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  • Dave Philbrick


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Incredible animal viewing both quality and quantity; fascinating diverse mix of ancient cultures, languages, and clothing; safari fun; the ancestral homeland of humankind.

hot tips

- 01 -

Your guide makes a huge difference in what you’ll see, and there is varying quality even at the best camps. All guides are good, but some are great. Read TripAdvisor reviews and request a specific guide before you arrive.

- 02 -

Bring a big wad of cash in $5, $10 and $20 increments for tipping all your service people directly. A money belt and the camp safe will secure it, but keep about $40-$50 on you even on safari. There will be unexpected times you will need it, such as going to lunch and a server surprising you with going to trouble to let you feed hyrax or monkeys, or driving past someone on the street selling good homemade wares. Getting caught without money to pay people you want to tip is a terrible feeling. We like to buy a pack of Asian money envelopes and prep them with money before we go so we can just hand out decorative envelopes rather than naked cash.

- 03 -

Download WhatsApp, as it is the common way to text or call someone in Kenya and it’s cheap and convenient.

- 04 -

Print out all your travel documents, as you may not be able to rely on Wifi at the airport to pull them up.

- 05 -

Haggle when you buy things – they expect it and the price they quote is always too high. Even though you’ll be overpaying, you don’t want to WAY overpay!

- 06 -

Use a travel agent who is an Africa expert – As very experienced travel do-it-yourselfers, it is very rare that we need the help of a travel agent. However, for Africa, we use Travel Sommelier who does an outstanding job lining up the best drivers, tour guides, itineraries, and safaris, and not only handles all logistics for the entire trip from start to finish but also while we're on the trip are on ongoing resource and monitor us which is helpful when not in a tour group.

Your itinerary

SUNDAY You will arrive in Nairobi in the evening, and your first stop should be at the airport ATM machine to obtain some local currency. Cash is required for some parks and museums, and airports and malls are the safest place to use an ATM in Kenya. Meet your driver and check into your hotel. We highly recommend Giraffe Manor for not only the incredible giraffe encounters but also its setting in expansive grounds, décor, ambience, food, and service. Along with giraffes, it has the friendliest “pumbas” (warthogs) in Kenya!

MONDAY Enjoy breakfast and your hotel grounds. Your driver will pick you up to go to your choice of the Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Sanctuary, National Museum, Kenyetta Tower for the best city skyline view, Nairobi Animal Orphanage, Bomas of Kenya, or biking in Karura Forest, among other options. In the morning we chose to bike in Karura Forest which was famously saved by Wangari Maathai, where you can see dik-diks (tiny antelopes) in the daytime which is very rare, due to no predators here. You can also sometimes see monkeys. Inside the Forest the Karura Waterfall is a great destination, and next to it are the Karura Caves where the Mau Mau fighters hid from the British. The rental bikes were fine, the trails had good signage, the surface of packed dirt was well maintained and car-width wide, and you will be immersed in a Kenyan forest which is special. In the two hours we biked in the middle of the weekday we only saw 5 people walking or jogging. Head to the National Museum where you can have lunch at their café to save time, and tour the Museum which is very interesting - all the most famous oldest human skeletons in the world that exist like Lucy and Turkana Boy are here. Keep in mind that it will take longer than you might like because you must use a Museum guide and go at the guide’s pace. Parking for Kenyetta Tower is beside the large statue of him on his throne in a pool in a large plaza. It used to be the tallest building in Nairobi and still has the best view of the city available to the public. The lobby has an ATM machine and good bathrooms, and you take an elevator up to the 28th floor and walk up 2 floors to the open roof. We certainly enjoyed the view and being able to see so much of Nairobi from the heart of the city.

two giraffes sticking heads through windows to eat off guests plates
Giraffe Manor breakfast table!

We then headed to Giraffe Manor in order to make it in time for their fabulous high tea. Upon arrival we were seated outside with giraffes gracefully approaching us that we could feed just a few feet from our table, and funny warthogs that would casually come within a foot of people which is very unusual. Even at the safari camps where warthogs were permanent residents, they don’t come within 20 feet of guests. The Retreat next door allows Manor guests to use their infinity pool, so we happily took advantage while the sun was setting. We were the only guests to use it though, because fair warning – it wasn’t heated and was pretty cold! Dinner at the Manor was not only exquisite food but also in the most romantic setting, set in their courtyard lit up by torches and candles.

TUESDAY You will be awakened at 6:00 am before the sun is up by the sounds of giggling – that’s when you’ll know the giraffes have arrived! Our Daisy room had a 2nd floor balcony and kibbles in a bowl left by the staff the night before, so we happily went out to the balcony to feed the giraffes who craned their heads to feed out of our hands.

