It’s red list announcement day today, and the Extraordinary Africa team are celebrating, as Kenya has finally been removed from the list! Needless to say, our sundowners are most definitely of the champagne variety! Safari is by its very nature a pretty socially distant sort of holiday as almost all of your time is outside -you can read here a trip report from John and Mags who travelled to Kenya with us in November.
So, if you are itching to get exploring, here’s our top recommendations for socially distant safaris in Kenya (several of them have some excellent last minute special offers too):
Walking on the wild side
In most of the camps we use the game drive vehicles are open to the elements to maximise your photography opportunities, but if you want to be totally in the open air, a walking safari is the way to go. These are beloved by safari aficionados as you experience total immersion in the bush and get a much more up-close, intense safari experience than you do from a vehicle. Standing nearby a big bull elephant is an excellent way to feel how small your place in the universe is!
Karisia Walking Safaris, run by Kerry and her husband James is easily amongst the best walking safari options in Kenya. You can walk out for a few days or weeks- with each day tailored to your interests and how energetic you are feeling. Our favourite thing to do is to use the walking safari as a transfer between two remote safari camps so you have a dose of luxury to start and finish your adventure.
Private safari houses
Kenya has always been the go-to choice for family friendly, owner-run safari lodges, and staying in a private safari house is really a natural extension of this. The whole schedule runs around you and your family, mealtimes are just for you, and if you want, you can choose to see no-one but your staff for the duration of your stay.
Some of Kenya’s safari camps are deliberately tiny, to really emphasise your sense of remoteness and escape from the outside world. So if you want privacy, but with the romance of canvas, this is the way to go. Saruni Wild for example has only 3 tents- gather your friends (or family, if you haven’t seen enough of them over the last few months) and get packing!
Take private driving transfers.
While numbers on light aircraft flights are still fairly low, chances are if you’re using them to access remote game reserves you’ll be sharing the plane with other passengers. So you can either choose to charter, or to take private transfers to your lodge or camp instead (there are a series of strict protocols our drivers use to make sure you are protected!) Some areas are just too remote to make this feasible, but Amboseli, Samburu and certain Laikipia properties can be reached in a fairly easy drive from Nairobi.
For example- the Safari Series (the newest, and most fun camp on the block in Laikipia) can be reached in under 4 hours from Nairobi, travelling mainly on tarmac roads. So you could be having sundowner drinks in Heathrow and brunch (or at the very latest, lunch) in the bush.
We can also arrange private drivers to help you reach the Masai Mara, though the roads here are a bit more of a mixed bag (we once saw a pothole big enough that it’d absorbed most of a mini-bus) so we’d pick the camps for you a bit more carefully!
If all else fails- there’s always a private flight!
Needless to say, our safari camps have some pretty serious anti-covid protocols in place- (some of the manuals we have run to multiple a4 pages of details!) Most of these are behind the scenes so you may not notice them, but you can expect things like being asked to wear masks on light aircraft flights, increased hand sanitising and separate dining when you’re staying in safari camps. Some camps may also take guest temperatures on arrival.
At the time of writing to fly to Kenya from the UK you will need to show a negative PCR test taken no more than 96 hours before travel. Children under 5 are exempt.
We’re packing our bags- want to get the ball rolling so you can pack yours?
John and Mags, two of our most experienced, and intrepid, safari-goers report back.
Our daylight flight with BA was very good, with only 70 passengers onboard. John had treated us to First Class and we had a wonderful experience.
We were a bit confused who would be meeting us… later the hotel bus turned up and the driver took us to the hotel, leaving all the BA Crew waiting as they were also staying at the hotel too ! So it all turned out fine. We had a lovely spacious, well equipped room and slept very well. (Editor’s note- this was the airport Crowne Plaza–we use it a lot for an overnight crash-out).
The next day, following an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we were met by Emmanuel, our Asilia driver/guide… Emmanuel proved to be an excellent and considerate driver, and we liked him very much for the duration of our first few days. We had opted to drive from Nairobi down to Amboseli, avoiding the inevitable gridlock of traffic crossing to Wilson Airport, and also to avoid mixing with too many other people which we thought was a great choice.
Tortillis Camp is set in a lovely location, with the main area, deck and dining area and bar set on the ridge, with views out to Mt Kilimanjaro (weather permitting – which it rarely did for us, but that’s down to luck and time of year). The highlight of Amboseli was undoubtedly the prolific game, which we had hoped for but not expected. The huge herds of elephants, including the huge Matriarchs and Bulls with their enormous tuskers were a sight to behold.
