KENYA IS CALLING
Kenya is definitely ready to welcome international guests, and international travelers should feel assured that they are in the best of (gloved and sanitized) hands when choosing Kenya for safari and sea, sanity and serenity (I think we all need a strong dose of both these days!).
After a few “opening day” glitches and a flattening of the learning curve, you can feel confident about venturing out to this spectacular country. As Simon Penfold of Scenic Air Safaris, a Kenyan and Nairobi resident, said to me: “Kenya is not ‘fooling’ around when it comes to protocols. There are no grey areas when it comes to safety, security, health and hygiene. The government has been very clear from the beginning about what needs to happen to ensure safety for citizens and guests: wearing a mask in public is now a law passed in parliament; the curfews are strict and enforced; every camp and lodge must pass a health certification which includes a health official on property to check and green light the SOPs and is only good for three months and then there is another visit and re-certification.”
With a bit of planning, attention to detail, and ability to be flexible if needed, guests will enjoy some of the most sought-after animal viewing, personal space and privacy, rest and rejuvenation, and sense of accomplishment and connectedness knowing they are directly and positively affecting the renewal of conservation and community initiatives that are more imperative than ever.
In the end, as you’ll read below, it is easy to get to Kenya, into Kenya, and around Kenya: a Negative PRC Covid-19 test within 96 hours of beginning your journey, the QR code from a health form declaration, insurance to cover travel/medical and Medivac, the right partners on the ground, and a mask! And, as we’re coming up on October, one of the best months to be at Cottar’s especially, as that is historically when the migration moves south and spends time right in front of camp before crossing the border, a last-minute trip feels like the best way to start celebrating the end of this year.
Entry Requirements and Logistics
If I focus on North America, which is where I’m based, Kenya is currently (as of Sept 2020) allowing in Canadian citizens and American citizens except those from CA, TX and FL. In time, of course, we know all states, and Mexican citizens will be welcome as well. Keep in mind, Kenyan authorities have access to airline booking info, so a traveler’s complete route is readily available to them for security purposes if needed. Those who can arrive now, will not have to quarantine as long as they present a Negative Covid-19 PCR test taken within 96 hours of boarding their first flight. I had mine on a Friday at noon, got it back Saturday morning, started my journey in Denver on Monday at 11:45am, and arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday at 8:30pm.
When it comes to the Covid-19 PCR test, you have several options, and I encourage being as specific as possible to avoid any misinterpretation or frustration on the ground. The Covid-19 PCR tests need to be official, FDA and/or CDC approved (or respective for your country), and should have a doctor’s letter with signature or stamp to go with it (that’s “officially” of course … I didn’t have a doctor’s letter and talked my way through after we addressed my Covid test issue in the next paragraph).
In Colorado, my health insurance policy is with Kaiser Permanente, and I am fortunate that Kaiser in Colorado has a travel center that is doing complimentary Covid tests for leisure travel with a 24-hour turn-around time. I asked multiple times if the test was PCR and they assured me yes, so I didn’t question any further. When I presented my test to the Kenyan officials, they said that nothing on the documentation stated PCR and so I had to talk my way through 10 minutes of questioning, guaranteeing, and pleading. Afterwards, I investigated and found out that my test read NAA, which stands for Nucleic Acid Amplification (of course Johann jokes it really means “Not Accepted in Africa” … great!). NAA is a higher level, more comprehensive and complex test than just PCR; PCR falls under NAA, which is also FDA/CDC approved. So, I would suggest proactively understanding what the Covid test you’re taking will read and ask to have the details spelled out and included on the test or the doctor’s letter.
