One of the main things I discovered on my Kenyan safari adventures is that this is a collection of many different countries. The straight, cruel border was drawn by imperial powers. It separates the country from its neighbours but does little to reflect tribal lands, national identity and languages. In fact very little connects this huge and varied land aside from its given name and a made up language called Swahili.
I spent most of my time in the Mombasa area of Kenya. There is safari to be found around here in places such as the nearby Shimba Hills, or slightly further afield in Tsavo National Park. Tsavo is home to the famous man-eating lions that were immortalised in John Henry Patterson’s 1907 memoir of his time building a railroad through the heartland of the country.
Although it was the setting of a book with such a promising name as ‘The Man-eaters of Tsavo’, the safari in this part of the country was far from the best I have experienced. Though I managed to glimpse a leopard, come face to face with a few adolescent elephants and see myriad birds, deer and primates – the animals were thin on the ground and sightings were rare.
I decided to leave the sweltering Kenyan coast where the Omani empire left the indelible mark of the arabic world and head west, over miles of packed red dirt road. Eventually I arrived at the lush, cool highlands that surround the Great Rift Valley. It’s here, in the stretch of this 6,000 km trench, that the Kenyan safari adventures are arguably some of the best in the world.
Here you’ll find safari parks such as the world famous Masai Mara in the south – the homeland of those tall bejewelled warriors by the name of the Masai. Or further north on the banks of lake Nakuru, where Nakuru national park lies only two and a half hours from Nairobi. In both these parks the sheer volume of animals will amaze a first time visitor.
There are packs of buffalo and zebra 50 strong, skies coloured pink with flamingos, lakes and rivers fat with hippos and crocodiles. Of course, all this is occasionally punctuated with lions, rhino and other proud members of the big five.
Going on safari in Kenya can, unfortunately, be an expensive experience. Daily entrance fees to the national parks for non-Kenyan citizens can be as high as $80 per day. On top of that tourists can end up paying charges for vehicle entrance or even for the pleasure of using a camera within the park. Finally, food and board within the park can add up to prices that would make your toes curl.
For those of the ‘cash rich time poor’ ilk it might be best simply to organise your trip through a tour service, paying for everything up front so all there is to do is turn up on the day. Although it does make life easier this will be an expensive option and in some ways you’ll be sacrificing your autonomy. You’ll be allowing yourself to be crowded into a bus with a flock of strangers, running the risk of being blocked by a binocular wielding fanatic the one and only time a lion saunters into view.
In many ways a self-run safari excursion would be preferable. Get a couple of friends to rent a jeep, pile into the back of it, fill it with food and explore as you see fit. You can set your own pace, decide what it is that you want to see and how you want to see it.
If you visit somewhere like Nakuru from Nairobi (less than three hours drive) a one day excursion could be plenty. Get up at 4.30 in the morning and spend the day exploring. By making it back to the capital within the day extortionate in-park room rates can be avoided.
Visiting a zoo and going on safari are in no-way comparable. A zoo is a place of captivity where broken animals are paraded in front of us in a fabricated environment. A visit to the plains of Africa, no matter how organised, is still an essentially wild and authentic experience. On true Kenyan safari adventures you are given a glimpse into the day to day life of nature at it most raw. You become a part of it all, rather than simply an observer
Kenyan safari adventures are more possible than you think. Flights from London to Nairobi are less than eight hours and cost more or less the same price as flights to New York. With poaching, the relentless search for resources and the steady expansion of African cities, this wilderness may not be there forever. So now is the time to go.