In 2019, for the first time, Disneyland® Paris made Magical Pride an official signature event on their calendar.
Magical Pride is a big step for the global company that has previously been hesitant to put its brand on anything LGBTQ+ related. The evening offered something for everyone, making it a suitable event for families, couples, friends or even solo travelers.
Here’s everything you need to know about the event; where it came from, What to do and Whether it was worth it or just another Disney business venture.
In this ultimate guide to Magical Pride I’ll share:
Magical Pride Tickets
Getting to Magical Pride
What to do at Magical Pride
Empowering Event or Pink Pound Collection?
Since 1991, Disneyland parks have seen annual unofficially organized ‘gay days’, where the LGBTQ+ community meets up in the Disney parks in Anaheim, Orland, Tokyo, and Hong Kong together on an agreed date. And since 2014, an organization from the UK has arranged a similar event known as ‘Magical Pride’ at Disneyland Paris.
Until now, Disney has allowed these events to happen, but never officially supported or facilitated them.
However, this year, the first-ever Magical Pride event officially backed by The Walt Disney Company took place on June 1st in Walt Disney Studios Park, Paris.
It was a big step for the global enterprise, who have previously been hesitant to take bold stances when it comes to LGBTQ+ events or representation.
Magical Pride saw the Walt Disney Studios Park open exclusively to pride goers from 8 pm – 2 am and the event was attended by LGBTQ+ Disney fans and allies from across the globe.
And based on the success and popularity, I can only hope it expands to other Disney parks in the near future!
Magical Pride Tickets
Greatdays.co.uk, the original organizers of the Magical Pride, offered a number of packages you could choose from.
All options included:
At least two nights of accommodation (option for 3).
A two-day park hopper passes.
A wristband for access to the pride celebrations at night.
You can choose from any of the Disney hotels, depending on your budget and 2019 packages started at £349 per person based on two people sharing (or £259 based on 4 people sharing).
While this is likely one of the most expensive pride events of the year, when compared to a regular weekend at Disneyland Paris, it’s pretty reasonable. The price is the same as attending on a non-pride weekend, so you essentially get the wristband and pride access FREE.
It is possible to just buy a ticket for Magical Pride if you’re staying in Paris and want to attend for the evening.
Getting To Magical Pride
Getting from Charles de Gaulle airport to Disneyland is simple in theory. In reality, depending on where you land in the airport and at what time, it can take around one hour.
Your options are as follows:
A 9-minute TGV train from Terminal 2 to the park entrance (€17).
If you’re staying in a Disney hotel (highly recommend for the convenience) then Disney run Magic Shuttle buses to and from the airport (€23).
Warning: if you land later than 9 pm at night, the TGV train and Magic Shuttle will have finished and your only option is a taxi for around €60.
What To Do At Magical Pride
Before we begin:There are two Disney Parks in Paris.
Disneyland (the main one with the castle)
Walt Disney Studios Park (the location for Magical Pride).
Dance at the Main Stage
The Main Stage in the Walt Disney Studios Park was the center of attention for the Magical Pride celebrations. Initially used by Natacha Rafalski, the President of Disneyland Paris, for an opening speech, it later transformed into a concert venue for performances by Boy George, Years and Years and the French DJ, Corine.
Meet the characters
Magical Pride had some Disney favorites who ready to meet and celebrate with guests. Dotted around Walt Disney Studios Park were a number of characters including Buzz, Woody, Lilo & Stitch. And of course, the infamous Minnie and Mickey.
Top tip: If this is what you’re coming for, get the VIP pass and skip the long lines to really make the most of your evening.
Enjoy some Pride-themed snacks
Disneyland did what Disneyland does best and offered themed snacks for the occasion. In addition to the regular fast food outlets and restaurants on offer, pop up stalls within the park were selling magical pride-themed doughnuts and cakes.
Ride some rollercoasters
It wouldn’t be Disneyland without the attractions. From 8 PM to 1:30 AM Disney operated the majority of the rides in the Walt Disney Studios Park. This included the massive indoor rollercoaster, Aerosmith, the iconic Hollywood Tower Of Terror, the surprisingly speedy Splash’s Coaster and some smaller favorites like the Magic Carpet and the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. And the best bit of all – No wait times! (Ok, maybe some, but like… 15 minutes max!)
