What to Expect on Safari at Mount Kenya

What to Expect on Safari at Mount Kenya

My previous articles on Kenya traced my safari adventure which began with a layover in Nairobi followed by a bush plane transfer to Maasai Mara. Next on the itinerary – a bush plane flight northeast to Nanyuki in central Kenya. Known as the gateway to three-million-year-old, Mount Kenya, and the wilderness of Mount Kenya National Park, Nanyuki is also home to the famous Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club — Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway stayed here.

With magnificent views of Mount Kenya, the Fairmont offers 110 luxuriously appointed rooms set in over 100 acres of landscaped gardens. This more traditional, and historical inspired property is a nice compliment to the more rustic/luxury tented camps or boutique lodge experiences found in other parts of the country. The Safari Club, with its central low rise main building, is ringed by individual quaint cottages that offer more privacy. There are a variety of dining options including private al fresco dining experiences; open-kitchen restaurant, Colobus; or cozy wood paneled bar, Zebar. A wide range of services and amenities are offered from rigorous to relaxing – golf, trout fishing, spa, horseback riding, and mountain ascents, which can be combined with visits to local game reserves to continue that Kenya safari experience.

Nestled in the lush foothills of Mount Kenya, Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club is uniquely located right on the Equator, stretching into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. We were welcomed on property with an Equator Ceremony, accompanied by local Kikuyu songs and dance (and an equatorial demonstration that proves water does indeed run down the drain clockwise in the Northern side, and counterclockwise on the Southern side).

Plan to stay a few days at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club because there are plenty of excursions within a short driving distance to keep you busy. Safaris can be exhausting with early morning game drives and bush flights therefore you might want to also put a visit to the pool or the spa on your itinerary if you need a little down time or pampering.

Here are a few other day trips and experiences to enjoy in the Mount Kenya area:

Animal Orphanage:
Visit the animal orphanage, just a short walk from the hotel, for an opportunity to learn more about endangered wildlife including the Mountain Bongo, one of the largest forest antelopes known for its striking reddish-brown coat, distinctive white and yellow stripe markings, and spiraling antlers. The orphanage, located within the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, is also home to injured, neglected, abused, or frightened wild animals that are tended to with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. Rare white zebras are safe from extinction due to the orphanage’s active breeding and release program. Motivating local youth to become future conservationists is another goal of the organization, hosting over 10,000 students annually giving them one to one contact with wildlife. A stroll through the orphanage will put you up close and personal with a variety of species roaming free including friendly warthogs, tortoises, and llamas.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy:
A safari drive through this 90,000-acre ranch will give you the chance to gaze upon the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and two of the world’s last remaining northern white rhino. The conservancy’s goal is to ensure the protection of existing rhino, elephant, and other wildlife that call this landscape home. And, it is the only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy also supports the people living around its borders to ensure that wildlife conservation translates to better education, healthcare, and infrastructure for the next generation of wildlife guardians.

Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary:
This sanctuary was established as an agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service, and the Jane Goodall Institute to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from Western and Central Africa. Many were confiscated from cramped and unnatural living conditions and arrive with injuries sustained from abuse at the hands of humans. Some arrive with broken bones or bullet wounds and others are psychologically traumatized after witnessing the slaughter of their family members. At Sweetwaters, they are nursed back to health and coached to relearn the many skills necessary to survive in the wild like hunting, eating leaves off a tree, or building a sleeping nest. Some must learn to shed human behaviors such as walking upright. During your visit you will have the chance to watch the chimps as they explore, climb, socialize, and learn to be chimpanzees all over again.

I can’t forget to mention these adorable “domesticated” animals which call the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club their home. Tusker and Grammy, Canine Ambassadors, who come from a local guide dog association, don’t actually live at the hotel day and night. They are cared for by a staff member who brings them home in the evening and handles all their vet care. These precious pups take their role of welcoming guests very seriously and are available for a leisurely walk around the property.

It’s never TOO early to plan your African Safari Adventure. Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, for assistance planning a Kenya Safari itinerary and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership.

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What to Expect on Safari in Maasai Mara, Kenya

What to Expect on Safari in Maasai Mara, Kenya

Rolling grasslands, graceful acacia trees, sweeping vistas teeming with wildlife, drifting clouds, and sun filled skies. Welcome to Kenya. Home to the some of the richest landscapes and animal life.