When determining how to get a Covid test, first, plan ahead and understand your options. Check with your health insurance (how I got mine), your municipality (some cities have public centers where you can make an appointment), look at some of the at-home test kits now on the market (which are how many people I know are getting them done), or find private doctors that will do in-home testing (I know of a family in New York who were going to have issues with the turn-around time because of a long holiday weekend, so found a doctor who would come to them on a Sunday and turn around the results on the Monday holiday so they had the results in time for their flights Tuesday, however that was at a significantly higher cost than even the at-home kits you administer yourself). From conversations with others, I’ve heard the at-home test kits cost between $250 and $350 per kit, and again, you want to make sure they are PCR, which not all are. I haven’t tried any of these myself, but know of others who had success with: Picture Genetics, Pixel Labcorp, and The Covid Consultants.
While I typically do not get involved with giving travel and medical insurance advice, since it is a hot topic that I was asked about, Johann and I have supplemental travel and medical insurance with AmEx that we pay for monthly ($13) and it covers everything on the ground (not getting us back to USA). I called them before the trip and they assured me that my coverage was universal as long as I was away from my main residence, I have up to $100,000 for any emergency coverage, with no restrictions, exceptions or exclusions if I got Covid and needed medical. I was at Cottar’s with guests from the UK/Europe who told me there are a few good companies that provide insurance coverage to countries where the FCO (or equivalent) say not to travel, one of which is High Risk Voyager.
For those who need a visa to enter Kenya, I strongly suggest getting an e-visa ahead of time. In the past decade I have successfully applied for five e-visas, so for this trip I wanted to understand what the visa upon arrival experience was. On the ground in Nairobi it was seamless; I filled out paperwork that wasn’t cross-checked with any sort of official ID other than my passport and handed over USD$50 in cash. However, during my initial check-in at home in Denver, they didn’t believe I could get a visa upon arrival so I had to take out my computer, go to the Nairobi airport website, and show them the page stating that I could and then show them the cash I had to pay for it. The day before I landed in Nairobi where I successfully got my visa upon arrival by paying with cash, I was forwarded an email from an entity in Kenya (not one that I work with nor covered in this report) saying that “visas would only be available online and to be paid for with a credit card.” I mention this because, as we all know, there are different bits of information out there and things change almost too consistently, so again, why I just suggest getting everything done and dusted before arrival.
Then Kenyan Ministry of Health is requiring all travelers to fill out a traveler’s health surveillance form and present their Novel Coronavirus QR Code to Port Health Officials upon arrival before entering the terminal for temperature and documentation checks, and immigration. I had received information at the time saying this needed to be filled out prior to disembarkation, so I assumed I could do it on my layover in Frankfurt. This was also an issue during my initial check-in, where I was instead made to fill it out at the counter, so ensure you fill out the form ahead of time, and I would encourage both printing out the QR code and having it readily available electronically as well: https://ears.health.go.ke/airline_registration/
Some people are going to need a Covid test again in order to leave Kenya, either because their airline carrier requires it before they can board (not all do; I didn’t need it for Ethiopian but believe you do on Emirates, though they are also the only airline offering travel insurance coverage that I know of to date), or because their home country requires it (not all do; I didn’t need it to re-enter the USA), or because they are traveling on to another destination in a multi-country itinerary (that wasn’t me; personally, with all the moving parts and changing tides, I feel more comfortable sticking to longer stays in one country for the foreseeable future, but others will want to continue with combinations). So, all in all, I did NOT have to get another test in Kenya.
It is possible to get Covid tests in Kenya prior to departure and just like everything else, just get it set up ahead of time so there are no hiccups. AMREF will do Covid tests in Nairobi, and there are various clinics and doctors available as well, so it will depend on the itinerary and where guests are, when, and for how long. Here are three high level examples from the partners I work with in Kenya, all of which generally turn around results in 48 hours and cost about $80 for the test only … costs will range drastically based upon where the guest wants the test done:
- Ol Jogi: One morning’s activity can be driving guests to Nanyuki where they are available at the LANCET Lab at the Goodlife Pharmacy.
- Cottar’s: If guests are flying out of Nairobi and want to spend time at a hotel there while maybe doing activities like Sheldrick, Giraffe Center, Karen Blixon Museum, etc. they can then either use AMREF or a clinic we have access to.
