiful sight.

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Another beautiful sight that greeted us, was a breakfast table laid for 4, complete with crystal glasses and champagne. What a lovely start to the day. On dismounting, which proved to be easier than mounting, we settled down for our delicious champagne breakfast.

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Starting us off with a fruit & muesli parfait, we then moved to eggs served with salmon. It was a perfect cloudless day, and the setting was also perfect. The staff serving us breakfast were so discreet that we felt we were alone in this forest

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setting. After we felt we couldn’t eat another bite, they brought us platters of fresh fruit with honey….sooo delicious!

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Great company, good food and the mountain in front of us…..we sat there chatting for ages, catching up on events. It felt so good to just be there, so relaxing after the difficult & stressful week we had been through. They even rigged up an outdoor toilet for emergencies, complete with sweet smelling handwash and lotion.

Finally, it was time to head back and reluctantly we made our way to the horses. Here again, I wondered how we were going to mount the horses but I had underestimated the syces….we used the base of a fallen tree and this time it was easier…..maybe we will make good horsewomen one day!

Coming back to the Club seemed shorter, as is normally the case. One of the horses got spooked by a bushbaby and began cantering wildly. Luckily the rider had the presence of mind to remember the instructions given to us at the beginning, and managed to calm her horse…..didn’t I say we were on our way to becoming good horsewomen?

Riding into Club at the end of a perfect morning was a bit anticlimactic, but I reassured myself that the mountain would always be there and  promised myself I would be back soon…..

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ARE YOU GETTING THE RIGHT ‘BANG FOR YOUR BUCK?’

Booking a safari has never been easier – simply search online for your preferred accommodation and transportation and book it…sounds simple doesn’t it? Maybe so…..but are you going to come back with the best safari experiences, or even get the best deals when you book a safari yourself? Booking with a tour operator is the ideal way to go, given that most operators have a high level of expertise in planning safaris, and years of experience in the field, but many resist this option, due to these popular myths….

It is cheaper to make the bookings yourself…..

Although there is a plethora of hotel booking sites online with excellent deals, you may not end up paying more if you book the safari with a tour operator. This is because all operators have special, preferential rates with the camps and lodges and when they package these rates together with their transport options, you may very well be paying the tour operator less for your safari than if you book online.

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You can choose the camps/lodges yourself based on your requirements…..

Most people prefer to have control of the places they book, so that these places fit in with their requirements. However most of the information on the camps and lodges may not necessarily give you the whole picture – i.e the camp may be very cosy and comfortable, and exclusive but it could be located in an area that is quite inaccessible except with a 4WD vehicle – a fact you may realize on your way there in a hired saloon car! Also the camp could be located far away from the main game viewing areas, which could cut off 2 hours of game viewing time. The operator has inside knowledge of the property, having probably stayed there and experienced these things first hand. They can advise you on the best fit for your requirements.

Everything about safaris is available online……………….

While it is true that information about most safari properties and extra activities is available online, there are some activities that cannot found on the internet and it is only the tour operator who is privy to this information. This could make a vast difference to your safari experience especially if you are coming on safari to celebrate a special occasion, like a landmark birthday, an anniversary, a proposal etc. Your tour operator can suggest activities that will lift your safari out of the ordinary, leaving you with fantastic memories.

You don’t need back up or support…………………………..

Safaris in East Africa are very specialized affairs – the caliber and expertise of your driver/guide will make or break your safari. Hiring a vehicle from a car rental company may work in other countries, but the driver you get from these companies will not be a safari driver and will not be able to guide you through the parks and reserves. Hiring a self drive vehicle will be even worse as you will not have the knowledge of driving on East African roads and in the Parks. Should there be a mishap on the roads, dealing with the police is a harrowing affair, and there is a lot of red tape and bureaucracy involved. When you book with a safari operator, they take care of all your transport arrangements…you just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

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So next time you want to book a safari, try booking through a local ground operator in the country you want to visit …..you may be pleasantly surprised!