Watch The Parade
Disney’s first-ever Magical Pride kicked off in true Disney fashion, with an all-singing, all-dancing pride parade. The March of Diversity Parade is a pretty terrible name for what was actually a super fun pride march. Largely made up of Disney cast members in colorful T-shirts and carrying marvelous rainbow Mickey balloons, it also included some lovable Disney characters and the headline acts of the night. The entire parade was done to a repetitive, but catchy number that I’m still singing weeks after the event.
Hop Over to Disney Illuminations
As hard as it may be to pull yourself away from the pride activities, I highly recommend leaving the Walt Disney Studios Park around 10:30 pm. At 11 pm each night the Disneyland Park puts on a spectacular show called Illuminations. Take advantage of your Park-Hopper tickets and head over for the 20-minute display of fireworks, lights, and music that will leave you feeling like you’re truly living in a Fairytale.
Have a Drink!
Unlike the Disneyland Park, Walt Disney Studios Park is licensed to sell alcohol and there was a colorful pop-up bar right by the Main Stage. Personally, I didn’t fancy doing loop the loop’s and corkscrews on a rollercoaster under the influence, but if you try it let me know how that goes.
Lip Sync your heart out
Now, I didn’t attend this one in person, but from what I’ve seen online, the Disney Magic Lip-Sync-Along and karaoke theatre experience is something I’ll be checking out next year. It was held in the Animagique Theatre opposite the main stage, and contestants could sign up between 8-8:30 pm on the night. The event ran in the form of a knockout competition with 3 finalists taking to the stage shortly before midnight.
Get a Pride makeover
Wella had a popup stall on the night and was offering hair, nail & makeup makeovers as well as giving out fun colorful bandanas. The line was fairly long, so I didn’t check it out for myself, but it was an awesome addition for anyone looking to jazz up their pride look.
Indulge in the gift shop
Did you even go to Disneyland if you didn’t get sucked into the gift shop? Naturally, Disney was prepared with dedicated Magical Pride merchandise in both Downtown Disney and the Studios Park. Over the weekend, the rainbow Minnie ears become something of a rare gem as stocks ran low. It’s sadly not clear how much (if any) profits went to LGBTQ+ causes from the Magical Pride merchandise sales. However, the main Disney Store Rainbow Mickey collection does incorporate a donation to various European & American charities.
Empowering Event or Pink Pound Collection?
Every year, when June rolls around we see brands hop on the LGBTQ+ inclusion bandwagon for a month, slap a rainbow sticker on an existing product, collect in the pink pounds (or Dorothy Dollars) and call it a day.
It is exhausting to see companies make a profit on LGBTQ+ targeted products, without doing the leg work for equality or inclusion all year round. This isn’t a new concept to discuss. However, it would be hard for me to talk about Magical Pride and promote all that it offers, without also addressing a critical question to be asked of any corporate involvement pride events:
Is Disney doing enough for the LGBTQ+ community to offset the undoubted profits they made by hosting a pride event?
On this, I have no correct answer. But I do have a few thoughts.
Disney’s Lack of Representation
I was skeptical, when I first heard about Magical Pride, given Disney’s lack of positive (or any) LGBTQ+ representation in their films and TV shows. In the past year, they have made some progress, with the Disney Channel show Andi Mack airing their first ever coming out scene. The conversation occurs between the lead character Andi and his best friend and was handled with taste and in a pleasantly understated way.
But when it comes to film, Disney is failing miserably. They thrive on the rumors of Elsa being a lesbian, without ever making a statement of support or denial. And, we are yet to see if they’ll do anything about it or give her a girlfriend in the upcoming Frozen 2 movie.
The existing LGBTQ+ characters Disney does have in their films are questionable too. After months of hype that Beauty & The Beast would feature a gay character in 2017, fans and the LGBTQ+ community were disappointed when it came in the form of sidekick LeFou. Even then, the film only featured subliminal messages and less than a second of handholding in the closing credits. Beyond that, you really have to stretch to find any queer representation. With the best, you can find is a glimpse of Oaken’s partner in the Sauna during Frozen, or a ‘potentially’ lesbian couple pushing a pram in Finding Dory.
Disneyland’s Inclusive Culture
Whilst they are largely failing the community in their films, Disney has always fostered an inclusive culture in its theme parks. Whether it be by making the parks and attractions accessible to all ages and abilities, or creating a judgment-free zone for children and adults alike to be their most authentic selves. Disneyland is where you can go to escape the real world and live in an inclusive, judgment-free fantasyland, even if just for a day.
