By Aswathy Kumar
Kenya may have become quite notorious for petty crimes, innumerable car-jacking incidents, burglaries and what not. But when you think about this fascinating country, it is almost impossible to not think of the scenic savannah, the big five (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and black rhinoceros) and the ultimate wildlife extravaganza. Probably in everyone’s bucket list of things to do, a holiday to this wild country is sure not to disappoint.
12 hours or less
For many who visit Kenya, the city of Nairobi is nothing but a stopover before heading out to catch the big five in the grasslands of Masai Mara or the picturesque plains of Amboseli. Many of you, who stop by, simply do so because you don’t have a choice…after all it’s the city that has the international airport. But what does one do when you have an entire day to wile away. Do you simply idle away in the hotel room surfing through all the television channels or gear up to delve into the mysteries of this strange city lying in front of you?
The streets of Nairobi may obviously not compare to spending a day with the Mara lions or watching a herd of elephants grazing in the backdrop of the Kilimanjaro. But for all those who are curious to know what the capital city is all about, head out into its curious streets, as it has plenty to offer.
Now when I say head out…I definitely don’t mean grabbing your backpack and getting all adventurous. After all safety is an issue here. There are two things to keep in mind while out and about. Firstly take a cab, Nairobi is not a place to see on foot. Not only will you feel like the center of attention but the streets definitely are not pedestrian friendly with almost zero pavements. And secondly leave those credit cards back at the hotel and carry enough cash…because the city is definitely not cheap and cases of petty thefts is not unknown here.
Nairobi is indeed a dream destination if you are an animal lover. And one of the must-visit places here is undoubtedly The Elephant Orphanage. Run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife trust, the center is home to over 80 elephant calves orphaned due to drought, poaching or medical ailments. Here, it is truly heart-warming to see the little ones being bottle-fed and taken care of by the qualified elephant keepers and witness the bond between the care-givers and the infants while they indulge in a friendly ball game. The elephants at the orphanage belong to different parts of Kenya and to keep their identities and origin intact, are given an ethnic tribal name like Tusuya, Dupotto, Roi, Alamaya, Rapa amongst many others. Once the elephants become healthy, they are transferred to other centers in the region before they finally become eligible to be let out in the wild.
The best part about this orphanage that also takes care and provide shelter to the endangered rhino is that here one can sponsor an elephant or a baby rhino. Once you have officially adopted the animal, you are eligible to receive constant updates on the elephant’s well-being, growth and will also get a special alone time to spend with your fostered animal.
Right beside the Elephant Orphanage is the Nairobi National Park, one of the few places one can spot the endangered black rhino. But if you have little time and plentiful of safari adventures lined up in the next couple of days, it’s best to give this one a miss. Instead opt for the scenic Safari Walk within its premises. Similar to a zoo, the Safari Walk is home to a number of animals like the white rhino, crocodiles, zebras, ostriches, cheetah, lions and also houses a rehabilitation center for the injured wild animals. The best part of this brilliantly landscaped spot is the hour long walk over the magnificently laid wooden bridge that provides a breathtaking view of the entire National Park and the wildlife below.
Once you are done with the safari walk and done grabbing a quick bite at a nearby cafe where you can enjoy a burger while watching the gazelles grazing right outside (as the restaurant overlooks the Nairobi National Park), you can head out to one of the most widely visited places in Nairobi, the Giraffe Centre. What started as a rehabilitation center for the Rothschild Giraffe is now home to over 100 Giraffes and a few warthogs that roam around freely here. Here you can get up, close and personal with the wild giraffes, feed them and even take a selfie with one if you are lucky. One advice though, they can be quite sloppy.
For all the shopaholics, the numerous Masai markets are a great option to pick up some exquisite African artifacts hand-made by the Masai tribe. From African masks, paintings, hand-woven clothing to drums to beaded and ceramic jewelry and numerous handicrafts in wood, the markets are set up in a different location depending on which day of the week it is. Only tip: Bring on your bargaining skills.
