Category Archives: Things to do

What the tuk-tuk?: Mombasa’s Love – hate relationship with the little three-wheeled hardy vehicle

There are lots of things to expect once you land in Mombasa. Cultural diversity, a city rich in history, scenic beaches, a myriad of touristic destinations, warm people…

And then, there is the tuk-tuk.

There’s no missing the tuk-tuk.

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Source: thirdlocal.com

Swiftly maneuvering the old city’s narrow cobbled and congested streets, the little sputtering three-wheeled motorized vehicle has undoubtedly become very symbolic of Mombasa. They are everywhere! A multitude of them!

Preferred for their compact size and swift maneuverability, tuk-tuks make wheezing around Mombasa such a breeze. Their ability to negotiate tight corners and park almost anywhere is perhaps one of the reasons that locals favor them as a short-distance mode of transport which allows for convenient door-to-door service. Tourists would especially enjoy the tuk-tuk experience with their small canopy and windowless body providing for full view of the scenic sites while enjoying a breezy ride through the city at a much lower cost.

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Source: thirdlocal.com

This little three-wheeler with a capacity for three passengers (but just like a taxi, mostly boards one passenger at a time) has a little space at the back allocated for luggage and in case of bad weather, there’s a drop-down side flap that covers the windowless frame. You will also come to notice that tuk-tuks in Mombasa have a personality of their own, no two are the same. Well of course there are those drivers who prefer to stick with the tuk-tuks original outlook whereas others tend to get a bit more creative with their autos; tricking them out with bumpin’ speakers, flashing neon, graffiti amongst other forms of ‘bling’.

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Source: travelstart.co.ke
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source: Graphic World

With the much expediency that tuk-tuks offer, why would anyone have a problem with them?

Here’s why,

The tuk-tuk invasion if you like, has primarily been a thorn in the side of the county government for a while now with several attempts to steer them clear of some parts of the central business district having been futile. Not only are they noisy but they are also believed to be a major contributor to the congestion of the city’s main streets. Getting rid of them has however not been an easy feat. This is especially so when a large number of passengers utilize them to traverse from one point to another within the CBD itself.

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source: Daily Nation

Did I mention Noisy? Many residents tend to fume about the noise pollution and rightly so! The puttering noise that these hardy vehicles make is simply unbearable! Especially if you have to listen to it every second of every day bearing in mind that Mombasa city is not only a business area but also a residential area that houses a large number of locals. Sound proofing makes for a good investment if one resides within the city.

In case you are yet to embark on your own tuk-tuk experience within Mombasa city, we’ve listed some tips below to help smooth along your first encounter.

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Source: monitor.co.ke

Things to note:

  1. Don’t just board and pay at your drop-off point.  

Have you ever boarded a tuk-tuk only to be asked to pay an outrageous amount upon alighting?

Unless you are aware of the tuk tuk fare, do not attempt the “board and pay later” tactic. As you will learn fast, locals have a way of sniffing non-locals so to be safe, always settle on the fare before you climb aboard, otherwise you will find yourself having to shell out a hefty charge at your destination. Please note that some drivers will tend to note give out the rate firsthand after you ask, responding with “just get in” instead.  Be persistent and ask again until they respond with a satisfactory rate.

  1.  Familiarize yourself with route fares.

Find out the local rates before hailing a tuk-tuk. It shouldn’t be so difficult to realize the appropriate price by asking the locals – of course some of them will give you rates above the norm but mostly you should be able to get the correct price point. Be careful not to ask the driver the distance or duration of the destination, if they see that you are new to the area they will definitely lie and overcharge you for a distance that you may not have needed to get a tuk-tuk in the first place to get there. It’s also good to note that the locals of Mombasa are majorly friendly and readily willing to assist (unless of course for some elements whom I can neither confirm nor deny to be native locals), so plenty of times responses given should be pretty legit.

  1. Its ok to negotiate!

Familiarizing yourself with the price-points gives you a good advantage at bargaining where you can easily talk the drivers down to a certain level that is satisfactory to both of you. It’s also okay to walk away if you feel the fare is super high. There are plenty of tuk-tuks lined up so if one driver doesn’t budge another one will.

  1. Where to hail a tuk-tuk? 

Certainly, not in front of a fancy restaurant or resort I can tell you that much. Some tuk-tuk drivers have a habit of sizing people up and if they pick you up at a somewhat upscale location then that is some extra change for them. If you intend on using a tuk-tuk and are staying at a hotel, do not let the driver pick you up from the hotel’s entrance instead walk to the main road which shouldn’t be very far away. This will give you a better chance of striking a good bargain.

