Tag: Safari

What to Wear on Safari: a full packing guide – DOPES ON THE ROAD

What to Wear on Safari: a full packing guide -

Figuring out what to take on a safari is flat out intimidating! There are undoubtedly more “rules” for what to wear on safari than almost any other trip I’ve taken. Going on an East African safari has been a dream for years. I wanted to follow every suggestion out there that would lead me to see the most animals possible. But let’s face it, I also wanted to feel good about what I was wearing since these are photos I’ll treasure for a lifetime. 

From the Maasai Mara in Kenya, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and hundreds of bumpy dusty roads in between. I needed things to be practical, comfortable and stylish in that order. This safari packing guide includes the main things you’ll need. I’m going to assume you already know things like a toothbrush need to be packed. 

Where and when are you going

Africa is a continent ya’ll and a big one at that. When you’re packing you’ve got to look at the weather in the place you’ll actually be going. Sounds simple but the often overlooked idea that, yes, it gets cold in Africa can sneak up on you. Game drives consistently start as the sun creeps above the horizon, meaning you’ll be eating breakfast in the cool brisk morning air. 

Keep in mind there are pros and cons to all off-season travel.

Kenya

Best Time To Visit: Mid August – late October to see the Great Migration of wildebeest in the Masai Mara. Kenya is close to the equator, therefore, it does not experience a real summer or winter. 

Dry Season: June to October temperatures 75-50°F

Wet Season: March to May temperatures 83-60°F 

Uganda

Best Time To Visit: Since you’ll likely be there for the incredible gorilla trekking, visiting during the dry season is pivotal. The temperature in this tropical climate remains virtually the same 81-60°F year-round. 

Dry Season: June-August and December-January 

Wet Season: March-May and September- November 

Rwanda

Best Time To Visit: October to January are ideal times for the chimpanzee tracking. The temperatures stay in the 70-50°F year-round. 

Dry: June-September 

Wet: October-May

South Africa

Best Time To Visit: May to September, there is a long dry season here and the animals tend to stay close to larger watering holes. 

Summer: October- April temperatures ranging from 45-77°F

Winter: May-September 60-84°F

Tanzania

Best Time To Visit: June-October, although the most popular “northern circuit” is spectacular year-round. Wildebeest calves are however born in January.

Dry Season: June-October temperatures 65-86°F

Wet Season: November-May temperatures 73-85°F

What type of African safari vacation are you taking

Just as diverse as the destination you’ll take them in safari vacations come in all shapes and sizes. If you are looking for full luxury, budget, family-friendly, private or group there’s a safari that is right for you. 

The accommodations will vary based on price point. Typically there are two main sleeping options the tent camps which are, as you’d expect canvas tents. The other being safari lodges, typically more of resort vibe. Here is an example of each that we stayed in during our 13 Day East African Safari with Contiki. 

Thorn Tree Camp

Safari Lodge

Sentrim Elementaita Lodge

One of the key differences to look at when it comes to packing is with the luggage allowance. With a luxury safari, you are likely to be taking small bush planes from one destination to the next, the strict weight allowances on these flights are usually non-negotiable.

On a group safari, there is obviously a limited about of space in the back of the jeep. For our trip, we were limited to 33 pounds of the total weight in a soft-sided bag. 

If a walking safari or trekking is on your itinerary. You will have to take greater consideration with footwear, including hiking boot. 

When and where we Traveled

Our trip was a total of 29 days. We spent 13 of those as part of the Contiki East African Safari through Kenya and Tanzania. Check out our review of the trip here! Followed by a week-long private safari with family and friends and lastly a week at the beach in Zanzibar. 

Our trip started mid-July and ended in Mid August

Safari Luggage

The 33lb weight requirement seems to be the standard. This is the weight for everything, carry on included. It is important to have something that is soft-sided aka squishable as well as durable. These bags will be loaded and unloaded from your safari jeep multiple times almost always in dirty or dusty places. Leave the full size hard-sided checked bag at home, it’s more hassle than it is worth. 

Safari Backpacks

Meg bought the REI Ruckpack 65 Travel Pack right before we left. She’s about 5’3” so finding a full size pack that fits her well took some time and persistence. The REI pack is built specifically for women (or people) with shorter torsos. 

It is a two-part pack system that includes a day pack big enough for her laptop and essential. Overall She was really happy with the performance and comfort of the new backpack and i think it will be joining us on my more trips. 

I carried my go to Tortuga Pack. This bag has been by my side for nearly two years now and I’m consistently impressed with its versatility. If I’m being honest I was looking for reasons to upgrade my pack for the trip. Mostly for aesthetic reasons but couldn’t bring myself to spend the money with the Tortuga Pack does the job for nearly every situation. I did find a  similar bag at a significantly lower price point here

I love the interior pockets for keeping my clothes separate and the thick padded back sleeve to protect my laptop.

Tanzania

If you don’t love backpacks bringing a duffle if perfectly doable for this style trip. One of the guys I traveled with did all 13 days in a simple Hershel duffle. While it was a bit small for me it was a great way for him to only bring the essentials. 

A duffle that I have had my eye on for a while is the North Face Base Camp Duffel

Worth noting when buying bags specifically from travel- bright colors are always easier to locate. Whether you’re looking in the offloaded safari luggage pile or the airport baggage carousel, black bags are hardest to locate. 

 Daypacks

Meg carried the daypack portion of her REI bag. She lover every part of having it. It was the perfect size to fit what she needed but small enough to keep her from overpacking. 

Since most of your day is spent in the car you have a couple daypack option in my opinion. 

The safari outfit stylish or simple practicality. My all-time favorite daypacks are these two from Herschel Supply Co and Jansport . They hold up great with heavy use and when they’re filthy just toss them in the washer. 

