How to plan a wheelchair accessible Kenya Safari
For those who’ve dreamed of seeing Africa’s iconic wildlife, a safari vacation in Kenya promises all the essentials to make this wish come true. Abundant, free-roaming wildlife dotted across pristine wilderness landscapes, coupled with a strong tourism industry catering to all market segments, and complemented by the natural hospitality of the local people. Little wonder then that there is a surge in demand from differently-abled tourists.
Granted, planning and executing a safari for those who use a wheelchair comes with unique challenges but by asking the right questions, you’ll find that in Kenya, “Hakuna matata” is less a cliche than a way of life. And, as those who have rolled before you will testify, the experience and the rich array of memories will more than compensate for any difficulties encountered. In this article, we’ll explore steps to be taken before and during your safari to ensure that your safari is both seamless and rewarding.
Planning and logistics
Start planning your safari well in advance. As Kenya’s top holiday activity, accommodation and services are in high demand. To ensure that you can secure the right accommodation, transport, specialized equipment and additional services to meet your needs, it pays to book 9 months to a year in advance. It is suggested that you add a day or two before the actual safari commences to allow for rest and acclimatization, and don’t forget to confirm airport pick-ups and drop-offs at both ends of the itinerary.
Advise the safari operator about your degree of mobility and the type of wheelchair (or other mobility aid/s) that you’ll be traveling with, being mindful of how these may impact your transport arrangements. Some opt to retain the services of a Personal Care Assistant to accompany them on safari.
Travel and transport
Safari holidays invariably involve complex travel arrangements due to long distances, limited transport options and remote locations. Many safari packages involve flights in light aircraft between camps, however, these aircraft are seldom suited for travel for those with limited mobility. We, therefore, recommend a road-based package.
You’ll need to be prepared for long periods in vehicles, often over rough terrain. With advance notice, your safari operator will gladly accommodate you and your wheelchair by providing access ramps along with preferential seating on the safari vehicle (often the front seat next to the driver-guide).
If these are unavailable, be sure to ask specifically how you will be assisted when boarding or exiting a vehicle. Inquire about what to expect with regard to rest breaks/toilet stops. Toilet facilities outside of the camps generally do not cater to those in wheelchairs – so try to get an idea of what you should expect in this regard and plan accordingly.
Finally, ask whether the seating has adequate restraints or hand-holds to support you, especially over rough terrain. It may also be worthwhile to weigh up the advantages of a private (as opposed to a group) safari. Considering that you will be spending the better part of each day in the safari vehicle, be sure that you are happy with the arrangements prior to departure.
Without a doubt, accommodation that is wheelchair-friendly is the best option – although this is often in short supply (hence the need to book early). Enquire with your safari operator and the establishments you’ll be staying at whether there is room to maneuver your wheelchair, especially in the bathroom. If your accommodation does not have disabled-friendly facilities, you might consider obtaining a portable hoist and shower chair. Also, find out if there is an in-room contingency in case of emergencies (such as an intercom or walkie-talkie).
Find out about the general terrain and type of surface on the interconnecting pathways in the camps; some have level pathways, while others have steep terrain or gravel trails. Knowing this in advance could literally make or break your safari (and your wheelchair). Below are some wheelchair friendly accommodation, to consider while on your Kenya safari
Sweetwaters Serena Camp is located inside Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It offers a tranquil respite in the wild, with en-suite bathrooms, free WiFi and a private balcony or veranda. Begin or end your day with a delicious meal and superb views at our light-filled restaurant, enjoy a guided game drive on the conservancy, indulge in a massage in our treatment room or simply relax by the pool.
Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge is the first safari lodge ever built in a Kenya National Park and is superbly situated in the largest national park in Kenya - Tsavo West National Park. Strategically located midway between the Kenyan capital city Nairobi and its coastal town of Mombasa, only about 3 hours’ drive from each.
Ashnil Mara Camp is located in the Masai Mara National Reserve and close to the Mara River, famous for the wildebeest migration.Our luxury Masai Mara Camp is arguably in one of the very best positions in the Masai Mara for game viewing and also provides the perfect setting to sit and relax at the end of an exciting day of game drives. The Ashnil Mara Camp is a 4 – 5 hour drive from Nairobi or there are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara which take just 45 mins. You may also fly from the Mombasa Coast to our luxury tented camp in just 2 hrs.
When to go and for how long.
The weather in Kenya is defined by distinct wet and dry seasons. Considering that with rain comes mud, this could impact your ability to get around, both in your wheelchair and on the roads.
We suggest traveling in the dry season, which runs from June to October. At this time, the temperature is pleasant, there is little to no rain and insects are scarce. With the best weather, it is also the peak tourist season, with the best chance of witnessing the famed wildebeest migration.
Kenya has much to offer regarding the diversity of wildlife, landscapes and attractions. Ideally, you’ll want to visit two or more of the national parks/conservancies, and possibly stay in a selection of camps along the way. This will ensure your best chance of seeing abundant wildlife in a variety of settings while seeing as much of the country as you can. We recommend upwards of 5 days on safari (excluding pre- and/or post-safari options).
What to pack
Most tour operators will provide you with a recommended packing list, which you may need to modify to accommodate your needs. In general, they recommend keeping your luggage to a minimum. If you expect to need more than what is recommended, communicate this to your agent early so that provision can be made.
- Take wheelchair spares and a puncture repair kit.
- Get a full medical and chat with your doctor about any concerns.
- Thoroughly check your travel insurance and confirm you have adequate coverage in case of an emergency.
- If you require any specialized medical equipment, secure it in advance, ensuring that it is available at your destination on arrival.
- Take copies of your prescriptions and have your healthcare provider supply a list of generic alternatives and ingredients.
- Don’t be shy to have the furnishing reconfigured for your needs, if necessary. The staff are only too happy to make you as comfortable as possible.
- Rather pay extra to fly on as direct a route as possible.
Below are some of our wheelchair friendly safaris, to consider while on your Kenya safari!