Kenya offers every type of terrain, including deserts, semi-deserts, forests, mountains, lakes, open plains and tropical coasts. This incredible variety has allowed a huge diversity of wildlife to flourish, making Kenya justly famous for its animal safaris. But this diversity has also helped tribal cultures to develop, from the coastal Swahili people who are a mixture of Arabic, Bantu and Indonesian, to the Nilotic tribes, the most famous of whom are the Masai, and the full Bantu tribes such as the Kikuyu, Kamba and Abaluhya.
This Kenyan safari is for the traveler who truly wishes to experience and actually live in a village with some of the Kenya's many cultures. Your safari starts by living with the relaxed Giriama tribe on the Kenyan Coast in the village of Watamu. From here it's up to the hustle and bustle of the capital city Nairobi, before exploring the wilderness and cultures of the Great Rift Valley, the rain forests of Mount Elgon and Kakamega and finally the rolling plains and Masai culture of the famous Masai Mara. You'll visit different tribal villages while on safari, shopping in the markets, bartering with the locals and learning the language and culture of this fascinating part of the world.
Days 1-5 You will be met at the Nairobi International airport and transferred to the domestic airport for your flight to Malindi on the Indian Ocean coast. After arriving in the Malindi airport, you'll meet your group leader for your Watamu sojourn. In KiSwahili, Watamu is known as the "Place of the Sweet People". This is exactly what you'll find in Watamu from the Giriama people, one of the friendliest tribes in the country.
Watamu is a small village located on the coast of Kenya, approximately 120 km north of Mombasa and 25 km south of Malindi; it is actually a 5-mile long peninsula, with the Indian Ocean on one side and Mida Creek on the other side. It has been designated as a United Nations World Biosphere area and has recently been voted, by the United Kingdom Times Newspaper, as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. A UN Biosphere is defined as the sum of all living, and non-living things in an area and their interactions. Perhaps the traditional "Living Earth - Gaia" would be a better name!
You will be living on the Mida Creek side of the Watamu peninsula, in the home of the Bashora family. Here you spend five nights exploring the local villages and schools as you live in a local house and enjoy the traditional foods with this local family, being introduced to the Giriama tribal culture as well as the natural wonders of this beautiful coastal area.
Your house is built of stone, with mosquito-proofed windows in the bedroom and a lockable door to your bedroom for your personal possessions. There is no electricity in this local village and you will learn to use the paraffin lanterns and pressure lamps, as do the local villagers. Your shower is outside, under the stars, as is your toilet, which is a traditional long drop style pit latrine. Clean and comfortable, a safari to the Bashora family's village will provide a wonderful introduction to a traditional Coastal culture.
While you are with the Bashora family, you can work with the local villagers on their coconut plantations, visit the local medicine men, help at the primary schools, explore the National Marine Park, visit the Snake Farm, explore Mida Creek, discover the mysterious ruins at Gede, visit Mombasa for a day and search through the Arabuko-Sokoke forest for the golden-rumped elephant shrew, Scopes Owl and Sokoke Pipit, all of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world!
A visit to the more traditional medicine man is also a must. The local "witch-doctor" is a powerful force in the Giriama culture. Today many Giriama are of Christian faith, but the witch doctor is still consulted, as are the ancestral spirits in their home, the Jimba Caves. Local medicines are used to treat disease such as arthritis, eczema and asthma with great effect.
The Watamu National Marine Park boasts over 600 species of fish in just 10 square kilometers, although the reserve area itself spreads out over more than 32 sq km in total. It is virtually impossible to snorkel without seeing at least a few dozen species inside the main reef; divers outside the fringe reef stand an excellent chance of viewing the magnificent whale shark and Manta Rays that are seasonal visitors. We'll spend a leisurely morning or afternoon exploring this underwater world. Some of the more commonly seen fish include of course the parrotfish, whose digestion of the coral reefs over the millennia, have produced the white sand beach itself. Angelfish, groupers, filefish, lionfish and snappers are just a handful of the easily seen species within this superb, brightly colored underwater world.