Honestly, on most days the only thing our daypacks needed to carry was camera gear and bug spray. 

Contiki had sent the whole group a simple canvas backpack like this one and many members of the trip were super happy with how convenient it was. 

Camera Bags for safari

I carried the Manfrotto Medium Camera bag for this trip. It fit two SLR bodies, three lenses and various small accessories in the side pockets. The top was big enough for me to bring an extra battery pack, hat, and any snacks I felt necessary aka Haribo gummy bears and Stoney Tangawizi, the incredible local ginger beer. 

Depending on how much gear you have something a bit smaller like this over the shoulder bag would work. 

For the safari, I found having a camera bag to be more important than on a lot of other trips for two main reasons. First, the amount of dust and dirt. Having a clean place to store my camera was so important. Second, the roads are bumpy and our bags bounded right along with us, the padding in the bag was used hard. Lastly, having a waterproof bag will eliminate any stress if a storm rolls in. 

Safari Clothes

First and foremost you do not have to rush out and buy an entire wardrobe based on various shades of khaki. Earth tones are recommended but not required at any point on my 3-week safari. Our Kenyan guide often sported a red t-shirt and many other drivers were dressed in the traditionally bright Masai clothing. **read about our visit to the Masai Village**

Massai People

Laundry was an offered service at every place we stayed. So no matter if your trip is 4 or 14 days your packing list will look similar. 

Planning to bring items that are easily layered is important because the weather changes drastically throughout the day. Being able to add or subtract on the fly is crucial. 

The most important fact when it comes to color is the tsetse fly is attracted to blue and black. You will even see what looks like a small blue and black flags hung in some bushes, it turns out they are tsetse fly traps. The flies can bite through your clothing and are linked to sleeping sickness.

Safari shirt

Five or six t-shirts, in my opinion, is the right number. After hours of a game drive, you are covered in a pretty decent level of dirt so rewarding might not always be an option. We both went with simple cotton t-shirts. No fancy fabrics, just things already found in our closets

I did pick up a Columbia Sportswear Shirt that felt like peak safari shirt. It has a bunch of pockets, SPF built in and was ideal for tossing on in the early mornings. The sleeves are designed to roll up but I usually just tossed in on over a tee and took it off when I got warm. The one thing I really appreciated about this shirt over the other long sleeve tee tucked in my bag was how easily the dirt brushed off. 

A hooded sweatshirt for the early mornings was nice. There were a few mornings that seemed extra cold plus when the top opens up having a hood to block the wind is nice. I’m sort of obsessed with this colorblock one Meg pickup for my birthday. 

Pack a rain jacket! Who knows if you’ll use it but if you need it there is really no substitute. Meg and I each have this one from North Face. It takes up almost zero space and has saved us on a bunch of different occasions. 

Safari pants

A last-minute decision had me headed to REI the night before the trip to get some safari pants. I flipped back and forth between wanting to wear stuff I already had and wanting something specific for this trip. I ultimately decided to pick up some pants because I was worried if I wore jeans the midday temperatures would have me uncomfortably hot. I tried on a whole bunch of pants and ended up with the Prana Essex Pants. They ended up being PERFECT! The dust and dirt brushed right off them plus they were warm enough for the morning and light enough for the middle of the day heat. They also don’t wrinkle, no matter how twisted in a ball I packed them they came out of the bad ready to wear.  I did size up a bit to give them a slightly more androgynous vibe that I prefer with my clothing. 

Lesbian-couple-tanzania-posing-with-safari-vehicle

The two pairs of jeans I pack could have easily been left behind. They’re hot and frankly not that comfortable for long hours sitting in the car. 

I’ll list some of the other pants I tried on and like here. The Prana pants were the winners based more on fit than anything else.

Columbia Trail Convertible Pant : zip off into shorts 

Columbia Silver Ridge Pull on Pant : more of a jogger style

We also both took some Adidas sweat pants and leggings for hanging around the camps in the evening. There was no need to get dressed up for dinners at any of the places we stayed in. So most nights we tossed on something cozy. 

Dresses

Meg prefers dresses over pants in all situations. She knew that short dresses would be tough with getting in and out of the jeep a bunch of times every day. So she opted for longer earth-toned dresses and jumpsuits. All of her outfits we one piece so in the morning she didn’t have a ton of options to choose from.

Giraffe-Center-Kenya

She had lavender and a yellow jumpsuit that were PERFECT! As well as rust and an olive dress that buttoned up. With the dresses, she put a t-shirt under them so they remained more modest.

 

Safari Hats

Go big or go home! Seriously, if you want that big safari hat of your dreams go for it. You’ll see plenty of other people wearing them and they make for great photo props. Pro tip: make sure it had a drawstring to keep it from blowing off when the jeep is in motion. 

A regular baseball cap works just as well. Really its whatever keeps the sun off your face and covers off the crazy wind blow hair look. I took a simple this simple khaki Adidas Strapback Cap

Shoes for Safari

Shoe selection is WAY more important if you are doing a walking safari or a gorilla trek. Both of those experiences require much more specific footwear. Since I haven’t had that experience I linked to a great packing guide specifically for a gorilla trek. 

We were in our safari vehicle most of the time so the shoes for our safari were way less specific. For your primary footwear having something that is comfortable, easy to wear when climbing in and out of the car and easily cleaned is important. You will also find yourself taking your shoes on and off a bunch of times. Reason for that, climbing up on the jeep seats to take pictures. They let us climb all over the car but asked that our shoes were off to do so. Super reasonable in my opinion. 

My three recommendations are below. 

Palladium Pampa High Originals 

I love the look of these canvas boots plus they are all day comfortable. If you decide to go with boots for any reason definitely check these out. I wore them on our trip to Peru and got tons of compliments on the look plus the performance was awesome. 

