To go to Africa and not go on a safari is madness. Most of us have watched National Geographic programmes on television from the various safari parks of Africa. The famous Serengeti, Kruger, Amboseli and Masi Mara a few that comes to mind. There have been articles condemning the large numbers that enter these parks; the dust caused by the large number of vehicles and in some cases the scarcity of wildlife. When visiting Kenya, consider Tsavo National Parks, there are two side-by-side, East and West. Their total area, 21,000 square kilometres, is bigger than Wales or Jamaica. Situated about 150 kilometres west of Mombasa, a three-day two-night safari will cost about US$400 per person, all inclusive of transport, guide, entrance fees (US$40/day), meals and accommodation.
Starting from Mombasa or one of the seaside resorts nearby the safari begins early in the morning as you take the four to five-hour journey to Tsavo West. The roads around Mombasa are atrocious, but after about 10 kilometres north of Mombasa the Nairobi/Mombasa Highway is reached, travelling is faster and more comfortable.
By late morning the safari van reaches Tsavo West National Park and after the guide pays the entrance fee he will put up the roof and the animal spotting begins. This is not the best time of the day for spotting animals but there are bound to be birds and some antelope as the van drives to the Ngulia Lodge. Look out for the strange baobab tree as the vehicle drives along the tracks surrounded by the Chyulu Hills and Pare Mountains. Whilst having lunch in the open-air dining room overlooking the waterhole baboons, rock hyrax and birds abound.
The late afternoon game drive begins at 4:00pm and elephants and giraffes are usually spotted. If “Lady Luck” is with you, you may be fortunate to spot leopards, lions and the black rhinoceros. Impala, gazelle and zebras will be out foraging for food and water and herds of buffalo will most likely cross your path. As darkness falls about 6:30pm it’s time to head back to the Lodge for dinner. At the Ngulia Lodge, the staff put out meat near the waterhole, which is lighted up, to hopefully attract leopards. If the leopards do come the staff will advise all the guests so that they will have the opportunity to see the elusive leopard. If you are using a compact digital camera it is advisable to turn the flash off, steady the camera on a table, tripod or hold against a post and carefully squeeze the shutter. The leopards will be out of the range of a built-in flash.
Don’t forget your camera when you go to dinner as the waterhole attracts elephants and porcupines and bush babies visit close by in the evening.
An early morning breakfast is served before the morning game drive begins with a drive to a large waterhole frequented by hippopotamus. On the way keep a lookout for the very small klipspringer, duiker and dik-dik, usually only spotted with a little help from your guide. The Park also has kudu, waterbuck, monkeys, warthog and numerous birdlife. It’s easy to get carried away with the wildlife but don’t forget to photograph the scenery. As your journey heads towards Mzima Springs, Mount Kilimanjaro can be seen in the distance. Mzima Springs is the first time you can get out of the safari van. It’s a short walk to the Springs that produce 95 million gallons of water a day. Hippopotamus abound in the crystal clear water and a viewing tank was built to watch the hippos, however, the hippos obviously didn’t like their privacy invaded by tourists and now keep to the other side of the river. The tank with perspex sides is built below the waterline and numerous fish can be seen at eye-level. After leaving the Springs it’s time to head to Voi Lodge in Tsavo East National Park. The two-hour drive to the Lodge passes waterholes, usually occupied by elephants and the occasional antelope.
The Voi Lodge is situated on top of a hill overlooking a vast plain and waterholes that attract numerous elephants and baboons. The landscape in Tsavo East is quite different to that in the West. After lunch and a rest the late afternoon game drive at 4:00pm will offer some different species to those seen in the West, such as Grant’s gazelle and hartebeest. Dinner at Voi is quite spectacular as there is a constant movement of wildlife down at he waterholes.
The next morning there is a game drive before breakfast, at about 6:30am, perhaps your last chance to see one of the more elusive animals not spotted previously. There is always something new to see, even if you have seen herds of elephants, in the next herd there will be something different, so keep being observant. After an hour and a half’s drive it’s back to the lodge for breakfast, pack your bags and begin your journey back to Mombasa, which begins with your last game drive – a two-hour drive to the Voi Gate and lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Park.
A safari is something I would recommend to everyone. It is an amazing experience that is excellent value for money. You will return home with wonderful photographs and lifelong memories.
Ideally a zoom lens up to 400mm, at least 300mm lens is ideal, however those with compact digital cameras can get great shots, as many of the animals come close to the safari vans. Don’t always zoom tightly in on the animals, take some shots of the animals with the surrounding landscape, especially herds of elephants.