Want to plan a safari and visit Keyna, in East Africa? We’ll discuss Kenya tourism, things to do in Kenya, and how to prepare for a trip to Africa. In 2017, Kenya was recognized for the World Travel Award for Place to Be. As the world’s leading safari destination, there is no other place to go see a safari if you want to see what you see on National Geographic. Aside from the safari, there are also other great experiential Kenya destinations to check out — like their amazing beaches and the second-largest barrier reef in the world, as well as famous tea plantations. Getting excited about going to Africa? Andy and Todd bring on Lara Vancans and Monica Irauzqui to walk you through the preparation.
Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing meetings in Kenya to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at www.americanmeetings.com.
Watch the episode here:
The fact that Toto’s song, Africa, still plays in karaoke bars across the US to this day, demonstrates the draw to the wild that Africa offers. As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti, adventurers and travelers migrate to the area like wildebeest and for good reason. We are joined by Lara Vancans, National Director of Sales for Sanctuary Retreats, to learn more about the luxurious camp, Olonana, privately located on the Maasai River. We’ll also learn about Monica Irauzqui, a private tour operator, who shares how to prepare for an African Safari. Whether you’re attracted to the popular Maasai Mara, the more secret Selous Game Reseserve or the energy and vibrancy of local African culture, East Africa is rich with once in a lifetime experiences. Whether you want the tourist experience or the world’s less travelled, we will be sharing our best tips for an African Safari. Welcome to this episode, Kenya in East Africa.
We are talking about Kenya in East Africa. It’s one of my favorite places. It’s so incredible and an amazing place to take family, friends, co-workers and corporate clients. It is one of those places you want to go back to over and over again. In 2017, it was recognized as the World Travel Award for Place to Be. It’s the world’s leading safari destination. There is no other place to go see a safari if you want to see what you see on TV and National Geographic.
Everybody thinks of safari when they think of Kenya, but there are also many other great experiences that you can check out. They have beaches, and you don’t think of beaches when you’re in Kenya. They also have the second-largest barrier reef in the world. It’s 140 miles long. It’s far away from where we’re talking about for safari, but it’s amazing. What we’re going to focus on is mostly going to be in the part of the Maasai Mara, which is the northern part of the Serengeti. The Maasai Mara is in Kenya and the Serengeti is in Tanzania, where you do have the views of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is spectacular.
I’m so glad you mentioned all the other things that you can do like the beaches. Another thing is the famous tea plantations. It’s the second-largest form of foreign income to the country because they export so much tea. The plantations are beautiful and they take you back in time. It’s definitely worth your bucket list if you’re going to Kenya. Don’t forget about those. We’re going to have several great guests to talk about how to plan a safari. It is one of those things that you do need extra help with. It’s not jumping on a plane and going to the country. There are lots of things to know and prepare when you go to Africa. We’ve got some great experts to walk you through that.
We are going to be talking to our next guest, Lara Vancans. She’s the Director of Sales for Sanctuary Retreats. One of the ones we’re going to focus on, they have several, but we’re going to be looking at the glamping of the Olonana property.
We are here with our guest who is one of the most interesting people. We’re going to find out a bit more about her amazing background. We have Lara Vancans, who is the Director of Sales for the Americas for Sanctuary Retreats. Lara, thank you for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
I want to start off right away. You’re a Brit who lives in Miami but you’re in LA. You’re representing Africa and these amazing properties. I read that you studied African Studies and it was at Oxford. What got you involved in that and why was that appealing to you? You’re probably one of the only people that’s using their major in their career these days.
Having a degree in African Studies is not a pre-requisite to working in travel but it definitely helps and it keeps you engaged. How did I get into all this? To be honest, the answer is I was lucky. I had parents that loved to travel. I had parents that prioritized and were fortunate enough to be able to give the gift of travel to me, my brother and my sister. The whole Africa thing for me was tripped when my parents took us to Africa when I was about twelve. We went to Southern Africa. It was a big milestone for my family at the time. They did this big trip and they took us to Cape Town. They took us on safari. We still talk about that trip. It’s the coolest thing we ever did and I still hope I can do it for my kids. For me, it sparked this obsession and as life coursed, it rolled on from that.
One of your first jobs while you were in school was with a safari company. Is that correct?
Yes, it was. The first safari job I had was working for Micato in New York when I was a freshman in college at NYU.
How did this path lead you to Sanctuary Retreat?
It was actually a speeding ticket that led me to Sanctuary Retreat.
That’s a good story.
I ended up meeting Anna Pinto whose family owns Micato at comedy traffic school.
Everyone has the same story.
I went to a comedy traffic school. It was not funny.
You did get a career out of it.