  1. The destination

There’s one thing in Mombasa that highly differs from Nairobi and probably other cities and towns, locals familiarize themselves with places and not street addresses. Do not expect an accurate response when you ask for Moi Avenue, Haille selassie, Nkurumah road, Nyerere Avenue or even Tom Mboya Street only a people few can pin-point that out for you if you are lucky. Instead ask for Ambalal, Posta, Nawal centre, Fort Jesus, Ferry and so on…

It is therefore more convenient to tell the tuk-tuk driver the name of the place you are going to instead of the address. The drivers have familiarized themselves with most of the hotels, touristic attractions, market places, office buildings and so on. If you give them the address, you will definitely get lost. That’s a  guarantee!

  1. Enjoy your ride!

Once you’ve gained the confidence and are now familiar with the tuk-tuk ways, just hop on, tell the driver where you want to go, give the fare and hop off. It’s that simple. We do not however promise you of a smooth ride all the time; some streets tend to be bumpy, sometimes with potholes and never ending stream of pedestrians. Just hold on tight when the tuk-tuk bounces from one lane to another as some drivers tend to be oblivious of the fact that they have passengers on board.

#Stargazers: Chasing the African Night Sky

City life tends to get us engulfed in so much that we forget to appreciate and enjoy the little things in life. One such little thing is simply looking up at the African night sky, undoubtedly one of the best things you could ever take time to do.

The city robs us of this experience, what with huge skyscrapers, light pollution among other distractions. To be honest most of us only get to appreciate the existence of the moon let alone the stars when power goes out no?!

If you are yet to marvel at the beautiful African night sky, your best bet is to travel to the remote country areas. Something the  astrophotographers below got to appreciate. We are just glad they got to bring back souvenirs from their Kenyan stargazing adventures courtesy of their night captures.

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Turkana – ©2008 Jon Warren/World Vision
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Amboseli night sky – Nick Saglibeni
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Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya ©Tunc Tezel
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African night sky – @deadmau5
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Babak Tafreshi/National Geographic Society
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The Mara night sky – Mark Gee
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Milky Way over Mount Kilimanjaro – Dale Johnson
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Kenya Stargazing – image via flickr user Weldon Kennedy

Haller Park: From wasteland to Paradise

The beauty that is now ‘Haller Park’ was once an industrial wasteland. In 1970, one Dr. Rene Haller, took upon him the task of rehabilitating a barren cement quarry whose floor was hard as rock and groundwater saline.

Dr. Haller set out to transform this industrial wasteland into a flourishing natural park, something that was unheard of at the time. His vision; to establish a multitude of plants, providing food and shelter to a large variety of animals.”

Through careful observation of how plants and animals interact, and a series of trial-and-error experiments, Dr. Rene Haller achieved what many had thought was inachievable.

Over 1 million trees  planted, and having a range of insects, butterflies, birds and mammals introduced, we now have Haller Park; a serene nature enthusiasts’ haven. Each plant, insect or animal had a purpose to keep the ecosystem in balance. Now Haller Park is a beautiful Wildlife Sanctuary, home to over 30 species of endangered animals and a favorite spot for family time over the weekends.

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NB: Nearly 100,000 people visit Haller Park every year.

Entry Fee: kshs. 500 per person *subject to change

The Little Beach at Barracuda

Driving down the small trail, a Watamu local in the backseat giving us directions, I couldn’t have envisioned what awaited us. I’ve had my fair share of coastal beaches but what I was about to step into I couldn’t have imagined. This little piece of paradise sitting pretty outside the small village of Watamu, is no wonder Watamu is listed as having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Once you step on the beach, the rocky lagoons across the street instantly catch your eye. These reef-protected lagoons line the Watamu National Marine Park and Reserves, which are the oldest in East Africa and one of the best kept secrets in the world recognized internationally as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The Blue Lagoon bay where we chose to spend our christmas afternoon is known for its extraordinarily clear waters sheltering a rich marine life; ideal for snorkelling and offers great panoramic views out over the bay. Watersports, swaying hammocks and luxury beachfront resorts complete the picture – it’s the perfect definition of paradise.

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What to anticipate: A “beach boy” or two may approach you with a boat ride offer to the Marine Park. On seeing that we weren’t interested in seeing dolphins, the guy who’d approached us offered to join him and his crew at their hangout joint, a small makuti restaurant where they look out for clients.

Here I met Hussein Guida Turistica who currently goes by the alias Brian when at work. Given the terrorist attacks that majorly hurt the tourism economy, he fears that using his real name Hussein will ward off clients and he could not afford to lose his main way of earning a living.

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Hussein Guida Turistica taking me round the bay

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Hussein Guida Turistica requested for this photo with this lovely lady when we first met him

Italian is the language of commerce here and once in a while he and his friends would shift from swahili to italian when they didn’t want us  to here what they were saying while bargaining for a boat ride to the Marine Park.

Ways to keep kids happy during a game drive

Now that we are settled on a safari this festive season, we of course have to give you tips on getting through it with ease and ensuring that you enjoy your experience to the fullest.

