Kenya is an absolutely spectacular place to explore. It’s unlike any other
place on the planet. It ought to be the #1 bucket list destination for all
Kenya holds a particularly special place in my heart as I spent much of my
childhood in a small town in western Kenya. Thereafter, I visited Kenya
for most summer breaks. It was like living in a little resort town with no
big malls or shopping or restaurants or movie theaters, but it was a
heavenly place to grow up, with amazing group of people and the perfect
village for a family.
In this post I’d love to take you for a journey through a couple of
wonderful travel destinations of Kenya. I’ll write about a few more of my
favorite places soon. Hopefully, you will experience Kenya in person and
feel the connection like I do.
Nairobi is one of the most vibrant cities of sub-Saharan Africa. When I
grew up there, it was the quintessential laid back British-style city. It
was one of the safest places on the planet.
Nairobi National Park
Unlike any city I’ve been to, Nairobi has a National Park with all the big
mammals, cats and exotic birds. I’ve seen giraffes almost all the way to
the airport! Visiting Nairobi National Park will take about a day and
it’ll be well worth it.
One of the popular attractions is the Safari Walk, a elevated walk over
the savanna grassland. It serves as a great observation deck, offering a
unique vantage point for spotting and photographing wild animals.
Nairobi is a cultural, business, shopping, policy and education hub of the
region. There are open markets by villagers, high end malls, exhibitions,
beautiful parks, nice restaurants, theaters and more.
Nairobi has great weather year round, cool in the mornings & evenings
and warm during the day.
Nairobi is surrounded by natural beauty and culture. One of my favorite
memories of Nairobi is of Bomas of Kenya, a culture
center with traditional dances, music and most interestingly homesteads of
various Kenyan tribes. It’s a great place to learn about many tribes and
cultures in one place.
Uhuru Park is a special hangout place and a respite from a hectic day in
the city. It’s popular with locals, hence a great place to feel the vibe
of the city.
Another unique attraction is the Snake Park, a
museum and reptile research center since 1961.
Tips for Nairobi
- When in Nairobi, safety is paramount. Stay outdoors only during
- The best way to get around is with a car. We always had my parents’
car so, I don’t have experience renting or driving ourselves.
- Driving is on the left side, like UK, India and other commonwealth
countries. It seems pretty straight forward.
- The local folk get around in the popular matatoos. They are
everywhere and are jam packed with people hanging on all sites. It looks
stuffed and risky way get around. Maybe worth an experience.
- Nairobi has many great restaurants, including many good Indian and
international restaurants. Even the Indian food in the mall’s food court
was surprisingly good.
- Always keep some warm clothes for the evening and morning chill.
- Check the days and locations for the street markets ahead of time
and be sure to visit one for souvenirs or just to get a taste of local
Masai Mara is the most popular and the most important park to visit in
Kenya. It is almost always the #1 place for visitors coming to Kenya.
There are many nice hotels, resorts and camps in Masai Mara and around.
This National Park is called Masai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti in
Tanzania. But the animals are not aware of the borderline. They come and
go as they please. One time we lost track of time and didn’t have
navigation systems. I think we went into Serengeti, but we’ll never know.
Luckily the hotel staff got worried and sent someone to find us.
We’ve visited Mara is all seasons and it’s amazing all year round. Broadly
there are two different seasons that provide two very different
The dry season – June to Oct.
- It’s time for the greatest wonder of nature, the great African
migration when millions of wildebeests, zebras and others arrive from
Sarangeti in the south. It’s feast time for all carnivores. The most
spectacular sight is at the rivers, where the wildebeests and zebras
cross over as a great force of nature while crocodiles, lions and many
others greedily feast.
- The skys are blue and vegetation is thin so it makes finding animals
and birds easier.
- This is peak season, so Masai Mara is packed with tourists and
everything is expensive.
The wet season – Nov to May
- Even during the low season, there is plenty of wildlife and we’ve
been able to spot pretty much every animal or bird on our wishlist.
- The hotels and staff are less busy and less expensive.
- Everything is lush green and park looks beautiful. But it can rain
any time. If you’re not bothered by rain, it’ll be fun.
- This is the time when babies are being born, and normal life is
happening. We witnessed lion in their many seasons of life – newborns,
mating, hunting, feasting, resting, hiding (from a Masai man) – all
without interruptions from other tourists and the great big
Masai Mara has many accommodations options – luxury camps, resorts and
boutique hotels, each with their own character and charm. All places we’ve
stayed at had great service and wonderful experience.
Do plan to get the breakfast in the bushes, where the staff will
take you to out into the park and setup a fancy breakfast in the bushes.
One time we ate near the Mara river and witnessed hundreds of hippos
hanging out below us on the opposite river bank. It was spectacular
watching hippos playing, swimming, arguing, lazing, basking in the warm
morning sun… just being hippos.
The hotels provide English speaking guides, drivers, SUVs and other
options to make our experience memorable.
