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East Africa Safaris: Insider’s Guide to Kenya and Tanzania

by Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein | October 10, 2014

The insider advice on this page is from two of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for East Africa: Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein of Hippo Creek Safaris.

Trusted Travel Expert
Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein

As a young girl growing up in the Bronx, Nina Wennersten spent as much time as she could at the nearby zoo, dreaming of the day she would travel to Africa. Her dream became a reality nearly 40 years ago, and she founded Hippo Creek Safaris not long thereafter. Today, Nina is as passionate about Africa as she was at the beginning, and her love of the continent is shared by her son and business partner, Dan Saperstein. The two know that most travelers will only take one safari during their lives and they work tirelessly, drawing on their decades of knowledge and vast network of connections, to ensure that each trip really is the trip of a lifetime. They are always on call and will do whatever is required to make sure that their clients return home having had an unforgettable safari. Nina and Dan were also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.

Travel arrangements start at $1,400 per day for two travelers.

Camps, Lodges, Meals

Best-value hotel
Hemingways, in Nairobi’s affluent Karen suburb, has set a new standard for East African hotels. Less than an hour from the airport, the plantation-style property has only 45 rooms, each of them spacious, light-flooded, and tended to by a butler. Set in Kenya’s lush Ngong Hills, Hemingways is a welcome refuge from Nairobi’s noise and bustle.

Best-value lodge
Saruni Samburu, in Kenya’s Kalama Wildlife Conservancy. In addition to all the meals, drinks, and game drives included in the price, you can also participate in the “Warriors Academy,” in which a Masai or Samburu warrior will teach you bush and survival skills, wildlife tracking, and even cattle tending. Saruni Samburu offers family rooms so that children can come and participate in all of these activities with you.

Safari camp worth the splurge
Mara Plains Camp. With just seven luxury tented rooms, guests receive the utmost attention from the superb guides and the rest of the staff. The camp is on a 30,000-acre private conservancy, and guests have access to an additional 100,000 acres of low-density public lands and the neighboring 375,000-acre Masai Mara reserve. This level of luxury, exclusivity, and Mara Plains’ serious commitment to conservation make it well worth every penny.

Best lodge for families
Chem Chem Lodge, wedged between Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara, has a family tented suite that can accommodate four children and two adults in separated but connected quarters. Activities include visits to nearby traditional villages, game walks, and night game drives tailored to meet the needs of every member of the family.

Must-have dish
Ugali, an East African staple, is white cornmeal cooked to a dough-like consistency and used like a sponge to soak up traditional tasty stews.

What to See and Do

Don’t miss
Southern Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, where you can view wildlife from a vehicle, a boat, or even on foot. The reserve is huge, the game spectacular, and you’ll share it with far fewer tourists than in the more popular reserves in the north.

Don’t bother
With few exceptions (see “Hidden gem,” below) East Africa’s national parks are simply overrated. You’ll have a far superior and more enjoyable experience visiting the neighboring private conservancies and reserves. Some of the best are those bordering Kenya’s Masai Mara, such as Mara North, Olare Orok, and Naboisho. There is also the famous Lewa Conservancy, home to the largest population of Grevy’s zebra in East Africa, as well as many black and white rhino. In Tanzania, there are excellent private reserves, such as Singita Grumeti, on nearly 330,000 acres bordering the Serengeti. There are also some excellent ones between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park that are home to a number of upscale camps and lodges, in addition to a wonderful array of game.

great migration, wildebeest, mara river, masai mara Kenya

Wildebeests crossing the Mara River, Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo courtesy Hippo Creek Safaris.

Hidden gem
Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. Its river does not run dry when the rains stop, so it draws huge herds in search of fresh water from July through October. This is where you’ll typically see the highest concentration of elephants in Tanzania during those months, as well as very impressive herds of buffalo, kudu, and even oryx. With ancient baobab trees dotting the landscape, it is a small but stunning park.

Best for thrill-seekers
Spending the night (you might sleep or you might not, depending on how you feel about the lions roaming nearby) in a pup tent on a remote corner of a wildlife reserve, followed by a walking safari with your own guide and tracker, who will also prepare your meals. As authentic a bush experience as you can have!

Cheap thrill
Feeding the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes at the Giraffe Centre in the Karen suburb of Nairobi. Their 17-inch tongue is not easily forgotten! The modest entry fee supports initiatives throughout Kenya to educate children about the country’s amazing natural resources.

Best spot for a sundowner
At a special table of drinks and hors d’oeuvres set up just for you in Kenya’s green and rolling Chyulu Hills as the glowing orange disk of the sun sets behind Mount Kilimanjaro.

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Best Times to Go

August and September are the best times to see the annual migration, the ultimate wildlife spectacle, in which more than a million wildebeest and other animals pass through Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve. July can be iffy for the herds, and October might be too late, but you can always count on August and September being terrific.

Worst Times to Go

April and May, during the wet period known as “the long rains.” In fact, a good number of properties in East Africa close during the month of April. Recently, some camps and lodges have begun reopening in May, so you can find some occasional deals for traveling then.

Instagram Moment

It’s hard to beat sunsets in the Masai Mara and Serengeti reserves, but a photo of you with an elephant and Mount Kilimanjaro in the background is one that will be handed down for generations.

Perfect Souvenir

There are some unique small shops in the suburbs of Nairobi that sell wonderful handmade crafts. A couple of our favorites are Marula Studios and the Silk Road, which both sell beautiful handmade goods, such as beaded leather belts and pocketbooks.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Planning your trip based on the recommendations of friends and acquaintances. While they have your best interest at heart, your friends have seen only what was on their itinerary and haven’t visited all the camps and lodges in the vicinity, so they don’t have a full picture of what’s available. We do, and we’ll use our expertise to create an experience that will meet your every need and wish.

Scam Alert

Don’t fall for trading your T-shirt or baseball cap for something in a gift shop. This is a common invitation, but you’ll inevitably be asked to pay cash as well (the item is always worth more than an article of clothing), meaning you’ll both pay for it and lose your shirt (or hat) in the bargain. In other words, it’s never a fair trade.

Must-Have Apps

Being on safari is actually a great opportunity to put away your devices and enjoy the magic of Africa—but we know people don’t do that. Wetu App is perfect for our travelers to refer to since their itinerary is always available (even offline) on this app, which is connected to the Web-site version we send them. From flights to phone numbers, everything is at your fingertips in a second.

Also great to have:
Sasol Bird Guide: If you are into birding, this guide is one of the best for Southern Africa, and it saves you the weight and space of carrying the full book with you.

Opera Mini: A Web browser that compresses all data so you can still keep up with the world at a decent speed while on the slower Wi-Fi/cellular connections in the bush.

TripIt Pro: You can refer to all of your flight info even without an Internet connection, and get notifications and updates once you connect.

Airport Intel

If you’re flying from Kilimanjaro Airport to Nairobi to board your international flight home, you can check your luggage straight through to the United States without collecting it and rechecking it in Nairobi. Just stop by the transit desk for your airline once in Nairobi.

Don’t Forget to Pack

A three-prong adapter and multi-outlet extension cord. Rooms on safari typically have only one outlet available for charging, so the multi-outlet cord allows you to charge all of your batteries at one time without any hassle.


Great choices of lodgings for us

Fred and Heidi Sherman | December 10, 2018

Nina's and Dan's guidance was...

Dave Lusignan | October 13, 2018

Our trip was perfectly planned...

Ed Ellers | September 8, 2018
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