If your’s is a family getaway, you may be a bit worried if your kids will be safe and sound while embarking on game drives. Worry not; our tips will set you up for that perfect holiday experience.

The biggest attraction of any family safari holiday is naturally “The Big 5″: lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros. With this in mind, guided safari drives are the safest way for children and families to maximise the magical Kenya experience. Whilst children may get very excited about seeing wildlife, patience is often needed while tracking the African game therefore the main concern here is whether your kids may or may not behave.

Wait until your children are at an appropriate age
The key is to wait until your kids are at the point where they can take instructions (especially on when to keep still and be quiet for the safety of the group). Recommended ages is 5 and over, however ensure that you check with the accommodation first on their policies regarding children and game drives (most require children to be at least 8 years old).

Encourage participation
Children get bored easily. You definitely want to ensure that once bored, they do not start causing tantrums. Let your kids be part of the action by either letting them use a camera or a binocular, who knows they may spot the game before you do.

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Have activities ready to keep children busy during the drive
Driving to your safari destination may take a few hours and parents know that even the most patient child will get bored during the drive. You can either prepare your ‘our activity package’ with coloring sheets and quiet games, or ask your safari guide and lodge for ideas to keep children busy.

Consider a self-drive or private safari
At larger lodges where families may have to share vehicles during a game drive, keep in mind not all travelers will enjoy having children on their safari. In such cases, get a private guide and vehicle if possible.

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Book with a reliable tour operator that accommodates kids
The family travel market is full of tour operators offering safaris to families on a budget; it may be tempting to book with a less expensive operator. Keep in mind that not all lodges accommodate children and that less expensive is not always better. Look out for a single tour operator offering an established portfolio of properties.

Pack clothing that will keep them comfortable
Most family safari game drives take place in the morning or afternoon but older children may want to take part in night drives too. If this is the case, remember to bring warm clothes in the jeep.

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Remember your little kids are potential prey for the Big 5
Yes, it’s a scary thought that your young children could potentially be a meal for wild dogs. On her post on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel, Heather Greenwood-Davis reminds parents to weigh the prey factor. “My sons once stepped out of a jeep at a game reserve where wild dogs were being preserved and the immediate transformation of the dogs from playful puppies to hunters made me very grateful for the electric fence,” she writes.

Don’t feel pressured to go on every safari game drive
The excitement of being on a family trip can get the kids wanting to take part in all the drives and activities offered which in turn may leave them cranky and exhausted. If your children are tired, let them sleep. “Let your little ones rest when things are slow and rouse them for the highlights, tired kids make for terrible safari companions.”

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Since safari lodges and camps offer several drives throughout the day, you and your family can still get a break from the excitement of it all and enjoy some quiet family-time together back at camp.

Image courtesy: andbeyond.com, bushtracks.

Tips for traveling with kids

August is here!! which means school term is over for a majority of the kids. Which also means that your kids will need entertaining.

For those of you planning to take your kids off to some fun destination this August, we have compiled some facts you need to put into consideration before you embark on your travels.

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Image source: Kuoni

Let’s be honest. Traveling with young children during holidays is a hassle for a number of parents. This can be attributed to kids throwing tantrums, becoming disorderly and a nuisance hence messing up with the whole fun.

Traveling with small children doesn’t need to get on your nerves though. With a bit of know-how on how to manage them, good recollections can become of the road trip. Traveling with them should be a moment to ignite indelible memories of joy and provide a platform to bond well with them without much worry.

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Here are a number of tips you can put in place before you go for a vacation with small children.

Safety for the kids
When hitting the road, safety comes first. Is your car in good condition? Are the seat belts well fitted? Or is the children’s car seat comfortable? In case you are going to use different cars make sure the seats are comfy for them to enjoy when traveling regardless of the distance.

Look for a child friendly hotel
Quite a good number of hotels in tourist attraction sites are not child-friendly to a degree of exposing kids to stress or danger. Before settling in any of the rooms, as a parent you have to make sure the room is well lit, windows and doors are well fitted to keep the kids out of cold weather in cases of winter/cold seasons. You should also take note of those doors with noisy hinges that may wake up kids while in sound sleep. If the room has a balcony, make sure the guard rails are firmly fitted and not providing a chance for them to pass through to an extent of falling off the balcony. If not change your room real quick.

Eat at nice hotels
Remember you are on vacation and everything has to be exciting mostly for the kid(s) so as his/her attention cannot be diverted. The hotel should be appealing to the little angel(s) ask the waitress/ waiter if certain kinds of foods are offered to avoid giving the children food they are not fond of. DON’T do buffets. Some hotels have a low food turnover and this can result to food poisoning not only to the kids but also, you as an adult. To avoid this, you can look for a busy hotel where you can be sure the food served is very fresh. You can also request for a comfortable sitting arrangement that won’t ruin other people’s peace at the hotel since kids tend to pull tables or run around disrupting other people.

