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We had squeezed into the final available seats on the chicken bus from Sonsonate to San Salvador. Having paid the higher fare ($1.10) to take the express bus, the journey to the capital was a little over an hour. "Thank goodness El Salvador is a small country" I thought, as my 6ft 2in frame contorted into a seat that was designed for an American schoolchild.
The discomfort was soon forgotten (partially at least) as the movie was fired up on the two clunky TV screens. It was a British movie I'd never heard of and for once we were blessed with subtitles rather than the almost universal dubbed confusion. The film was completely forgettable, although it did help pass the time a little more quickly. What did surprise me was that the film would certainly have received an 'R' or '18' rating, yet was shown on a bus packed with families, tucking into their lunches and enjoying the action. Full frontal nudity, love scenes both gay and straight and a whole string of profanities that gave us a valuable education in Spanish! Nobody seemed to mind and the crowd around us were glued to the screen as we trundled along the highway.
Of course we wouldn't get a film like that shown in public in the UK, but it did get me thinking about inappropriate movies for certain situations. Here's a selection of films I wouldn't like to see while travelling:
On a plane:
Snakes on a Plane
Lord of the Flies
On a bus:
Any X-rated British thrillers (see above)
On a train:
Transsiberian (obviously about a specific train journey)
Before going on a hike:
The Birds (my mind always flashes back to this film if I see any birds congregating menacingly as we walk by)
Anaconda (admittedly less of a problem if you are hiking in English woodland)
While visiting Yellowstone:
While on a cruise:
Titanic (of course!)
What is the last film you would want to see on your travels?
This may provoke strong reactions among some people but as it is so fundamental to what many of us spend our time doing I felt it a question worth debating. When we purchase our flight or our holiday, do we buy along with that the right to behave with complete abandon wherever we are? Or do we carry with us a responsibility to act in a certain way, abiding by an unwritten code of principles as we enjoy ourselves under someone else's sky?
I started thinking about this after a recent post on this site that asked if budget travel causes more harm than good. The post was discussed on a Lonely Planet forum and one commenter wrote the following:
"When someone pays for the plane ticket with their own money then they have every right to do what they want with their trip."
Other comments suggest his views are certainly not unique. So does he have a point? Or is such an opinion showing a dangerous level of arrogance and ignorance that in the end harms each of us who travel, whether we agree with him or not?
What does our ticket buy us? It buys us passage from A to B of course. It is a contract between us and the airline that we pay to carry us. Thanks to pre-departure checks it also ensures that in most cases we are also allowed access into the country in which we arrive. But what else?
Does being in a country allow us to bring our own ways, our habits, our values and vices along with us? Do we have a duty to concern ourselves with the local culture, or is an interest in this an optional extra?
Let's take Vang Vieng as an example. For those who are not familiar with this little corner of Laos, it is renowned as a backpacker party town where you can watch endless re-runs of Friends while floating down the river in rubber tubes, swinging in hammocks, drinking happy shakes and vodka buckets. Young twentysomethings stumble along the main street, skimpily dressed in their bikinis and sarongs, and hop in and out of each other's dorm in an all night frenzy of drink, drugs and wild sex.
I'm sure it's not that exciting, but its reputation saw to it that this pair of fortysomethings chose to bypass it and visit another region of Laos instead. It's just not our scene.
But what impact does Vang Vieng have on the Lao people who are impacted by it (willingly or otherwise)? What impression does it leave them of how young people are raised in the West? Does it matter to them that many people come here to indulge in cheap drink and drugs and behave in a distinctly 'un-Lao' way? Should we be concerned or is it up to the people themselves to decide whether or not to show tolerance to the excesses of wealthy (relative) backpackers?
If travel is indeed a privilege, then there appears to be no consequence to abusing it; at least in the short term for today's beneficiaries. For those who venture to foreign lands and re-create a care-free party town that has nothing to do with the native culture but everything to do with their own version of a hedonistic Shangri La, it's easy to conclude that travel is in fact a right that their luck in having been born into the wealthier side of the world's divide has granted them.
Our complete guide to the Masai Mara. Includes galleries plus the full low down on how long to stay, how to get there and when to go.
