Where else can you meet up with a real Masai tribe and get invited into their village? See the Great Migration and a lion kill in the same day? Hike high up into the Ugandan mountains and spend an hour amongst the very rare mountain gorillas? Sponsor an orphan and give her life some hope? Nomad Adventure Tours Masai Mara and Gorilla tour… that’s where.
After returning to my home in New Zealand after spending 7 amazing weeks in Africa in 2012 – three of which were with Nomad Adventure Tour from Cape Town to Victoria Falls– I knew that Africa had captured my heart. I longed to return and to see some more of what Africa had to offer. After spending nearly three months post-trip blogging about my experience, I was contacted yet again by Nomad Adventure Tours –this time asking me to come back and telling me that they were keen on a partnership. It took nearly 14 months, but I did finally return to Africa – and as mentioned in my Summer 2013 Plans post, I was set to do the 38 day East Africa and Gorillas tour. This tour is actually comprised of 2 shorter tours, linked up back to back – the Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour for 14 days, followed by the Nairobi to Victoria Falls Tour for 21 days.
This time Nomad Adventure Tours offered me a very large discount in exchange for blogging, photos and video- so of course I accepted the offer and quickly booked a plane ticket. All experiences, thoughts, and opinions of my time touring with Nomad Adventure Tours have remained my own and were no way swayed by the discounts I received.
The following post contains my thoughts about the company and my experience on the Masai Mara and Gorillas tour.
Since my booking was a bit different than others, my experience may not be 100% helpful to everyone. I found that the office staff while enthusiastic and well informed about the various tours; sometimes would take a bit too long to respond to my email inquiries. It all eventually ended up getting sorted in the end – but at times I felt like I was pestering them with my incessant emails. As I mentioned in my review in the Cape Town to Victoria Falls tour, payment options are fairly limited – cash, direct deposit (with you incurring the service fee at whatever amount your bank charges), or VISA or Mastercard (with a 5% surcharge). Again, I suggest the Nomad Adventure Tours looks into Paypal as a payment option.
The pre-departure dossier/itinerary was full of helpful information and really helped prepare me for my time on the Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour. I was able to look up many of the campsites ahead of time and do my own research prior to the trip. Kudos! It’s a well put together package chock full of great information.
As with my previous tour, I have absolutely no complaints about my guides and driver. Due to a very last minute scheduling change, Nyika and Noah were brought in to guide our group and cook our meals. Nyika is an amazing guide who clearly takes a lot of pride out of his job and is always willing to ensure that clients are happy – he’s also a fantastic cook! Noah is quiet, but was very helpful in many situations when we had to speak with locals, or navigate our way through busy cities. Both times in Kampala, Noah even got out of the truck, and led the way on the back of a motorbike taxi. Noah shared cooking duties with Nyika and was also the mastermind behind some delicious meals. Our driver, Sandile, is one of the best in the business. Now having traveled through 9 African countries with him at the helm, I think it’s safe to make this assessment. He is one of the safest drivers on the road and does everything he can to make sure we get to our destinations both safely and in a timely fashion. I cannot speak highly enough about the Nomad Adventure Tours crew on the tour- they truly go above and beyond.
On the Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour I was on a truck called Junior. Junior is one of the older models in the Nomad Adventure Tours fleet – and this is sometimes very apparent. There were minor issues with some of the windows not opening and some seat belts being broken, and by the end of the trip our interior lights had burnt out and the sound system was no longer working. It is also advertised in the brochure that each client receives a locker for his or her bags and belongings- however, Junior is not equipped with this feature- although a very small safe with room for passports and money is available for client use. There were sufficient power points for us to be able to charge electronics during overnight stops – with 2 power bars available. Despite being an older truck, we didn’t have any issues such as breakdowns or flat tires – something that is very common in overlanding travel.
The camping equipment was in very good shape – I didn’t experience any issues with the poles or zippers, and didn’t hear of any other campers experience these issues. On a few occasions we needed the raincovers for our tents- and we found them to be a bit too short- fortunately nobody got rained on in the night. We had two large metal camping tables that we used at mealtimes, which even came with tablecloths – this was a surprising and helpful bonus. The camping chairs were in good shape (only a few that seemed to always get taken out of the truck that were broken) and there were more than enough for my group of 17.
