The Most Important Travel Info for East Africa – What You Need to Know in 2024

The Most Important Travel Info for East Africa – What You Need to Know in 2024

Are you planning a journey to the breathtaking lands of East Africa? From the sprawling savannas of the Serengeti to the lush jungles of Uganda, East Africa offers stunning landscapes and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

Whether you’re still in the dreaming stage or you’ve already taken the leap and booked your trip, you’re in the right place because I’m going to share with you the most important East Africa travel tips you need to know before setting off. 

To enjoy a safe and smooth trip, it’s essential to arm yourself with the right information. In this guide, we’ll cover the most important things you need to know to make the most of your East African trip.

Elephants walking infront of Mt Kenya

General Information

Language: Swahili and English

Sunrise and Sunset: 6:30 am – 6:30/6:45pm

Currency: Tanzania – Tanzanian shilling, Kenya: Kenyan shilling, US dollar is generally accepted especially within the tousim industry, make sure notes are not torn or marked and are from 2006 or later.

Food: The ‘national dish’ is Ugali which is maize flour ground and cooked into a stiff porrage like substance, served with either meet (goat, beef, chicken or fish) or beans and spinach. Nyama choma is also a favourite which is BBQed meat. There is plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, including coconut, mango, bananas etc

Water: it is not safe to drink the tap water, buy bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth

Money: Make sure you alert your bank that you are travelling, there are ATM’s that accept both Mastercard and Visa available in big towns but not generally in the villages, be sure to withdraw the cash in the big towns (Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Stone Town, Nairobi etc) before you travel further out. There is usually a daily withdrawal limit of around $200 depending on the bank. Credit cards can be used but generally they will add on a 5% fee.

Tipping: Tipping is customary in East Africa, the amount is up to you but the recommended guidelines is $10-$15 USD per person per day to your driver/guide. $5- $10 USD to your transfer driver. $5 -$10 USD per shared room per night in the general staff tip box.

Electricity: East Africa uses the 3 pin British plug. The voltage is 220-240V, 50Hz. If your devices use less voltage than 220 then you will need to check if it work on dual voltage, if not you will need a voltage converter.

Prints Across Africa

Discover the Best Time to Travel to East Africa

When is the best time to visit East Africa? This is a really important question because the timing of your East African adventure can greatly influence your experience. The region experiences two primary seasons: the dry season and the wet season. 

The dry season, which typically runs from June to October, offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities as animals gather around the limited water sources. However, this period also tends to be the peak tourist season, meaning higher prices and more crowds. 

There are actually two wet seasons. The short rains in November and December, and the long rains from mid-March to May. In the middle, January and February are usually dry, but there’s still a chance of rain. The rainy seasons showcase the landscape in its most vibrant hues, as well as bringing fewer crowds and offering lower prices.

First-timers usually go during the dry season, while it’s more common for people who’ve been on safari before to try a slightly different experience by going during the wet season. 

One of the biggest potential problems of going during the wet season is that the rain may cause bad road conditions, which, at times, could lead to certain areas being off-limits and a chance of you getting temporarily stuck in the mud. 

On the plus side, by going during the wet season, you’ll get to see East Africa’s incredible, lush green landscape at its awe-inspiring best. The downside is that it reduces the number of animals you will likely see, as they don’t all need to huddle around the same pool of water.

The Most Important Travel Info for East Africa

Weather and Seasons: What to Expect in East Africa

So, we’ve covered wet and dry seasons, but what else can you expect from the weather in East Africa? East Africa’s weather varies depending on the region, but in general, the climate is tropical, with temperatures averaging between 21°C to 29°C (70°F to 85°F) throughout the year.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking Africa is always hot. Higher elevations, such as those found in the Kenyan highlands, can experience cooler temperatures. When I lived in Lewa I would go on safari in the mornings and evenings with a woolly hat and down jacket and also have a shuka (blanket) wrapped around me.

Safari in Kenya

By the time the sun came out, it was warm and I would be down to shorts and a t-shirt.

Safari influencer services

The dry season typically brings sunny days and cooler nights, while the wet season sees short, intense bursts of rain, often in the afternoons.

Navigating Your Journey: How to Get to East Africa

Getting to East Africa is relatively straightforward, with major international airports in cities like Nairobi (Kenya),  Kilimanjaro Airport (Tanzania), and Entebbe (Uganda). Many international airlines offer direct flights to these hubs from major cities around the world. 

Once in East Africa, the quickest way to get around is by domestic flight or with your safari provider, who will drive you from lodge to lodge. Buses are not generally recommended, as they can be quite dangerous. 

There are a few train options, but only with limited destinations. For example, there is a train from Arusha to Dar es Salaam and another from Dar Es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi (Zambia) which runs twice weekly. 

In Kenya, there is a twice-daily train from Nairobi to Mombasa which also stops at Voi, in Tsavo National Park. This is a cheap (but long) alternative to get to the coast. Once in Mombasa, you can get a taxi to Diani or Watamu or, of course, stay in Mombassa. 

If you’re going to East Africa on a safari holiday, you will most likely get all the travel and transportation information from your safari provider. Most safaris include picking you up from the airport and dropping you at your first hotel (usually in the town, Arusha, Nairobi or Kigali) and then a guide picking you up to start your safari the next day. 

