Questions about accommodation, vehicles and facilities
- Can you book hotels for us and how much do they cost?
- What vehicles do you use, can you guarantee a window seat and do you have any pictures?
- What’s the accommodation like on this trip? Do you have any photos of your tents?
- Bathroom facilities – is it squatting behind a tree, and what about having a wash?
- Which if any of the camps has electricity available for recharging cameras?
Questions about safari and trekking conditions
- What’s the food like?
- What are the longest/hardest/steepest routes on Kili?
- What weather conditions can we expect on Kilimanjaro/Mt Kenya?
- What happens if we get sick on Kili or feel we can’t go on?
- What equipment will we need for the safari?
- Do you organise hot air balloon safaris?
- Do your guides have radios?
- One question about the wildlife – will we see “the big 5”?
- How many days should we spend in the wildlife parks?
- How bad is it really in the rainy seasons?
- How important are waterproof clothes on safari?
Questions about paying for the trips
- Can we pay on arrival in Africa?
- Can we pay by Visa?
- We have had a quote of US $175 per day for a Kilmanjaro trip – why is your price $250?
- Is the airport the only place to change money on a Saturday? Are they amenable to providing small denomination notes?
- What is the largest note you would recommend we have (considering that we might be spending money in small villages)?
Questions about health
- Do you have any information on required vaccinations, malaria or other medical issues?
- Would it be helpful to bring a water filter?
- Should we bring mosquito nets?
Question about local interactions
- Will we be in places where it would be considered inappropriate to wear shorts or even short sleeve shirts for cultural reasons?
- Do you have any opinions on what are appropriate (or inappropriate) small gifts for tourists to give to people (e.g. guides, people they stay with, etc)?
- Are medicines useful for the locals?
- We would really like pictures of people but have heard that some locals do not like this – how is it on your trips?
- Any ideas for nice souvenirs?
- Should we bargain for souvenirs?
- We’re interested in wood carvings, should we get these in Nairobi or in the villages we pass through?
Most likely yes as citizens of most countries outside Africa will need visas.
It is possible to get visas on arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport or Dar Es Salaam and at the border between Kenya and Tanzania (Namanga). The cost is US $50 for most countries but US $100 for US citizens (correct February 2016).
Important: When using US dollars cash upon entry to buy a visa, the USD currency must be less than 5 years old. Tanzania visa officials (and many banks if you want to change money later) may not accept any USD bills that are dated earlier.
However, although we have not experienced difficulties with any of our clients to date – there may be occasions when your country of origin, or places you have recently travelled, throw up some requirements which may cause problems (Yellow Fever vaccination for example which is now a requirement for entry to Tanzania from Kenya). If this is a possibility, or you are worried that it might be, then check well in advance with the embassy or consulate in your country of origin – better still perhaps get the visa in advance.
You can also visit Tanzanian government websites for the latest information:
Visas for Tanzania for UK citizens can be obtained from:
Tanzania High Commission,
3 Stratford Place,
London, W1C 1AS
Tel: 0207 569 1470 – lines open between 10.00 and 12.30 weekdays
Occasionally applicants have had problems getting passports returned so please check with the High Commission after a week or so if your passport with visa has not been returned.
Visas are required for entry into Kenya for citizens of most countries. Please check well in advance of travel with the Kenyan Embassy in your country.
There is an on-line viasa application facility; for details visit the Kenyan Government’s electronic visa page at www.ecitizen.go.ke Select the red “Register” tab in the top right of the home page. Then look for the “Visitors” section (it has a blue head with a question mark). All the relevant information is there under “Click here to learn more about Kenyan VISA”
Visas are also still available at the main points of entry, Nairobi airport, Mombasa airport and the Namanga border crossing – cost in February 2016 is US $50 in cash. Kenyan authorities have switched the cost between $25 and $50 several times over last few years and may do so again with very little notice.
Important: When using US dollars cash upon entry to buy a visa, the USD currency must be less than 5 years old. Kenyan visa officials (and many banks if you want to change money later) may not accept any USD bills that are dated earlier.