Adidas Nite Jogger

Really any solid running shoe will work here. Something with good tread is important because everything is unpaved. I’m obsessed with how comfortable the Nite Joggers are. 

Contiki Safari

Slides

Every big trip I seem to obsess over one item I “have to have” and then make Meg buy it too. For this trip it was the slides. I wasn’t sure about the shower situation (they were remarkably clean) and to wear around camp. Meg and I both wore them a bunch to dinner, the pool and even a few times on long car rides. They’re easy, comfortable and versatile. 

Best Camera for Safari

This list could be an entire blog post in itself. If you are a professional photographer you probably already know what you need. So for the rest of us, here are a few guidelines I felt were helpful when making sure you have the right camera for safari. 

Yes, you can take photos on your phone. Yes, the animals will walk close enough on occasion to get some good ones on your phone. However, there are a ton of situations that you’ll wish your camera had a bit more zoom. 

Meg traveled with a Sony A7iii with a 28-70mm kit lens. This is a powerhouse of a camera and it is amazing what we do as travel bloggers. Its mirrorless shoots incredibly high-quality video and is overall our go-to camera. That being said we both wish we would have bought or borrowed a more powerful lens. 

I traveled with our Nikon D3400, the first DSLR camera we ever bought. Until we bought the Sony this the camera we used for everything. I think its the perfect beginner DSLR Unfortunately when we were shooting these awesome shots in Oxnard, California we smashed our trusty 18-55mm lens. So for this trip, we packed a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens that I am hooked on. It was amazing for all the shots in markets and around the camps. The other lens I took was a 70-300 f/4 that I kept on the camera a majority of the time. 

You the DSLR is not the right fit for you there are some great point and shoot cameras like the Canon Powershot G9 that will be much better than your phone. 

Some additional accessories for the camera

Memory Cards: You’re going to go through way more than you think because you’ll be shooting in bursts as the animals are near you. 

Extra Battery Sony and Nikon : We did stay at one camp that did not have outlets in the tents. So for that day having the extra battery was crucial. 

Camera Cleaning Kit: Again, so so much dust. 

Hard Drive: Having a way to back up your photos is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for work like us or on a vacation. Most new cameras now have wifi so you can send the photos directly to your phone. This one from LaCie is specifically designed for travel. 

Tripod: It’s great to have a tripod if you’re shooting anything like a sunset that requires a longer exposure. It’s also the ideal way to get photos with your travel companions. Asking some to take a picture is fine but be prepared to see heads or feet cut off. If you want particular shots its best to set them up for yourself. Important to note, when walking away from your camera be sure to keep an eye on your surroundings. 

Miscellaneous Safari Gear

Technology

Power Strip: Tons of places only have one outlet, this way you don’t have to set an alarm to 

switch devices. This was our first trip with one and we’ll never travel without one again. 

Binoculars: Yes you’ll want them, no they don’t have to be crazy expensive ones. 

Universal Adapter: Ya know to charge EVERYTHING. 

Books: Download books, music or games to your phone. There are a ton of long car rides involved in a bunch of safaris. When you’re going from one park to the next you’ll just be hanging out. No matter how much you love your travel companions a little something to entertain yourself will be nice. Plus, most of the accommodations only have wifi in the dining area. So a book is nice for that downtime as well.  

Toiletries 

Bug Spray: Get one with a high percentage of deet. The wipes are a good option so you’re not getting in the mouth and eyes of everyone in the car with you when you reapply. 

Chapstick: My lips were dry to the point they were painful most of the trip. I absolutely swear by this Aquafina lip balm. 

Eyedrops: The dust does not mix well with your eyes. I tried to wear contacts one day but they felt terrible. Even while wearing glasses I found myself using the drops each day. 

 

The Ultimate Guide to an African Safari: How to Prepare for Your East African Travel – DOPES ON THE ROAD

The Ultimate Guide to an African Safari: How to Prepare

I’ve wanted to go on Safari for as long as I can remember. There is nothing quite like seeing elephants and lions in their natural habitat. When I was asked which tour I wanted to take as Contiki Ambassador, I knew the East Africa Safari was the one that made my heart sing. I wanted to experience the tent camps but I also wanted to see first hand what Kenya and Tanzania were like. I wanted to visit the local villages, taste the local cuisine, and see firsthand what these beautiful countries are like. 

Useful Swahili Words 

Jambo – hello 
Karibou – welcome 
Asanti- thank you 

Quick Facts About Kenya & Tanzania 

  • 70% of the coffee in Europe comes from Kenya 
  • Kenya is also the world’s largest exporter of black tea 
  • Another large industry in the region is the exportation of flowers
  • 43 tribes in Kenya 131 in Tanzania 
  • Swahili is spoken as a common language in Kenya but the national language is English
  • Tanzania national language is Swahili
  • Both Kenya and Tanzania call their currency Shillings

What is Contiki?

Contiki is a powerhouse tour company that takes 18 to 35-year-olds on 350 trips to 60 countries across six continents, with 300 different itineraries and eight different types of tours. Contiki makes travel easier and more social for young people. Contiki travelers have been able to explore remote towns in Peru, spot the big five on safari in Tanzania, explore the Californian Old West, circle around southern India, visit ancient cities in Japan, and go trekking in the jungles of Guatemala. 

Contiki is an Australian tour company focused on travelers aged 18-35 years old. Contiki believes that life’s greatest lessons are learned through travel. That real life doesn’t happen when you color inside the lines. It’s only when you break free, trust your impulse, and intentionally live with your eyes wide open, that you become the person you’re meant to be. This is what it means to live life with no regrets. Their philosophy is so closely aligned with the way that I view travel that I knew I had to experience a Contiki adventure.

