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Kenya Safari - Masai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Naivasha, Selenkay and Ol Kinyei.


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Here goes my first travel report on our (myself and my wife) very first trip to Africa, a safari in Kenya. Like many other first timers we faced the question of choosing a location. The most general dilemma usually is Eastern Africa vs. Southern Africa. After reading quite a lot about both regions, we decided to go to Eastern Africa, the annual wildebeest and zebra migration being the single most important factor which influenced our decision.


The next logical step was to decide where exactly to go in order to witness the annual migration with choices obviously being Serengeti or Masai Mara. At first I made an itinerary for 12 days Kenya plus Tanzania safari, then decided not to spend half of the trip driving between national parks and to concentrate on one country. Finally Kenya was chosen as a destination country, since we could combine the Great Rift Valley Lakes, with the elephants in Amboseli NP and the migration in Masai Mara.


We used three different safari companies – the backbone of the trip was Gamewatchers Safaris with their "adventure camps" in Selenkay and Ol Kinyei private conservancies. They offered a good package, which included local flights from Nairobi to Selenkay (Amboseli eco system), then to Ol Kinyei (Masai Mara eco system) and back to Nairobi with full day visits to both Amboseli and Masai Mara national parks.


For Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria we chose African Game Trek Safaris, they were the only one who offered both lakes in one two days/one night trip. After the Selenkay and Ol Kinyei conservancies we choose Freeman Safaris for a camp in Central Mara (the hidden gem in the Mara eco system, I would have never found the website if I wasn’t referred by a friend who has stayed there before).


Logistically three overnights in Nairobi were needed (one after arrival, one between the lakes and the Gamewatchers conservancies and one just prior to departure). Here I made the wrong choice - Bush House & Camp located in the suburb or Karen. Made the booking four months in advance via a major portal that I have been using extensively for the last 6-7 years - booking.com and also sent an email directly to the guesthouse, they replied back and confirmed the reservation. Two days before departure I reminded them about our reservation and they confirmed again. When we showed up at the hotel, the receptionist told us that there is a problem and they have a double booking, some family got sick and needed to delay their flight back home and to stay longer with them, which was a total bull… (I read a review on Trip Advisor from a client who has been told exactly the same thing a week after this happened to us). To be totally honest, I should mention that they did send us to a similar guest house nearby, but since I already had pick-up arrangements with two different safari companies the whole thing did cause some confusion. The good part was that we went to Karen Embers guesthouse, which we found to be an excellent budget pre- and post safari accommodation in Nairobi (see the photos below).






My better half having breakfast at Karen Embers:




July 31, 2013.

After having a great breakfast at the guesthouse we were picked up by African Game Trek Safaris for our trip to the Great Rift Valley lakes. This was a budget safari with the so hated by seasoned safari goers "white van". Actually the safari van was absolutely fine for this trip, although I would strongly recommend a 4X4 (Land Rover or Land Cruiser) vehicle for Amboseli, the private concessions and Masai Mara, since we really needed do some serious offloading in these places. Contrary to common believe off-road driving in Masai Mara is tolerated when it comes to following important wildlife sightings (we did climb to the top of a ridge to see black rhino in Mara). The other good news was that it turned out that the tour was private, just two of us in the van. I did not believe that for this price we could get a private tour, so I did not clarify this at the time of booking. I was also surprised that the manager of the company was also with us for the entire trip. One of the reasons could be that when alone with the drivers, they tend to give you their phone number and email address and promise a cheaper safari if you contact them directly next time.


We had a really nice drive, both the manager and the driver, who was also a very good guide were relaxed and great companions and since we were alone in the van, there was more than enough space for us, our luggage, photo and video equipment etc. Being on our first trip to Africa meant that everything was interesting to us - from the suburbs of Nairobi to the countryside and The Great Rift Valley scenery. We stopped at a look-out point with fabulous views of the valley where I found a Gamewatchers Safaris vehicle and had a short chat with the driver (in two days we were about to go on safari with this company). Then we were driven to some sort of hotel in Nakuru town, had lunch there and off to the first game drive in our lives - Lake Nakuru NP. Needless to say that we were very excited and liked the park very much. Although quite large, the park is fenced (we never saw the fence) and the wildlife has been introduced to the place years ago. For this reason some rare spices like Rothschild's giraffe and rhinos are kept there (easier to safeguard from pouching).


