Big Five Cheetah FamilyBig Five Tours & Expeditions

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, said Chinese sage Lao-Tzu.

For Canadians travelling to Kenya, that first step often begins with a vague wish. This is the proverbial trip of a lifetime. You’ll find that a visit to Kenya – its population is about the same as Canada – offers more than you imagined and is far removed from any routine holiday.

It’s no surprise that wildlife safaris are the number one reason to visit, but Kenya’s diversity places it high on the list of “most wanted” vacation destinations. It’s a great place for romance, adventure, and family holidays.

“I’ll never forget one special moment on my visit last fall,” says Toronto’s Gwen Bryson. “We thought we’d seen it all, and that it would be impossible to top our experiences, but it was the last day and the last game drive in the Masai Mara. We came across three lionesses and their cubs right beside the road. Those little babies were rolling around and chasing each other like kittens while their moms tried to groom them! They all ignored us and kept playing for about 20 minutes. I treasure that memory.”

The Mara holds special memories for all who visit, and Phil Lundgren, a B.C. resident who proposed to his sweetheart during a safari, recounts this one with glee:
“We were flying over the Mara in a vintage Cessna, just the two of us and the pilot, and at times we were little more than a metre off the ground getting fantastic close-up views of the animals. Then we landed to sip champagne where they filmed a scene for Out of Africa, one of Sheri’s favourite movies. She recognized the place from the film. And that’s when I proposed. She said yes! And we’re going back for our fifth anniversary.”

We spoke to several Kenya experts, and they all offered this same piece of advice: Kenya is not a country for self-drive exploration. The roads can be rough, and distances between game reserves can be great.

“You really do need a knowledgeable driver-guide, and there are plenty to choose from,” says Kenyan Isabel Nanton. Isabel lives in B.C., and travels frequently to her birthplace. “Most drivers are articulate (many have university degrees) and they’re so open – you feel much more connected when you know your driver’s history and hear all about his family. Distances between itinerary stops can be long, sometimes four to six hours on rough roads, and the drivers know what they’re doing.”
And now Kenya is hot according to several tour operators, and we’re not talking only about the weather.

“We’ve never been busier, and since early this year, it seems everybody wants to make the big trip,” says one. And many Canadians are going for the second, third, and fourth time.

“The first visit is usually viewed as a one-time only event. Then people discover that there’s so much to see, and they absolutely love it.”

With more than 50 designated national parks and reserves covering habitats from desert to mountain forest and six marine parks, there are plenty of reasons to return. Witnessing the annual migration of a million-plus wildebeest and some half-million zebra – closely followed by predators – between Serengeti and the Masai Mara is just one of them.

Safaris are increasingly chosen for honeymoons, and few things spell romance more than sipping a sundowner on the deck of a luxury lodge, listening to wild animals and watching the star-laden velvet southern skies.

And consider hot-air ballooning. Where else but in Africa would you drift gently over herds of zebra and wildebeest in the Great Rift Valley, sight big game on the Masai Mara plains, or view wildlife over Amboseli National Park and drink in eye-level views of Mount Kilimanjaro on the Tanzanian border?
It’s good to know that, as well as the safari (which simply means “journey” in Kaswahili) there are water sports, bungee jumps, skydiving, and golf to round out a vacation. And in Nairobi and Mombasa, nightclubs, museums, theatre, and fine dining. (Although it’s hard to beat the calibre of meals served in many game lodges.)

This country is also Nirvana for birders. Tsavo West National Park is rich in avian species, and in contrast with Amboseli’s dry, fragile ecosystem, it has an oasis of freshwater pools fed from underground Mzima Springs. While it’s a haven for elephants, hippo, antelope and giraffe, the lush foliage of nearby Ngulia Hills draws thousands of migrant birds from as far afield as Russia.
A visit to Kenya is an adventure in anybody’s books but just how physically active do you have to be?
“You should be fit enough to travel several hours over rough roads, but mostly, on safari, you’re sitting in a four-by-four, so you don’t have to be super-jock,” says Isabel. “However, if you’re so inclined you can climb Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya with expert guides. That’s a great achievement.”
All sorts of people are heading to Kenya, ranging from newlyweds to seniors to families. Like Debra Hull, an Alberta mother of two who took the plunge and took her family to Kenya last year.
“It was a major financial investment, but I’ll never regret it,” she says. “Our kids were 12 and 14 when we travelled and they learned so much, saw completely different cultures, and the experience was simply…enriching. It’s something we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives.”

The Big Five
Everyone tries for the “Big Five”: leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros and lion.

istock buffaloMarkus Divis/iStockphoto istock elephantMark Wilson/iStockphotoistock leopardAndy Diamond/iStockphoto  abs54Africa Bound Safaris

abs19Africa Bound SafarisJust The Facts
Kenyans are renowned for their friendliness and well organized tourist trade, but be prepared for heavy sales pressure from street and market vendors.

Kenya’s multicultural society includes Kikuyu (the largest group), Somalis, the Hamitic nomads, Kamba, Maasai, Europeans, and the coastal-dwelling Swahili.

English is the official language and Kaswahili is the national language. (Say jambo – hello – and you’ll earn a smile.)

Electrical power is 220/240 volts with UK-type square, three-pin plugs.

Muslim influence prevails along the coast, and visitors are advised to cover bare arms and legs, to show respect for the culture.

Currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KSh) made up of 100 cents.

More Kenya
For more information on travel to and within Kenya, contact the Kenya Tourist Board, or contact them:

In Nairobi:
Kenya Tourist Board
Kenya Re Towers
Ragati Rd, Upper Hill
P. O. Box 30630
Nairobi 00100
Telephone: + 254 20 2711262
Fax: + 254 20 2719925

In Toronto:
Kenya Tourist Board
c/o VoX International Inc.
2601-2 Bloor Street West
Toronto, Ontario
M4W 3E2 Canada
Telephone: (416) 935-1896
Fax: (416) 935-0939