Kenya’s most treasured natural resource is the Serengeti Maasai Mara ecosystem – its two names reflect the two countries that share this landscape: Tanzania and Kenya. In the area’s Kenyan north, the landscape varies with winding rivers and greener tint, and is less savannah-like than in the Tanzanian south. The Big Five (lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, rhino, and elephant) inhabit this region along with 500 bird species and a few dozen other mammal species including a half million gazelles, 1.3 million wildebeest, and 200,000 zebras whose famous migration crosses the border between the two countries year after year.

No matter what month you travel in, there is plenty of wildlife to experience in Kenya. Bucket list trips require advance planning, so starting several months out will enable you to select the accommodations and itinerary that matches your specific requirements. Need a general introduction to kick start your safari planning? Check out my recent article, Safari Planning Basics. Most Kenya safari itineraries include bush plane flights between several of the country’s regions including Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, and the Laikipia plateau. Kenya boasts a variety of accommodations ranging from standard hotel-style to the most lux, boutique-style tented experiences.

My recent trip began with a two-night stay in Nairobi. (Click here, to view my article on Planning a Layover in Nairobi). After our city experience, we shuttled to the local airport and boarded a bush plane for an hour flight to Maasai Mara. Upon landing, we were warmly greeted by Maasai villagers with song, dance, and refreshments before climbing into our safari vehicle to head to the lodge. (The Maasai are a semi-nomadic, indigenous tribe whose ancestral territory stretches across Kenya and northern Tanzania). The safari experience started immediately — we stopped along the way to view the wildlife and enjoy a quick walkabout.

Our home for three nights was the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, a beautiful lodge surrounded on three sides by the Mara River. The main lodge area features indoor and outdoor spaces to lounge or dine including an expansive curved wood deck that winds along the riverbank and offers excellent views to the river below.

The lodge’s bedroom tents, generously spaced throughout the lush property, are set up high along the riverbank and offer a bird’s eye view of the hippo families as they lounge along the riverbank, their ears and eyes just visible above the waterline. Each tent is outfitted with a four-poster pillow top bed, private en-suite bathroom, and outdoor verandah. The décor and furnishings reflect the local community incorporating the patterns and rich reds of the Maasai textiles. Although the sides and ceiling of the tented structure are made from canvas, once you pass through the zippered entrance, the lodging more closely resembles the personality and warmth of a finely appointed boutique-hotel suite.

Days start early on safari with continental breakfast brought to your private verandah (look for my video of a tour of the accommodations at the end of this article). Most mornings, I drank my hot coffee under the watchful eyes of visiting silvery-gray vervet monkeys eyeing my plate of biscuits. After a quick walk down the paths to the lodge entrance, we climbed into our safari vehicle stowing our day packs filled with cameras, batteries, phone chargers, and sunglasses. The safari vehicle with its pop-up top and zip-down windows, was outfitted with binoculars, charging stations, wool blankets, and a cooler filled with beverages. Not sure what to bring on your safari? Check out my article, Safari Packing Tips.

Our mornings were spent on long meandering drives across the savannah led by our experienced guide and ambassador. Kenya guides are experts in botany, ornithology, geology, wildlife tracking, and identification. Our guide would radio other guides to share logistics on interesting sightings: a mama couger playing with her cubs, a lion relaxing in the shade of an acacia tree with her young brood, vultures circling a recent kill, or wildebeest and zebra drinking together from a watering hole.

Mid-morning, a full breakfast was served on a grassy plain, under an acacia tree complete with table linens, hot coffee, and a mix of culinary delights. (Plus, a port-o-potty with a view!) With our bellies full, we continued our trek to farther savannahs and then returned to the lodge midday, for a leisurely al fresco lunch.

In the late afternoon, we set out for our next game drive. Every day on safari is unique – there is always something new to see and experience. One day, our guide pulled over to the side of the path and instructed us to quietly tip toe through the brush. Not knowing what to expect, we were mesmerized to come upon a closely guarded rhino kept company by an around-the-clock armed guard to protect against poachers. So sad that these beautiful creatures are so endangered, but happy to know there are local organizations protecting them.

One day, we visited a Maasai village and met the residents and the village elder who gave us a personal tour of his mud home and showed us how to create fire with just sticks. We wandered through their outdoor marketplace and purchased locally made crafts including wooden sculptures, intricate beaded bowls, and richly colored woven blankets. (Look for my video of the Maasai village at the end of this article).