- Scenic Air Safaris: They recently quoted a charter for medical assistance for guests going to a property in Olare Orok. Because of the timing required for the tests, the medical administer couldn’t take scheduled flights, and so the operator has sourced a medical technician and is asking Scenic Air to fly them from Wilson to Olare to administer the tests, and then back to Wilson with a road transfer to the lab for processing. They are quoting their Cessna 206, which is a small aircraft ideal for these sorts of requests and priced competitively.
Because Denver, Colorado is my home base, I most often fly United and have status with Star Alliance. There are of course Middle Eastern carriers that enable travelers to avoid transit through Europe, however transiting through Europe isn’t an issue at all, and many of those Middle Eastern carriers have more strict and stringent requirements when it comes to Covid tests, such as another on the ground in the country you’re visiting before re-boarding to go home and I wanted to avoid having to do that. I flew United DEN-ORD; Lufthansa ORD-FRA-NBO; and Ethiopian NBO-ADD-IAD-DEN.
We have all heard people say they trust the experience on the ground and that they know they’ll be #saferonsafari, but what concerns them are the long-haul flights. While I honor that nervousness, my experience made me feel safer traveling now than in years past, especially on the international flights. Traveling domestically around the USA, passengers do not need to show a negative Covid test within a certain timeframe to board, my temperature was never taken, I wasn’t asked about my health nor had to fill out forms, and the three airports I experienced didn’t have floor markings for social distance standing or on the trams, seats roped or blocked for social distance sitting, ubiquitous hand-sanitizing stations, etc. (same with re-entry; the only question I was asked was “did you enjoy your vacation” and no paperwork or declarations were asked for except my Global Entry documentation).
The experience made me believe that NOW is this is the BEST time to be on a long-haul flight. There are (sadly) so few passengers that every cabin I walked through had more distance between passengers than I have at my neighborhood supermarket. I had absolutely no issues transiting through Frankfurt and in the end it was actually faster and more seamless than my other 6+ transits per year in past years. The only Covid-questioning I encountered was just before boarding the final leg to Nairobi, and then upon landing at JKIA. Upon boarding every flight, I was given a sanitizing wipe, and reminded to wear a mask at all times, except for when eating or drinking. Yes, travelers are technically required to wear a mask throughout the entire flight except when eating and drinking, and I did wear mine while sleeping and outside of meal service, though on long-hauls, especially in Business, the dining service can take up to an hour and be multiple times so there are times and ways to take a break if people feel comfortable with that based upon how many other passengers are in their cabin and how close they are.
Every flight I was on boarded priority passengers first, the rest from the back to the front, and de-boarded in sections from the front to the back. To generalize, my domestic United flight was mostly full (100% in Business and 75% in Economy); my over-water Lufthansa flight had relatively few travelers on the entire plane (about 20-30% between the upper and lower Business class sections, and 30-40% in economy); and my Lufthansa flight from Germany to Kenya was a bit fuller (still only eight passengers total in the two Business class sections, 50% in Premium Economy, 75% in Economy). A colleague who recently flew from the United States to Tanzania on Qatar via Doha reported about 40-50% occupancy in Business class.
Also, while this isn’t a guarantee, since travelers know they are going to have their temperatures taken upon arrival at their destination and are being asked and screened for health info (Kenya specifically), along with complimentary ticketing changes, it seems like those going to an airport and traveling are healthier now than ever before; if people are sick they don’t choose travel because they won’t be let in or will be quarantined. I have flown many times before with the person next to me burning a fever, sneezing and coughing, or otherwise visually unhealthy, and I felt confident knowing that people on my flights were healthy.