Engage the children….
It is rewarding to include the kids in activities during the outing. It is sensible that children are kept aware of the trip. Involving them in planning, shopping makes them feel part of the trip. This will help impart some sense of responsibility. When in a park, let them learn to take photo shots or if it’s a fishing escapade for instance, teach them how to do it. It will help them recollect the memories after the trip.

Finally, you can never be sure of weather patterns and though you are guaranteed of experiencing fatigue, you may not know if the kids will develop some allergy while on the trip. It’s therefore of much essence that you carry some medicine with you.

Reasons why you won’t feel like a loner, backpacking!!

Sipping my healthy smoothie by the  Kilifi Backpackers bar counter, I watch as my friend tries to get a splinter off of *James (a fellow traveller’s) foot . Poor thing went swimming at the beach and left his stuff (bag, shoes, and bicycle) unattended. Unfortunately for him, “Cha kuokota si cha kuiba” finding is not stealing, is a rule some people live by on this ends, his bag and shoes got stolen and had he not left his bicycle somewhere in the bushes, his transport back “home” would have gone too! With his shoes gone, getting his bicycle from the bushes left him with a thorny situation.

Even after cleaning his wound when he got back from the beach, *James could still feel some sharp pain on the foot and that’s when he asked us to check it out. Funny thing though about this whole situation, I doubt he would have gotten any such assistance from fellow guests in a classic or luxury travel setting, everyone keeps to themselves! Imagine you and your friends enjoying your drinks in some luxurious hotel bar, laughing with each other about jokes nobody outside of your group will understand, based on memories and past experiences you had with those friends. Now imagine some random dude approaching you and asking for help with his foot situation. What would your reaction be? weirded out perhaps?

With backpacking, things are different.  Sure, not everyone will be welcoming with open arms when you ask if you may join them for dinner, some people want to be left alone sometimes, but I guarantee you that 99% of people will say “sure, no problem”.  See even though we were not really “buddies” with James, we were not really strangers per se, we had cheered him on during the daily beach volleyball, shared conversation over breakfast,  heck we even got to “babysit” his beers!! so we were already familiar with him.

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If you are setting out to travel on your lonesome and are worried about loneliness creeping up on you, fear not, backpacking is here!

Just like our time at Distant Relatives, you will realise that almost everyone backpacking is travelling alone as well. Moreover, everyone wants to make friends. As a matter of fact, you may have to TRY to be alone!  It does not matter how introverted you are, it is impossible not to meet new people; for instance, at times you may just be sitted by yourself wanting some alone time when a stranger joins you for conversation.

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Whether you’re lounging in a hammock on the balcony or frying something in the communal kitchen, at any moment you could strike up a conversation with a  stranger and make a friend for life.

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Aside from that, meeting new people is inevitable when staying in a hostel, or dorm rooms. You won’t have a choice but to get to know them. Just say hello and ask where they’ve been, where they’re going, how long they’ve been around and if they’d recommend anything cool to do or see.

I’m not sure it’s possible to feel lonely at a hostel and more often than not, you may end up craving some alone time.

In the backpacking world, it’s always someone’s first or last night and therefore a reason to go out – which means there’s a lot of drinking going on (A LOT!). Therefore, if parties are your thing, you will never fall short. Going out for dinner one night with several strangers and never seeing them again is part of the fun and it’s what happens. People are aware of it and it’s kind of the norm.

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You meet great people, and then tomorrow they are gone. Maybe you will see each other again, maybe not. In some cases though, some of these people may end up being the group you travel around with, which is a great bonus!

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Backpacking is a great lifestyle; It’s fun, social, has a  youthful vibe to it and you get to meet amazing people. There will be people you meet who become your friends for a week, friends for a month and friends for life. Happy Backpacking!!!
Photo Credits: Distant Relatives Kilifi Backpackers

19 Reasons Kenya Needs to Be Higher on Your Bucket List

There are few places in the world that have the incredibly varying landscapes that Kenya has, which is what makes this small, yet breathtaking country such a magical place to visit. The range in temperatures, habitats and geography are the reason this country is home to so many different species of rare wildlife, many of which can be only be found in the grassy plains, rain forests and wooded savannas of Kenya. But it’s not just the wildlife that captivates you when you’re visiting; the incredibly rich culture, amazing food and humble and passionate people pull you in with an almost magnetic pull.