Although we have not experienced difficulties with any of our guests to date (February 2016) – there may be rare occasions when your country of origin, or places you have recently travelled, throw up some requirements that may cause problems (Yellow Fever vaccination for example). You will ally anxiety you may have by checking well in advance with the embassy or consulate in your country of origin if you want to get the visa this way – better still get the visa in advance.
In the UK a visa is usually issued within 5 working days of application.
Contact: Kenya High Commission, 45 Portland Place, London W1B 1AS Tel. 0207 636 2371/5
Or check their websites:
- for the UK http://kenya.embassyhomepage.com
- for the USA http://kenyaembassy.com (ignore the password request if it pops up)
Occasionally applicants have had problems so please check with the High Commission after a week if your passport with visa has not been returned.
The UK Foreign Office website covers all the basics with travel tips and useful in-country contacts: www.fco.gov.uk and follow the “travel advice” links.
There is also a Kenya government website with a lot more detail about all aspects of the country:
Yes we can arrange to meet you at the airport in either Kenya or Tanzania – or from the shuttle bus service between the two countries. Nairobi city to Jomo Kenyatta Int airport (NBO) US $40 for 6 seat vehicle each way. Arusha to Kilimanjaro Int airport (JRO) US $70 for 6 seat vehicle each way.
It would make very good sense to arrive at least the day before and spend the night in Nairobi or Arusha. We like to leave early in morning for the safaris or treks and after a long flight you will be tired and maybe not fresh enough to take it all in. We could arrange to pick you up from the airport and reserve rooms in any standard of hotel you want in town.
As for Nairobi activities, the newly renovated museum is excellent – lots of early man history, cultural artefacts, geology and wildlife information. It’s just about walking distance from town centre – 30 mins in any case. Oh and there’s a snake park and aquarium right next to it which is worth an hour. Then there’s the Kenya Archives detailing the independence struggle, Karen Blixen Museum, the Sheldrick Animal Orphanage, Giraffe Sanctuary and the Nairobi National Park with its excellent new safari walk. Of course many curio shops, international restaurants, nightclubs and souvenir markets but more than a day, or two at the most, and you would be hard pressed to find entertainment and probably be getting frustrated with the noise, dirt and hassle of a big city.
We don’t arrange international flights, sorry, we just arrange the treks and safaris in country (it’s quite a lot of extra work to sell international flights for very little return). But flights are very easy to do yourselves these days on the internet and cheaper than using a travel agent . You should start by checking KLM or Air France or Turkish Airlines (regional departures from all major European cities via Amsterdam, Paris or Istanbul respectively) to Nairobi Kenya and Kilimanjaro Tanzania. British Airways, and Kenya Airways also fly from UK to Nairobi direct (and have connecting short-hop flights to Kili Int Airport). Delta Airlines in the States link up with KLM and Kenya Airways and fly via their hub in Amsterdam. Many middle east airlines also fly from Europe and Asia via their hubs in the Gulf region into Nairobi. Ethiopian Airlines also fly to Kilimanjaro International Airport and many other European airlines into Nairobi.
We can assist you once you have arrived to make bookings and we can send you details on request of all the airlines operating so you can contact them directly by email to make reservations. We are reluctant to get involved in booking internal flights for you before you have arrived, as we have no control over the services they offer.
There is a shuttle bus service that departs Nairobi at 08.00 and 14.00 daily to Arusha in Tanzania on a brand new road all the way. Arrival in Arusha is at approx 13.00 and 19.00 respectively (about 4.5 hours if no hold-ups at the border – so you should allow 5 hours to be on safe side). They return from Arusha to Nairobi also at 08.00 and 14.00 each day and can drop you at Nairobi Airport directly if required, 30 mins or so before arrival at central Nairobi.
“Riverside” and “Impala” are two reliable companies running this service. There are others. Departure from Nairobi is from corner of Monrovia St and Muindi Mbingu St (near Parkside and Kenya Comfort Hotels). Shuttle buses arrive and depart from Impala Hotel or Hotel 77 car park in Arusha (and other major hotels in central Arusha on request).