We should have pushed from the very beginning of the game drive to look for rhino since this is the perhaps the best place for this in Kenya, but being our first game drive, we did not know what we could or could not ask for. So, we saw a white rhino from very far towards the end of the drive and it was not even worth taking a photo of it. Were not lucky enough to see “lions on trees”, the only lions we saw in Lake Nakuru NP were actually sleeping in the tall grass, again not worth taking a picture of parts of their bodies only. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the park and the game we saw very much – Thompson and Grant’s gazelles, impalas, warthogs, cape buffalos, Rothschild's giraffes, baboons and all sorts of birds. We knew in advance that the huge flocks of flamingos are not present at Lake Nakuru any longer due to high water levels, this is why we planned for Lake Bogoria on the next day.


Lake Elementaita:




Lake Nakuru NP:










At the end of the game drive it started to rain and we were relieved that the weather forecast proved to be correct after we finished our safari for the day.

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@@FlyTraveler Welcome to Safaritalk. A photographic trip report is always a great introduction, but don't forget to introduce yourself properly here. The photos are showing up fine. Were you trying to link to the images on another site? Looking forward to more.



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Welcome, great start and looking forward to more.

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@@Game Warden and twaffle Thanks!


@@Game Warden, yes I was trying to link to images on another site, it would show the photos on preview, but than it would not load the post. Then figured out that I can attach photos from my computer to this website, so everything is fine, just don't know how to edit my report, so I can remove the text regarding photos upload...

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August 01, 2013-09-29


This day we drove from Nakuru town to Lake Bogoria NP crossing the Equator on the way. Hundreds of thousands flamingos showed in front of our eyes immediately after passing through the park’s gate. There are no predators present at the lake and we were able to walk around freely and take photographs of the wildlife. Except the flamingos there were ostriches, marabu storks and other birds walking on the lake’s shore, a real photography lover’s paradise.
















After staying at Lake Bogoria for a couple of hours we started our drive back to Nairobi. On the way our driver and guide offered an extra activity, which wasn’t on the tour’s itinerary - to stop at Lake Naivasha for one hour motor boat tour, which was an excellent idea. I took quite a few pictures of various birds and hippos both in and out of the water, including a sequence shots of African fish eagle diving down to the water surface, grabbing the fish and taking off.


Some of the Lake Naivasha photos:





















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August 02, 2013


After breakfast we were picked up for a transfer to Wilson airport for our flight to Selenkay private conservancy located in the Amboseli eco-system. It was time for our Gamewatchers camps safari. This was our first bush flight and quite an event for an aircraft enthusiast like myself. We flew on a brand new single engine Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft with a Swiss pilot behind the controls. We had an interesting event during the landing at the Selenkay airstrip - when we were at an altitude of about just 10-15 meters, zebras crossed the runway and the pilot pulled up the yoke for a go-around, made another approach with a very low flight to scare the zebras away and landed at the third attempt.







An aerial view of a Masai Village:





Selenkay airstrip:





A few words about the Gamewatchers private conservancy projects. The company is leasing land from the local Masai communities and is using it for game viewing activities thus paying rent to the community and employing 100% local Masai in the camps including for camp manager positions. This system seems to be working fine and keeps both parties happy. The main advantages in a private reserve for the safari goers are that there is a very low vehicle traffic in the area (just the Gamewatchers vehicles), ability to drive off-road and to do night drives. The company has two camps in Selenkay - the Porini luxury camp and the adventure camp. The “only” differences between the camps are in the accommodation (the adventure camp offers small dome type of tents and we slept on mattresses on the ground. Private bush showers and flushing toilets were available in a small cubicle just behind each tent) and in the fact that in the adventure camp all drinks apart of mineral water were not included in the package. Apart of this, the same food, vehicles and the same quality guides are used in both camps. Needles to say that the price for the adventure camp package was almost twice cheaper and we found this option to be a great value for the money.


The landscape of the conservancy is mostly bushy with a good variety of animals and birds. Although the guides told us that there are lions and leopards in the reserve, for the two days spent there we only encountered lions during one of the night drives for a very short time, they just disappeared in the bush. There are also two waterholes with erected viewing platforms from which different game can be observed. We saw elephants, zebras, warthogs, masai giraffes, the rare long necked Gerenuk gazelle, Thomson and Grant’s gazelles, impalas, kudus, dik dik-s, secretary birds and other game.