Upon arrival at JKIA I will say that the protocols in place are spot on … literally … there are circular floor markings everywhere showing where to line up and stand, and officials to monitor it. I walked off the international flight, went into one shuttle just for Business class travelers (they had multiple for Economy as well) that had markings and sanitization stations on board. At the terminal, there is a covered area outside where you line up in several rows on distancing markers and are sent up to your health screening one by one. People showed their QR code, their Covid test, got their temperatures taken, proceeded to immigration (I first went to fill out my visa form), and then baggage claim (I didn’t have checked bags, but the general area was empty). Even with my Covid test issues I was still in and out within 25 minutes.
In Kenya I flew both private charter and public scheduled. In Nairobi, before going into any building everyone has their temperature taken and is directed to a hand washing station. At a high level, the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority has outlawed headsets and required the removal of headsets from all aircraft; magazines and non-essential paperwork have also been removed from the back seats.
SafariLink and Other Light Scheduled Aircraft
Many scheduled operators acknowledge that removing or blocking a seat is not economical and therefore do not and will not practice this. The only law on the books is that PPE is required for pilots and passengers. Before boarding my flight from the Mara to Wilson my temperature was taken, I was given hand sanitizer, and told I was required to wear a surgical mask throughout the entire flight. There were four other guests on the flight with the two of us (so six to start), and we made one stop to pick up another two (so eight in total to Wilson). I didn’t see any interior cleaning or disinfecting before and after various guests hopped on or off. As safaris pick up again and the 2021 season gets packed with postponements from 2020, you will see these flights full of passengers (hopefully!); I do not know if in time they will change their current standards and cleaning procedures with a mixed cabin, so in the end, while yes it all comes down to budget, travelers are going to need to be prepared for a full flight with various people coming and going.
Scenic Air Safaris for Private Charter Flights
Scenic Air Safari’s sister company provides all the aircraft for the UN, RedCross, and other entities that require ISO standards be strictly adhered to, and so Scenic Air Safaris follows their lead and operates under those same protocols (here is SAS’s guest-facing SOP doc; let me know if you want the full 37 page doc). They have their own unique Health Declaration Form, hygiene protocols, in-flight specifics, and are of course always 100% private to each booking so you’re only ever traveling with your personal party. Scenic Air Safaris Cessna Grand Caravans are configured with a luxurious Executive Oasis interior, which provides ample seat spacing equal to 1m between seated passengers.
Each aircraft (from hand rails to carpets to seats to all surfaces and beyond) is sanitized before and after guests’ board with a solution that contains a minimum of 70% alcohol base, and the ground crew wears face masks and shields along with surgical gloves. All pilots wear face masks throughout the flight and a new “Covid Curtain” has been installed in each plane, which is a canvas awning with a plastic viewing window separating the cockpit from the passenger cabin; it’s not air tight but it is cough and sneeze proof while still allowing conversation to take place without the headsets typically onboard. In addition, pilots can communicate with passengers though the onboard intercom system so guests are still given full preflight briefs and also given interesting information about the flight and scenic flying when applicable. Hand sanitizer is required for all passengers prior to boarding and disembarkation, and masks need to be worn for the duration of the flight as well.
Private Jet-Setters and How Scenic Air Safaris Services Them
Covid-19 protocols do not change the system regarding private jets, other than social distancing, hand sanitizing, and mandatory mask wearing. All arriving passengers must have a negative PCR Covid-19 document, and a traveler’s health surveillance form that needs to be filled out before departure and that will be submitted upon arrival. So now, let’s understand the specific difference of a Wing to Wing Transfer and a VIP Meet & Assist. However, regardless of which you choose, all passengers must disembark their aircraft:
Wing to Wing Transfers For Private Planes
Because biometric fingerprint screening is a requirement on arrival in Kenya, all passengers must disembark the aircraft and go to a designated customs point – by this, I mean a point that has a biometric machine. So, instead of people having to go the main terminal, Scenic Air Safaris hires out a brand new, private lounge between Terminal 1D and Terminal 1E.