Woman feeding giraffe from balcony
Giraffe Manor feeding from your room’s balcony

Watching about a dozen giraffes elegantly walk through the savannah toward you through the morning mist is a sight we will never forget. At breakfast the giraffes would bend their heads right through the ground windows and eat off our table! It was hard to even think of leaving this magical place. The Manor would be a wonderful place to stay even without the giraffes – the charming and elegant décor, warm and friendly service, and fabulous food are more than enough reason. At 10:00 am we checked out and our guide took us to the Karen Blixon Museum which exceeded expectations for its completeness and authenticity (including playing recordings of her voice), and then just a 5-minute drive away we had a delicious and healthy lunch at Boho Eatery at Ngong House seated on swinging benches in their garden. It was then time to head to Wilson Airport for our Governor’s Aviation flight to the Mara. The dirt air strip is one of about 20 in the Mara and is only a short drive to the Il Moran camp, the top Governor’s property in the Mara. Our guide met our plane just as it landed, and even on the short drive to the camp we had to keep stopping because of so many photogenic animals! That was when we first learned that outside of a city, every drive is a game drive in Kenya!

WEDNESDAY The next morning was a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call in the dark for a hot air balloon ride watching the sun rise over the Maasai Mara. We were hoping to see the Great Migration from the air, and we weren’t disappointed – we drifted over big herds of wildebeest and zebra, and followed the Mara River so we looked down on lots of hippos, elephants, and crocs. If we had more time in the Mara we would have done it again! After we landed we joined other balloonists for a picnic breakfast on the savannah. The food as everywhere on safari is surprisingly good, and the other guests were from many different countries around the world. After relaxing at our tent at Il Moran we headed out for our first official game drive, followed by the first of many dinners that far exceeded expectations, especially given the location and logistics.

group of people in a hot air balloon taking a selfie
Balloon Ride

view from above in a hot air balloon
Balloon ride over the Mara River

THURSDAY There were many things that surprised us on the game drives. The first was that it was rare to drive for any length of time in the Mara at this time of year without seeing animals, and usually they were constantly in view. It meant that many times we just put down our cameras and watched, as we lost track of how many herds of elephants, wildebeests, buffalo, etc. we had seen and already taken numerous photos of. We also were amazed at how close we got to the animals, even dangerous ones like lions, buffalo, rhino, and elephants, who completely ignored Land Cruisers that were right beside them.

four lion cubs in the wild sitting on a log
Lion cubs are undisturbed by Jeeps

woman taking a photo of a hyena
So close you only need your iPhone!

At first we were not comfortable in an open jeep without windows, but with the assurances of our superb guide Elisha and seeing how common it was in the Mara, we relaxed and enjoyed being present with no barriers. By far the most common safari vehicle was a commercial model of Toyota’s Land Cruiser. It was unbelievable what they could drive up, over, and through, and absolutely necessary given the savannah off-road conditions. We learned to enjoy our “African massage,” which is what locals call it when driving on bumpy tracks!

lion close to a jeep on safari
Lions will get right next to your open Jeep

FRIDAY On our next game drive day we watched lions face off against hyenas (a ratio of 18:3 was still in the lion’s favor!) and numerous mother and baby pairs, as the Great Migration season is also the birthing season for most birds and mammals. We also saw a river crossing, which is always dramatic as almost never does everyone make it safely across. The number of crocs in the water makes it suicidal. We saw crocs chase and eat 3 impalas, and a hippo attack and eat an impala which is very rare. They are herbivores, but will eat animals occasionally if they are missing nutrients – or are just ornery! We had breakfast in the bush, and then later ‘sundowners’ (African term for drinks at sunset) parked next to a river with growling hippos. Worth a mention is that the tents for guests overlooking the Mara River at the safari camp were the definition of ‘glamping,’ with electrical outlets and luxury bathrooms with regular hot and cold running water.

man and woman toasting with the safari camp in the background
Sundowners with a view of hippos

SATURDAY After a morning game drive in which we saw a mother cheetah and 3 cubs chase and catch a baby ‘Tommie’ (Thompson gazelle) within 20 feet of our jeep, we took a Governors flight to Loisaba Conservancy and Mugie Ranch & Conservancy, another Governor’s property.

Cheetah hunting a Tommie
Cheetah hunting a Tommie within 20 feet of us

Driving through Loisaba we saw several new animals not found in the Mara: dramatic oryx with their extremely long horns, and Gravy zebras which look like white horses in the distance. Unlike common zebras, their stomachs are pure white and their stripes are very narrow. Mugie House is dramatically set on a cliff with an infinity pool over the savannah and meals served overlooking a watering hole that is frequently visited by elephants, waterbuck, and other animals. Their staff is exceptionally warm and friendly, the chefs are absolutely superb, and the Van Wycks are sincere and gracious hosts.