I was lucky. I just graduated from high school, I was super excited. All my friends went to college and I was staying behind because I was going to Africa. This was my thing. I was saving money. I was working in a hotel. I was just chatting and talking to this woman I’ve never met before. She casually whips out a brochure and says, “Funnily enough, I work for a safari company.” Little did I know it was Anna Pinto, whose family runs Micato. It turns out she knew my mom. A few months later, I was in Nairobi with her family and they took care of me. They were incredible. That was how that started.
One of the things I love most about our portfolios, we’ve got these twelve camps and lodges across six different countries and are all in spectacular bucket list locations. Ngorongoro Crater, Victoria Falls, in South Africa, and the Okavango Delta. We hit all of those bucket list destinations. We do it and we provide unique experiences. The lodge that Todd is sitting in front of, Olonana, that’s a unique experience. If you go to Sanctuary in Tanzania, it will not look like that. It’s also beautiful. We maintain the same commitments to standards of excellence, the way we take care of our guests and the environment, the way we work with local communities, but your physical accommodation experience will be ideally localized and unique to that area.
That’s important for Africa because you do go and you get different experiences wherever you go. It’s a diverse place to go. You can go multiple times and have completely different experiences.
The kind of traveler that’s looking for the adventure at the level that we offer and no shade to a brand chain. I only go to the same hotel in the States when I traveled for work because I’m confident. When you go to Africa, you want something different and new everywhere you go.
We talk about often enough, it’s a bucket list. You don’t want it to be the same. You want to be spoiled, you want luxury, especially when you’re in Africa. There’s a fine line between the luxury of the accommodation versus the complete wilderness of the African countryside. It’s a great switch, the contrast of that just by walking off the property is amazing.
That conversation of luxury in Africa and everywhere, but because that’s what I work on, it’s an interesting one because sometimes the luxury is being closer to nature and taking away some of those creature comforts. Olonana is over the top, everything you could want, pools, air conditioning. Sometimes, in different locations, luxury can be interpreted a bit differently. In Tanzania, for example, some of our camps are a little bit more pared-down. They’re still beautiful and comfortable but they’re a bit closer to nature, which is a different kind of luxury.
Tell us a little bit about your Kenya property since we’re focused on Kenya and what your guests can expect.
If you’re traveling through Sanctuary Retreats lodge in Kenya, at the moment we have Olonana, which is one of our first properties ever. If you travel with us in 2021, we’ll have another one.
Where is that?
That’s going to be in an area called Laikipia, which is north of Nairobi in the Ol Pejeta area. That will offer a different experience because it’s an activity-focused property and you’ll be able to pair them. If you or your client is looking for that ultra-luxe property, it feels like a family when you arrive. It’s run by a guy called Maurice, who’s been there for over twenty years. He worked his way up from tent attendant to manager. Our properties might be luxurious and at times expensive, but they’re not pretentious. They’re relaxed and accessible.
For the Olonana, when someone steps out or when they leave the property, where are they going to go? Is it safe to walk off the property by yourself? Where is it located and what’s around the property?
Olonana is unique in that it’s located right on the Mara River. The Mara River is that famous river that you see in all the National Geographic images when all the wildebeest are crossing the river. They don’t do that right in front of our lodge, but we do have hippos that walk up and down with their babies. There’s a lot of action right from the lodge. It’s pretty cool.
When the migration happens, you said it’s not right in front of you, but do you arrange tours to go see the migration up close?
Of course. When you stay with us as part of your experience, you’re doing two safaris a day or two game drives. You go out early morning and then you’ll go out late afternoon. We go into the Maasai Mara National Park. That’s where we’re doing all of our drives and it’s about a ten-minute drive to one of the closest crossing points.
Do you arrange the safari yourself? When someone comes and they’re like, “I’m going to this property,” is it all in-house? Do they need to contact outside suppliers to do different things or do you keep that in-house?
The experience is all-inclusive. We would always recommend booking with a safari tour operator, an expert, someone that can put the whole package together for you. Once you’re with us, once you get dropped off, we do have two different rates. It gets a bit confusing, depending on who’s reading and who’s interested. You can actually come into some of our camps with your own driver. Maybe your tour operator brings in their own driver and then they do your safaris. Most commonly, we do our own. We have our own guides, our own vehicles and you’re going out every day with us.
Lara, tell me about taking a group. Do you have a lot of groups that come?
We do. That’s going to become even more popular. The multi-gen family thing was on the rise.
Multi-gen family, for our readers, like corporate incentive, is that something that you see as well?
Because our lodges are small and intimate, Olonana is one of the bigger ones. I have a group of 36 travelers soon.
Is that the max?
Our lodges range from 6 to 12, 13 rooms. Sometimes, we’re out of the running for those bigger groups. The room that Todd is sitting in front of is the Geoffrey Kent Suite. We only completed that last when we rebuilt the lodge a couple of years ago. That’s a two-bedroom unit. It’s completely standalone. It’s got its own staff, its own driveway. It’s got two main master bedrooms and then a pit. In this era that we’re in, that standalone villa concept will be unique.