5 Compelling Reasons to go on safari

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Kenya is the quintessential destination for a safari, with the iconic images of Amboseli National Park under the shadows of Kilimanjaro, massive elephant herds and cute lion cubs coming to mind when you think of safari. But what exactly is a safari and why should this be on your bucket list?

#1  Bonding with Friends & Family

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Who can forget magical moments flying above the earth in a hot air balloon, or the time your heart almost stopped, wondering whether the elephant is going to charge. Sitting by a roaring fire, sipping drinks and swopping wildlife stories….running away from sugar obsessed monkeys, and the early morning game drive, eyes watering from the cold wind but trying to be the first one to spot that elusive animal…yes, you will always remember these moments and the people who were with you at the time, be they partners, friends, children, parents or siblings. This will be one of the best times to bond or to strengthen existing bonds. You will also meet people from all over the world, and create new lasting friendships.

#2  Learning to appreciate Nature and God’s creations

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God has created a wondrous planet for us, and there is no better way to appreciate it then to go on a safari. Watch animals interact with their own and other species and enjoy the vast horizons and open skies. Learn fascinating facts about wild animals and their peculiarities, and meet tribespeople who have lived off the land for centuries and whose way of life is now in danger of extinction. Immerse yourself in the wilderness of Africa, gaze in awe at the rare and powerful animals and fall asleep to the sounds of nature.

#3  Help in conservation efforts

Tourism is essential to conservation as it creates the much needed income to fund conservation efforts. Local communities today, are learning to work with tourism partners to improve their quality of life, preserve their culture and co-exist in harmony with wildlife. The presence of tourists also serve as a deterrent to poachers, who are decimating wildlife at an alarming rate today, and need to be stopped before some wildlife species are declared extinct.

Wild Destinations uses environmentally responsible camps and lodges that contribute towards the well being of the wildlife as well as the local communities.

Help in the conservation of elephants by fostering an elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

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#4  Connect with your wilder side

Wake up your senses by getting close to wild animals on a walking safari/horsDSC_7683 - Version 2 (1)eback safari, or experience the thrill of the hunt watching lionesses stalk their prey. In need of an adrenaline rush? Go for a night game drive where you may encounter any of the Big Five like elephant or lion, or take a hot air balloon safari to try and spot game from the air. High octane activities like bungee jumping, sky diving, mountain biking, white water rafting and climbing the highest mountain in Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro, can also be incorporated into your safari.

#5  Learn to appreciate a different way of life

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Life on the African Plains is rooted in the land, where the people rely on Nature for their sustenance and livelihood. Feel the rhythm of a different pace of life, where the natives are unaffected by fashion trends or consumerism, and survival is uppermost in their thoughts. Connect with nature and allow your mind to expand to a new consciousness.

 

 

How NOT to book an East African Safari…

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So you have decided you want to experience an East African safari – images of savanna grasslands teeming with wildlife; open safari cruisers and stylish people outfitted in safari gear, flash through your mind, while you anticipate with great eagerness, being a part of this scene.

But, with all the information out there, it is a little daunting and one wonders where to begin?

Actually there are 4 main ways of going about booking an East African safari and here, we will ponder on the pros and cons of each.

Going it alone

The first and most obvious way that comes to mind in today’s internet dominated world is booking everything online – from the flights to the accommodation and vehicle.  It seems quite simple – check online for places that appeal to you, string together a few of national parks and reserves and come up with an itinerary that works in theory. Add to this, the international flights and a car hired from an online car hire company and you’re on your way….right? Wrong….its not that easy. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons

PROS – Accommodation has never been cheaper or easier to book than in today’s digitalized world. There are literally thousands of hotel sites where you can book your accommodation cheaply and even get to see pictures of the hotel, rooms and surrounding areas. Most of them even have an option to cancel without any penalty upto a few days before travel.