Pick-ups can also be arranged from main hotels around Nairobi but sometimes unreliable, better to make own arrangements to get to terminus. Also pick-ups and drop-offs can be arranged at Nairobi International Airport (approximately 30 mins after Nairobi city departure, or if coming from Arusha, 30 mins before arrival in Nairobi city centre). Cost each way if we arrange these bookings for you $30 per person each way.
Ahh – a very sensitive issue. We do take children travelling with their families on our trips but we have concerns about their behaviour. Those concerns centre around safety and how their behaviour may affect the enjoyment of the safari by other people on the trip
If you book as a family on a private departure then we would require that your children be reasonably well controlled and respond appropriately to safety advice and instructions. We would not have concerns about other clients of course in this situation as there wouldn’t be any. However on group departures we would have concerns that the behaviour of children, although acceptable to parents, may cause annoyance to other members in the group and detract from their enjoyment.
Of course this is to some extent subjective, but I suppose the bottom line here is that if your children are polite and well behaved they are very welcome. If you have any concerns that they may be hard to control in safari situations, or likely to be difficult with other people then we would have reservations about them coming on our trips. I do hope you can appreciate our position on this.
Unfortunately it is not possible at present to cross the border into the Maasai Mara (or vice versa). There is talk of a greater economic union between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that may change this situation in the years to come. But at present Tanzania is concerned that if the border is opened, then the larger Kenyan tour companies will include Serengeti on their itineraries and Tanzanian operators would lose a lot of business. Don’t believe anyone who says you can cross here, as you’ll have an expensive and time-consuming problem when you get there or if your driver is caught trying to sneak you past.
Accommodation, vehicles and facilities
Yes. We have no special rates though and prices would range from US $50 per person for basic but adequate B&B to 5 star prices of $300 per night or more in the large international hotels.
We use 4WD Toyota Landcruisers converted for safari and game viewing with pop-up roofs. We do not use mini-buses unless specifically requested. All passengers get window seats on game drives and access to the roof. You can take a look at some of our vehicles.
What’s the accommodation like on this trip? Do you happen to have a photo of the inside of one of your tents?
Mostly you will be staying in local lodges, hotels and permanent tented camps, on a twin/double room share basis, all with en-suite facilities. On the occasional bush camping nights the tents vary from light 2 person tents (used for 1 person) and 3 person tents (used for 2 people) to large canvas ones you can stand up in – depending on the trip and where you go. We provide mattress pads and the tents are insect proof. In addition we carry a mess tent, tables and chairs for meals and there is a dedicated cook on the safaris.
On the mountains we use German manufactured 3 person VauDe expedition and Robben Fortress tents on a two person sharing basis. You will need your own insulation mat for the mountain treks.
There are pictures here of some of the camps, lodges, hotels, tents and accommodation we use.
Facilities on our safaris are far from basic – almost always you will be staying in accommodation with en-suite facilities. On very rare occasions, if the usual piped water supplies have failed anywhere during drought periods, our crews can always provide warmed water for washing. For the occasional wild bush camping nights, or by the Maasai villages, we have built a small long-drop toilet and shower room. There’s no water “on tap” here but our crew will warm up water if/when required. There are no showers on either Kilimanjaro or Mt Kenya trekking days.
There will almost certainly be electricity at most places as you travel around (220/240v a/c supply with British style 3-pin plug sockets). In both Kenya and Tanzania, only the bush camping nights will be without electricty. But electricity supply is not something you can completely rely on – occasionally there are power cuts, or a problem with the generator or diesel supply and that could be very disappointing if you were banking on charging your batteries that night. So our vehicles have in-car charging facilities using the square 3-pin British syle sockets. You might also consider going to your local electrical store and buying one of those neat adaptors that plug into the cigar lighter socket of a vehicle. I would actually take your charging device down to the store so that you ensure you get the right fitting and rating for your equipment.
Safari and trekking conditions
I’ll list a typical daily menu – there would not be every item, every day, but variations throughout the week. There will always be a vegetarian option if requested in advance and we’ll do our very best to cater for any other special dietary requirements.
Typically day starts early with a cooked breakfast: cereals, eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, toast, fruit, juice, tea/coffee, jams, honey, peanut butter etc and on the mountain treks often porridge oats.
