I’m catching up on my travel writing today, and I’m really excited to share our 10 day epic camping journey throughout southern Kenya. Our trip began with a long drive from Nairobi down Mombasa Road, to the Chyulu Hills. Our friends took the more adventurous and scenic route via the turnoff at Emali, but we hit the road early so we went with the familiar route via Kibwezi. As always, the Chyulus offer unbeatable views at every turn.
By the way, this trip was the maiden voyage for our new tent! We got the Kelty Trail Ridge, and WE LOVE IT. It’s easy to put up (just 3 poles, to our old tent’s whopping 9 poles), spacious, and has a super cool trick up its sleeve – more on that later!
We celebrated Easter in the Chyulus, just like last year, and the Easter egg hunt was grand as ever. Kiddos searched high and low for eggs, hidden in wheel wells, by tent pegs, and in camping chair drink holders. The kids pulled in quite the haul, and much chocolate was eaten by all.
I have hardly experienced a more enjoyable campsite than Satellite Camp high up in the Chyulus. What it lacks in facilities (it has none), it more than makes up for in sweeping, majestic views. It also has perfect camping climate – pleasant during the day, cool at night, and no sweaty armpits to be seen. (The same can not be said of our next destination on this journey!)
On our last evening, we were treated to a couple of paragliders coasting over the campsite. The kids went absolutely berserk, and I swear Claire thought the guys would give her a ride if she shouted loud enough. It was a pretty special sight at the end of our stay!
The next day, we packed up camp and headed out. We drove up and over the Chyulu Hills, and down to Tsavo West. Words cannot describe how beautiful this drive is. Emerald green hills as far as the eye can see. Kenya at its finest.
Shortly after we finished our descent, we came across our first seasonal river. This one was pretty small, and fording it was a breeze.
The second seasonal river was…. not so small. It was pretty intimidating, in fact. We were just a few kilometers from the Chyulu campsite in Tsavo West, our intended resting spot for the night. This river was too wide, too deep, and too swift to take our chances. We spent several hours on the banks of the river, waiting to see if the water would recede a bit. It didn’t…
Eventually, Dom waded in to see how deep it was, and the team decided to give it a go.
If you zoom in on the above photo, you’ll see Claire’s shocked face sitting in my lap in the passenger seat. Heidi and Jesse were in heaven. Claire and I were quaking in our boots. We made it to camp just as the sun was going down, so we quickly set up camp and got some dinner going for the kiddos. The Chyulu Camp in Tsavo West was occupied by a large group of community rangers, who were securing Tsavo from marijuana farming (who knew?) and poaching. The rangers were more than gracious, and were very considerate neighbors. Because of our late arrival, and our desire to move on from the crowded campsite, I’ve got no photos from the camp. Moving on!
The next morning we hit the road for Lumo Conservancy, but made a quick visit to Mzima Springs on the way. Packed with hippos, crocodiles and fish, Mzima Springs was a sight to behold. The springs’ source is 50 kilometers away in the Chyulu Hills, where rain water filters through the rock, and feeds Mzima Springs with clear, cold water. The underwater viewing hut was a huge hit with the kids!
After we left Mzima Springs, we took the longest, straightest road I’ve ever seen, down along the border of Tsavo West. Once we reached the wide, smooth boulevard that is the freshly tarmacked Taveta Road, it was just a hop, skip and a jump over to Lumo.
We stayed at Cheetah Campsite, run by Lion’s Bluff Lodge. The campsite is situated on the side of the bluff, with views that go on for miles (and miles and miles…). It’s hard not to sound trite, but the scenery is simply spectacular. The campsite is very well equipped with long drop toilets, a huge kitchen shelter, and a shaded terrace.
I was hoping to see loads of animals in Lumo, but with the excessive rains, they were few and far between. Heidi was lucky enough to find a gigantic grasshopper at the campsite (we also found quite a few microscopic scorpions – yikes), and a huge herd of elephants spent hours grazing on the slopes in front of the campsite. Apart from that, Lumo was basically devoid of animals. I hear this is not always the case, so don’t let our bad game-viewing luck turn you off.
Did I mention the views?
After a few days soaking in the scenery at Lumo, we broke camp again and made our way across Tsavo West to Lake Jipe. Apart from the very unfortunate placement of the KWS barracks right in front of the views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, this campsite is next to perfect. They have hot showers, some natural shade, lovely views of the lake, and (slightly obstructed, but still stunning) views of the inimitable Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Lake Jipe attracts some tremendous rainstorms, and while we never actually got rained on, we did get to see the mother of all rainstorms, and an equally impressive rainbow.
Let me pause a moment here to gush about our new tent again. Remember how I mentioned that it has a secret trick up its sleeve? It has a STARGAZING FLY. You can roll up the fly, exposing the mesh over half the tent, and sleep under an unobstructed view of starry skies. If you start to feel a little rain, you just reach out the zipper, unclip the fly, and pull it down. This came in very handy in Lumo, where we were sleeping under the stars when a pretty hefty storm rolled in. We stayed completely dry! Okay, back to the camping trip…
The sunsets at Lake Jipe were not fooling around. With so many bright clouds, the light from the setting sun had a lot to work with. Each day was like a new impressionist painting. I couldn’t get enough of it. Also, I discovered that if you walked waaaaaayyyy east of the campsite, you could get a shot of Mt. Kilimanjaro with no barracks, electricity wires, or toilets in front of it. Woo hoo!
On our last day, we took the kids on a boat ride around the lake. These calm waters hide herds and herds of hippos, which we could hear grazing, splashing and bickering from our tents at night.
After a few nights at Lake Jipe, we broke camp one last time and made our way to Amboseli for an end-of-trip treat to a night in a lodge. What a way to end a trip! Let me pause here to say that the often-elusive Mt. Kilimanjaro was NOT shy during this trip. Every day, we were treated to hours and hours of crystal clear views of the glacial snowcapped peaks. Eye candy!
We spent the night at Mada’s Kilima Camp, just outside Amboseli’s Kimana gate. Kilima Camp had great permanent safari tents, good food (typical lodge buffet fare), a fantastic pool, and a soaring game viewing tower with unparalleled views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and a busy watering hole.
From Kilima Camp, we made a leisurely drive through Amboseli, admiring the no-longer-dry lake, and watching some elephants chase off a couple of lionesses that wandered too close to the herd.
This camping trip was ambitious, and our dreams paid off. We covered a 1,000 km circuit during the 10 day trip, and camped in mountains, volcanic plains, savannahs, and marshlands. Trips like this feed my wanderlust, and make me greedy for more. Here’s to the next odyssey!
PS – for more details on camping at the Chyulu Hills, Lumo Conservancy, Tsavo West and Lake Jipe, please click through to these excellent articles by the Kenyan Camper. I am constantly inspired by his blog, and one day I hope to reach a camping destination before he does… 😉
PPS – Thanks to our friend Dominic Rebelo for several of the photos for this post, including the photo of our car fording the seasonal river, the distance shot of three cars descending the slopes of the Chyulus, the close-up of hippos, the image of elephants grazing below the Cheetah Campsite, the image of elephants grazing in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the images of elephants chasing off the lionesses in Amboseli. Thanks for the incredible trip and the gorgeous photos!)