Pride as a Safe Space
As I mentioned at the top of the blog, unofficial, ‘Gay Days’ have been occurring in Disneyland Parks since 1991. This is a definite testament to the safe spaces the Disneyland empire has created. In our ever-increasingly scary world, where hate crimes of homophobia, transphobia, and racism are on the rise, so too is the importance of protecting, and nurturing safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.
Sure, in an ideal world everywhere would be accepting, and we wouldn’t need to buy a ticket to a Pride event to access that. But sadly, that’s not the world we currently live in.
At the end of our weekend in Disneyland Paris, my girlfriend asked me what my highlight had been. I thought about the rollercoasters, meeting Mickey Mouse, the incredible weather and the yummy food we’d eaten. But none of it stopped being in a safe space for a whole two days, where we could be unapologetically out and proudly ourselves.
I ran about in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle with a pride flag, I kissed my girlfriend on ‘It’s A Small World’ and we leaned on each other’s shoulders while waiting in the long lines. We did all this without ever thinking twice about the possible dangers or negative consequences. I cannot say the same about everywhere we have visited.
My highlight of Magical Pride was the ability to be visibly queer without fear of stares, hurtful words or worse. And to Disneyland, for that, I am thankful.
Disney as an Employer
It’s no good to promote LGBTQ+ events and inclusion to customers until you’ve sorted yourself in-house. And Disney has done just that.
According to their website the company has contributed “to diverse communities through service and donations to organizations including Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, Trevor Project, GLSEN, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”
In the UK and Ireland, the Disney Pride Staff Network has raised over £18,000 for LGBTQ+ charities in the past few years and was nominated for best Network in British LGBT Awards (2016).
Disneyland Paris has had an Inclusion and Diversity manager since 2007 and the inclusive culture shone through when the hundreds of cast members marched, all singing, all dancing in the colorful opening parade of their first-ever Magical Pride.
Conclusion … for now
It’s undeniable that Disney has miles to go when it comes to TV and film representation. I dream of a world where kids grow up to idolize a non-binary superhero or a trans-Disney princess. When the day comes (and I must believe it will), I will probably cry my Disney-geek heart out.
But when it comes to fostering the critical spaces that we need as a community, where we can feel not only safe but celebrated from who we are, you really can’t blame or judge Disney for being the ones to provide that.
Sure, I hope that there’s a future where these spaces aren’t needed. Pride events should always exist, but hopefully as a celebration and commemoration of the fights and sacrifices of those who got us to that point. But right now, in 2019, when I reflect on the two days of absolute bliss that I had, being out, proud and without a drop of fear that anything would happen to me because of it, Disney can have my money.
For a long time, Pittsburgh was considered an upping and coming food city and maybe even city in general. Those days are over, Pittsburgh has arrived in all the ways. The Pittsburgh food scene is thriving right along with the rest of this beautiful city. Narrowing down the truly top restaurants in Pittsburgh is tricky. Luckily I went to college in a nearby town and have multiple friends who call the city home. Each one was seemingly more excited than last to offer up recommendations on where to get that good Pittsburgh food.
Possibly the most famous Pittsburgh food, a Primanti Bros Sandwich overflowing with coleslaw and fresh-cut french fries. All the meat and toppings are slapped between two pieces of white bread. It’s one of the Pittsburgh restaurants you can’t miss. I also highly recommend ordering a deli-style pickle to go with it.
The other Pittsburgh classic is the Pierogi. This Eastern European classic has become a favorite in Pittsburgh. So much so they have a Pierogi race between innings on the Pirates games. If you haven’t had one you have to go with the classic potato topped with sour cream and chives.
Amazing Diners in Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania, in general, has strong diner culture and that certainly can be felt here in Pittsburgh. If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast or lunch look no further than these top-notch diners in Pittsburgh.
There’s always a hot cup of coffee on and the floors are checkerboard. The vibe hasn’t changed in years but neither has the food and that’s a good thing. This Pittsburgh institution has been serving one of the best breakfasts in the city for over 60 years. In the mood for banana pancakes or an omelet with homefries, head here.
Pamela’s Diner is adorable. It’s so good it practically feels like it was designed for a photoshoot but then you realize it’s just that authentic. Everything is a shade of teal pink with family photos covering the walls. The claim to fame here, super-thin crepe style hotcakes. I’m more of a savory person so I went for the Trash Hash which is basically hash browns topped with sloppy-joe, cheese, and jalapeno. It was to die for.
