Saturday, December 27, 2014

East African Safari: Kenya and Tanzania

From May 14 to 28, 2014, we did a photo safari of some of the best animal reserves in East Africa. What prompted the trip was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of our law firm: five attorneys and their spouses. A client couple, with an interest in visiting Africa, came along with us, making the total of our group 12. In preparation for the trip, we looked at various tour options and ultimately chose Fun For Less Tours out of Draper, Utah, which provided a nice itinerary at a very reasonable price. 

This post is a summary of our trip, primarily a compilation of posts by my wife and me. Her posts focus on the overall experience, in chronological order. My posts are mostly on the animals we saw. 

We flew out of LAX on KLM/Delta in the early afternoon on May 14, had a layover in Amsterdam the next morning at 9:00 a.m., for two hours where we met the rest of the Fun For Less group, and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya at 8:00 p.m. that evening. In Nairobi we were divided into groups of six, assigned to a modified Toyota Land Cruiser and driver, and then taken to the Intercontinental Nairobi Hotel for some much needed sleep. 
     Los Angeles to Nairobi  (Judy)

On May 16 we got an 8:30 a.m. start for Mount Kenya National Reserve on the flanks of 17,057 foot Mount Kenya, the tallest mountain in Kenya and the second tallest mountain in Africa. We stopped, mid-drive, for a souvenir shop in Karatina where we purchased our first souvenirs, and saw our first wildlife, some bats and birds, then continued on to the Serena Mountain Lodge inside the Reserve. The high-lite of the lodge is a water hole, right behind it, the view framed by a large window in the front lobby, plus views from each of the rooms, with elephants, cape buffalo and other animals frequenting it. An underground tunnel in the basement of the lodge leads to a ground level view very close to the water hole. After lunch at the Lodge, some of us took a guided nature walk out into the forest with a guide and an armed escort. At night, the Lodge had spotters that stayed up looking for animals. Guests could sign a list to be woken up if specific animals appeared. Animals we saw at Mt. Kenya and nowhere else were the colobus monkey, Sykes' monkey, bushbuck and giant forest hog. 
     Nairobi to Kenya Mountain Lodge  (Judy)
     Kenya Mountain Lodge Nature Walk  (Judy)
          East African Epauletted Fruit Bat  (Bob)
          African Pied Wagtail  (Bob)
          Eastern Black and White Colobus Monkey  (Bob)
          Mount Kenya Sykes' Monkey  (Bob)\
          Bushbuck  (Bob)
          Giant Forest Hog  (Bob)
          Large-Spotted Genet  (Bob)
          Egyptian Goose  (Bob)
          Red-Billed Oxpecker  (Bob)

On May 17, we left the lush green forest on Mount Kenya and continued north to the mostly barren desert landscape of Buffalo Springs National Reserve. We stopped at the equator in Nanyuki for some photos and souveniring, then drove to the Sarova Shaba Lodge where we had lunch. The logistics of this part of the trip were confusing. Our itinerary said we were going to Samburu National Reserve. Samburu was a reserve on the north side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. We never actually went there. Buffalo Springs National Reserve, where we did several game drives, is on the south side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. Then our lodge was in a completely different reserve, the Shaba National Reserve, further east and also on the south side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. After lunch we did a game drive in Buffalo Springs National Reserve. The most distinctive animals in this area were the reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, grevy zebra, gerenuk, desert warthog and Somali ostrich. We saw all but the ostrich on this afternoon game drive. We ate our evening meal at the lodge.
     Mount Kenya  (Judy)
     Crossing the Equator  (Judy)
          Bactrian Camel  (Bob) Part of a larger post on camels in general.
     Sarova Shaba Lodge  (Judy)
          Superb Starling  (Bob)
     Buffalo Springs National Reserve - Afternoon Game Drive  (Judy)
          Vervet Monkey  (Bob)
          Beisa Oryx  (Bob)
          Reticulated Giraffe  (Bob)
          Gerenuk  (Bob)
          Grevy's Zebra  (Bob)
          Grant's Gazelle  (Bob)
          Northern Red-Billed Hornbill  (Bob)
          Eastern Yellow-Billed Hornbill (Bob)
          White-Browed Sparrow Weaver  (Bob)
          Speckle-Fronted Weaver  (Bob)
          White-Headed Buffalo Weaver  (Bob)
          Kirk's Dik-Dik  (Bob)