Most safari companies use a long-wheelbase Land Cruiser with a pop-up roof. The vehicle seats 6 people in the back (everyone with a window seat) and can also hold one extra in the front seat at a push. 

Land cruiser pop up roof

Itineraries typically include a step-by-step breakdown of each step of the trip, whether you will be driving, flying or even getting the train.

If part of your journey is with a domestic flight your plane will look something like this:

Or even this if you are on a chartered flight:

Bush plane

As a result, your luggage will be restricted to 15/20kg in a soft-sided luggage bag. Read the post What to pack for an African safari for recommendations on luggage.

Essential Documents for Your East African Adventure

Before jetting off to East Africa, ensure you have all the necessary documents in order. If you’re not well prepared, you may end up facing a lot of unnecessary issues. 

The documents needed will depend on exactly where in East Africa you will be visiting; I highly recommend you get all this information from your safari provider, as they will know where you plan to go and what documents you will need for each place. 

Most visitors will require a passport valid for at least six months beyond their intended departure date. Proof of any mandatory vaccinations is also necessary. Additionally, depending on your nationality and the specific countries you plan to visit, you may need a tourist visa. If you plan to get your visa upon arrival, you will need U.S. dollars to pay the visa fee. Bring the correct amount, in notes dated later than 2009, they will likely not have change. 

If you are going to Tanzania, check out this article about How to apply for a Visa to Tanzania. It provides detailed information on visa requirements and application procedures.

For Kenya, there is no visa requirement anymore but you do need to apply for an ETA. Check out Kenya Online Portal for eTA, you can do the application process here and most customers get their eTA within 3 business days.

Your eTA remains valid for more than one entry if:

  • You visit one of the following EAC Partner States: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, AND;
  • You don’t visit any other country, AND;
  • Your eTA has not expired (90 days from issuance)

*This information is correct as of the time of writing but it’s worth checking prior to your trip to see if anything has changed.

Prioritise Safety: Tips for a Secure Journey

Safety is paramount when travelling, and East Africa is no exception. While the region boasts incredible natural beauty and warm hospitality, it’s essential to stay informed about local conditions and heed any travel advisories issued by your government. 

Avoiding high-crime areas, safeguarding your belongings, and using reputable tour operators can all contribute to a safe and enjoyable journey. For a detailed guide on staying safe while on safari, check out Your Ultimate Guide to Safe Safari Planning in East Africa.

View of the pool at sunrise

Safeguard Your Health: Essential Vaccinations for East Africa

Ensuring you’re up to date on vaccinations is a must for a safe and healthy trip to East Africa. Depending on your itinerary and personal health history, you may need vaccinations for diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and meningitis. 

Yellow fever is only required if you are travelling from a destination which is deemed as high risk for yellow fever. If your safari involves travelling from Tanzania to Kenya then you will require a yellow fever certificate, this will be checked at the border. 

It’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or visit a travel clinic well in advance of your departure to receive personalised advice on which vaccinations are necessary. For more information on vaccinations needed for an East African safari, take a look at this article, Vaccinations Needed for a Safari in East Africa.

photography services

Explore East Africa Safaris

No visit to East Africa would be complete without embarking on a safari adventure. Witnessing the iconic Big Five in their natural habitat, traversing the vast plains of the Maasai Mara, and encountering the vibrant cultures of the region are just a few highlights of an East African safari. If you’re wondering what to expect on a typical day of safari or need tips on packing for your adventure, be sure to check out the following resources:

Conclusion – The Most Important Travel Information for East Africa

East Africa beckons many tourists with its diverse landscapes, rich wildlife, and vibrant cultures by offering the adventure of a lifetime for intrepid travellers. By arming yourself with the right information about the best time to travel, weather, transportation, documents, safety, and vaccinations, you can give yourself the best chance of a smooth and unforgettable journey to this captivating region. So pack your bags for an epic safari and get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime in East Africa.

How to prepare for an East African Safari

How to prepare for an East African Safari

You have booked your safari and you’re getting very excited, but besides telling all your friends of your safari travel plans, there are several things you need to prepare for your East African safari.

Keep reading for a list of what you need to do once you have booked your safari.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

How to prepare for your East Africa safari

Book Flights

Book flights – if you haven’t already then you need to get your flights booked. If possible it is always better to arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. This enables you to maximise your time on safari and gives you a bit of leeway if there are any delays.

Book an appointment for Vaccinations and Malaria pills

Book an appointment with your doctor to ask about vaccinations and malaria pills. This blog will give you an idea of vaccinations you might need but it is always best to speak to a doctor for a professional opinion.

Purchase travel insurance

Purchase travel insurance, it is always a good idea to have travel insurance and sometimes it is a prerequisite for your safari company.

Apply for your visas

Apply for your Visas. For all of the visas, I would advise giving yourself at least 2 weeks to obtain. Once you have your flight details and have booked your safari you may as well apply for your visa then. They can take as little as a couple of hours, the average is 3-7 days but it can easily take longer.

For a visa for Tanzania read this blog post: How to apply for a visa for Tanzania .

