Kenya Visit Jan 26 – 31

Wow! We spent an unforgettable six days traveling in Kenya while the ship was docked in Mombasa. This was one of the very best trips we’ve ever experienced. We did and saw too much to write it all down here, so I will just summarize in this post and include my rough notes at the bottom. Scroll down to see my rough text notes for the whole trip. Photo galleries to follow in subsequent posts.

In many of our in-country visits, we participate in educational “field programs” organized Semester at Sea. Some of these are just incredible and include activities that we could never hope to organize ourselves, while others are pretty standard tourist visits. It’s fun to travel with small groups of students and faculty on the educational trips, because we get to know our fellow voyagers over a day or three. But in Kenya we decided to take a “vacation” from Semester at Sea and just arrange travel on our own. 

Jennifer researched wildlife safaris and booked a five-night, six-day trip that included visits to four national parks. Our wonderful driver-guide Milton Mkilo Mzee picked us up right outside the ship the morning we docked in Mombasa, and we spent the entire six days with him. He took us on an epic road trip all the way across southern Kenya, driving us more than 1200 km in a Toyota Land Cruiser with a safari-pop-top.

Over the course of six days, we traveled west from Mombasa to four National Parks: Tsavo East, Amboseli, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and Maasai Mara. The parks have very different landscapes, climates, flora and fauna. We drove on huge freeways jammed with trans-Africa cargo trucks, on 100-mile stretches of rough dirt roads through farmland and villages, through the center of Nairobi with its 4 million inhabitants, and off-road through grasslands, savanna, woodland, forest, creeks, and hilltops. 

In the parks, we were surrounded by the most abundant and diverse wildlife we’ve ever encountered anywhere. All the charismatic mammals we expected: grazing zebras, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, buffalo, rhinoceros, and hippos. The predatory lions and cheetahs that hunt them and the hyenas and jackals that scavenge what the predators leave behind. We saw dozens, maybe hundreds of species of birds: big ones like ostrich, cranes, herons, flamingos, and eagles as well as spectacular smaller species in great numbers.

Our guide Milton was just superb. He shared his expertise learned in college as well as over decades of guiding. He taught us about the plants and animals and their lifeways. He explained the landscapes, the people, the towns and cities and politics of Kenya. He woke us before sunrise each morning to take us out into the savanna and grasslands when the animals were most active. He knew right where to look and how to get there through shrubs and across dry riverbeds and across rough open ground. 

Over four nights, we stayed in lovely National Park lodges with incredible views and delicious meals. Some of the lodges had small cottages for sleeping quarters and some had luxurious tents. All the bedrooms had electricity and hot water, at least during peak hours. Most had free wifi so we were able to post a lot of pictures and even videos on Facebook during the trip. 

We started at the coast in the extremely busy industrial port of Mombasa and marveled at the way Milton passed hundreds if not thousands of gigantic container trucks hauling cargo into the interior. Tsavo East National Park is on the coastal plain, very hot (high 90s Fahrenheit) and dry this time of year. Amboseli National Park is a vast grassland with huge wetlands fed by artesian springs at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Lake Nakuru National Park features a big tectonic lake at the bottom of the East Africa Rift Valley about 5800 feet above sea level. It’s also a sanctuary for dozens of endangered rhinoceros and thousands of flamingos. Maasai Mara National Reserve is a huge expanse of grassland, savanna, and woodland in southwest Kenya about a mile above sea level with lush vegetation and incredible views across the border into Tanzania.

Just to summarize a few of the big highlights:

  • Our cottage in Tsavo East looked out over a wetland teeming with water buffalo and red elephants, and we watched half a dozen lions stalking them from a distance in the tall grass. 
  • We woke before dawn to see the sparkling stars of the southern Milky Way, Centaurus and the Southern Cross, with Scorpius high in the sky above them, then watched the dawn break over the snows of Kilimanjaro with elephants around us
  • We watched a sunset with at least 15 rhinoceros (both black and white) along the shore of a freshwater lake teeming with thousands upon thousands of flamingos, pelicans, and other shorebirds
  • We saw a mother cheetah with three cubs standing on a leaning log; families of lion cubs with their mothers; baby elephants and hippos and giraffes and a 3-hour old wildebeest born that morning
  • We visited a Maasai village and learned about their culture, dance, homes, crafts, and animal husbandry
  • We saw a whole family of lions with a kill, probably an water buffalo, and heard them ripping rending and tearing it apart! Yuck! But cool!
  • We slept in a tent overlooking a river with dozens of hippos calling and splashing and grunting less than 100 yards away
  • We woke before dawn and floated for 90 minutes / 20 km in a hot air balloon over the savanna at sunrise and saw a multitude of wildlife
  • We shared a picnic lunch with Milton in the shade of a huge sausage tree overlooking a huge expanse of savanna rising to the hills of Serengeti National Park in the middle distance