This is a highly personalized offering and Simon Penfold and his team always meet private jet arrivals on the tarmac to welcome them to Kenya. While they take people to the private Scenic Air Safaris Jet Connect Lounge, bags are offloaded and screened, then taken to the Scenic Air Safaris aircraft, which is parked next to the private jet, and loaded on board.
Inside the Scenic Jet Connect Lounge guests will be offered tea, coffee, water, and more. Immigration officials come with a machine and do the biometrics, stamp passports, check documents, etc. Once that is all done, all people are then taken by private transport to their charter aircraft, which is parked next to their jet, for departure to their destination.
VIP Meet & Assist For Scheduled Flights
This service is when Scenic Air Safaris works with Tradewinds to have a team member meet passengers, take them through to normal immigration, assist with bags, and then take them over to Terminal 1D, onto private transport, and across to their charter aircraft. It allows for expedited passage through immigration, baggage collection, transport to Terminal 1D, and then private transport to the charter aircraft.
Private Jet Arrival Options in Kenya
For those arriving on private jets, it is possible to avoid Nairobi by landing at Eldoret, which is much quieter than JKIA. Scenic Air Safaris can get Tradewinds to do the VIP Meet & Assist there, though not Wing to Wing transfers (those are only available at JKIA). Cost wise, to pick up in Eldoret and drop off at Ol Jogi, for instance, would be around $3,270 plus the departure taxes of $8pp, so all in all, it would be a cost increase of around $1,300 versus a VIP Meet & Assist pick up from JKIA (this is because of the dead leg to Eldoret).
For those coming through Nairobi, Wing to Wing is a viable option. Cost wise, a Wing to Wing transfer with drop off at Ol Jogi, for instance, would be around $3,900 total (Wing to Wing costs more than the VIP Meet & Assist at JKIA).
Private jets cannot land at either Ol Jogi or Cottar’s as they are both unpaved airstrips with shorter ASD than requires: jets need more than 2kms (I do have runway specifics for both Ol Jogi’s and Cottar’s private airstrips for those who would like the information). Current options outside of JKIA for private jets are as follows:
- Eldoret International Airport – As far away as JKIA, and so there is no real advantage to land there, but it is possible.
- Isiolo International Airport – Runway is tarmac and about 1.5kms long and at 1,067meters (3,501 feet) above sea level (altitude makes a different for landing/take off), which means jets can technically land, but it is very limited as to which jets and the total weight.
- Mt Kenya Safari Club (domestic only) – Runway is in Nanyuki and is a long tarmac but at high altitude and so also very limited.
In short all international private jets with clients wanting to access Ol Jogi or Cottar’s are best off landing at JKIA in Nairobi and then connecting with Scenic Air Safaris’ Executive Grand Caravan charters to their respective property. When I flew with Scenic Air Safaris from Ol Jogi to Cottar’s on another trip, it was 1.5 hours of the most beautiful and interesting scenery. Upon take off we had Mt. Kenya on the left and the Aberdare mountains on the right. We flew over the equator, past beautiful waterfalls, saw the flamingoes that come from Lake Natron, soared above Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru where sifts in tectonic plates has caused changes in the salinity level, and Lake Naivasha (fresh water).
First, in order to even open, properties had to develop SOPs (here are Cottar’s and Ol Jogi’s), get every staff member tested before they could come back, pass a thorough in-person inspection, get issuance of the Ministry of Health Covid-19 Clearance Certificate (which is good for three months then they come to check again and re-issue), and comply with the Kenya Tourism and Travel Health and Safety Protocols. Cottar’s has also gone a step further and is in process of implementing a system called I Auditor, which is an online checklist system that each staff member / department will have to check of daily that the camp manager then checks.