The sad truth about Kenya, however, is that the beauty of this place remains unseen to so many groups of tourists due to the scary, and somewhat fabricated, reputation that has sprouted up due to social and economic problems recently faced by the country. For a country just recently (within the past 50 years) liberated, there are bound to be some growing pains with establishing a government and status quo that works. But isn’t that the case with many countries? Sure, there are parts of Nairobi that are dangerous and some coastal villages are facing struggles between land and state, but why should that deter you from seeing the other 99 percent of the country that is not only safe, but welcoming and hospitable? Whether you’re in the very touristy areas or off the beaten path, you’ll be welcomed to Kenya with a warmth, openness and beauty that will have you truly speechless.

And how many countries leave you at a loss for words? When I came back from my trip to Kenya, that’s exactly how I found myself. And I’ve decided that maybe words aren’t what this incredible place needs to encourage people to visit, maybe it’s just photos. As I sift through the thousands of images I took of the beautiful Masai people, the landscapes and the wildlife roaming free, the adage “a picture says 1000 words” has never rang so true.

1. Hot air balloon safaris over the plains

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Where else can you blend a hot air balloon ride and a game drive at the same time? Plus, most only run at sunrise or sunset, giving you insanely gorgeous views of the bright pink and orange skies over the Masai Mara. Oh and did we mention that a full breakfast and champagne cocktails conclude your trip?

2. Herds of elephants in the Amboseli

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The Amboseli National Reserve is located in the Rift Valley Peninsula of Kenya and is famous for being the best place in Africa to get close to free-range herds of elephants. So close that one of the young, curious male’s trunks may accidentally touch the side of your face.

3. Pack of lions in the Masai Mara

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When you grow up in the U.S., the only time you see lions up close are behind the cages of your city’s zoo. When you grow up near the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya, you see packs of lions almost everyday on your way to work. And it’s surprising just how lazy these “kings of the jungle” really are.

4. The conservancies

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People crave adventure, once in a lifetime experiences and culture, which is why safaris have been a bucket list item for thousands of people for centuries. What makes a safari in Kenya especially meaningful is that you can choose to go on game drives in one of the 25 trusted conservancies, which work with the land owners and local tribes to further protect their wildlife. Instead of working against the local people, eco-tourism groups and hotels work with the owners of the land to build trusts which help protect the animals from human harm and poaching, while also helping the local people with a trusted source of income so they can better their lives and focus on education for their kids.

5. Sunsets over the conservancies

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There’s no better place to watch the sunset than over one of the twenty-five incredible conservancies in Kenya. For one, no skyscrapers or light pollution will obstruct the view. And two? You’ll see herds of zebras and wildebeest in the distance as you watch the sun dip.

6. The migration of Wildebeest from the Serengeti

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If you’re lucky enough to see the migration of the wildebeest, you’re lucky enough. Every summer (typically around August) they leave their home in the Serengeti National Reserve and migrate to the Masai Mara in Kenya. The most incredible part is that they often move in single file, very organized lines, which is beautiful to watch.

7. The bustling streets of Nairobi

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Nairobi has a bad rap, probably because you only hear about the crimes that happen in certain parts of the city. Like most growing cities, it does have crime and sections that should be avoided by tourists, but it also has parts that can’t be missed, like the National museum, the game reserve in the center of the city and the budget-friendly shopping where you grab locally made souvenirs.

8. The surprisingly delicious food

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Due to the country’s dynamic range of different cultures, tribes and backgrounds, there is no one “singular” dish that defines Kenya. Instead, the country is made up of various dishes that utilize the fresh and local produce, proteins and grains found in the area. Arguably one of the most popular dishes among locals is ugali, which is a cornmeal staple (much like polenta). You’ll also find lots of rice, beans, collard greens and rich meats like lamb, beef, chicken and goat.

9. The Hemingway Hotel

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Arguably the best hotel in Nairobi (and one of the most beautiful in all of Kenya), the Hemingway is where you want to stay when you’re spending a few days in the bustling capital. The vibe is very “5 star Indiana Jones” with stacked vintage suitcases and tufted couches. The rooms and the staff will make it very hard to leave.

10. Mount Kenya

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It may not be as high as Mount Kilimanjaro, but the hike up to the peak of Mount Kenya, a staggering 5,000 meters, is no walk in the park. Located in the eastern part of the Rift Valley, Mount Kenya is the highest peak in Kenya. The hike up offers stunning views of the Rift Valley and you’ll encounter rich vegetation, deep glacial valleys and snow topped peaks on your way up. Image via Go to Mount Kenya.

11. Amboseli National Park

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Best known for their families of elephants, the Amboseli is a park you can’t miss when you’re visiting Kenya. Not only is this reserve home to elephants, but here you’ll also find exotic birds (native to only Kenya), hippos, baboons, buffalo and cheetahs. Here you’ll also find the best full view of Mount Kilimanjaro than anywhere else in the world.