Afternoon game drives slowly stretch out into the early evening and end with partaking in MY most favorite end of safari ritual, “Sundowners,” which is an African happy hour. What’s required? Just sitting by the glowing campfire, cocktail in hand, watching the sun slip below the horizon, and dreaming of the next adventure.

Video of Maasai Village visit
Video of Fairmont Mara Safari Club Accommodations

Ready to plan your Kenya safari? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership. I am happy to help you book your next safari adventure.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Planning a Layover in Nairobi

Planning a Layover in Nairobi

My recent article highlighted how to jump start your Kenya Safari planning. As I mentioned, a Safari requires advance planning (six months to a year is not unusual), therefore it is wise to start the research while you have some down time. As a Travel Agent, I am here to ensure that your dream trip is seamless from initial inquiry to safe return home and I can help you craft the perfect trip to suit your interests and budget.

International flights to Kenya are routed through centrally located Jomo Kenyatta Airport (JBO). Since most flights arrive in the late afternoon or evening, you will most likely need to stay overnight in Nairobi prior to boarding a bush plane at local airport Wilson. If your schedule allows, I highly recommend staying at least a night or two. Traffic can be daunting in downtown Nairobi, so an overnight stay will allow ample time between experiences and airport transfers. Plus, this will give you a chance to adjust to the new time zone and give you an opportunity to learn a bit about the country, the people, the culture and wildlife prior to embarking on safari. Here are just a few suggestions not to be missed:

Karen Blixen Museum:
“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” is the famous first line of the novel, Out of Africa, penned by renowned Danish author Karen Blixen. The farm, owned by Karen (pen name Isak Dinesen) and husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke, gained international fame after the release of the 1985 epic award-winning drama based on this autobiography. Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, it’s a must-see prior to your visit to Kenya.

Single handedly, Karen (and Streep) inspired a generation of safari goers (and safari chic!). Visit the farmhouse and Museum and step back in time to 1914 when Karen moved to Africa to marry her half cousin and carry out dairy farming in the then British Colony of Kenya. Her husband, however, changed his mind and wanted to farm coffee, which did not go well. After her divorce, Karen was left to run the financially troubled farm on her own, a daunting task for a woman of that generation. She fell in love with an Englishman, Denis Finch Hatton (Redford) and the rest I will not comment on, lest I spoil the movie.

Giraffe Center Wildlife Conservation Park:
On safari, you will of course see hundreds of giraffes in the wild, but at this Nairobi center, created by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, you will get up close and personal with the beautiful Rothschild giraffe and even have the opportunity to hand-feed this stately subspecies of the giraffe found only in the grasslands of East Africa. At the time the center was established in 1979, the animals had lost their habitat with only 130 of them remaining. This 60-acre sanctuary started with just two giraffes and now there are over 300 safe and breeding well in various Kenyan National Parks.

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:
Founded in 1977, this non-profit focuses on anti-poaching and safeguarding the natural environment, enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need, and rescuing and hand rearing elephant and rhino orphans. The Trust’s main base, the elephant orphanage, often referred to as the Nairobi Nursery, is in Nairobi National Park. As of now, the visitation to the center is closed, but hopefully will resume in the near future so you can witness the care and feeding of these lovely animals up close. In the meantime, you can support the organization by personally “adopting” an orphaned elephant.

Photo credit: Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Travel with a Purpose:
Including “Purposeful Travel” in any vacation is something easy to do. It’s about engaging in educational and mind-opening experiences that benefit both the traveler and the location, often shining a light on local communities, their needs and their accomplishments. My recent article Travel with a Purpose highlighted my visit to the Harambee Community Center, the non-profit partnership between Micato Safaris and AmericaShare, located in Mukuru, East Nairobi’s densely populated slum. During the pandemic, their school was hit hard, and students risked several months without guided learning which would significantly set back their future performance.  As an update to my article, I am pleased to report that through their Student Sponsorship Program, students were successfully connected to the online world: smartphones were distributed with access to educational apps, resources, and streaming lessons hosted by local teachers in the community. To find out more or donate, please visit AmericaShare.