Upon arrival at the properties, staff will be wearing masks and gloves; bags are taken to be sprayed and sanitized before being brought to you room/suite/tent; guest temperatures are taken and by law, are taken daily. At both Cottar’s and Ol Jogi I received a guest Covid-kit: a personal tote containing a mask, hand sanitizer, wipes, water bottle and other welcome goodies. There are foot-operated hand-washing stations and/or touchless hand-sanitizer dispensers set up throughout both properties. Throughout the country, guides and guests are supposed to be wearing masks, and if you go to a property that doesn’t offer the same level of exclusive privacy that Ol Jogi and Cottar’s offer, that might be mandatory and preferred; since Ol Jogi is always 100% exclusive to one party traveling together, and Cottar’s has the private Bush Villa, the Conservation Camp that can be booked exclusively, and a 4P-package for new bookings into Cottar’s 1920s Camp that includes private vehicle, guide, tracker, dining, activities, and more, there can be a conversation about everyone’s comfort level as to when to wear a mask or not.
I personally didn’t wear a mask at either property knowing that the entire staff had been tested and quarantined before welcoming any guests (all of whom had to arrive with a negative Covid test as I did), and with the conscious awareness that we all kept our distance and didn’t hug (so sad!). That said, the majority of the staff did continue to wear their mask and servers all wore gloves (I told some I was perfectly fine with them not wearing those things, in part because the waste being created by Covid is killing my soul and so where I could help eliminate even something as simple as a paper towel vs. a cloth towel I did). When I arrived at Cottar’s I learned that one of the first bookings they had as soon as Kenya opened was a family from New York staying in the Bush Villa for a week, and as the family had Covid in NY, they also didn’t want to wear a mask and weren’t afraid of getting sick; many people, myself included, seem just a tad more concerned with bringing Covid into a camp that has done so much to ensure the health and safety of their team than getting it.
Game drive vehicles at both properties are also deep cleaned and sanitized before and after game drives. Ol Jogi has a new e-vehicle on property (it arrived when I did and so I got to help test it out a bit) and then one open vehicle and two closed vehicles, so guests can choose to sit and space out as they’d like. Cottar’s has all open vehicles and have put a plexi shield between the front seat where the guide is and the back where the guests and tracker are; that said, guests can request for it to be removed (as I did) and if there are new bookings for the 4P-package then guests receive a private vehicle anyway (this will be honored no matter how full the camp is in peak season next year with new bookings and postponed bookings … so book away!).
Dining has never been better in my opinion! Both Ol Jogi and Cottar’s have the most extensive organic gardens onsite, so fresh is FRESH! Ol Jogi has a guest request form so that you choose the level of hands-on vs self-serve service, individual vs shared-style snacks, buffet vs plated presentations, etc. Since it’s always a private party without other guests to consider, you choose to do you! Cottar’s has done away with the open-kitchen buffet demonstrations and communal dining. All individual parties will enjoy private dining in different areas throughout the camp with family-style offerings for the table. I ate in the main tent, on the lawn, by the pool, on the villa veranda, etc. I also test teams as I have particular needs and wants when it comes to F&B. Both properties came to the party to learn how to make my Bulletproof Coffee (I brought my own MCT oil and they provided the coconut oil or unsalted butter), when I asked for a salad-strong and Keto-based menu they served up some of the most fabulous salads (seriously, the micro-greens coming out of the Cottar’s garden are some of the best I’ve ever had), perfect portions of bacon, fruit smoothies and green juices, and more. Dining is important to me since I have Celiac and more than ever I’m concerned with traveling anywhere since cross-contamination will result in a fever++ and could result in major issues since we’re basing everything on temperature checks these days. Ol Jogi and Cottar’s were able to cater to me seamlessly.
Cultural experiences are going to be limited this year in part because Kenya has cancelled the school year and so schools simply aren’t open. Currently many community projects, like the Twala Women’s Cultural Center that Ol Jogi supports, are closed. And village visits to Maasai manyatas, such as the ones within the Olderkesi Conservancy that Cottar’s leases land from and works in lock step with, really shouldn’t be taking place because again, outside travelers are more likely to bring Covid in to these isolated and protected communities that haven’t yet experienced Covid-related sickness or worse simply by not having outside visitors. Now that said, both properties, Ol Jogi and Cottar’s, still work with their local Maasai who are either on property or close to the property who will come in the evenings for discussions, dances, and other demonstrations of their cultural heritage.
