Pretty in pink: flamingoes at Lake Bogoria National Reserve
Q: I'm about to spend three weeks in Kenya, starting with a game drive in Masai Mara. After that, I want to get off the tourist track and see some more remote parts of the country. Any ideas?
Hope Hauptman, Davis, California
A: Plenty, since I just came back from Kenya last month. In case you haven't already booked your safari, I'd like to voice a plea of support for Dream Camp. Tourism has taken its toll on the Mara over the years, and this lodge is the only one I know of that's working to minimize the damage by using solar power, composting, and recycled water. Its safari tents also happen to have some the best views in the park.
When you've had your fill of the Big Five (or Fourrhinos are few and far between these days), see if you can make your way up to Lake Bogoria National Reserve. In all my travels, this is the most unique landscape I've ever seen. It's definitely off the tourist track-there's no reliable bus or matatu service here, so you'll have to find someone with a car. But it's worth the work. Hot springs and geysers bubble up around the edges of the water, which looks from a distance like it's rimmed with pink sand. As you get closer you'll see that the pink specks are actually thousands of flamingoes that occupy the banks. The equator crosses this exact point and you can feel the sun searing your skin as soon as you slip out from under the acacia shade. If you have an aversion to sweat or sunburn, get a room at the Lake Bogoria Hotel, where there's a pool fed by mineral springs. Otherwise, camping is the way to go.
For week three, I recommend Lamu, a small island in the Indian Ocean whose narrow, car-free alleys and bui-bui-clad residents offer up an entirely different take on Kenya. Fishing is the main attraction here; as soon as you step foot on the dock, you'll be swarmed by "captains" hoping to offer up their dhow for a day. Most likely you'll end up dropping anchor near the mangrove swamps, cooking up the day's catch on Manda Island, and spending the afternoon swimming on an empty, soft-sand beach. The Stone House Hotel has three-night packages that include airfare from Nairobi, clean, comfy rooms, and two meals a day (its rooftop restaurant is among the best in town) for about $200. Any travel agent in Kenya can book the trip. After the haul to Bogoria and any transit time wasted in Nairobi, you'll be more than ready for the island life.