To be honest, we weren’t planning on going to Kenya. We were lucky to see so much wildlife in Tanzania and Uganda and hadn’t heard that Nairobi was a must-see. But when we were booking flights to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we realized we could have a cheap stopover and went for it. And I’m so glad we did!
We only had 2 days and opted to stay in the suburb of Karen; named for Karen Blixen. Karen was lovely and close to the attractions we were most interested in. The only downside was that there weren’t a lot of options for restaurants BUT we stayed in a lovely Airbnb with a kitchen (!!!) and after 5 weeks on the road we were excited to make our own meals (hello fresh veggies, fish, eggs and peanut butter!). Our Airbnb was actually on the original 60 acres that Karen Blixen and her husband owned – where they lived, grew coffee beans and where Karen ran a school for locals. My favourite things about staying at the Airbnb were:
- The kitchen, and the opportunity to make some healthy meals
- Good WiFi
- Free laundry
Things that in day to day life you take for granted, but were totally amazing after washing our underwear in the sink, eating out all the time and not being able to do anything on the internet!
Karen also has a pretty modern mall, The Hub, which was a total novelty for us. Though we didn’t shop, we did go to the Carrefour for all of our grocery needs.
I’ll highlight the three main things we did in Karen since nearly one whole day was dedicated to admin-type stuff (like researching and booking the next part of our trip). It’s amazing what a difference good WiFi makes! 🙂
We actually looked into availability at Giraffe Manor back in July but it was completely booked out for the next 2 years! Still, we were excited to visit the giraffe centre, which Giraffe Manor shares land with. For $10 we were able to feed and hang out with the same giraffes you can see eating breakfast with guests of Giraffe Manor.
The staff will give you pellets to feed the giraffes and they encourage you to have the giraffes give you a kiss by putting a pellet between your lips. Apparently the saliva is anti-bacterial 😉
One of the staff members will also offer to give you a brief history of the centre, which was established to help protect the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. There are currently 15 giraffes at the centre, one male adult and the rest are female. The giraffes are bred and once old enough, the babies are reintroduced into the wild.
We arrived right when it opened and had the place to ourselves for the first 15 minutes before another couple showed up and then it was just the four of us for nearly an hour. Around 10am buses with school groups began to arrive so we were glad we got there when we did.
If you do one thing in Nairobi, do this! After finishing at the giraffe centre we hightailed it to the elephant orphanage, which strictly has feeding times between 11-12 each day. We arrived around 10:15 and there were already 20 or so people there! By the time they let us in at 11, there must have been over 100 tourists there, in addition to 50 school children. Arriving early allowed us to get a good spot along the roped-off area where the elephants play.
Shortly after everyone is surrounding the play area, they start to bring out the baby elephants – a few at a time. It’s adorable to see them running up! They are, understandably, quite excited to have their 2 bottles (filled with human baby formula). Soon enough, there were 15 baby elephants between the ages of 6 months to 24 months walking around, playing with each other and cooling off in the mud.
It was here where James told me that we were actually going to adopt one – an early birthday gift from my family! I was beyond excited!
The first group left and the second group shortly came out; these guys were a little older (2-3 years) but still just as cute! As we headed out for the day, we selected our elephant (Malima) and were given a certificate and instructions to come back at 5pm that evening when you get to see your elephant in his/her ‘room’ (the stall where they sleep).
We arrived back around 5 with a much smaller group this time, though there were still close to 30 people. We lined up and watched 34 baby elephants come running toward their rooms (where they knew bottles were waiting for them!).
We walked around and spent some time watching the babies settle in their rooms, including the newest arrivals who were sleeping with their blankets (!!!). Seriously cute. We went over to Malima’s stall and watched her play around, and steal her neighbours food, for a bit. Before we knew it, it was 6pm and time to leave.
If you love animals, this is about the most adorable experience you can have in Nairobi (IMHO). And beyond that, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is doing some amazing work. All of the elephants at the orphanage were found in the wild and left for dead; some had mothers die of natural causes, others were victims to poaching, some were found fallen down wells or caught in snares set by poachers. They are brought to the nursery where they are very well taken care of – they are bottle fed every 3 hours including through the night! Elephants are also very social animals, and they get to become part of a group where they can play and live together. Once they are old enough, the babies are reintroduced into the wild and can go on leading normal lives. All in all, I would definitely recommend visiting!
James and I have been watching movies and reading books that take place in Africa to really immerse ourselves; one of the more recent movies we watched was ‘Out of Africa’, based on Karen Blixen’s book that details the years she spent in Kenya. Since we were staying a stone’s throw from the museum, we felt we needed to visit! And it was really interesting.
With your entry ticket, you also receive a guide and ours, Paulette, gave us the background on Karen’s time in Nairobi. As it turns out, the movie was pretty accurate! We started in the gardens, getting the background on Karen’s travel to Africa and how she spent her time here. After, it was time for a tour of the house which is the same one she lived in and also the same one used in the film. When she left Kenya, the house was sold to a soldier who lived there for many years. When he died, his daughter sold the house to Denmark and when Kenya became independent in 1964 it was given back to the country as a present from Denmark.
The area of the school that Karen built for local children is now the site of the Kenya Medical Training College which is really cool!
They even have some of the costumes worn by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford handing in the closets. They’ve done a remarkable job keeping everything as it was when Karen lived in the house. The cost was $24 USD for the 2 of us to visit, so it may not be up everyone’s alley (you can pet giraffes for less!) but if you’ve read the book or seen the movie I think it’s worth a visit.
We were glad we stopped over in Nairobi – even just for the animals it was totally worth it! Next we were off to Victoria Falls – the largest waterfall in the world!