The rare long necked Gerenuk gazelle:





A male kudu and a female impala. These two species like to hang out toghether:










Fighting giraffes:




The dining area of the adventure camp:











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Great sequence of the fish eagle: it reminds me of those images taken by @@Rainbirder here. Matt


Thanks Matt, Rainbirder's shots are better (more in focus and sharper in general) than mine, I also assume that he is using a lot better lens (mine are done with a budget Nikon 70-300 mm VR lens). In any case his shots are far superior.

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You have two hours to edit, so in that time, click the edit button at the bottom of the post, (this button disappears after 2 hours), and edit. If it's something after 2 hours, let me know.

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Welcome to Safaritalk and thank for your trip report. I am really enjoying it and like your writing style and pictures. The fish eagle sequence is superb and shows you are a talented photographer. I think your report of a budget safari will really help others on a budget. Too often folks think that safaris are just too expensive of a holiday. Your report shows one can have a great safari on a budget as well.

Edited by AKR1
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Welcome also from another whose first safari was in East Africa with Gamewatchers. When we stayed in Selenkay in 2005 there was just the one Porini camp.


Great shot of the lesser kudu, we only saw them briefly on a night drive.

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Great trip report, welcome to Safaritalk @@FlyTraveler, looking forward to reading more :D

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Welcome to Safaritalk and thank for your trip report. I am really enjoying it and like your writing style and pictures. The fish eagle sequence is superb and shows you are a talented photographer. I think your report of a budget safari will really help others on a budget. Too often folks think that safaris are just too expensive of a holiday. Your report shows one can have a great safari on a budget as well.


Thanks AKR1, safaris in general are more expensive than most other types of vacation or travel, but we must understand the factors which form the cost - NP or reserve fees, cost of game vehicles, drivers, camp staff, transporting supplies in the bush etc. That said, there are still ways to cut cost without comrpomising the actual wildlife experience by just choosing lower comfort levels or reducing number of days/nights. The next step in cutting costs is compromising location which is worse, but still better than not going on a safari at all :) In other cases you pay more, but you get really important things, private vehicle, for example which is far more important for me personally than the quality of the food or drinks...

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Welcome also from another whose first safari was in East Africa with Gamewatchers. When we stayed in Selenkay in 2005 there was just the one Porini camp.


Great shot of the lesser kudu, we only saw them briefly on a night drive.

Thanks JohnR, you have stayed at the "luxury camp", Selenkay is a great place for a first safari, isn't it...

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Great trip report, welcome to Safaritalk @@FlyTraveler, looking forward to reading more :D

Thanks Safari Cal, I'll add some more when I have time :)

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Great photos. Never heard of these Gamewatchers adventure camps. They look terrific!

Thanks Leely, We found these camps a great value for the money, as far as you don't mind sleeping on mattresses on the ground in a sleeping bag. Location, game drives and staff are great.

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Very nice. What a great start to your first safari. Great elephant shots and what a beautiful kudu!


The Adventure Camp looks interesting. Do you stay in dome tents?

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August 03, 2013


Our first day with the usual safari routine – waking up early in the morning, game drive, breakfast, leisure time or another activity for most of the campmates (sorting out [and deleting non keepers] photos on the laptop for me), lunch, afternoon game drive the end of which is a night drive, dinner, chat around the bonfire, sleep. We are not very picky about accommodation, but have not been camping for quite a few years plus this was our first night in a tent in the bush sleeping on mattresses on the ground, so I was a bit concerned about the experience. The best night sleep in my life, “roughing it” felt really good, totally different experience than the hotel in Nakuru town, even taking a bush shower and saving the water (one load for two of us) was fun.


After the morning game everyone including my better half went for a guided walk, I just stayed at the camp going through my photos, figured out that a walk without an armed ranger would not produce great sightings and it turned out that I was right - insects and plants lecture by the guide (not that this wouldn’t be interesting).


In the late afternoon we visited a traditional Masai village located either within or very close to the conservancy. I am always very sceptical towards this kind of activities which in most cases are staged up touristy type BS, but this was a genuine Masai village experience. They might have dressed up for us (the guide said they didn’t), but still it was a real village and we were able to observe their general way of life, houses, cattle etc. The women sang really well, much more in tune than many pop stars live in concert. :)


Our Masai guide, driver and three warriors:



Masai women are great singers:





Milking a goat with a baby on the back:








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Very nice. What a great start to your first safari. Great elephant shots and what a beautiful kudu!


