Posts Tagged With: 50th Anniversary of Kenya

Nairobi

Follow  the ‘Countdown to 50′ Campaign!

Get to KNOW, EXPLORE, PROTECT and CELEBRATE Kenya

Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

Nairobi- The Green City under the Sun

Nairobi, in spite of it all, is still the safari capital of Africa even though the modern world has caught up with it speedily. A boondocks no more, this bygone Maasai watering hole will  do more than wet your appetite. Nairobi is sleepless, energetic and contempo, offering an impressive  introduction to both wildlife and nightlife.  Its music clubs pulsating with vivacity, bustling shops and spirited markets alongside a mélange of ‘food joints’ will certainly tempt your palate.

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Nightfall at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre

 The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase, Enkare Nairobi, which translates to “place of cool waters” probably borrowed  from the Nairobi river, gave the city its name.  In addition to being a favourable site for  the Nairobi railway camp, it was also chosen because of its network of rivers and  temperate elevation. Furthermore the location ‘s central position between Mombasa and Kampala made it the ideal residential choice.

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View the Parliament House

 Although Nairobi is now thriving as one of Africa’s largest and most intriguing cities. This area was essentially an uninhabited swamp until a supply depot of the Uganda Railway, which soon became the railway’s headquarters, was built here in 1899. Not long afterwards, the town was completely rebuilt in the early 1900s following an outbreak of plague and the burning of the original town. In 1905, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as capital of the British Protectorate centered around administration and big game hunting.  However its disadvantage as malaria prone area, it prompted the residents to attempt to have the town moved. Nonetheless it continued to grow under the British occupation until it eventually became the capital of a free Kenyan republic in 1963.

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Participants of the Nai Ni Who? Campaign

Nairobi  as we know it today, is as contemporary as its people. An established hub for commerce and culture it can surely be defined as a prominent social center. This is a place of great contrasts where race, tribe and origin all contribute to its unmatched character.  Enduring as a cosmopolitan and multicultural city, it has grow around its central business district ranking it as the most populous city in East Africa and the 12th largest city in Africa.

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Over 90% of Nairobians work within the CBD, in the formal and jua kali sector.

One of the most influential cities in Africa both politically and financially with the second oldest exchange and one of the largest in the continent. It hosts thousands of local businesses and over 100 major international companies and organizations. Nairobi also boasts as the regional headquarters of several international companies and organizations including  the UNEP and UN-Habitat headquarters.

Lighthouse attraction

Many come to Kenya for a safari oblivious to the fact that you barely need to leave the capital to take one. The city in itself does have several tourist attractions although it may lack the appeal as a prime tourist destination. Most famous naturally is the Nairobi National Park which contains abundant wildlife making it a non-stop thrill ride of a wilderness excursion. Established back in 1946, this is Kenya’s first National Park and is really unique being the only game-reserve of this nature to border a major city.

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There’s plentiful wildlife, including most of the plains animals (except elephants), against the bizarre backdrop of Nairobi skyscrapers.

Approximately 7 km south of the city centre, this phenonmenon is perhaps the only wildlife park in the world that you can visit by taxi or bus. The Park is open daily from 8:30 a.m-5:30 p.m. and is easily accessible on tarmac roads, mainly through Lang’ata Road. It is particularly ideal for travelers with stop-overs in Nairobi or those in Nairobi for business without the luxury of time for a long safari. The afternoons area best time to visit.

Covering an area of 117.21 km2 , it is relatively small in comparison to most of Africa’s well known national parks.  The park contains two major ecosystems comprising of highland dry forest and savannah which feature a wide range of natural and artificial environments. Its predominant environment is open grass plain consisting mainly of savannah with scattered Acacia bushes and grass plains. There is a riverine forest along the south of the park that is drained by permanent rivers. Dams have also been set up on secondary rivers to disperse water over the plains and wetlands.

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The scenery inside the Nairobi national Park

The western side is highlands  are covered by dry forests and dense riverine vegetation with Wild Olives, Crotons and Cape Chestnut trees. In the grassland on lower slopes are species like Red grass, Crab grass and Bermuda grass with scattered Cypress and  yellow-barked Fever  trees. There are  also some areas of broken bush and deep rocky valleys and gorges within the park. The species in the valleys are predominantly Acacia and Euphorbia candelabrum. Other tree species include White pear, Fig trees, Canthium shrubs, Sumacs and some legume species. Several plants like Spurges also grow on the rocky hillsides and are endemic to the area.

Serving as the northern limit for wildlife migrations, the concentration of wildlife in the park is highest when areas outside the park have dried up. The dams in turn have created a wonderful man-made habitat for myriads of birds and various aquatic animals.

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Young lions lounging in the Nairobi National Park

Its diverse wildlife population, includes one of the highest densities of lions in the country. Other member of the  Big 5 found in the park include the African buffalo, leopard and rhino.  There are also hippopotamus, cheetahs, baboons, Burchell’s zebra,  Coke’s hartebeest, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, elands, impala, Masai giraffe and waterbucks. It also has a high diversity of bird species of up to 500 permanent and migratory species.

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Spotted, the elusive Leopard

It is also one of Kenya’s most successful rhinoceros sanctuaries. True to its moniker, the Kifaru Ark is one of only a few parks where visitors can be certain of seeing a black rhinoceros in its natural habitat. Another sanctuary within the park is the  David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, located close to the park’s main entrance, where between 11 a.m. and noon you can watch keepers take orphaned baby rhinos and elephants for their daily mud baths.

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Entrance of the Nairobi Safari Park

Another major attraction in there is the Nairobi Safari Walk as it offers a rare on-foot experience of the animals. This is one activity that gives you an chance to see Kenya’s wildlife close hand rather than from the restrictions of a tour van. It is  an exciting eye opener to Kenya’s Parks and Reserves that offers visitors an opportunity to discover and anticipate what is out there across the country.

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Entrance and inside of the Nairobi Safari Walk

 Other attractions in the park are the animal migrations in July and August, the Ivory Burning Site Monument and Nairobi Animal Orphanage. Established in 1964, it is the oldest animal shelter in Kenya and rehabilitation centre for abandoned or injured wild animals.  Secured within the park’s lush landscape, this special facility is home to more than 20 different animals and bird species.

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Colobus monkey perched on a tree inside the Park

 Nairobi is surrounded by several expanding suburbs with dense tree-cover and plenty of green spaces making it the ‘Green City in the Sun’ as is it popularly known. It is situated at 1o1736o49’E adjacent to the eastern edge of the Rift Valley, with the Ngong Hills, west of the city, serving as the most conspicuous geographical feature around the region.

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View of the city from Ngong

The city enjoys a moderate climate at an elevation of 1795m. It has a subtropical highland climate makes for some cool evenings and gets colder especially in the June to July periods, when the temperature can drop to about 10 °C. The sunniest and warmest part of the year is usually from December to March, when temperatures average the mid-twenties during the day. The mean maximum temperature for this period is around 24 °C .

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View to the left and the right of Kenyatta Avenu from the I&M building

There are two rainy seasons which can be moderate. The cloudiest part of the year is just after the first rainy season until around September when conditions are usually overcast with drizzle. As Nairobi is situated close to the equator, the differences between the seasons are typically minimal. The timing of sunrise and sunset  also varies little throughout the year for the same reason.

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View of the CBD from Upper Hill

Today, many businesses are considering relocating or establishing their headquarters outside the Central Business District area. Two areas that are seeing a growth in companies and office space are Upper Hill, which is situated approximately 4 km from the CBD and Westlands, which is also about the same distance away from the city centre.

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View towards Westlands and Eastlands from KICC

Many lower-middle and upper-middle income neighbourhoods are located in the north-central areas. Nearlly all of the up market suburbs are situated to the west and north-central of Nairobi where most European settlers resided during the colonial times. The low and lower income estates are located mainly in far eastern Nairobi. Further southwest, are the Ngong/Embulbul suburbs, which are  also considered as part of the greater Nairobi metropolitan area.