The Bio-Ken Snake Farm is literally a lifesaver for the Watamu and Malindi area. The owner, James Ashe, is one of the few experts on the deadly green and black mambas and the large collection of Mambas at this snake farm produce nearly 90% of the world's anti-venom for this highly poisonous African snake. The farm is also an excellent introduction to some of the other dangerous snakes, such as the cobra and puff adder. The puff adder in fact is Africa's deadliest animal as unlike most snakes, it relies on camouflage rather than flight to escape notice, and villagers clearing land or gathering firewood are frequent casualties. Snakebites in this area of Kenya are treated immediately with anti-venom from the farm, a luxury not extended to the majority of the country!
The Mida Creek reserve is formed of extensive mangrove forests, warm shallow waters and large areas of mud flats at low tide. Sandy islands separated by narrow channels winding through mangrove-covered islands form the edges of this large inter-tidal creek. The area is known for its amazing bird life, such as greater flamingo, yellow-billed stork, great white egret and malachite kingfisher; it is also the winter home of many migrants such as the crab plover, curlew Sandpiper, whimbrel and sanderling. The osprey and African fish eagle are often overhead.
Also of interest are the local fishermen and communities that developed in Mida Creek. You'll spend a day in the village on Sudi Island, in the middle of the Creek. A short journey by dugout canoe and on foot takes you to a small community where you'll have the chance to try fresh coconut milk, learn how to husk coconuts and cook the meat, collect oysters (if in season) and crab, try your hand at traditional hand-line or net fishing and visit the local school.
Gede Ruins, an archeologists delight, was one of the ancient Arab towns, which dotted the East African Coast. It dates from the late 13th or early 14th Century and was finally abandoned in the early 17th Century. Excavated since 1927, many areas have been revealed, including the Great Mosque, the Palace, several residential houses and pillar tombs. Surrounded by tall shady trees, a walk through Gede is a must for anyone interested in Kenya's history and provides an amazing insight into the development of the coastal culture.
This ruin of a once thriving Islamic trading center is just one of the many signs of the trading empire that once stretched for hundreds of miles along the East African Coast. Mention of trading centers on the Kenyan coast date back to 600B.C. and the Egyptian explorers. The golden age of the Coastal towns was in the 8th and 9th centuries, when the population exploded as Muslims fled Arabia's religious wars to settle in Africa. The KiSwahili tribe, as this mix of Arab and African became, traded with an empire that spread as far east as China and as far west as the southern borders of France. Peaceful and quiet, great towns developed with superb engineering that even provided air cooling systems long before the modern air conditioner was invented. This culture thrived until the 15th Century, and the arrival of the Portuguese, with cannon, Catholicism and smallpox.
The main town for the Portuguese was Mombasa, or Mvita, the Island of War. We will spend a day in this ancient town, visiting the Old Arab Town section of the original city and the massive Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese to protect this natural deep-water port when they succeeded in taking the town. After lunch we visit the Bamburi Nature Trail, a reclaimed cement factory which is now home to Civet cats, antelope, hippo, tortoises and deep green, lush forests. This relaxing afternoon stroll is followed by a visit to the Bombolulu Centre, a fascinating look at local handicrafts, clothes and jewelry, all made by the physically handicapped of Kenya. The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the largest remaining area (420 sq. km.) of indigenous coastal forest in East Africa. The forest contains six species of globally threatened bird, including the Clarke's Weaver, which is found nowhere else in the world. Rare mammals are also present, including the golden rumped elephant shrew, bushy-tailed mongoose and Ader's duiker. One of the joys of the forest is that, with the exception of the Aders' duiker, a quiet walk through the forest with your guide will generally provide sightings of all these rare birds and mammals. The elephant shrew has the shape of a rounded pig, with a bright gold-circled bottom and a long elephant shaped nose. A nighttime walk provides views of the famous Scope's Owl that are rarely seen in daylight.