How to apply for a visa to Tanzania

For Kenya I am working on a blog post, in the meantime send me an email and I will send you instructions. This is the website you need to use to apply for a Kenyan Electronic Travel Authorisation.

If you are going to Rwanda, Uganda and/or Kenya you can apply for an East African Visa, which allows you multiple entries into the countries mentioned and is valid for 90 days. You must apply for the country you are visiting first.

Start packing/purchasing for your packing

Start thinking about packing and purchasing anything you might need. Read this blog post: What to pack for an African Safari for a list of everything you will need. You might also need to think about the bag itself. If you are travelling on one of the domestic flights, for example from the Serengeti to Zanzibar, then you will need a soft-sided luggage bag with a maximum of 15/20kgs (depending on the airline). Something like this:

Get a camera and start practicing

Also consider if you are taking a camera, you might need to purchase a new lens or camera body for your trip. This blog post: 6 simple wildlife photography tips to secure that outstanding shot.

I currently use a Nikkon D500 with a variety of lenses including a 70-200, 100-400 and probably my most used is a 100-600mm. For safari you will need at least a 400mm lens to be able to get closer shots like this one:

elephant eye
Nursery Collection

However, if I were going to purchase a new camera now I would definitely get a mirrorless camera. DSLRs are all technology now and it’s worth investing in a mirroless if you are purchasing now. I personally would get a Nikkon Z9 as I already have a Nikkon Lens.

However, I also think Sony are a great purchase for Mirrorless cameras. There are many different Sony options and it depends a lot on how likely you are to use the camera again and what are you going to do with the photos afterwards.

If you want good photos but are not interested in buying a camera, learning how to use it and looking through a camera lens the whole trip, then send me an email or schedule a call with me and I can organise a photographer to accompany you on your safari. This way you can get all of those print-worthy photographs to put on your wall as well as photos of you on safari to show off to your friends.

Research where you are going

Research where you are going. Some people like to do research and some like it to be a surprise. I personally like to have a good idea of where I am going. One big question around safari in East Africa is usually regarding safety, if this is also on your mind you can read this blog post: Your ultimate guide to safe safari planning in East Africa.

You might also want to have a look at the weather at the time of your travel and top things to do and see around the area if you have some extra time perhaps at the beach in Zanzibar or Lamu.

Also, research the culture of where you are going to ensure you don’t inadvertently offend anyone while on your trip. For example, both Stone Town and Lamu Town have a high Muslim population, it is therefore advised that you dress conservatively, especially while in the towns, on the beach it is ok to wear swimwear of course.

Find out if there is anything you can bring to donate

In many cases, there will be an opportunity to visit a local village, Maasai Boma or a charitable organisation. Even if you are not visiting one yourself you can always bring donations that can be distributed to where they are needed. Items like stationery, sports equipment, books, old laptops etc are always gratefully received.

A Maasai girl in her home, Kenya

Post on your Instagram and Facebook and tell all your friends about your upcoming safari

While you are at it follow us on Instagram and Facebook and get in touch if you have any questions then start getting excited for your trip!

If you haven’t yet planned your safari then all you need to do is answer a few simple questions in the quiz below to get a free customised safari itinerary done for you.

Reteti baby elephant sanctuary

Reteti baby elephant sanctuary

Reteti elephant sanctuary community united for Elephants does exactly what it says on the tin!

Reteti elephant sanctuary community united for elephants (R.E.S.C.U.E)

Reteti was started in 2016. Its purpose is to help the increasing number of elephants who are being abandoned, separated, falling into wells or being affected by human-wildlife conflict. Previously, these elephant calves went to the Daphne Sheldrick Centre in Nairobi to be looked after. When ready, they would then be released to Tsavo National Park. While it was great that these elephants were being rescued, the people of Samburu felt like they needed to have their own centre in Samburu. The benefit is that the elephants would not have as far to travel and they can potentially be released potentially back with their original herd.

This board is on display at the sanctuary and tells you the name of each elephant and why they had to be rescued:

Reteti elephant sanctuary community united for elephants

Community ownership

The Sanctuary is owned and run by the Samburu people. There are around 50 staff members to take care of the elephants.  Currently, there are 33 baby elephants, 4 reticulated giraffes and 2 kudus. 10 elephants have already been successfully released back to the wild. To help raise awareness of the situation and funds to assist, tourists are allowed to visit the centre.  The highlight of the visit is watching the elephants being fed their bottles and feeding the baby giraffe.

Prior to the feeding, you are taken to the kitchen where the nutritionist explains how they make up the milk. She explains what ingredients go into the milk and how they measure and adjust the formula for each individual elephant’s needs. Interestingly they have just started using goat milk with the formula and have found it to be pleasing to the elephants. This is great news as it now provides business for local Samburu herders who can sell their milk to the sanctuary. There are many other ingredients that go into the milk. Including human baby formula, honey, calcium, baobab mineral mix, multivitamins and even salt to ensure that when they go back to the wild they are used to saltwater. The exact amount and ingredients depend on the size, age and needs of the individual elephant.

Feeding time

When it comes to feeding time a wheelbarrow of milk bottles is taken to the feeding area and you are shown to the observation deck. The elephants are waiting impatiently at the gate.  Each keeper has a bottle with the elephant’s name on it and they have to identify their elephant and give them the correct bottle. This is quite difficult to do when the elephants are running at you full speed, trumpeting and demanding their milk!

