Going on an African safari had always been one of the top things on my bucket list. My sister and I talked about it for years, ever since our girls were in elementary school, but somehow, the timing never seemed quite right.
The opportunity finally came last year when the Chuangs were remapping their gap year itinerary to dodge the areas with higher COVID numbers. Africa landed on their radar, and when Mimi asked if I would be interested in joining them on an African safari, she really didn’t need to ask twice! I responded with a surefire YES, especially since Mimi had found a travel agency to help us plan all the details out. Despite being a pretty savvy traveler by then, I still hadn’t step foot onto the continent of Africa yet, so having an expert take the lead on the planning of such an important trip felt like the wise thing to do, especially during COVID times.
The Chuangs flew to Nairobi directly from their last destination, Jordan, while Bridgette and I embarked from San Francisco to join them. The journey was long…..we first flew 15 hours to Qatar for a layover, and then took another flight to Nairobi. Let me just say though, that besides Changi Airport in Singapore, Doha is probably the second best airport one can have a layover in after a long, tiring flight. Bridgette and I actually got to enjoy a lovely, fancy high tea at Harrod’s at the Doha airport during our 3 hour layover! How’s that for “airport food”??
We arrived in Nairobi after midnight, and checked into a nearby hotel for that first night. We slept so deeply (jetlag is usually not an issue for us for the first night or two if we arrive abroad in the evening) and woke up feeling refreshed and excited to reunite with the Chuangs. We all had breakfast together at the hotel, and then checked out to proceed to our first official destination in Nairobi– Karen Gables.
Karen Gables is a luxury lodge built by a Dutch man who traveled to Nairobi 23 years ago, fell in love with capital city of Kenya, and decided to make it his home. He built a beautiful private estate for himself, and used it often to host family, friends, and business acquaintances, until he finally decided to open it up as an intimate and luxurious accommodations for tourists. There is a total of 7 rooms/suites on the property, and we took 3 of them, so for most of the 3 days that we were there, it definitely felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
The property was fully staffed just like a 5 star hotel, and service was exemplary. We dined on site for a few of our meals, and the food was wonderful. During the day, we had a private tour guide that took us around Nairobi. We visited a Kazuri jewelry factory where hand painted ceramics and jewelry were made by local women, with an opportunity to promote fair trade to enable them to make a decent living wage. It was truly astounding to watch the tedious, repetitive process that they go through to make piece after piece of beautiful jewelry.
We also visited the Karen Blixen museum, and if you’ve watched the movie Out of Africa, then this house would look very familiar to you!
When I first learned that we would be going to Nairobi for a few days prior to our safari, I immediately asked our agent if we could book a stay at the Giraffe Manor. This was a place that I dreamt of visiting for years, ever since photos of its adorable giraffes poking their heads into the manor as guests ate their breakfasts began circulating on social media. The manor itself looked extraordinary, but the experience of sharing your breakfast time with the gentle, beautiful giraffes felt unparalleled. Sadly, our agent responded that the manor gets booked over a year out, and since we were booking just one month out, it was literally impossible to get any availability.
While I had to let go of my dream of staying at the manor, we did get to visit their adjacent giraffe sanctuary. At the sanctuary, we were given some food to feed the giraffes, allowing us to get up and personal with these beautiful, amazing creatures! We loved every minute of it, though there were times when they got just a little too close for my comfort, haha.
While our stay in Nairobi was short, it was a great way to kickstart our safari trip and we couldn’t wait to continue onward to our next destination…the Maasai Mara National Reserve!