Hundreds of ASTA member travel agents and suppliers and other industry partners were given the opportunity to experience Kenya first-hand and arm themselves with knowledge of Kenyan culture, art, and history to successfully promote Kenya as a destination to their clients.
Seeing the sights
While in Nairobi, visitors should be sure to take in some of the area’s sights. About 6 miles outside of Nairobi, at the base of the Ngong Hills in the town of Karen, visitors should see the Karen Blixen Museum. Blixen is best known for writing her memoir Out of Africa, which later became a feature film. It depicted her life and her love affair with a game hunter, Finch-Hatton. The plantation style farmhouse sits on beautiful, sprawling acreage with luscious gardens and stone walls, which in the book served as a backdrop to where she welcomed her lover. The museum is open daily and offers escorted tours throughout the day.
If Kenyan culture is more of what you are looking for, The Bomas of Kenya in Langata, near the main gate to Nairobi National Park, is a multi-cultural center where visitors can walk through over 20 Bomas (homesteads), with each village representing different Kenyan tribes. The diversity of each culture and tribe is displayed through styles of living, music, dance and art. While there, visitors can take in a cultural dance or acrobatic show. To make the day complete, there is also a restaurant on site for a bite of authentic African food.
Families visiting Nairobi will find that the Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife trust, The Giraffe Center and Nairobi National Park are great ways to spend the day entertaining kids both young and old. The Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust takes in orphaned baby elephants. Everyone will be enchanted as they watch the baby elephants being corralled into the viewing area where they feed themselves bottles and splash around in the mud. Be warned that the babies take great delight in spraying mud everywhere! Visitors are given the opportunity to “adopt” a baby elephant. The orphanage will even keep you updated on “your” elephant as the babies are prepared for release into their natural habitat.
The Giraffe Center is a great place to get up close and personal with these beautiful, spotted, long-necked animals. Visitors are welcome to climb up onto a platform to feed and pet the giraffes. If feeding from your hand isn’t quite enough, you can get a little more personal if you dare. Keep baby wipes handy as their long tongues slither across your face to retrieve a perfectly placed food pellet from your mouth!
A trip to Africa would not be complete without going on safari. While there are many options to choose from, our ASTA group had the privilege of visiting a few places within the Masai Mara National reserve, each offering slightly different accommodations and experiences.
The &Beyond (www.andbeyond.com) brand has two camps located on the Masai Mara, Bateleur Camp and the Kichwa Tembo. Our group visited the latter. It’s a quick 35-minute flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, or “the Mara” as it is referred to by the locals. Each camp and their guides meet you on the airstrip with a welcoming table of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and an assortment of snacks. Then it’s off to camp in an open-air land cruiser. Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a welcoming song performed by the staff, while being offered hot, moist towels. Visitors then settle into their “tents,” built on platforms off the ground, and well equipped with the comforts of home, including full-sized beds, great linens, full indoor bathrooms with a shower, electricity and wifi. A quick unzip leads outside to a private deck, well, private except for the occasional visiting monkey, warthog, or passing gazelle. There are magnificent views of the sweeping vistas and the peaceful plains of the Masai Mara.
After settling in and congregating for afternoon tea in the common area, it’s off to the highly anticipated first safari. Typically, most camps run two safaris per day, one at dawn and one pre-dusk; around 7am and 4pm. Each safari runs about 2-3 hours. Well-trained guides from all surrounding camps work together and communicate by radio to let each other know where a cheetah or lion was last seen. Their camaraderie ensures that every guest to the Mara is given the best possible safari experience. Our guide was most accommodating and specifically asked what types of wildlife we wanted to see, and off we went. What struck me most on our ride out to where the wildlife roam was the intense beauty and tranquility of the African land. My mind was silenced by the peacefulness as I gazed at the vast open landscape, spotted with the beautiful African Acacia trees. The reserve is named in honor of the Maasai people (the ancestral inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when viewed from afar: “Mara,” meaning “spotted.”
Other members of the ASTA group visited the Sentinel Mara Camp (www.sentinelmaracamp.com), run by husband and wife, Peter, & Wendy Twycross. The Sentinel camp is situated on the banks of the Mara River, with entertainment provided by nearby hippos which are often spotted in the river. Each tent gives guests an authentic camp feeling of being one with nature, but with some of the comforts of home, like a real bed, and a bathroom with a rain shower. A common area is provided for charging phones and cameras. The Sentinel Camp is eco-friendly. Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel said of his experience, “The ASTA ADE International programs are one of the best opportunities in the travel industry to gain specific destination knowledge and to network with local suppliers and other professional travel agents. The event in Kenya was especially unique with extraordinary government support and a focus on the special cultural that Kenya provides. The post meeting options are always exceptional but I must say that the Safari provided by Sentinel Mara went way beyond my expectations. The camp was small (9 tents) and authentic with no permanent structures and the location over looking the river was magical. The food and service provided was luxurious yet casual. I will not only continue to recommend ASTA’s ADE’s but will sing the praises of Sentinel Mara for years to come!
One excursion option guests were offered was to head out from Nairobi on a 5-hour drive to the Sarova Camp (www.sarovahotels.com) on the Mara. A few stops along the way broke up the drive a bit and at one stop we had an exceptional view of the Rift Valley. The drive also provided an early preview of some of the wildlife; sightings of zebras, gazelles and warthogs were plentiful as we left the city. The Sarova Mara game camp offers more than you might expect from a safari experience. With a distinct resort feel, it boasts about 40 tents, and meals are served buffet style. This resort offers activities well beyond your daily safari. There is an on-site pool, miniature golf, bird watching, and sport fishing.
Each camp offers excursions into the Masai village, providing visitors with a good insight into the Masai tribe, its culture and rituals. It is also a great opportunity to purchase some homemade crafts and souvenirs. Pricing for excursions to the village varies from camp to camp, ranging from $30 - $50. Most camps also offer hot air balloon rides above the Mara, providing exceptional views, especially at sunrise. These extra excursions can be booked through your resort. Many camps also offer walking safaris, usually included in your stay, but policies change from camp to camp. There are plenty of camps to choose from when visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve, and visitors are sure to find one that best suits their style and needs.