In the unlikely event that a guest falls ill on property, both Cottar’s and Ol Jogi have quarantine areas set up and access to basic medical assistance to help a guest determine their next step. Both properties have quarantine spaces set aside. Cottar’s took two Family Tents out of inventory for isolation wards if needed. In addition, Cottar’s has “Virtual Doctor” coverage, which is offered free of charge to guests. This means that guests get a virtual link to an online doctor for advice, then decisions can be made. Flying Doctors have special facilities for moving clients who need medical assistance and possibly have Covid. This coverage is included automatically for each guest. Ol Jogi has enough cottages/suites, safari tents, and more (they originally converted the primary school into a quarantine center if needed, though it wasn’t; and the onsite clinic has a quarantine room as well, first and foremost for staff). Of course all travelers are required to have insurance as the cost of evacuation to their home country, medical treatment, or other needs is at their expense and responsibility. Properties can keep them isolated, provide as much onsite assistance as possible, and communicate with those who would be needed if their medical situation escalated.
OL JOGI WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY
I’ve have the pleasure of staying at Ol Jogi several times for three nights each, and there have always been activities I couldn’t do because of limited time. The majority of guests stay four to five nights, and repeat guests opt for seven to ten when possible. And I get it! This time around, for the first time, I was finally able to spend a morning at the primary school (with the Head Mistress since classes aren’t in session, touring all of the upgrades and enhancements that have been taking place during shut down) and clinic (which services the on-site staff and more).
I also finally had the opportunity to visit with the researchers studying the habituated baboons under the directorship of Dr. Shirley Strum. This is the only real activity that guests will need to get up early for as it is about an hours’ drive away and you want to be there close after sunrise.
To give an idea of just how serious Kenya is about Covid, when we were driving back to Ol Jogi, there was a road-side station set up between town lines where we had to get our temperatures taken again.
I shopped the new boutique, and visited the new gallery with bronze pieces from sculptor and conservationist Murray Grant. For guests wanting a great contemporary art experience, Ol Jogi can set up a private visit to Murray’s nearby studio, bordering Ol Jogi at El Karama Ranch. In the past I’ve had quick demonstrations by the anti-poaching canine teams to see the Bloodhounds and Malinois; this time I met with one of the ranger squads and saw what a real tracking demonstration in the field is like when guests spend the morning with them. Of course I also enjoyed the tried and true: visiting the Vet Clinic and seeing some of the newest state of the art equipment recently received though donations that have helped with some of the most extraordinary interventions to date; time at the Wildlife Rescue Center to interact with our blind rhino and rescued elephants; solo-time in the underground hide to capture remarkable footage of the numerous Northern Species on property; and most importantly for me … time with the team during our various bush dining and main house amenity moments.
I’ve have the pleasure of calling Cottar’s a home-away-from-home for the past couples of years in a row, though always realize I pale in comparison to the most devout guests who have been anywhere from five to twenty-five times or more. And again, I can see why! Three nights is not enough, and the team realized this and created the most impressive “Stay Longer Full Circle Safari” special. Of course I enjoyed the game drives (hello Henry Pride of lions), hikes (I summited Cottar’s Peak three times in one week), e-bikes, seedball dispersal, and canvas bush baths from years past, but this time I was able to dig in deeper to the conservation mission and community ethos that is Cottar’s. One of the new offerings I really enjoyed were the nightly presentations on the history of safari, conservation and community, the life of a hunter-gatherer, the Maasai culture, and more; there is a different theme each night.