Alas, good dreams come to an end and so we bade farewell to Milton and flew in a little plane from a remote airstrip to bustling Nairobi where we stayed in a high-rise hotel that has seen better days. Finally, we flew back to Mombasa and boarded the ship on day 6, rejoining our jobs with students and colleagues after this magic Equatorial interlude.

Here are my rough notes from the trip, taken on my phone as we went:

1/26/23 Mombasa to Tsavo East National Park

Arrived Mombasa 9 am after 8 day’s crossing Indian Ocean from Mumbai

Immigration then taxi chaos at port — industrial port not passenger oriented 

Met Milton in Toyota Land Cruiser 

Drove through Mombasa
Call to prayer echoing through city
“All banks are also police stations”
Ivory arch commemorating letter M and elephants and Princess Elizabeth 1953

Drive out past suburbs into roasting coastal countryside 


Very hot –> 97 F
Grevey zebra incredible colors and patterns
Lilac breasted roller — iridescent — absolutely gorgeous 
Red-billed hornbill (zazu)
Butler eagles — Huge black eagles with dark red beaks
Huge termite mounds
Egyptian geese
Lesser kudu spectacular faces w/ corkscrew antlers
Giant bird nests
Common zebras
Grant’s gazelle
Hartebeest (antelope)
Somali ostrich (black/purple, very big)
16 baboons incl a baby!
4 female lions!
Giraffe gazelle female 
Elephant (male)
Family of elephants at water hole 8 adults 2 v young and one young 
Huge herd of water buffalo
Many more elephants 
Five lions stalking the buffalo

Aruba Lodge - spectacular!
Open air
Small cottages very nice but hot at night
Pasta and stir fry fresh fruit
Stars and crescent moon 


1/27/23 Aruba Lodge to Kibo Camp

Baboons outside our bedroom b4 breakfast!
Bachelor and cow elephant groups
Wild drive at high speed!
Mother cheetah with 3 cubs!!
Cheetah family interacting
Cheetah with hartebeeste 

Other notes:
Much cooler and partly cloudy this morning 
Mombasa second largest port in Africa after Durban
Cross Africa highways carry most freight in containers from Mombasa to west Africa north to Ethiopia South Sudan and Uganda south to Tanzania Botswana South Africa 
Container trucks and safari tourist vehicles majority of traffic 

Long drive across beautiful savanna toward Amboseli
Salt Lick Conservancy 
Tsavo West NP
Way fewer trucks than in trans-Africa highway!

400 Species of birds in Amboseli

Long dusty drive across rural landscape w many villages crops livestock 

Climbed into Kilimanjaro foothills much much greener abundant productive maize on Tanzanian border at Oloitoktok relatively affluent paved highway again about noon

Then steep drop back down into savanna

Basaltic plateau steps down to valley floor Amboseli

Lots of baboons!

Kibo Safari Camp
Lunch, nap

Amboseli National Park 4 pm

Group of 10 ostriches parading
Mother warthog with three tiny babies
Dozens of elephants and zebras
Pairs of Great Crested Cranes

Gigantic wetlands in the midsts of very dry grassland! Teeming with wildlife

White pelicans
Three hippos in the water
Dozens of Thompson’s gazelles
White Ibis
Hadada ibis
Egyptian geese 
Gray back jackal
Redback antelope
Water buffalo with accompanying spoonbills 
White heron
African jacana
Black ibis

Abandoned lodge was tight w Jomo Kenyatta but closed for back taxes under new government — also flooded with rising water table

Pair of nursing lionesses. Around palm trees in the dust

Nice evening with lovely sunset
Yummy dinner 
Moon stars sleep at Kibo Lodge


SATURDAY 1/28/23 Amboseli National Park to Lake Nakura NP

Stunning views of southern Milky Way and stars before dawn when we got up to phone kids

Breakfast at Kibo then drive into Amboseli 

Jaw dropping views of Kilimanjaro at dawn and in sunrise with many photos 

Multiple lion families with at least 4 cubs
Male lion youth rolling on his back in the morning sun, stretching and yawning just like a 250-pound housecat!

