With many borders still closed, a lot of people are wondering how traveling will re-commence once bans lift, and how safe airlines and hospitality companies can truly be, even adhering to all the new protocols in place.
Owner and founder of Travel Sommelier Darren Humphreys took two months of planning to figure out how to reintroduce tourism into Kenya. A significant amount of the tourism business there directly relates to conservation efforts which are important to preserving many of the endangered wildlife throughout the country. The absence of people has, sadly, significantly encouraged poaching since March.
In some national parks tourism is down 90% and without the money to help fund government patrols there simply isn’t enough resources to monitor poachers. Without people visiting these parks, and the presence of vehicles, airplanes and helicopters overhead, as well as the lack of patrols, access for poachers to enter the parks has skyrocketed. “It is truly off the historic charts,” Darren said. “I can not underscore enough just how poaching has taken center stage. It really has the ability to markedly change the safari experience.”
Darren’s hope to kickstart tourism starts with a travel plan. Kenya’s COVID-19 numbers have been steadily dropping for the past few months and although there are still restrictions to traveling there, Darren has been working closely with Kenya Airways to essentially create a travel bubble on a reconfigured Boeing 767. The trip he is arranging, which isn’t cheap but is undeniably glorious, will consist of anywhere from 20-30 people who would remain together from start to finish. They will quarantine prior to take off, have to present negative COVID tests, and remain in groups of 10, throughout three safari camps and a retreat, once they get to Kenya.
The reconfigured plane has an extended business class so all passengers can remain together from New York’s JFK airport, on a direct flight to Kenya, to experience the tail end of the great migration in which over 1 million wildebeest, approximately 200,000 zebras and thousands of gazelles migrate from the north to the south.
“This is arguably the one and only time that you will be in the famed Masai Mara with hardly another person around. A front row seat to the greatest wildlife show on earth and you are the only person in the audience,” Darren said of the trip. “You are actually alone.”
Being that Travel Sommelier is a luxury travel provider, the price of this trip is not cheap, but it is a once in a lifetime experience — it could cost up to $38,000 a person. You will be accommodated for three nights each at the four most sought after lodges throughout Kenya — Ol Donyo in a private concession sandwiched between Amboseli & Tsavo; Mara Plains & Mara Nyika in the heart of the Masai Mara; and ArIjiju in the remote Borana Conservancy. All distinct and different, this is an opportunity to experience something most people will never get to.
When you step off the plane you are met by trip hosts at the tarmac. Once you are on the road, you are able to begin seeing some of the awe-inspiring wildlife, the cheetahs, zebras, lions, leopards, wildebeest and elephants. At Ol Donyo Lodge, set in the ancient lava flows overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro, elephants are so close that from the safety of the sunken ‘hide’ you can almost touch their toenails. Or Mara Plains camp, designed for space and airflow, where a single tree is miles away and the landmark of the camp boundary. Mara Nyika Camp is set up high on the platforms under stylish canvas tents and traditional East African flat-topped acacia trees.
The great migration reached its peak at the end of September, but there is much to see as millions of animals are still grazing and giving birth.
Darren’s hope is that, as well as this being a truly spectacular trip, this will breathe life into the Masai Mara, by trips such as this stimulating tourism and the conservation efforts that follow. “Every day we delay for wildlife and rural African communities contributes to a collapse of wildlife ecologies, as poaching and lack of resources decimate wildlife populations,” he says.