The Tuskers of Amboseli
Though Nairobi is indeed a charming city, full of character, to get a true taste of Africa one needs to really get out of the madness of the city life and explore what lies beyond the tall buildings, traffic jams and all the chaos. Fuel up and drive just a mere 100 kilometers to either direction of the city of Nairobi to see nature at its true best.
If you decide to drive south, at about 140 kilometers from the capital city of Nairobi lies the magnificent Amboseli National Park, renowned for the famous African elephants. Amboseli is one of the most picturesque parks in the entire Savannah despite the lack of trees that makes animal spotting rather easy. Here you can see elephants in groups of ten to even thirty, from scary tuskers to adorable newborns that are indeed a vision to behold, grazing in the grasslands with the magnificent Kilimanjaro in the background.
Amboseli is usually dry and dusty. But go during the monsoon seasons of April/May to catch the breathtaking view of Lake Amboseli (a temporary lake that appears only during the monsoons). During the rainy season this lake is home to over four hundred species of birds. Along with a massive number of flamingos, here you can also see the Crowned Crane, the Black Heron, Pelican, Little Bee Eater and the Red-Billed Crane.
If you are staying in one of the luxury tents or camps situated near a water hole and not protected by any boundary wall, you are sure to see a herd of tuskers grazing or a family of baboons stopping by to drink water just by simply standing outside your balcony. Apart from the elephants that Amboseli is so famous for, it is also home to a number of other animals like gazelles, topi, eland, giraffes and lions.
Holiday on a budget
Now there is no denying that your dream Safari holiday is definitely going to cost you. Ranging from anywhere between $4000 to $15,000, a trip to Kenya can be get quite stressful on your pocket. And probably that’s the reason many stick to just a single safari destination like the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo or Samburu rather than doing it all. But if the trip to Masai Mara or any of the other national parks has simply left you with no budget but yet a stinging desire to explore more of what this wild country has to offer, then the pristine Naivasha is your best bet. Perfect for those looking for a little more within a budget, Naivasha can indeed prove to be a dream destination.
The drive to Naivasha is an experience in itself. Coniferous trees aligning both sides of the road and the large number of cows and sheep grazing on the plush green grasslands provide for a spectacular view. On your way to Naivasha, the Great Rift Valley is a must-stop. If you are lucky and there isn’t much fog covering the view, this spot can prove to be an excellent place to get a few memorable shots.
Once you cross the famous crater at Hells Gate National Park and catch a glimpse of the splendid lake Naivasha, you can be sure that you are close to your holiday spot. As soon as you enter Naivasha you can see a number of resorts and even privately owned farms that are usually open to the public. The best part of most of these resorts is that you don’t have to rent a room or stay the night to avail the number of facilities they have to offer.
The Hippo Safari provided by most of these resorts is a must-try while visiting Naivasha. In just US$ 30 your entire family can hire a boat for one whole hour and a guide who will take you around the Lake where you can see large groups of Hippopotamus soaking themselves in the cool blue waters. Though Hippos are extremely territorial and aggressive, these boat rides are very safe as the guides know to keep their safe distance.
Lake Naivasha is also home to over three hundred different species of birds like the Great White Pelican, Black Herons, Pied Kingfisher, Great Cormorant and a variety of Ducks, Geese and Eagles. In fact there are plenty of spots where you can buy fish that you may use to feed the Fish Eagles that are in plenty here. You can also use the boat and get yourself dropped off at the Crescent Island, a privately owned game sanctuary where you can walk around and see a number of animals like zebras, giraffe, water bucks and gazelles at a very close range. (But remember, you have to pay for the park fees separately.)
Once you are finished with the boat ride and are back at the resort, you can simply pull out your rug, enjoy a picnic lunch and relax while your kids can have a blast at the children’s park provided by most of the resorts for no additional cost. In short a perfect getaway for the whole family for less than 100 bucks…Priceless!