Tell us about the Kenya property.
We’re excited to be opening another property in Kenya. It’ll pair beautifully with Olonana. It’s called Sanctuary Tambarare. It’s located in Laikipia, which is to the north of Nairobi. It’s a different experience. We’ll be on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Conservancy is run with a huge focus on conservation. It’s cool and lots of things that will get you out of the vehicle. It will be a permanent tented concept. We were talking about those different accommodation experiences. It will still be a high level but different experience to Olonana.
Do you have pictures of what these tents are going to look like? Are those already up on your website?
Yes, we’ve got some renderings. Give us a little leeway because renderings never capture the spirit of it but you can get a good sense. They’re clean lines, elegant, quite large but not over the top, nothing crazy, beautiful tents.
There would be ten.
Let’s talk a little bit more about your personal experiences in Kenya, specifically. What are some things that you’ve done or that you’d recommend people do once they’re outside of your property? Obviously, the primary focus will be safari and going out on drives and staying at the property. What are some other bucket list items in the area that you would recommend?
One of my favorite things always, and one of my favorite things about doing this job and working in this industry is getting to work with the community and working with our philanthropy team and hearing about what they do and all of that. I love telling those stories. We work quite closely with a few local schools in the Mara. We made a promise a few years ago, our commitment that we would provide access to clean drinking water to all schools on the edge of the Maasai Mara. We did that and we’ve moved that project down into Tanzania. That was a partnership with an amazing organization. You can go to one of the local schools if you’re interested and you can meet one of the prefects that take care of the LifeStraw filter in the school. Not for too long because you can’t take them out of class for that long but you can see firsthand the impact that clean water has on some of these communities. That’s definitely one. Balloon safari over the Maasai Mara.
I’ve got to do that.
Another one to do is breakfast on the plains of the Mara. We’ll set up a beautiful picnic set. That’s incredible. The Mara is about driving. Don’t just go out in the morning, throw lunch in the back and do a full drive and go down to the border of Tanzania. It’s stunning.
The charitable travel where you go and you do something to give back to the community that you’re visiting is great. It’s great to know that you can do it through Sanctuary. That’s fantastic.
Everybody is interested in meeting with communities and it’s great for us if we can talk to people beforehand and say, “What is it that you’re interested in?” If someone is interested in giving or doing, we can organize something that is both beneficial for the client and for the community. A lot of times, you get thrown into activities of that saying, “Paint the wall.” We work hard to find things that work for both the client and the community.
It sounds like a beautiful place. We might have told you about our rapid-fire questions for every guest that we have. We like world travelers like yourselves to communicate to our readers about certain things about how to travel and get some tidbits from you guys. The first one is, have you ever completed anything on your own personal bucket list? If so, what was it?
Before the craziness of 2020, I got to go to Laos. That was big for me. I got to go to Luang Prabang with my mom. That was amazing. That was definitely a bucket list item for me.
I know you’ve been all over the world. If there’s one place you could live for a year, where would it be?
This one makes me emotional. I left my two siblings in Edinburgh. They’re both starting degrees in Edinburgh. It’s not the craziest location, but that’s where I’d be at the moment.
It’s a beautiful place with a great history there. If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would pick Christiane Amanpour. I like to get into the nitty-gritty of geopolitics.
She might take you to a warzone though. You’ve got to be careful.
Not that I want to be following that train, but if we were safe and figure out all these things. She’s fascinating and brilliant.
It would definitely be a bucket list experience.
If she has a glass of wine, I’m sure she can at least loosen up.
When you’re packing for a trip, what is something that you pack that might surprise our readers?
One thing that I pack that other people wouldn’t is I have my grandmother’s travel wallet, which I always bring with me. It always has both my passports in it. That’s whether I go domestically or internationally because you never know.
That’s a sentimental one.
I can’t think of anything else more intriguing.
When you go to Kenya, you’ve been multiple times, what has been your most memorable experience?
My parents had taken me to Southern Africa when I was young. A couple of years ago, my brother and I got to take my parents back because my brother was living out there. To take them back to Kenya and show them a part of Africa that they hadn’t been to, that was cool. One day, I remember we broke down and our guide had to change our tires in front of a pride of lions. It was heart-wrenching. He looked cool as a cucumber. I had the whole thing on video. That was one of those fun things.
Were you in an open vehicle at the time with a pride of lions?
That’s definitely memorable.
It was as a heart-racing moment.
Can I ask one more question? What is the craziest request you have gotten from a client? The most out-of-the-box thing and you’re like, “I don’t know if we can do that.” Do you do have an example of one of those?
“Can you get the fly out of my room, please?”
Are you kidding me?
Yes, I’ve had been asked to do that before. That was a fun one, “Can you measure the distance between the tap and the wall, please?”
The water tap?
Yes. I had to measure the space between the tap and the wall because that was important for this person.
