Kenya Tanzania Trip Report November 2010
PART 1: OL DONYO WUAS
This was our first safari trip to both Kenya & Tanzania. After exclusively traveling to Southern Africa, being able to visit East Africa twice in one year (Uganda, Feb.) was very special. This trip was much more similar to our Southern Africa trips, as opposed to Uganda, but East Africa is still a unique destination. The people in East Africa are extremely friendly, and by the end of our trip we felt like the little bit of Swahili we had learned became second nature in our vocabulary.
For us, the meat and potatoes of every good safari is being able to view wildlife. In that regard, this trip was at the very top. Going on a safari in many ways is like a fishing trip. You never know what to expect and often times the results surprise you. Not only did we see a great abundance of game, but the quality of the sightings was excellent. For 4 years we hadn’t been able to see a hunt on any of our trips, but we were lucky enough to see several this time around.
We arrived in Nairobi and met with a representative from Origins Safaris (Our choice of safari operations for East Africa), and headed out from the airport toward the Norfolk Hotel. Nairobi is a pretty city, especially with the jacarandas in bloom, but if you’re ever there for an extended period of time beware the roundabouts. We also suggest hiring a driver, as the traffic can get ugly. We arrived at the Norfolk in the late afternoon and took the opportunity to get in a quick nap before dinner. We’ve been known to sleep away the entire first day, but luckily we forced ourselves to grab something to eat at the Tatu; one of the Norfolk’s restaurants. The food was excellent. In a trip full of delicious food, we may have had the best meal at our first stop.
Day 2 & 3 – Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills
Our first stop on the safari was Ol Donyo Wuas, about an hour flight south of Nairobi. The camp has a wonderful location in the Chyulu Hills near Amboseli National Park and if you’re lucky, within sight of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately for us in the two days we were there we could just barely see the outline of the mountain as it was not clear enough. Despite this inconvenience we had a wonderful time at Ol Donyo. The game viewing here wasn’t as good as it has been in the past due to the recent draught which had killed a lot of the animals. But even without that aspect, this is a special camp. The surroundings are beautiful and they have a long list of activities that make it an excellent spot to stay multiple days.
Here’s a view from our room. As you can tell the room is nice as well as the view and there’s a small plunge pool that’s frequented by quite large agama lizards.
Ol Donyo Wuas has a partnership with Ride Africa. They maintain a very nice stable at a distance to the camp, which allows them to take clients out on horseback rides. There are different types of rides for people with varying levels of proficiency on horseback.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in Texas grows up riding horses so we stuck with the beginner course. Nonetheless this was an enjoyable experience, especially being able to experience the bush in a new way. Unfortunately, the camera was a bit fragile for horseback especially considering Jason’s novice horseback status, so only a few photos were taken.
We also took mountain bikes out with a Maasai guide on an evening ride, another new bush experience for both of us. Even though for the most part there was little elevation change on our route, it got quite challenging at times because the area is spotted with old lava flows. Over time, the flows have been ground up into fine black sand that make getting traction somewhat difficult.
PART 2: ELEPHANT BEDROOM CAMP
Day 4 & 5, Elephant Bedroom Camp – Samburu
After a couple hours of flights, we arrived in Samburu and met our guide for the remainder of our stay in Kenya. Ironically, Jason had been to Kenya once before about ten years ago working at the Taita Discovery Center in Tsavo and the same guide, Edwin, was working there! What a small world.
The climate here is significantly different then what we had experienced in the Chyulu Hills. It was hotter, dryer, and a bit dusty when we arrived. The tents were nice and large with two beds and another plunge pool out on the deck, although this one was much smaller then at Ol Donyo. The first game drive was fantastic. Within half an hour we spotted six lions.
Even though it may look like a group of females, the males in this area do not grow manes. This is a mixed group of what we were told was four females and two males. Before the day was over we were treated to a few leopards. It was quite dark so only a few photos came out well.
Luckily we were able to spot these two leopards the following day with a bit better light. Apparently the mother had killed an impala a few days before and they had been hanging around the same area with plenty of food to eat.
PART 3: LEWA DOWNS AND MBWEYA
Day 6 – Lewa
We left early in the morning for Lewa Safari Camp. The drive was about an hour and a half during which we gained approximately 5,000 ft in elevation, making it much cooler then Samburu.
On our afternoon game drive, the action started almost immediately as we came across 3 lions walking toward us on the road. We followed them a little ways as they found a spot to sun themselves.
Lewa is definitely a spot to see rhino as well, and we did manage to see a crash of three at a distance and one up close. Unfortunately the photos did not come out well enough to publish. We also came across two male cheetahs just as the sun went down. Our guide said they looked distressed, and sure enough they were calling out for their brother. Luckily after a little while we heard him calling as well. Following a nice reunion they promptly vanished into the night.