Explore Nairobi

Although Nairobi serves as both a tourist destination and a transport hub most visitors  tend  to dive in and out of the city the shortest time possible. This is mostly attributed to its ‘Nairobbery’ notoriety,yet it’s easy enough to evade the worst of the city’s dangers once you are oriented and as far Kenyan cities go, this one has plenty going for it. It’s indiscriminate café culture and titillating nightlife make it virtually the only place in the country where you can get a truly varied menu.

Parks

The Moi Monument at the Central Park and the Jeevanjee Gardens

The many parks and open spaces throughout the city make it differ in several ways from other Kenyan regions. The most visited of these is the Uhuru Park  which is a centre for outdoor speeches, services and rallies. It borders the Central Business District and the neighbourhouring Upper Hill.  The Central Park,which is adjacent to Uhuru Park, is also a popular spot. Futher from the CBD, along Langata road near the Wilson Airport  is the Uhuru Gardens. It is the largest memorial park in Kenya and national monument where the first Kenyan flag was raised at independence. Other notable clearances include the Jeevanjee Gardens, City Park, 7th August Memorial Park and the Nairobi Arboretum.

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The main entrance of the Nairobi National Museum

Nairobi is home to the Nairobi National Museum’s, which is the  largest in the city. It houses a large collection of artefacts portraying Kenya’s rich heritage through history, nature, culture and contemporary art. Other noteworthy places include Jomo Kenyatta’s Mausoleum, Kenya National Theatre, Bomas of Kenya and the Kenya National Archives. The top art galleries in Nairobi include the Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art and the Mizizi Arts Centre. There are also other smaller yet popular museums like the Nairobi Railway Museum and the Karen Blixen Museum which is located in the affluent Karen suburb.

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View of the classic Karen Blixen Museum

Built in 1912 ,the bungalow-style house bought by Karen Blixen and her then-husband in 1917, was once the centre piece of their farm life. The grounds, which feature original equipment from the coffee farm, are available for touring visitors are interested in guided tours of the house.  Its rooms are designed in both the original decor and props from the 1985 film, ‘Out of Africa’ ,an Oscar winning movie based on Karen’s an autobiography by the same title. There is also a gift shop within the premises and the museum is open every day between 9:30 a.m and 6.00 p.m, including on weekends and public holidays.

Giraffe Centre

The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Giraffe centre is approximately 5 km from the city centre. It was founded in 1979 by Jock Leslie-Melville, the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish Earl, when he and his wife captured an infant giraffe. Their aspiration then was to start a programme of breeding giraffe in captivity at their home in Langata. Today this sanctuary is an acclaimed refuge for the endangered Rothschild giraffe that is found only in the grasslands of East Africa. The center also operates as an educational program for Kenyan school children to teach them about wildlife conservation.

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Feeding giraffes from a raised observation platform is a good place to get the close-up photographs that eluded you on a safari.

The centre is also home to several warthogs which freely roam the area along with the giraffes. It is futhermore the location of the Giraffe Manor, one of Nairobi’s most iconic historical buildings. This edifice dates back to the 1930s and is reminiscent of the early days of Europeans in East Africa. The estate is now an exclusive guesthouse where the  giraffes pay an occasional visit as wander  freely through the verdant gardens.

Mamba Village

 Also located in Nairobi’s leafy Karen suburb, about 13 km away from the cacophony of the city, is the Nairobi Mamba Village resort. Spread over 30 acres, it is home to around 70 Nile crocodiles that are known to be the largest of the species and the most dangerous.There are also giraffes, camels, an ostrich park and a peacock pen in the facreage along with a variety of other birds. It has a man-made lake with boats and fairground equipment in addition to its entertainment.   

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The Mamba Village is the place to visit if you want to see crocodiles and ostriches close up in Nairobi

It is also fitted with a camp site and accommodation tents, restaurant, conference facilities, party and wedding facilities and an animal farm that are perfect for a group of up to 80 children or 50 adults. Mamba Village also has within its grounds a deluxe campsite for more up luxurious accommodation.

Nightclubs

The city’s night life is very popular with both young and old tourists. From a collection of gourmet restaurants and bistros offering local and international cuisine, Nairobi has something to offer to every age and pocket. Most common known food establishments include The Carnivore and Tamarind Restaurants which have outlets in Langata, the City Centre and the Village Market. For the more experiential travellers, one can choose from a wide array of local dishes, exotic cuisines and fast food establishments around its boroughs.

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The city’s nightlife is mostly centred along friends and colleagues meeting after work especially on Fridays – popularly known as “Furahiday”

 The most popular clubbing spots are centred in up-market Westlands which has come to be known as Nairobi’s ‘Electric Avenue’. Other choice haunts can be found in Karen, Langata, Hurlingham and “uptown” venues in the city centre. Nairobians generally go out every day of the week and most establishments are open till late.

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Theme nights, events and concerts are also popular venues in the city

Shops and Markets

There are a number of shopping malls in the Nairobi Area. These include: The West Gate mall, Prestige Plaza, the Village Market, the Sarit Center, the Junction. A variety of amenities are provided at these malls and include cinemas, fashion and apparel boutiques, bookshops, electronics and grocery stores, coffeehouses, restaurants and bars.

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One of the stalls in theCBD and vendors in Gikomba Market

One of the great experiences for visitors in Nairobi is a visit to the exhibition stalls and open air markets. Bargaining is the name of the game and vendors are usually willing to negotiate prices with shoppers. If you are not a local, it is advisable whenever possible to have someone with you who speaks the language and is conversant with the special bargaining lingo of the market vendors so that you can get the best deals for your purchases. Second-hand clothes or ‘Mitumba’ markets are also quite common and are a ideal option for those who want to be fashionable yet budget conscious.

Stadiums and Sporting grounds

Nairobi is East Africa’s sporting centre and football is the most popular sport. Its premier sports facilities are the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani and the Nyayo Stadium located close to the CBD. These venues make them convenient locations for international tournaments, national events and social gatherings. Other notable annual competitions staged in Nairobi include Safari Rally, Safari Sevens rugby union tournament, and the Nairobi Marathon.

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The Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi is the center of horse racing in Kenya.

Golfing is another growing attraction, with six courses within a 20 km radius of the city The big-league golf clubs include the Windsor Country Club, Karen Country Club and Muthaiga Country Club. The Kenya Open golf tournament, which is part of the Challenge Tour,, in addition takes place here. In Nairobi is also has the largest ice rink in Africa, the Solar Ice Rink at the Panari Hotel’s Sky Centre.

Practical Travel information

The crowded city center is actually safe to walk in compared to a few years back, when muggings, carjackings and kidnappings emptied it as residents began referring to Nairobi as “Nairobbery.” Today walking around Nairobi is relatively safe as the town is small and accessible. However, some areas can be a security risk and it is best to seek local advice before setting out.

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The main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International, located 15kms out of the centre of town. JKIA handles both International and domestic carriers.

The Wilson airport, located 11 kms outside of the city centre, is the domestic hub for both scheduled and chartered domestic flights.

The city is served by highways that link Mombasa to Kampala and Arusha and most of the roads are tarmacked.  Matatus which ply through the city are the most common form of public transport. These matatus are privately owned minibuses and generally seat fourteen to twenty-four passengers though some operators still tend to overload them.

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Matatus in downtown Nairobi

 The matatu’s destination is imprinted on the side of the bus and matatus following designated routes have specific route numbers. They were easily distinguishable by their extravagant paint schemes. Owners would paint their matatu with various colourful decorations, such as their favourite football team or hip hop artist to attract more commuters. Nowadays they are not as showy as they once were due to stringent traffic rules

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The end justifies the means

Taxis are also widely available and convenient. They are often parked in the streets around alloted buildings and are marked with a yellow line along each side. These taxis are not metered and prices should be agreed with the driver before departure. Always ask for local advice or at your hotel for correct rates. There are several  Taxi companies which operate with phone bookings, modern vehicles and competent drivers at reasonable rates. Several of  these companies also have airport booking offices.