Fluffy stuffed pancakes help make breakfast the real star of the show here. One of the best parts of Micro Diner is the fact that is open late. Making it the perfect place to grab a great meal after a night out with friends.
The young gun standing strong among the other Strip District restaurant legends, DeLucas and Pamalas. Once you say, Diner, Drive-in and Dives made a stop here there isn’t much more that needs to be said. The featured dish on the episode was the haluski, I always follow the experts lead.
Best Breakfast Spots in Pittsburgh
If you’re looking for breakfast in Pittsburgh but feeling a bit more than the dinner vibe, I got you. I happen to travel with a big-time breakfast lover so we’re always on the lookout.
The name alone makes you wanna go, right? Stay with me, it gets better. They also serve all-day breakfast and boozy coffee cocktails. As you’d expect they do serve a lot of pie and quiche but there is more to the menu if you want something lighter.
Made to order, fully customizable waffles. Of course, they have some house favorite sweet and savory combinations to lead you in the right direction. The available toppings list is pretty extensive leaving you to get super creative if you want. I’m a massive chicken and waffles fun but the sausage gravy over a waffle, heart eyes.
Meg and I are massive crepe lovers. In fact, we actively search them out all over the world. The french style crepes at Cafe Moulin were absolutely delicious. The menu has a good selection of both sweet and savory offerings. The atmosphere is cozy and clearly French-inspired.
The Vandal is just as cool, well designed and delicious as you’d expect from a Lawrenceville restaurant. The menu is unique and utilizes ingredients in super unique ways. There is a distinct farm to table vibe. We stopped in mid-afternoon and enjoyed some of their delicious cups of coffee in the window seats.
Best Italian Restaurants in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s Little Italy neighborhood can be found in the Bloomfield neighborhood. However, you’ll find Italian restaurants ranking highly on many “where to eat in Pittsburgh” lists all over the city.
When you go to Alla Famiglia expect to have the full Italian fine dining experience. You can very clearly taste the intention behind each ingredient. The food is served family-style while offering some great appetizer options like the Burratta. Plan ahead for a visit and make sure you have reservations.
We sat at one of the tables outside sipping on a couple of glasses of wine. When the food hit the table the first words out of Meg’s mouth were “theses are little pillows of heaven” after a bite of gnocchi. The restaurant and connecting market are beautiful and the food is insane. You can even go in that afternoon for some sandwiches with incredible meats and cheeses. If you’re going for dinner be sure to make a reservation it fills up quick.
The best way to describe this spot is pit beef and a taco shop had a baby. It’s as delicious as you’re expecting. The nachos are baked in a cast iron pan and have more cheese than I can describe, add brisket for extra magic. They also make in house sodas which always win me over.
I always appreciate a brewery of offers bomb food and Cinderlands does just that. The beers are award-winning but the brussels sprouts stayed on my mind. Monday is all day taco day if you’re down for that.
The lobster rolls are the house specialty at this Lawrenceville gem. You can also pick from an extensive selection of oysters hailing from the east and west coasts. When the cool weather rolls in keep in mind they have four different kinds of chowder daily.
Consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh, Morcilla won’t disappoint. Serving elegant Spanish food in an approachable way. The food is served small plate style so you can try all sorts of things. If you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend the charcuterie and croquetas
Market Square Pittsburgh Restaurants
Downtown Pittsburgh restaurants weren’t supposed to wow us based on what I’d read. However, I was super pleasantly surprised at the quality options located in this part of the city. I would even consider some to be my favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh.
At Tako Mexican street food and Japanese food are mixing it up. There is playful window seating ready for the warm days. The street-style tacos are best when you get a platter and can try multiple types of meat. I highly recommend going with the octopus, it was cooked perfectly.
Butcher and Rye ooze cool from the moment you step in. The unique marriage of rustic and vintage decor is some of the best I’ve come across. The food is no slouch either. The contemporary take on modern classic completely knocks it out of the park. All that before I even mention the 8 shelves of whiskey.
Just steps from Market Square you’ll find Revel and Roost. Roost is the upstairs event space and Revel is the downstairs event space. They have a versatile dinner menu with tons of dishes meant to share. Bacon-wrapped scallops or braised beef quesadillas are always a good move.