The campsites chosen for this tour were for the most part quite lovely to stay at. My personal favourite was the Lake Bunyoni campsite where we camped right next to the lake in a setting that looked like paradise. All campsites seemed very safe – always within a compound with security who worked round-the-clock. A few of the sites – such as Red Chili Hideaway in Kampala and Nile Explorer in Jinja, were a bit louder due to the number of overlanders and backpackers, but nothing that putting in your headphones or earplugs at night wouldn’t fix. Bathroom facilities in the campsites were all pretty nice – with the exception of Hippo Camp in Queen Elizabeth National Park – they had co-ed bathrooms, and the lights did not work at night. We were lucky to have hot showers at about half of the campsites that we stayed at.
On the Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour, the Activities Package is a mandatory purchase. Some of the activities included were the Masai Village Tour, Masai Mara NP game drive, Queen Elizabeth NP, Lake Nakuru NP game drive, Hells Gate NP game drive and of course trekking with the mountain gorillas. With the exception of our trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park, all of the included activities were thoroughly enjoyed by all. Nomad Adventure Tours has a few destinations on their itinerary that other overland tour companies don’t have – such as Lake Nakuru – which in my opinion makes it a superior product.
There were a lot of Optional Activities offered on this tour, such as the Hope Uganda Orphanage Project and Bahtwa tribe visit, bike ride through Hells Gate National Park, Ugandan cooking class, river cruise in Queen Elizabeth National Park, white water rafting down the Nile River, chimpanzee trekking in Queen Elizabeth National Park, high tea at Elsamere (the home of Joy Adamson), and many more.
As I mentioned earlier, the meals on the Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour were amazing. Nyika and Noah truly know how to keep their guests happy with delicious food. Breakfasts generally consisted of bread and cereals with tea and coffee, however on a good number of mornings we were privileged enough to get some hot meals – consisting of scrambled eggs, sausage and French toast. Lunches became monotonous – as they tend to become- consisting of sandwiches or pasta salad, and usually with a fruit option. Occasionally we were treated to a guacamole that we could add as a spread to our sandwiches or salads. Dinners are really when Nyika and Noah had the opportunity to shine. We had everything from delicious curries to chicken a la king to the most delicious charcoal grilled steaks.
There are a few areas of this tour that I felt could be improved or changed– for example, getting rid of the 2 days stop in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It really was not a good experience, the roads are terrible, Hippo Camp is not the greatest campsite, and the park itself is quite out of the way. Not only that but due to an agreement with the communities that live within the park, when you pay your park fees – you MUST attempt to visit a community. We found these people unwelcoming; they spit at our truck as we drove by, yelled racist obscenities at us, and made it clear that we were unwanted. Because of these reasons and because we feared for our safety, as a group, we chose to NOT get off the truck to visit the people of the community. The game within the park is also nothing to write home about – I barely even took out my camera because nothing caught my eye.
This tour combines accommodated and camping passengers – something I would NOT recommend. Accommodated clients have a different set of expectations than those of campers. I am not saying this to knock any of the accommodated clients on my tour – they genuinely were lovely, but when you pay the extra money and are told that your ‘hands-on participation’ will be minimal, it isn’t fair to then ask them to do things like wash the dishes, or help clean the truck. That is why they’ve paid extra for a third guide. As mentioned, this was never an issue brought up amongst the accommodated passengers on my tour – but I can foresee it being a problem. Separating these tours may help alleviate any potential tension that could arise from the ‘class difference’.
The Final Word on the Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour
Despite the few areas I feel could be improved, I do recommend this tour to those who have done their research and have an understanding of what overlanding through East Africa is like. It can be a lot rougher than Southern Africa – there’s a lot more visible poverty, the road conditions are often pretty bad, hot showers are a luxury, and public toilets can be pretty horrific. That being said – it was an incredible, yet sometimes emotionally trying, experience. The enthusiasm of all Nomad Adventure Tours staff (both office staff and the crew members on tour) is infectious – which results in making you excited to experience Africa.
**If you would like more information about Nomad Adventure Tours and their products – contact me!**