Goway Africa Expert Kelley Cleaveland recently returned from Kenya. Here we ask Kelley to answer some questions regarding her experience and to share some tips and insight about visiting and selling Kenya to clients.
Where did you travel in Kenya?
Our trip followed the general outline of the Kenya Odyssey, starting in Nairobi and then traveling north to Samburu National Reserve, Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru & Lake Elementaita, Masai Mara and then back to Nairobi.
Where is Kenya and how does one get there?
Kenya is located on the east coast of Africa, just north of Tanzania and just south of Somalia & Ethiopia. We flew non-stop on the new Kenya Airways service from JFK to Nairobi, but from North America you can also fly via Europe or the Middle East.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Kenya is?
That the only thing worth seeing is the Masai Mara. This could not be more incorrect! Samburu National Reserve in the north is beautiful and packed with incredible wildlife. Mount Kenya is a whole other landscape, at a higher elevation with the stunning, snowcapped peak of the mountain dominating the skyline. And while Lake Nakuru used to be famous for its massive population of bright pink flamingos, most have moved on to different lakes since the rise of the lake’s water levels has lessened the alkalinity of the water in Nakuru. However, we saw 11 rhinos while doing our game drive in the part – many of them much closer than is usual.
What was your favourite hotel / lodge and why?
Mount Kenya Safari Club by Fairmont was definitely my favorite. It is such a beautiful & unique property, with a lot of history and beautiful grounds. It started out as a private residence, then converted to an inn, then bought by actor William Holden & his friends to create the “Mount Kenya Safari Club”, which boasted many rich & famous members over the years. The property is now managed beautifully by the Fairmont group and it oozes luxury. Immediately upon arrival you are greeted with hot towels and cold juice and made to feel right at home. The service is excellent, the rooms beautiful, the food plentiful and delicious and the expansive grounds well-manicured and accessible. I especially loved the animal orphanage on site, where we got to interact with orphaned and injured animals like ostrich, bongos, warthogs, zebra, monkeys, rock hyrax & bush bucks. We also go to see their two cheetahs & two leopards (safely behind fences).
What was your favourite highlight of the trip?
The hot air balloon safari over the Masai Mara. This unique experience cannot be beat! If you ever have the opportunity to go up in a hot air balloon I cannot recommend it highly enough. They can be a bit costly, but well worth every penny. Getting to see the sunrise over the Masai Mara, while floating quietly over the plains was a truly magical experience.
As a Goway Africa Expert, was there anything that surprised you?
Not really. Kenya really delivers on its reputations as a beautiful, friendly country with world class safari game viewing.
What area would you recommend if clients wanted to extend into another country?
Tanzania is an easy combination with Kenya, especially since the Masai Mara connects to the Serengeti, where the game viewing is also world class. Or, if you want to rest and relax on a beach after your safari, there are non-stop flights from Nairobi to Zanzibar and Seychelles.
Are there any tips about travelling to Kenya that agents might share with their clients to make their trip even more enjoyable?
Pack light! Whether you are traveling overland in a 4×4 vehicle or flying around on small planes, the less you luggage you have the better. Our group seriously over-packed and we ended up being hemmed in with the bags that did not fit in the back of the vehicle. Most lodges offer laundry service and at the end of the day you really don’t need much in the way of clothing while on safari.
Do you have a favourite local dish?
We really did not eat much local food, as the lodges mainly served more Western/European dishes. One local food that we did get to try was ugali, which is a cornmeal starch made into a thick paste (kind of looks like mashed potatoes, but denser) and is a staple dish for most Kenyans. It is filling and a good source of easy carbohydrates, eaten with cooked vegetables and/or meat.