Or, the Whale by the Travel Channel as one of the Hip Pittsburgh Destinations Where You’ll Want to be in 2019 for good reason. Located in what was previously a gymnasium the dining room is large and bold. The food is exactly what you’d hope for in a farm to table or sea to table restaurant. They are not taking any shortcuts that would sacrifice freshness.
A vegan restaurant that was recommended by both vegan and non-vegan friends. There is a very clear but intentional simplicity in the design. The food is all vegan with a strong eastern European influence. A few years ago the concept started with a Pierogi Pop up Restaurant and you bet those perogies are still on the menu.
A Mediterranean spot offering a full vegan menu. They even have seitan which I appreciate being able to find. On Sunday’s you’ll find a beautiful brunch with the likes of latkes and thick-cut toast with cashew cheese.
This completely vegan restaurant has a punk side. You’ll hear the distinct sounds of heavy metal playing as you devour your cabbage and shiitake dumplings. They specialize in making both Asian and American comfort food but in a seriously creative way.
Before I started this blog, long before I ever had stamps in my passport or had traveled internationally, I used to stalk Contiki on social media. For years, I thought of international travel as an unattainable desire that only became a reality for those with rich parents or much older people who’d landed big bucks jobs. The Contiki tours were different. The photos were packed with young smiling people in places I’d always dreamed of exploring. While the trips weren’t free, they weren’t millions of dollars or out of the realm of possibility. Contiki was a brand I felt like I could trust because it was relatable to my reality in ways other travel companies just weren’t and had to experience on my own – which is why we headed to Africa the first time around for our Contiki Egypt and the Nile Adventure. Once we had our first taste, we couldn’t get enough. Which is why we signed on to be Contiki’s LGBT ambassadors.
We’ve been brand ambassador’s for Contiki for the last six months and every time I mention them on social media I get an avalanche of questions about the Contiki experience. We work with Contiki because we believe in their product as an ideal gateway to traveling the world. Particularly when you’re visiting areas that are harder to get to or more risky for women and LGBT travelers. In this post, I’ll be taking some time to deep dive into all things Contiki. I’ll be discussing all your questions and will cover everything from accommodations, types of travelers, food, activities, tipping, transportation, and more.
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 Africa Reviews:
Is Contiki Right for you?
How well you know yourself often impacts how well you choose your travel style. There are hundreds of variables that impact travel preferences. With that, I’ll go through some of the pros and cons of Contiki tours.
Pros of Contiki
Contiki is Cheap
While travel is rarely truly cheap, traveling with Contiki is a more affordable option than many others. They always have last minute booking deals, regularly have sales, and have a variety of budget travel options. Plus they always have lower prices than many of their competitors.
Great way to make friends
One of the biggest differences between Contiki and some of the other major group travel brands is the emphasis on creating a Contiki family. In the beginning of the tour, there are usually mixers, ice breakers, and other group activities to really bond the group together. Connecting with like-minded people is one of my favorite parts of the Contiki experience. You get to meet people of a similar age with a shared passion from all over the world which not only opens your social networks but also opens your world view and helps you see from other perspectives.
Everything is done for you
One of the hardest parts of travel planning is working out all the logistics. Contiki does all of the annoying details on your behalf. You don’t need to know how much public transit from the airport to your hotel will cost or what the schedule of the local train is because they pick you up from the airport. You also don’t need to pick your accommodations or figure out how to get from point A to point B or know the best times of day to go to your favorite attractions. You just have to show up and they’ve got it figured out.
Perfect for harder to visit destinations
There are some destinations that are difficult for independent travel. With a group you’re able to blend into a small crowd, you have help navigating difficult physical and cultural terrains, and you always have a translator on hand should you need one.
Traveling with a similar age group
While intergenerational travel can be amazing, sometimes you want to see the world with a group of people around your age and life experience. Chances are you’ll have more in common with folks in your age group than say a family of 5 on holiday or a set of retirees.
Helpful in a bind
Shit happens when you’re on the road lost luggage, wrong visa form, medical issues – I’ve seen it all. When something goes wrong it’s always nice to have someone on the ground to help you in a bind. Especially when they speak the local language and understand the local culture.
Cons of Contiki
Don’t control your schedule
While this is a pro for some people, it’s a con for others. Contiki does have some flexibility with their “Me Time Options” but they’re a group tour and thus have a set itinerary. For those with long term flexible travel plans, it can be hard to leave a place you’re having a great time exploring before you’re ready.
Waiting for other people
With a group tour, comes group mentality. You’ll inevitably end up waiting for someone or something in a long line.
