Kenya, where I traveled earlier this August, is a country brimming with so much magic, wonder, and beauty. It is impossible to leave without being moved to the deepest parts of your soul. I lack the words to properly convey to you why this is truly a trip of a lifetime, but I’ll try!
Whether it is the love we felt from every Kenyan we met, the awe of seeing so much majestic wildlife in its natural habitats, to breathtaking unspoiled landscapes that make one feel like they’re lost in time, the country left me forever a changed human being. For years, Kenya had been on my bucket list, so when my dad suggested we take my two oldest kids there, I jumped at the chance. As they’re in their teens, it was the perfect age to make the (extremely) long journey there from California. I asked my mother-in-law if she would like to join (she could not have said yes more quickly), so there were three generations sharing this experience together, a fact that only made this trip even more special.
Kenya sits on the equator, and June to October is the dry season, the ideal time for going on safari. Every day was cool and lovely, ranging from 50-70℉, depending on time of day; and as our group was comprised of eight people ranging from teens to octogenarians, it was perfect weather. To get there, we flew from Los Angeles, to Paris, to Nairobi. A trip which, all-in-all, took almost 30 hours. Even though we arrived at 6am, we were all ready to hit the ground running.
Our first stop was The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where we visited baby elephants face-to-face. These sweet creatures are all orphans. Alone for a number of reasons, like poachers murdering their parents or falling into wells, they are kept and cared for by an incredibly dedicated group of individuals who bottle feed them for at least 4-5 years and help raise them until they’re ready to be placed back into the wild. One of the highlights for us was spending time with Raja, an orphaned baby rhinoceros, who loved sucking on our clothes! She was precious and so after she melted us to puddles, we immediately added to her adoption fund (something you can do online, which is a special gift for any animal lover).
From there we went to the Giraffe Centre, a sanctuary where we visited with the most precious group of local school children and had an opportunity to feed the giraffes (if you want a bit of trivia, there are 3 types of giraffes in Kenya: Rothschild, Reticulated and Mara). Next we went to the house of Karen Blixen, on whose life the movie Out of Africa is based, and learned about her fascinating history. Finally, around 1pm we checked into the gorgeous Hemingways hotel, where we had a beautiful lunch of local cuisine, and then did a bit of shopping, visiting several local artists who crafted beaded jewelry, belts, and more.
After 36 hours in Nairobi, we boarded a 1-hour flight and then drove to a part of northern Kenya where we stayed at our first safari camp, the majestic Sarara. Sarara is located on the 850,000 acre Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory and is based on an ecotourism model dedicated to the conservation of the area which is most notably home to the indigenous Samburu. The Samburu people had a profound affect on us all, especially my kids. The area where we stayed was remote. There was little around our tented camp besides the elephants, giraffe and other animals with whom we co-existed. We were in awe of and humbled by our surroundings.
There are 3 camps in this area: Sarara, Sarara Treehouses, and Retiti House (we stayed at the first). Each room had it’s own outdoor shower, where you could soak in the views of the animals as they came and went, and mouthwatering family-style meals. During our 4 days there, we swam in the pool while watching elephants play and bathe nearby, learned to bead jewelry with a Samburu woman, learned so much about the Samburu and their culture, visited a local Montessori school which was created and maintained from the funds donated and raised by people who stay at the camp, and went on game drives every morning and night to see the animals up close.
Sarara is somehow luxurious while also remaining quaint and humble at the same time. Also while there, my kids built fires from sticks and wood while we watched the sun set with out incredible guides, Chloe and I rode horses alongside herds of giraffe, we visited villages to learn about how local community lives, cooked, and walked through the gardens at the camp (a highlight for me). To be able to unplug put our phones down (there’s cell service if you really need it) was a much needed relief. Sitting outside our tents or in the great room, mesmerized by the views of the mountains, valley, animals, and nature was truly breathtaking. It all makes you want to just abandon your devices all together.
On our last day we visited the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary, where we observed baby elephants and giraffe play with each other in the mud. These animals are supported, sometimes for years, before they are ready to be returned to the wild.
