I love to travel and have always wanted to go to Africa. I was concerned about being in Africa without booking anything beforehand as I received warnings from friends that I should be extremely careful. With these thoughts in the back of my mind, I still just booked the airfare and went to Africa. I was enchanted by the beauty of the country, I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers and taken aback by how many new friendships I made while traveling.
When it comes to clothing, I suggest safari pants with long sleeve T-shirts and a rain-proof jacket. It is best to be covered as Kenya is a Muslim country. A scarf to cover your face when it gets a bit dusty and a hat to protect your face from the sun are also good to have.
My adventure to east Africa begins the moment I step on the plane. Flying Virgin Atlantic is one step toward bliss, with the stewards making the bed and buckling me in at night with a glass of cold champagne by my night table. The peaceful serenity of escaping from the world when you board the plane with Virgin Atlantic taking care of everything added that little something extra to this total experience. Virgin Atlantic provides the added benefit of Fast Track, which helps you get through customs quicker, and while on a layover in London having Bumble and Bumble salon give free manicures, pedicures and massages, as well as shaves for men was truly luxurious. Let’s not forget they also have a Jacuzzi. Is this really flying or just cruising from one country to the next? My friend, who flew economy on Turkish Airlines, was a bit cramped but she had better connecting flights and arrived earlier.
Upon arriving in Nairobi, Kenya I suggest if you don’t care about money to stay at the Giraffe Manor. The giraffes roam around the hotel as you are eating and sleeping. As they eat off your hand you experience this amazing thrill of being part of the jungle or at least a bit like Tarzan and Jane. My second choice for a luxury experience is the Norfolk Hotel built in 1904, which has been the meeting place for safaris for the past 100 years. Quite lovely with a extensive wine list and a very friendly group always sitting in the bar for happy hour. Another hotel which is more affordable and beautiful is the Fairview.
One day in Nairobi is essential to enjoy the wonderful things this city has to offer. I was warned I would need a bodyguard but traveling alone I did not feel the danger. I only experienced a bit of frustration that I could not speak the language. Luckily someone was always around to translate and guide me along.
The Giraffe Center, where you can visit and enjoy playing with the giraffes, is wonderful. There’s also the Karen Blixen Museum. I loved the movie “Out of Africa” and visiting the Karen Blixen estate, which was built in the 1800s, was thrilling. The property stands undisturbed from when Karen Blixen lived and hunted here. I was surprised to discover not only was she a great writer but also a great artist.
After the museum go to the Elephant Sanctuary where you can adopt the orphan elephants and if you go in the morning you can see them being fed, and as they frolic around you can play with them. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will give you all the details if you care to become involved with the orphan elephants. By donating $50, you can receive updates about your orphan. Next stop at the Masai Mara Market for a few ebony bowls and some bracelets. The last thing of the day would be to go the national park. While driving around the park you can see giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and wildebeest.
Seeing the Masai Mara and experiencing the wildebeest migration is thrilling. But to get the real African experience, you have to go on safari, right? I have heard it is difficult to choose the right safari and I understand why. The moment you land everyone wants to sell you a safari. Which one to choose depends on what you actually want from the safari. If you want totally luxury I suggest the fly in and fly out safari. Safarilinks.com has flights that are approximately $150 to $250 one way. A small private plane will take you to the lodge of your choice. The Governorscamp.com or the Keekorok Lodge are inside the parks and make it easy to enjoy the safari without the long drives. The lodge has a pond for the hippos and while you enjoy a PIM’s cup or a "Bloody lion screw" (some of the names of their exotic drinks) you can watch the hippos.
For the budget traveler and for someone that enjoys a real safari experience I suggest taking the tented safari with an attached bathroom. It is not the food or accommodations that are good but the people you meet and the friendships you make. As most of the people who are traveling in economy are traveling alone, they are younger, much more open and definitely much more fun. The lux hotel safari will bring you around older people, mostly retired, who are in organized package safaris. A combination of both would be the best as I started one trip with a group safari and then joined the luxury hotel and a flight back to Nairobi.
Check back next week for the second installment of my trip to Africa where I will discussed, among other adventures, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.