It doesn’t take them long to guzzle down their bottle and they then the second wave of elephants are let in. When all the elephants have full belies they are left to play in the water, wallow in the mud and snooze in the shade. The elephants get fed every 3 hours, day and night.

Once the excitement of the elephant feeding is over then come along the baby giraffes (already taller than me). They are also due their bottle and come up to the observation deck demanding their food.  If you’re lucky you might actually be able to feed them, but you might have to fight them to get the bottle off them once all the milk has gone!

Costs

To visit the centre cost $20 per person for foreigners or 150 Kenyan Shillings for Kenyan residents. This money goes directly into the centre to help with the costs of feeding and looking after the elephants (and giraffes). There are also T-shirts available for sale (like the one I am wearing below) for $30.

Reteti elephant sanctuary community united for elephants

Logistics

The sanctuary is located north of Nanyuki, in the Namunyak wildlife conservancy, Samburu region. Once you get off the tarmac road it is about 45 minutes down a dirt road. The sanctuary is close to Mt Ololokwe, Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs so you could combine it with a visit to any/all of those places. To read more about other places to visit in northern Kenya read this blog post 5 must-see places in northern Kenya. 

It is best to tell them in advance when you are planning on visiting, they do sometimes have exclusive viewings meaning you might have to wait around another 3 hours if you happen to turn up on one of these. Also in April and May, the dirt road can get worse due to the rains so email l ahead to check if it is accessible.

Email: info@retetielephants.org

Accommodation

Reteti its self has no accommodation. The best place to stay in my opinion for self-sufficient campers is elephant rock, it is just 5 minutes away from Reteti. The elephant rock is the site where the community used to meet to discuss starting the elephant sanctuary. A French artist called Youri Cansell has painted a beautiful elephant mural on the rock. There are no facilities here so if you would like to stay here you have to have everything with you that you will need. For example cooking facilities, water, tent, sleeping bag etc. You also need to arrange for 2 rangers to be with you throughout the night for safety. This can be organised through Reteti.

Non Camping accommodation

If you are not equipped for camping then another option is Lion Caves Camp which is just off the other side of the tarmac road, so a maximum of an hour away.  Rooms are comfortable and reasonably priced ($75 for the room plus breakfast per couple). The rooms have a wonderful view over the river and the large overhanging rock is the perfect place for a sundowner in the evening.

I would highly recommend visiting Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, you get to witness first-hand what a united community can achieve, feed cute baby animals and feel good while doing it as your money help them to be able to rescue more animals in need!

Have you been to Reteti, what was your experience like? If you would like to know more comment below and I will assist as best I can.

5 must-see places in Northern Kenya

5 must-see places in Northern Kenya

We have just come back from a short 10-day road trip around north Kenya. This blog post will briefly explain the route of the whole trip and a bit of information about the 5 must-see places in Northern Kenya. Future blog posts will go into detail about each place related to our trip specifically.

 

The route

Day 1 – Lewa – Il Ngwezi

Day 2 – Il Ngwezi

Day 3 – Il Ngwezi – Sabache Camp at the foot of Mt Ololokwe

Day 4 – Climb Mt Olokwe – Lion Cave Camp.

Day 5 – Lion Cave camp – Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Day 6 – Reteti Elephant Sanctuary – Elephant Rock

Day 7 – Elephant Rock – Isiolo (food top-up) – Samburu

Day 8- Samburu

Day 9 – Samburu

5 must-see places in Northen Kenya

5 must-see placed in Northen Kenya

Day 10 – Samburu -Lewa

 

5 MUST-SEE places in Northern Kenya

1 Il Ngwezi

2. Mt Ololokwe

3. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

4. Elephant Rock

5. Samburu

The total driving time between each destination was no longer than 3 hours or no more than 100km, this makes it is a great trip for those who don’t like long days in the car.  It also means you have more time to rest and relax as you are not having to get on the road so early in the morning to make your drive to the next place. This was a part of the trip that I LOVED! Don’t get me wrong I love road trips but in Africa, the distances tend to be far and the drives long. Consequently, you do spend a lot of the day in the car getting to your destination as well as a lot of time in the car on safari. I also loved that this trip was active, we climbed a mountain, we went for hikes, walking safaris and I even managed to fit in a run! Let’s have a look in more detail at the 5 must-see places in North Kenya:

 

 

Il Ngwezi

This is probably not on a lot of lists in Northern Kenya THE PLACE to visit, but that’s what also makes it THE PLACE to visit. We were the only visitor in the whole conservancy, of course, a lot of this has to do with covid, but generally, it’s not a busy place. Il Ngwezi Eco Lodge is a community-owned and run lodge in Kenya. It is run by the Laikipia Maasai people for the sake of the conservation of the wilderness and the animals.