Photo credit: Micato Safaris & AmericaShare

Travel with a Purpose, Part Two:
Another stop I made during my recent trip to Kenya was to learn about Huru International, which manufactures environmentally friendly, reusable sanitary pads that have been distributed to more than 175,000 girls in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Founded in 2008, this organization addresses an important issue: East African girls cannot afford sanitary pads and very often avoid school during their period resulting in missing as much as an entire month of school yearly. Girls who miss school fall behind, drop out, or even quit which leads to the endless cycle of poverty and gender inequality. Huru Kits are a simple, sustainable, and practical way to tackle this problem. The kits include a colorful drawstring backpack, eight reusable pads, three pairs of undergarments, detergent soap, and educational materials on HIV prevention and reproductive health. The items are replaced on a timely basis.

All Huru supplies are produced in their sprawling factory by women and men from underserved communities who have learned the art of industrial sewing and tailoring, along with lessons on business, finance, and entrepreneurship.  Now, in the age of Covid-19, the production facility in Nairobi is running full steam, producing much needed multilayered cloth face masks that are donated to the residents of Mukuru.

Huru also designs and manufactures lovely reusable, colorful fabric tote bags and lunch bags which we had the opportunity to purchase and bring home — a heartfelt memory of this amazing organization. For more information or to donate, please visit Huru International.

Ready to plan your next adventure? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Kenya Safari Planning Basics

Kenya Safari Planning Basics

Now that we have turned the calendar page and put 2020 behind us, it’s time to think positive, look forward and plan for future travel. It’s the perfect time to put some serious thought into a bucket list trip: an African Safari. A safari is a magical and unique experience that envelopes you in nature, culture, and history. Safaris enrich the mind, stretch the imagination, calm the soul, and encourage self-reflection. Out of the many countries our two sons have visited with us, our safari experiences definitely stand out as most memorable. This is an itinerary that requires advance planning to ensure availability in the more intimate and authentic tented camps and lodges, arrange for visas, as well as inquire about any necessary inoculations. As a travel agent, I can help ensure the entire process runs smoothly from initial inquiry, to your safe return home.

LOCATION
A relatively small country in East Africa, Kenya’s capital and central transportation hub is Nairobi. Travelers fly into the international airport Jomo Kenyatta, while connecting flights within Kenya or to neighboring countries are booked from Wilson, the domestic airport just next door. After a short stay in Nairobi (most international flights arrive in the evening), you will reach the other areas of the country primarily by bush plane. There’s plenty to explore within Kenya, but if you have more time, a Kenya safari can be booked in conjunction with a visit to Tanzania (to the south), Uganda (to the west) or Rwanda (to the south west). These countries, plus 15 others, comprise what is known as East Africa.

LANDSCAPE
When compared with popular safari destination South Africa (located in the southernmost point on the African continent,) Kenya has a more temperate climate. To learn more, check out my previous articles on South Africa Safaris: here. The further north in Kenya you travel, the drier and hillier the landscape becomes as the area doesn’t benefit as much from the rains received in the south-west of Kenya. Because it shares its longest border with Tanzania, Southern Kenya is the best place to see glacier-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

GAME VIEWING
Fantastic year-round game viewing makes Kenya a TOP safari location. Although it is a “Big 5” destination in the sense that lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino are found here, it’s difficult to see them all in the same place. Rhinos are the rarest and most difficult to find and unfortunately, due to poachers, have become a critically endangered species. Safari itineraries will often include overnight stays in Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu, Mt. Kenya, or the Laikipia Reserve in order to increase the variety of game viewing.

Kenya is the perfect place for first-time safari goers – because the land is so flat and open, it’s easy to enjoy 360-degree views and spot game throughout the year. Roads are well-maintained and English is widely spoken throughout the country. Long-standing conservation projects in Kenya also means that animals are generally plentiful and in good condition. Special relationships between tribal landowners, the government, conservationists, and safari operators mean that the needs of humans, nature, and agriculture are carefully balanced.

MAASAI MARA
Kenya’s most well known wildlife gem is the Great Migration: the 1,900-mile journey of over two million wildebeest (and zebra and gazelle) as they follow the rains over the Mara River into the Maasai Mara National Reserve where they feast on thousands of hectares of fresh grazing land. They stay for about four to five months, slowly mowing the Mara between approximately July and November when they cross back into Tanzania’s Serengeti region. (Only humans require a passport to cross this border!) The massive herds also attract large predators including lion, leopard, hyena and the occasional cheetah, therefore witnessing a “kill” on safari is most likely to occur during this time period.