Lara, we appreciate it. Where can our readers find more information about Sanctuary Retreats, website, social media handle?
I recommend that all the readers go to the website and look at some of these properties. It will definitely get your imagination going. They’re stunning. They’re beautiful. Thank you for joining us, Lara. We look forward to seeing you in Kenya or one of the other amazing properties soon.
Me too. You guys have to come out.
At AMI, we’re passionate about meeting connections that change lives. For over twenty years, we have traveled our clients all over the globe, supporting their business goals, and helping them stand apart. From hotel sourcing to audiovisual magic, we will make your corporate meeting or event second to none. Go to AmericanMeetings.com to learn more. American Meetings, AMI, meeting, planning perfected.
It is time for our bucket list for Kenya in East Africa. There are many things to do there. It was hard to pick and get it down. We had 30 of them and we had to get it down to ten to make sure we had time for all of them. We have some great ones for you. These are great bucket list ones to do with your family. A lot of people use the safari or trip to Africa as a once in a lifetime family trip, and all of these are great ones that you can do with the family, with the kids, grandparents or everyone in between.
The first one is fantastic and it’s been going on for years. It’s watching over baby elephants at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It’s best known for its orphan project of taking in orphan elephants. It’s a full-time orphan rescue and rehabilitation program. It’s been the most successful one in the world for years and years. It’s open every day to the public from 11:00 to 12:00. You have to plan for it because they want to be respectful of the elephants’ space. You can experience feeding the orphan elephants, and seeing them taking mud baths. The baby elephants, everybody remembers Dumbo from way back when. Imagine a lot of them doing it at the same time. It must be incredible.
That’s something I’ve always wanted to do especially if you’re an animal lover. They always say elephants never forget. You do it once, you go back and the animal’s much bigger. Maybe they remember.
There are a lot of sanctuaries out there and there’s this one, and they’re peppered all over this area because it is a major issue from climate change to hunting and poaching. It’s important that we take care of these beautiful animals and these people are doing wonderful work. When you go there, you’re supporting their efforts. We highly encourage you to make it part of your bucket list when you go to Kenya.
I’ve got another item which is the place to do it. I’ve done it in other places, but in Kenya by far it’s probably the most spectacular and that is a hot air balloon safari. You could go at sunrise or even at sunset. Sunrise would probably be a little better. You do see the entire country starting to wake it up. You go over the plains and the rivers and the views of Kilimanjaro. It’s amazing and you see why they call it the Maasai Mara, which Maasai is the indigenous tribe, and Mara means spotted in the native language, which is spotted for the landscape. Also, the ride with a champagne brunch somewhere with armed guards around you because you don’t want to surprise any of the wildlife.
Suddenly there’s an elephant or a rhinoceros down the road. It’s definitely something that you want to plan for. It’s pricey, but it’s well worth it. Here’s another great one. You usually don’t think about going to a restaurant when you go to Africa, and this one is in a cave. It’s called the Ali Barbour’s Restaurant. You walk down 33 feet into a 180,000-year-old cave and they serve local seafood dishes. It is unbelievable. The cave has an overhead opening to view the night and the stars. Doesn’t it sound like something out of a movie? All the elements are kept to keep the cave in its natural state. The only lights besides candles are coming from the kitchen and the bathroom. This is something that I highly recommend and something that is definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
Another one that I selected, and I had no idea that East Africa is one of the largest exporters of tea. I found this extremely interesting because I never thought about tea when I think of East Africa.
It’s pretty incredible.
Being located so close to the equator, the soil is rich and the high mineral content produces teas with much higher antioxidants. The Rift Valley and Mount Kenya are great places to go to some of the tea plantations. I would definitely do that if you do have the time.
When you go to these plantations, a lot of them are kept in pristine condition like they were back in the day during the great trade. You see how the plantations were run, and also get to experience, some of them, the process of making the tea. It was a fun experience and something that’s unique to the area. We always love to do things that are unique to the places that we go to. The next one we have is experiencing a traditional Maasai village, which you can-do all-over Kenya, but you can learn about the medicines, the plants, their traditional dancing, and see an actual village from a day-to-day perspective.
This is something that is a lot of fun for the kids and you want to do it with your family. You’re usually accompanied by a guy that educates you about not only the tribe, but the area of where the tribes are living, how they live off the land, and what they make from the land. It’s one of those educational experiences that can be a lot of fun and something that you can put on either the beginning of the end of a safari trip.
Another one I remember from when I was a kid, we watched a special on the Maasai Tribe and the red cloth that they wear and the reasons that they do things. It’s a unique tribe in Africa, but their story is pretty amazing and their way of life hasn’t changed much in decades. If you have a little need for speed and you don’t mind heights, you could go zip line through the Kereita Forest. They do have amazing views. There’s a canopy, they also have mountain biking, team building activities if you’re there with a group, but you could do all this in this unique environment. Who doesn’t like to zip line? It does give you a thrill.
