So how does travel work in Kenya? What is a safari and how do you avoid being eaten by lions or squashed by an enraged elephant?. This is part of our introduction to Kenya by the Rough Guide to Kenya author Richard Trillo.
Think of the country, in one sense, like any other: you can travel without restriction all over Kenya, with the exception of parts of the northeast where travel is limited by Somalia’s insecurity and local banditry. Public transport or car hire will do the trick (and you can choose to have a driver/guide rather than doing the driving yourself, but either way you should hire a 4x4). In towns, you can stay overnight in hotels (there are very few campsites outside the parks), which don’t normally need to be booked ahead. If you’re driving a private vehicle, the parks are open to you, though you’ll need to book lodge or tented camp accommodation in advance. A tented camp is a permanent encampment of large tents, usually with floors, furniture, plumbed-in bathrooms and a separate roof for when the heavens open. Don’t forget park fees, which are payable per 24 hours, and usually range from $40 to $75 per day.
Rather than travelling independently, many visitors go on an organised safari – which just means journey in Swahili, so a safari is simply a tour. Most safaris concentrate on the national parks and will include “game drives” for several hours twice a day – after dawn and before dusk – when you leave your lodge or tented camp and set off in search of wildlife. In most of the parks, you can’t leave your vehicle – except of course in the camps, where spear-carrying watchmen look out for inquisitive wildlife – but some parks allow game walks, which gives you the chance to really absorb the natural environment in the company of trained rangers or local Maasai guides.
Kenya’s busiest tourist seasons are July and August and Christmas and New Year, when many lodges and camps are sold out and prices are highest. The best deals are to be had from April to June, during the so-called “long rains” (often a bit of a misnomer), when it sometimes feels as if you have half the country to yourself.
And the question of wildlife danger? The facts are: the wildlife is wild; most parks, and many lodges and camps, are unfenced; and wild animals and people don’t mix well, as a glance at virtually any daily paper will show, with marauding elephants, unseen crocodiles, surfacing hippos and goat-nabbing lions all regularly featured. You need to take care, as accidents do happen, but that’s what Kenya is all about. Guides and other staff will invariably protect you with great skill and devotion, but you can’t make a safari one hundred percent safe. And that’s why travelling here retains its emotional allure: the word exciting might apply to a theme park ride, but it doesn’t come close to describing the experience of travel in Kenya.
On the coast – your entry point if you fly to Kenya by charter flight – it’s the smell that grabs you first, announcing you’ve arrived in the tropics... read more
The first part of Kenya you’ll experience is the urban, where the rich-poor divide is starkest and you can expect a sense of culture shock... read more
Next, the highlands, and Kenya’s western and central highlands rise high enough to escape the climate... you would normally associate with a country sitting astride the equator... read more
Cutting through the middle of the highlands, the Kenyan portion of the Great Rift Valley (which stretches from Jordan to Mozambique) is a giant gash in the earth’s surface... read more
The part of Kenya that receives the most visitors is the southern savanna region. It’s a huge area, dominated culturally by Maasai herders and vast herds of migratory wildlife... read more
The last part in the story of Kenya’s landscapes is the coast. In many ways a separate country, separated from the interior by a hundred-kilometre band of thorny desert... read more
The Elaphite islands, a cluster of islands north of Dubrovnik, Croatia, offer a delightful opportunity to sample the more leisurely pace of Croatian life, away from the crowds. Easily accessible by ferry, they make a great day trip or multi-night stay.
Kolocep, the closest of the three to Dubrovbik, is ideal if you enjoy hiking. The island has many well-marked walking and hiking trails direct from the port which take you to rocky bays and fantastic cliff-top views. The paths going inland take you past olive, fig, almond & cherry trees, which lend a welcome shade from the hot sun. Closer to the sea, pine tress dominate, with the sounds of chirping cicadas filling the air The island is great for families, with plenty of child-friendly cafes and a small playground by the port.