Contiki East Africa

Each tour has a standard set of included activities that come with the tour, but they also offer additional activities that you can choose to enjoy for an additional cost or not – it’s really up to you. Contiki offers flexibility through their 8 ways to travel, 5 ways to stay and endless free time and options. Some tours are on a shoestring budget and some are a little more luxe. It really depends on what style of travel you’re most interested in pursuing.

All the tours come with transportation, generally in the form of coach bus travel – but some include inter destination flights as well. Each tour also includes most of the meals and a tour guide with knowledge and experience traveling within your destination.

Contiki Africa 

Contiki has four new trips to take travelers to South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, and Kenya, and there will be five extension trips to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, visit the beaches of Zanzibar or see the gorillas in Uganda. The tours feature iconic African adventures like spotting the Big Five, witnessing the Great Migration in the Serengeti or Masai Mara, visiting Victoria Falls, river rafting on the Zambezi River, bungee jumping off the bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia. What makes Contiki’s tours in Africa unique to other tour companies are the small group sizes, premium accommodations, and 18-35 years old. The local guides get you super close to the wildlife in East Africa in the 4WD, seven-person safari jeeps — fitted with pop-up roofs for 360-degree viewing and large sliding windows so you can really see it all.

Contiki Kenya

Contiki Africa Reviews:

What to Expect on an African Safari

Over the course of 13 days, we experienced the great migration. We witnessed a young lioness take down a wildebeest and a cheetah mother protecting her cubs from a pack of hyenas. We saw families of elephants treading through marshes and a group of three male lions so close to the car we could have touched them. We stayed in beautiful safari glamping tents with comfy beds, fresh linen, hot showers, and private bathrooms camped out under the stars of the savannah. While game drives were a large focus of the trip we were also able to experience a baby elephant orphanage, giraffe center, two different village tours, and a visit to a local school. We had the opportunity to connect with Tanzanian people with disabilities through a tour of the Shanga workshop where they train and employ people with physical limitations. And we were offered the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti for wildlife spotting from above.

What Should You Wear on Safari?

We read dozens of blog posts about Safari appropriate gear before we left, it turns out that most of them were bordering on ridiculous. They said everything from “don’t wear color, you’ll scare the animals” to “you’ll need intense hiking boots” spoiler; most national parks in the region don’t let you get out of the car. You can wear whatever you want on Safari and be just fine. We do have a few recommendations for gear, packs, camera equipment, and a few helpful clothing items we do recommend. But please don’t believe that you’re limited to 15 shades of khaki. Click here for more on what to pack for Safari. 

Contiki Safari

Getting to Nairobi

The flight was super long. There’s no way around the super long flights unless of course, you’re from a country in Africa. Our flights from Los Angeles had two layovers and checked in at just over 35 hours of total travel time. Getting through the airports and immigration in Nairobi was super easy because we ordered our Kenyan visas ahead of time. Once we were out of immigration I quickly spotted the Contiki sign and we got our cab without any issue. The ride from the airport to the hotel was about 45 mins but the driver was super friendly and pointed out the sights along the way. 

Is It Safe to Travel in East Africa?

Unfortunately, being from the United States, Lindsay and I have spent most of our lives being exposed to unfair and sometimes blatantly incorrect media representations of African people and culture. We knew it was important to explore areas of the world first hand without making rash judgments about entire populations of people. Which is one of the reasons we decided we wanted to visit Kenya and Tanzania in the first place? Neither country is without their problems. 

Both countries won independence from their respective colonizers in the 1960s and both still struggle with political turmoil, voter suppression, government corruption, terrorism, and extreme poverty. Despite technically being a democratic republic the government of Kenya looks very much like a family dynasty. They have only had four presidents and the current president is the “son of the first president, the political protege of the second president and the grandson of the third president.”

The political corruption and subsequent issues with violence have resulted in a major drop in tourism – which is one of the region’s biggest industries. As you can imagine, the drop in travelers visiting Kenya and Tanzania has resulted in financial struggles for people working in tourism, hospitality, and service-related jobs. People who need money to feed their families behave differently than those who are comfortable and financially stable. 

That being said, Contiki has done everything they can to ensure the safety of travelers. I never felt unsafe during my time traveling with Contiki and there was only one time where Lindsay felt nervous. We had stopped at a local market and a mentally challenged man grabbed Lindsay’s arm while begging. That could have happened in any country but was particularly alarming because of the strength of the man and the lack of language. Being surrounded by people in a large group combined with the yelling and the aggressive sales tactics made the situation very stressful at first but after our guide, Haron spoke to him in Swahili he let go. 

Contiki Safari

At one point, our jeeps pulled up to an entrance gate and we were surrounded by local women from the village. They surrounded our group asking us to buy their trinkets. They pulled the windows open and stuck their hands inside the jeep with their wares and were unrelenting with the sales tactics. They have different ways that they try to get you to buy. All of them are aggressive and forceful from the western point of view. Of course – this isn’t every Kenyan or Tanzanian merchant – these are just some of the behaviors we witnessed while we were there.

According to the US Department of State, East Africa is a risky travel destination – to be fair they also say France is a risky travel destination. But when you’re properly prepared and traveling with a group you’ll avoid most of the risks associated with traveling solo.

Vaccinations & Malaria 

So – this is the part that always gives our relatives a stroke. Until this trip, we’d never had a travel vaccination. We’re also not doctors. This is general information on medical preparations but you should visit your doctor for specific information on your unique needs. 

This may come as a surprise, but other than Yellow Fever, the only required vaccines for entrance into Kenya and Tanzania are part of the regular compulsory vaccines done in most western countries. Most of you will have had these done as infants or small children.