Accommodation: Il Ngwezi lodge offers affordable comfort surrounded by pure wilderness, it is the only lodge in the conservancy so you will never bump into too many people on your safari. The lodge has a large pool with views overlooking the water hole and comfortable bedrooms. The ‘star’ bedroom overlooks the water hole and the bed is on wheels so you can roll it out onto the deck and sleep under the stars.  Both the toilet and the shower also share the same amazing view of the waterhole, I think it would be difficult to leave your room if you stayed there. You can also camp in the conservancy as we did, but be warned there are no facilities. Make sure you are self-sufficient when camping. You also need to have a ranger with you for safety reasons.

Activities: The lodge does have a game viewer, or you can drive your own car, however, we didn’t really safari by car at all. Instead, we went on walking Safaris with the ranger, the geography is perfect for walking safaris as it is quite open so you can see the animals from a long way off, there are also no buffalo so you don’t have to worry about bumping into them as you walk. Other activities offered include; visits to the Maasai village, spa treatments, bush breakfasts, visiting  Mukogodo Forest and walking to the rhino sanctuary.

Animals: The area has a lot of reticulated giraffes as well as gerenuk, impala, lion, kudu, waterbuck, hyena, leopards (although very rare to see) and elephants.

 

Mt Ololokwe

The sacred mountain of Ololkwe. The recognisable flat top of Mt Ololokwe makes for a wonderful hiking destination.  The hike is 4.32 Km long up and then the same back again. It takes around 2 hours to climb if you’re going at a good pace, longer if you stop and take rests. It is 2,000m high. It is very steep at the start and then gets easier, it’s not an easy climb so prepare to be out of breath! Top tip, start your climb early (4:00 am) to get t the top for sunrise it will be cold but worth it for the view!

Accommodation: We camped at Sabache camp (named after one of the smaller mountains adjoined to Ololkwe), it is the perfect location for the hike as it is literally at the foot of the mountain so you basically begin your uphill climb straight away. The campsite is very basic but it does have a clean toilet (long drop compost toilets) and cold showers. There is a young Maasai as security to watch over your stuff as there are monkeys around camp so be careful of leaving food out.  Sabache also has a lodge that looked like when it was in its prime it would have been great. The views from the rooms and the generous balconies are certainly amazing but, unfortunately, it has been left to go downhill and it certainly needs some work doing to restore it to its former glory days.

Activities: Climbing My Ololokwe is the obvious one you can also camp on the top of the mountain which we didn’t do but I think if we went again we would.  There are also other not so strenuous walks you can do that will still award you a pleasant view including climbing Mt Sabache. The website also claims other activities including cultural visits, night wildlife safaris (although their land rover game viewer was ‘parked’ in the campsite and looked like it hadn’t moved in a very long time), visiting the singing wells and camel safaris. It is also well located for day safaris into the local parks including Samburu and Shaba.

Animals: Plenty of monkeys around the campsite and genets at night time as well as elephants in camp waking us up at night. The elephants actually walk up the mountain to get water from the permanent springs so be aware when hiking up, especially if hiking in the dark. We also saw lots of leopard tracks.

 

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

My favourite part of the trip! This again is a community-owned and run sanctuary, the community came together to provide a refuge for all of the baby elephants who were being abandoned by their mums (due to drought) separated from their mums, had fallen in wells and were unable to get out or were injured or otherwise needing help. The sanctuary started in 2016 and they now have 33 orphaned elephants and have already reintroduced 12 back into the wild. They also have 4 baby reticulated giraffes and 2 kudus.


Accommodation: Again if you are self-sufficient you can ask permission to camp at the elephant rock (more info in the next part) but other than that there is no accommodation so you need to find a place nearby. Lion cave camp is a very nice, affordable site.  We did plan to camp there but you couldn’t access the campsite by car (our tent is a rooftop tent) so we decided to get a room instead. The rooms are varied in price but we actually went for the most expensive ($75 for 2 people with breakfast). Our room had a beautiful view over the Ewaso Nyiro river which I would have loved to splash around in (it’s very hot!) except for the fact that there are crocodiles everywhere! The perfect activity here is sundowners on the rock overhanging the river.

Activities: Feeding baby giraffes (my highlight!) and watching the caretakers feeding the baby elephants. You also get a tour of the kitchen and learn what the elephants get fed (spoiler: it involves goats milk and human baby formula) and how they mix the formula. The elephants get fed every 3 hours and they are literally trying to break down the fence to get their bottle. When the gates are opened they come running and trumpeting to their keeper demanding their milk. When their bellies are full they then splash around in the mud and play in the water, it’s truly a magical experience.

 

 

Elephant Rock

The Elephant rock, the place where the elders met to discuss the start of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Since the start of Reteti a French artist, Youri Cansell, painted the elephant on the rock, it’s an impressive mural and an amazing place to be able to camp for the night.

Accommodation: What you see is what you get, if you want to camp here, as I said before, you need to be self-sufficient. There are no facilities so make sure you have enough water and food. You also need to arrange with Reteti beforehand so they can organise rangers for you, you have to have 2 rangers with you throughout the night for safety reasons. Generally, you don’t notice they are there are they are patrolling the area so you are left to feel like you are camping alone under the stars guarded by this magnificent elephant.

Activities: You are of course very close still to Reteti Elephant sanctuary so you can go there and see the elephants and giraffes, you can also do hikes and walks around the area with your ranger. There are many hills to climb which offer great views, and there is also plenty of wildlife around to be able to do a walking safari.