Lunches are usually light – especially on mountain treks – sandwiches, piece of cheese or chicken, raw carrots, nuts, fruit, biscuits, cakes. On safaris or mountain rest days when the cook has more time there maybe rice or pasta salad also.
Often there will be afternoon tea and a snack – fried nuts, biscuits or popcorn.
Evening meals are main meal of the day and start with hot soups – made from a dehydrated base but with addition of fresh vegetables. Again if the cook has time the soup will be completely fresh. Main course will be rice, pasta or potatoes (chipped, mashed, roast), meat, chicken or fish with sauces and a variety of fresh vegetables – even high on the mountain treks. Deserts of fruits, fritters, cakes, tea and coffee.
We also prepare a variety of local foods – if you like them (and not everybody does) say so, and then the cooks can be a bit flexible (especially on a longer trip) and prepare these more often. Examples would be green bananas, various pulses, ugali (maize meal), maharagwe (beans in sauce), sukuma wiki (kales), dengu (green lentils), nyama choma (roasted meat).
The easy answer would be to say, in terms only of length, that Umbwe is shortest, Marangu is next, Rongai next, then Machame then Londorossi via Shira Plateau. Ahh if only it was that simple. Shortest absolutely does not equal easiest.
The single most important factor you should consider is acclimatisation. Londorossi on an 8, 9 or even 10 day trek would give you the best acclimatisation – especially as you will be up around 4,000m for a long time. Machame is next – (that’s our itinerary on a 7 day trek with several days high up) – then the other routes give more direct access but the steepness makes them harder in terms of exertion. Then other factors kick in – cost probably most influential.
All the routes except Marangu charge $50 camp fee and $60 entry fee each day – plus a $20 rescue fee. So over a 10 day trek on Londorossi – your park fees alone would be $1,050 per person. Then we need to pay for staff and porters – no where near as much but on a long trip it all adds up – especially as Londorossi is difficult to get to the start point.
Anyway Marangu might seem best route but it’s straight up and down the same way and as you are not allowed to stay at Kibo (4,700m) for two or more nights, the acclimatisation at Horombo (3,700) is just not adequate or high enough to be any real benefit. Also it’s filthy and crowded with people who’ve bought into “budget deals”.
Then there is scenery. Again Londorossi/Shira would be best – Machame with the summit circuit skirting the spectacular Western Breach is next best. Marangu has Mawenzi – but you see that as well from Barafu on the Machame route – and Umbwe has nothing on the way up until the moorland except the walls of a steep gorge. Oh, and Rongai is convenient if you come from Kenya side – but fairly unexciting scenically.
So, despite the increasing popularity of Machame, for all the above reasons we find it’s the best overall compromise.
Mostly, in the dry seasons when we trek, the weather is surprisingly benign. But you should be prepared for the worst. That means a possible wet start on your first day in temps around 15 C. Then at the huts on the first night it could freeze. From there on up you should be at least prepared to encounter hail, snow and strong winds.
That’s not to say conditions will be like that of course – just that you need to be prepared. Most typically it will be warm and sunny in mornings, clouding up around midday and misty in afternoon. So you could be walking in shorts and tee shirt up as far as 4,500m, with a high risk of sunburn, – BUT you must have the gear in case the weather turns nasty. On the summit ascent day it is usually clear, cold and starlit. As low as minus 15 C on summit of Kili and minus 10 C on Mt Kenya (feeling much colder if windy of course).
You are highly unlikely to have any difficulties until you reach 3,000m. Then 50% or so of people will experience some form of mild AMS (acute mountain sickness) – that is no reason to go down. Also that 50% refers to people who are not taking a drug called Diamox which prevents almost all of the low level problems of AMS. If you do take Diamox you are unlikely to suffer any AMS problems at all on the whole trip.
As you are worried about “spoiling it for others” I’ll outline the scenarios should you for any reason have problems which mean you can’t continue as planned.
