So how have we got around this National Park walking safari restriction?
The solution lies in the fact that, comparatively recently, a number of Conservancies have been established, quite independent of the National Park system. Often these Conservancies represent land previously used by, for example, the local Maasai tribespeople, but now leased to camp operators, to their mutual benefit. Often these Conservancies are actually attached to National Parks – as in the Maasai Mara – or may instead be totally free-standing. However the big difference, from our point of view, is that there are no irksome government restrictions placed on these areas – and therefore walking safaris (together with night drives etc) can freely take place here.
Most important of all is that the number of camps that can be located in each Conservancy (and indeed the number that are actually allowed to game drive or walk here) is strictly controlled – perhaps to less than half a dozen. This means that the dreadful ‘traffic jam’ of game viewing vehicles that is regularly experienced in the most popular Parks, the Maasai Mara being a classic case in point, can be completely avoided. You might well ask whether the amount of game to be seen is as good. The answer is that it is usually at least as good. There are no natural boundaries between the National Parks and their surrounding Conservancies, and the game often appears to be relieved to be able to get away from the crowds of tourists! Even where the Conservancies stand on their own, they have successfully been populated with an abundance of game.
Fairly obviously, what we are doing is to take advantage of the ability to take to one’s feet in the Conservancy areas, as opposed to the National Parks. We are not going to pretend that nobody else has thought of doing this: most of the camps located here do already offer the opportunity to walk. But these walks are typically of the ‘Bimble in the Bush’ variety, rather than the classic ‘Camp to Camp’ trek, involving a serious distance walk. If you think about it, the reason for this is fairly obvious. If camps were to offer the opportunity to transfer on foot to another location then they will have lost their guest. We never believed that it was a case of the camps refusing to enter into this sort of activity, but rather that they never even considered the possibility, for the above reason (in Zambia it is somewhat different, since there are several companies who operate a string of camps in the one Park, enabling a walking circuit to be established, within their own regime).
What we feel to be our own contribution – stemming from our ability to take an independent overview of the situation – is that of coming up with the idea of setting up a circuit of walking destinations within a single Conservancy – or sometimes bridging two neighbouring Conservancies – using the, restricted, series of camps resident here. In the event it is a concept that has proved to be very popular, both with our guests, and with the camps involved, and we actually feel pretty pleased about creating this new – albeit when you think about it, pretty simple – idea. Not that it was completely easy to bring about, partly due to the need to bring in outside professional guides, who will accompany you for the duration of your trip, since the resident guides are just not trained up to the necessary standard, and partly because of the need to obtain individual permission from the Conservancies involved. To date we have established this Classic Walking Safari concept in four distinct Kenyan locations: in two Conservancies bordering onto the Maasai Mara, and in two separate, and different stand- alone Conservancies in the unspoilt Laikipia area of Kenya: namely Ol Pejeta and Lewa.
Ideally we have tried to set up a circuit of 3-4 camps in a given region, between which the guests can transfer on foot, their baggage being taken along separately by vehicle. The idea is to spend a minimum of two nights at each camp, combining walking, game viewing by vehicle, night drives, or simply just relaxing in camp: whatever the guest would like to do. Around three nights will be spent at the first such camp, principally taking game drives in the area (since most people, however dedicated to walking, will want to ensure some good traditional game viewing as well). Following on from this the guests will transfer on foot to the second camp, typically some 10-20 km away. If the straight-line distance is less than they are looking forward to doing, then of course a non-direct route can be followed; if too far, then they can be driven a short distance out along the route, before taking to their feet.
On arrival, in late morning, before it gets too hot, they will typically take a welcome shower, before lunch. The afternoon can then be spent relaxing, until it becomes cooler, around 4.00 p.m., at which point a further short walk, out and back to camp, followed by a well-deserved sundowner or two, can be undertaken, or a game drive and night drive, punctuated by a similar, and pre-arranged, sundowner. The following day will be spent in the same location, either relaxing in camp – several have their own swimming pool – taking a further out and back walk in the vicinity of the camp, or going out on a game drive. In the case of camps located close to the Maasai Mara, it is possible to arrange for a whole day game drive into the Park, especially popular if the wildebeest migration is taking place. A visit to a Maasai village is also an experience that will not soon be forgotten.
Different grades of walk can be arranged in each case to suit whatever degree of exertion is desired by each guest. The above procedure is repeated until the full circuit has been completed, and each different kind of habitat within the Conservancy area visited, before travelling on to your next destination the following day. See 'Our Itineraries' for examples of these.