And without exception, all the animals had young at this time of year (Editor’s note- late November), which was a bonus, and a real treat. We were surprised just how many areas of water there were. Apart from the actual lake, the rainwater from Kili and the recent rainfall had created large swamp areas, which was a haven for thousands of birds and hundreds of animals. In particular we were surprised how many thousands of flamingos there were, and apparently all the ones at Lake Nakuru and Naivasha have left that area which is now badly flooded, and they were all down at Amboseli. A wonderful sight : clouds of pink.
We also very much liked the Asilia Touring style safari vehicle, and its layout, which suited us well. It was very comfortable and spacious, yet still provided excellent game viewing from the 360 degree top opening.
Our private transfer from Tortillis up to Lewa with TropicAir went very smoothly. We had a Caravan to ourselves, piloted by Ian. We arrived early at the airstrip, and the plane arrived just as we did, so we left soon after and arrived early up in Lewa, a short flight of I hour 10 minutes.
We were met by David, our driver/guide whom we both liked immediately. He wore his red Masai clothing with pride every day. His English was excellent, as were in fact all of our guides, and all were easy to understand. We LOVED our time in Lewa House and were very glad we had chosen to spent 5 nights there : thank you for the suggestion ! We loved the terrain and the variety of game. On the way from the airstrip to the House, we passed 5 rhinos wallowing by the road, with others in the near distance too. Lewa House is a beautifully appointed family home, owned by Calum and Sophie MacFarlane. Calum came to Kenya 10 years ago, but Sophie comes from Lewa and the original ranching family. They were the perfect hosts.
We had a GORGEOUS room, Room 1/Waterhole (overlooking the waterhole) which was conveniently very near the house. We had both an indoor and outdoor bathroom and a lovely private patio. We ate breakfast on the lawn, usually with the children (11 and 8) and their adorable puppy ; lunch was by the pool ; aperitifs by the log fire in the spacious lounge and dinner (set menu) usually in the adjoining dining room, at one huge table which seated 10 socially distanced. And Calum and Sophie ate with us and were excellent company.
On our Anniversary a table had been laid for us in a separate entertainment area with lights and lit Chiminea in the walls making it warm and cozy with our own waiter John who showed us proudly his “oven” to keep the food warm. We were led by torchlight down a path with lantern lights and it felt like we had gone a long way from the lodge, but the reality was we had not gone very far as we realised after the meal !
2 ponies and Jersey cows also graze contentedly on the lawn and the waterhole attracted Somali Ostrich and other game whilst there were lots of birds helping us to breakfast too ! Perfect ! I should also mention that they have a super gift shop where I bought a LOT of things ! (retail therapy fix). You can see Mt Kenya from the house and all the rooms will have had wonderful views. Wifi was only available up at the main house, not in the rooms.
The game was outstanding. We were literally tripping over rhinos (both white and black) at every turn, often close and often in small groups. Grevy zebra were plentiful too and this is one of their last strongholds. David was also an excellent driver. About the only thing we did not like particularly was the vehicle we used, which was a more traditional (and less comfortable) old Toyota Landcruiser with open top and sides, but no opening doors. Which meant you had to haul yourself up and over the sides to get in (which we managed, but as we get older, will find increasingly tricky ). It also means you cannot stand to see game.
I did go for a ride at nearby Lewa Wilderness Camp (about 20 mins away) for an hour with Miranda, a super English girl. They have 45 horses. Bizarrely though, they only cater for guests 12 stone or under (Editor’s note- apparently it’s down to the horses they have and the weight they are able to bear). But I had a wonderful hack, riding right close to eland, waterbuck and zebra. I would highly recommend this.
We were very sad to leave Lewa, and said we would love to return. With your help we chartered an Air Kenya Caravan (2 pilots) to take us to the Masai Mara to Rekero Camp, which took 1 hour 10 mins, and we saw some wonderful scenery along the way – once again just the two of us!
At the Mara, we were met by Francis, who we also liked immediately. He was a very experienced driver (which was essential when we encountered rivers he had to ford, and deeply rutted muddy roads). He was great fun too and we got on very well indeed. It was only a short 20 minute transfer to the camp, which is set on the banks of the Talek River, and has stunning views from the main deck. The staff were extremely welcoming and friendly at all times.
In the evenings, there was a campfire and they also had a small private dining area, which was delightful. We did notice some mozzies and tetsies here. The food at Rekero was excellent, thanks to Clapperton the chef and his assistant Wilson. The waitstaff were very attentive and friendly too .
We had visited the Masai Mara many many times over the past 40 years and never have I seen it so deserted, with so few tourists. Which was excellent from our point of view, as sightings were undisturbed by dozens of vehicles all crowding around a single animal, which we hate (Editor’s note: us too!). Many, if not most, of the wildlife had young which is a big draw for us travelling in November, and although we did have rain it usually came at night and only stopped us going out one afternoon. And we were astonished at the profusion of game and birdlife too and put this down partly to the location of the camp but also the lack of disturbance by other vehicles. We were extremely lucky to see cheetah with very young cubs, leopard, a lion pride also with playful cubs, to name but a few.