The way the trek is arranged means you spend adequate time high up – climbing high in the days and sleeping lower at night. If, say on the day up to Barranco at 3,950m you are really sick (for whatever reason), you can be escorted down. If moderately sick you can take it very easy next day – just contouring basically – which is what everyone does anyway. Then the next day is also easy. If you are still not feeling OK (and it’s almost certain you will be fine by now) – you take that day easy as well – these are only half days trekking in any case. Should you get to Barafu (4,600m) and not fancy the summit, you stay asleep, snug in your tent, while the others go up. You then wait for the others to come back down from the summit and continue down with them after breakfast.
If you start for the summit and you feel you can’t go on (or you are advised not to go on) then you descend with an assistant guide. As we can’t take one guide per person here there is obviously a limit to the numbers that can leave the summit attempt and go back. Sometimes we take 3 guides with a party of 5 (1 probably training) but 2 is more likely. Therefore you will have to be a bit circumspect about deciding to go down. For instance assume someone decides to go back after a couple of hours, any member feeling rough, but thinks they might manage a little bit more might be compromising the rest of the group if they decide to go on – and then feel too bad an hour later.
Now having said all this – we rarely get people turning back on the summit day, and in 12 years we’ve not yet had a situation that we haven’t been able to cope with satisfactorily. Once there was a second person who felt rough after one had already turned back. This was potentially tricky but there were other people going down with another group’s guide so he joined them.
In an emergency – say broken leg – there is a Nat Park rescue service. We also have mobile ‘phones for emergency communications which get excellent reception up there. Over the past 12 years – more than 96% of our trekkers have made it all the way to the Uhuru Peak summit, including a 67 year old woman in 2005!
When you confirm a booking we send you kit lists, and all the other information about the country that you will need to prepare for the trip. We have made a big effort to research and prepare this info so are reluctant to just publish it all here on the web – many companies have plagiarised our itinerary descriptions as it is but there’s very little we can do about that.
We can arrange for a balloon trip company to do this in the Maasai Mara and Serengeti on the Tanzania and Kenya Explorer itineraries but they are extremely expensive – from $500 per person for an early morning flight that lasts no more than 2 hours – often less.
Our guides on the mountains have mobile ‘phones and/or radios. Seems bizarre to take a mobile ‘phone up Kilimanjaro when you might enjoy a feeling of getting away from it all but the towns of Moshi and Arusha are just below and the reception is superb up there. Our vehicles on safari have two way radios.
Absolutely impossible to be sure about that of course. But I can give a good estimate and say you are 99% likely to see lion, buffalo & elephant, 85% likely to see rhino, especially in Nakuru, or Ngorongoro Crater, and perhaps in the Mara, and 50% likely to see leopard somewhere along the way.
Unless you have a great interest in wildlife, probably a lot less than you might think. Most people get “animal fatigue” after three or four days. Whereas on your first day you might want to stop and photograph a zebra at 300 meters, by day 4 you may not be interested in anything less than a lion bringing down a buffalo – which is one of the reasons we break things up a bit with cultural experiences.
This is very difficult. You may travel in the usual rainy seasons of April, May and November with minimum disruption, if any, because the rains are light. Recently rainy seasons have been erratic and sometimes don’t come at all – you may have heard of the drought in East Africa up to Aug 2011 which was devastating. Then, by December 2011 there was more rain during the “November short rains” than ever in the 50 years since 1961. In the last few years the rains have been slightly less than usual but not serious drought conditions so far. However the main problem with the rainy times is not constant rain (there are always clear and bright days interspersed with the rain which anyway comes mostly in the evenings and at night) but some tracks become muddy or impassable restricting access to some of the more remote areas. As long as you were understanding and flexible our guides would discuss the situations and other options available and we’d do our best to find alternatives to the scheduled itinerary. There would be no additional charge unless any change of plan incurred more costs – for example extra days in National Parks costing more in entry fees.
You are travelling during the dry season but there can still be occasional thunderstorms and you might catch one, some places have more than others. However mostly you are near a vehicle, the rain is not freezing, and you’ll have dry clothes to change into only an hour or two away at most, even if it rained at the most inconvenient time. The risk is very low and the inconvenience minimal, so why carry rain-gear around all the time? But I’d feel so bad if I told you not to bring a rain jacket (or whatever clothing you felt you needed for rain) and you had occasion to use it, and blamed us for not mentioning it.