We found the chefs to be awesome. Upon arrival we told them about our
vegetarian/vegan diet and they made special food for us every day, not
just food minus meat, but actual full delicious meals. For anyone with
taste for Indian food, almost any hotel has chefs who can make great
Masai Mara National Park – Guide or No-Guide
We’ve usually visited Masai Mara in our own SUV and driver but once we
flew in and used the hotel’s transportation and guide. Both work well.
There are plenty of animals and birds that we can spot mostly ourselves.
However, having a guide is helpful because
- Guides know the park like the back of their hand. So, they’ll bring
us back from any safari, while we’ve been lost in the enormous park.
It’s not wise to be lost during evening hunting time.
- Guides are in touch with each other, so they share sightings of hard
to find animals and birds, making it easier to find them.
- We’ve had good story tellers guides and we learn a lot about the
park, it’s history, it’s future, efforts & struggles and the Masai
people. They know answers to most questions as many of them are local
As the hotel will recommend, be absolutely sure to take the sunrise
safari. It’s the most spectacular safari drive.
Memories of Masai Mara
One of my most favorite memories of all time is standing up in the open
rooftop SUV as it drove through the savanna towards the deep red sun rise.
I can still feel the pleasant breeze on my face and the crisp clear air.
As we were driving, we spotted some zebras grazing at a distance. Close-by
was a lion feasting on his kill from earlier in the
morning. Hyenas were hanging out waiting for the leftovers. It dawned to
us on that day break, that unlike us humans lions don’t kill and take
lives for pleasure. They only hunt for food and when they have their food,
everyone knows they are not going to kill for a while. Even the most
defenseless, roam freely with confidence.
Other wild cats, like leopards and cheetahs, are much
harder to spot. They lie in trees and move fast. But, people with trained
eyes can find them despite the spots and leaf cover. One other thing that
gives them away are their piercing eyes, that shine in the dark. Sometimes
we’ve seen them crossing streets/paths. Having the camera ready comes in
handy because they tend to be shy and very quick.
Likely the most gracious of all animals is the majestic
giraffe. In real life (versus a zoo) they are much more majestic
and devine. Their graceful walk, beautiful run, luxurious coat, or even
chewing of leaves from the tall flat-top acacia trees is a sight to stop
and watch in awe. I could watch them for hours. The good thing is there
are plenty of giraffes in Masai Mara and they hang out in groups. So,
unlike some of the big cats, giraffes are easier to find and photograph.
The most dangerous animals in the park are the hippos.
The are enormous and very fast. It’s best to observe them from sufficient
distance. Despite their massive size they are nimble and beautiful
swimmers. They are also very territorial, marking their area with their
Masai Mara has contributed in saving the rhinos from
extinction. They are extremely few left in the wild, so even the wild
rhino are well cared for by the rangers.
Elephants generally travel in herds led by the oldest female elephant.
They are very smart creatures and just so much fun watching them in
groups. They are plentiful in many national parks in Kenya and Uganda.
But, sadly, they are extensively killed for their tusks by smugglers and
porchers. It’s an enormously cruel act and a unimaginably painful death
for the innocent elephants.
Many of the other beautiful animals like zebra, guzzle,
wildebeests, dik dik, duiker, impala, crocodiles, to name a
few are relatively easy to spot and photograph.
The Maasai People
The Maasai are a distinctive tribe in Kenya and probably the world. You
can tell a Maasai by their tall, skinny and strong built. More importantly
their outfits are very ornate, red fabric and lots of bead necklaces
around their neck and chest.
The Maasai have always lived with the lions and large animals. The
lions fear the Maasai like a antelope fears the lions. This is
because, traditionally, a Maasai boy would need to kill a lion to prove he
was ready to get a girl in wedding. The Maasai killed lions with bare
hands and a piece of wood carved into a lethal weapon.
The Maasai are also known for their long distance running skills and are
on the world stage along side Kenyans of other tribes.
Poverty is still extensive in their communities and the plight of women is
sad. So, many NGOs are working diligently to provide education and growth
opportunities for the Maasai. Many Maasai work in the tourism industry and
organize visits to the Maasai settlements.
The Maasai settlements are temporary, they live in one location for a
couple of years. Then, they burn it all down. They clear another patch of
land and build the huts and animal shelters all over again. It’s one way
to do spring cleaning.
Tips for Masai Mara
- Be sure to carry your passport when visiting
Kenya’s national parks. They will likely be checked it at the hotel
reception and the National Park entrances.
- Pricing for non-Kenyan nationals is much higher
than residents. Sometimes, non-Kenyan citizens working in Kenya will get
the low resident prices.
- When in Masai Mara be sure to experience at least these – a
pre-sunrise safari, breakfast in the
bushes, the Big Five (lion, leopard,
rhinoceros, elephant, and cape buffalo) and visit a Maasai
- Learn the common phrases and words of Swahili.
It’ll go a long way in connecting with the extremely friendly Kenyans
- Kenyans are in general very happy people. It’s normal for random
strangers to greet each other like they are lifelong friends. Everyone
smiles and greets very enthusiastically.
- You’ll have many accommodation choices in all price ranges and
- Have fun and dont worry. Hakuna Matata
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