Broadly speaking, my recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania elicited two contrasting reactions. Some people questioned my sanity and furthermore suggested that I was being irresponsible in ignoring the government’s advice not to travel. But another group insisted that encouraging fully vaccinated people to reengage with the world was commendable and that helping to revive East Africa’s tourism industry, as well as restart the flow of money into wildlife conservation, was a highly desirable objective.
At the time of writing, the State Department’s website is still uncompromising about the risks of travel to Africa. And given the dearth of vaccines, the situation for the local inhabitants, especially for those living in crowded cities like Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, remains fraught. But the countries are open to American visitors, and despite some restrictions, it is feasible to move around without difficulty. Originally, I was motivated by the fact that the entry requirements for Kenya and Tanzania did not seem particularly onerous. And I felt that the threat from COVID-19 would be minimal on a safari spent outdoors in sparsely populated places. Also, I wanted to take the opportunity to revisit popular destinations like the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti and to experience them as they had been before the advent of mass tourism. I went to Kenya and Tanzania for the first time 40 years ago, and that’s when I fell in love with the wildlife areas of Africa. Back then, I saw only a handful of other vehicles in the Mara, while on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti I had the 2 million animals of the Great Migration virtually to myself. And because few Americans and virtually no Europeans are traveling, these are experiences that, at least for a while, can be replicated.
Equipped with a negative COVID test and a QR code from the Kenyan authorities that would allow me to enter the country, I boarded a Kenya Airways nonstop flight from New York. Fourteen hours later I was in Nairobi, where the airport was surprisingly busy. Happily, the immigration formalities took only about 30 minutes longer than normal, and soon I was being transferred to the domestic Wilson Airport 12 miles away.