Lopud is ideal if you are travelling with a family, as the island is entirely car-free and has one of the only sandy beaches in the region. The harbour side of the island, where the ferry drops you off, is the 'busy' side, with cafes and restaurants dotting the sea front and overlooking the small beach. The better beach is on the other side of the island - about a 15 minute walk. The walk takes you away from the main village and up past crumbling houses and meadows filled with wild flowers. Children will love looking out for geckos basking in the sun as they go. If you want to get a fantastic view of the island, then you can head up to the ruins of an old fort at the top of the hill on the Lopud. It takes about 1/2 an hour, but the views are well worth it.
Sipan, the largest of the three islands, is sleepier than the others, with crumbling summer houses and laid-back fishing ports. There are two fishing villages on the island, Sipanska Luka or Sudurad and the two are connected by bus. Fewer tourists make it here, preferring to stop off at Lupod or Kolocep instead, making it a quieter option. Whilst there are no sandy beaches on the island, there are some lovely bays to stop for swimming, as well as some excellent coastal paths to explore. The rocky coastline is particularly to those who enjoy snorkelling and kayaking.
All three islands have their fair share of day-trippers, but once they have returned to Dubrovnik in the late afternoon, they become quieter and more relaxing for their local inhabitants and longer-stay guests. You can explore the islands on day trips from Dubrovnik by ferry, or if you fancy a more laid back way of travelling, you can spend a week kayaking between them. We recommend travelling to the Elaphiti Islands in May, June or September when there are fewer tourists around.
It is a sad fact there's little that hasn't already been said when it comes to travel. There are thousands of independent bloggers writing fascinating, unique and authoritative content. To coincide with the launch of our new collection of treks, safaris and holidays in Kenya, we have pulled together an overview of some of the best writing on Kenya, all from independent travel bloggers. So sit back, pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy...
Richard is without doubt an authority on travel in Kenya having authored the Rough Guide to Kenya. If you are planning a trip to Kenya then this is a must read blog, with loads of tips on events and insightful analysis of topical tourist issues such as the reported crash in Masai Mara wildlife numbers
The Kenyan Coast can be a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst there are some stunning sensitively designed beach lodges around Lamu, the area around Mombasa and Diani Beach is notorious for over development and hassle from beach boys. Lara writes here with brutal honesty on her experience at Diani Beach.
Planning a safari for the first time can be a daunting task and the first time you see the prices can be a bit of an eye opener. Mark provides some great tips on doing it independently.
Lake Nakuru is one of my favourite parks in Kenya, easy to get to and easily digested. it has a wealth of wildlife in a stunning setting. Keith captures the splendor of the park with some great images.
Chances are you are going to be spending a day or two in Nairobi if you are coming to Kenya. If so then you would be hard pressed to beat this exhaustive collection of things to do in Nairobi. Mark's site, Migrationology is a wealth of information on Kenya, if you enjoy this also try his excellent piece on Kenyan food
Proving that good writing doesn't age this post from 1996 about an encounter with an angry elephant in Samburu is still fresh today. Samburu and nearby Meru parks are about as close to Lion King country as you are going to get.
The Masai Mara is undoubtedly the highlight of any trip to Kenya, especially if you are lucky enough to get there during the migration. Meggan and Beau recorded their travels on the World Effect and a combination of stunning photography and fresh writing make this one of our favourite travel blogs. This is a fantastic series of pictures.
Altitude acclimatisation needs to be taken seriously, especially if you are flying into altitude (that's above 2,400m or above) from a location at sea level. Your body needs time to adjust to the lower levels of oxygen in the air and needs to produce more red blood cells. This is particularly a problem in Peru as many travellers fly directly into Cusco from Lima, which is a jump of 1,800m.