Less local food options
During the tour experience, some of your meals are included. Some tours have more than others included. On both of our Contiki experiences, most of the meals were included but they were mostly buffet-style meals with very few local dishes to choose from. While this makes sense in a Safari camp with no restaurants for hours around us – it’s one of our favorite parts of travel that we really missed on our Contiki tours.
Contiki Styles of Travel
No two people are exactly the same, which means no two travelers will ever be the same. Which is why Contiki offers different travel styles help you find the perfect experience for you. Some travelers want to see as many different places as possible and some want to explore one location really in-depth. The styles are broken down by the length of trip, speed of travel, number of countries visited, and budget. Ultimately the choice is yours but with 350 different trips to choose from, you can be sure they have something that fits your travel style, budget, and time available. Here are a few of the styles to choose from.
The Contiki Discoverer is for adventurers who want to see it all and do it all. These trips are fast-paced and hit lots of destinations in a short period of time. This trip is perfect for those short on vacation days who really want to explore. The Discoverer trips offer more options included in the trip price and visit lots of different locations.
The In-Depth Explorer traveler is for the traveler who wants to spend more time in one region or country and really get under the skin through local explorations. The In-depth trips are culturally rich and really take a deep dive into the destination.
The Essentials tours are available exclusively in Europe but allow travelers to stretch their budgets. Every day will have planned activities but will also include “Free Time Add-On” activities for those who’d like to purchase additional tours and activities. This leaves the choice up to the traveler and allows you to customize your trip while keeping costs low.
Short trips and festivals are all about holidays and events. Ever wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in New York City? There’s a short trip for that. Want to experience Octoberfest first hand? There’s a short trip for that. The short trips are for life’s moments and memories and are the perfect add ons to longer trips.
Sleep under the stars and really cut back on costs with Contiki’s camping tours in Europe and North America. Choose the Original for 46 days of European adventures or visit Alaska and experiences the great arctic north.
Group tours are undeniably and easier way to travel. If you’re traveling with friends, all you need to do is pick a tour and then tell everyone else that’s what you’re doing. They can settle payments directly with Contiki and your itinerary is set so there’s no debate on what hotel to stay at and no-nonsense around collecting payments for each aspect of the trip. If you’re traveling solo it’s a great way to meet new people and split costs. It’s also safer in some regions of the world and offers you insight into the lives of people from other countries.
Who is The Contiki Traveler?
Contiki has a bit of a reputation for being a party bus galavanting around Europe. In some destinations, that’s true. The Contiki Original, for example, is not for the faint of heart. It’s 46 days of camping around 22 countries in Europe. It’s a whirlwind trip where you get to experience a huge chunk of the continent but are doing so at breakneck speeds. During the Original, you’d expect to see most of the travelers in their late teens and early twenties from mostly English speaking countries around the world.
The age varies based on your destination and style of travel. Both of our trips to Africa were skewed much older. The youngest was 25 and the oldest 35 with the average age hovering around 30. There are a few reasons for that. One safari travel is more expensive than hopping on a bus around Europe. But also, people who are interested in experiencing cultural destinations like Egypt or India are more likely to be visiting because they want to experience the history and attractions more than partying. Don’t get me wrong, folks on both of our trips enjoyed more than a few cocktails but on these trips, nightlife wasn’t the focal point of the adventures.
Both of our trips had a solid mixture of introverts and extroverts but some trips are better suited for folks who need more downtime from social interactions. If you’re an introvert try to find a smaller group trip with lots of “Me Time Optionals” so you can choose to allocate your time more effectively.
Generally speaking, you’ll find more women on the trips than men but the breakdown is somewhere between 60/40 or 70/30 so it’s not as dramatic as you may think. Contiki is an Australian based company so you’ll meet tons of Aussies but also Brits, South Africans, Kiwis, Canadians, and Americans.
Contiki for Solo Travelers
One of the beautiful parts of Contiki is the group bonding and togetherness that they emphasize on this trip. For our most recent tour, we had 13 travelers and only two groups of two people came with someone they knew. If you’re traveling by yourself odds are there will be at least half the group on their own or only traveling with one other friend. People go on Contiki tours to make friends and connect with people around the globe.