 

Samburu

Lastly, we visited Samburu National Reserve. Famous for its ‘Special five’ including Reticulated giraffe, Somalian ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, Besia Oryx and Gerenuk, although these can all also be seen in other parks. Samburu is also home to the beautiful vulturine guineafowl who are very photogenic.  Samburu is definitely a place worth visiting, although, it has to be said, at this particular time there were a few unexpected surprises.  Currently, there is a big drought in Kenya, the rainy season simply did not produce enough rain and as a consequence humans and animals alike are suffering. Due to this the local Samburu community are currently grazing their cattle, sheep and goats within Samburu and Shaba reserve.  This somewhat ‘takes away’ from the safari experience as men and women, their livestock and even their dogs wander through the reserve. However, needs must and until the rains return, this is what will happen.

Accommodation: Currently, there appears to only be one high-end lodge open in Samburu, due to covid many have closed. Elephant Bedroom has remained open and did have guests. There is also Samburu Riverside camp which isn’t on the riverside.  It is a basic tented camp with stationary tents for $60 per person per night. There are also public campsites which are on the riverside. You are literally on the banks of the river with many shady spots under the trees, the trouble is, once again the campsite has seen better days and the facilities are not maintained. The toilets and the showers are unusable, but there is a working tap so that’s a bonus! We stayed at the campsite nearest the ranger post and in terms of location it’s perfect, you are on the river bank and the core game-viewing area is right behind the camp.

Activities: Games drive of course! Despite the people and livestock walking around, there is still plenty of wildlife, including the ‘special five’ and lots of elephants who came into our camp every day. When the big camps are open they also offer things like bush breakfast, cultural visits etc but for us, it was lots of game drives and lots of relaxing at the camp in the heat of the day.

So there you have it! 5 must-see places in Northern Kenya.  With tourism still recovering from Covid it’s a great opportunity to travel local, get out there and be a tourist in your own surroundings, we didn’t travel far from home this trip but still felt like we were in a different world! Have you been to any of these places, do you have any other recommendations, comment below and let me know!

 

 
Packing for a road trip

Packing for a road trip

So we have a trip coming up soon and we are in the process of packing. I thought this might be a good opportunity to go through what I pack and how we set up the car, what equipment we have for camping etc. Not because  I think I am an expert at packing, but actually the opposite, I am notoriously bad at packing and I always overpack or forget something. Therefore, by going through the process of explaining what I am packing and why I am hoping it will help me to really think about what I have packed and hopefully not forget anything and not pack too much!

Before I get onto the packing let me tell you about the trip. We are starting at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

We leave here on Saturday 11th September (2 days time). From here we drive to Il Ngwezi

Il Ngwezi neighbours Lewa, Borana and Lekurruki. Il Ngwesi covers 16,500 hectares and is home to the Il Lakipiak Maasai – ‘people of wildlife’. Il Ngwezi lodge is the only upmarket lodge owner and run by the community, the profits from the lodge help support the community in caring for the wildlife and protecting them against poaching. We are spending 3 nights camping at Il Ngwezi, going on games drives and walks etc. the next stop will be Reteti Elephant sanctuary. 

This video says all you need to know about Reteti and why I am excited to go there:

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We are spending 2 nights in a new lodge still being finished at Reteti and then one moving on to see this place:

(photo by Lori Robinson)

After that we are heading to Mout Lotokitok, we will stay 2 nights to give us time to climb the mountain on one of the days.

www.thekenyancamper.com

Our final destination will be camping in Samburu and exploring Samburu and Buffalo Springs. We will be here 4/5 nights before heading back down to Lewa and back home.

Click here to see our route virtually via Google Earth.

OK on to packing! As you can see the trip we are going to go on is very much a bush trip, there will be no fancy dinners, bars or clubs so that makes packing a bit easier. Therefore I will be packing practical clothes:

The packing will be listed in the following way; personal, camping, food, electronics,  other

Personal Packing

  • 1 pair of safari zip of trousers
  • 1 pair of safari shorts
  • 1 long dress (useful for travelling in)
  • 1 pair of comfy long trousers for the evening
  • 4 t-shirts (green, beige, khaki colour) avoid bright colours and dark blue (tsetse flies)
  • 2 long sleeve tops for the evening for the evening
  • 1 pair of running/exercise shorts
  • 2 exercise tops
  • 1 jumper
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 kikoi/shawl (very useful to cover up when in villages)
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 visor, 1 safari hat
  • underwear, bras, bikini
  • quick dry towel
  • hiking day bag
  • sunglasses

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Shoes

  • Hiking boots
  • trainers
  • Vellies
  • sandals/flip flops/Birkenstocks

photo of shoes

  • toiletries – shampoo and conditioner soap bars, body soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash, sunscreen, moisturiser, bug repellent, hair ties, deodorant, baby wipe

Camping equipment

  • Folding table
  • folding chairs x 2
  • hammock x 2
  • duvet, pillows, bedsheets,
  • fridge
  • kitchen box – cutlery, kettle, washing up basin, bottle opener, plates, bowls, pans ect
  • gas stove
  • water dispenser
  • water tank
  • potjie pit
  • braai grid, braai stand
  • groundsheet
  • petrol tank (back up)
  • high lift jack
  • shovel
  • blanket
  • warning triangle etc
  • jump leads
  • compressor