12. The amazing people

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People flock to Kenya for the incredible diversity in animals, but many don’t realize that the human population is just as fascinating. There are over 40 different ethnic populations that call the country home, from the Masai, to the Kikuyu and the Luo and Kamba. Not only that, but the demographic of Nairobi is equally as diverse, with large groups of Europeans, Americans and South Africans living among the busy streets. Along with the variety, you’ll never meet more personable, humble, proud, outgoing, excitable and funny people as the Kenyans.

13. Lamu

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You have have heard of Lamu in the news recently, sadly due to some violent outbreaks caused by neighboring tribes who live in the small town. However, don’t let these very rare outbreaks deter you from visiting one of the most beautiful villages in all of Kenya.The town is one of Kenya’s oldest inhabited ones and was founded in 1370 by the Swahili tribe. I don’t know what’s more beautiful, the town center, which is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, the townspeople or the stunning seaside and beaches. Image via WM Magazine.

14. The ever-changing landscape

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The country’s dramatic geography not only makes Kenya a great home to the thousands of different wildlife who live there, but also makes it such a desirable destination for all sorts of travelers. On the coast you get white sandy beaches and aqua water, in the north you have the mountains and more rugged terrain, while in the central and south you have tall grassy plains, rain forests and stunning lakes. It’s a geographical wonderland, really.

15. The elusive leopard and cheetah

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Arguably the most remarkable moments I have from my multiple game drives in the Masai Mara, Nairobi Park and Amboseli are when we were able to watch the very elusive leopards or cheetahs sitting, walking or eating. These wild cats are very endangered and the chances of seeing them are very rare, but when you do, these beautiful creatures will absolutely take your breath away.

16. Mara Plains and Mara Toto

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Mara Plains, the big sister of the two resorts located on the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, is sophisticated enough to be a five star resort but humble and personable enough to feel like an extended home away. Mara Toto is smaller, with just 7 tents, making it the perfect place to rent if you have a big family or a friends getaway. The staff at each place make you feel like you’re family, which make every second that much more relaxing.

17. Nairobi National Reserve

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The Nairobi National Reserve is only 117 square km wide, but don’t think that means you won’t see any wildlife. On our 3 hour game drive in this beautiful park just 7 m outside of the city center, we saw giraffes, zebra, impalas, buffalo and one elusive rhino. In fact, the Nairobi National Reserve is one of the only places in the country where you’ll still find the very endangered rhino roaming around.

18. David Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage

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Poaching is still one of the major causes of death for elephants and rhinos in Africa. And you are never more aware of this fact than when you visit the David Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage right outside Nairobi. Baby elephants (some as young as 1 month) who are orphaned due to poaching are rescued and brought to the orphanage to receive care until they are old enough to go back into the wild. Here you can adopt an elephant, which will give you the chance to catch a feeding, where keepers feed and nourish the baby elephants with bottles.

19. The quiet, peaceful moments

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In a world so crazed with busy schedules, constant emails and nonstop pressure from colleagues, friends and social media, it’s no wonder we don’t recognize a quiet, peaceful moment when it stumbles upon us. This moment, as we floated through the sky in a hot air ballon, was one of them. My travel colleague told us to all put down our cameras and our phones and just be in that moment. It was probably the most meaningful moment I had in years. The tranquility and the serenity of the landscape and the quiet was astounding.

Claire Gallam, Huffingtonpost.

Going Beyond the Safaris: Travel Experts Open Up About Kenya

It’s well known that Kenya is one of of the best spots in the world to take a safari. But did you know that it is also rife with topographical diversity? I’m talking about glacial mountains, Rift Valley volcanoes, coral reefs and desert escapes. Sounds pretty amazing, right? I thought so too, which is why I reached out to three travel experts–Jason Florio, of FlorioPhoto.com, Marcello Arrambide, of Wandering Trader, and Matt Gross, editor of BonAppetit.com and the author of The Turk Who Loved Apples–to get some of their best tips for traveling through this eclectic East African country.

Gnus and zebras in Mara Masai National Reserve. Image courtesy of Marcello Arrambide

Gnus and zebras in Mara Masai National Reserve. Image courtesy of Marcello Arrambide

What is your must-try food or beverage in Kenya? And why?

JF: I would go for a Somali lamb stew in the  Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, which is also known as Little Mogadishu. Why have this in Kenya?  Because you don’t need six armed guards as your dining companions, which you would need if you went out to eat it in (Big) Mogadishu. As for drinks, I hate to be cliche, but it has to be the national brew, Tusker.

MA: The food I would say that everyone has to try are samosas and chapatis. Both are inspired by Indian cuisine but are found commonly throughout Kenya. They’ve become a common staple of Kenyan cuisine.

Samosas are what some may call an African version of an empanada. They are triangular in shape and deep fried, which creates an outer coating that is crispy brown. Inside you’ll find a tasty filling of spicy meat or even veggies.  You can find them alongside the endless number of street carts in the country (especially Nairobi). Samosas are one of my favorite things to eat while on the road in Kenya. Chapatis, on the other hand, can be compared to a pita flat bread.  No matter where I ordered this dish it was always the right texture and taste. Just soft enough to allow you to roll it into a pita and just hard enough to have with coffee or tea. It’s a great snack.

