Coronavirus in East Africa: chatting with our local experts

It’s natural to stay more up to date with coronavirus developments closer to home. Over in Africa, we chatted to two of our local experts to see how several East African nations – and their safari industries – were coping with Covid-19.
Angama in Kenya. Photo: Africa220

East Africa is a staggeringly beautiful region, famed for its sweeping savannahs and some of the best wildlife viewing on Earth. We caught up with two of our local experts – who between them cover Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Madagascar – to learn more about what coronavirus has been like in the region, and its impact on the travel industry going forwards. 

Chatting to Inge, local expert for Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda

Inge, our local expert. Photo: private archive

Q: What is the situation like in Tanzania at the moment?

A: At the moment it’s quite interesting: the borders have opened and there’s no need for quarantine upon arrival. International flights have slowly started to pick up and we have received our first international guests already. The Tanzanian government has implemented standard operating procedures and training across all tourism enterprises, such as temperature measures before camps, national parks, and other services. Masks have to be worn outside and all our vehicles are equipped with disinfectant, making sure we comply to the highest hygiene standards. 

Q: Do you think safari tourism will pick up fast?

A: Safaris are designed for social distancing – most of our camps hold a maximum of 10 tents, so 20–30 people tops. Areas like the Serengeti are so vast, that you won’t come into contact with anyone else. This means safaris are a great way to explore new things and to travel, while simultaneously adhering to the physical-distancing measures. 

Leopard up close. Photo: Africa220

Q: Do you have any advice for first timers for Tanzania? Where should they go? 

A: There’s so much to see and do in Tanzania! Cultural tourism provided a major draw in “pre-Corona” times, but at the moment, I strongly recommend wildlife tourism. Tanzania has some of the best wildlife viewing, if not the best, in Africa. My favorite national park is Tarangire National Park – you will find plenty of elephants and beautiful big Baobab Trees, the landscape is just magical.

The main attraction is the Serengeti – you will not find this amount of wildlife, migration or big cats anywhere else. My recommended itinerary for a wildlife itinerary is flying into Kilimanjaro, visiting Arusha National Park for some hiking and a canoe safari, then to drive to Tarangire for some game drives, cross the Lake Manyara and visit the Serengeti and on the way out visit Ngorongoro.


Q: What are the best visiting times?

A: Tanzania is attractive the whole year around, but if you’re interested in the great migration, we’ll design your itinerary according to your travel month. If you’re planning to travel in January, the migration is down South, while in August, the Migration is up North. In the North the famous Mara River crossing happens. April and May is the rainy season, still a good time to travel to Tanzania, mainly because the lodges offer discounted rates, but with the grass being higher there’s less visibility for wildlife.

Q: When do you expect international travel to East Africa?

A: We’ve already seen quite a few international arrivals, as Tanzania’s borders are open again. Kenya is about to open – on 1 August, there will be no need for quarantine when basic safety measurements are being met. 

We’re happy to receive enquiries from all over the world at the moment and we’re hoping that by the end of August and September tourism arrivals will pick up again and hopefully by 2021, numbers will bounce back.


Q: What are your favorite hidden gems in the region?

A: My favorite hidden gem in Tanzania is Enduimet. It’s a wildlife-management area, not a national park, and one of the few places where you can see the Gerenuk, also called the giraffe gazelle, quite a rare sighting in North Tanzania. Enduimet lies between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, so on a clear day you can see both mountains, as well as wildlife like zebras, elephants and giraffes. It’s a beautiful area where the Maasai community is still active and lives. It also allows you to get a bit more out of the car than a traditional safari: there’s walking and biking safaris. Also, there’s not a lot of roads, so most of it is done off-road, lending a bit more of an adventurous feel to it.

Chatting to Kellen, local expert for Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar

Kellen, Central Island, Turkana. Photo: Africa220

Q: What is the situation like in Kenya at the moment?

A: In Kenya, the first case of coronavirus was reported in early March. The president soon after announced a lockdown, which was then targeting Nairboi and other regions that recorded significant numbers of infections. This has since been lifted and there is now free movement between all the regions, though a curfew is still in place from 9pm–4am. The ban on local flights, road and railway transportation has now also been lifted. From 1 August, the country will open up for international flights.

Given the number of new infections being reported, it looks likely that the peak is yet to be realized. Most businesses have reopened, though people are mainly working from home. The government department of tourism is actively encouraging resumption of traveling and providing incentives to support that.

Kenya has laid down protocols to “inculcate institutional, operational and staff preparedness” to ensure service provision in line with World Health Organization guidelines and Kenya’s Ministry of Health measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. The Government is keen on ensuring a safe experience for visitors/guests and service providers. At the moment once the clients arrive with valid negative Covid-19 certificates, there will be no need to quarantine. Kenya is trying to rebuild trust and confidence to increase and sustain demand for holiday and investment in the destination. There has also been encouragement during this time of closure to refurbish destination infrastructure.

Q: Where do you recommend first-timers to go in Kenya (and the surrounding countries if applicable)? 

A: Honestly, this is a tough question. It is more dependent on the wish list and budget. Kenya has all it takes and it caters for all the interest, starting from game, culture and beaches to sports, etc. However, for first timers, I would recommend that clients shouldn’t miss visiting a national park or game reserve. The most famous include the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu, Nanyuki and Mt Kenya, though we have the niche market that wants to go to places that are not very common/crowded e.g. Laikipia and others if you prefer private sanctuaries for exclusivity.

Q: What's the best way to travel in Kenya and the surrounding countries, and in which months?

A: I would recommend first-time travelers to tour Kenya by road, with regional flights to surrounding countries. Again, this also depends on what the client wants in terms of comfort. Many opt to mix road and flights in order to see more places in a limited time. Again, in East Africa, the period of April to June is termed as low season and the rates are very friendly. Most of the travelers take advantage of this because in East Africa there is game in the parks throughout the year.

Central Island, Lake Turkana. Photo: Africa220

Q: What are your favorite hidden gems in the country? 

A: There is so much I love about Kenya. Turkana is a hidden gem as it is less exploited and it has beautiful scenery and rich culture. Marsabit is the ideal place for desert safaris in Kenya. With a tropical climate, the gems are uncountable… and we have all to offer in our magical Kenya.