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DoubleM commuter buses along Tom Mboya Avenue

Buses are becoming increasingly common throughout the city and also operate on set routes and schedules. Since Nairobi  serves as the centre of Kenya’s extensive bus network, many bus companies operate to and from destinations all over the country. They can be boarded at any stop and tickets can be purchased on board.

Nairobi was founded as a railway town, and the main headquarters of Kenya Railways is still situated at Nairobi railway station, near the city centre. The line runs through Nairobi, from Mombasa to Kampala. Though its main use is for freights, there are  regular night passenger trains which connect Nairobi to Mombasa and Kisumu. A number of morning and evening commuter trains connect the centre with the suburbs although the city has no proper railing system.

Where to stay

Nairobi has many grand hotels to cater for its visitors. As the British occupiers started to explore the region, they started using Nairobi as their first port of call. This prompted the colonial government to build several impressive hotels in the city whose main occupants were mainily big-game hunters.  Its reputable hotels include the Nairobi Serena Nairobi, Laico Regency, Windsor, Holiday Inn, Nairobi Safari Club, The Stanley Hotel, Safari Park & Casino, Inter-Continental, Panari Hotel, Hilton and the Fairmont Hotel.

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Commuters and bystanders outside the Ambassador Hotel

Other newer introductions include the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Upper Hill area, the Sankara Nairobi in Westlands, Tribe Hotel-Village Market, House of Wayne, The Eastland Hotel, Ole Sereni and The Boma located along Mombasa Highway. There are also a number of International chains apart from the Hilton, the Intercontinental group and Serena Hotels  currently setting up prime properties in the city.

We trust that this feature has been informative to you.

If indeed, please take it a step further and spread the message, like it, share it and follow us as we countdown to Kenya’s 50th birthday!

 Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter and stay posted for the next Treasure. Please contact us if you require  further details on how you can get to visit these wonderful places.

Perhaps you too have a view, comment or article you would like to share with our audiences. Kindly send us an email or drop us a note in the comment box if you would like to make your contribution(s) on our blog. We will be delighted to publish them along with our regular features as long as they  focus not only on the affluence of Kenya’s treasures but their influence as well.

  Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya  Trust  to all the contributors in this feature with special acknowledgment  going  to our chairman Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your delightful company.

 Its always our pleasure to share a treasure.

 Much appreciated.

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The crack uniting the people of Kenya

Crack the glass,

And the crack

Will always remain.

The human heart

Has the same vein

It’s just as delicate

To the stain.

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Once it is hurt,

It is too hard

To fade the stain.

Though parts can

Fix together –

You’ve just to touch the wound,

To make it drain again. …….

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50 solid years of Independence, our country has achieved. Our people have lived through peace, love and unity as proclaimed in the words of our national anthem. The crack of differences in opinions have not set us apart. Though these differences are what make EVERY KENYAN unique, they will always remain. We just need to touch the wounds from our cracks, and they will drain and unite the people of Kenya.

Daima mi ni Mkenya ! Mwananchi mzalendo….

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The sustainability agenda: A conservancy safari

Follow  the ‘Countdown to 50′ Campaign!

Get to KNOW, EXPLORE, PROTECT and CELEBRATE Kenya

Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

On this feature we would like to highlight the Sustainability Agenda

Flashback 30 years ago and contrast the state of the wildlife population in the major national parks, the percentage of forest cover, the richness in culture and the rate of waste disposal with today’s impacts. When we remember those days back in the early 70s, when a game drive in the Tsavo East National Park wouldn’t have to be as early as 5 a.m in the morning because the fauna are in their hundreds. By the time you are out you had already lost count of the number of elephants you have seen!  How about the Nakuru National Park , another heaven for bird watchers, that was once covered with a wide variety of birds from its entrance to the dense acacia forests?

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Elephant family in the Mara Triangle

Making another comparison with tourism from the late nineties, will show that poaching activities have also increased. The Mara is estimated to have lost 50-80% of most species over the past 25 years; counts within the Maasai Mara National Reserve indicate losses as high as 95 percent for giraffes, 80 percent for warthogs and 76 percent for hartebeest. Waste disposal in our parks and national reserves is significantly changing the biodiversity of the wild. Forest cover in the forests is now reducing even below the 2% forest cover we used to appreciate in 2010. Most importantly, global warming, that is as a result of climate change is quickly melting away the snow on Mount Kenya.  These factors are adversely turning these fragile ecosystems into threatened habitats.

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Our pride

Changes have become more obvious with time and the most affected industry is obviously is in the tourism sector. The big question is, what is the tourism industry doing about it? There is only one answer to this question; ‘the sustainability agenda’. Many people have different ideas of what sustainability is really about but I like to put it as; use of resources by current tourists in such a way that the future tourists will be in a position to enjoy the same resources. In tourism these resources are simply the products we sell, the wildlife, serene environments, our forests, our heritage and also our cultures. These resources have to be conserved and I am happy that we have organizations like Eco-tourism Kenya and Nature Kenya that are taking up this agenda very seriously and have come up with a set of guidelines for responsible travel.

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Talking about wildlife

The sustainability agenda now has every stakeholder on their feet about what contribution they can make in order to drive this agenda home. The role of local communities stands out as the most important because these tourism resources essentially belong to the local communities. Communities such as those around the Maasai Mara and Mount Kenya have used conservancies to make sure that they benefit themselves as well as conserve the attractions around them. The Maasai Mara National Reserve has quite a number of conservancies some privately owned and others on sustainable partnerships between Maasai landowners, eco-tourism investors and conservation interests including: the Naboisho, Mara North, Motorogi, Lemek, Enonkishu, Ol Chorro, Olare Orok and Ol Kinyei conservancies. As we move into an era of green travel and tourists interests now focusing on travel that is responsible, benefits the local communities and is of less negative impact to the environment, conservancy safaris will soon become the most sought after tours.

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Perfect balance

The local communities have built magical eco-lodges whose income now provides much-needed funds for their education, health and humanitarian projects. Aside from benefiting the local communities, these conservancies are centers to protect endangered species of wildlife, canters for local cultural promotion, and are managed by rules on environmental conservation. All this is in the bid to promote sustainable tourism in Kenya. Conservancy safaris come with eco-friendly camps, walking tours, bush breakfast, dinners and sundowners, game walks with armed guides and also night drives. Facilities in the conservancies are made from material that camouflages with the local environment; reflect the cultural values of the local people and application of the three Rs of recycling, reducing and reusing are an order.

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Masai village on Oloolo Escarpment near Lolgorien

Stakeholders are doing their research in terms of what strategic approaches they can adopt in conservancies, however, erosion of cultural identity, and the loss of biodiversity, both intensified by climate change and poverty are universal challenges which face a number of tourism destinations hence derailing the implementation of these strategies. Through global advocacy, extensive stakeholder dialogues and strategic partnerships support for capacity building, ecosystem management and economic empowerment of local communities many conservancies are on the way to achieving sustainable tourism objectives.

Written by

Carol Kavinya

We trust that this feature has been informative to you.

If indeed, please take it a step further and spread the message, like it, share it and follow us as we countdown to Kenya’s 50th birthday!

 Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter and stay posted for the next Treasure. Please contact us if you require  further details on how you can get to visit these wonderful places.

Perhaps you too have a view, comment or article you would like to share with our audiences. Kindly send us an email or drop us a note in the comment box if you would like to make your contribution(s) on our blog. We will be delighted to publish them along with our regular features as long as they  focus not only on the affluence of Kenya’s treasures but their influence as well.

  Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya  Trust  to all the contributors in this feature with special acknowledgment  going  to our chairman Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your delightful company.

 Its always our pleasure to share a treasure.

