We landed at Jomo Kenyatta Airport at 4:30 a.m., exhausted after a 36-hour layover in Morocco. On the long drive to Wildebeest Eco Camp, we had the chance to chat with our driver about the upcoming World Cup, recommendations for where to go on our first day in Nairobi, and the mischievous thieving monkeys we saw on the side of the road. As we waited for our tent to be ready, we sat and enjoyed the sunrise soundtracked by an incredible chorus of birds that filled the camp.
Our first stop in Kenya was the Giraffe Centre, where we learned the difference between Rothschild, Articulated, and Masai giraffes. The Giraffe Centre is no zoo; it’s a spacious conservation center which prioritizes the breeding of the endangered Rothschild species. They work directly with the Kenya Wildlife Service to keep the tower (the term for a group of giraffes) happy and healthy. So far, they’ve released over 40 giraffes into the wild across the country.
I can’t imagine anyone walking away from the conservatory without a deeper appreciation for wildlife. Being back at the camp gave us the chance to rest, eat, and prepare for our safari departure the next day. This was our first time staying in “luxury tents” and we loved it. Donna also broke out her new Sony G-Master lens to test it out around the camp. Those birds we’d heard earlier were everywhere and had some of the most striking colors we’d ever seen.
Our drive out to Amboseli began around 11:00 the next morning with our driver Noah, who worked with Natural World Safaris. Our trip was timely because late April is low season, so just about everything was discounted due to chances of rain. Luckily, we didn’t get one day of rain the entire trip so we were able to enjoy less crowded parks at a great price! We arrived at our next camp for the next few days, Serena Lodge, immediately put our bags down and headed out for our first game drive.
Amboseli National Park
Our first stop on safari (Swahili for trip or journey) was Amboseli National Park, very near the border of Tanzania. The park is famous for its elephants and incredible views of Kilimanjaro, the largest free-standing mountain in the world. We encountered both early on and they were even more impressive than we could’ve expected.
The game drive on our second day at Amboseli started with an encounter with a single bull elephant, eating grass near the entrance of the park. We stood up to take pictures but our driver very calmly advised us to sit down and stay quiet.
Looking back at videos of this moment, it’s hard to believe this massive 10-foot creature was only a few feet from us. Elephant tusks don’t seem frightening until they start to get waved around at you by their owner.
Visiting a Maasai Village
After our morning game drive, we returned to the lodge and were offered a visit to the nearby Maasai village. The Maasai total nearly 1 million people living in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania and are most easily distinguished by bright red clothing in Kenya and rich blue clothing in Tanzania. They wear red to frighten animals and discourage them from coming near the village
The tour of the village continued with the son of the chief, pictured above in blue, through their homes, traditions, medicine, and way of life. Getting a lesson about the different natural medicines the tribe uses was a personal highlight of mine. The last part of the tour was a short lesson with the children of the village, where they displayed their newly learned arithmetic.
Our experience with the Maasai felt both incredible and, strangely enough, very normal. The guys who showed us how to make a fire reminded me of friends from high school. We live such different lives but there seemed to have been so little social distance between us. Establishing a connection with people who live across the world was perspective-shifting in a way neither of us will ever forget.
We left after breakfast for the next national park, which ended up being my favorite national park of the safari. Luckily for us, the exit was on a different side of the park which gave us a short bonus game drive in Amboseli!
Tsavo West National Park
Our time in the next national park started with getting settled at our 2nd lodge of the safari, the Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, which may be the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my life.
If you sit by the window, you can see all the animals that occupy Tsavo West come for a drink at different times of the day.
Our first game drive in Tsavo West immediately began with different animals than we’d seen before, many of which we’d never heard of. Tsavo is more dense with brush and giant green rolling hills, very different from the vast flat expanses in Amboseli. We began with seeing dik-diks on the side of the road, hopping around more than walking. Then we saw an animal I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for the entire safari.
We chose to visit Tsavo West because the dust in this particular park is a unique color of red. You may have noticed in the earlier photos that elephants love dust, they cover themselves in it. This means, on dry days, the elephants in Tsavo are covered with bright red dust. We were worried that rain would wash them clean but at the very end of our game drive, we found exactly what we came for.
I want to quickly mention that the food in Kenya was superb. Most of the lodges served meals buffet-style but it included plenty of local fare which was always delicious. Although, for those who choose to avoid eating meat, being vegetarian isn’t always the easiest in Kenya, where beef is a huge staple. If I had a Kenyan shilling for every butcher shop we saw, I could have paid for our safari twice over. After my morning coffee and Mahamri, we found a huge pack of animals less than a minute into our departure. A group of zebras and giraffes eating right next to the road.
We finished our morning game drive and began our trip to the third and last national park of our safari.
Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo West was filled with lush, dense greens but as we left for its sister park, we noticed a stark change. The heat and dryness spiked every minute as we approached what was previously known as the Taru Desert. We were most excited about the chance to see the Tsavo Lions, most notable for their lack of manes. We made it to our last lodge of the journey, Ashnil Aruba Lodge, and prepared for an afternoon game drive.
Day 6 – Final Day on Safari
Throughout the safari, we were going at a relatively balanced pace but 5 days of long game drives and moving from lodge to lodge was starting to weigh on us. We had a relaxed breakfast and lounged around the pool for the first time before going on our last game drive in Kenya.
We drove back to Nairobi, stopping for lunch consisting of rice and peas at a local restaurant on the way. Kenya’s highways were an adventure in and of themselves, with oncoming trucks going 120 kph not moving until they were 100 meters away. Motorbikes meant to fit 2 were holding 4 people and a goat. We continued to spot plenty of monkeys, giraffes, goats, and cows on the way back to Nairobi and even got a taste of the infamous traffic. We said goodbye to our driver Noah and crashed in our beds, totally wiped out from the adventure.
Kenya Safari – Final Thoughts
Kenya’s immense natural beauty and Kenyans’ wealth of generosity, hospitality, and profound kindness absolutely changed our lives. Choosing to go on safari for our honeymoon instead of the previous plans for a wine tour through the south of France and Italy was one of the best decisions we ever made.
We spent our final day in Nairobi with the cousin of a friend, where we commuted in a Matatu (you HAVE to ride these if you’re ever there), ate Pakoras at the most authentic Indian restaurant we’ve ever been to (spicy has a new meaning for me), and haggled at the market where we bought a bowl and a map of Africa. When she took us home, her family greeted us as warmly as our own family would and said next time we come to Kenya we have to stay with them for a month. They also implored us to visit their village, and later mentioned it was the same village Barack Obama Sr. grew up in!
Leaving Kenya, we were filled with such positive emotions and memories from the past 8 days. Our appreciation for animals and nature grew profoundly in Kenya, especially for elephants. We are eager to revisit Kenya as well as plan a new trip to Tanzania, where we are interested in seeing the Serengeti, Dar Es Salaam, more of Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar. Gaining a new perspective about a part of the world that is largely portrayed negatively in the media has left an impact on us that has grown our heart for East Africa. In the future, we saw ourselves going back to volunteer in some capacity, either with animals or children. Kenya, we are eternally grateful. Asante Sana.