We took the 1615 scheduled Safarilink from the Mara back to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, (which was very late and had 10 of the seats occupied Which of course we thought of as strange !) where we were promptly met by Asilia guide Rufus, who then took 1 hr 45 mins to get across the city to the International Airport. Even he thought this was not great, but there was nothing much he could do as the traffic was completely gridlocked. We had a good supper at the Crowne Plaza hotel before our flight back to London at Midnight.
I took 7600 photos over the 14 days, which says it all. We both feel it was without doubt one of the best safari’s we have ever been on. The combination and order of the camps we stayed at worked perfectly, with differing terrain and vegetation and a huge variety of game and birdlife.
We have come home feeling wonderfully refreshed and bringing back many very special memories.
This makes it much easier for travellers to get insurance and should (in theory) mean that UK travellers would not need to quarantine on return. However, the currently available flight routings mean that quarantine would still be required for Namibia, though we hope this will change shortly. The full detail is on our table below.
There is further good news on the quarantine front! The new UK Test to Release scheme means that a rather arduous 14 day quarantine can be reduced to 5 days from leaving a country not on the travel corridor list. So if you were to say leave Kenya on a Thursday morning, you could spend a long weekend at home sorting photos and making friends and family jealous, then take a test on the Tuesday morning. Provided results come back negative, your self-isolation is at an end!
Even better news in our eyes is that if you spend 5 days in a country on the travel corridor list on the way home there’s no need to quarantine at all. So if you say, ended a safari in Kenya or South Africa with 5 days in the Seychelles, there would be no need to quarantine when you get back to the UK.
Where to go now:
At the moment, we think the best way to travel with the least uncertainty is to book relatively at the last minute, hopefully avoiding any sudden changes of national policy.
We’d recommend Kenya and Tanzania for phenomenal safari – as a reminder, Tanzania does not require a PCR test, and includes Zanzibar for anyone looking for winter sun. Rwanda and Uganda would be wonderful for gorilla trekking. While Uganda remains on the FCO advisory list, gorilla permits are reduced to $400 pp till March for anyone who chooses to travel. Namibia is a great choice for anyone looking for a rather glorious road trip around one of Africa’s most beautiful countries. Lastly, if you are someone who has always wanted to visit Botswana and are put off by the cost, this is absolutely the time to go- there are some astonishing discounts (like this one) on offer until March.
We’ve been champing at the bit to have travel to Rwanda added to the UK travel corridor list for months. Rwanda has been on the EU green list since around August, but the Foreign Office have only just started recognizing the huge differences between African countries and their approach to Covid 19. Rwanda, which has had long experience in tackling Ebola, has not been messing around.
At the time of writing (November 2020) the UK remains under lockdown, however once we’re free to travel, here’s how to do it (and a picture of a gorgeous gorilla to remind you why!)
Flights to Rwanda:
While the UK quarantine rules have been lifted for travel to Rwanda, they are still in place for many of the countries you would need to travel via to get there. So the obvious option for flights would be to fly to Dubai, and connect on from there with the direct Rwandair flight. We all hope the Rwandair direct flight from London resumes soon.
What are Rwanda’s rules?
Before your board your flight to Rwanda you will need to fill out the government contract tracing form (we’ll provide you with a link in your departure information).
When arriving in Rwanda you will need to show a negative PCR test certificate taken within 120 hours of departure. The certificate needs to mention that it is a PCR test. When you arrive in Rwanda you will need to quarantine at a designated hotel for 24hrs and take another test (this costs about $60). Provided your results are negative, you are then free to continue on your adventure. Obviously, we will help sort this all out for you.
On departing from Rwanda if you are showing Covid symptoms you will also be tested (and need to show a negative result) before you are able to leave the country.
What coronavirus measures are in place in Rwanda?
Firstly, you will need to wear masks in public places.
When you go to Akagera National Park you will need to walk through a disinfection bath at the entrance, and carry hand sanitizer in your car. To allow physical distancing, numbers on game drives and boat safaris will be limited.
We’re utterly delighted that people are heading out to Africa once again. And a bit jealous. Travelling to Africa during coronavirus is certainly not as easy as it once was, with the sort of logistical and bureaucratic challenges that would be all too familiar to travellers of 50 or 60 years ago. But likewise, you have the sense of adventure, astonishing discounts, and the sort of empty game reserves and beaches that people experienced in times gone by.
We’ve only turned slightly green as our guests told us about virtually empty reserves, game drives that moved them to tears and a virtually deserted crossing of the wildebeest migration.