 Much appreciated.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maasai Mara

Follow  the ‘Countdown to 50′ Campaign!

Get to KNOW, EXPLORE, PROTECT and CELEBRATE Kenya

Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

This week we invite you to come along with us as we visit :

The Maasai Mara-Kenya’s premier wildlife sensation

The fabulous Maasai Mara  is named in honor of the legendary Maasai. It is considered to be Africa’s greatest wildlife reserve by its very description and synonymous with the word safari in every sense.  Its proximity to the plains of the Serengeti has made it a very celebrated venue of the spectacular Great Wildebeest migration. Also dubbed the 7th wonder of the world, according to a poll of experts conducted by ABC Television, this phenomenon is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide.

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Maasai Mara…where beauty is “spotted”.

Fondly known as the Mara because of  the landscape’s scattered features when viewed from a distance, it is a wonderful composition of breathtaking open plains, woodlands and riverine forest. Featuring  a wonderful array of browsers and hunters.  The vast grassland plains and Acacia forests abound with myriads of birds and delightful primates. As the rivers brim with lounging hippos and crocodiles while lumbering elephants and buffalo wallow in its wide swamp.

Lighthouse attraction

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is without any doubt a premier wildlife park. Yet unlike most other national parks in Kenya this game reserve is not administered by the Kenya Wildlife Service. When it was originally established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary, the Mara covered only 520km2 of the current area. Much of this region had been allocated to agriculture during the colonial era and some of the Maasai were even moved completely from their homelands.

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…Legendary

The area was then converted to a game reserve when it was extended further eastwards to cover a 1821 km2 area. A large portion of the reserve was gazetted as a National Reserve in 1974 and the remaining area of 159 km2 was restored to the local communities. An additional 162 km2 was later removed from the reserve in 1976 before it was reduced to about 1510 kmin 1984.

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…solitary beauty

The  eastern part of the park is currently under the custody of the Narok County Council .The Mara Triangle, in the western part, is now managed by the Trans-Mara county council which was formed in 1995. Later on in May 2001, the Mara Conservancy,a local nonprofit organization took over management of the Mara Triangle. It was formed by the local Maasai as a measure to protect the assailable wildlife and tackle the growing menace of marauding poachers .

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The sentinels of Mara

The outer borders known as the Maasai Mara Conservation area is administered by the Group Ranch Trusts of the Maasai community who also have their own rangers for patrolling the park area.

 The Mara  is situated in South West Kenya about 270 km from Nairobi at 1500-2170 m above sea level. The western border is small part of a system of rifts over 5,000 km long, stretching from Ethiopia through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. Its is primarily open grassland with the Talek river and Mara River as the major rivers draining the reserve.

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The Great Shift in the Great Rift

The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem itself covers some 25,000 km2 at its northern-most section between Tanzania and Kenya. Whereas the Maasai Mara National Reserve is only a fraction of the Greater Mara Ecosystem. The area includes around a dozen group ranches  bounded by the Serengeti Park to the south, the Siria escarpment  to the west and Maasai pastoral ranches to the north, east and west. The south-east region is mostly comprised of clumps of the distinctive acacia  tree.

The vegetation in the reserve is primarily grassland and riverine forest. It not only varies according to the type of soil and drainage but also influenced by fire and destruction from elephants and other grazing animals. The grasslands form the main vegetation layer interspersed with few trees and shrubs in the drier areas. These are the areas which are most susceptible to frequent fires and herbivores which prefer different grasses and shoots.

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Mara’s green life

The evergreen bushland cover patches particularly vulnerable to foraging elephants and rhinos, as acacia trees dominate the woodland which is mostly preferred by giraffes and monkeys. With its forests of wild cedars, olive trees and different varieties of acacias, the gorges and valleys in the north of the reserve are a wonderful setting for those interested in learning traditional medicine. The area around here has a very interesting variety of pristine flora which allude to how the Mara ecosystem was before permanent settlements were established in the region.

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Mara River seen from Oloolo Escarpment

Rainfall in the ecosystem increases markedly along a southeast–northwest gradient  where shrubs and trees fringe most of the drainage lines and cover the hill slopes. This environment makes it an ideal home to hundreds of  mammals and birds that naturally tend to be most concentrated around these areas. The swampy ground means access to vital water where tourist disruption is minimal.

All members of the popular Big 5 can be found in good numbers in the region and wildlife are permitted to roam freely across both the Reserve and Conservation areas. It  has been duly noted that the Maasai Mara Ecosystem holds one of the highest lion densities and is world famous for its exceptional population of big cats. This can be largely attributed to the annual wildebeest migration involving some 1,300,000 wildebeest, 500,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 200,000 zebras, 97,000 topi and 18,000 elands.

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The Feast of Wilderbeest

As in the Serengeti’s case, the wildebeest are the dominant inhabitants of the area. Their numbers are naturally estimated in the millions among thousands of zebra and Thomson gazelle that also cross over from the south. Along their annual, circular route, these migrants attract other hungry predators, most notably lions. Other pursuers include leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, jackals and the nocturnal bat-eared fox.

Hippos at Mara River sunbasking

Hippos basking near the Mara River.

Hippopotami and Nile crocodiles can also be found in large heaps along the Mara and Talek rivers. There are plenty of other reptiles as well in the game reserve that often go unnoticed. Many include a large variety of snakes like the African rock python, black-necked spitting cobra and puff adder. Some are rare lizards such as the intriguing Red-headed rock agamas, the venerated leopard tortoise plus chameleons.

Thomson Gazelle

Sight for sore eyes

Numerous other antelopes can be found in the reserve apart from the Thomson’s gazelle such as Grant’s gazelles, impalas, elands, duikers and Coke’s hartebeests. Its unfortunate the population of Black rhinos that was also fairly numerous until the early sixties, severely depleted by poaching in the seventies and early eighties, dropped them to merely fifteen!  Since then numbers have been slowly increasing, but the population was still only up to an estimated twenty or so until the beginning of the millennium.

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Scavengers paradise

Many of the 500 species of birds which have been identified in the park are also migrants.  The ones that call this area home for at least good part of the year include almost 60 species of birds of prey. Marabour storks, Secretary birds, hornbills, Crowned cranes, ostriches and the Lilac-breasted roller,which is the national bird of Kenya,  are also common in the region.

Explore the Mara

Spending your time among the traditional people of this region is the best way to gain an insight into local beliefs and customs. The Maasai, who are native speakers of the Maa language,belong to the Chari-Nile branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. They are proud nomadic pastoralists with a fascinating culture that has survived the test of time under relentless contemporary influences. According to history, these Maa speaking peoples migrated into their current territory around the 16th century.They divided over time into a number of sub-tribes some of which still share the Mara region.

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A phone,a watch and a flashlight!…staying connected, all the time, day and night

 Around 2005 the visionary conservationist Jake Grieves-Cook leased parts of the land from the Maasai who owned the areas adjacent to the Reserve. They are as agreed being paid rent in turn for these areas and many families are benefiting from employment at some of the eco-friendly camps that have been set up.

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Catching up-Maasai women shooting the breeze

You will always get to see a variety of wildlife within the reserve apart from the areas inhabited by the Maasai tribes. The sheer volume and diversity of life in the Mara will certainly not disappoint you if the prime interest for visiting is to see its fauna. A safari through the Mara  gives visitors a chance experience several different habitats in a single day.

Taking your time to enjoy the Mara as a whole will give you a much better appreciation of the mixture and intricacies of this fascinating eco-system. Tourist numbers and safari vehicles are strictly limited, which translates into a much better safari experience all around.

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Animals still have it their way

The best time to see game in the Mara is early morning and late afternoon. In the midday heat, most animals generally retreat to the cool of thick undergrowth and become concealed. Sometimes specialized hide-outs and viewing platforms are erected on the grounds of lodges or camps to enhance your game viewing experience.