When our 4 glorious days at Sarara sadly came to end, we flew to our next camp, Enasoit, a 9 tent property (the camp can house up to 20 or so guests), where we luckily happened to be the only group there. Aside from the incredibly lovely staff, we didn’t see anyone else at Enasoit for our entire 3-day stay. Upon arriving, we were treated to some of the most fresh and mouthwatering food I’ve tasted. Endless family-style platters of salads, fruits, creatively prepared vegetable dishes, roast meats, homemade breads, cheese and irresistible desserts were a fixture at every meal. At lunch, my father loved their homemade pavlova covered with whipped cream, passion fruit and berries so much that they prepared it again the following day.
Most days we awoke around 5:45am to the sounds of lions and hyenas. That was our signal to jump into open-air jeeps, wrap ourselves in warm blankets, and savor hot tea on our game drives to see the animals. We had the incredible fortune to witness cycle of life moment at its most spellbinding: a leopard kill an impala and haul it up a tree, only to have two large lionesses steal it and spend 2 hours devouring it on the ground as the leopard had no choice but to watch it all transpire as it hid up in the tree. My kids’ jaws hung open in complete silence as we watched from our vantage point. After these morning drives we would return to Enasoit for delicious breakfasts of yogurt, homemade granola, fresh fruit, smoothies (yay!), warm homemade pastries, fresh brewed coffee, eggs any style, pancakes and crepes. It felt like the food never ended…in the best way possible.
After a nap, reading, a game of cards, or elephant and giraffe-watching, we’d head to the nearby pool house, where we had lunch from yet another major spread. Afternoons were spent either on walks which were led by our Enasoit guide (who as a precaution carried a rifle in case an animal tried to approach us. We were all happy when he added that he had never had to use it); napping; playing ping pong; riding horses; and lingering in their shop of goods made by local artisans.
At 5pm, we would depart for an evening game drive and then watch the sun set in incredible mountain-top locations while having a “sundowner” (as the locals call them), a drink made to order and snacking on appetizers. Then, after a lovely dinner, we retired to our tents where we slept warmed by roaring fires and the hot water bottles in our beds. On our last night at Enasoit, we were surprised with a dinner under the stars at the foot of a mountain 20 minutes from our camp, the air filled with cries of hyenas. It was a night we will never forget.
Our next stop was to Kicheche Mara. We transferred from our flight to jeeps that took us into the Masai Mara, one of the best places in all of Africa to see “the big 5”: buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant, and rhino. Upon arriving we were treated to tree tomato juice (a specialty in Kenya) and then lunch on the hotel’s terrace. 2 hours later we embarked on an unforgettable journey. The first two camps we visited in the Mara had animals aplenty. Everywhere you look there were animals (you can see a full list of what we saw below). Seeing them in their natural habitat was absolutely spectacular, one of the biggest reasons you come to Kenya. Over the next few days we continued to eat our hearts out, learned to shoot bows and arrows, and beaded with local women, but for the most part we wanted to spend every second possible watching the animals.
On our final day we flew back to Nairobi and had lunch at Carnivore a must visit restaurant for carnivores. Similar to a Brazilian churrascaria, servers at Carnivore walk around with long skewers of all-you-can-eat lamb, bbq beef ribs, turkey, crocodile, ox testicles (yup, you read that right), ostrich testicles (yup, you read that right) and more. Luckily for my vegetarian son, they have an incredible vegetarian platter of specialty local dishes. We worked the calories off running around to buy beaded jewelry, belts, sarongs, handcrafted purses, paintings by local artists, and of course, some Kenyan coffee beans.
We were witness to so much on our trip. We’re still filled with our memories in this incredible country. On the flights back to Los Angeles, all we talked about is the next time we would get to visit Kenya and what we want to see. There is so much more to experience.
Here’s a list of the animals we saw in Kenya:
- Birds (including owls, vulture, eagle, butler eagle, fish eagle, stork, egret, cattle egret, starling, ground hornbill, red billed hornbill, white bellied bastard, hamerkop, bare faced go away bird, white bellied go away bird, secretary bird, gray heron, Egyptian geese, pelican, oxpeckers, stork, ostrich, gray crowned crane)
- Zebra (Grevy, common)
- Gazelle (Grant’s Gazelle, Thompson Gazelle)
- Dik dik (Gunther’s, Kirk’s)
- Monkey (vervet)
- Gerenuk (giraffe gazelle)
- Antelope (Oryx, Waterbuck, Eland, Topi, Bushbuck)
- Mongoose (dwarf, banded)
- Buffalo (African Cape Buffalo)
- Wildebeest (white bearded gnu)