Many of my friends have recently asked me about my now famous trip to Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa. Since they prefer to go on vacation abroad away from the typical destinations within India (which they often find very crowded) they keep asking me about how they can also plan a trip to Kenya.
I have already written blogs about Masai Mara but have never shared how the trip was planned and what are all the sights and places you can see. Traveling to Kenya for tourism is not that very expensive and if planned properly and it can be easily be managed within the same budget you would spend on an exotic location in India. Careful pre-planning would save you a lot when it comes to airlines and hotels. The best way to head to the African continent would be either from Mumbai or New Delhi. There are more flight options from Mumbai and thus it is always the first choice. You can reach Mumbai either through a connecting flight or by train.
If you are flying out of Mumbai, considering the outbound flight timings, it’s recommended that you stay here for a day. A very close friend was staying in Mumbai at that time, thus it was also an opportunity for me to meet him after more than three years. My trip to Kenya was to attend a conference on behalf of an NGO for whom I volunteer as a part of my CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in my office. Our office also has a branch near Church Gate, thus during my short stopover I also planned to visit my regional office in Mumbai. Thus it was a natural choice for me to book a hotel near Church Gate and once you are at Church Gate you have to see the grand view of Marine Drive, and The Orchid Mumbai has one of the best views of the sea. Twice I stayed at The Orchid Mumbai, while going to Kenya and on my return journey; both the times I had pre-booked my accommodation. If you are traveling to Africa then your best route option would be to travel via Dubai. There are many Mumbai to Dubai flights thus you just need to book according to your preferred time and the layover time that you wish to take in Dubai. Keep in mind that Dubai is a Shopper’s Paradise and I would prefer you keep some time in your hand to enjoy the Dubai experience to the max. I did a lot of shopping on my return leg and my advice would be to do the same to avoid carrying unnecessary luggage during your trip.
To reach Kenya it’s recommended that your reach its main airport in Nairobi (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). Do not, I repeat, do not change your currency from US Dollar or Euro to the local Kenyan Shilling at the airport. The conversion rate at the airport is very low and you would end up losing a lot in the deal. You get the best deals from the money exchange counters at different established shops in the city. Also, avoid the touts outside the airport that convince you a good bargain. Using US Dollar or Euro as a payment also is widely accepted and the locals prefer this also. Once outside, you can book a Private Cab or use the common Matatu (shared minivan). If you are traveling to Kenya for the first time avoid Matatu as unless you know what can go wrong. I had written a detailed blog about my Matatu experience so do give a read before getting into one. For taxis, remember always to bargain and also research online prior to your arrival about the average cost of a taxi to your destination. Matatu, Mini Bus and Private Taxi in Nairobi I am assuming that you would have already booked your hotel in Nairobi thus head straight to it if the driver promises a better deal just ignore and insist that it’s already paid up.
Nairobi has a strong population of ethnic Indians (mostly Gujarati) thus you might also want to check these localities as the food available out here would be somewhat nearest to what you get here in India. I am a foodie and love to experiment thus for me this was never the criteria. There are many Church Guest Houses available which operate on bed and breakfast (b&b) at a very cheap rate, try to get hold of these as you would save a lot of money yet experience good Kenyan hospitality. This is exactly what I did and had a great time mingling with the host and understanding the culture better.
Once in Kenya, you need to find a local travel agent who would arrange packaged tours to Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Mombasa, Mount Kilimanjaro etc. These packages are standard and the price varies according to the number of days involved and the type of luxury you want. I opted for the cheapest that is the tent house in Masai Mara as I wanted to experience nature at its rawest form. These packages would normally include return transportation (shared), food, lodging, park entry fee. Additional would be extra personal trips or bush walks that you wish to do with the local Masai populations. The food provided are of good quality and a menu which is mixed keeping in mind the mixed population of the tourists. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the menu and need to be purchased separately. The price of these at the tourist spots are expensive thus recommended to get your quota from Nairobi itself including that of cigarettes.
Apart from the famous tourist spots, you must also take a tour of the Nairobi city. For this, the cheapest option would be using the shared Matatu service but beware of the scams. A walk around Kenyatta Avenue and a stroll in the Uhuru Park is also recommended. Nairobi has good night life especially on the weekends and if you do not want to sleep on a weekend night then head straight to the various clubs and discos in Nairobi. Out here be aware of girls trying to befriend you in buying them a drink, you might think you are just buying a glass but end up paying much more that you can think of. Stick to your plans and just enjoy the nightlife. When it comes to tasting the local cuisine then Kenya has much more than just one local cuisine. This place has a lot of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda thus they also bring their local flavors along with them. I was lucky to have an Eritrean friend along with me who took me to this wonderful shack selling wide varieties of meat. Overall a trip to Kenya should always be on your cards as it’s not that very expensive and the experience in form of wildlife, landscape, culture, food etc. that you get is something hard to get anywhere else. Make Kenya your next holiday destination.