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A siesta after the fiesta- The only other time the hunters lay low

 Morning and afternoon game drives also allow you to witness the unforgettable African dawn and sunsets. The plains between the Mara River and the Siria Escarpment are probably the best areas for game viewing, especially for spotting lion and cheetah.

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The Mara- A 1500Km2 ‘ArK’

You can also usher in the dawn in a hot air balloon for a truly unique perspective of this spectacular wilderness. These balloon safaris are carried out daily from several lodges and can be booked through most safari companies. This incredible once in a lifetime experience offers visitors a fantastic view of the great plains of the Mara and the chance to drift quietly over the oblivious wildlife below.

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Balloons over the Mara near Governors Camp

You should also take the opportunity to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration if visiting the Mara from July through October. The herds calve in January to March, before the young are born ready to make their first, in preparation for the epic journey. Usually the central migratory herds of  these wildebeest spend much of the year grazing throughout the plains of the Serengeti.  In June, as the dry season withers the grasslands and a distant scent of moisture brings promise of rain in the north, they begin to gather, massing together to form a single vast herd.

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The dawn of the great migration

On the southern plains of the Mara the herds make a spectacular entrance pouring northwards in a massive, surging column of pulsing life that makes a breathtaking spectacle. The sound of the approaching herd is a deep, primal rumbling of thundering hooves and low grunts. This endless grey river of life is checkered with black and white as zebras join the masses, drawn on-wards in their quest for the rains and fresh life giving grass.

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The floods of Wildebeest

The banks of the Mara River is one of the best vantage points where you can see the herds making their exodus through the wild, crocodile jammed waters. It is this remarkable event that saw the Mara ranked as one of the new Seven Wonders. The sheer spectacle of this event draws excited spectators to one of the world’s largest and most fascinating marvels that is regarded as the planet’s greatest natural spectacle.

Kongoni on the watch

Kongoni on the watch

On the wide open grasslands you can travel through huge herds of zebra, giraffe, gazelle and topi.  There are also excellent river views of hippos and crocodiles as you travel along the banks of the Mara and Talek, while the riverine forests abound with birdlife and monkeys. Elephants can always be found seeking refuge from the heat around the waters of the Musiara Swamp.

Some safari companies offer all day game drives, stopping for a riverside picnic in the midday heat. Other lodges and camps can arrange escorted walks through the bush. This is an ideal way to explore this wilderness and experience the wildlife up close. Walking in the Reserve itself is strictly controlled and any attempts must be arranged through your lodge, camp or safari operator. There are many options of course for hiking and trekking outside the Reserve.

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Leaves of Vultures

The Mara is equally popular with birders and specialist birding safaris. The notables consist of the Corncrake, Grey crested Helmet Shrike, Lesser Kestrel, Madagascar Squacco Heron and Saddle Billed Stork. Resident raptors include the White headed Vulture, Martial and Crowned Eagles with other more common species like the Yellow billed Ox pecker. You can always look for a safari operator who can offer you tailored guides and services to suit your needs if you have a particular wildlife or birding interest.

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The wonderful Aloe Vera

Herbs have always played a major role in the Maasai culture for those with an interest in herbal knowledge of the community. Families are often able to care for their own health as traditional practitioners known as the “laibon” conduct rites spells and ceremonies mostly. Visitors are always welcome to learn more and visit with traditional healers and herbalists. Some of the camps, lodges and private ranches in and around the Mara can arrange for guests to learn more about the herbal medicines and rites of the Maasai.

Dawn at Oloolo Escarpment

Dawn at Oloolo Escarpment

Horseback Safaris are now being offered in some areas outside the main reserve. These safaris are a unique way of viewing game that allows you to move easily through herds of plains game.These safaris can cover a great deal of country and are best suited for experienced riders.

Other attractions near the Mara

Serengeti National Park

The reserve is situated in the Rift Valley with Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains running along its southern end. It covers approx. 14,763 km2 of savanna grassland plains including riverine forest and woodlands. The endless, almost treeless grassland of the south is the most typical scenery of the park. This is where the herds of wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May.

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A real family getaway

Although this national park is situated in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania, the name Serengeti is actually borrowed from a Maasai word describing the area as ‘the place where the land is endless.’ The Serengeti as it is commonly known has an appreciative heritage as Tanzania’s oldest national park. It is now World Heritage Site that has also gained fame through the annual wildebeest  migration and for its numerous Nile crocodiles. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra, the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant giraffe and dik dik.

Rusinga Island

Angling on the pier of Rusinga Island Lodge.

Angling on the pier of Rusinga Island Lodge.

Special fishing expeditions to Lake Victoria can be also be arranged from the Mara. These include return flights from the Mara to Rusinga Island, a fishing resort that provides boats, tackle and fishing guides. Guests can either spend the night in the well-appointed lodge or return to the Mara the same day.

Cultural Attractions

According to many suggestions, Olkaria, Naivasha Stadium and Egerton University are four of the best of four most recommendable cultural attractions near the Mara.  There are two other art and cultural attractions one being the Gusii Stadium in Migori Town about 40 km from the reserve and the other is the Kisumu Museum which is around 51 km away.

Practical Travel information

The  eastern regions are normally the most visited by tourists since the easternmost border is closer to Nairobi at about 224km. There are also a series of well maintained roads throughout the reserve. The Mara Triangle has well serviced all weather roads as the rangers patrol the area regularly ensuring that there is no poaching, contributing to further to excellent game viewing.

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Touring the Mara…left right and center

There is also strict control over vehicle numbers around animal sightings, allowing for a better experience when out on a game drive. Entry fees are currently at about $80 for adult non-East African residents and $30 for children staying inside the park per day. The tourists and visitors can also cater for their own expenses unless previously arranged by their agencies and tour operators. In general, you should budget an all inclusive cost of about $500 per person per day excluding travel expenses especially if you are flying.

Important things to carry are your sun-screen cream, binoculars and camera equipment. Also bring along updated travel books and field guides which will prove most useful during your safari. You are always expected to pay in cash if you purchase souvenirs or items at the camp. It is however recommended to make payments preferably in dollars to avoid surcharges.

How to get there

Accessing the Mara area is difficult without private transport. Most visitors come to Maasai Mara as part of a safari package from Nairobi or on a privately hired vehicles.

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Muddy road in the game reserve

Some people choose to fly to the Mara, which is serviced by several airstrips and it takes about 5-6 hours by road or 40-50 min by air. There are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi and the coast to the Mara Serena airport, Musiara airport and Keekorok airport which are all located in the game reserve. The Mara Shikar airport, Kichwa Tembo airport and Ngerende airport are located in the Conservation area of the Maasai Mara.

Where to stay

There are a number of lodges and tented camps for tourists inside the Reserve and the Conservation area borders. The Mara Triangle has only one lodge within its boundaries in, comparison to the numerous camps and lodges on the Narok side. Lodges and camps that are available inside the Reserve include the Keekorok lodge, the first lodge built in the Mara in one of the best spots to view wildlife without ever going for any game drive. At the height of migration, the lodge is surrounded by a swarming mass of animals and guests can watch a lions hunt from the bar. Most of the options for budget accommodation in the Masai Mara area are however confined to basic campgrounds.

Other lodges and campsites are also of equal value for visitors to the Masai Mara Reserve area include;

Kilima Camp

It is one of the best safari holidays camp in the region where you can enjoy the real African wildlife in comfort and style. The intimate eco-lodge is in a fantastic location on the edge of the Siria Escarpment overlooking the Maasai Mara. The Mara Serena Safari Lodge is the ultimate safari destination. Set high on a bush-cloaked hill with long views over the savannah and down to the winding coils of the hippo-filled Mara River, it is located at the very center of the famous ‘Mara Triangle’ of the world-renowned Masai Mara National Reserve.

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Kilima Camp’s luxurious interior

Fig Tree Camp

Fig Tree Camp is located on the banks of the Talek River. The Camp is situated on the northern border of the game reserve and its central location makes all the areas of the luxury tents located on the private park accessible to game drives.