MG: I guess you have to eat ugali, which is sort of like the Kenyan version of polenta. They eat a lot a maize and corn there, and grind it up with flour to create this polenta-like semi-solid porridge that everybody eats at every meal. The other thing that’s pretty good is sukuma wiki. It’s a braised kale dish.

Giraffe licking Marcello in Kenya.

Giraffe licking Marcello in Kenya.

In your opinion, what’s an important “do this” or “don’t do that” when it comes to traveling in Kenya?

JF: Do learn how to paddle a tiny balsa wood canoe on Lake Baringo with the charming Njemp fisherman, and watch the fish eagles snatch fish from the lake around you–mind the hippos though.

Do not try and take pictures of the ferry crossing in Mombasa. The local security has come up with a neat little shakedown if they see you taking pictures. They have no authority and there are no clear signs about not photographing, but they will threaten you with police action. It cost me a $5 bribe and left a bad taste in my mouth–but that was soon washed out with a Tusker.

MA: When in Kenya interactions with the animals are a must. Outside of the common safari, I would highly recommend a visit to some of the orphanages and nonprofit organizations that allow tourists to get close to the animals. You can feed giraffes at the Giraffe Centre and even have breakfast with them at the Giraffe Manor.  Another exciting up close encounter would be the Elephant Orphanage where a massive family of elephants comes out for a feeding and to interact with the keepers. And then just outside of Nairobi the adventurous tourist is able to ride ostriches at a local ostrich farm. Tourists are even allowed to order ostrich for lunch as well.

MG: Do say hello to everyone–people you pass on the street, people you meet anywhere. Be happy, friendly and polite, because in Kenya people are friendly. They want to meet you, talk to you and hear about what’s going on. I got invitations to have dinner at random people’s houses because I was running past.

Don’t try to rush things. It’s a big country. It’s a bit messy and rough in places. You can’t assume that just because it is 30 miles from point A to point B that you should be able to get there in half an hour or that everything will be ready. You must be patient. You must also plan a lot of free time to account for the fact that things do not move as smoothly as they do in North America. But that can be enjoyable. It gives you more time to say hello to everybody.

Njemp people who live and work around Lake Baringo paddling their canoes made of balsa wood. ©Jason Florio 2013.

Njemp people who live and work around Lake Baringo paddling their canoes made of balsa wood. ©Jason Florio 2013.

Jason, what was one of the biggest challenges you, as a photographer, encountered while shooting in Kenya for the AFAR story, Runner’s High?

JF: Thinking I could make photographs of athletes sprinting along side giraffes.

Marcello, you saw the Big 5 on your first Kenyan safari, so I’m curious what your best tip is for someone going on their first African safari?

MA: I’d recommend that someone spends more time on a safari. The cheapest safari available is a three day safari where one drives all day to the reserve and a small drive is taken during the end of the day. The following day is a full day of safari and then an early departure the third and last day.  There are so many unique opportunities that can happen at a moments notice that one day just isn’t enough.  Also, make sure to have a good enough camera with a great zoom, even if you have to rent one. Safaris are a once in a lifetime experience and it would be shame if you couldn’t take pictures.

And finally, Matt, you spent two weeks running in the town of Iten for the AFAR story, Runner’s High, so what is your best advice for travelers who would like to go to Kenya to run?

MG: The thing is not to be intimidated. I was one of the slowest people for hundreds of miles around, but I ran twice a day and people recognized that. I remember coming back from one run, just like an afternoon/evening run that was like 10 miles, and, as everyone does, someone asked me, ‘How far did you run this afternoon?’ And I said, ‘10 miles.’ And they said, ‘Oh, oh, that’s nice.’ They were one of those professional Kenyan or British runners. And they were impressed that I did 10 miles after already having done five or seven in the morning. Forget all about your self-consciousness and just run, you’ll get respect for that.

Randy and Bethany

source: gadventures

Top romantic destinations this valentine’s

Valentine’s day is around the corner…

And whilst some of us may have already chosen the perfect destinations to spend with our loved ones, others may need a little help finding that ideal spot. Just in case you are planning to “pop that important question” this valentine’s but are yet to pin-point the perfect venue that works for you? no worries, you are in luck…we have a few ideas.

This beautiful country doesn’t fall short of romantic destinations. With a host of options to choose from, listed below are some top properties to guarantee you luxury, exclusivity and lots of romance.