Required Vaccinations for Tanzania:

  • Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis
  • Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Polio
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever*

Getting vaccinated depends on a number of factors:

  • Where you’re traveling to in each country are you visiting a rural or urban area?
  • Recent local outbreaks like cholera for instance?
  • Length of stay?
  • What your accommodation will be a local village, tent camping, or a luxury resort?
  • Activities you’re going to be involved in working with animals, volunteering at a village, drinking local water?
  • Your medical history 
  • Vaccination history 
  • Are you traveling overland borders?

Recommended Vaccines for African Travel 

Cholera

There have been a few isolated incidences of cholera in recent years in Tanzania. It is transmitted via contaminated water and food. It can cause painful stomach issues and is fatal 20-50% of the time. 

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an STD which is also transferred by means of contaminated blood. There is little risk of contracting Hep B in Tanzania but this is one that many people are required to have in western countries now. 

Rabies

Rabies is prevalent in most countries around the world. Rabies outbreaks do occur from time to time in Africa but the chances of getting rabies from a safari animal are extraordinarily low. But some people get it as a precaution against stray domestic animals like dogs and cats. 

Influenza

If you are planning a gorilla trek as part of your safari in East Africa, you definitely want to get vaccinated against influenza. Gorillas can contract influenza from humans. You don’t want to put these already endangered animals at risk.

Yellow Fever Vaccinations for Travel to Kenya and Tanzania

Unfortunately, we didn’t do our research well enough on the required versus recommended vaccines in advance and ended up having to have the Yellow Fever vaccines at the land border station crossing between Kenya and Tanzania. That was the result of traveling overland between the two countries. If you are traveling by land Yellow Fever is required. If you’re flying from the US directly into Tanzania or coming directly by air from the US into Kenya without crossing between the two or continuing on to another African nation, the Yellow Fever vaccine is recommended but not required. Our vaccines cost $50 USD per person at the land border and took about 10 minutes to have done. While we don’t recommend this because it takes 14 days for the vaccine to be effective in your body, it can get you over the border in a bind. 

How to get a Yellow Fever Vaccination in the US 

Yellow fever vaccine is only available at a limited number of clinics in the United States. The only US-licensed yellow fever vaccine (YF-Vax) is in short supply. All of the North American travelers on our trip had harrowing tales of acquiring their shot. Either via major financial costs or time-consuming processes. One person even had to coordinate the schedules of 8 different people in his hometown because once open, the vial is only good for 30 minutes. In an effort to not waste the vaccine they asked all 8 people to be aggressively on time to their appointments and did all 8 vaccines right in a row. The first step to getting a yellow fever vaccination in the US is checking with your insurance provider to see what travel vaccinations are covered. The second step is determining what vaccines are necessary for you with your general practitioner. The third step is finding a traveler’s vaccination clinic in your area using the CDC’s locator site.

Malaria Medications for East Africa Travel 

Malaria risk is high throughout the year in the whole country. Malaria precautions are essential. Avoid mosquito bites by covering up with clothing such as long sleeves and long trousers especially after sunset, using insect repellents on exposed skin and sleeping under a mosquito net. Check with your doctor about the appropriate antimalarial tablets. Generally speaking, doctors will recommend atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine. 

Traveling in Kenya  and Tanzania as an LGBT Couple

Lesbian-couple-tanzania-posing-with-safari-vehicle

Both Kenya and Tanzania are anti-LGBT countries. There’s no other way to put it. It’s illegal to be gay there and there are policies in place that can land people in jail if they were discovered to be a member of the LGBT community. That being said, the vast majority of the arrests that are made are of local people. Tourists are rarely arrested in these situations because even anti-LGBT countries are familiar with the acceptance of LGBT people in western countries around the world. Unfortunately, both Kenya and Tanzania have a lot of work to do in terms of women’s rights and LGBT equality. We’ve written at length about why we choose to travel to anti-LGBT destinations, but I’ll briefly summarize our feelings by saying this if local people have the first-hand experience with LGBT people they’re more likely to think favorably of our community. People cannot be expected to accept that which they have no positive experiences. That being said, not every traveler wants to be an activist and you shouldn’t have to be. For more Check out Traveling in Kenya and Tanzania as an LGBT Couple.

Accommodations 

The accommodations on this trip were beyond anything we could have imagined. I’d split them into two categories, Jacaranda Hotel and Gold Crest Hotel were city hotels with all the glorious fixings you can imagine. All of the other hotels were safari lodges and tent camps. The tents were as far from North American camping as you can possibly imagine – but in a good way. 

Safari Lodge

The city hotels had gorgeous properties with nice spa and gym services. They both had beautiful restaurants with a wide variety of local and western foods. They were the perfect starting point and midpoint for the trip. The Jacaranda Hotel was a very comfortable and relaxing way to start the journey. We arrived a day early so we were able to enjoy the spa, get massages (one hour only $35!) and beat the jetlag before our fellow travelers arrived. The Gold Crest was a week into the trip and much needed. We’d been in the tent camps with spotty wifi service and 4:30-5:00 AM wake up times for the previous week. The day we spent at the Gold Crest was perfect for recharging, enjoying some familiar comforts and checking in with those back home before setting off for another round of game parks. 

Tent camps

That being said, the tent camps were incredible. Our rooms were giant safari tent on concrete. It’s basically a mix of a cabin and a tent and a hotel room. Each tent was fitted for two guests. With large comfortable beds, fresh comfy linens, and bathrooms with hot water showers. All of the tents had gorgeous balcony spaces that were perfect for that early morning cup of tea or evening. journal session. Some of the tents were built on cement platforms and had wooden roofs overhead, while others were just large tents about the size of a regular hotel room. Either way, we loved the tent camps and enjoyed watching the giraffes and zebras graze in front of our rooms. One of the best evenings of the trip was a night where thunder and lightning storm rolled into camp just before bed. Laying under our bed net listening to the sound of rain on the roof of the canvas and wood was so beautiful and relaxing. 