The Stay Longer Safari includes time at either Cottar’s 1920s or Bush Villa (both of which I’ve stayed at before, and stayed at this time, too) along with several nights at the Conservation Camp and further afield with the luxury Mobile Camp. I enjoyed a night at the Conservation Camp, a true throw-back tented experience that allows guests the best access to the Female Ranger team, whom I met with, and various unique conservation initiatives (vultures, eagles, and bees, oh my!). This was one of the best nights I’ve had in the bush: fireside night-caps, lantern-lit journey to my tent, a hot safari shower, comfortable cot with luxurious linens, and melodic stream-side location. I got there from Cottar’s 1920s on an e-bike, and retuned to Cottar’s 1920s on a guided walk with Calvin Cottar and our tracker, Katipwa. It’s not often guests have the opportunity to be hosted by Calvin (that comes at an additional price) and it was eye-opening to walk the three-hours back to Cottar’s 1920s and see some of the land use change that he speaks so passionately about. Outside of the Olderkesi Conservancy where Cottar’s is located, we saw ancient Cedar trees cut down to make insect-repellant fence posts, clear-cut forests used for subsistence farming, and other unfortunate examples of how without tourism, land lease payments, or forward-thinking conservation and community planning along the lines of what Cottar’s is doing, the landscape of Africa and Earth will forever be changed … not necessarily for the better.
Cotter’s 1920s Safari Camp is a Long Run property that follow the four Cs: conservation, community, culture, and commerce. With a mission to create mutually beneficial relationships between wildlife and local communities, the family founded the Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) and established the 7,608-acre Olderkesi Community Wildlife Conservancy, within which the camp is located. The land they operate on is leased from the Maasai who continue to own it, and with a location nestled between the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, their corridor is a sliver of sustainability that is home to the largest concentration of land-based wildlife on the continent, and is also as rich in diversity of flora as it is fauna.
I didn’t have the opportunity to spend a night in one of the mobile tents used to get guests further afield, but did see them. The Stay Longer Safari includes nights in lux, yet streamlined, mobile tents. When I say this, yes, I got a nice run-down of the ultra A-list celebs who have used these as they are totally private, off the beaten path, can be set up at various private sites, and, are light enough to easily be moved. Johann always speaks about “mobile tents” that are so “obese” they might move twice a year. These can be taken down, transported, and set up within a day so you can really be on the move, or just far away from everything and anything for a few nights. Inside the tents there is a hot water shower, a flush toilet, electricity, storage, fans, etc. This is one of the best ways for guests to see a Mara River crossing during the migration while still being away from the crowds and with the Cottar’s team. These are also the mobile tents that can get guest to the Loita Forest of the Lost Child, which is a sacred forest that holds deep meaning to the Maasai. It is the oldest old-growth forest in the country, full of bamboo and big game, including lots of leopards. The Maasai believe it is a place where God resides and so they honor and revere it. While sadly trees are being cut down on the Tanzanian side, the Kenyan side is still pristine. I feel like people should spend seven nights since there are seven hills and seven rivers that paint the picture of this Great Rift Valley ecosystem (but know we don’t all have that time). For an epic departure, take a chopper out as there is no airstrip; you’d otherwise drive out or, for a true athletic feet, hike or bike (quite hard and time consuming as you’ll go from 6000ft to 9000ft, or vice versa). I’ll take the chopper, thanks!
I’ll leave you with this … as I sit in my office writing this and watching the first season’s snow fall in September, I’m also thinking ahead to the North American winter – Jan, Feb, Mar – and pondering where I want to be at that time. Not stateside, stuck inside without outdoor dining options, limited access to biking and hiking and other open-air activities. I’d much rather be working from, schooling from, or adventuring from Kenya, which is spectacular during those months (historically peak season for European travelers to visit). Safari and sea, safety and security, privacy and pampering … just sayin’ … there will still be fewer guests than next summer when all the postponed plans will take place, so for those wanting the best of the best now … KENYA IS CALLING 🙂