Paying for the trips
Very sorry but we need a deposit to confirm a booking – which is a travel industry standard practice; then full payment 31 days before departure to confirm your intention to to travel with us. Mainly this is to conform with our insurance company’s requirements for the insurance we have to carry to protect your advance payments. But it’s also to protect us … twice before we have had clients who promised to pay when they arrived in Arusha and then didn’t turn up. This left us out of pocket on the equipment, food, vehicles and staff we had prepared and out of favour with the people with whom we’ve made arrangements along the way. We rely a lot on the good will of these people to make our trips special and are not a big enough company to just divert our resources somewhere else for that period. I do hope you can understand our position on this. You can of course book and pay at any point up to departure as long as we have space available.
We are a small company and our bankers Lloyds TSB in the UK are unwilling to provide us with this facility as they view small travel companies operating internationally as high risk for fraud because the customer is not “at point of sale”. However it is our experience that bank transfer arrangements work perfectly well as long as the instructions to your bank are clear and your bank knows what they are doing. We provide you with all the information you will need to do this.
The only way operators can offer very low prices is to exploit their staff and make any number of compromises – including “avoidance” of park fees. Often porters and guides receive little or no pay, prepared to work just for a tip from the trekkers. Or they carry double loads – earning more money but compromising your enjoyment as the porters are stressed and arrive late or throw rubbish away to lighten the loads. Guides vary in quality of course and a cheap price will mean a poor guide as the good ones are only working for companies who pay well.
Just so you can understand the economics look at the fixed costs: The park entrance fee is $60 per person per day, the camp fee $50 pppd and a one-off rescue fee of $20 per trip. If someone pays $200 per day, take out the $113 pppd fixed costs and you’re left with $87 (£42) per person per day to run the trip! That’s all your food, equipment, porters, guides, transport, staff food and wages, agent’s commissions – and of course the company’s profit. You get a budget trip but someone’s getting ripped-off somewhere. Maybe we’ll lose a bit of business like this and possibly upset a few people but we’re not prepared to do this. You might get a trip at that price but be prepared for all sorts of surprise add-ons, upsets and a disappointing experience.
Is the airport the only place to change money on a Saturday? Are they amenable to providing small denomination notes?
There are lots of ATMs in Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha (and even Narok near the Maasai Mara) that work with VISA (most times) and many in Tanzania now. There are also many Bureau de Change facilities. Large hotels will also change money and traveller cheques – at a premium rate though. The banks will be open at the airports on arrival – you can get small notes if they have them – be firm. You should get 100 and 200 shilling notes which are best in Kenya. 1,000 and 5,000 shilling notes are most useful in Tanzania. If you can’t get any, ask your guide to go to a bank or lodge or hotel with you en-route (wherever possible) and try changing to smaller bills there – don’t get too frustrated if things don’t work like European or American banks and look on it as all part of the African experience.
What is the largest note you would recommend we have (considering that we might be spending money in small villages)?
You can get 1,000 Kenya Shilling notes and 10,000 Tanzania Shilling notes but they’re pretty useless in small villages and you will feel embarrassed to produce one in front of, say a small tea shop waiter who doesn’t earn that much in a fortnight. However you can spend those if you call in at a lodge or big hotel for a drink and then get change in smaller notes. The trick is to always keep a small stash of small bills in an easily accessible pocket for those small impulse purchases and save an awkward and embarrassing delve into your money belt when you only want a soda.
We cover this in the information files that you get when you confirm a booking. However we recommend you check in your country of origin for up to date information from a specialist tropical medicine organisation. Sometimes your doctor may not be familiar with the latest requirements, so you really should contact one of these organisations yourself. Some of them provide a telephone or print out information service tailored to any specific trip. This information can then be taken to your doctor or travel clinic, where you will receive all immunisations required.
I’ll list some UK government websites which are extremely useful and usually quite up to date.