Rarely seen but also found in the forest are elephant, buffalo, leopard and hyena. The forest is also home to over 260 species of butterflies, including the large and highly colored, yellow, purple, red and black Swallowtails and Charaxes species. These butterflies are now being bred as a community conservation project, to help protect the forest, whilst benefiting the outlying forest communities. You'll enjoy a morning spent in the forest, learning about the traditional medicine plants, wood carving woods and other cultural uses for this fertile area.
While there is a set rhythm during your stay in Watamu village, following the equator sunrise and sunset from 6AM to 6PM, there are no set rules that must be followed. You are welcome to join us at a wedding or similar ceremony that may be taking place when you are in Watamu. In Africa, a patient and flexible attitude is always welcome! This open attitude helps you learn more about the local culture first hand, in ways you never thought possible!
Day 6 After exploring Watamu, you will now have a chance to visit Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, for an evening. After flying from the coast to Nairobi, you'll meet your Nairobi leader at the airport and spend the evening enjoying hot showers in a hotel and traditional East African Indian Curry dinner. Contrary to popular opinion, most curries are not chili hot, but simply filled with a myriad of different spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Kenya's large Indian population has introduced the curry to the country; in fact a curry lunch on Sunday has become traditional in most of the larger towns.
Days 7-8 An early start takes you up through the foothills of the Aberdare Mountains to the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Stunning views open out in front of you as the ground literally disappears, only reappearing more than a thousand feet below! After your descent into the valley, you'll pass through the busy vegetable and flower growing areas of Kenya on your way to Lake Baringo, your base for the next two nights.
The Rift Valley is millions of years old, more than 5,400 miles long and a sight not to be missed! In Kenya, seven lakes are found in this valley: Magadi, Naivasha, Elmenteita, Nakuru, Bogoria, Baringo and Turkana. Only Naivasha and Baringo are fresh water lakes, with the other lakes draining through volcanic rock, collecting minerals and alkaline soils. None of the lakes have an obvious outflow and evaporation has deposited so much alkaline soil and minerals in the other five lakes, that the waters are highly saline and undrinkable. This is a bonus for posterity though, as the highly mineralized and alkaline soils around these lakes, both past and present, are a superb medium for turning bones into fossils and are one of the reasons so many ancient archeological sites are located within the Rift Valley. A spectacular fresh water lake, Baringo is home to the Njemps fishermen whose livelihood depends on their skill in building boats made entirely out of reeds. The Njemps Tribe is a tiny sub-group of the Maa speaking Nilotic language group. Their closest cousins are the Masai and Samburu, yet isolation has turned them from nomadic cattle herders to sedentary village fishermen.
The Njemps Tribe builds their boats out of the long reeds found growing on the edge of the lake. Related to the Egyptian papyrus reeds, these reeds soak up water without sinking, providing a damp but floating platform for fishing boats. Virtually unsinkable, these tiny and unstable looking boats are used by this tribe as they brave hippo-infested waters to land the daily catch. The fish in this land-locked lake are a clue to the past as well, as they are closely related to the Nile River and lake Victoria fish species. It seems that at one time, Baringo must have been connected to the Nile.
Enjoy an afternoon bird walk along the base of the 100-foot cliffs that provide stunning views of the lake, after setting up camp in a tortillis tree Acacia Glade. You'll have a good chance of seeing hippo, crocodile, and fish eagles hunting before you head back to camp to try your hand at traditional open fire oven cooking with your camp chef.
You'll spend time with the Njemps tribe, exploring the local village, trying to build your own reed boat, helping the village ladies with their fish preparation and learning about the culture of this little known lakeside tribe. If a boat is available, you could even try your hand at local fishing before enjoying a trip onto the water in a slightly more stable, modern boat to search for hippo.
Days 9-11 After breakfast it's time to break camp and leave for Mt. Elgon, via the Kerio Valley, which provides some of the world's most spectacular scenery, to the rich highland farming area. Mt. Elgon is a National Park famous for its elephant caves and walking safaris in the Saiwa Swamps in search of the webbed foot Sitatunga Antelope. This rare little antelope is extremely shy and quiet tracking is required to find it. But the sight of this elegant brown antelope 'running across water' is simply magical!