Electronics

  • torch
  • head torch
  • extension lead
  • cables to charge phones, batteries etc
  • kindle
  • Camera plus all cables, hard drive, SD cards etc
  • laptop
  • battery bank
  • an old ‘brick’ phone that lasts for days (very useful in the bush)
  • Gps
  • car battery back up
  • speaker

Food

  • tea, coffee, milk, sugar
  • cereal
  • yoghurt
  • meat
  • pasta
  • tins; tomato, beans, chickpeas, coconut milk etc
  • spices, salt and pepper
  • snacks, breakfast bars
  • meat
  • bread
  • rice, noodles
  • fruit & veg

Other

  • binoculars
  • sunglasses
  • hiking bag
  • bird book/app on the phone
  • first aid kit
  • day rucksack/camel bag and bladder
  • maps/download maps.me on your phone
  • other useful apps: SASOL birds, Ioverlander, Lonelyplanet, Kingdom
  • zip lock bags – useful when it starts raining
  • money/load your phone with Mpesa
  • yoga/exercise mat, skipping rope
  • passport & driving licence

As you can see we don’t travel light when camping, we like to be comfortable when camping and have everything with us when we need it. For this reason, we take out the back seats of our land cruiser to give us more space and we have also made a few modifications to the car itself. A few things we have done are:

  • installed a rooftop tent
  • fridge in the back on a draw system
  • dual battery system
  • pull out storage draws
  • fridge in the front
  • awning
  • spotlights
  • solar panel
  • upgraded the suspension
  • blacked out the windows
  • installed a flip-down table on the back door
  • shower system and curtain
  • gull wings

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I will make a few videos on the trip and show you better and post them on the next blog post. Ok so for now that’s it. I will soon find out what I have forgotten to pack or if I have packed too much as the trip goes on! Comment if you can think of anything I have already forgotten!

Malawi, is it worth a visit?

Malawi, is it worth a visit?

Malawi, is it worth the visit?

Malawi, is it worth the visit? If the big five is what you’re after, then maybe Malawi isn’t the place for you. But if crystal clear water, unparalleled sunsets and private wildlife viewings are your priority then Malawi should be number one on your list!

Malawi is a largely overlooked African country when it comes to tourism, in other words, one of Africa’s best kept secrets. Of course, we all love safari and while on safari we all love seeing lions, cheetah, leopards and lots of action. When you think safari you probably think of the Serengeti in Tanzania or the Masai Mara in Kenya, you think of the wildebeest migration, of opportunistic crocodiles and predators waiting in the wings, of endless plains and ​silhouettes at sunset, great herds of elephants and journeys of giraffe. Although you will not get the concentration of animals in Malawi that you get in Tanzania or Kenya, you will also not get the concentration of people. Well not tourists, the concentration of locals however, is very high!

Private viewings

Having said that, with African Parks now in charge of a number of parks and the reintroduction of 16 species including cheetah, rhino and wild dog, the wildlife sightings in Malawi are definitely on the rise. Even with this being the case, you will never see the hoards of people in the parks that you do in Tanzania and Kenya for example. It is this that makes Malawi so special. When you are on safari in Malawi, 9 times out of 10 you will have sightings to yourself. You can enjoy those moments, just you and the animals. Those heart-pounding moments when you make eye contact when a lion which somehow pierces through to your soul. 

 

When you are surrounded by a herd of feisty elephants (if you have been to Majete you know what I mean), when you find that oh so elusive leopard and you can revel in your luck for as long as you want without anyone disturbing you.  When your car overheats and breaks down in the middle of Mejete due to blistering heat – ok so there are drawbacks as well as perks but give me a private viewing of a greater kudu over 10 vehicles tussling and pushing to see lions in the Mara any day.

I lived in Malawi for 4 years, during that time I was able to see a lot of the country. It is true Malawi is a small country, 2.1 times smaller than the UK, but it packs a big punch in terms of places to go and things to do.

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National Parks

I have already mentioned Majete National Park now a ‘Big Five’ park thanks to African Park’s initiatives. There is also Liwonde National Park which has also benefited from African Parks. African parks, among many other things, have kept poaching down, re-introduced cheetah, relocated black rhino to the park, and increased the number of lions. Liwonde’s magic is the river safari when you can drift by hippos fighting and get sprayed by water as elephants splash and play. Both parks are beautiful and are easily Malawi’s ‘best parks’ in terms of animal concentration. However, there are also many smaller parks including Nkhotokota, Kasungu, Nyika and more. If you want a real feeling of being out in the bush then these should not be missed. However, be warned a lot of them do not have good facilities so be prepared to camp, some places you even have to bring all of your own food as there is nowhere to buy anything. Of course, you do not want to miss the best National Park of all, the reason you come to Malawi, Lake Malawi National Park.