1) UK Government, Department of Health – follow the links to “Worldwide country by country disease and immunisation checklist”: www.dh.gov.uk
2) You can also try: Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad (MASTA), (UK) 0906 8224100 – they provide a fact sheet specific to your trip. www.masta.org
3) In the USA you can visit the US Center for Disease Control web site www.cdc.gov
It would be helpful but not necessary. All depends really on your own personal preference. Water purification tabs are perfectly OK if needed so why carry the extra weight? We do provide bottled water for all safaris but not on the mountains where the stream water is pretty good and is in any case boiled by our crew.
The short answer is no – but there’s a bit more to it than that. The hotels and tented camps we use have mosquito nets and you will not need them in the bush tents as they have fine netting on the doors and windows where necessary. But you should take sensible precautions against being bitten. Long sleeves and long trousers to cover wrists and ankles in evenings, and use good insect repellents. However if you are travelling on to other places on your own you would be advised to bring one just in case you end up in accommodation where they do not have nets. And you may find that even in hotels higher up where mossies and other insect exist (but aren’t malarial) then a net might also prevent irritation in the night if you prefer not to use repellent when sleeping.
Will we be in places where it would be considered inappropriate to wear shorts or even short sleeve shirts for cultural reasons?
Shorts and tee shirts are fine on men at all times. Women should be perhaps a bit more modest in their dress. Short skirts, skimpy shorts and revealing tops may attract unwanted attention at best, and on the coast particularly, would definitely be considered offensive.
Gifts – Do you have any opinions on what are appropriate (small) gifts for tourists to give to people they spend time with (eg. guides, people they stay with, etc).
This is so difficult – almost invariably people in poor countries are grateful for anything they get. We ask clients on our treks and safaris to fill any spare luggage allowance (usually 23kg main bag plus 8kg cabin luggage) with bits of kit they no longer require. So any spare items of clothing, boots, trainers or kit you don’t use anymore, will be greatly appreciated.
Our staff are pretty well equipped but they have kids and families and of course if Dad comes back from safari with sweets, tee shirts or whatever they’ll be very happy. But of course our staff too would be grateful for anything (I wouldn’t want to jeopardise their chances of getting an extra small gift from you as they have extended families and, as is the way of things there, anyone with a good job is looked to for support), but they do get a tip as well.
For schools, exercise books, pens, clothing, etc. are all useful but there are inherent problems. Giving out things to individual kids may often lead to an undignified scramble and disappointment for the ones left out – and just perpetuates that awful image of tourists throwing sweets off backs of Land Rovers like feed to animals – sadly, very common still. I think the most useful things for children in schools are appropriate textbooks but they are not easy for you to source. So maybe, if people are thinking ahead, a stack of exercise books, simple English early reading books, and other classroom equipment given to a teacher in front of the class is probably on balance easiest. Africa in general does not have a very “evidence based” society and science equipment is almost unheard of in rural schools, so I have a preference towards small magnets, compasses, little electrical circuit kits with those tiny solar panels, inflatable Earth globes, or any wall posters that illustrate formation of the earth, solar system, human body processes, cycle of life or evolution and the like.
If you are staying with a family on a home-stay, or wanting to leave a small gift for a local guide, then again people would be very grateful and polite about anything they receive – but you shouldn’t feel obliged to leave anything. We do pay these people so I wouldn’t want to go too far down the line of raising expectations for other groups that may visit the same locations later on. However bottom line would be that they would probably be most grateful for something practical and useful.
As an example I was once, a long time ago, invited to an African friend’s home and bought his Mum a big bunch of flowers. Of course she was very happy but my friend told me later (we were fairly close so I don’t think he saw it as a betrayal) that his mum had said after I’d gone, “Next time he comes tell him to at least bring us something we can eat”. Now these people were not poor but there is a different attitude there that doesn’t value the aesthetic stuff so highly as they just don’t have the wealth and security that we do to allow that luxury. So if it were me I’d offer a few dollars towards their kids’ school fees – whether or not it’s used for that doesn’t really matter – it will be very handy as everyone has financial stresses.
One of our clients passed on a pair of her off-the-shelf reading glasses to a woman who was struggling to see the beadwork she was making. A bunch of these may be a good idea as older people often loose close focus ability and a range of these simple glasses, ranging from 1 to 3 say (that’s UK prescription – don’t know what that would be in the States) might be really helpful to some of the folk you may meet. Obviously these are personal and subjective views – but that’s what you asked for.