Mount Elgon is a large, extinct volcano that straddles the border between Kenya and Uganda. No one is sure, but it last erupted millennia ago. Reaching a height of 4,320 meters and extending over 100 km in diameter, Mount Elgon is the largest, although not the highest of Kenya's mountains. On the Kenyan side of the border, 340 square km of the mountain has been set aside as a National Park, preserving a wide range of natural vegetation in an otherwise intensively cultivated area. The mountain invites exploration, as you wind your way through a mixed forest of deciduous and evergreen trees, including magnificent specimens of the East African Cedar and the Podo, both reaching upwards of 30 meters tall. Branches are frequently festooned with gray and green lichen and a tangle of purple, white and pink wild orchids.
With luck, one will observe black and white Colobus and the blue Monkey, as well as the giant forest hog and red forest duiker. The Colobus are a very special monkey, being totally arboreal. Their hands are not adapted for use on the ground, only for gripping trees, which makes them extremely slow and vulnerable to predation if on the forest floor.
Many leopards inhabit the park, as do buffalo and waterbuck, which resemble shaggy reindeer. Look out for the twitch of spotted tail dangling down from a branch; frequently this is the only clue to the location of this elusive and beautiful spotted cat. A wide range of birds, including the rare forest francolin make Mount Elgon a bird watchers' delight. Francolins', although able to fly, are basically ground dwelling birds, about the size and shape of a small guinea fowl. They are frequently found only by their quite noisy, chattering call. The flora of the forest floor is also interesting for botanists where many rare species of flower may be found. With your campsite located inside the park, you have a good chance of spotting a number of these animals from the comfort of the camp!
Mount Elgon is also well known for its four explorable caves, formed by the action of water on ancient volcanic ash. These caves play a vital and unique role in the lives of forest animals. Families and sometimes entire villages of the El Gonyi, a Masai tribe, lived for centuries in the caves with their cattle. The minerals contained in the rocks of the caves are vital to the well being of cattle and other grazing animals. High rainfall in this area has denuded the soil of natural salts and minerals and the caves provide the only source of salt. A fascinating area, Mount Elgon National Park is one of the few parks where walking explorations are possible and the area is especially enjoyable for hikers and bird-watchers. Your Kenya Wildlife Service guides will introduce you to the local flora and fauna and also explain the history and culture of the El Gonyi tribe.
The Kenya Wildlife Service is the official body appointed to monitor and preserve Kenya's natural heritage. The KWS rangers patrol the parks and reserves throughout Kenya, preventing poaching on one hand, and helping to develop tourism on the other. Frequently the KWS rangers are reformed poachers themselves, now providing their superb tracking skills and animal knowledge towards the protection of the animals and land.
On the last day in this area, you'll explore the Kakamega market as you re-supply your fresh vegetables and fruit. Practice the traditional art of bargaining as you explore this vibrant market town. Kakamega is in the heart of Western Kenya, the most populated and most fertile are in the country. This market is one of the largest in the area and its wares include samples of virtually every produce that is available in the country. Bright red tomatoes lie next to yellow-green matoke bananas. Yellow, orange, red and black clad women saunter through the aisles, with huge kikapus (baskets) balanced on their heads. And all around there are the cacophony of voices bargaining in a multitude of languages.
Then continue into the Kakamega Tropical Rain Forest, the last remaining tropical rain forest in Kenya. Here you go on a guided nature walk of the forest learning about the numerous tribal medicine plants that have developed from this incredibly rich eco-system. Camp is set up deep in the forest, where you are able to experience the eerie sounds of the forest nightlife from the comfort of your tents.