Food in East Africa

On the Contiki East African Safari, the vast majority of the food is included. It’s usually a combination of western dishes and light local fare. We didn’t have a problem finding something to enjoy. Each morning we’d have a buffet of fruit, cereal, pastries, yogurts, sausages, and beans. We’d also have the option to order freshly cooked eggs. I opted for a Spanish Omelette almost every day. The coffee in this region of the world – is astoundingly good. Which makes sense because they’re at the source. Every morning the camps would serve a fresh pot alongside steamed milk – heaven in a mug at 6:00 AM. 

Each day we were served box lunches with more food than one person could possibly eat. Each box had a piece of chicken, mayo sandwich, a packet of crackers, hard-boiled eggs, sweet crepes, cupcake, chocolate bar, yogurt, juice box, and three pieces of fruit. Unfortunately, the boxes were loaded into the car in the early hours of the morning and then sat for the day until we’d eat them around 1-2PM. For the first few days of the trip, we danced around the issue of eating warm unrefrigerated meat, dairy, and eggs. We only had a handful of bathroom stops per day and most folks were worried about getting upset stomachs without the use of the facilities so many people just opted to not eat their lunch or only eat parts of the lunch. By the end of the trip, we had far more “vegetarians” than we started out with. 

Safari Lunch food

For dinner each night there was a buffet-style spread with several options. Some of the camps had a made to order station where they made fresh chapati or garlic butter naan. Alongside several different entree options, some local and some western favorites. The soups at dinner were fan favorites amongst the travelers because they’re freshly made with local veggies, unlike the canned versions we’re used to back home. 

The best food was by far at the Thorn Tree Camp. They went above and beyond to create delicious family-style meals with a wide variety of options. Each meal felt like a feast. 

Some of our vegetarian travelers struggled a bit with the meals because some camps had a better understanding than others. At one camp the manager asked one of our vegetarian travelers if she’d eat fish to which she replied, “uhh not really … but I guess… if I have to..” But other camps were incredible and offered a wide variety of veggie-friendly options. It varied. 

The one thing I will say about the food is that this trip was wildly eye-opening in regards to food privilege. We visited several villages, a school, and witnessed the effects of food scarcity at nearly every turn. While we were enjoying three-course meals, the headmaster of the school we visited down the road, said one of their biggest issues was that the government stopped providing lunch to the students and their families couldn’t afford to feed them. Some students walked as far as 9 miles to get to school each day – without any food. When we toured the classrooms you could visibly see which students were clearly malnourished. It was something that I had known in the back of my mind was a reality of living in this region of the world, but seeing it first hand is a very different experience. 

After we visited the school we started to think differently about food. Each day there was tons of food leftover from our lunch boxes. One day we decided to sort the boxes and hand it out to shepherd boys along the road. In Kenya and Tanzania, children are offered free public primary education. However, less than 30% go on to secondary school and the barriers to accessing free early education are steep. In Tanzania, we saw far more children working in the fields than we did in Kenya but that could have been for multiple reasons. 

After lunch that day, we sorted the food by type and decided to hand it out to the local shepherd boys along the side of the road. We split the 6 boxes into the two cars. Lindsay and I were sitting in the back of the safari car and each had a box. Mine was filled with treats and Lindsay’s had juice and yogurt. We pulled up alongside a field with 7 boys who were working as shepherds tending to sheep and goats. The two oldest were around 7-9 years old and the smallest around three or four. We started handing the food from our window to the boys. They swarmed the windows crying and begging for food. One of the biggest boys started hoarding all the food to himself and cracked one of the other boys in the face with his fist so he couldn’t get to the window. He started stealing the food from the smaller boys as well. He ended up with an arm full of at least ten items while the tiny boys had nothing. He reached his hand into the window and tried to pull more food from the box in Lindsay’s lap. We tried to get food to the other smaller boys but it was getting out of hand so the driver told us we had to leave. While this was our experience, the other car handed out their boxes without issue. 

Market in Kenya

Apparently, it’s illegal for people to accept food from tourists because the government doesn’t want the villagers to become dependent on tourism as a means of gathering food and they were worried that it would result in hungry people circling safari jeeps and scaring away tourists from visiting. Which would dramatically impact the economy of the region. 

To be very honest, this is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in my travels. I’ll never forget the look of desperation on the faces of the smaller boys. After many conversations amongst our groups, we realized that we all had our hearts in the right place. We saw a need and were trying to fill it, but the reality is – every solution comes with additional problems. The solution to mass hunger is very obviously not a few cupcakes, yogurts and juice boxes handed from rich white tourists in a $70,000 Land Rover. The issues are broader than that – they’re systematic and need to be dealt with on an institutional level, but it doesn’t make it any easier to be able to witness their need and not be able to provide the most obvious solution – food. 

I’m not a sociologist – I’m not an expert in hunger or the socio-political landscapes of the pan-African continent. I can just tell the stories of what I witness. We hope this complicated and important topic gets more attention. 

Water in East Africa

Visitors to Kenya and Tanzania should only drink bottled water. We struggled a bit on this trip because we’d like to limit the number of single-use plastics we consume – but there were few options for water consumption. In Kenya, many of the safari camps we stayed at were owned by the same company which provided glass bottles of water. Many people on our trip brought reusable water bottles with the intentions of filling them from a larger source, but there were no larger sources to fill them. We were each offered two free plastic bottles a day and had the option to pay for additional water at the lodges. In an area of the world where contaminated water literally kills people – it felt rather foolish to make an issue of freshwater in plastic bottles.