Contiki for LGBT travelers
Contiki has gone out of their way to improve the experiences of LGBT travelers on their trips. They’ve hired an LGBT professional development company to conduct trainings with their national-level staff. They’ve created content centered around the LGBT experience and have worked with tons of LGBT content creators. Contiki is a safe and welcoming option for LGBT people looking to experience group tours but also a great way to explore anti-LGBT destinations or regions of the world that are less welcoming and affirming.
The accommodations vary widely depending on which trip you’re doing. Most Contiki trips will be booked at 3-star hotels, but some trips will be at hostels or camping if you’re doing a budget trip. For both of our Contiki adventures, we had incredible lodging options. We stayed on a Nile river cruise boat for three nights, had an adventure on a sleeper train car that converted into a hotel room, and stayed at several beautiful resorts. On the East African Safari, we stayed at several gorgeous luxury tented camps and had the opportunity to sleep side in the Savannah side by side with African Safari animals.
Transportation is always included in the price of the Contiki tour. Generally speaking, you’ll be on a bus between locations. On the upside, you’ll have lots of time to get to know your fellow travelers and you’ll be able to cover a lot of space in a short period of time. On the downside, there is usually lots of bus time. Contiki trips are fast-paced, action-packed trips that do a great job showing the highlights of a destination or region. While the ground transportation is included, the flights to and from your destination are generally not included.
Each Contiki adventure is a bit different when it comes to food so you’ll want to read the trip information thoroughly to see what’s included. On both our Contiki adventures, the vast majority of the food was included. Which makes sense when you think about the destinations. There aren’t any restaurants in the middle of the Serengeti. On both trips, the majority of the food was served buffet style and was catering to a western audience. While each buffet had one or two local dishes they seemed to be toned down for the western pallet. This is one area where we’d like to see Contiki improve. We love trying local foods and experiencing the flavors of a destination.
Today, we live in a world where climate change is no longer a threat but a reality, communities and ancient traditions are being lost and over-tourism is negatively impacting some of the planet’s best-loved destinations, your travel choices have never been more important. Where we travel, the activities we participate in, and how we treat the locals have dramatic impacts. Giving travelers the chance to make their travels matter is at the very heart of the Contiki experience, which is why they have a range of sustainable travel experiences built into trips across the world. Contiki Cares focuses on supporting people, wildlife, and the planet through their effort to support local organizations of marginalized people, animal welfare projects, and environmentally friendly initiatives. By 2022 Contiki has pledged to rid their supply chain of all single-use plastics. In partnership with ME to WE, Contiki also offers ethical volunteer activities alongside a local community in Latin America or India. Click here to read more about the Contiki Cares initiatives.
Tour Managers & Contiki Staff
On every Contiki adventure, you’ll be partnered with a Tour Manager. Their job is to ride along with you for the entirety of your stay and make sure everything runs smoothly. They act as a tour guide, impromptu translator, and handle all things bureaucratic. From helping you exchange currency to buying SIM cards to getting you through immigration – they’ve got you covered on all the pesky details that come with travel.
In Europe, the guides are from all over the world, but on both of our African Contiki’s we had local guides and local drivers who were able to help us learn more about our destinations. We loved being able to connect with them to learn about the more personal experiences they had growing up in the area and what it’s like for them and their families.
Cost & Payment Options
Contiki is well known for its flexible deposit, flexible payment options, no change fees – which is very different than most tour providers. The majority of their trips only require a $200 per person per trip deposit. It varies based on destination though so make sure you read the trip description information when booking. You don’t have to pay for everything all at once. Once you have paid a deposit for your trip, you will be able to pay part or all your outstanding balance through their online portal called “ Manage My Booking”. Contiki accepts all major credit card and debit cards from Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.
Tipping & Extra Costs
While Contiki never has any hidden fees, the trip price listed on the website will have detailed information on what is covered. Keep in mind that you’ll need to book your own airfare in advance and that you’ll want to budget in money for visas, vaccinations, souvenirs, drinks, tips, and other personal expenses while on the road. In your Manage My Booking section on the Contiki website, you’ll find all the details for which visas you might need, shots required for the destination, your itinerary, and all the extra booking options for additional activities. In most destinations, you’ll be encouraged to tip your Trip Manager, drivers, servers, and other staff. This varies widely depending on your trip so be sure to ask what’s appropriate for your destination before departure.
This post was created in partnership with Contiki, as always – all opinions are our own.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
Are you traveling overland borders?
Recommended Vaccines for African Travel
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 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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Water & Snacks
This post was created through the support of Contiki – as always, all opinions are my own.