Medicines are again tricky. The differences between our two cultures on perceptions and concerns about illness and drugs and how to take medicines are huge. Visitors often come with medical kits and drugs for every conceivable infection and disease. Often, sick locals will seek out tourists, as they know they carry medicines. But giving out drugs can be dangerous – especially if they get given to kids in incorrect doses or for the wrong infections. And sometimes, rich countries just dump stuff on Africa in a sort of conscience calming goodwill gesture. I have been asked by a local bush clinic worker to sort out three crates of drugs and equipment sent from Europe as the labels were complex and often not in English – all of the drugs and equipment were out of date – up to five years in some cases – and hopelessly inappropriate and sophisticated for the very basic local clinic.
Taking pictures – we would really like pictures of people but have heard that some locals do not like this – how is it on your trips?
Well that’s true. As a rule you should never take pictures of people without asking their permission – that’s just common courtesy. Also the Maasai in particular are sensitive about cameras. In places where tourists travel regularly they may ask for money if you take pictures. However, in the small camps we use in remote areas, we have made arrangements so that the locals are happy to be photographed – but always check with the guide first.
Anyway here’s our general advice:
- Do ask permission to photograph people.
- Do check if a cash transaction is involved and fix a price before snapping.
- Don’t think because people are a long way off they won’t see you taking pictures.
- Don’t take pictures of people from the vehicles.
- Offer to send pictures to the people you photograph – (take two shots, one for you one for them) – and if you say you will send pictures please take an address and remember to do so.
This last point is really important as someone who has been promised a picture will hope for ages that it will come.
Bargaining is another difficult one. At one end of the scale you get a someone who’ll pay an exorbitant asking price without thinking, at the other, someone who won’t be happy unless he can get an antique hand carved six foot ebony giraffe for a dollar – and will he want to tell everyone about it!! So a good tip for deciding whether to bargain is to think, “Would I be happy paying $10 for those earrings back at home?” If the answer’s yes – go ahead – or bargain until you think the price is reasonable for the work and effort involved in making them. When you think of it like that both parties are almost always happy.
We advise our clients to buy from the people who make the beadwork, carvings and crafts in the small villages we visit. It’s intimate, hassle free, and they know the money goes to those people (well in most cases – sometimes husbands will take it from their wives – different culture, different ways). Buying the fantastic coloured fabric at local markets (that nearly every woman wears) makes a beautiful and memorable gift.
Also we like to encourage people to get out of the “hotel lobby or lodge” to buy their souvenirs. But, although the lodges and hotels sell at vastly inflated prices, they provide a “comfortable” environment to make that souvenir purchase. Buying from the tourist kiosks can sometimes be a bit of a trauma as the sellers can pitch quite forcefully to get tourists to buy so we avoid these places unless asked to stop there. Generally though, East Africa has much less tourist hassle than, say North Africa or India.
We’re interested in the wood carvings, where would you recommend we purchase these. In Nairobi (on our first day) or in the villages we pass through or stay near?
You will get a wide range of woodcarvings in Nairobi – especially around the central hotels and in their gift shops – but they will be extremely expensive as those city centre shops need big profit margins. Also Kenya is not so big on woodcarving (really only the Wakamba people near Machakos) – there are more carvings in Tanzania.
Maasai figures/masks/bowls etc are not carved by Maasai people as a traditional thing – they just don’t do that. Carvings are cheaper in the City Market Nairobi but you will get hassled. There is bargaining there – they’ll start very high then it’s up to you to knock’em down. Don’t worry, they are very used to tourists there so you won’t offend anyone – however much they may pretend you have – all part of the technique – after all you won’t be passing there again so they may as well give you their best pitch.
On roads into the national parks, and in Nairobi & Arusha, there are many, many souvenir kiosks and they have wide selections with almost every type of craft imaginable. Again bargaining is OK. We don’t encourage our guides to stop at these places as again it’s not local people who benefit most from those sales, but on request they will be happy to do so. So that leaves for certain one place in Mto Wa Mbu where you can see the carvers at work and buy direct – but you might not have such a wide choice.