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Fig Tree Camp- The best of both worlds

To make an evening a real adventure, one can choose to stay in a tent or a chalet giving the best of both worlds. The rooms are spaciously lined up along the Talek River with private balcony overlooking the plains of the game reserve.

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Making the most of your visit-Up in the air or down on the ground

Your day is designed to be as exciting or relaxing as you wish. There is a  variety of activities from which to choose – escorted bush walks, day and night game drives, sundowners, full days out with delicious picnic lunches  into the very heart of the Mara, bush dinners down by the hippo pools, visiting the rhinos and cultural visits to Maasai villages – all tailor made to    ensure a rewarding safari of a lifetime. You can also enjoy balloon safaris offering scenic flights over  the Maasai Mara and day trips at an extra cost.

The Mara Serena Safari Lodge

Set high on a bush-cloaked hill with long views over the savannah and down to the winding coils of the hippo-filled Mara River, it is located at the very centre of the famous ‘Mara Triangle’ of the world-renowned Masai Mara National Reserve.

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The Mara Serena Safari lodge-A ringside seat for the greatest show on earth.

Styled to echo the circular motif of a traditional Maasai manyatta, the lodge blends international sophistication with raw African beauty, while featuring twin rows of individual rooms, each with its own view of the famous Mara River. The central bar and dining areas enjoy spectacular views, as does the rock-surround swimming pool. Each luxuriously-presented room is accommodated in its own stand-alone modular unit, with uninterrupted views, private balcony and spacious seating area.

Camping sites

There are over 20 campsites in and around the Reserve but few of them are listed and some are extremely basic making them little hazardous. Most campsites are located near the gates grant access to their toilet and water facilities so you don’t have to go too far. You can also try asking for information at any of the gates to the reserve if you can’t make any bookings in advance. Public campsites used to be payed for right at the reserve gates now everything should be payed in advance through the new Smartcard system.

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A shopping convenience in Talek

Among those available that are run by local Maasai are the Oloolaimutiek Camp site near the Oloolaimutiek gate and the Riverside Camp, west of Talek Gate. The one near Oloololo displays a nice view of the mountains while the Musiara campsite is very popular for being a safe area, shaded and with plenty of wildlife including lions. There are ten campsites located near Talek, east of the gate which border the river at the north bank. Several of them are nearly always booked up by safari companies. Still outside the reserve near the gates, in Sekenani there are four campsites, placed half a kilometer from the gate. There is also the Sand River Campsite, next to the gate of the same name that is located by a waterhole usually visited by animals at night. The Sand River Campsite is equipped with toilets and running water.

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Fire in the wild

There are other campsites in addition to those located by the gates such as the Crocodile campsite, a private site close to the outer limits, Naunerri Campsite, 3 km off Sand River Gate; and the Mara River Campsites. Four of them are by the east riverbank outside the reserve and is located right south of Mara Camp. Lastly, near the closed Olkurruk Mara Lodge there is another accessible site which overlooks the plains from the mountains.

Whatever the case, it is advisable for you to check the available sites with local authorities since campsites vary. They may and actually do change gradually and it is cumbersome to keep accurate track of them. The best way to enjoy a budget camping safari in the Masai Mara is to book with a tour operator. Many tour operators offer quality camping safaris starting at $270 per person which includes camping, food, park fees and transport.

For further Information please visit

http://www.magicalkenya.com

kenyalogy@kenyalogy.com

We trust that this feature has been informative to you.

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  Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya  Trust  to all the contributors in this feature with special acknowledgment  going  to our chairman Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your delightful company.

 Its always our pleasure to share a treasure.

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Kakamega

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Get to KNOW, EXPLORE, PROTECT and CELEBRATE Kenya

Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

This week we invite you to come along with us as we visit :

Kakamega Forest: The  Enchanted rainforest

This western region which is around 52 km north of Kisumu City that is mostly acclaimed for its natural beauty, especially its wonderful bird-life and nature. Its forestry provides the ideal ambiance for self-guided nature walks and up close game watching. The rainforests’ aria is set in lush tranquility punctuated by the melodies of warbling birds and chattering of monkeys in a leafy backdrop of rustling trees. Where dandy butterflies beat their wings softly against the thoracic croaks of the frogs in the gurgling streams nearby. This is truly a place that’s worth its gold in every sense of the word.

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Kakamega Forest… Right in the ‘mist’ of it

Speaking of gold, though Kakamega was once the scene of the Kakamega gold rush in the early 1930s. A frenzy that was purportedly fueled partly by the reports of the celebrated British geologist Albert Ernest Kitson. It is actually still undermined as one of the most populous counties in the country. The people here,who are mostly of the outspoken Luhya tribe, enjoy a more rural life working steadfastly as farmers and fishermen.

It is also cited that Kakamega was so named because the word “kakamega”  which translates roughly to “pinch” in Kiluhyah. It was most likely used to describe how the European colonists would eat the staple food, ugali, in contrast to the traditional method of eating it.  Ugali is  still a popular maize dish that is a favorite in the local cuisine, which is usually rolled  into a lump or a ball and dipped into the preferred sauce or stew.

Lighthouse Attraction

The Kakamega Forest Reserve was established to protect the only a residue of a really unique forest ecosystem. As the main tourist destination in the area is one of western Kenya’s star attractions worth going far out of your way to see if you are an enthusiastic nature lover. The 45 km2 Kakamega National Reserve forest lies in the Lake Victoria basin and west of the Nandi Escarpment that forms the edge of the central highlands. It is an area of mostly indigenous vegetation which offers unique wildlife and scenic beauty, located  about 15km from Kakamega town.

Some 400 years ago, Kakamega Forest would have been at the eastern end of a broad expanse of forest stretching west, clear across the continent all the way to the Atlantic ocean. Three centuries later, following the human population explosion and wide scale cultivation of the forested areas, it was reduced to an island which is cut off from the rest of the original rainforest.

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…the Mist-erious Kakamega Forest

At an average elevation of 1,535 m, the forest is elevated between 1500 m and 1600 m above sea level. It is the only tropical rainforest in Kenya and likely vestige of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once transversed the continent. In the past millenia, the dense rain forest stretched from West Africa across Central Africa and into the highland areas on the west and eastern walls of the Great Rift Valley.

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… now that’s ex-tree-me, even the trees have trees

It is now a small patch of detached equatorial jungle which is famous among zoologists and botanists world over who marvel at how this isolated environment has survived severed from its larger body. The national reserve comprises of both Kisere and Buyangu Reserves. There is actually a big difference between the primary and secondary forest sections in the park because the real rainforest feeling with the giant trees is only found in the original primary forest sections of the park.

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…find your footing and mind the rooting

 Until this day, this mid altitude tropical rainforest which stands distinguished from its Zaire and West Africa affinities, still boasts attractions found nowhere else in the country. This is attributed to the fact that the forest has remained a protected area after its vital role in the eco-system was first recognized. The reserve was initially gazetted as a trust forest in 1933 before the two small reserves, Yala and lsecheno, were later established within it in 1967. It was later awarded national forest reserve status in 1985 when nearly 4,400 hectares of the forest together with the adjacent Kisere Forest were gazetted as the Kakamega Forest National Reserve.

 Throughout the forest undulated terrain are a series of grassy glades that range in size from about 1 to 50 hectares interposed with a few larger clearings. These may have originated from past human activities such as cattle rearing or may be the result of grazing and movements by large mammals such as buffalo and elephants which were both expunged from the region. The origins of the glades are however still uncertain since others predate recent records though some are clearly contemporary.