On May 18, we went for a morning game drive in Buffalo Springs National Reserve where we had the best experience of the trip as far as elephants. We went back to the lodge for lunch, then mid-afternoon a small group of us visited the Samburu Tribe, just outside Shaba National Reserve, and got views of their dwellings made of sticks, mud, cardboard and plastic and surrounded overall by an acacia thicket perimeter. Late afternoon we met up with the larger group for a relatively uneventful game drive inside Shaba National Reserve where we were able to get group pictures outside of our vehicles with a beautiful scenic backdrop. We spent the night at the Sarova Shaba Lodge.
     Buffalo Springs National Reserve - Morning Game Drive  (Judy)
          Buffalo Springs National Reserve - Elephant Parade  (Judy)
          Verreaux's Eagle Owl  (Bob)
          Bateleur Eagle  (Bob)
          Secretarybird  (Bob)
          Yellow-Necked Spurfowl  (Bob)
          Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk  (Bob)
          Hadada Ibis  (Bob)
          Golden Palm Weaver  (Bob)
          Desert Warthog  (Bob)
          Common Impala  (Bob)
          Common or Ellipsen Waterbuck  (Bob)
          African Bush Elephant  (Bob)
          African Sacred Ibis  (Bob)
          Hamerkop  (Bob)
          East African (Black-Backed) Jackal  (Bob)
     Visit to the Samburu Tribe  (Judy)
     The Samburu Tribe of Kenya  (Bob)
          Buff-Crested Bustard  (Bob)
          Augur Buzzard  (Bob)

On May 19 we had a very long drive, back-tracking part of the way, and eventually made it by mid-afternoon to Lake Nakuru National Park where we stayed at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. We had a late lunch, then went out for a much-too-short game drive for the rest of the afternoon. The beautiful park is dominated by the lake and in spots, particularly up on the mountain above the lake, the city of Nakuru, the fourth largest in Kenya, is visible beyond the perimeter fence. We all would have liked more time there. The most distinctive animals in this park were the Rothschild's giraffes, white rhinos and flamingos. That evening we had dinner and a show with some members of a local tribe dancing.
     Lake Nakuru National Park  (Judy)
          Southern White Rhinoceros  (Bob)
          Rothschild's Giraffe  (Bob)
          Olive Baboon  (Bob)
          Greater Flamingo  (Bob)
          Lesser Flamingo  (Bob)
          Helmeted Guineafowl  (Bob)
          Cattle Egret  (Bob)
          Cape Buffalo  (Bob)
          Yellow-Billed Oxpecker  (Bob)

On May 20, after breakfast at the lodge, we drove to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, with another souvenir shop, mid-trip. At Masai Mara we looked out over miles and miles of long grass, a completely different habitat than the others we'd visited. We viewed game on the way to the Serena Mara Lodge, including a cheetah stalking a young antelope, then ate at the lodge, followed by an afternoon game drive. This was our favorite accommodation, on a hill overlooking the grassy plains, with individual bungalos facing out into the reserve.
     Lake Nakuru to Masai Mara National Reserve  (Judy)
     First Day Game Drives in Masai Mara  (Judy)
          East African Cheetah  (Bob)
          Defassa Waterbuck  (Bob)

The next day, May 21, we had both morning and afternoon game drives, with lunch at the lodge in between. We had our best views of topi, hippos, hunting female lions with cubs, and "necking" Masai giraffes. During lunch, we walked through the beautiful grounds of the lodge and saw beautifully colored agama lizards and rodent-like hyraxes. I took a short nap in our bungalo and left our sliding balcony door open. Two baboon visitors gave me a surprise wake-up call inside our room. That evening, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., we went on a night game drive and saw lots of hippos wandering far from water and a rarely seen aardvark.
          Masai Mara Lions  (Judy)
          East African Lion  (Bob)
     Serena Mara Lodge  (Judy)
          Tropical Gecko  (Bob)
          Mwanza Flat-Headed Rock Agama  (Bob)
          Hyrax  (Bob)
     Hippos, Giraffes and Night Game Drive  (Judy)
          Reticulated Giraffe  (Bob)
          Aardvark  (Bob)
          Topi  (Bob)
          White-Bellied Bustard  (Bob)
          Lilac Breasted Roller  (Bob)
          Bohor Reedbuck  (Bob)
          Nile Crocodile  (Bob)

On May 22 we had a drive south to the scary border of Tanzania, where we switched drivers and vehicles, and then began a looong Indiana Jones-type drive over very buuumpy dirt roads through villages of mud huts toward Serengeti National Park. We ate a very late afternoon and very forgettable box lunch at 3:00 p.m. on an outdoor round table at the park gate while we waited for the rest of the large group to reach us. On a short game drive to the Serengeti Serena Lodge, where we had dinner and spent the night, we saw our first wildebeest and a few other animals. This day was by far the hardest drive of the trip.
     Crossing the Border into Tanzania  (Judy)
     Serengeti Serena Lodge  (Bob)

