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  1. #1
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    Default 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Although this is not about a classical 4x4 selfdrive camping, I would like to share some experiences about our trip:



    8 days fly- in to the Masai Mara with guided game drives, followed by 5 days self driving from Nairobi to the rift valley.



    A lot of text. I put in some headlines so that you can skip the boring parts.

    At least you will find some nice pics


    Prelude – why Kenya and how we went:

    We are keen self-drivers in southern africa for about 10 years now and our selfdrive experience in east africa is limited to Uganda/Rwanda, too. We love camping and do not really like staying in fancy lodges or join guided game drives.



    Our last guided experience was a night drive in South Luangwa and the chase of a single leopard with several vehicles was the opposite of delight.



    We needed a breakout from the grey and chilly February in Germany, not to speak from the ongoing pandemic situation.


    And... we had a “lack of cats”, not the ordinary lion but we would like to spent more time with leopard, cheetah and co.

    Is there a better spot for this than the Masai Mara in Kenya?



    Kenya has some pros (easy to get there from Germany, 8 hours direct flight, doable entry procedures in these times…) and cons (top end park fees and high rates for accommodation, not a common self-drive country and camping not really an option).

    KaliCa has made a good summary on this in her trip report and I agree a lot of points.



    For us, it was clear soon, that the usual "4x4 self drive camping" is not the way to go. Despite the fair market for selfdrive rentals, camping in the parks is not comparable with southern africa.

    But the main thing was: Mara admission is about 70 $pppn and to fulfill our expectations of lots of cats in restricted time it was obvious that we do need a guide.


    So we decided to do the Mara with guided game drives and after eight days – and hopefully lots of cats- some days with a more adventurous character going on our own to the rift valley area and have a look at the famous birdlife.



    The camps and lodges in the Mara are numerous and while doing some research and reading trip reports we focussed on two camps, one next to the Mara River and one right outside the game reserve. Finally we opted for the one within the reserve, got a tempting offer of a package and organised our whole trip around this. This was done quick and easy and just six weeks before our travel date…



    The Mara

    We arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport late in the evening and had a pre-arranged transfer to a hotel close to the domestic airport (Wilson) to have an early start from there next morning – that was definitely a good idea and saved us lots of time in Nairobi´s horrible traffic. With only two weeks for travelling we did not want to spent too much time on the road and took one of these 10 seater airplanes which is in the Mara in 30-40 minutes.



    Wilson airport and the procedures were a breeze. A shuttle brought us from our hotel to the airport within a few minutes (more or less right across the highway), the bags were weighed and 10 minutes later a friendly lady took us to our Cessna 208 B Model Caravan.



    The airstrip we were supposed to go was not accessible due to heavy rains, so we landed at another airstrip and a few minutes later we were picked up and on our first game drive in the Mara. How is that ?



    In the beginning it was not so easy for us to change our favourite travel method into lodgelife and being serviced around the clock but we soon got used to it. We did not regret a single moment and often said to ourself that our decision was absolutely right.



    We had so amazing sightings and I am sure that not a few of them would have been possible as selfdrivers.



    The guides are connected with each other, so they have an idea where to look for what. Of course they know the territories and the habits of the animals better than any other by far.

    And...there are some rules in the park...where the local guides do not really stick to. I am still not sure if offroad driving is legal or not, but they do. And without doing so we would not have seen so much.



    The Mara is still lacking tourism, so we mostly were on our own, just the two of us with our guide. In some situations there were some other cars, up to 15 at its worst. But even then it was not that disturbing as it might sound. They do not drive within the sight/view of other cars and are very disciplined.



    We enjoyed starting the day before sunrise, had picnic breakfast in the bush, returned to camp for lunch break and returned from our afternoon game drive often in the dark. I can hardly imagine that that would have been possible as selfdrivers.



    By the way, we did not see a single self driver! There was one rental car (from a well known south african company!) but even they had hired a local guide for the Mara.



    It was raining almost every day and the Mara was green and covered with little flowers, really nice. But the rain was another reason why we were happy that we decided against camping. The tracks sometimes were really tricky, like soap and black cotton soil. We saw some vehicles stuck….



    All in all the Mara is doable for self drivers, but I wouldn´t recommend if you want to get really good sightings.



    The first days were fantastic and we saw Leopards and Servals and sometimes asked ourselves “what will come next, could that be topped?” And there always was a topping: not just one Leopard, but mother and son, two Leopards meeting, Leopard on tree, two Leopards on tree, Leopard with kill, Cheetahs, cheetahs crossing a river (!), cheetah hunting, Serval, Serval hunting….and so on





    tbc
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  3. #2
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Asante sana, Mabe. I am pleased to hear that you enjoyed your time in the wonderful Maasai Mara and it fulfilled all your expectations. I am sure you also had great conversations with your driver/guide and will have learnt a lot from him/her about wildlife - and life in Kenya.

    I am interested to know what camp/lodge you stayed in. Looking forward to the next installments.

    Vielen dank!

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  5. #3
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Wow!!! Some great photos there

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  7. #4
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Stunning photos!

    At which lodge did you stay at?

    Family is heading that way mid-May for a week or so in the Mara.
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Great read and photos, so far. Following closely!

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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Lovely read amd photo's. Thanks for sharing. I am following as this is something on our bucket list

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  13. #7
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Thanks for your comments. It´s always good to get some feedback and realise that someone is reading…



    Yes, indeed, we learnt a lot about the Mara, its Wildlife and a bit about Kenya. We really had a very good guide, Philipp. He is a local, grew up in the Mara and enjoyed being on safari obviously as much as we did.



    We stayed at Malaika Camp. It is a small camp with big walk-in tents (just 10 of them), a nice lunch area at the Mara river, a restaurant tent for dinner, a lounge tent for socialising and no frills like pool or spa or so.

    They do fotosafaris and maybe that’s why their guides have a special (fotografers) eye and the vehicles are perfect – no windows and of course open roof…and good for breakfast , too.

    The crew was really careing and in a pleasant way. For it was pretty chilly during nighttime we got warm water bottles in bed and even for the morning game drives.
    The food was excellent, sufficient but not too much. I am sure you could have had a second plate if you were still hungry. But if you do not really exercise during the day we do not like to be fattened at mealtimes.





    Most of the time we spent in the triangle east of the Mara, south of the Talek, down to the Tanzanian border. Plenty to see and enough driving though. The Talek was not passable most of the time. We did it once or twice but the water level was still high – as a self-driver I would not have gone through.

    On the way from/to the airstrip we passed parts of the conservancies. And you realise at once when you are in …cattle grazing and regrettably an unsufficient waste management.



    In the Mara itself, we did not see a single piece of waste or the odd plastic bottles. In Malaika Camp we got these refillable ones and water was accessible in camp and on drives at no additional costs.

    It is a good idea to take a few of these dog-poop-bags with you if you need “to check the tyre pressure” on a game drive. Just bear in mind that plastic bags are not allowed in Kenya…look for paper bags, if your camp does not provide them
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  15. #8
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    8 days in the Mara were perfect. It is always good to have enough time to spend. Most of the guests stay for just a few days and you could see that they were hurrying from one sighting to the next. We were happy that we could really enjoy our sightings and the scenery. I am sure we would not have seen the servals or the Rhino by just rushing through the Mara.


    Did I mention that our travel period was the first two weeks in February?
    If you have any other question concerning this part of our journey, do not hesitate…otherwise I will come to the next chapter…
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  17. #9
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    After Mara …self drive
    After 8 days in the Mara we returned to Nairobi, stayed one night and started our self-drive adventure to the rift valley .

    Car rental
    Browsing the internet I found only a few serious rental companies and wrote emails to just two or three of them.
    I had nice contact with central rent a car, a family run business. Communication was superb and the rental conditions very good: No contract before our arrival, no deposit needed.
    Price was ok having the relatively high level in Kenya in mind .

    Central rent a car brought the vehicle to our camp the night before we wanted to start, which was very convenient.

    The car has obviously spent some years on the roads but we liked it. It looked sturdy and was not easyly recognized as a tourist vehicle. We supposed to get a Landcruiser Prado but got a Mitsubishi Pajero instead…we did not care.

    In our planning we did not intend to do something really challenging but indeed we had some bad bad dirt tracks, where the high clearance and the solid car make it somehow more comfy...although 4x4 was not necessary. Everything worked fine. The only thing was, that the dust came in through everywhere. Next time we will have something with us to cover our bags.

    After five days we arranged a drop off of the car at our friend´s place in Nairobi and this was convenient for us as well as for the rental company.
    So far I can really recommend central rent a car.

    If you really want to drive on your own…

    The traffic
    We headed for the rift valley, destination Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru. Driving from Nairobi to the Lakes was the most terrible driving we ever did.

    Slow trucks, hundreds of Matatu minibuses, boda-bodas (motorcycles) made it extremely dangerous. Overtaking is necessary but always a hazard. The oncoming traffic sometimes drives on the wrong side and you had to stop or even leave the road to prevent heavy accidents. If you have driven there for just an hour you are exhausted for the rest of the day. The traffic was not aggressive and the people watch each other , nevertheless we wondered that we did not see a single serious accident.

    We have driving experiences in lots of countries all over the world, but that was really special. So far we are still discussing if hiring a driver would have been an option…


    tbc
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  19. #10
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Thank you for this, Mabe.

    It doesn’t look like the vehicle you rented was equipped for camping. Please can you confirm that this was the case? Most people on this forum are looking to hire reliable 4x4s complete with camping equipment - such as tents, cooking equipment, cutlery, crockery, fridge, gas stove, bedding etc. Luckily, we don’t have to hire a vehicle in Kenya, but I do keep a close eye on all matters Kenyan.

    Driving in and out of Nairobi does, indeed, require a certain robustness. However, it’s nothing like Cairo - or, I imagine, Lagos. Were you driving out of Nairobi towards Naivasha on a Friday afternoon or at a weekend?

  20. #11
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    The vehicle was NOT equipped.
    Camping was not an option for us, so we did not look for equipped vehicles.
    After the Mara we had just a few days...and if we go camping we need by far more gadgets and equipment.
    If we go self drive /camping in Southern Africa we usually have 2 x 23 kg + hand baggage. This time we had only 10 + 15 kg hand baggage included. Most of it was camera and stuff...

    The day we drove out of Nairobi was indeed on a Friday. But Nairobi and its suburbs were not too bad. Nairobi is just a big single jam. But the hazardous driving was on the upper road, all the way out to Naivasha, later from Naivasha to Nakuru and of course all the way back (which was on a tuesday).

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  22. #12
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Our accomodation
    The night after the Mara we stayed in Nairobi at Wildebeest Eco Camp which is located in the western part of the city, ideal if you want to leave in that direction. The Camp was nice, green and with a pool, bar and restaurant, the staff was friendly and even the food was good. We stayed in a Deluxe tent, spacious, nice and comfortable. It is obviously dedicated for quite a number of guests and might be a stop for overlander trucks...at this time, there were only a few guests. The only disadvantage is, that you hear the Southern Bypass which is close by.

    In Naivasha we stayed at Deas Garden. We had a cosy bungalow in the garden and Dea was a warm welcoming host. We enjoyed the brilliant food, breakfast, tea and dinner.
    Just one point deduction: The shower and toilet flush were not working properly. But we changed into another bungalow and had no issues any more.
    The sanitary facilities are often a weak point in the accomodation. We discovered this in the Mara as well…and I do not really understand this. There is nothing more annoying than not working bathrooms..easy to maintain and to satisfy the customer, especially when the customer pay quite a lot of money. But in these times few customers often means few maintenance.

    In Nakuru we spent a night at Maili Saba lodge. So nice people, James, the manager and the whole staff so warm and welcoming again. Perfect stay, perfect tent, perfect view into the Menenguai Caldera, and the most perfect atmosphere in the lapa at dinner time. We would have loved to stay another night.
    But we headed back to Naivasha and gave Kongoni Lodge a try. A big complex and everything was fine. But there was a lack of atmosphere…maybe because of a lack of guests…

    Nairobi
    The last night, we stayed at a friend´s place. He is working in the capital for a few years now and had a lot to tell about daily life. It was a really nice compound but we were a bit shocked as he gave us directions what to do in the case of an emergency….we did not feel insecure in any second on our journey..until now.
    Of course the night was calm and quiet.

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  24. #13
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Thanks, Mabe.

    Are you able to let the forum know what it cost you per day to hire the vehicle?

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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Our activities

    The morning we left Nairobi we stopped at the Mall at Karen Hub to do some basic shopping, almost everything is available in the Carrefour supermarket. We really do like the shopping and stocking up in the beginning of a journey but this time we unfortunately did not need much.
    We also went into a safaricom shop to buy a SIMCard and the whole process did not take more than 10 minutes and was the most convenient purchase of a SIM Card ever!

    After an hour or two we arrived in Naivasha and relaxed with some tea in Deas Garden. In the afternoon we went to Hells Gate NP. The Gorge – one of the main attractions in our opinion- was closed due to some maintenance, so we tried to negotiate the 26 $ entry – no way. We wanted to explore the park by bike – one of the rare occasions to do so- but their condition was weak, so we skipped Hells Gate that day…but we came again on our way back to Nairobi. We knew that there was at least a viewpoint to have a look in the gorge and as we came to starting point for the gorge hikes we met some guides who told us that the gorge is of course open and they would take us down….for an additional entrance fee. We were not in the mood of walking and climbing and just wanted to go to the view point. Even this was not possible without a guide and of course they wanted an additional fee even for that….I am sure they just want to generate a bit money in this time, but why do they tell you at the gate that the gorge is closed?!
    Hells Gate, especially around the gorge area and the Fisher´s tower, need some improvement in waste management, too. It is a National Park and you find so much waste…not nice. On the other hand, there are enough people who are not too busy these days. I have an idea how they could do something useful…
    Let´s mention that there is geothermal activity within the park area … and some facilities that produce heat and/or electricity - not a great nature / wildlife experience…
    We did a hike to Mt Longonot and paid 26 $ pP. We walked along the rim and spent 4-5 hrs in total.
    Really spectacular but a tough hike!
    Do not go there on a weekend! It is a popular spot for school excursions and there were thousands of kids- having fun making a lot of dust. Not a real nature experience.
    Before entering the park a few shady characters wanted to check our rucksack…saying plastic bottles were not allowed. Good idea and we showed them our refillable bottles. But those chaps did not check everybody and I guess they were not officials. They should have better checked the kids who enjoyed throwing away their sweetie wraps …not nice.
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  27. #15
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    In Naivasha we were attracted by a sign to “crater lake viewpoint “ and drove – a bad road- towards it. The place was not open for the public, it was more a private sanctuary. You can enter and go to the viewpoint, admission about 20 $ pp…we did not go there.


    Lake Naivasha itself has only a short stretch of a ”public beach” – which was not very nice and atrracting, so we did not stop there. Every other part of the Lake is private and belongs mostly to lodges. Best stop at the lakeside was Camp Carnellys with its nice bar/restaurant area.


    Menengai Crater View point
    On the day of our arrival in Nakuru we had a beautiful view from our lodge into the Menengai Crater which is actually a caldera and to a viewpoint. This should be the destination for our afternoon activity after relaxing a bit at Maili Saba´s pool.
    The drive was caustic (Nakuru is Kenya´s third biggest city), interesting (some suburbs really looked pleasant and tidy), exciting (one part of the forest road was in a very bad condition) and surprising (after the bad part you come again to a very pleasant village stretch). We paid only a small admission fee (10 $ for both of us) and had a fantastic view from the top. Nice place to rest for awhile.
    You will easily find a guide who would love to bring you down in the caldera
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  29. #16
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Lake Nakuru NP
    Second day was dedicated for the NP. To get to the main gate of the NP we had to drive about 30 minutes through the nasty traffic just to learn that the main gate would not let us in: the (ticket) machines were not working and some roads in the park are flooded – we had to go to another gate….suck

    After another 30 minutes through the traffic we arrived at the other gate and it took a long time to get in, can´t say why, the process was a bit complicated

    So far so good, besides a Rhino and the flamingoes we did not really see much. There was a waterfall without water (due to works), heavy truck traffic IN the park (road maintenance), closed roads and no information /signs. Admission fee was 60 $ pP – not recommended!



    At least, the National Parks have working toilets – not natural in every country.. The weak side is, that signpost are false or missing completey. Maps do not exist at the entrance gates and T4A or maps.me were not really helpful either.


    Don´t get me wrong at this point. I like to explore and I get by with basics but if I pay a lot of money I have some expectations. Especially in Kenya and its NP where the infrastructure is there on first sight.

    We tried another way back to Naivasha, avoiding most parts of the upper road. We passed by Lake Elementaita where we could not get closer to the lake itself and saw the “sleeping warrior” from a far. Some lodges on the way seemed to be closed and abandoned

    Back in Naivasha we did not do anything more …A little bit pissed off of all the regulations and admission fees we did not waste a thought on going on a boat trip on Lake Naivasha nor did we visit Crescent island.
    Before we left, back to Nairobi we did our second attempt to Hells Gate , see above




    Nairobi

    On our last day we did some tourist things like the giraffe center and the Karura Forest. The latter was surprisingly nice, thick forest, some creeks, shady, nice walks, good restaurant. Unfortunately there was no time left to do anything else.

    To go from one attraction to the other it took so much time in the traffic. The roads are clammed and you would be faster walking or cycling – which of course you do not really want to do.
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  31. #17
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Bird life : We do like birding. But I must say, that our expectation of an abundant birdlife was not satisfied. I missed birds, as well in the Mara as around the Lakes. Ok, we had an Oriole in Hells Gate NP but that is not too much and we saw more birds at Wildebeest Camp or in the garden of our friend. Where are the birds?


    Conclusion:
    What we like
    People in Kenya are absolutely fantastic, friendly and always helpful. We enjoyed getting in contact very much. Our accommodation were really good, sometimes a bit worn, but still pricey and food was great!
    The Mara was a five star experience!


    And what we did not like…
    What we did not like is that you have to pay for everything. Even to go to a viewpoint means to pay for. Entry fees for non-residents are way too high.
    We knew the prices and fees before…but when you see what you will get it is another pair of shoes.
    The meaning of the status of a National Park is different to our understanding so far…it does not mean necessarily nature experience.


    We had a fantastic trip and we enjoyed it a lot, although some points may sound a bit too negative. We might Kenya give another try – Samburu/Buffalo, Amboseli, Aberdare… but selfdriving or camping? We still chew on that
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  33. #18
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Quote Originally Posted by Mabe View Post
    Bird life : We do like birding. But I must say, that our expectation of an abundant birdlife was not satisfied. I missed birds, as well in the Mara as around the Lakes. Ok, we had an Oriole in Hells Gate NP but that is not too much and we saw more birds at Wildebeest Camp or in the garden of our friend. Where are the birds?
    Kenya's not Colombia, however the birds are there. Lots in the lakes, SBBs in the northern parks, tough-to-see birds in the bundu (sorry, wrong region...).

    Places we've enjoyed bird life which are typically less visited:

    Saiwa Swamp NP
    Lake Baringo
    Mount Elgon
    Lake Turkana
    Samburu NP (and BSNP and Shaba NP)
    Meru NP


    A few bird photos in https://unochoenafrica.blogspot.com/...laxing-in.html and https://unochoenafrica.blogspot.com/...os-utimos.html as well as other posts for other countries on the last "big trip".

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  35. #19
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Quote Originally Posted by alannymarce View Post
    Kenya's not Colombia, however the birds are there. Lots in the lakes, SBBs in the northern parks, tough-to-see birds in the bundu (sorry, wrong region...).

    Places we've enjoyed bird life which are typically less visited:

    Saiwa Swamp NP
    Lake Baringo
    Mount Elgon
    Lake Turkana
    Samburu NP (and BSNP and Shaba NP)
    Meru NP


    A few bird photos in https://unochoenafrica.blogspot.com/...laxing-in.html and https://unochoenafrica.blogspot.com/...os-utimos.html as well as other posts for other countries on the last "big trip".
    With 1058 species of birds in Kenya - plus the migratory birds - I think Mabe might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Please see this from Birdlife International http://datazone.birdlife.org/country/kenya

    http://datazone.birdlife.org/country/colombia
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2022/03/11 at 02:17 AM.

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  37. #20
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    Default Re: 14 days in Kenya - first timers experience

    Quote Originally Posted by Mabe View Post

    And what we did not like…
    What we did not like is that you have to pay for everything. Even to go to a viewpoint means to pay for. Entry fees for non-residents are way too high.
    I am so pleased that you have many positive memories of the beautiful Kenya.

    I do understand that those who have only visited, for example, Botswana or Namibia, can find the more populated countries intimidating. Botswana population 2.3 million: Namibia 2.5 million: Kenya 53 million.

    We all have to remember that (even in the southern African countries) all land belongs to someone. Kenyans are very well-educated and are entrepreneurial. If it were your land and you had an amazing view or tourist facility, I think we would all create a fee-paying facility.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2022/03/11 at 02:35 AM.

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