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…the mistic panorama of Kakamega Forest

Kakamega area receives a very high amounts of annual precipitation recording rainfalls of about 2,000 mm yearly which contributes to its vital role as a water catchment area. This is also attributed to a number of streams and small creeks which cascade through the reserve in addition to the presence of the lsiukhu and Yala Rivers which also flow through it. The larger creeks are usually bordered by a couple of meters of forest on either side that divide the glades, while the smallest creeks flow through open grasslands which create diminutive marshy patches.

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…water flows where the tree grows

The Kakamega Forest itself is naturally very wet, with an average of 200 mm – 700 mm of rain per year. Most of it falls between April and November with a short dry season from December to March. Rain falls mostly in the afternoon or early evening and is often accompanied by heavy thunderstorms. Temperature is fairly constant throughout the year with averages ranging between 15-30°C.

The glades in turn, vary a great deal in composition, some being open grass while others have a considerable number of trees or shrubs.The sheer size and grandeur of these rainforest trees with over 350 varieties of trees and counting, some over a hundred years old, is impressive to say the least.

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Plant life in Kakamega Forest

Its canopy of trees has grown into a thin mesh of interlocking top branches that block most sunlight from reaching the ground below, resulting in less vegetation at the ground level. With few bushes along the darkened forest floor, the only real obstacles here are the ancient fallen tree trunks barring the paths between the towering trees.

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…so what is the circumference, any guesstimations?

Although the area has always been under strict protection there is a German funded project, BIOTA East, has been conducting its research exclusively the forest since 2001. Documentations of all sorts of life forms within this environment are still been performed with the aim of finding strategies for a sustainable use of the forest. As a result of these conservation efforts, the forest has still retained its mostly indigenous vegetation. A tree nursery was introduced to demonstrate basic tree-planting techniques, alongside information on waste recycling and efficient use of firewood.

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…wow!

The forest includes some of Africa’s greatest hard and soft woods like the precious Elgon teak, much prized for its hard wood, red and white stink woods and several varieties of Croton and Aniageria Altisima. There are also notorious stranglers (ficus thoningii) which grow from other trees and eventually strangle the hosts to death. The potent mkombero tree, a popular aphrodisiac, also grows here. This grand age-old trees are in still plenty although they are found mostly in the Kisere Forest as a result of early efforts in conservation.

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…the flowers of Kakamega Forest- the beauties beneath the beasts

There are also many species of splendid orchids, with a handful being endemic, which sit among the branches of the larger trees. Walking beneath the lush shade of the forest canopy the is bejeweled by exotic blooms scented with dainty flowers, wood and moss. The best time for most botanical excursions is during the rainy season when the flowers are at their most beautiful. Flora found in the park include over fifty species of ferns and 170 other species of flowering plants.

The massive size of the rainforest trees creates an ideal habitat for the birds, insects, butterflies and wildlife which are plentiful in the area.  The park currently supports seven primate species like the endangered DeBrazza monkey that is mostly found at the isolated Kisere Forest Reserve. Many other rare species of primate that are common here are such as the Blue monkey, frequently seen near the Ishiuku Falls, the Olive baboon and the Red Tailed monkey. Other mammals in the area include the Clawless Otter, Mongoose, Giant Water Shrew, flying-squirrels, Bush bucks, Aardvarks, Porcupine, Giant Forest Hog and many more. The Leopard has also been spotted on very rare occasions with the last official sighting being back sometime in the early 1990s.

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…deep inside the bush of Kakamega Forest

It is home to an estimated 300 bird species making it a place of choice for many bird and butterfly watchers. The Reserve supports a myriad of bird species since it is such a food rich environment. The endangered Turner’s eremomela, Charpins flycatcher and the voice mimicking African grey parrot are also found here including some rare snake-eating birds. Insects are in addition abundant with some very spectacular favorites like the Goliath beetles and Flower Mantis. Other particularly well represented groups are ants and orthopterans. Gastropods, millipedes and spider alike are very common too. In addition, a butterfly farm has been set up for these colorful lepidopterans  are comprised of over 400 species of butterflies, about 45% of all recorded butterflies in Kenya. The aim is to breed local butterflies which are framed and sold as souvenirs to generate income for the local community. Other sustainable projects in the pipeline include bee keeping and snake farming for antivenins.

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…the caterpillar’s delight

Snakes that are normally found in West Africa are present in the area alongside nearly thirty other species of snakes. The region is also home to Africa’s largest and most aggressive cobra known as the Kakamega forest cobra. It has a reputation of spending a lot of time in the trees and stories abound of notorious attacks on unsuspecting passers-by. Well informed visitors however shouldn’t be overly concerned about meeting them round every corner. Other big snakes found in the area include the forest adder, black mamba and the green mamba. Its smaller reptiles include chameleons, skinks and lizards.

Explore Kakamega Forest

Kakamega Forest National Reserve is an engaging walk through 7km of hiking trail. You can go for excursions and village visits with a team of ranger guides who escort visitors through the forest.  The official guides, trained by the Kakamega Biodiversity Conservation and Tour Operators Association, are well definitely worth the money. Not only do they prevent you from getting lost since many of the trail signs are missing, and many are excellent naturalists who can recognize birds by their calls alone and provide information about a variety of other animals.

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…heads or tails

The reserve is about twice the size of Nairobi National Park where you can while your time away whether with a tour guide or a self guided nature walks. You can also take a night walk, after you have had chance to sight some birds not to mention the butterflies. Primate watching is just as rewarding and camping is still an option is you want more than a picnic in this beautiful haven.

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Guided tour-walking and talking through the Kakamega Forest

Walking beneath the green forest canopy through the indigenous trees lining the trails, one will see colorful flowers while appreciating exotic bird-calls and the fragrant scents of the fresh wood and flowers.  Bird watching is most ideal in the morning hours between 6:30am- 8:30am or in the evening from 4:30pm- 6:30pm. The falls along the Isiukhu river and the riverine atmosphere along the river trail add a relaxing freshness to the hike.

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…view of the mist

The walk to Buyangu Hill, the highest point in the forest at the north which will give you a quick bird eye-view of the forest canopy, is a must for visitors.  It offers a great view over the forest especially in the early morning hours when the forest is still covered by the rising mist. At the picnic site you can recline and repose under the grass-thatched rest house while watching water birds at the watering point.

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The stranglers deadly embrace

The Southern part of Kakamega forest, Isecheno Forest, is run by the Kenya Forest Service is also accessible to tourists.  The reserve offers excellent primate viewing opportunities where the Black and White Colobus monkey are plentiful and the De Brazza monkey, can be found in the adjacent Kisere forest area. Another sight worth seeing is the well known Mama Mtere tree, a historic tree and the most photographed tree in Kakamega forest.

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…enchantement of Kakamega Forest

There are various options for guided tours available as it is always recommended to use one of the local guides. The Kakamega Forest National Reserve charges are Ksh 1500/ person for up to 6hrs. You can also go with the Kakamega Forest Guide Association which charges about Ksh 400/ person. Another option is the Kakamega Rainforest Tour Guides Ksh 500-800/ person. The guides can also arrange the tour to visit weeping stone of the Crying stone at Ilesi, one of Kakamega tourists attraction or Kisere forest to see the primates in the North of Kakamega forest.

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…a place to reflect

 Short forest walks go for ksh500 for at least 2hours, long walks are at ksh800. Sunrise and sunset walks go for about ksh 1000 ksh night walk 1200ksh while full day walks are about ksh2500 per person.The Kakamega Environmental Education Programme, or KEEP, was set up by the guides at Forest Guest House to combine visits to the forest for local schoolchildren with their school lessons. They hope that by educating the children of the importance of the forest, the message will spread further into the community. The guides will take care of all interests from educational groups, family groups or individuals who want to enjoy the biodiversity of the rainforest. The income generated from these guided tours is then partly used to finance conservation and education projects among the communities surrounding the park.

Other Attractions around Kakamega Forest

Kakamega still serves as the headquarters of Kenya’s largest sugar producing firm, Mumias Sugar, which is located in the village of Mumias. The latest addition in the region is Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology is a new institution of higher learning created by an act of parliament in December 2006. It is in the heart of Kakamega town on the Kakamega-Webuye road. Its introduction is expected to spur growth in this otherwise reserved area and create more opportunites for the locals.