1. INTO THE WILD – Loisaba Star Beds

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There’s nothing more romantic than being alone in the Kenya bush with your loved one, entwined in a comfortable bed wheeled out under the stars. Each Star Bed is a handcrafted wooden platform raised on stilts and partially covered with a thatched roof. The homemade “Mukokoteni” is a uniquely designed bed on wheels that enables you to be immersed in nature. Laikipiak Maasai will cook a delightful dinner and cater to your needs through the night, making the experience authentic and unforgettable. www.loisaba.com

2. THE GENUINE SAFARI EXPERIENCE – Mara Bushtops Camp

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Nestled in the Mara Siana Conservancy, Mara Bushtops is located close to the Mara River, a prime vantage point for the Great Migration, and boasts stunning views. Ideal for couples seeking a genuine and romantic safari experience, each luxury tent features a sunken hot tub made from local timber, indoor and outdoor showers, and incredible views of teeming wildlife. www.orion-hotels.net

3. THE BEACH STUNNER – The Majlis Hotel

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The Majlis Hotel is a privately owned boutique hotel, which faces Ras Kitau Bay and the soft murmur of the Indian Ocean waves. With 25 luxuriously appointed rooms and elegant architecture, The Majlis is an idyllic getaway for romantics seeking to explore another side of Kenya’s rich and diverse culture. The Majlis Hotel has the convenience of being close to Shela Village and Lamu Town. www.themajlisresorts.com

4. THE HEART OF AFRICA – Ol Malo

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Ol Malo is an authentic hideaway in Laikipia, which uses local materials to blend seamlessly in its stunning surrounding. Each double room features its own veranda and panoramic windows with views of Mount Kenya and the tribal heartlands of the nomadic Samburu people. From horseback rides to whitewater rafting, and camel safari to cross-mountain biking, Ol Malo boasts an array of activities for couples seeking romance and adventure. www.olmalo.com

5. THE MAJESTIC ESCAPE – Sanctuary Ol Lentille

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Santuary Ol Lentille conveys the epitome of African luxury. Perched on the flanks of a wooded rock kopje, Sanctuary Ol Lentille features four private, full-service and fully-staffed houses. From participating in community conservation programs to playing croquet or swimming in the “horizon” pool, Sanctuary offers a range of exciting activities sure to keep the romance alive. www.ol-lentille.com

6. THE ELEGANT OASIS – Joy’s Camp

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Joy’s camp boasts 10 sumptuous tents, uniquely adorned with Boran/Somali cloth design, handmade glass and the bright fabrics of local nomadic tribes. Each tent features unparalleled views, with a private viewing deck where couples can bundle up in a blanket and watch the sun set on the rolling hills. www.joyscamp.com

7. FASHIONABLE ECO-TOURISM – Shompole

Kenya_Shompole_Marsel van Oosten Heartbreakingly romantic and incredibly chic, the Shompole eco safari lodge comprises just eight thatched open air rooms perched on the edge of the Great Rift Valley on the site of the Nguruman escarpment.

The lodge offers a Swiss Family Robinson-experience with five-star class. The beds, bathrooms and private plunge pools are all open to the elements but cleverly concealed into the landscape to let you imagine you’re the only people around  – but stunning food and impeccable service remind you that you’re being incredibly well looked after every minute of the day. www.wilderness-ventures.com

8. PALATIAL SETTING – Ol Donyo Wuas

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Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge consists of ten expansive guest suites in six stand-alone villas. Each villa features a unique design and dramatic views of the plains and Mount Kilimanjaro. The privacy and luxurious décor enables couples to bathe in complete tranquility and unparalleled comfort, while retaining an authentic bush experience. www.oldonyowuas.com

9. BORN FREE – Elsa Kopje

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This classic safari lodge features eight thatched-roof cottages, which are crafted to incorporate and highlight its natural surroundings. Studded with baobab trees and incredible views, Elsa Kopje is the quintessential African escape. Named after the lioness made famous in the Oscar-winning 1966 movie “Born Free,” Elsa Kopje provides an amazing and serene backdrop for couples seeking to reenact an idyllic Hollywood romance. www.elsakopje.com

10. THE RUSTIC CHARMER – Il Ngwesi

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Situated on the northern edge of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, this intimate and environmental award-winning lodge is heralded for its successful efforts to coexist with the Maasai community and to protect the endangered black rhino. The comfortably furnished bandas feature open panoramic views of the Kenya wilderness. Couples can choose to hike the slopes of Mount Kenya, visit a traditional Maasai village, meet the endangered black rhinos, or take a dip in the horizon pool. www.ilngwesi.com

As an additional option here’s Rutundu Cabins, the retreat where Prince William proposed to his wife Kate Middleton.

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This remote retreat on the Northern slopes of Mount Kenya  features two cedar-log cabins with a kitchen, open log fires, and en-suite bathrooms. The cabins offer incredible views and the quiet setting is as peaceful, relaxing, and romantic as it comes.

Source: eturbonews.com