Saturday, November 20, 2010

Majestic Kenya. . .In Proposal Territory with Will & Kate

My piece in today's Daily Express on a trip to the captivating and unforgettable Il Ngwesi Lodge was commissioned last Tuesday, within minutes of the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement. Most of the piece, covering Kenya holiday advice, has been published in the paper almost exactly as I filed it, with the exception of the headings.

One significant difference, however, is the section at the end, headed "The Knowledge" which has replaced the information I provided. So. . . if you're interested in going on safari in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, family home of Jecca Craig, to stay at any of their five lodges and houses, or making the exciting journey up to Il Ngwesi Lodge or even at the remote Lake Rutundu cabins where the whole kneeling down/champagne/hot water bottle business happened, then do visit the Kenya Tourist Board and check out the following excellent Kenyan operators:

Gamewatchers: superb safari camp operator and agent, leading the way in responsible tourism in Kenya with its Porini eco-camps.
Cheli & Peacock: owner and manager of some of Kenya's most beautifully constructed and sensitively managed camps and lodges.
Let's Go Travel: all-round brilliant people who can book just about anything in Kenya and also run well-organised budget safaris.
The Safari & Conservation Company: Boutique camps and lodges – including Rutundu Log Cabins – in some of Kenya's most beautiful places.

Photo: Il Ngwesi staff say farewell

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Recent articles: Samburu, Nairobi National Park, Best beaches in Kenya


Some recent Kenya articles, containing Kenya holiday advice: my story in yesterday's Independent about the rebirth of Samburu National Reserve, my piece in Qatar Airways' inflight magazine Oryx on Nairobi National Park, and my roundup of the best beaches on the Kenya coast for Virgin Atlantic's Vtravelled website.

Photos: Elephant Watch Camp (Samburu National Reserve) and camp manager Sevenoy Letoiye, teenage elephants.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Camel trekking

This seems like such a great adventure, and so affordable, that I thought I'd post it just as received. I don't know Amanda and John personally, but Bobong Campsite on their Ol Maisor Ranch (north of Rumuruti) has a very good reputation and it's refreshing to find a place in Laikipia that is aimed at travellers on a budget. As well as the camel safaris, you can camp at Bobong for Ksh500 or have a banda for Ksh4000.

Dear all,
I'm not sure how many of you received this before. If you have its just a
reminder as the time comes closer. If not its just to let you know about
this opportunity if anyone is interested in this or has any friends looking for something special to do.

If anyone would like further information please get back to us for more details.

We have camels heading north and are looking for groups to help cover the
costs of getting them to their destinations.

Departure dates and points, and the route taken, can be flexible with in
reason but otherwise will be as follows:

Depart Bobong heading to either Karpedo in the Suguta valley, or Akoret on
the east side of Tiati Range, arriving at the destination not later than 17
August, therefore departing from Bobong not later than 7 August. Can be
earlier depending on departure point and walking speed.

The camels will be at the North end of Lake Baringo or at Roberts camp on 27
August ready to depart for Bobong, 29th or 30th August. The return route to
Bobong, and timing, is flexible.

Cost: 2000/- per person per day. Max number of people is 10.

This does not include: food or drinks, tents or bedding, equipment, camp
fees where necessary, Reserve fees if in Bogoria, personal effects, Flying
Doctor Insurance cover. You get the use of 16/18 camels and their handler guides.
You do not have to feed the guides.

Kind regards

John and Amanda Perrett,
Bobong & Ol Maisor Camels,
P.O. Box 5,
Rumuruti 20321,

Tel: +254(0)62-2032718,
Mobile (SMS only): +254(0)735-243075/
+254 (0)722 936177

Info about Ol Maisor from Laikipia Tourism

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New edition of The Rough Guide to Kenya


The 9th edition of the Rough Guide to Kenya is now in the shops. This was a very comprehensive update, so I hope it works for people. I'll post a summary of the significant changes and expanded coverage in the next few days. Meanwhile, anyone who has a copy already, your comments are really welcome. Click "coomments" below, and don't hold back.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The visa fee is staying put at $25

Good news if you're planning ahead, the visa fee that was cut by 50% in April 2009 is set to stay at its reduced level indefinitely. If you're getting a visa in advance, it will cost $25 plus any passport mail/handling charges (or £20 or €20 if you're getting it in the UK or in the Euro zone). If you wait to get your visa on arrival, the price is $25, usually in US dollars cash only. Under 16s are exempt. There's no real disadvantage to waiting to get your visa until arrival, especially if you download your form from an embassy or high commission website in advance – for example in London – and fill it in in before you join the queue at Nairobi or Mombasa. Visas on arrival don't require photos, either.

Kenya High Commission, London

Kenyan Embassy, Washington DC

Monday, March 15, 2010

Have any Maasai Mara camps or lodges closed yet?