Access to clean water is a very large issue in East Africa. The need for more clean, safe drinking water is imperative throughout Africa. By drinking contaminated water, people are at risk of potentially fatal diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and fatal diarrhea. According to the Center for Public Impact, 40% of East Africans live without access to clean drinking water. Being from a country where we flush our toilets and shower with drinking water, I’ve never been more ashamed of my water consumption. It made me really think about what I was using water for while I was in the region and made me be more mindful to never use drinking water for anything other than consumption. 

Safari Vehicles 

Contiki-East-Africa-Safari-Vehicle

The safari vehicles are made to seat 9 but usually only have 7 passengers so everyone has a window. They are equipped with pop-up roofs and large windows for optimal viewing. They also feature raised suspension and engine snorkels for river crossings, with convenient pouches for your on-safari necessities, like camera and bug spray. They’re also equipped with storage compartments for luggage, but be mindful that soft-sided packs are way more convenient. Most people traveled with 50-70 liter travel backpacks which is on the high end of what should be brought. For more information about packing, check out Lindsay’s Safari Packing Guide on what to wear for Safari. 

Things to do in Kenya + Things to do in Tanzania.

Game Drives 

Most visitors come to East Africa to experience Safari game drives. They do not disappoint. The game drives were absolutely incredible. We saw so many animals – warthogs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, gazelles, hyenas, and wildebeests were a dime a dozen. You’d see them at every single turn. We spotted all of the big five in the first three days. We even spotted the harder to find animals like leopards, rhinos, and cheetahs. 

Kenya Contiki Safari

The highlights of the trip were passing through herds of elephants traveling through the marshes. Watching the lions eat their prey. Viewing the hippos as they snapped their jaws in the rivers. Seeing a mother cheetah protect her three cubs from a pack of circling hyenas. Seeing herds of hundreds of zebras and wildebeests as they munched on the grass and watching giraffes lazily munch on the trees. One of the most incredible experiences was watching a family of black rhinos cross the road right in front of us. The rhinos have been poached to near extinction for their horns. There are an estimated 5600 black rhinos left in the world in 2019. In 1970 the numbers were around 70,000 – for the mathematicians that’s about a 95% decline in population. It’s extremely difficult to see them in the wild because they’re afraid of humans and tend to stay to themselves. So viewing three, a mother, father, and baby right in front of us is a sight that may not be possible in 10 years. 

Contiki East Africa

Watching the sunrise over the savannah while zebras and wildebeests frolic in the grass was incredible. One morning we stumbled on two lions laying in high grass. One male lion with the giant mane and a female lion tucked under a bush a few feet behind him. We watched them for quite awhile joking about the probability of live lion porn and how it was the one thing we didn’t know we needed on our bucket lists. Unfortunately, we learned that lions mate once every 15 mins over a 5 day period but it’s a pretty rare sight. Can you imagine boning every 15 mins for 5 days? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. 

Parks you’ll visit Maasai Mara, Amboseli National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti

Quick Safari Animal Facts 

Big 5 consists of:

▪️elephant 

▪️buffalo 

▪️lion 

▪️leopard 

▪️rhino 

The Great Migration in Maasai Mara 

The first morning in Maasai Mara, I slept like a rock and woke up at 4:30 AM to the sounds of baboons in the trees outside our tent. It was a mixture of baboons and tree birds and the sounds of the Maasai Mari waking up. While we were in Maasai Mara, the Great Migration was occurring. The Great Migration is when the wildebeest and zebras follow the patterns of the rains in the grasslands. They’re searching for grassy planes for food. They travel in packs and wander until they find enough food for their herds. Every year in July and August they make their way to Maasai Mara. One of the days we made our way to the river to watch them cross. The wildebeests are pack animals which are controlled by one leader. When it’s time to cross the river, the leader determines if it’s safe. If one crosses, the rest of the pack will follow. Unfortunately, the river is filled with crocodiles and hippos that will kill the wildebeests as they cross. We waited and waited for the wildebeests to make up their minds in hopes that we’d see a crocodile lunch feast. Watching thousands of animals make life or death decisions for their herd was surreal. 

 

The Great Kenya & Tanzania Road Trip

Along the road, we saw so many interesting things. We passed the villages were the Massi people lived. We passed shepherds tending to their flocks of goats and sheep and cows. We saw baboons with their babies crossing the road. Donkeys pulling carts and tending fields. Farm animals and wild dogs mixed in with hundreds of people just milling about on the edges of Nairobi. It was fascinating to watch. While the city itself didn’t look that different than other places we’ve visited in the developing world – it was clear that Kenya experiences extreme levels of poverty. 

Contiki East Africa

Lake Elementaita & The Kenyan Village Tour

After leaving Maasai Mara we traveled to Lake Elementaita and stayed at a beautiful lakeside hotel. From our individual bungalows, we were able to view the flamingos on the lake. Moses, one of the hotel workers took us on a tour of his village which sat next to the hotel property. During the tour, Moses showed us some of the plants the local people used for medicine and then took us to the community where he grew up. While walking we stumbled upon a couple of teenage boys who broke their bicycle. Moses and one of the Contiki travelers helped them fix their bike, when they were finished they joined on the tour because all three spoke English and were just as curious about us, as we were about them. Walking through the village they were questions about school, growing up in Kenya, and their community. Slowly, more children joined and followed as we explored. We were invited to see a local house where a family lived and learn about their way of life. 