Days 12-16 After an early breakfast, depart south for Masai Mara via the tea growing highlands with a picnic lunch en route, arriving in the late afternoon. This stunning area combines an introduction to what is arguably Kenya's most famous tribe, the Masai, with an exploration of its richest eco-system. Mara means "contrast" in the Maa tongue, referring to the contrast of fair, savannah land and dark trees in the area. Located to the south of Nairobi, and bordering Tanzania, the Masai Mara forms part of the huge Serengeti eco-system. The Mara spreads over 1510 square km of rolling plains, sudden rocky outcrops, and green winding rivers.
Not only is the Mara blessed with this stunning landscape, but also its animal diversity is one of the greatest in Africa. Surrounded by the grazing lands of the Masai people, the Mara is a sanctuary for all of the "Big 5" animals, lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard. The sweet grasses and abundant water ensure a full compliment of plains game such as the impala and Thompsons gazelle, which are of course, closely followed by lion, leopard and cheetah. The deep river pools provide homes for hippo and crocodiles.
You'll spend 5 nights here, staying the nights in your tents at the campsite, with your days spent with the local Masai in their Manyattas (villages), learning how to make the superb beadwork jewelry, weave baskets, thatch roofs, repair mud and reed huts and herd the cattle that form the entire basis of the Masai tribe's economy. If you are lucky, a walk through the plains with a medicine man proves that every plant and bush has a use, but be careful when tasting them, as some of the local plants are highly hallucinogenic!
The Masai are arguably the most famous of Kenya's many tribes. With their fearsome reputation as warriors, they single-handedly kept the Arabic slavers out of Kenya's interior, providing a protection that much of the rest of East Africa did not enjoy. The Masai are of the Nilotic language group, and descended into Kenya from the northern areas now known as Sudan and Ethiopia. They spread out over the rolling plains and savannah of the Mara area in what is believed to be the 17th Century.
The Masai culture is totally based upon their cattle. Their diet consists of fresh and curdled milk, carried and stored in long, decorated gourds, supplemented by blood tapped from the jugular vein of their cattle. Unfortunately this milk frequently carries bruchellosis, which often causes painful arthritis type pains in the joints and is a frequent disease of the Masai tribe. For meat the Masai will slaughter a sheep or a goat, and will only slaughter a cow or bullock for ceremonial purposes.
The Masai traditions of 'age groups', where all men born within a specific 12-15 year era are considered to be one group, will be explained, as will the traditions, taboos and responsibilities of each group. The Moran or warrior group is the best known, comprising of males aged from between 14 to about 30 years old. These are the men who herd the cattle through the plains and who live separately from the rest of the tribe. It is not until the Moran enter the next age group and become junior elders, that they are allowed to take a wife, at which time the average age of the male is between 30-35 years of age. The girls on the other hand are generally around 14 or 15 years of age when married.
With the exception of eland and buffalo, the eating of wild game is forbidden by the Masai culture; therefore the Masai do not hunt. Instead their herds of cattle share the wilderness with the wildlife. Cattle are prime lion bait, which means that the lion is viewed as an enemy, but still only hunted if the lion has killed their cattle. However, the rest of the wildlife is not considered a threat and left alone. The relationship between the Masai and the wildlife is therefore one of harmony instead of competition, as they do not clear and fence land for farming, but share the land with the animals placed on it.
While in the Mara, experience time as a warrior, herding the cattle through grazing lands shared with all the wild animals, as you walk across the plains with your Masai escorts to the next village. Imagine walking on small cattle or game trails through open bush land, with only the Masai spear for protection! You are welcome to walk anywhere from 2-6 hours, depending on your enthusiasm! These days are flexible, with time spent exploring the villages and wandering through the wilderness as you experience the relationship between the Masai people and the wilderness in which they live.
Day 17 It is time to pack up camp for the last time, as you make your leisurely return down the Mau Escarpment, along the Rift Valley and back to Nairobi for a late afternoon shower and snack at your Nairobi hotel, before your international flight home.
Includes: All meals, transport, driver/guide, camping crew includes cook and helper, water when camping and in vehicle, all accommodation, all activities, park fees and local taxes. (Clients must bring own sleeping bag and towel for the camping portion)
Excludes: Drinks, personal purchases, tips, visas and international flights