Kenya takes its tourism quite seriously and it shows in the tremendous growth the industry has seen in spite of the recession. Amy Heacock, marketing director for the Kenya Tourist Board states, “We have seen an increase in overall air and sea arrivals to Kenya from the U.S. market. In comparison to 2008–09 we’ve seen double digit increases. 2007 was a banner year for North American visitation to Kenya, and when comparing 2007 figures to 2008, we experienced double-digit decreases. When comparing 2009 to 2007 figures, we show a single digit increase. We are on track, and it is our goal to exceed 2007 figures in 2010 and future years.” When asked what makes Kenya the ultimate safari destination she added, “No other country on earth can offer the visitor as much to see and do as Kenya within the borders of a single country. Kenya is the ancestral home to more than 40 distinct tribal groups. Culture, wildlife, and dramatic scenery rightfully make Kenya the top safari destination.”
To understand this vast country and how to best serve visitors looking to experience all Kenya has to offer, I turned to the experts at the Safari and Conservation Company (www.thesafariandconservationcompany.com), a reservation company founded by two of Kenya’s oldest family settlers, the Roberts and Dyer Families, who offer some of the most outstanding experiences that Kenya and East Africa have to offer. Three generations of these families have lived in Kenya and today they have adapted their existence around a more responsible attitude to tourism. According to Juliet Agg-Manning of the Safari and Conservation Company, a typical length of stay for first-timers would be around 10 days. “I would recommend two or three safari destinations and the option of the beach,” she added.
Call of the Wild
Of course, the Masai Mara National Reserve would be the natural place to send clients, especially during migration period, which changes somewhat from year-to-year. To stay on top of migration predictions, as well as activities and options around the area, visit Safari 365 (www.safari365.com). One of the more high-end camps, Governors’ Camp (www.governorscamp.com) is a cluster of exclusive tented camps in one of the Mara’s best regions for game viewing. All camps within this group are top-notch. From their cuisine to the level of service and guides, these will not disappoint your more discerning clients.
Embarking on a balloon safari in the Masai Mara is an experience not easily forgotten. The hot-air balloon sets off in the early morning to catch views of the sun between the mountains and ends with a champagne breakfast. Alternately, Agg-Manning suggests beginning farther north at Borana (www.borana.com) in the Laikipia region, where guests can not only experience the thrill of safari but also witness a working cattle ranch with a strong commitment to conservation and the local community. For another unique experience, Tropic Air’s small aircraft and helicopters (www.tropicairkenya.com) are a great way to see the savannah.
Outside of the world-renowned Masai, there are other options to be had. Agg-Manning suggests exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Samburu people (cousins of the Masai) at Lemarti’s Camp (www.lemartiscamp.com). She states that, “Lemarti and Anna have created their dream home, with just five tents for guests, and their friends from the community help run the camp. The experience here is all about the Samburu: fantastic cultural interaction, walking on community land, understanding a way of life so entirely removed from that of North America that a small dose of culture shock can be expected.” Wherever you decide to start your client’s trip, there are some very reasonable packages out there. Moira Smith, general manager of Goway Travel (www.goway.com) for Africa and the Middle East, suggests their best-selling, 8-day Classic Kenya package from $1,985. “It visits the major parks and reserves in Kenya including Samburu, Mount Kenya National Park, Lake Nakuru and of course the iconic Masai Mara.” For the adventurist who just can’t get enough climbing, Eyes On Africa Safaris (eyesonafricasafaris.com) offers a 6-day trek up Mount Kenya for a land price of $1,325. Although, Mount Kenya can be climbed year-round, it’s safest during the dry seasons when the weather is most predictable.
The Great Lakes of Kenya straddle the center of the Great Rift Valley. From north to south, the valley is lined with a series of freshwater and soda based volcanic lakes and should be high on the list to include when planning an itinerary. A photographer’s heaven, the lakes are home to exotic birds and wildlife like the huge flocks of flamingos at Lake Nakuru National Park. With spectacular views of this pink-bordered lake, the Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge (www.sarovahotels.com) on Lake Nakuru is just a short two-hour drive from Nairobi.
Life’s a Beach
A perfect add-on after some time out in the bush is a trip to the white-sand beaches and coral reefs lining Kenya’s coast. Along its shoreline, there is an array of activities including scuba diving and snorkeling. The Kilili Baharini (www.kililibaharini.com) is an interesting find as it is an Italian-run hotel residing on a beautiful white-sand beach, complete with health spa and, of course, the finest Italian cuisine around!
Away from the beach, Fort Jesus and the old town in Mombasa and Shimba Hills National Reserve are easy half-day tours. North of Mombasa are the Gedi Ruins, ancient Swahili ruins dating back to the 8th Century. Mombasa Serena Beach Hotel and Spa on Shanzu Beach overlooking the Mombasa Marine National Park boasts coconut palms and Swahili-style architecture with restaurants ranging from bars, coffee shops and cafes for a somewhat lively nightlife. For information visit www.serenahotels.com
If there are a couple of extra days to squeeze into the itinerary, add a trip to the island of Lamu, specifically Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having been influenced by many different ethnic groups over the years, from the Portuguese to the Omanis, Lamu is an important center for Islamic and Swahili cultures. Peponi’s on Shela Beach (www.peponi-lamu.com) overlooks the Lamu Channel along the 8-mile stretch of beach. The rooms are individually decorated and fine dining is served in a cozy restaurant. Charming and private, the hotel is perfect for a romantic retreat. Manda Bay, (www.mandabay.com), a boutique hotel on the North Western tip of Manda Island, part of the Lamu archipelago prides itself on “barefoot elegance.” Hosted by Fuzz & Bimbi Dyer, and Andy & Caragh Roberts, the couples are always up for a good time with their guests.
Currently there are no non-stop flights between the United States and Nairobi, however Ms. Heacock is hopeful. “There is talk once again of Delta possibly commencing direct flights between Nairobi and Atlanta. Current routing choices from the U.S. tend to favor connecting in Johannesburg, South Africa. European connection routes include London or Amsterdam and it is also possible to connect via a Middle East route such as Qatar or Dubai.” Kenya Airways has 30 international and regional destinations. U.S. citizens need visas to visit Kenya either prior to departure or upon arrival.
For more information contact the Kenya Tourist Board at 866-44-KENYA or visit www.MagicalKenya.com. The Kenya Association of Tour Operators (www.katokenya.org) is also a valuable reference tool for travel planners.