Diary: week 9 and 10 | Experience backpacking in Kenya and Uganda!

Jambo! We are in Kenya (or actually when I am writing this we are already in Uganda). Both Kenya and Uganda are completely different from Madagascar, something I did not expect. After two months in Madagascar, I didn’t really want to leave, but once I arrived in Nairobi, both Ries and I were positively surprised! Read on to see why!Maasai Mara

Nairobi – also called Nairobbery … or not?

While we sit in the Uber from the airport to our hotel, we gaze out of the windows. Everywhere we see skyscrapers, brightly lit billboards and brand new cars. What a huge difference with Madagascar where we mainly saw tiny Renault cars and the occasional old jeep. When we arrive at our hotel it is already dark. We sleep in Wildebeest Ecocamp, a safari camp with a swimming pool just outside the city centre.

The next morning we take it easy. We are both surprised at how different this part of Africa feels compared to Madagascar. Even the trees and the smell is completely different. Loudy, big birds fly over continuously. A few hours later we are in the Nairobi National Museum with student Alberto Borges and he shows us all the different birds that live in Kenya. And my dear there are so many!

Nairobi National Museum

Alberto is a student at Catawba University and the youngest National Geographic Explorer ever. We were introduced to him by Luke Dollar, a professor we met in Madagascar. And now Alberto is so nice to take us through Nairobi for an entire afternoon. He is only 22, but you wouldn’t say that he knows a lot and takes us through the different rooms of the Nairobi National Museum and then to the Nairobi Snake Park for hours. When we say goodbye, Alberto invites us for an expedition that he organizes from his company The Explorer’s Club Kenya. Unfortunately we will be in Uganda at the time of the expedition, otherwise we would love to join.Nairobi National Museum

The Lion King and modern Nairobi

Ries has seen the film so many times that he can almost join in the conversation, for me it is a little longer ago: the Lion King. It’s the best movie to watch as the run-up to our first safari! In advance, ee stroll through the Westgate Shopping Mall, where the cinema is located and we marvel at all the stores. Back in the Uber to our hotel, we talk about how much nicer we think Nairobi is than we expected it to be. It feels like an African version of Kuala Lumpur, incredibly modern and much safer than we expected.

Travel tips: the ultimate Africa packing list! What to pack for a trip to Africa?

Elephant orphanage

Baby elephants and eating out with Dutch friends

The next day we go for a run: we run to the edge of Nairobi National Park, a serious wildlife park in the middle of the city. You can do safaris here, but the prices are quite high and so we decided not to go inside. What we do visit is the Sheldrick Wildlife Elephant Orphanage. An orphanage for elephants. Every day between 11 a.m. and 12 a.m. you can see the elephants being fed. The entree is just 5 USD. A nice experience just is careful with what you are wearing for this visit, it can get very muddy with all these baby elephants playing.

In the evening we meet up with Anne and Freek. I have known Anne since I was four, we were in the same class in lower school and in the same field hockey team. Coincidentally they are in Nairobi for a few weeks for work and tonight we have dinner at Cj’s. We have so much to talk about and the evening flies by!

Masai Mara – an amazing game drive!

The next morning the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. in the morning. Today we travel by public transport to the most famous safari park in Kenya: The Masai Mara. Everything goes smoothly and just afternoon we arrive at our camp for the coming days: Mara Explorers Camp. Along the way, we meet two nice Canadian girls: Carlann and Erin. The next day we board a jeep with the four of us to start our first ever game drive. And that is more than great, we see so many beautiful animals!

Free travel guide: inspiration on how to organise a budget safari in Masai Mara!

In total, we sleep three nights on the outskirts of Masai Mara and because only one day of that is a safari, we have time to write and relax. Ries and I go running twice, with the local Masai children happily running along and playing dozens of card games with Erin and Carlann. It is so nice with the four of us that we decide to continue travelling together to our next destination: Lake Naivasha!Maasai Mara Game drive

Chilling at Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is a beautiful lake just a two-hour drive from Nairobi. There are hippos and all kinds of birds here. The first two days we stay in the city of Naivasha, about 5 kilometres from the lake. A great base for a trip to Hell’s Gate, a national park where you can cycle or walk between zebras and giraffes. Because dangerous animals live in most national parks, it’s a unique opportunity to do a safari without being in a jeep.Lake Naivasha

Sleepless nights

In Naivasha, we sleep in Naivasha Treehouse at Jane’s Guesthouse, as the name implies, a treehouse. That may sound very romantic, but unfortunately, it is the opposite, at least for us. There are big parties going on both nights… one of the evenings we are woken up by the fact that people under our treehouse are making love in a very loud way. The result, very little sleep. The response from the hotel: “Well, we can’t do anything about that because the group of guests was too big”.