We always end up at zip lines when we travel.
It’s because they’re fun. They’re fun for kids and some of them are insanely high. Others go a little bit lower so you’ve got a little better view of the ground. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
I’ll never forget that one in Northern Quebec that we did. They hung you off the side of a mountain before you went on the zip line.
I opted out of that part. The rock climbing was enough for me, but the kids loved it. They gave me a heart attack.
Speaking of family taking there, this is something my cousin has done. She has hiked Mount Kilimanjaro all the way up to the top. It’s the world’s tallest freestanding mountain and it is Africa’s tallest peak. It’s one of the world’s most famous Seven Summits. First of all, you have to go to it and get a picture in front of it. It’s one of those bucket list things, but there are all different types of hiking there. It’s not only for going to the top, which is for an experienced hiker, but there are lots to do all the way around. If you’re going all the way to the top, you need to go with an experienced guide.
There’s significant training involved in doing that. There are different ecosystems that are involved in the hike, which is cool. You have the rainforest, the desert, and you’ve got an arctic climate. It’s something that when you start off, by the end, you’re going to be in a completely different environment, which is cool.
It is much more doable than going to Everest. As you can see by the picture, you can see a view of it from Kenya and it’s beautiful.
Talking about more experiential items, who wouldn’t go in and embed themselves in the culture for a short time? You could do a day trip to Stone Town Zanzibar and it experienced some local food and the food markets.
The gardens are amazing.
They have open-air markets and rich seafood. They do octopus and lobster claws. You get freshly squeezed sugarcane juice with ginger and lime, which is amazing. You get the highly recommended Zanzibar pizza. It’s a thin crepe topped with your choice of meat, vegetables, cheese and another crepe. You definitely want to try to fit that in your list if you do want to blend a little bit with the local culture.
Here’s one, I have never skydived. I’ve figured that the grounds are enough for me wherever I go. The one time it’s going to be me that’s not going to open up so I never skydive. It’s one of the few things I haven’t done in my life.
It’s like YouTube skydive mishaps right before a trip.
It’s not what you want to do but if you are into it, there’s one that’s amazing that we came across that I did want to mention. It’s skydiving above Diani Beach. Why it’s so special is because as you’re skydiving over a coral reef and you get to see it from both the land and the sea, so it’s incredible. You can even get a glimpse of the Shimba Hills National Reserve Park on a clear day, which is far away from the beach. Being near the coast and experiencing that, would be a great bucket list thing to do while you’re there.
Another thing is these are all targeting an outdoor traveler. It’s a good activity and something I know I would love is scaling the gorge at Hell’s Gate National Park. You could do that for about two hours to walk there, scale it and come back. It was the popular background for Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life featuring Angelina Jolie, which is neat.
Todd, you need to start searching all movies for every location we go to. That should be your thing.
I don’t know why but I feel if I’ve seen it in a movie, it’s been legitimized. It gives me a fantasy around that location. I completely agree. I’m always fascinated by movies, movie locations and why they picked them. There’s always a reason why they picked him and there’s a reason why they picked this one for that particular movie. You could go there and you could walk through these water eroded walls. They’re so narrow that you have to squeeze through them and you could find waterfalls and hot springs. If you have that itch to get outside and do something a little different, that’s the thing to do. Those are ten of our bucket list items.
We took it down to 30, but we thought these ones were special and ones that you could do them across generations, not all of them like skydiving with me. There will be lots of things you can do with your family, friends, co-workers, depending on who you go with.
Our next guest is Monica Irauzqui. She’s with Yampu Tours. We’re going to look forward to what she has to say.
In this episode, we are featuring Kenya. When you think about Kenya, you think about the safari. We’re excited to have our next guest. We have Monica Irauzqui, who is the Vice President and Cofounder of Yampu Tours. Welcome, Monica.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk to you about Kenya.
Likewise, we like to feature these bucket lists items. Bucket lists can go to the moon but something you almost always hear people is safari. Who doesn’t want to go see nature at its finest especially when you think our time is getting limited with these types of spaces and events? Do you go and stay in a hotel and go on safari during the day or do you pack the gear, set up camp, and have a nonstop safari? If that’s the direction you go, can you tell us a little bit about the accommodations that someone can expect to see on a Kenyan safari with your group?
For the most part, I sell tented camps in Kenya. The camp is set in one place. There is such a thing when you’re following the migration and that camp moves from place to place depending on where the migration is. That’s another option for those people that are set on seeing the migration. I normally sell more mobile camps in Botswana. That’s the one where somebody is packing up your stuff and resetting it somewhere else.
When is the migration? Is that a certain time of year?
The migration is July through September, for the most part. It changes from year to year, so we have a calendar and we can watch where they’re going. For the most part of the Maasai Mara, they’ll probably be there in August. The Maasai Mara is where the river is if you’ve ever seen a river running through the bush. The wildebeest will be crossing the river and there’s a big show because the gators try to get them. That’s the pool.
