Maasai Mara

Safari preparation (Kenya 2013)

Preparation for our safari in Kenya is well underway.

Kenyan tourist visa

I received our Kenyan visas the first week of January.

Kenyan visas can be purchased upon arrival at immigration or in advance at the Kenya Embassy. 

We decided to obtain our visas in London before departing for Kenya.

The visa process was straightforward; however, after factoring in two round-trip train tickets and Tube fare to travel from Maidenhead to London, the cost of the visas was more than double what we would have paid at immigration.

The total cost was $147, so roughly $73 per visa.

The Kenyan visa process included printing a one-page application with names, estimated travel dates, and passport numbers. 

The application accompanied our itinerary, passport-size photos, visa fees, and passports.

I dropped off the paperwork and passports at the Kenya High Commission office in London on a Monday and was given a tiny collection ticket. 

I picked up our passports that Friday.

Upon collection, the clerk handed me the passports without verifying that at least one of the passports belonged to me. He simply took my collection ticket, slid the passports under the glass window, and wished me a nice day. 

I immediately got to work inspecting the visas because I did not want to make a return trip if I found a mistake after arriving home.

The visas were handwritten, were valid for 6 months, and didn’t contain the passport-size photos I had included in the application. 

The next thing I noticed was the validity dates. Peter’s visa was set to commence on January 3, 2012 – an honest mistake on the year since we just switched calendar years to 2013. 

When I looked closer at the year, I saw that the “2” in the year had been whited-out, but a 3 had not been written in its place. 

I brought this to the attention, and they joked about the mistake and corrected the year with a black pen. I asked if the handwritten correction would cause any problems at immigration, and the clerk laughed and said, “No. No problem, Love.”

I smiled and began my journey back to Maidenhead.

Packing

I have been stressed about what and how much to pack for our safari since the day we booked the trip. 

We booked our safari first and then searched for flights. The best flights we could find included a layover in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Peter has been eager to visit Istanbul, and since our flights included a layover in Istanbul, it made sense that we would prelude our safari with a few days in Istanbul. 

Shortly after we booked our flights and Airbnb in Istanbul, I learned about the strict luggage requirements for our regional flights in Kenya (small propeller planes).

Our safari itinerary included two camps, so we had a triangle of regional flights that took us from Wilson airport in Nairobi to Nanyuki, then from Nanyuki to Ol Kiombo, and finally from Ol Kiombo to Wilson airport.

The total luggage weight limit per passenger for the regional flights (checked + carry-on) was 15 kg (33 lb). 

The strict weight limit and not allowing roller bags on regional flights would not have been a problem if the safari was the only destination of our vacation. But it was not. We bolted on a few days in Istanbul before traveling onward to Nairobi.

The weight limit sounded generous enough, but cameras and lenses are heavy (ours weighed 3 kg) and quickly ate up the weight allowance. And due to our Istanbul segment, we needed to pack city-break clothes along with our safari clothes.

For example, in Istanbul, I’d need a hairdryer (can’t count on Airbnbs to have a proper hair dryer), heavier city-break clothing like boots, sweaters, jeans, and, finally, toiletries like shampoo and conditioner. 

In Kenya, I’d need sunscreen, insect repellent, and safari clothing like khaki pants, t-shirts, and shorts.

Istanbul and the safari were two completely different trips as far as packing went, and we needed a plan.

I contacted the safari company, Kicheche Camps, and asked if they knew the excess luggage fee for our regional flights. 

They replied and informed me that the excess weight fee was $5 per kilo over 15 kilos. Ouch.

Furthermore, they told me that the airline can deny boarding to passengers with over 15 kilos of luggage based on how much weight had already been “checked in” for the flight. Ouch again.

I explained that we combined two trips into one, resulting in a luggage weight problem.

He recommended that we pack all of our Istanbul items in a separate bag and leave that bag with the safari company’s driver when he transported us from the international airport in Nairobi to the regional airport, Wilson airport. 

Our Istanbul bag would be stored at the company’s office in Nairobi and delivered back to us on our reverse transfer from Wilson airport to our hotel in Nairobi.

The problem was solved, and I focused on packing.

I had about 10 kg of weight remaining after I deducted the weight of the camera, camera lens, duffle bag, and backpack from my 15 kg limit.

I gathered all of my required items and placed them on the bed. Some items could easily be replaced with lighter versions of themselves. For example, packing a manual toothbrush instead of my Sonicare. 

Cameras and lenses

I borrowed my sister’s Canon DLSR camera for our safari. It was an entry-level camera, perfectly suitable for the job at hand. We purchased a zoom lens (55-250mm) to give us more range.

There were times when we would have benefited from a greater zoom capability; however, it wouldn’t have been a wise investment to buy a better lens for what may be our only safari.

Protip: If you are in the UK, you can rent cameras, lenses, and other gear from LensPimp. Their prices and terms are reasonable, and the gear is delivered to your doorstep (returned via Royal Mail with pre-paid label).

Pre-departure expenses

With the packing list sorted, I got to work summing up our pre-departure expenses. Since this was our first safari, we had to buy items to create our “safari starter kit.”

The total came to about $1,600 USD.

DescriptionUSDGBP
Kenya tourist visas (2)$147.00£94.44
Safari trousers (Camie)$188.59£121.16
Safari trousers (Peter)$158.79£101.95
Safari hat (Peter)$10.88£6.99
Insect repellent (clothing)$16.11£10.35
Insect repellent (skin)$3.48£2.24
Yellow fever vaccinations (lifetime)$155.65£100.00
Malarone tablets (Malaria)$124.52£80.00
Canon 55-250mm lens rental$176.97£113.70
Binoculars$136.16£87.48
Total$1118.15£718.31

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