Climbing Mt Longonot

After two nights we are happy to leave this place and we decide to stay three more nights on Lake Naivasha, at Camp Carnelleys, a beautiful campsite where at night, hippos walk by. Our Canadian friends are staying here as well. The four of us hike to Mt Longonot, an old volcano where you can walk around the crater. We also relax for a day and spend a day on our computer to get all kind of boring things sorted out. And then it’s time to leave Kenya already … we are visiting Uganda and Rwanda for three weeks, but will be back in Kenya at the end of August!

Read more: all about Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Park!

Hell gates National Park

Uganda – Rafting in Jinja

After a bus ride straight from hell (a delay of eight hours in the middle of the night and a noisy bus driver who thinks it’s normal to shout loudly in the middle of the night) we arrive in Jinja. Because of its location on Lake Victoria and the Nile, Jinja is the outdoor adventure city of Uganda.

Our first day in Jinja we mainly relax and recover from the bus ride. The next day we take it easy, in the morning we work a bit and in the afternoon we go into town with Carlann and Erin. Jinja is a nice, hip city, with lovely restaurants. We end the day with an all-you-can-eat-and-drink Nile cruise, and yes, that is as classy as it sounds! With a Gin-Tonic we chat and look out over the beautiful Nile.

Free travel guide: All you need to know about the adventure capital Jinja in Uganda! 

Nile Jinja

Grade 4 rafting in Jinja

The next day Ries and Carlann go rafting. Not something that I fancy myself and Erin has also decided not to join. When it then starts to storm during our breakfast we are even more happy with our decision to stay in the hotel. And so I am writing most part of the day. A feel-good movie, tea and a large chocolate brownie ensure the perfect end to this day for Erin and me.

To Kampala and road-tripping through Uganda!

This was our last day in Jinja and also our last day with the Canadian Erin and Carlann. After saying goodbye to them, we take the bus the next morning to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Here we visit a beautiful dance performance and dinner at Cultural Centre Ndere, a gift we received from Ries’ stepbrothers. And then the next part of our journey through East Africa begins a road trip through Uganda and Rwanda! More about that in the next diary blog!

Where did we sleep these two weeks in Kenya and Uganda?

  • Nairobi: Wildebeest Ecocamp, a beautiful hotel with a swimming pool in the Karen expat district. There are luxury safari tents, regular safari tents (where we slept the first night) and small domes (we stayed here the second and third night). €70 per night for the safari tent, €35 per night for a dome tent.
  • Masai Mara: We stayed at the nice Mara Explorers camp, in a pre-set tent with a real bed. This is one of the few budget options and definitely recommended! €34 a night.
  • Lake Naivasha: The first two nights in Naivasha Treehouse (not recommended) €28 per night. Then we sleep another three nights in Camp Carnelly’s (where I sleep in a dorm for the first time in my life and immediately hit the jackpot: a man snorting very loud all night long…). €27 per night.
  • Jinja: Jinja Basecamp a nice budget accommodation right in the centre of Jinja. We stayed in a safari tent for €26.70 a night including breakfast. Nile River Explorers is the same owner and is located on the Nile. The view is beautiful but the accommodation on a much larger scale, in our opinion, therefore, a little less nice. €26.70 per night.
  • Kampala: A homestay via booking.com, at the sweet and hospitable Madame Fafa €18 per night.

Curious what it costs to travel through Uganda? Check out our budget Uganda blog!

Statistics for these two weeks:

The number of km travelled: 1184 km
The number of lions spotted: 3 times, wow how beautiful those animals are! We saw both female and male lions!
The number of times almost killed by a hippo: 0 times … Fortunately! Did you know that hippos can be very aggressive? Last year at Lake Naivasha, six people were killed by a hippo!
The number of times my patience was lost because of the bus driver: 10 maybe 20 times? The bus ride from Lake Naivasha to Jinja was hell!

Crazy Discoveries about Kenya and Uganda:

The Starbucks of East Africa: Java Coffee House

Frappés, good wifi and expensive coffee can all be found in Java Coffee House. This chain is found throughout Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and is reminiscent of Starbucks.

With a Matutu you can really go anywhere!

It doesn’t matter where you want to go, if you pass on your destination to the Matatu driver (public transport vans), he will ensure that you are dropped off there. Super handy, but it does mean that the Matatu’s stop every few minutes, make detours, so it can easily take five times as long to arrive at your destination. The Kenyans and Ugandans don’t seem to care, everyone waits patiently without a hint of annoyance.

Everything in Kenya seems to be about money …

Yes, that does not sound positive, and it isn’t. When you ask for directions, often a begging hand comes after you have been pointed in the right direction. When you get into a taxi whose price is fixed, the taxidriver more than once asks whether you want to pay extra (our answer “no, of course, it is not a fixed price”). Tourism definitly has had only positive effects on the population, but that’s not so strange at all, Kenya may feel like a modern country, but a large part of the population still lives in great poverty.

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