How many times have you been to Kenya?
I’ve been to Kenya four times.
What’s your absolute best experience there so far? Do you have one?
I love doing the balloon over the Maasai Mara.
You just hope the balloon stays up.
These guys are professional. They came from South Africa and they were super knowledgeable about what they did. We got up at sunrise and went into their camp. They put us in a balloon, start the fire and the balloon goes up. They turn it over and you go up in the air and you watch the sunrise over the Maasai Mara. The Maasai Mara is the same park as the Serengeti. The Serengeti has a more famous name. You’re watching the sunrise over the Serengeti, and all these animals waking up and running around.
That’s a bucket list experience for sure.
You’re playing music from The Lion King. You hear the calling. It sounds amazing.
They served us champagne breakfast when we landed.
Are you guaranteed to see the top five or the big five? The things that everybody wants to see like a lion, an elephant or a giraffe. What are the big animals that you’ll see on one of your tours?
The big five was a term coined by hunters and tourism took it over. I would say that you’re definitely going to see at least four of the five. The rhinos are part of the top five and they’re harder to see in Kenya. I saw a rhino in Tanzania. If a client wants to see a rhino, we’ll put them in the place to get that to happen but you’re going to see a lot of lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffe, elephants, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich and baboons. It’s going to be amazing the amount of animals you see. It’s way more than the big five.
This is a bucket list trip. Can you give some advice on how people can prep to go because it is the trip of a lifetime, but there’s also a lot of preparation that needs to happen? Can you give us some advice and also how do you assist in making that happen?
The first thing you should do is find somebody like me that’s knowledgeable hopefully about all of Africa so they can help you narrow down which country you can go to. You need to ask them certain questions. You need to let them know certain things that are in your mind. You need to let them know what your imagination of Africa is. Depending on what is in your imagination, I need to make that happen and each person’s idea of Africa could be different. I want to know that. I want to know what vehicle you want. Do you want to fly? Do you want to do open vehicles? Do you want to drive in a closed vehicle where you pop your head up is something that feels more secure to you? Do you feel comfortable with a tented camp or would you prefer the safety of a lodge? For all these things, you need to find somebody that can answer all those questions for you. I would say that make a list of things that you want, question the person that you’re talking to and see if they know the answers. If they don’t, that might not be the right person. If they’re too busy to be bothered to answer your questions, that wouldn’t be the right person.
The second thing is you need to get your inoculations and do some research about the best malaria medicine for you. I have a blog on my website. It has some links to the hard to find places on the CDC website. There’s one that’s a great table that goes through all the malaria medicines, the pros and the cons. Each area might have a different type of malaria, not all medicines will work for that kind of malaria. All this is on a cute little chart that’s impossible to find on the CDC website, but I’ve got it on my blog. It’s important to know what medicine you need before you go talk to the doctor. Because if you are in a rural area, for example, where not many people travel, your doctor may not be mindful of all the side effects.
What particular one for what particular country.
It’s good to know what you think you want before you go in and the doctor can look at all your medicines and make sure that’s right for you. That’s one thing that I would say. For packing, you need to get a light suitcase because a lot of times we do those little planes from camp to camp. You need one of those Columbia soft-sided, very light that weighs a pound. I have suitcases that weigh 14 pounds and that’s pretty much the limit, so you can take one of those. You need a soft bag and you need some basic colors. They do laundry for you in these upscale camps so you don’t have to have a different outfit for every day.
Speaking of lodges, I understand there’s a Giraffe Manor and this is a once in a lifetime experience for people if they can even get it because it’s so popular. Number one, have you been? Number two, if you haven’t been, have you heard about it and what should people expect if they go?
I went and did a hotel inspection in Nairobi, so you’re going to land in Nairobi. If you’re booking in advance, try to book it. It’s cool, the giraffes are running around on the property and many times if you’re on the second floor, I had a client who I put on the second floor and the giraffe put their head in. They’ll come and visit you while you’re eating breakfast. It’s an amazing place. If you don’t stay there and if you book last minute or your group is too big and you can’t get space, you can go to the Giraffe Center, which is next door. It’s on the same property. You can visit those giraffes. They’re special. They’re the Rothschild’s giraffe.
What is the Rothschild?
The Rothschild’s giraffe is a different breed of giraffes and there are not as many of them, so they’re unique.
Another question we get, especially when people travel outside of their comfort zone in general whether it’s Europe, South America or Africa, what can you tell that nervous traveler? They want to go on safari and you’re in this bubble, flying to Nairobi and getting with your crew that’s going to be taking them on safari, what can you tell them to alleviate those fears or misconceptions they might have?