Man sitting in an infinity pool overlooking the savannah
Mugie pool overlooking the savannah

SUNDAY We were excited to go on safari here to view different animals in this more arid climate, and we could have no better guide for this area than Solomon, who is from the area and is highly trained. Instead of wildebeest, we saw the endangered Jackson’s hartebeest which are impressively sleek and large. But not as large as the eland, the largest antelope in the world, with the males weighing as much as a male bison which is 2,000 pounds. Happily, they have adorable dik-diks here as well, which are the smallest antelope in the world, and who here also were living next to the main lodge to avoid predators.

antelope in front of Mugie House
Eland (antelope as big as a horse) in front of Mugie House

MONDAY After a morning game drive finding many different exotic birds, we visited the ranger station where they house and train bloodhounds to prevent poaching. To demonstrate the power of their nose, we gave them a sweatshirt to smell and then we hid inside dense bushes. Incredibly, the odor and minuscule skin cells in the air we left over hundreds of feet were enough for them to track us to our bushes. We then visited Talla, a wild giraffe that was taken in by Mugie Ranch when she was 4 days old after her mother was killed by lions. Although wild, she comes back almost every day and lets people feed her bread and leaves which we greatly enjoyed doing.

TUESDAY Mugie is one of the very few places in the world where you can kayak with elephants. There is a dam that created a reservoir that herds of elephants visit every day, so it’s guaranteed that you will be able to enjoy watching them and their babies play in the water. Sadly, a rare hippo was visiting when we were there so we weren’t able to kayak, as they told us, “hippos are so rude!” (and dangerous!)

WEDNESDAY The next morning a driver took us through Nanyuki to Ol Pejeta, an Asilia ranch and conservancy. We made the classic stop at Nanyuki’s equatorial marker where we witnessed a demonstration of the Corioli effect, where water swirls counterclockwise in one hemisphere and clockwise in the other. We stopped for lunch at the Disney-like Trout Tree Restaurant, which is a charming and elaborately large treehouse set in an enormous fig tree overlooking a trout farm. You’ll feel like a child exploring its many rooms, and you can feed the almost tame skunk-striped colobus monkeys that live in the tree. Also living in the tree are hyrax, which have to be the cutest animals in the world with their rounded Mickey Mouse ears! They can be hand fed also. It’s worth another photo op to pose beside the equatorial marker at Ol Pejeta also, and which has interesting equator facts, so look for that stop which is on the main road from the gate. This safari camp is famous for its rhinos, which we were very excited about since we hadn’t seen any yet. Not only do they have numerous local black rhinos, but they have southern white rhinos and most importantly, the last two northern white rhinos in the world. It’s worth the trip to Kenya to see them!

woman sitting right by a lion in the wild
To lions Jeeps are just part of the scenery


Man petting a rhino
Rhino mouths are soft!

After an early morning game drive where we watched the sun rise over Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa and which is usually only visible in the morning, we went on a horseback ride with the rare white rhinos. It is a completely different feeling to be riding out on the plains with no barriers next to ostriches, warthogs, elands as big as our horses, and rhinos which are even bigger! It was very quiet with just the peaceful sounds of the animals, and we felt very much part of the natural scene. In the afternoon they took us to pet and feed a blind black rhino – but first they had to find it! It took two men looking for a few hours in the rhino’s enclosure which is many acres before they were able to call us to come over. Other than a short fence, there was no barrier with the rhino who, although raised wild, was very docile probably due to his blindness from fighting with other rhinos. His skin was rough but his mouth was very soft and he took the carrots from us very gently!

FRIDAY Before we left Ol Pejeta we visited the chimpanzees at the Jane Goodell Sweetwaters Sanctuary, which is the only place in Kenya to see them. To get to them you have to go through a gate and take a charming forest walk that goes past a safety cage for people! We saw a chimp throw a heavy log a long way at another chimp – really showcasing how much stronger they are than humans. One was picking on another, who screamed in outrage and hid in a bush, leading the bully to take up a stick and bang on a rock like a drum and yell in frustration! After watching their antics for a while, it was time to head to Nairobi and the flight home. We drove 3 hours to Nairobi, and did a convenient stop before the city congestion at the Two Rivers Mall. We rode the Eye of Kenya, a giant ferris wheel that gives a good view of the city skyline in the distance. The Mall also has a duplicate of the famous dancing fountain in Dubai, so it’s worth finding a comfortable spot to watch the fountain’s show to Bollywood music. Inside the mall is a great place to get souvenirs, as there are vendors spread out in the middle of the mall corridors like a rainproof street fair. We knew we couldn’t leave Nairobi without having dinner at its most popular restaurant, The Talisman. Especially popular among ex-pats, when we arrived at 6:30 pm its social scene was already in full swing. We struck up a conversation with a group of British military who were also waiting for a table, and the general atmosphere of the place was one of lively congeniality with people mixing. We then joined the crowds at the airport all catching their late evening flights back to Europe and the US.

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