CONS – Although you can see pictures of the property, and facilities on the hotel accommodation websites, it is difficult to get an exact sense of the property until you arrive there. Oftentimes, the property does not match your requirement and it would be too late to change once you have checked in. A very important fact about the property that is difficult to judge from online booking sites, is the location of the property – is it in a safe location, is it near to where you want to be, how accessible or remote is it, what is the security in the area like, what is the proximity to the prime game viewing spots. You don’t want to end up with a scenario where the beautiful property you are staying at is so far away from the wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara Reserve that it takes you 2 hours just to drive there, and you have to leave the Reserve by 4 pm so as to make it out of the Reserve before the park gates close, so you only get one or two hours of game drives.

PROS – Flights also are easy to book online – Choose the airline, the day & time of departure, and  add on all sorts of extras like extra baggage, seat selection & meal selections.

CONS – If you buy your airticket online, normally this works well, but in the case of any changes to be made, like postponing your return, or missing your flight etc, it can be challenging to work with the airline ground staff.

PROS –  As most car rental companies are online now, you can hire the car you want and have it waiting for you at the airport when you arrive.

CONS – Hiring a vehicle in any other part of the world usually works well for getting around on holiday, but in the East African region, it can be a little tricky driving around on your own. Roads are not the best, GPS does not work well and one has to be an experienced bush driver to navigate the roads in the national parks and reserves. The traffic police in East Africa are some of the most corrupt in the world, there aren’t proper road signs and the local buses (matatus) do not observe any traffic laws and are allowed to get away with literally anything…basically traffic rules will apply to no one else but you.

Online search for an operator

The second way to book a safari, is by searching online for a tour operator to handle your accommodation and transport arrangements. This could be done either on Google etc, or companies that advertise on social media.

PROS –  Working with a ground operator is the best when it comes to booking an East African safari. Most operators have preferential rates with lodges and are also more knowledgeable about the lodges and camps here. Given your requirements, they should be able to come up with a good match for you.  Also the operator takes care of the transportation end, sending a driver with you on safari, who will also act as your guide and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.Sangeetha leopard

CONS –  The risk here is that you may be dealing with a thoroughly unprofessional company and you will only find out when you get here, by which time you have already paid them a chunk of your money and it is too late to cancel. Some companies employ driver/guides who are not trained and are very unprofessional. As your driver is the most important factor in safari (he can literally make or break it), you need one that is knowledgeable about the flora, fauna and geography of the Parks and Reserves, is a safe & experienced driver and has your best interests at heart.

Using an all inclusive operator

The third way would be to book a safari with an inclusive operator, based in the West. Such operators offer a certain number departures per year, with fixed dates and a minimum number of participants. The trip would also include the airfare to East Africa.

PROS –  This method of booking a safari takes all the guesswork out of the equation – you know exactly where you will be travelling to, and who your companions throughout the safari will be. As the international airfare is also included, you really don’t have to bother checking with flights etc, it really is a one stop shop.

CONS –  As the itinerary and dates are fixed, there is no room for flexibility here. You will have to plan your trip according to the dates of the group tour, and can only visit the places that the group tour visits. Travelling in a group can be challenging, especially if there are personality clashes and/or issues with game viewing preferences etc. Some operators work with only a few lodges and camps so you may not have a good choice of accommodation.

Using a recommended local agent

The fourth and most recommended way is to book through a tour operator that has been referred to you by a friend, colleague or family member.

PROS – Since the agent has been recommended to you after a trip has been done, you can rest assured that the agent is above board and all the promised services will be delivered. As you are in touch with the agent who is based in East Africa, you can work closely with them to craft the best bespoke experience for you, based on the agent’s recommendations and your requirements. You will thus get to enjoy properties that may be off the beaten track, or small exclusive properties and will get a more customized experience.

CONS –  Costs may be a little higher as you are creating a bespoke safari for yourself, but in the end, this will pay off and you will have the best experience.

What are your thoughts on the above? Have you had any issues booking with the any of these methods? Please share your comment and thoughts with us.