I want people to be prepared. What I normally do is go over everything with them. What to expect when they’re in the camp, in their rooms and go over some of the rules that I’ve experienced while I was on safari. When you go to a camp, the manager will sit down with you and say, “These are the rules.” For example, you can’t leave your tent at night. Should you need to leave your tent because most of them won’t have a phone there, so you’ll have to take a flashlight and wave it around and somebody will come if you need something. I go over all these things. What happens if somebody needs a doctor? What’s going to happen? The more informed the traveler is, the more secure they’re going to feel when they’re there having all of these things, going over all these things. Is there a shower in their room? Do they have to go outside and shower? It’s all these things. It’s great to go over everything so they don’t get somewhere and find a surprise.
What are some giveback opportunities? You said someone has a great experience they want to give back to the country? Do you have any recommendations on how they can do that?
When a client wants to do some give back, what we would normally do is there’s something called Pack for a Purpose. A lot of the lodges that we work with also work with Pack for a Purpose. They’re supporting a community or maybe they’re supporting a school and it could be as simple as filling up a bag with some stuff that they need and taking it with you on your trip and leaving it with them. Maybe they need pencils, sharpeners, pads of paper, markers or whatever that they need. I’ve had one client who was a specialist in glasses. They took glasses with them and adjusted them for the whole community while they were there. We can get creative. Sometimes if you have time or you want to make the time, we can have you go and visit the community that you’re helping and spend some time with them and get to know them. It’s always great to get to know people of a different culture.
You mentioned Samburu. Is this a tribe in Kenya?
Yes. They’re the happiest people. When I arrived in Samburu, they came and greeted us. They were smiley and the warmest and kindest people. When somebody wants to do a cultural interaction, since they were my favorite, I usually try to include some Samburu. Samburu also has its own special five animals that are different that you can only see there. For example, they have a zebra that has stripes the other way. They have this giraffe that has a different design on his body, the reticulated giraffes. They have this animal called gerenuk. It looks like a deer that thinks it’s a giraffe and it stands up to eat like giraffes do. It’s got this long neck. It stands and looks like a tiny giraffe. It’s famous, and you can only see it there. I hit two birds with one stone by sending people to Samburu, and it’s also great for elephants there.
What are some of the most memorable reactions your customers have had, ones that popped out in your head when you’ve taken them on one of these safaris?
They’re excited about the special experiences like we’ll do breakfast in the bush or a walking safari where they can go out and walk with the guide. That’s exciting and lots of adrenaline doing that.
I can imagine.
One client was excited about horseback riding safari. They love horses and I was able to get them into one property that has some horses and can do a safari on horses. That’s unique for a safari. One client was dying over that.
What a great suggestion. It’s once in a lifetime. I’ve never heard of that.
I love the breakfast in the bush idea. That sounds a lot of fun to me.
It’s fun to have a picnic out in the bush and the guides are there. It is special.
Thanks so much for your time. You’ve been to over 60 countries. That’s amazing. We ask each one of our travel experts our rapid-fire questions and these are questions so our readers can learn from the experts about once in a lifetime bucket list and what they do when they travel. The first one is, have you ever completed anything on your bucket list and if so, what was it?
I wanted to go white water rafting for years. I wanted to do it in Costa Rica, but every time we went, the kids didn’t weigh enough. We finally went white water rafting in Colorado. They’re adults now so they weigh enough. My daughter barely, but yes and it was fun.
Where did you go out of? Do you remember?
It was near Estes Park.
If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
I would agree with that. I’ll join you.
There’s so much to do around there. There are many different places to visit. I’ve been to most of them, but I’d love to go again. I’d love to get into every nook and cranny of Tuscany.
You definitely would need a year for that one. If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, who would it be?
There’s a saint, her name is Amma and she’s the hugging saint. She goes around the world and gives people hugs. I love the fact that there’s somebody whose life goal is giving people happiness.
She’d be fun to take out for sure. When you’re packing for a trip, what is something you pack that may surprise our readers?
I have this cashmere throw that goes over my head and it doubles as a blanket on planes. I can have it in my purse and throw it on when you get cold. Sometimes if I’m going on safari, I’ll bring some fuzzy slippers because when you go out for the campfire at night, it gets a little bit cold, so having some warm fuzzy slippers could be fun.
Finally, what is your most memorable experience in Kenya?
I could tell you a miserable memory. I was in this camp and my son was about twelve and the rule is you can’t walk by yourself at night, but in the day, they let them do that. My son was on the way to his tent and a snake crossed the path and he went closer to see what it was. The kids came back and told me and I asked the camp director, and it was a Spitting Cobra. That’s a big memory for me.
I’m sure for him too.
It’s been a life lesson because I tell everyone that travels with kids, “Whatever the manager says, keep the kids with you all the time.” He wasn’t a kid. He was a teenager but still, the teenager sometimes doesn’t have that wire for danger. He turned out to be a Marine, so he doesn’t have that wire for danger. That memory for me is something that I tell every client, “Keep the kids with you all the time. Even in the day, stay close.”