The Masai Mara is Kenya’s most popular safari destination and for good reason. It is a vast reserve of endless flat grassland crossed by rivers which play host to wildlife’s most spectacular moments. Within the park you get all the big game tickets, lion, hippo, crocs, rhino, you name it, Masai Mara has it. Perhaps its biggest drawcard is the Wildebeest Migration when vast hordes of Wildebeest roar through the park bringing in its trail a wake of mighty predators. If you’re lucky enough to be in Masai Mara during the migration pick a spot by the river and watch enraptured as crocs and lions compete to pick-off stragglers from the clattering herds of wildebeest.
The most popular itineraries combine the Masai Mara with visits to the Rift Valley Lakes of Naivasha and Nakuru. With more time you can also combine the Masai Mara with Mount Kenya or even the Northern parks of Samburu and Meru or Amboseli in the South without having to resort to internal flights.
Masai Mara is around 5-6 hours drive from Nairobi and 3-4 hours from the Rift Valley Lakes at Naivasha and Nakuru. If you are planning on diving all the way from Samburu, Mount Kenya or Amboseli, expect to make a whole day of it (8-10 hours)
The last hour or two of road to the Maasai Mara reserve is awful, so expect a bone rattling drive. If you are interested in trekking, camping out in the wild and culture then there are some fantastic experiences to be had in the wider Masai land on the way to the Park. Options range from half day visits to the eco camp at Magi Moto to 4 -7 day trekking itineraries in the Loita plains. This area also play host to wildlife, giraffe, zebra, antelope and wildebeest are all common as are all the big predators – so you will usually be accompanied by a Masai warrior for security.
Whilst wildlife buffs will want to combine the Masai Mara with at least one of the other big parks such as Samburu or Amboseli, but if you are only interested in a taste of safari then you would be better of combining the Masai Mara with local Masai treks, a couple of days in the Rift Valley Lakes or even climbing Mount Kenya.
How keen are you on wildlife or photography? If you are very keen you will want to give yourself at least two full days in the park, preferably more. For the generalists amongst us, one to two full days is enough time to see most of what the park has to offer.
This guide to the Masai Mara is intended as a useful resource for anybody planning to visit the Masai Mara for a safari. For those looking to book a safari with experienced guides, full support and private transport from Nairobi, Tourdust can arrange tailored safaris in the Masai Mara as well as regular small group tours, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Our recommended Masai Mara safari is a 6 day round trip from Nairobi that includes the Rift Valley Lakes and time with the Masai people in addition to time in the park itself:
4 day Masai Mara Wild Camping Safari from £476pp based on two sharing: Camp out in the bush in this back to basics mobile camping safari with expert wildlife guides and superb safari in the Masai Mara reserve. Fantastic value four day wild camping safari in a stunning private conservancy in the Masai Mara region. Includes road transfers from Nairobi
3 day private Masai Mara Road Safari from £601pp based on two sharing: A classic 3 day safari in the Masai Mara in a private 4wd vehicle with experienced wildlife guides. Accommodation is in a lovely mid range permanent tented camp just outside the park. This safari includes transfer to and from Nairobi and all park fees.
3 day flying Masai Mara Safari from £654pp based on two sharing: A classic 3 day flying safari in the Masai Mara staying in your choice of lodge or tented camp. Choose from our selection of the best mid range and high end permanent tented camps and lodges. This safari includes flights to and from the Mara from Nairobi and all park fees.
6 Day Rift Valley and Masai Mara Safari from £768pp: A fantastic well balanced 6 day itinerary that breaks up the journey to Masai Mara with safaris in Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha. Highlights include an overnight at a colonial plantation and camping out in the bus in the Masai Mara region alongside the incomparable Masai Mara game drives.
11 Day Rift Valley, Masai Mara and Mount Kenya combination from;1760pp:The perfect combination, after trekking the majestic Mount Kenya, journey via the Great Lakes to Masai Mara for An incredible safari.
Undoubtedly the best time to visit the Masai Mara is during the wildebeest migration in June, July and August. However it is still more than worth a visit during the rest of the year. The only exception being towards the end of the long rains in April and May when the roads often become impassable.
