What to Do If You Have One Week in Kenya
One week in Kenya will no doubt leave you wanting lots more time to explore this wildly beautiful country, but if seven days is all you’ve got, there’s still a great range of sights you can pack in. A good place to start is with a couple of nights in one of Kenya’s national parks, followed by a visit to the Kenyan coast for a little relaxation. Don’t miss a final night or two in Nairobi to pick up some handcrafted gifts and explore Kenya’s capital.
In what is considered one of the earth’s greatest spectacles, over a million wildebeest make their way from Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya in search of lusher grasslands. The great migration is a very good reason to visit the diamond in Kenya’s crown of national parks, the Masai Mara. The most dramatic scenes take place at the river crossings, where the wildebeest slip and crash down the steep embankments of the Mara River into crocodile- and hippo-infested waters and, if they get through that, still have to gallop past the Mara’s high density of lions awaiting them on the other side. The best time to see the migration here is between the months of July and September. Porini Lion Camp is an excellent accommodation choice, with knowledgeable guides and a responsible approach to protecting the delicate Mara ecosystem.
Kalama Community Conservancy, Kenya
Architects clearly had fun designing Saruni Samburu, an eco-lodge tucked away in the private Kalama Conservancy in central Kenya. Set on a giant outcropping of volcanic rock, stone serves as furniture and structure in the six spacious villas—jutting out of walls, punctuating the outdoor decking, and transformed into shower stalls with some clever pipework. Creative decor aside, the family-friendly resort enjoys spectacular views over billowing golden rangelands, a scene best appreciated from one of the two infinity pools on site, or with a gin and tonic in hand from the decked patio area. Just be sure to call it an early night: Guests are assigned their own jeeps and guides for daily safari excursions to spot elephants, giraffes, and endangered Grevy’s zebras.
Set in a huge tree just south of Nanuki, about 3 hours drive from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, is the Trout Tree. It’s a spectacular place with a series of decks jutting out from the enormous tree, monkeys swinging through the branches and giant ponds filled with trout below. There are only a couple of vegetarian options available, but for character alone this place is worth a visit, even if you don’t eat fish.
KWS Central Workshop Gate, Off Magadi Rd, Nairobi, Kenya
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues orphaned baby elephants from the wild, nurturing and raising them through the grief of losing their families, and then eases them back into their natural habitat when they are old and strong enough. The animals are not forced to return to the wild—at around four years old, they are moved from the Nairobi nursery to a new home near Tsavo National Park to help them gain the independence to move on. The baby elephants can be visited every day at 11 a.m., where you’ll see them playing in the mud and guzzling gallons of milk. Guests who choose to adopt an orphan can return at 5 p.m. to watch the babies enjoy an evening snack of leaves before being put to bed.
Gogo Falls Road, Nairobi, Kenya
Families would be hard-pressed to find a more memorable place to stay than Giraffe Manor. Located in the leafy suburb of Langata, about a 30-minute drive from central Nairobi, the 1932 family home of a former candy baron was modeled on a Scottish hunting lodge before becoming a sanctuary for endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, for which the boutique hotel gets its name. The ivy-clad brick mansion features 12 light-filled guest rooms, many with gauzy canopy beds and understated furnishings, but the real draw is the airy breakfast room, where you can feed the exceedingly friendly animals as they crane their necks through windows and doors in search of snacks. Afterward, complimentary chauffeured vehicles are on hand to take you to the area’s most popular attractions: at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the residents being fed are orphaned baby elephants.
The River Café is situated right in the middle of the huge Karura Forest, a tranquil swath of wilderness in the middle of the city. The dining area, on a large expanse of wooden deck under an open-sided canvas roof, gets extra atmospheric charm from the surrounding forest treetops and plants. The menu is varied, with a good vegetarian section as well as light bites and more indulgent meals. The French onion soup and the salads are recommended. This place gets busy on the weekends, when Nairobians stop in for brunch after church or a walk around the forest, so book in advance.
Langata South Road, Nairobi, Kenya
No trip to Kenya is complete without picking up some of the beautiful handicrafts available here. Once of the best places to find these is at Langata Link – a house in the leafy suburb of Karen where every room has been turned into a different shop. They have everything here from bags made out of colourful Kenyan kanga material to delicate jewellery, rustic khaki luggage and pretty pottery. In the centre of the shop there’s also a lovely café, great for a pit stop after all that tiring spending you’ll be doing.
After a day of exploring Nairobi a great place to stop for a cocktail is Zing at Dusit D2, a swanky boutique hotel in central Nairobi. It’s a glamorous place, with wicker chairs, elegant cushions, flickering candles and tall-backed velvet chairs, and the drinks list is extensive. Creative cocktails include a chilli margarita and, of course, all the classics. There’s also one of the best wine lists in Nairobi, and around the corner is the Rouge Deck – a red swimming pool with bar where you can take your drink to sip away in a tranquil, funky setting.
Right in the heart of Nairobi, the Karura Forest is a tranquil oasis with fragrant eucalyptus trees, open expanses of wild grassland, a waterfall, and hundreds of types of wildlife, including birds, monkeys, and even antelope. On weekends, Nairobians walk their dogs here, cycle the dirt tracks with their families (bike rentals are available), and walk the many trails through this 2,500-acre urban wilderness. Enter via the Limuru Road entrance for the waterfall and for access to the River Café, and via Peponi Road to enjoy a quieter side of the forest.
It’s a two-hour drive from Mombasa along open roads that parallel the coast to reach Kilifi Creek, a giant estuary of cerulean blue that spills out into the Indian Ocean. As you cross the majestic Kilifi Bridge, you’ll notice a few yachts cruising along the calm waters below and a handful of elegant villas scattered along the creek’s banks. After the chaos of the cities, the scene is delightfully calm. Were this spot of geographical beauty in Europe or America, it would be teeming with tourists, hotels, restaurant chains, and tacky bars by now. Not in Kenya and not in Kilifi. With its beautiful coastline, a smattering of creekside restaurants, and a few opportunities for sunset dhow-boat cruises, there’s little to do besides relax in this sleepy costal town.