It’s definitely the most memorable experience. That’s for sure. I know you’re offering a giveaway for our followers that sign up and it’s a $100 gift certificate to Yampu Tours. Thank you so much for that.
If you want to sign up for that, readers, go to Destination-Everywhere.com. Where can people find information on you? I hear you got this great Instagram account. Should they go there? Should they go to your website? Where do you want them to go?
Go to our website, Yampu.com. You can find out about me and all the countries we sell. If you are an Instagrammer, look me up on Instagram, @MonicaIrauzquiExperiences. I am engaging with my followers every day sharing our travel stories, all our passions and loves for travel.
Monica, you are certainly a travel expert. Thank you so much for taking us to Africa, teaching us about Kenya and the other countries. We look forward to seeing you there sometime. Thanks for coming.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you, Monica. Take care.
We’re glad to have you here. We’re visiting Kenya in East Africa and it’s been a great show. We’ve had great guests. We’ve talked about these unbelievable bucket list items. Lara was talking about how she had come with her family when she was a kid and coming back. A lot of people talk about this as being a once in a lifetime experience when they go. I certainly felt that way but you need to plan for it. You need to get with an expert, understand the regimens around vaccines for it as well as planning way ahead of time because of weather and when the droughts are versus when the rain season.
Also, when the migration is. It depends on what you want to see. That is going to dictate when you go.
Between our guests and the bucket list ideas, we provide some great ideas, some great venues and hotels to go to so there are lots to do. Todd, of all the ones we talked about, what is the one thing that you want to do when you go to Kenya?
Without a doubt, safari but that aside, Lara talked about participating in some philanthropy while you’re there and incorporating that into your trip.
You’re right and that can be life-changing especially for kids.
Some of these villages have nothing, but they don’t realize it, but they need school supplies, clean water and things like that. You can incorporate a time where your family goes and participates in something special for another group of people. That’s either with them or with the animals. You talked about the orphan sanctuary for the elephants. I don’t know how they are about having seasonal volunteers come in because there is a system.
Most hotels or out packing groups will have relationships already set up for you, so you can ask them, “We would like to do this. What are some ideas around our hotel that would be good and we could spend that one of our days doing this?” It’s a nice break from all the touring as well. You get to see real African life and get to meet some great people as well. I’m glad you reminded us about that because it’s one of those things that everyone should do and make sure it’s on their list of things to do. I personally would want to hike Mount Kilimanjaro even if I didn’t go to the top so I could say I hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. You need to have that thing that you want to post like, “I hiked Mount Kilimanjaro.” We have a friend that everywhere she goes she hikes a place and it’s all over her Instagram.
I’ll be back at the Olonana relaxing, getting ready for the next day safari. There’s also the Great Migration. If you time that right and see nature at its fiercest but at its most beautiful, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s something that happens for hundreds and hundreds of years, and we hope that it continues to happen for hundreds and hundreds more.
All of these great bucket list items are at Destination-Everywhere.com. We want to thank everybody for joining us for this episode.
We would also like to thank our team for the extra help that they give us. We have Chris Jordan, our copywriter, Guy Quattlebaum, who is our content developer, Annie Fernandez, our creative director, and the amazing Lauren Campbell who is our podcast producer. Make sure to subscribe, rate and review the show or visit us at www.Destination-Everywhere.com and give us your feedback or any program ideas and we’d love to hear from you. We look forward to seeing you next time. Safe Travels.
- Sanctuary Retreats
- Yampu Tours
- @SanctuaryRetreats – Facebook
- Blog – The When, What, and Where for Malaria
- Pack for a Purpose
- @MonicaIrauzquiExperiences – Instagram
- David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
About Lara Vancans
Lara Vancans has had at least one foot in the hospitality industry for about 15 years now. At 16, she started working as a front desk and events manager in a smaller local hotel, and as freshman in college she had her first job in the Africa space working with Micato Safaris in NYC. With an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and a Masters in African Studies, she has lived in and studied quite a bit in South Africa. In her free time, Lara loves to bake, explore vegan recipes, read fiction, study Spanish, travel, and connect with my friends around the world. Fun fact, she is also a certified Scuba Diver.
About Monica Irauzqui
Monica Irauzqui is the Vice President and co-founder of Yampu Tours and YampGo, starting the company 21 years ago with her husband. Monica has been instrumental in creating a “client first” culture at Yampu Tours. The Mantra of Monica and her team at Yampu is to create lifetime relationships with their clients. Tours are one hundred percent customizable to your whims and wishes, and the Yampu team thrives to stand behind you to ensure that everything goes according to plan – your plan. Monica and her team create realistic expectations for their clients through knowledge and expertise and customer service. They know the product and the countries they work so well that they can match client interests and expectations for the perfect tour experience.