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Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi takes up almost half the country in size, it is the second deepest lake in Africa and home to more species of fish than any other lake, including 700 species of freshwater cichlids. When standing at the tidal water edge it is sometimes hard to believe it is a lake and not the sea, that is until you see a crocodile nestled on its banks or a pod of hippo submerging and re-emerging from its surface. Of course, the best thing of all is when you go for a swim and are met by beautiful crystal clear freshwater. Lake Malawi is one of my most favourite places on earth, more specifically Cape MaClear on the southern part of the lake.

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Laid back life

If you have been to Africa you know the pace of life is not exactly fast. If you have been to Malawi you would know if it was any slower everyone would be going backwards. You do not go to the lake for high energy, fast-paced adrenalin rush, you come for a relaxed, tranquil, reset. You can whittle away days, swimming in the lake, snorkelling in with the cichlids, paddle boarding, lounging in hammocks, reading, going on boat trips, watching fish eagles, birding, eating delicious food and sleeping under the stars. Just writing about it is making me want to go back immediately!

Where to stay

If you do go and visit, then there are two lodges I particularly recommend Mgoza Lodge and Warm Heart Adventure Lodge both of these are right on the beach in Cape Maclear, the owners care about sustainability and work together to help the local community. If you’re feeling adventurous there are also 2 islands off Cape Maclear, one budget camping island called Domwe Island and one more ‘luxury’ style island called Mambo Island. Trips to both of these islands as well as other activities around the area can be arranged via Kay the owner of Warm Heart Adventure Lodge. She also organised day activities including kayaking, boat trips, snorkelling, hikes and bike ride.

The people of Malawi

It would be wrong of me to write a blog bout Malawi without mentioning the local people. As I said before there are a lot of them, a population of over 19 million people it is difficult to find a spot to go for a quick wee without someone appearing out of nowhere to catch you with your pants down. Besides there being so many Malawians, they are the reason why Malawi is called ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. Everywhere you go the people emit a genuine kindness. They are keen to talk to you, to direct you if you are lost, to assist you if you are struggling, to accommodate you if you are without and just to generally help in any way they can. The children love to see you and will run up to you hold your hand and escort you on your way, sometimes for too long so you have to shoo them away so they don’t wander too far from home.

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Malawi, is it worth the visit?

Poverty

It has to be said that Malawi is a very poor country and people do struggle to get by, many Malawian are farmers and live hand to mouth, they rely heavily, sometimes solely, on the harvest which is determined by the countries rainfall. For this reason, you will find people begging as well as street children, which is always difficult to see.

Don’t get distressed if/when people shout ‘Mzungu’ at you, it means white foreigner, it is not said to offend you. If spending time with the locals is something you wish to do then there are many opportunities for this. There are the usual ‘cultural tours’ where you pay money for an ‘authentic experience’ however I would recommend the ‘old fashioned way. Just talk to people, you can go to the local village, visit the markets, go into churches to listen to beautiful singing.

Local culture

As a general rule men will have a better understanding of English than women in rural areas so it might be best to approach them.  Everyone is friendly and most people are not in a rush so will take the time to talk to you. It would also be good if you could try to learn some Chichewa, in particular, greetings as these are very important in the Malawian culture. The greeting is ‘Muli bwanji’ (how are you) to which the response is  ‘Nliri bwino, kaya inu? ( I am fine, and you?).

A top tip is to remember is that a lot of Malawians get their ‘r’ and ‘l’ mixed up, so if you are struggling to understand something try swapping these two letters and it might suddenly make sense! Also, be sure to dress respectively when walking around villages, this generally means covering your knees and shoulders.

Other things to do in Malawi

  • Mountain Biking – Malawi has a big mountain biking culture and organises events and races, if you don’t want to compete you can just explore the beautiful surroundings on a bike, the terrain is perfect but don’t forget your puncture repair ki
  • Hiking Mount Mulanje – There are many routes up Mulanje which is accessible from the southern town of Blantyre. Mulanje stands 3000m high. The mountain club of Mulanje have made a comprehensive guide to climbing Mulanje which can be accessed here
  • Volunteering – There are so many places that need your help,. If you’re a teacher you can go to one of the schools, give resources and equipment, talk to the teachers share ideas. If you’re a nurse or doctor you can go to hospitals or clinics, maybe you are a coach, instructor, therapist…the list goes on. If you are going to Malawi on holiday then bring along stationary, books, toys, medical resources etc it will all be gratefully received
  • Visit the Tea Estates – Satemwa tea estates are. a beautiful place to visit. you can stay the night at Huntingdon House explore the tea estate, have high tea and play croquet on the ground.
  • Play golf with zebra and giraffe roaming around you at Game Haven
  • Cultural visits to villages, markets, homes
  • Visit historic Livingstonia and stay at Mushroom Farm Eco Farm with unbeatable views
  • Chingoni Rock Art World Heritage Site
  • Visit the old colonial town of Zomba
  • Purchase beautiful pottery at Dedza Pottery
  • Watch the mesmerizing dance of the Gule Wamkulu
  • Horse Riding along Cande Beach

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The list goes on… so as you can see there is plenty to do in Malawi. In addition to his, you have a relatively cheap safari, friendly people and a rich culture and traditions. So Malawi, is it worth the visit? In my humble opinion, the answer is yes, Malawi is 100% worth the visit!

Have you been to Malawi, what did you particularly enjoy? Get in contact and let me know if there is anything I have missed!

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