Layers upon layers of diverse herds of animals across the endless grassland stretching into the distance with Kilimanjaro towering over all

Many many elephants and zebras and giraffes and gazelles and lovely huge birds

Left Amboseli about 8 am

Amboseli to Lake Nakuru

Drove rural road for maybe 100 km to Mombasa-road (Trans-Africa Highway 8, see

Stopped at ATM in Emali then west toward Nairobi on great northern highway 

Giant container trucks bound for everywhere polé polé (slowly slowly) then wild frantic passing and braided traffic , over and over again the whole time on the Great Northern Highhway

Climbing climbing through hilly savanna interspersed with terraced farms

Landscape looks like New Mexico. Villages definitely do not!

4 giraffes on the wrong side of the highway fence (sad)

One panicky wildebeest trying to dash across the highway 

Outskirts of Nairobi giant traffic cf
Accident on freeway traffic re-routes itself both ways across many lanes and medians
Thousands of wine bottles spilled !
Hundreds of bystanders out of vehicles, gathered the wine bottle, and righted truck by hand 
Thousands of vehicles in median, offroad both sides, even wrong-way in oncoming lanes to get around the accident, no police or emergency vehicles that we saw. Self-correcting 
Traffic continues onward into city

Nairobi 4 million people “during the day”
1800 m elevation 
Air pollution 
Bypass road around city center
Climbing climbing
Fairly affluent wooded suburbs
Eucalyptus forest
Road to Lake Naivasha
7500 feet densely forested hills
Sudden descent 1500 feet to bottom of rift valley! Wowsa!
Mount Longonot 9100 feet across rift

Lake Naivasha is 135 sq km tectonic lake at the bottom of the rift

Heavily developed area near Naivasha town. Affluent. Many tourist hotels. People have cleared predators and grazing animals very abundant in lush grass near waters edge. Felt more like an urban park with “guides” charging to see almost tame wildlife

Hippos (including babies)
Wildebeest (incl one born today!)
Impala (including Vlad)
Sacred Ibis

Drive along rift valley from Naivasha to Nakuru — finally can believe there are 58 million people in Kenya. Very crowded very heavy traffic bad air pollution. Urban sprawl. 

The mix of extremely slow freight containers with fast cars is maddening. 

Lake Nakuru NP just by Nakuru City, with tight security 

Eland — largest antelope — pair
Many fishing eagles
Buffalo with clouds of flies and birds perched on top 
Dusty late day sun
Flooded shoreline with dead trees 
Animals crowded along wet shoreline to graze

Many rhinos
Thousands of flamingos
Hundreds of pelicans
Groups of Pelicans fish in unison!
Maribo stork
At least 15 rhinos including a baby
(Both black and white)

Lion stalking hyena

Fancy fancy lodge
Sarova Lion Hill Lodge
Drums and dance 
Exquisite food
Lovely cottage 


Sunday 1/29/23 Lake Nakuru to Maasai Mara 

6:30 drive

Cold ~ 50 F
Hyena and baboons

Poachers are hunted by well-trained and well-equipped 24/7 anti-poaching units. Endangered animals are gps tracked. CCTV surveillance. Hunters are killed on sight, at a distance, without warning or questioning. There is no legal hunting and no gray area and it doesn’t matter who they know in the police. 

Rothschild giraffe lost horns in dawn by shore. We have seen lots of Maasai giraffes it maybe our first Rothschild. We won’t see reticulated giraffes because we’re not going to the north


Lion group - 2 mothers and 3 cubs
Playful kittens pouncing rolling tussling climbing trees chasing one another 

2 loser males
Dominant male w harem

Tower of Rothschild giraffes at least 15 mixed makes and female adults plus several young

Parade of dozens of zebra

Impalas — dominant male chasing others on ridge line away from females 

Lovely pool with dried waterfall 

Pair of white rhinos grazing in the sun 

Thousands upon thousands of pink flamingos by shoreline in the morning sun 

Back to lodge for breakfast 830

Long drive to Maasai Mara

Climb climb climb up out of rift through rural villages and landscape 

Top of rift valley ridge: lots of farms. Yams. Carrots, barley, potatoes, beans
9400 feet!
Huge fields 
Lots of money in these crops but almost entirely owned by rich people 
Our guide bought Irish potatoes from roadside vendor 
Formerly protected rainforest. Cleared for farming due to corruption 
Money all goes out to owners
People are very poor while surrounded by hugely productive farms
Other side watershed of Mara river flows to Serengeti plain
Recent policy forcibly removed farms and houses on west side and replanted forests 
Very high rain fed farming communities in patchwork with woodland and forest
Big stone-lined storm water ditches along roadside

Narok — biggest Maasai town — also waypoint between. Nairobi, Tanzania, Uganda. 