On May 23 we got a new, less Indiana Jonesish, driver and had both morning and afternoon game drives with lunch at the lodge sandwiched in between. We saw our first Coke's hartebeest, our only leopard and a hyena mother carrying her baby in her mouth.  This area of the Serengeti was mostly small hills interspersed with with relatively small trees and patches of grassland.
    The Serengeti  (Judy)
          Caracal  (Bob)
          Nile Monitor  (Bob)
          African Leopard  (Bob)
          Black-Headed Heron  (Bob)
          Blacksmith Plover  (Bob)
          Crowned Plover  (Bob)
          Hippopotamus  (Bob)
          Banded Mongoose  (Bob)
          Rufous-Tailed Weaver  (Bob)
          Bare-Faced Go-Away Bird  (Bob)

On May 24 we drove south through the endless Serengeti grass plains and saw vultures feeding on a kill off to the side of the road. We took a short walk to the top of a hill for a view out over its vastness. Once outside the park the entire group visited a Masai tribe, a visit similar to the Samburu Tribe, then our particular vehicle opted for a short stop at Olduvai Gorge, the most significant early man archaeological site in the world. Then on to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, where we had lunch, then free time and dinner.
          White-Backed Vulture  (Bob)
          Lappet-Faced Vulture  (Bob)
          Ruppell's Griffon Vulture (Bob)  
     Masai Village  (Judy)
     Olduvai Gorge  (Judy)

On May 25 we visited the one-of-a-kind Ngorongoro Crater, probably the most concentrated wild animal population in the world. The crater is mostly short grass with some water and a small forest. Our sack lunch at the hippo pool bisected viewing large herds of zebra, cape buffalo, Thomson's gazelle, wildebeest and close encounters with male lions, warthogs, spotted hyenas and views of the beautiful gray crowned crane. That evening at the lodge, my partner Bill was given a quasi Masai initiation in celebration of his 40th birthday.
     Ngorongoro Crater - Part 1  (Judy)
     Ngorongoro Crater - Part 2  (Judy)
          Speke's Weaver  (Bob)
          Yellow-Billed Kite  (Bob)  
          Hildebrant's Starling  (Bob)
          Spur-Winged Goose  (Bob)
          Central African Warthog  (Bob)
          Crested (Gray Crowned) Crane  (Bob)
          Western White-Bearded Wildebeest  (Bob)
          Grant's Zebra  (Bob)
          Spotted Hyena  (Bob)
          Serengeti Jackal  (Bob)

On May 26 we left Ngorongoro at 7:00 a.m. and got back to Nairobi at 6:15 p.m. for our stay at the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel. In between we had driving on nice paved roads, several stops at souvenir stores and a wonderfully less-exciting border crossing back into Kenya. We drove near Mt. Kilimanjaro after passing through Arusha, but most of it was covered in mist.
     Ngorongoro Crater to Nairobi  (Judy)
          Marabou Stork (Bob)

On May 27 at 6:30 a.m., Judy joined me for a non-scheduled game drive in Nairobi National Park (I worked it out privately with our guide). The park is inside the Nairobi city limits and at times the buildings of Nairobi were clearly visible. We saw mating lions, nearly mating Masai giraffes, our largest herd of hartebeest, some white rhinos and our only eland. We got back mid to late morning to join our group for visits to Giraffe Manor, where we fed Rothschild's giraffes, to the Karen Blixen Plantation, the author of "Out of Africa," to the Kazuri Bead Factory and then to the Carnivore Restaurant where we enjoyed a Brazilian style meal with an African twist. The rest of our group left that night to fly out of Nairobi on the way home. Judy and I stayed an additional night at the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel and then flew to Accra, Ghana, where the two of us spent some additional vacation time, which will be summarized in a separate post.
     Nairobi National Park  (Judy)
          East African Eland  (Bob)
          Coke's Harebeest  (Bob)
          Masai Ostrich  (Bob)
          White-Browed Coucal  (Bob)
          Diederik Cuckoo  (Bob)
          Somali Kori Bustard  (Bob)
          Long-Tailed Fiscal  (Bob)
     Giraffe Centre  (Judy)
     Karen Blixen's Estate  (Judy)
     Kazuri Bead Factory and Carnivore Restaurant  (Judy)
     Carnivore Restaurant  (Bob)
     Food in Kenya and Tanzania  (Bob)


  1. Great summary, especially for someone else considering taking the same trip with Fun-for-Less.

  2. This is a great way to organize the information from your trip. I might have to steal the idea.

  3. Thanks for the tips mentioned I searched through different article but nobody was good as you. It’s first that valuable information has shared through guide and further increasing rapidly.
    tours and travel companies in Kenya