Not everyone is affected by altitude, although most people will feel some differences for the first day or so. There is no knowing before you travel how you may be affected as it has no correlation with fitness. That said, if you have suffered before, you can expect to be more prone than others. Symptoms of mild altitude sickness include some or all of the following: headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, lack of appetite, dizziness and fatigue. It is important to remember that these affects are simply due to your body adjusting and whilst you may be feeling unwell, you are not actually ill. The best cure is to lie low on your first day of arrival, avoid alcohol and to drink lots of water (and, or) coca tea, a local homeopathic remedy. If you rest and resist the urge to go out walking, then within 24 hours you should start to feel much better. On your second day at altitude, you should start to feel your body adjusting to the altitude and should be able to attempt some gentle activity. By day 3, you will be in much better shape. We recommend at least 2 - 3 days acclimatising before you commence a trek. As well as the above, local remedies, there are also some over the counter prescription remedies to combat altitude sickness. Diamox can be prescribed and should be taken one day prior to arriving at altitude. However, this medication is not without its side effects (nausea and frequent need to urinate) which may end up more of a hindrance than the altitude sickness itself.
The altitude shouldn’t preclude you from visiting with children. We have sent families to Peru with children as young as 3, so there is no need to avoid it. In fact, we often find that children bounce back from altitude quicker than their parents! The same rules apply to children as to adults; rest, relax and keep your fluids up. We do recommend packing some familiar snacks from home for a bit of home comfort energy boost.
If you are out trekking, you are bound to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness again when climbing above Cusco's altitude to one of the high passes. Your headaches and nausea may well return and you will find yourself out of breath regularly, needing to make plenty of rest stops. This happens to everyone, including guides and porters and is nothing to worry about. Once you descend, your symptoms will ease off. The important thing to remember is to listen to your body and take the hiking at a slow and comfortable pace, it is not a race to get to the finish. And remember, your guides are extremely experienced and know the difference from mild and severe altitude sickness. Do remember to make sure that your travel insurance covers you for trekking at altitude. Many policies include altitudes of up to 3,000m as a standard, but you may need to pay a premium above this height.
For our tailor-made customers to Peru, we include a free emergency assistance program which allows for up to two doctor’s visits to your hotel and medical assistance. This is not a substitute for your regular travel insurance, but does ensure that if you are struggling with the altitude, we can get you some medical advice.
Tipping in the tourist industry in Peru is customary and expected. At the end of any tour, drive or meal, your guide or waiter will be most forthright in asking for their gratuity. Whether you like this direct approach or not, tips are relied upon to top up incomes and you need to budget for them. In hotels & larger towns, you can tip in either Soles or USD, but if it is the latter, please ensure that the bills are not crumpled. When tipping in rural locations, or on treks, Soles are more appropriate. Here is a guide to the amounts you can expect to pay.
You don't normally tip for a regular taxi ride. Make sure that you agree a fare upfront, the driver will have factored a tip into the fare already! For private drivers, a tip of $5 - $7 per passenger, day would be about right.
If you are eating at a moderate / lower end restaurant, then it is fine to round up the bill; most Peruvians wouldn't tip in this type of establishment. In higher end eateries, a tip of 10% is a good amount.
Tips for tour or nature guides do depend on the level of service you have received. $10 per person would be the amount you would tip for excellent service.
Tipping makes up for an important part of the porters income and whilst we try to ensure that the guides and porters used on your trek receive a good, fair wage, they still appreciate (and expect) a tip. There will be a tipping ceremony on the penultimate evening of your trek. This is the point when you will have a chance to thank your porters, cooks and guides. It is worth ensuring that you have sufficient soles with you for your tipping, in small enough denominations. Guideline amounts are as follows:
Porters: 60 - 80 Soles per porter from the group
Cooks: 80 - 100 soles from the group
Guides: 160 - 200 soles from the group
Please bear in mind that, depending on your group size, there will be 1 or 2 guides, 1 or 2 cooks and 10 - 20 porters. Porters don't just carry your baggage, but also all of the camping equipment, food and dining equipment. At your pre-trek briefing, you can ask how many porters are trekking with you. If you have any other questions about tipping the trekking team, please ask your guide.