Monday 15th March was supposed to be the first day of a "crackdown" on unlicensed camps and lodges in the Mara, as the Nation reminded readers the following day. The offensive, first announced in mid-February, is supposedly being led by the tourism minister Najib Balala, but he has very vocal support from Hassan ole Kamwaro, the former chairman of Narok County Council (who presumably knows a thing or two about how to license Mara properties properly). Kamwaro, who happens to own the formerly wooded site inside the reserve where Somak's controversial new Ashnil Mara lodge has either just opened or remains un-opened (confirmation welcome, whichever it is) asserts:

"Most of the unlicensed lodges and camps belong to foreigners whose aim is to make money without paying revenue to the government. They also pollute the reserve eco-system posing a threat to the bio-diversity in the area.”

If he's basing his views on the so-called "inter-ministerial audit", then his own interest is safe, since the rambling spreadsheet I've seen looks to be about a year out of date, and is contradictory and only partly complete. Somak's new lodge isn't even included.

Anyone who cares about responsible tourism, community development and environmental stewardship would welcome a new era of CSR in Kenya's safari parks. But we'll only get that from impartial judgements given by a credible regulatory body. And one thing is certain: closing a lodge or camp while tourists were staying would be a BA-strike-sized disaster for Kenyan tourism.

Good news for fans of Kenyan music


A new Kenyan music download site, Pewahewa, has just launched. If you have a mobile payment account with Safaricom (M-Pesa) or Zain (Zap), it seems easy to use (I haven't tried it), but for potential users outside Kenya, the only credit card payment system offered is through 2checkout, which I haven't heard of before. It's still not possible to use PayPal for making payments to Kenya.

Meanwhile, a site called KenTanzaVinyl has quietly appeared offering a 7-inch take on East African music - everything from way back when to the arrival of cassettes and CDs. Although it's not a place to buy music, this is a true aficionado's site, with track listings and background on more than 2500 singles, A-Zs of bands and labels, and excellent links.

Seven taxi drivers shot dead by police in Nairobi

"Integrity and justice", the motto of Kenya's administration police, doesn't sit comfortably with the killing on Wednesday night of seven unarmed taxi drivers. According to one driver who escaped, far from threatening the police, the drivers were ordered to lie down and executed in cold blood. The true details of what happened may never come out. There are reports that a feud between taxi drivers and boda-boda operators (motorcycle taxi drivers) turned violent. Matatu (shared taxi) drivers in Nairobi are often accused by the police of being controlled by the outlawed Mungiki gang. The local response on Thursday morning was street protests, and there has been an unusual amount of press coverage (newspaper reports that police have shot "suspected gangsters" are usually dealt with in one small paragraph, as if they were covering a domestic tragedy). The letter I sent to the Nation was printed, albeit somewhat mangled by a copyeditor. My point was not that Kenya's violent reputation might deter "hundreds" of tourists from visiting, but "hundreds of thousands". And in any case, what needs emphasising is that extra-judicial killings like these take place on a daily basis and go barely investigated. The undermining of Kenya's tourist industry, bad as that is, is a secondary issue.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Samburu floods

Although there are mercifully no reports of any deaths or serious injuries, it looks like the Ewaso Nyiro floods of March 4th have completely swamped all the riverbank lodges and camps in Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves, leaving just Samburu Sopa and Saruni to the north of the river, the new Buffalo Springs Simba Lodge on its slightly higher ground and Joy's Camp way over in the southeast in Shaba. I wouldn't forsee any of the following re-opening before the middle of the year, and some may wait to reopen until the next high season, giving them time to make significant repairs and upgrades:

Ashnil Samburu
Elephant Bedroom Camp (Atua Enkop)
Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu Intrepids
Samburu Game Lodge
Samburu Serena

Some may have to relocate - I doubt many owners would want to risk a repeat of these floods, which are the highest ever recorded.

It's good to see the government being more proactive than usual and they say they're going to post further updates here.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Unlicensed" Maasai Mara lodges to be closed

Kenya's tourism minister Najib Balala has promised a "crackdown" on dodgy lodges in and around the Maasai Mara National Reserve, starting on March 15th. This follows the international furore over Somak's almost finished lodge inside the reserve, in an area of prime, wooded black rhino habitat. Following a petition, signed by conservationists, including Jonathan Scott and Simon King, Somak have stopped selling stays at the lodge (Ashnil Mara Lodge), which was due to have opened about now, and the future of the buildings is uncertain.

A so-called "inter-ministerial audit" (a huge Excel spreadsheet), covering everything from whether the property is licensed to what its buildings are constructed of, where it gets its water and how it genrates its electricity, indicates that of more than 100 lodges and camps in the Mara region, only a small percentage are fully compliant with legal requirements, with all their boxes literally ticked. The problem with the document is the high volume of inconsistencies, contradictions and missing information, so that highly regarded camps with impeccable credentials appear tarred with the same brush as badly managed properties for which "environmental responsibility" means sweeping rubbish into a heap before burning it.

Crucially, what is missing from the document is how many staff are qualified guides, certified by the Kenya Professional Safari Guide Association. That's the sort of information on which to judge where to spend your money if you're a first-time visitor to the Mara. But that data is missing.