For those looking up at darkening skies and plummeting thermometers, The Seychelles are now welcoming travellers from across the world. You will need to arrive with a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of travelling (this can be stretched to 72 hours if you come from a low risk country). If you are from the UK you will need to spend your first 5 days in one designated hotel. However, these include places like Constance Lemuria, Ephelia, and Denis Island Lodge so this isn’t much of a hardship!
Hotels are operating largely as normal, however you will tend to find staff wearing masks, you may have your temperature taken, and some facilities (mainly kids clubs and some spa facilities are closed). But with warm weather, cold cocktails and some of the best beaches in the world, that’s a compromise we’re very happy to make! On the 5th day you will need to take a Covid test, and then, provided that your test result is negative, you’re free to head off and explore the Seychelles.
Zanzibar is also open to travellers and does not require a negative PCR test, however UK travellers will need to quarantine for 14 days on return.
Safari during coronavirus
Borders are now open for Kenyan safaris and we are trying not to feel too jealous of our guests heading off this month to explore. A negative PCR test is required to travel and UK visitors will need to quarantine on return. But if you get to stay at say- Rekero and enjoy the world-class game viewing of the Masai Mara largely undisturbed, we’d be seriously tempted.
Hot off the presses- Botswana will be opening borders on the 9th of November. Guests will need to arrive with a negative PCR test, and will be checked for symptoms on arrival. Access is tricky without travelling via South Africa (more of which below), so we’d recommend arriving via Victoria Fallsfor ease of access. For the Zambia side of Vic Falls, as with a Zambian Safari, you will need to show a negative PCR test on departure as well as on arrival.
If you are concerned about the uncertainty of needing to arrive with a negative PCR test, Tanzania does not have a test requirement and travellers over the last few weeks report the sort of safaris we can only dream of. As with safari in Botswana and Kenya, you will need to quarantine if you are returning to the UK from a safari in Tanzania.
We should also throw in a mention for Namibia. You can take a private road trip in your own vehicle and this is the 2nd least densely populated country in the world, so social distancing is not a problem. A negative PCR test is required for travel. UK travellers will need to quarantine on return, but we are hopeful this will change soon.
Our travellers, like us, love visiting South Africa, however for now, residents of the UK and US aren’t able to enter South Africa unless they’ve spent at least 10 days in a low-risk country first. So for the really determined, a 10 day trip in say, Namibia, would be more than do-able, and with the temptations of Cape Town and safari in Kruger National Park at the other end, we can quite understand why you might take this option.
So for now, we’d say the most straightforwards places to visit would be the Seychelles, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, however we love a challenge and can help you make most things work!
Please note that the UK is current under lockdown until the 2nd of December so UK based travellers are not able to travel until then, though we know that many of our Africa-lovers are based all over the world. Ozzie friends in particular, we know you won’t be in Africa for a while, and you are missed!
There is no doubt that Africa has been hugely hardly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Not, thankfully, by a high level of infections (see more on this from the BBC here), but more from a total lack of tourism which is vital to many African economies.
It will come as no surprise that in almost all of the countries we work with there is virtually zero social security. Jobs working in safari camps or beach lodges are highly prized, and supports 8-10 dependents. With no guests, there are no jobs, and with no jobs feeding your family becomes pretty terrifying.
As those of you who have been to Africa will know, our colleagues and friends who work on the ground are incredibly determined and imaginative and capable of working miracles in the most adverse of circumstances. Their commitment to supporting their staff, the wider communities and conservation projects is nothing short of inspirational.
Offbeat Mara is beloved of Extraordinary Africa guests, and the pioneering conservancy concept around the Masai Mara has inspired community tourism projects across Africa. Protecting areas beyond the national parks helps preserve vital habitat- it is crucial that these are preserved for wildlife. The Adopt-a-Plot programme helps to continue this magnificent work (and if you donate $800 or more this can be used as a travel credit for your next safari- win-win!)
It’s not just communities who suffer from lack of safari guests- without the (sometimes considerable) park and conservancy fees that guests pay, there’s simply no money to pay rangers. Without them, wildlife is seriously vulnderable to poaching, especially during a time when many people are out of work and bushmeat is widely available. Ride4rangers raises money to fund salaries for staff on the front line of conservation- you can donate to the cause yourself, or if you’ve had enough of sitting still during lockdown, you can create your own challenge to raise funds- read more about it here.
Lastly, if you are based in the UK, please help! At the time of writing the UK government has blindly extended a blanket ban on travel to anywhere in mainland Africa, despite the fact that coronavirus levels are generally far lower than in the UK or in other European countries where the UK has travel corridors. For us, this seems unreasonable- as many countries have both a rigorous testing system and low levels of cases. For example- the EU includes Rwanda alongside just 8 other “third countries” (including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore) that travel restrictions should be lifted for. Sign the petition to encourage the UK government to reconsider here.