Kenya Safari Basics, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in Sepember 2002
A beautiful lilac-breasted roller (bird) in Kenya's Samburu Park, 16-second video clip

Many expatriates in Egypt opt to capitalize on their close proximity to East Africa by taking one or more safaris and/or beach holidays there.  Because Kenya is often the destination initially selected, this article  will deal only with that country.  A future article will compare the various safari and other opportunities for tourists in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe/Botswana and South Africa.

GETTING THERE:  The best airfare is obtained by flying the same airline round trip.  Egypt Air flies nonstop to Nairobi twice weekly, while Kenya Airways operates four flights to Nairobi weekly via Khartoum where there is a 45-minute stop in transit.  (Disembarkation at Khartoum is allowed only for those passengers ending their journey there.)  Both airlines offer overnight southbound flights from Cairo to Nairobi.  While Egypt Air's nonstop flights are more convenient, Kenya Airways offers two advantages.  Kenya Airways provides an early evening northbound return flight while Egypt Air departs Nairobi in the morning.  Thus Kenya Airways passengers can avoid the expense of a final hotel night in Nairobi.  Additionally, because Egypt Air does not fly to any destination in Kenya other than Nairobi, Kenya Airways offers the cheapest airfare to Mombasa and elsewhere on the Kenya coast.

THE SAFARI:  A Kenya safari holiday is normally six nights or longer in duration and includes a visit to at least two game reserves and a lake resort in the Great Rift Valley.  Other options include a visit to one of the tree hotels near Mt. Kenya, an overnight in Nairobi and/or a visit to Mombasa, Malindi or Lamu on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast.  In addition, of course, a visit to Kenya may be combined easily with a beach holiday in the Seychelles or with a visit to another African destination served by Kenya Airways (Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, etc.)

Both lodge accommodation and luxury tents are available in Kenya.  Luxury tented accommodation, which costs no less than staying in a lodge, features all of the facilities of a regular hotel room, including furniture, shower and flush toilet.  A much less expensive option is a basic tented group camping safari.  While the animals are the same no matter where one sleeps, the group camping safari departure dates don't mesh perfectly with the flight schedules from Cairo.  This usually necessitates extra hotel nights in Nairobi.

Whether one stays in lodges or tents, the normal safari routine generally includes three game drives in each game reserve.  Morning game drives are taken after an early breakfast, and afternoon game drives are taken around 4 p.m.  The drives typically last anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on one's mood and one's luck.  The animals tend to be active, drinking and feeding, in the morning and late afternoon.  In the middle of the day, while the animals are asleep, visitors relax or take a dip in the pool.

THE GAME RESERVES:  Masai Mara is considered Kenya's premier game reserve.  A rolling grassland beautiful to behold, the Mara plays host to the great migration every summer when millions of animals, chief among them wildebeeste, migrate north across Tanzania's Serengeti plain into Kenya's Masai Mara.  There is still game aplenty after the animals have returned to the Serengeti by early autumn.  A visit to Masai Mara is usually combined with a visit to either Amboseli Game Reserve or Samburu Game Reserve.

Samburu, on the other hand, is somewhat drier than Masai Mara although it too is rich in game.  In fact, Samburu boasts some species of animals seldom seen outside Kenya's North.  These include the gerenuk (a long-necked gazelle which feeds while standing up on its hind legs), the reticulated giraffe and Grevy's zebra with its thin stripes.  The primary attraction of Samburu for many, however, is leopard.  In Samburu several of the lodges bait leopard in the evening; so, with luck, visitors can watch the nighttime predator come to feast on scraps of meat under floodlights.

Amboseli is situated in a dry lake bed.  The wildlife inhabiting this reserve seeks sustenance near several small streams which run through it.  The primary attraction of Amboseli is its proximity to 19,340-foot (6,447-meter) Mt. Kilimanjaro which lies just across the border in Tanzania.  With luck, visitors are able to photograph game animals with thes.  The long rainy season stretches from late March until early June while the short rains occur from mid-November until early December.  Rain usually occurs in short downpours after which the sun reappears.

Contrarian travelers may benefit by traveling in the long rainy season.  During these months there are fewer tourists and less dust.  In addition, from April through June lodging rates are usually discounted up to 15%.  During the rainy seasons one should expect to encounter all of the species but perhaps lesser numbers of each species.

Sitting astride the equator which passes north of Nairobi, the temperature in Kenya does not change much over the course of the year.  Rather, temperature is a function of altitude.  For instance, because Nairobi and Masai Mara are a mile high, they offer a combination of warm days (when short sleeves and short pants are appropriate) and cool nights (when a sweater or a light jacket is appropriate).

Nairobi's average high temperature varies between 81 F./27 C. (March) and 73 F./23 C. (July-August).  Nairobi's average low temperature varies between 55 F./13 C. (January-February) and 59 F./15 C. (April-May).  Average rainfall in Nairobi varies from 1 inch/3 cm (July-September) to 8 inches/20 cm (April).

VISAS AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS:  Citizens of the U. K., the U. S., Canada, Egypt and most other countries require tourist visas to visit Kenya.  It is recommended that tourists to Kenya be up-to-date in their yellow fever vaccination.  In addition, a prophylactic for malaria should be commenced at least one week prior to arrival in Kenya and should be continued for four weeks after returning.  The web site of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control,, is an excellent resource regarding health requirements for international travel.

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  Web site:

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