To provide a summary of all the accommodation options in or around the park would be impossible, there are simply too many. Prices are typically high and each gate tends to be surrounded by a huge number of small resorts and permanent tented camps. Inside the lodge, the options tend to be at the very high end only. Follows are highlights…
Mountain Rock Mara Springs: A permanent fixed camp in the Serena Conservancy area near Sekanani Gate. The tents are erected around newly built en-suite bathrooms, and whilst there aren't luxury frills it is very comfortable
Kimana Mara: A community owned and run camp with ensuite fixed tents. (near Mountain Rock Mara Springs)
Governors' Camp: This is where to go if you have some money to splash around. This is the place to stay in the Masai Mara for that classic luxury safari experience.
Kenya boasts a beautiful coast and fascinating coastal culture, but is all too often let down by a profusion of large bland resorts. Luckily there are still a few gems to be found.
The Lamu archipelago is a sleepy backwater boasting warm seas, sweeping beaches and the charming historic UNESCO World Heritage town of Lamu. The sights, spices and aromas vividly evoke the rich history of Portuguese, Indian, British, Yemeni and Oman influences.
The Lamu archipalego consists of Manda Island, Kiwayu and Lamu Island. The two largest towns of Lamu and Shela lie on Lamu Island. Manda Island sits in calm protected inshore waters, whilst Kiwayu is the most remote with stunning beaches.
Flights from Nairobi Wilson airport and Mombassa land on the airstrip on Manda Island. There are 3 daily flights to Lamu from Nairobi with Fly 540, Air Kenya and SafariLink. There is one weekly flight from Mombassa.
It is possible to get to Lamu by road, but is not usually recommended due to security issues and the road is very bumpy.
The weather is typically hot a little humid. It suffers from the same short (Oct-Nov) and long rain seasons (March-May) as the rest of Kenya, when regular daily rainfall (usually in the mid morning) can be expected. Temperatures are usually in the upper 20s and lower 30s Celsius.
Diamond Beach Village is our pick in the area. A wonderful simple rustic, yet stylish collection of Bandas with a lovely bar and restaurant to soak in the sunset. (~$100 per double room)
For those with more cash, Kipungani Explorers is hard to beat. Along the same lines as Diamond Beach Village, just with more comfort, class and expense (~$500 per double room)
If you don't fancy the whole deserted beach thing, then Kijani House Hotel (~$300 per double room) or the more modest and charismatic Fatuma's Tower are both based in Shela village. Which boasts its own beach and is in easy reach of Lamu Town.
Tourdust can arrange your stay at any of these beach lodges and combine with your choice of safaris and treks in Kenya. Email us on email@example.com with your interests.
Lake Nakuru is Kenya’s second most popular national park after Masai Mara and it is easy to see why. Close to Nairobi and relatively compact it has a vast lake at its heart drawing a massive quantity of birdlife and all the big game animals you’d hope for. Lake Nakuru is one of the best places to see Rhino in Kenya and Giraffe, Buffaloes, Zebras and antelope are all easy to spot. The big draw are the huge flocks of flamingos that are often found in the shallows.
Lake Nakuru plays host to a fantastic variety of game and good sightings are virtually guaranteed. What Lake Nakuru has that the other major parks don’t have is flamingos. The shore-line is often thick with pink flamingos and pelicans fishing the shallows. The only major wildlife exceptions in the park are crocodiles and elephants. Highlights of Lake Nakuru’s wildlife include a large number of Rothschild giraffe, lions, black and white rhino, hippo and large flocks of flamingos and pelicans.
Lake Nakuru National Park plays host to a variety of terrain. The soda lake provides shallows, mud flats and swamp whilst the surrounds provides some classical African Acacia woodlands interspersed with grasslands. To the West of the park lies a cliff which plays host to bush and scrub and troops of troublesome baboons. There are some fantastic lookouts atop the cliff over the lake, just keep a tight hold on your camera as the Baboons have been known to take them.
Lake Nakuru is in the Rift Valley around 2 hours drive from Nairobi. It falls on route for anybody heading to Masai Mara or the Mount Kenya region. Nearbye to Lake Nakuru are Lake Elimentatai (hot springs), Lake Naivasha (hippos) and Hell’s Gate (walking or cycling amidst zebras, antelope, buffalo and giraffe) and many visitors spend 2 or three days in the area. Typically Lake Nakuru will warrant one overnight stay and a half days game drive.
Lake Nakuru is a great year round destination: