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Cave into Camping Culture for Christmas

Above: Elephants in Amboseli with Mount Kilimanjaro – Copyright Maya Mangat

Published: 8 December 2018

Kenya is the greatest safari destination on the planet and if you’re wondering what to do for Christmas and New Year’s on a budget, camping’s a superb way to venture into stunning destinations around the country. For starters, invest in some good camping gear which nowadays is available from most mega-markets and online. A tent, sleeping bag and a few other camping luxuries go a long way. As a matter of fact, you can set up your own ‘glamping’ with the array of camping accessories available now.

For company and transport, get a group of friends if you are alone. If you don’t have a safari vehicle, hire one. If you fill up every seat in an eight-seater vehicle, it’s super affordable. Most Kenyan tour operators are happy to hire out their cars with expert safari driver-guides. And if you’re really intrepid, venture out on public transport and take one day at a time. It’s called slow travel. Do some research on your route and then immerse yourself in the moment and explore.

Here’s a tip. Every national park and reserve in Kenya has campsites managed by Kenya Wildlife Service and outside these protected areas local communities have opened their space to campers. Or try the wildlife conservancies and places off the tourist map.

Here are some of my favourite spots that you can easily get to and enjoy the Christmas season under African skies.

Go West

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The waterbus, Lake Victoria. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Kisumu and Homa Bay on Lake Victoria are easy destinations by air and road. I love island-hopping on Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the world’s second largest freshwater lake. In Kisumu you can camp at Impala Park National Park. At Mbita Point near Homa Bay, go to Lake Victoria Safari Village. Catch the waterbus to Mfangano Island and camp at Mfangano Island Beach Camp on the lake shore. You can hire a boat to sail to the other islands like the twin islands of Mbasa which are full of birds and monitor lizards, so don’t get off your boat. These are ancient islands of the Luo and Suba people. Rusinga Island is across the new bridge from Mbita Point and is a prehistoric wonderland.

The Great African Lakes of the Rift Valley

Strung like beads on a necklace, Kenya’s rift boasts Turkana, Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementeita, Naivasha and Magadi. All havecampsites on the shores. The furthest is Turkana in the desert. You couldsplurge on a flight to Lodwar that’s an hour’s drive from the lake or take thebus. Look at sites like Eliye Springs, Todonyang near the Ethiopian border,Loiyangelani and Koobi Fora. Not in the Rift but equally stunning are Lake Jipeand Lake Challa on the Taita-Taveta border.

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Soysambu Conservancy with Flamingos on Lake Elmenteita and Delamere’s Nose. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Mountains

From Mount Kenya to Longonot, explore the volcanic ranges where hiking and game drives showcase the layers on the massifs. Try some that are really off the beaten track like ‘sky forests’ of the Mathews Range in the north to the Cheranganis in the west. Or go south to the youngest range that are the Chyulu Hills and further south to the ‘island forests’ of the Taita Hills.

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Big Game Country

That’s what we are famous for. Maasai Mara, Samburu,Shaba, Meru, Amboseli and Tsavo are the fort of Africa’s greatest mega-fauna. Butventure into wildlife conservancies like Lewa, Soysambu, Ishaqbini on the Tanaand Naretunoi bordering Nairobi National Park on the southern side. You’ll bespoilt for choice – rhino, elephants, lions and more…make sure to have yourcameras and smartphones fully charged.

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The Coast

KWS has great camping grounds and affordable bandas along the coast. Go north to the amazing Kiwayu island near the Somali border. The easiest way is to fly to Lamu and hire a speedboat or a dhow (if you have time). Stop at the ancient sultanates of Pate and Faza. Or head to the popular places like Watamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Diani up to Shimoni close to the Tanzanian border.

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The open ocean from the dunes at Takwa on Manda island – copyright Rupi Mangat

Kenya’s coastline is a fascinating mix of coastal forests like Shimba Hills and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest; centuries-old sultanates like Gedi and Lamu; big game country like Shimba Hills; ocean reefs exploring with colour to deep sea diving.

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Humpback whale in Watamu, Kenya coast, Indian Ocean, doing its back flip Copyright Jane Spilsbury/Watamu Marine Association

Have a great Christmas out somewhere. Look at the Kenya Wildlife Service website for its list of camping sites and what’s needed like your ID card for proof of nationality. Do some research on line. You could try writng to me but l won’t be online for most of the time because l’m out exploring.

Here’s wishing you – Safari njema!

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