The Adventure Camp looks interesting. Do you stay in dome tents?

Thanks Pault, yes we stayed in dome tents, I think that I have photos from the next camp in Ol Kinyei, will post them later.

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August 04, 2013-09-30 - Amboseli NP


This was the day for our full day game drive in Amboseli NP. I was hoping very much that we will get clear skies and I’ll be able to take the cliché photo of an elephant or a giraffe with Kilimanjaro as a background. The morning looked quite all right, but later on we got an overcast sky, left alone Kilimanjaro, we did not get the best light for general scenery and wildlife photos.


Although there is a variety of wildlife in Amboseli NP, the presence of elephants is overwhelming – elephants walking, elephants in the swamp, elephants playing, single elis, huge groups, families, extended families… There were quite a lot cape buffalos, as well in most cases sharing the swamp with the elephants. Scenery-wise the park is quite beautiful with two major areas - the plains and the swamps plus one hill with stunning views from the top. This was the only park or reserve in Kenya where I saw huge palm trees, I would assume that the elevation is lower than Mara and Amboseli is also slightly more to the south. Again no luck with predators this day, except bunch of spotted hyena pups.











The only place in Kenya where I saw palm trees:



















August 05, 2013 Selenkay - Nairobi - Ol Kinyei flights.


After an early morning drive and breakfast we were driven to the airstrip for our flights to Ol Kinyei via Nairobi. The transfer itself was a nice game drive and we saw a jackal carrying a dik dik in his mouth, I was not ready with the camera, but my wife took a video of them. The same pilot who brought us here took us back to Nairobi, this time we had uneventful flight.


At Nairobi Wilson airport we had to wait for our flight to Olseki airstrip in the Naboisho conservancy (the closest airstrip to Ol Kinyei). The flight was late with more than an hour, the Wi-Fi at the café upstairs did not work on my computer for some reason and the only entertainment that we had consisted of watching the planes on the tarmac with the highlight being witnessing a flat tire change on an aircraft. I would imagine that for this procedure they take the plane in a hangar or at a special maintenance place. Not at Wilson airport, although it was a fairly large four engine turboprop they changed the flat tire right where the passengers left the aircraft and the new ones boarded, just like you and I would change a flat tire on our cars – a guy came with a jack, lifted the plane, two other mechanics loosen the bolts, took the tire off, placed the new tire, fastened the bolts and passengers boarded in a few minutes.


The only interaction we had at the airport was with a Chinese lady from Shanghai who was about to fly to Mara with her husband and their daughter. There were part of a group (all Chinese) and she apparently was the only one among them who spoke some English and was eager to practice it. Her first question was “Where is your tour leader?” and was really surprised that we didn’t have one. Despite of the economic success, Red China is still Red China…


Finally it was time to board our plane, while boarding a lady from the ground staff just told us “You should get off at Olseki airstrip, remember - the second stop”. Sure thing, I’ll try not to miss the stop, otherwise what? Get off on the next stop and walk one stop back? :) :)


The plane was a dual engine Canadian built Bombardier Dash 6. While the Cessna Grand Caravan was a single engine plane, it was brand new and equipped with the latest avionics and multifunctional displays, the Dash 6 was really old with analog instruments, didn’t even have an autopilot. There wasn’t any door on the cockpit, so I was able to observe both pilots, the First Officer being a young Kenyan lady. The flight was very interesting, with great sunny skies and interesting views. Since we were to get off at the second stop, we did some flying over Masai Mara and saw Mara River from the air.



Our First Officer:








An aerial view of Mara River (no crossing at this time):











The manager of the Gamewatchers adventure camp in Ol Kinyei who was also our guide helping with the luggage:



Edited by FlyTraveler
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@@FlyTraveler welcome! A great report with lots of fantastic photos. I stayed at the Porini camp in Selenkay in 2005, your images bring back nice memories.

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@@africapurohit Thanks, Selenkay offers a very intimate contact with nature and wildlife, I would compare the experience to chamber music while Masai Mara would be a full size symphony orchestra :)

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Lovely Amboseli elephant pictures. Brought back wonderful memories from 3 years ago.

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