Our guide took us on a bush walk to visit a rhino, heavily guarded against poachers

The main reason the Maasai Mara attracts the Migration is because its open, flat savannah dotted with flat-topped acacia trees, provides superb grazing. The wide landscape gives you that classic “safari look” with green grass turning golden as the seasons change. It’s impossible to know exactly when wildebeest will cross the Mara River – they don’t all cross in one place at the same time. Large groups can be viewed at different points and on different days. This unpredictability and sense of exploration is what makes safaris so exciting.

Subscribe to my blog to read my upcoming articles on Kenya including Safari Packing Tips, Weekend in Nairobi, and specifics on Maasai Mara, Mt. Kenya, and the Laikipia Reserve.

Need help planning your Bucket-list Trip?

It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Travel with a Purpose: Kenya

Travel with a Purpose: Kenya

Safaris are magical, otherworldly experiences, wholly unlike other journeys. Not just transported to a foreign land, you are completely immersed in nature, culture, food, history. Safaris enrich the mind, stretch the imagination, calm the soul, and encourage self-reflection. A typical day? Rise with the sun and enjoy a peaceful breakfast in the wilderness; hold your breath while a mamma lion brushes up against your safari vehicle; dance with Masai warriors upon exiting a bush plane; tour a proud village elder’s mud hut; quietly tip toe through the brush to gaze at the majesty of a carefully guarded rhino; contemplate a flawless night sky and the Milky Way stretching over the evening bonfire.

But, my recent trip to Kenya included an even MORE unique experience, thanks to Micato Safaris and its nonprofit arm, AmericaShare. A recent article in AFAR magazine reminded me of what made this safari so memorable. Our two-week travel industry familiarization trip to Kenya and Tanzania hosted by Micato included a visit to one of the organizations supported by this award-winning travel company: the Harambee Community Center. Located in Mukuru, East Nairobi’s densely populated slum, this center left an indelible impression, and reminded me that travel for enjoyment can also include travel with a purpose: to open your heart and mind and shine a necessary light on causes and people around the world.

Packed into Mukuru are 500,000 people whose daily income barely exceeds four dollars. The township lacks basic formal infrastructure, running water, electricity, and sanitation. Its residents live in tiny one-roomed corrugated iron shacks with up to twenty families sharing a communal water tap and toilet.

AmericaShare, founded over 30 years ago, is dedicated to improving the lives of the children living in Mukuru. Through education and community outreach programs, they provide disadvantaged children with access to basic education resources to facilitate sustainable change. Many children in Mukuru cannot afford to consistently attend school. While public primary school tuition fees are covered by the government, hidden costs, such as uniforms, books, and lunch fees keep children from attending.

Harambee CenterOur travel agent group was brought to the Harambee Center – it means “Let’s Pull Together” in Swahili.  The center is a multi-purpose facility – a bright and beautiful oasis of hope and green space in the middle of the Mukuru slum. A vital community center, it allows residents to gather for lectures, educational sessions, and meetings. Our visit (pre-pandemic) included a tour of the classrooms, lending library, and computer resource building. Students of all ages were seated shoulder to shoulder at tables, quietly doing homework, studying for exams, and forming study groups. The library is stocked with over twenty thousand books, including novels, textbooks, and study guides. Books are a rare gift in Mukuru; many schools do not have adequate textbooks, and novels are a luxury most cannot afford.

AmericaShare has programs aimed at helping children living in poverty remain in school, giving them the opportunity to learn as every child deserves. For every trip booked with Micato Safaris, the company sends one child to school. Now in the age of COVID-19, AmericaShare’s mission has become even MORE dire: providing protective masks and organizing food donations to help ameliorate the increasing problem of hunger, something that is running rampant worldwide. Now, keeping kids from falling behind due to the recent closure of schools is even more paramount. New rules on social distancing and the lack of smart phones, tablets, or even the internet, severely limits digital learning.

Harambee Center

Harambee CenterI was grateful for the opportunity to see this organization’s efforts in action and help shine a light on their mission. Although the residents are faced with the daily challenge of survival, our visit to Harambee included an opportunity to see the children’s commitment to education, positivity, and kinship.

Our tour ended with a jubilant musical performance by the children (see video linked below). As the singing concluded, the children enveloped us and welcomed each of us into their circle, forever leaving their mark on our hearts and our souls. To learn more about AmericaShare and make a donation click here.

Click on photo to view video:

Need help putting together your Bucket-list Trip or Dream Vacation? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Mukuru and Harambee Center exterior photos courtesy of AmericaShare.