Medical school. Banks. Businesses. Veterinary services. Very very busy. 

“bon appetit” in Swahili = “chakula kizuri”

President visiting and speaking in local stadium in Narok! Huge banners across street. Big crowds. 

Box lunch

Maasai village visit

Excellent explanation from chief-elect
Men’s and women’s roles
Defensive perimeter 
5 warrior guards at night
Cattle goat sheep pen
Chickens for sale — raptor attack — group defense 
House construction 
House interior 

Maasai Mara game drive 4 pm

Emerald green by comparison to other parks we’ve visited 5180 feet elevation 

Many springs and rain 2 weeks ago

Broken shallow cumulus and pleasantly cool 1500 m

Vast grassland not dusty!

Zebras giraffes elephants gazelles impala

Two cheetahs on a bluff overlooking a water hole (both young males)

Semester at Sea field program with Kelly and Peter and many SAS students. Also encountered private safari w Barb and Ed (dean dan had to leave early)
Secretary birds

4 lions with a kill. Drinking water 
Rending tearing sounds in bush
Huge male with mane
Entrails in gully
Sleeping it off
Female ripping carcass
Tiny cubs like kittens!
Jackals at edge of action 
Mother w two tiny cubs snuggling playing 

Injured hyena crossing road 
Three resting hyenas 
6 Elands (male plus 5 females) with a group of Thompson’s gazelles

Night at Fig Tree Camp
Tent overlooking river
Many many Hippos! Very active especially in evening but also sometimes during the night. 

Much more rustic feel than other lodges
Lush vegetation, dim but adequate lighting, generator only during certain hours. 

Amazing jungle sounds in the night (birds, monkeys, hippos)


Monday 1/30/23 Maasai Mara, Hot Air Balloon, Wildlife, Flight to Nairobi

5:15 wake up to hippos 
Coffee in bar
Balloon flight! 
About 90 min, 21 km, 50 to 200 m agl 
Vast expanse of grassland and savanna 
Directional flying 
Streams valleys hills enormous distances 
Hills of Tanzania 
Big breakfast
Passengers from England, Northern Ireland Denmark and US (Conn)

Game drive 10 am
Many Lion cubs- 4 very young and 2 youth
Parents in stream shrubs
Several families of elephants with babies

Drive across Mara to Tanzania!

Many family groups of warthog
They run run run away!
Low on the food chain 

Sand River Gate
Kenyan checkpoint 
Granitic rocks
Tanzanian border
Serengeti National Park 
Crossing prohibited 

Now starting to air strip at noon

Picnic lunch under a sausage tree

Airstrip with many elephants at 1 pm 

Sad to leave this magical place!

1221 km from Mombasa to airstrip!!

Boarded flight with just “is this Scott and Jennifer?” No tickets no passport no briefing.  12-seater, 1 engine. Landed in 10 minutes to pick up more passengers, then on to Nairobi 

Flight in boundary layer the whole time — pretty bumpy. Maxed out at 12200 ft

Night in fancy hotel downtown Nairobi 


Tue 1/31/23 Nairobi to Mombasa (commercial airliner)

Bad traffic 
Multiple layers of airport security 
Flight to Mombasa over Rift Valley with Kilimanjaro in the distance
Bus through industrial shipping port 
Back to our ship and SAS

1 thought on “Kenya Visit Jan 26 – 31”

  1. What a glorious and amazing time you had in Kenya! The entire adventure is breathtaking in its beauty and diversity.
    I enjoyed the blog but particularly enjoyed your rough notes. It was as though I was there!
    From your rides in the jeep with Milton ( he sounds like the perfect guide! So informative!) to being out on the land viewing some of the most beautiful mammals that live on this amazing Earth Mother we call home!
    Thank yoy souch for this remarkable and unbelievable vicarious tour of Kenya! ❤

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close Bitnami banner