Day 7 Mbweya – Lake Nakuru
We got to witness an interesting spectacle as we were leaving Lewa early in the morning. There had been a moderate rain the night before which triggered millions of termites to come out of their nests and attempt to fly off. Seeing as it was the morning when this happened and not at night, the termites were sitting ducks for a multitude of hungry birds. If any made it out alive, we didn’t see them. The birds were amazingly efficient in snatching every last termite.
The drive to our next stop, Lake Nakuru, was quite long and at times very bumpy. The drive took us through the heart of the Rift Valley. I believe we crossed the equator at least nine times on a twisting road. We stayed at Mbweya Lodge, which is actually a short distance outside of Nakuru National Park.
Nakuru is quite a large park and there’s plenty of variety to spend at least a couple days in the area without being repetitive. Due to our time constraints we only had one drive through the park but it proved to be extremely productive. Of course we had to make a stop at Lake Nakuru to see the famous flamingos.
There had been a healthy amount of rainfall in the weeks preceding our visit so the water level was nice and high and flamingos were plentiful. In close proximity to the lake, we ran across this lone rhino as well.
PART 4: MARA PLAINS – MAASAI MARA
Days 8 & 9 – Mara Plains – Maasai Mara
Mara Plains Camp, our first in the Maasai Mara, was one of the nicer camps we stayed in this trip.
The room was quite large, opening up to a little stream that surrounds the camp. This meant we had to cross a bridge each time we came to or left the camp. At the time we thought the bridge was a bit wobbly, but it would prove to be the widest and most stable one we came across all trip.
Our original plan was to drive inside the park but Mara Plains camp has access to a private conservancy that actually has some of the best game viewing in Kenya. There are huge numbers of animals here. Large herds of wildebeest, buffalo, and giraffe. All types of antelope, topi, impala, reedbuck, gazelle, hartebeest. We saw a few elephants as well and, perhaps best of all, hardly any other vehicles. All of this game makes this conservancy have the largest concentration of predatory cats in the country. In fact, minutes out on our first game drive we spotted a large pride of 10-11 lions. We watched them nap, play and hunt.
We got to see these two pregnant lionesses trying to hunt just before this photo was taken. Unfortunately they were far too slow to catch any of the wildebeest that they tried to ambush.
Two of the three cheetahs we saw on the plains. They weren’t kidding about the density of predators here; it was an embarrassment of riches.
Day 10 – Mara Intrepids
Early the next morning we left for Mara Intrepids. Because it was so close we basically just went on a long leisurely game drive on our way there. We managed to see a few sleeping lion and a monstrous crocodile.
We didn’t get to see too many crocs but the ones we did manage upon all seemed to be super-sized. They obviously get a consistent supply of meals. We also came across quite a large pack of hyena, about 15. They were calling each other and fighting over a few bones from an old zebra kill. You can really tell how strong their jaws are when they settle down and begin chewing on one of those bones!
Mara Intrepids was quite nice and a bit different then what we’re used to. They had large buffet meals with quite varying cuisine. Big tents that seemed like small hotel rooms right on the river, although our part of the river was a bit smelly because of the hippos! The camp is quite a good spot for families as well, there’s even a jungle gym and learning center near the entrance to the camp.
PART 5: SERIAN AND LEMALA MARA
Day 11 – Serian Camp – Mara North
We were quite close to our next stop, Serian Camp in the Mara North Conservancy, so we decided to go on a game drive for the morning and have a picnic brunch while we tried to see a river crossing. We got quite side tracked on the way to the river though. Luckily we stumbled upon a mother cheetah, Shakira, and her six cubs! These cats are apparently stars of the BBC show Big Cat Diaries so it was quite a treat for us just to see them. As she walked along we watched the cubs playing with each other, chasing and tackling around and underneath other vehicles. It was quite a sighting, even before the hunt began. That’s right, Shakira decided that this morning she would hunt for us! We watched as she stalked a few herds of Thompson’s Gazelle but she seemed to be quite nonchalant about the whole thing. Maybe the gazelle’s thought the same, as they were aware of her presence but didn’t feel threatened enough to run away. We moved our vehicle up ahead a little bit and just as we stopped she took off like a bullet! The entire scene only lasted seconds but was quite surreal. Once the gazelle was down the cubs came out of their hiding spots, trotted toward their mother and had a nice meal.
We realized that it was quite late in the morning and we would have to hurry if we wanted to see a wildebeest crossing so we left the cheetah family to their meal. Unfortunately we would not see a crossing on our final day on the Mara. We did manage to see some crocs though.
Our final day on the Mara continued to surprise us as we came upon a lion mating with three lionesses. Other photos were taken but I don’t think the lions would approve! We did finally get to see some male lions with full manes, which was nice.
So we finally began our trip to Serian camp for lunch. They have a lovely spot on a rocky portion of the river. The room was large with two queen sized beds and the bathroom was actually not connected to the bedroom. This could make for a bit of a scary night!