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…the village life in Kakamega forest

Guides can also make arrangements  in Shibuye or Khayega  for curious visitors who like to witness some bull fighting. Bookings must however be made in advance. In the evenings tourists are entertained to the popular Isukuti dance and narrations about their life in the forest. There are still some special tribal practices such as circumcision rituals are still practiced in the forest.

Another attraction is the Crying Stone of Ilesi located along the highway towards Kisumu. It is a 40 metres high rock dome resembling a human figure whose “eyes” drop water. There are two legends regarding the reason why the formation looks like a solemn head resting on weary shoulders, down which tears flow. The first is that the stone is that of a girl who continues to cry after she fell in love with a man her father didn’t approve of and, as punishment, the father turned her to stone. The second is that the stones weep for the state of humanity in general.

Nandi Hills

Nandi Hills  is one of the most beautiful highlands to visit in Kenya that has a cool and wet climate especially around the two rain seasons during the equinoxes.

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… a spot for tea

The lush green region sits on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley and is home to some of the finest tea growing areas in the world. Companies like the Eastern Produce Kenya which has been Rainforest Alliance Certified since 2007, has been growing tea in Kenya since 1945. In the Nandi Hills, there are about a dozen tea estates and seven tea factories that employ between 5,000 and 9,000 people.

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…race to the factory

Tea is grown on around 12,000 acres of land and surrounded by over  6,400 acres of native forest which forms a vital link in Kenya’s forest ecosystem and the economy of the area mainly relies on the tea estates.

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…picking tea

In a recent biodiversity survey it was discovered that the Nandi Hills forests and wetlands provide  a vital habitat for more than 247 species of birds, about 15 % of Kenya’s most endangered butterfly  population plus an array of dragonflies and amphibians.

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…working in the tea plantations

According to history, this land was once battleground against the Luo and Luhya communities. Nandi hills has over time turned out to be a very significant area of Rift Valley region and the Kalenjin community. On top of Nandi Hills sits Samoei with its red earth, which is the burial site of the renowned Nandi seer Koitalel Arap Samoei, who was buried under a symbolic tree.  When Koitalel was killed by British officer Richard Meinertzhagen, some belief, the ground turned red on the spot of his death.

This area is now home to many world renowned athletes like  Kipchoge Keino, Augustine Choge, Jepkosgei, Henry Rono and many others.  The town is popularly known as ‘cradle land of Kenyan running’ owing to its cool attractive climate and high altitudes where the athletes train oftenly for the championships.

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Pick of the day-tea pickers empting their baskets

The transport system in Nandi Hills is mainly land-based via tarmac. The road network connects to all the great cities in Kenya i.e. Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldored, Nakuru, Kericho and other major towns. You can only visit the tea farms and also watch athletes training in the area as they run up and down the tea farms.

Practical Travel information

This marvelous rainforest being home to a huge variety of birds and animals has become particularly popular with independent travellers. It is fairly easy to get to here from Kisumu or if you are in the Mount Elgon region, from Webuye along a scenically forested stretch of the main highway. Kakamega is accessible all year round but best time to visit it is during the rainy season, April to July.

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…a trail through the forest

If you want to visit the Northern and Southern parts of the park, you would have to pay entrance fees at both sides. This is because the Northern part is under the Kenya Wildlife Society while the Southern part is under the management of Kenya Forest Service. The division in management has also had an impact on how the surrounding communities can use the park. In the Northern part in the Buyangu area the regulations are very strict and communities are not allowed to collect anything like firewood or medicinal plants whereas the southern part permits some activities.

Entry is by cash only and cash receipts can be bought at the Kakamega Forest National Reserve main gate or the cash office at the KWS Headquarters in Nairobi . Proof of identification will however be required before full admission is granted. Citizens should present a valid Passport or National ID while Residents will require a valid Passport and re-entry pass.

The KWS entry point is at the North in the Buyangu Area. It is a walking  distance to the KWS office which is approx. 2 km from the main road. The Kenya Forestry Service entry gate is in the South in the Isecheno Area. The entry fee per person at southern part of Kakamega forest Park is Ksh600 for non-residents, ksh400 for residents and ksh200 for citizens.You can get there from Kakamega by matatu to Shinyalu and then take a Boda Boda to Isecheno.

Drinking water, picnic items and camping equipment if you intend to stay overnight. Also useful are a pair of binoculars, camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and up-to-date guidebooks. Water proof tenting can be hired for ksh800 per group per night.

How to get there

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…one way or the other

By Road: The more preferable access is through the Buyangu gate, 600 m from main road. Visitors commuting by public means can alight at Kambiri junction and use the local ‘boda boda’ cyclists who  operate from the junction to park. Only make sure you watch out for the signpost after 15 km from Kakamega.

Where to stay

The forest reserve offers a serene atmosphere for both campers and lodgers.  The accommodation that is available within the Reserve consists of one guest house that was recently opened to visitors, self-help bandas and two campsites. Other nearby hotel facilities are also available within a favorable distance from the forest.

There are no refreshment facilities, shops or restaurants in the Northern Part of the Park. You have to bring any food and drinks from Kakamega town. The accomodation in the Northern part of the Kakamega Forest National Reserve under KWS, includes;

Udo’s Bandas & Campsite 

They are located in Kakamega forest national reserve in the northern part of Kakamega rain forest. The capacity Udo’s bandas can accommodate 16 people and there is bedding with mosquito nets. In the same compound We have Udo’s Camping site where visitors can camp over night. They also offer round the clock security to all their guests.

 Isukuti Guest House

The Isukuti guest house is a simple self contained lodging with the capacity to accommodate 8 people with 4 rooms,  fridge and kitchen.

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The Mago Guesthouse

The Mago Guesthouse

The Mago Guesthouse is an income generating project of the Mago Youth Polytechnic School. It is located south of Kakamega Forest on the road that leads from Chevakali to Kapsabet just before you reach Kiamosi. It is about 40km from Kisumu via Chavakali and 30 km from Kakamega.

Golf Hotel Kakamega

A three star hotel in Kakamega. Golf Hotel is located in a plush area of Kakamega town next to Golf Course, and it is just a short distance from Kakamega Forest. The Golf Hotel Kakamega has a lot to offer. If one of your ambitions is to experience the enchanting mystery of the jungle, the melody of singing birds, the breeze of whispering trees, the croaking frogs, the rasp of butterflies as they fly by, the cheeky monkeys as they sing from branch to branch, then Kakamega forest, situated less than 5km from the hotel is the place for you.

Kenya Forestry Service accomodation in the Southern part Kakamega Forest Reserve includes;

Rondo Retreat Centre

Rondo Retreat Centre is a Christian Centre set in the Kakamega rainforest that offers Boarding and Catering services for visitors. 

Kakamega Isecheno forest rest house

Isecheno rest house is located in the Isecheno forest station. The capacity of Isecheno Forest rest house can accommodate 8 people and there is bedding and mosquito nets. They provide also provide a shower and a kitchen. The Isecheno camping site,is also found in the same compound but visitors should come with their own tents. The Forest rest House Accommodation fee is Ksh500 per person per night.

For Further information

http://www.kws.org

http://www.kenyaforestservice.org

http://www.kakamegarainforest.com

http://www.keep-kakamega.or.ke

 

We trust that this feature has been informative to you.

If indeed, please take it a step further and spread the message, like it, share it and follow us as we countdown to Kenya’s 50th birthday!

 Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter and stay posted for the next Treasure. Please contact us if you require  further details on how you can get to visit these wonderful places.

  Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya  Trust  to all the contributors in this feature with special acknowledgment  going  to our chairman Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your delightful company.

 Its always a pleasure to share a treasure.

 Much appreciated.

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