Balala's decision to go public on the issue of irregular camps and lodges is encouraging. But the Ministry of Tourism needs to double-check their information with property owners, rather than moving in waving the audit in one hand and closure orders in the other. March 15th is a convenient date, though, as many camps and lodges have an annual low season closure for a month or two during the long rainy season in March/April/May.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fly540 opens a UK sales office

Good news if you're in the UK and looking to do some domestic flights in Kenya: Fly540, the newest airline in East Africa (since November 2006), has just announced its first UK reservations number, 0871 644 3365 (daily 8am–8pm) as part of its appointment of Flight Directors in Horley, Surrey, as its general sales agent in the UK. Previously, you could only book Fly540 online, or through their East African offices. Presumably, for travellers outside Britain, the new UK res number is also another option.

The Kenyan hub of Fly540, which aims to become Africa's first no-frills airline, is JKI Airport in Nairobi. Its Kenyan network consists of: Mombasa, Maasai Mara, Malindi, Lamu, Eldoret, Kitale, Kisumu and Lodwar.

Other airlines are available: I like Safarilink (based at Wilson Airport in Nairobi) and Mombasa Air Safaris (based at Moi, Mombasa).

Fly540 also has an active regional network – and about to expand in Tanzania.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Endorois have won their case


Tourists welcome, no Endorois: the slightly grubby swimming pool and warm spring complex at Lake Bogoria Spa Resort, with its usual 0% occupancy.

It's a small victory for human rights in Kenya, but gives hope to dozens of other communities. The Endorois are a small tribe of Kalenjin pastoralists, closely related to the Tugen. They used to range over a large area around Lake Bogoria, but were evicted from the narrow shores of the lake when the reserve was created in 1974. Although they lost little of their traditional grazing lands within the reserve’s narrow confines, what they did lose was precious and fertile, along the wooded southern shore, where several streams provided valuable fresh water, and at Loboi in the north, where the ill-conceived spa-hotel owned by the family of former president Daniel Arap Moi expropriated the warm springs. They also lost valuable honey and sources of herbal medicine. Like every one of Kenya’s indigenous groups, they have valid claims, and their four percent share of the gate receipts is pitifully low – especially since Bogoria rarely figures on safari itineraries. Inspired community leadership has seen them pursue restitution of their lands and compensation as far as the African Union’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. And finally last May's judgement has been made public. Now they will want to see action on the ground – that should be interesting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Kenya Railways are still a joke

Q: What goes three times a week and is usually late? A: The train from Nairobi to Mombasa.

I don't know who comes out looking worse in this investigation in today's Nation by Jaindi Kisero. Is it this crook Roy Puffet (great name for a railway robber baron. . .) or the shambling Kenyan "technocrats" and World Bank "advisors" who fell for his nonsense? Jaw-dropping. . .

The end of malaria tablets?

Bill Gates is saying we might have the first, partiallly effective but workable malaria vaccine by 2013, and a full, 100% vaccine by 2020. No more doxycycline, malarone or lariam. That would be a huge breakthrough for travellers in Kenya and throughout Africa. Not to mention for local people, who have to put up with this disease all their lives. Currently, across Africa 3000 children a day die of malaria.

The BBC story is here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reader recommendation: Oloshaiki camp in the Mara

I thought I'd pass this straight on, as Amayllis posted it as a comment to an unrelated post. I haven't visited, and obviously can't verify the information. The opinions here are not mine. The camp is on the Talek, which is quite a busy area, and the website doesn't include the camp's rates, which I think they really should.

Hi Richard,
To stay in the Maasai Mara I recommend Camp Oloshaiki. It's located just a few kilometers outside Talek gate on the bank of Talek river. Small camp with only 7 spacious tents, each with it's own veranda overlooking Talek river. They used local material, all is handcrafted and despite of the luxury which seems to be inescapable in kenyan safari accomodation, you still feel very close to the gorgeous nature around. I liked very much that it's definetely not that "Out of Africa" style many other camps create for their guests. Very good food, beverage at reasonable prices, inside and outside dining areas, a bonfire after dinner, good showers + beds (the latter of course with mosquito nets). At Oloshaiki you are surrounded by very friendly, attentive Maasai and if you show real interest, you will benefit - especially on game drives or bush walks - from their enourmous knowledge about animals, plants, and people. I loved to be there and hope to return very soon.
Their website:

Greetings, Amaryllis

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Eclipse in Kenya 15 January 2010

I've just heard about this bonus for anyone in Kenya on 15th January 2010 - an annular eclipse of the sun in which the moon will be in front of the sun, but appearing smaller than the sun, with a ring of sun all round it, so not as intense as a total eclipse.

The timer in Wikipedia's nifty graphic from NASA shows GMT, so it will be three hours later in Kenya.

I'm not sure how spectacular it will be. An operator called Astronomy Tours will be at Lake Nakuru, which I think is currently very rainy/cloudy, but there'll be a partial eclipse throughout Kenya, and anyone in Lamu will also get the full annular effect for 5 minutes.

I thought this was rather exciting - feedback welcome.