The northern conservancy was very beautiful, nice and green with short grass because the migration had just mowed the lawn so to speak. We spotted plenty of elephant and a couple sleeping lion near the end of our evening drive.
Day 12 & 13 – Lemala Mara
This morning we actually had a flat tire on the way to the airstrip! Luckily there was a second vehicle heading toward the airstrip which we flagged down and hitched a ride with. All for naught though, as our guide was quick enough to change the tire and meet us at the airstrip before our plane had even arrived.
Travel between Kenya and Tanzania is a bit drawn out unfortunately, as you can only fly into Kilimanjaro airport internationally. After about 4 connecting flights we did arrive in Kogatende and made it to Lemala Mara just in time for dinner. The flies were quite bad around Lemala because of the wildebeest, but they didn’t make their way inside tents so sleeping and meals weren’t a problem.
On our morning game drive we finally got to see a river crossing, albeit a small one. There was a large herd of wildebeest, but only a few of them decided to cross. Our guide said this was rare as most of the time every last wildebeest will join the crossing.
Just after the river crossing we got to see this big guy chasing an injured zebra. For some reason he gave up and took a nap after mangling the poor zebra quite badly.
Lemala itself was quite different than any of the previous camps on our trip. It is somewhat of a mobile camp, which moves between two spots based on where the migration is at the time. There were bucket showers, but still flush toilets. The tents were surprisingly large for a mobile tent as well. As always, the food was excellent!
PART 6: SERENGETI, NGORONGORO, AND ARUSHA
Day 15 – Soroi Serengeti
The next morning we made our way to Soroi and on the way stopped for lunch and a game drive in the central Serengeti area known as Seronera. The game was fantastic. Cats everywhere (our favorite)!
We saw a huge pride of lion with a recent buffalo kill – a bit too graphic to show the kill itself but there were some young lion around that we thought were quite nice looking.
Later on we stumbled upon a leopard that was walking out in the open from one tree to another. Unfortunately the grass was quite high in the area, and the tree the leopard chose was too far to get a good photo. A little bit after this we saw 3 cheetahs under a tree in the distance. Our guide said it was a mother with two mature cubs. To add to all these cats we saw 6 more lion and another cheetah, but most of the Serengeti is roads only so we couldn’t get close enough for good photos. This was my only complaint in the entire area. There were very few roads and large wide open spaces where the game would hide.
Soroi itself was a wonderful camp. The rooms were large with amazing views and outside showers on the balcony, which were interesting to say the least! Each of the rooms was similar, but a little different, which was nice as well.
Day 16 & 17 – Ngorngoro Crater Lodge
We left quite early in the morning for the Ngorongoro crater. On the way we stopped by Seronera again to do a quick game drive. Once again we saw the large pride of lion that had killed the buffalo near the road. The males were out of hiding this morning which was a nice surprise.
We had heard quite good things about the crater lodge and the crater itself. So we were very much looking forward to arriving. The drive was a long one but well worth it. The views from around the edge of the crater were lovely.
The lodge itself was everything it was billed up to be. Extravagant rooms, personal butler, fantastic food. A full (nice and hot) bath was drawn and ready when we got into the room which we thought was a nice touch. There was also a little bit of wi-fi service at our room, although there was a much stronger signal in the lounge area. We arrived too late to go into the crater, but had a full day crater drive starting the next morning. Our dinner was, as mentioned, fantastic and the staff sang and danced for us which seemed quite enjoyable to most of the guests.
In the morning we set off for the crater drive. We were expecting a quite steep journey but it wasn’t too bad. Our guide said it can be quite interesting with larger vehicles or after it has rained. We really couldn’t believe how dense the animal population was on the crater floor. We did manage to see a black rhino from a distance. There are apparently about 15-20 black rhino in the crater, which is 19 kilometers in diameter.
Not only were there large herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and antelope but the crater also claims to have the highest cat density in Africa. I for one believe them. We lost track of how many lion we saw and I thought we were coming across the same ones a few times, but each time our guide said it was a new and different pride.
At one point we came across this lion, she seemed to be stuck in the tree. Her only way down was into a deep ditch which she seemed determined not to jump into.
Unfortunately our time was up and we had to make our way out of the crater. Once again, the drive out was steep but not too crazy and the views were wonderful.
Day 18 – Arusha Coffee Lodge and Departure
After a wonderful safari, our journey was coming to an end. We left the crater for our drive to the Arusha Coffee Lodge. Once we arrived we were greeted with some iced coffee, which was a welcomed change from the typical fruit juice. Neither of us are true coffee drinkers, but just trying it here made us both think about what we were missing.
The rooms were once again quite large with lots of space. We were just on the edge of the wireless internet range in our room, which was also quite nice.
The coffee lodge seemed like the perfect place to sit and relax before or after a nice safari. We had a wonderfully relaxing time and a great end to our journey.