When my colleague told his friend about my journey to Kenya, he responded “Hasn’t she ever heard of Hawaii?” While I’d like to say that this guy’s reaction was unique, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I left for Africa, I was met with a huge amount of skepticism, negativity and questioning. Why would I want to go somewhere so foreign? Don’t I know how dangerous it is? What about the terrorists? And Zika?? (If I had a dollar for every person who warned me about Zika…) Here’s the thing. These are the reasons I wanted to go to Kenya. Not because I love terrorism and mosquitos. Come on. But because I was looking for an adventure. A way to expand my mind, my belief system, my horizons and my understanding of the world. In my opinion, nowhere shapes you like Africa. So I packed my bug spray, got my travel insurance and off I went. And it was wonderful. Challenging, beautiful and surprising. Kenya is a country that I would encourage everyone to visit at some point in their lives. Here are ten reasons to add my first stop, Nairobi, to your bucket list.
P.S. For fear of losing you mid-post, I’ve divided the list into two posts. Stay tuned next Thursday for Part 2!
1. Giraffe Manor + The Giraffe Center– I am notorious for kissing animals. It is actually kind of a problem. No matter what country I’m in, I will find animals. And I will kiss them. The Giraffe Center made this incredibly easy for me, which is why it is the top spot on my list (and the lead photo in this post). Not only can you kiss and interact with the endangered Rothschild giraffes to your heart’s content, your visit benefits the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, which provides conservation education for the Kenyan youth. The Center is connected to the Insta-famous Giraffe Manor AKA possibly the coolest hotel in the world. What makes a 10-room hotel so cool? Mainly the fact that the aforementioned giraffes spend their days peeking their heads through the hotel’s windows and doors. Unfortunately, the hotel was completely booked during my visit (apparently, I’m not the only one who would like a giraffe peeping through my bedroom window), but you better believe that it will be my first stop the next time I hit Nairobi.2. The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage– Yes, Nairobi has more to see than wildlife. But I love all things four-legged and fuzzy, so be forewarned- this list is pretty animal-centric. The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is another organization that has gained a lot of attention thanks to social media. And why wouldn’t it? Can you imagine anything cuter than a couple dozen baby elephants (all of whom are orphans, to add to the awe factor) playing and drinking giant bottles of milk? For one hour each day (the schedule is strict so as not disturb the babes), these little guys, some no higher than my hip, feed, wrestle and bathe in a roped off area, while visitors are able the pet their muddy bums and learn about the orphanage. Much like the Giraffe Center, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust‘s mission is to protect and conserve Kenya’s wildlife and habitats. So you can feel good about your visit. As if seeing those teeny, tiny elephants in person weren’t reason enough.3. Nairobi National Park– I didn’t actually go on safari in the Nairobi National Park (not a great way to start off a recommendation, I know), but it’s worth noting that there is a national park right in the city. The only reason I passed on this park is because I went on safari in the Maasai Mara instead. And though I’m told that the National Park cannot compare to the Mara, it is worth the visit, especially if you are not going on an overnight safari somewhere else. All that separates the park from the city is an electric fence; Nairobi’s skyscrapers can be viewed from the park.4. Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel– While in Kenya, the Norfolk was my home away from home. I stayed there on three separate occasions and each time, coming back to this quiet haven from the busy city felt like a homecoming. Thought you’re centrally and conveniently located to all of Nairobi’s must-sees, you would never know it. The property is lush and peaceful, offering all of the modern necessities while retaining its traditional charm. Whether you choose to visit Nairobi for a day or a week, the Norfolk is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle. Constructed in 1904, it is a landmark in its own right.5. The People- It’s not all about the animals. One of the gifts of traveling alone (which I did for portions of the trip) is that it forces you to meet new people. During my 2.5 weeks in Kenya, I had the pleasure of meeting people from around the continent. Some, like the people I met at the Rotary conference, had backgrounds not dissimilar to my own. Others, like the children at the refugee camp, came from worlds away. But, one thing all the Kenyans shared was a warmth. Everywhere I went, I was accepted kindly and with open arms.
Images via yours truly + Google images