Safarı Gateway: Naırobi
First a visit to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Then communing with nature and seeing scores of different animals from elephants and giraffes to leopards and rhinos on the savannah. This is the story of an unforgettable experience in Africa.
Two words always leap to my mind at the mention of Kenya: one is safari, the other “Hakuna Matata”, which means “No problem” in the Swahili language spoken in the region. As a child I considered safari an exotic word. I pictured wild animals in a vast expanse. Then I learned that the Turkish word of Arabic origin, “seferi”, which means being on a trip has the same meaning. And the name Swahili for the language spoken on the East African coast derives from the Arabic “sahil”, meaning coast. Travel broadens one’s horizons, and new cultures bring new knowledge.
Nairobi is a dynamic and cosmopolitan city. This capital, where you will spend a few days before your safari, has an interesting story. When the East African railway came to the region in the late 1800’s, a station was built on the river bank that the Maasai called “Uaso Nairobi”, meaning “cold water”. The British soon moved the Kenyan capital, previously in the coastal city of Mombasa, to this rapidly developing site. Today Nairobi is one of Africa’s leading cities, both politically and financially. At the same time, it is the city with the largest population in East Africa. The National Museum, Westlands with its mainly foreign residents, and the hotels and shopping centers are in the north of Nairobi, which is bisected by Kenyatta Boulevard. In the south it’s more offices and business centers. You can see historic photographs of the city and objects relating to the local tribes in the National Archives section on the entrance level of the National Museum. On the first floor are fine examples of contemporary African art. Here too you can see exhibitions relating to natural history and geological monuments. If you follow some simple rules of security in Nairobi, there is no reason at all not to see the city’s major sights.
A NATURE FEST
After a panoramic Nairobi tour, we are ready for a safari. First, some brief statistics. Kenya is home to some of Africa’s most beautiful national parks. Bounded by the Siria Escarpment and watered by the Mara River, Masai Mara is the first spot that springs to mind at the mention of safari in Kenya. This reserve, which covers a close to 1,500- square-kilometer area in the north of the Serengeti Plain, promises visitors a nature fest. From lions to giraffes, you’ll have a chance to get close to animals species you’ve never seen before in your life.
The Rift Valley north of Nairobi is a Kenya must-see. There are some very unusual bird species on Lake Naivasha in Crater Lake Park, located around a volcanic crater. Not to mention a goodly number of hippos as well. Another treasure in the valley is the spectacular natural landscape at Hell’s Gate, which you can explore either on foot or by bicycle. Rock climbing is also popular here. If you climb Fischer’s Tower in particular, you will be rewarded with stunning views.
For a magnificent Kilimanjaro landscape behind you and a safari ahead of you, one of the country’s most visited sites is Amboseli National Park. Amboseli, whose name means salty, dusty place, may not be as rich in animal species as Masai Mara or Lake Nakuru. But the splendid views of Kilimanjaro and the herds of elephants roaming the park make this place attractive for a safari.
The Enkongo Naroik and Olokenya wetlands in the middle of this park 140 kilometers from Nairobi attract hippos, birds, elephants and buffalo here. Antelope also grace the green areas, and lions, jackals and monkeys can be seen as well. Upwards of 400 bird species are found in this ecosystem, which sprawls over 392 square kilometers. Another of Kenya’s most visited sites after Amboseli is Nakuru National Park. This park 1,754 meters above sea level was founded in 1961. This is also one of the best places to see leopards and rhinos. The flamingoes, sometimes numbering in the millions, that you can see from Baboon Cliff in particular virtually stain the lake pink. Here, too, every moment morphs into a kaleidoscope of colors. Kenya and Nairobi await you for an unforgettable experience.
October is one of the best times to go to Kenya for safari. The wild animals that migrate north for greener pastures in July and August return to the Serengeti in October. These movements, known as reverse migration, are also very attractive to photograph.
According to travel pundits, Masai Mara is one of the most exciting spots on earth to see from a hot air balloon. Companies organizing balloon tours are not difficult to find either in Nairobi or at the local safari camps.
Longer even than Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline, the shores of Lake Turkana extend all the way to Ethiopia. Approximately 10,000 years ago, this lake fed the Nile. And South Island National Park in the vicinity is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Kilimanjaro, Batian, Nelion… You have to be a professional mountain climber to scale Kenya’s 5,000-plus meter peaks. But there is no such requirement for Point Lenana, which rises to only 4,985 meters. Local agents arrange for trekkers to climb to various points on its slopes with the services of guides, cooks and sherpas.
Explore the local market near city center while you’re in Nairobi and pick up some native handicrafts.