Contiki East Africa

Giraffe Center 

Giraffe-Center-Kenya

The Giraffe Center is right behind the famous Giraffe Manor which is a bucket list hotel for me. When I come back to this region of the world to climb Kilimanjaro I want to stay there for at least one night. The manor is a hotel where they have giraffes on the property and you get to have breakfast with them and can feed them through the windows of the hotel. It’s currently $900 a night though so it wasn’t an option for us on this trip. It’s sister property, the Giraffe Center is the budget-friendly version where tourists can go and feed the giraffes from a platform. It was cute to get to feed them and learn a bit more about these beautiful majestic animals. The center uses the funds from visiting tourists to help create research and refuge projects for giraffes. I loved the experience because we were able to interact with them, feed them, and even let them take pellets out of our mouths. 

Giraffe-Center-Kenya

Baby Elephant Orphanage 

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. At the core of the Orphans’ Project is the rescue and rehabilitation of milk dependent orphaned baby elephants and rhinos through to their ultimate reintegration back into the wild. Elephants and Rhinos in particular struggle with the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought. Babies are often the most vulnerable in the wild when they are still milk dependent. Visitors to the orphanage are able to view the babies from a distance as they play and interact with their peers. The trust believes in animal initiated physical contact only – so if a baby elephant approaches you – you’re allowed to touch them from behind the boundaries but only if the animal deems it is okay. Guests get to learn each elephant’s story and watch as they play, eat, and romp around. Visitors are able to adopt an orphan with a $50 donation and are able to come back during the evening hours for one on one time with their orphan as they are put to bed. 

Shanga Community Project 

Shanga is a successful social enterprise which employs people with disabilities to create unique, high-quality, handmade goods using recycled materials. “Shanga” is the KiSwahili word for bead. The project was named for the many glass beads that are made by the workers. glassware, jewelry, blankets, and other products are sold in Tanzania and all over the world, with profits being reinvested back into developing opportunities to employ more people with disabilities. Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge is the home of Shanga, which comprises of an open workshop for glass-blowing, weaving, sewing, Tinga Tinga painting, bead-making, and metalwork, with a shop showcasing all Shanga’s handmade products. While we were there it was interesting being able to sign with the many deaf employees who work at the facility. I chatted for some time with one gentleman named Malik, he and his wife are both deaf and both employed at Shanga. When I asked him what his experience was like he told me, “I like working here with my wife so we can raise our two young boys together” We took a tour of the workshop and got to watch them weave blankets, blow glass, and create beautiful pieces of jewelry. 

Shanga Project

Hot Air Balloon with Champagne Bush Breakfast 

Hot air balloon rides are exhilarating in any setting, but throw in African safari animals and a ride over the Maasai Mara National Reserve and you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Upon landing, you toast your return to earth with a delicious breakfast – complete with champagne, cooked wherever you land. This was one of the few experiences on the Contiki East Africa Safari that was an additional cost. At $450 USD per person in the Maasai Mara and $600 USD per person in the Serengeti, the price is steep, but the experience is incredible. 

Maasai Village Tour 

The Maasai people are an indigenous tribe that lives in Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They’re estimated at about one million people and live in local villages throughout the region. Maasai are traditionalists and have resisted the urging of the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments to adopt a more modern lifestyle. They are one of the few groups that preserve their traditional ways. Read More about our Maasai Village Tour in our extended article.

Massai Village

Amboseli Primary School Visit 

Directly after visiting the Maasai Village, we went to Amboseli Primary School to experience a day for school children. There are 590 students at the school with 14 teachers and 10 classrooms. The courses are taught in English and cover the same subjects that many schools focus on around the world. English, Swahili, science, mathematics, PE, religion, environmental activities, health, and nutrition. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding the classes are very large in size, the largest has 80 students and the smallest class is 51. While we were there we learned that hunger is a challenge for their students. Last year the government provided lunch but was unable to provide lunch this year. The cost of one year of education for a student is $160 USD – they are currently fundraising to build another classroom which would cost $15,000 USD. if you’d like to make a donation you can reach out to the school via email ReceptionAmboseli at Gmail dot com.

Contiki Kenya

Market Tour – Mto Wa Mbu Market 

Mto Wa Mbu Village is very close to Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park. Mto Wa Mbu means Mosquito River in English – despite its name – there were few mosquitos there. During the market tour, our local guide showed us around the fresh produce stands introducing us to different varieties of familiar and unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. We learned about the different uses for them in Tanzanian cooking before we were lead to a Banana plantation. We were allowed to walk through a small grove of banana and coconut trees and were offered red bananas to sample as they explained the process of farming and distribution of bananas. Our next stop was a local brewery where they created beer and wine from fermented bananas. We got to sample the product and it was delicious. It would have been better chilled but we could still taste the fruity notes in the beer. After the brewery, we head to an artisan shop where we were able to buy local paintings done in traditional styles found around Tanzania. We got to watch as they were painted and were able to wander through the maze of paintings to select our favorites to take home. 

Cost of a Safari  

An African safari costs anywhere between $125 and $1,500 per person per night. It’s at the top of many people’s bucket lists but comes with a steep price tag. One of the great things about Contiki is its ability to minimize the cost without losing quality. While a budget safari with folks sleeping on the ground in traditional tents averages $150 per night, mid-range $350 and luxury $750. The extreme top-safaris can easily go up to $1,500 per night. There is literally a safari to suit every budget but we’ll break down the costs of the East African Safari per person. Some of these expenses will vary according to where you’re from – like the flights and visa fees. Others will vary depending on personal preferences. There were a few people on our trip that spent upwards of $1000 on souvenirs but this is a basic framework for what to expect. We already had most of our gear like camera equipment, travel packs, and clothing so those may be additional expenses to consider. 

Flights$2,000
Contiki Tour$6,000
Kenya Visa$50
Tanzania Visa$100
Vaccinations$350
Water & Snacks$75
Souvenirs$50
Binoculars$50
Tips$150
This post was created through the support of Contiki – as always, all opinions are my own.