If you’re looking to experience the true essence of Africa, Kenya is the perfect place to have amazing animal encounters, immerse yourself in local culture and marvel at the stunning scenery. In this Kenya Travel Guide for Grownups, I’m sharing a recap of our February 2022 (far-too-short) week in Kenya including travel tips and the best things to see and do.
Africa has stolen my heart. This was my third trip to Africa since 2015; I previously visited S. Africa twice. Honestly, I had low expectations of east Africa because I loved S. Africa so much, I didn’t think any other place could measure up. Thankfully I was wrong. Kenya exceeded my expectations. It was greener and more lush that S. Africa which translates into more grazing animals which in turn means that there are more cats (lions, leopards & cheetahs) to hunt them. Plus the opportunity to learn about the Maasai culture was an amazing opportunity and something I’ll carry with me forever.
Best Time To Visit Kenya
Although we visited Kenya in February, traditionally the best time to visit is during the dry season, July to October. For safaris, the annual migrations happen during that time so wildlife spotting is at its best.
How to Get To Kenya
The easiest option to get to Kenya is to fly to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and take a direct flight to Nairobi on Kenya Airways. Or you can take a flight that connects through Europe or the Middle East. We flew business class using Delta SkyMiles so our journey took us from Denver to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Nairobi. Not the most direct route, but breaking the trip up has its advantages and if you’re flying business class you can use the international airport lounges where you can take a shower and pretend that you’re starting the day over. Once you arrive in Nairobi, you’ll need to take another flight to your safari destination.
Where to Stay
After landing in Nairobi we stayed at the Tamarind Tree Hotel. It’s a modern mid-price hotel that’s close to both airports and the activities we wanted to do while in Nairobi. The rooms were simple and clean, the staff was lovely, and it’s very easy to arrange a driver through the hotel to assist with your sightseeing. If you want fancier accommodations, check out Hemmingways. We didn’t stay there but we stopped in for lunch and the property is lovely.
During our time on safari we stayed at two different camps run by Basecamp Explorer. They operate three safari camps in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy: Eagle View, Leopard Hill and Basecamp Masai Mara (which is connected to the Maasai Mara National Reserve by a footbridge.) All camps feature luxury tented accommodations, and include all meals, airstrip transfers and twice-daily game drives. Other amenities and outings are included depending on the camp that you choose. Starting daily room rates based on double occupancy are: Eagle View $365; Leopard Hill, $500; Basecamp Masai Mara, $300. Packages that include stays at multiple properties are available. I did a walkthrough of our accommodations at both Basecamp and Eagle View so you could see the rooms in detail.
What To Do In Nairobi
Most flights arrive in Nairobi at night. We built an extra day into our itinerary in case we got delayed en route, or needed time to adjust to the 10-hour time difference. So, we ended up spending two days (three nights) in Nairobi before heading to our safari. While in Nairobi we visited:
- The Nairobi National Museum – This was a great way to learn a lot about the history of Kenya in a short period of time. The guides are happy to take you on a private tour in exchange for a tip.
- The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage – Once a day they bring out the baby elephants, bottle feed them, and share their stories. Make a reservation because space is limited.
- Giraffe Centre – Get up close and personal with Rothschild Giraffes. You can hand-feed them and get a great view of the Instagram sensation Giraffe Manor, which is right across the park.
- Kazuri Bead Factory – Kazuri, which means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop that made ceramic beads by hand. They’ve since grown to a factory that makes beautiful and affordable clay jewelry and provides employment to over 300 single mothers.
Basecamp Masai Mara
Basecamp Masai Mara is an ideal spot to start your safari adventure. Choose one of the 17 “glamping” tents built along the banks of the Talek River, the natural border to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The dense riverbed foliage allows for maximum privacy and comfort, without compromising the view of the Masai Mara National Reserve.
The camp provides an excellent base for exploring nature conservation like the Basecamp Nature Forest (where we toured and planted trees) and Community-based initiatives like the Masai Beading Center (Basecamp Maasai Brand) to promote & preserve local culture and talent.
One of the mornings, we took a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the savannah followed by a gourmet breakfast. We even got to see a cheetah chase from the balloon!
In addition to our twice-daily game drives led by our incomparable Masai guides, we also had the opportunity to visit and tour the local Masai village where we learned more about the tribe’s culture and practices.
What We Learned At The Maasai Mara Village
- You can spell the word Maasai with two a’s or one (Masai). Both are correct.
- The Maasai people speak the Maa language as well as the official languages of Kenya; Swahili and English.
- It’s a patriarchal society with polygamy (multiple wives) sanctioned for men, but not women. A man’s wealth is measured in cattle and children. A herd of 50 cattle is respectable, and the more children the better. A man who has plenty of one but not the other is considered poor.
- Traditional Maasai lifestyle centers around cattle, which constitute their primary source of food. They eat the meat, drink the milk, and drink the blood during tribal rituals. Despite a limited diet with few vegetables or seafood, Masaai tribe members often live into their 80’s and 90’s.
- Music and singing are an important part of the culture and songs are used to greet visitors. Maasai music traditionally consists of rhythms provided by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies while a song leader sings the melody.
- A typical Maasai village, called a Boma, has a circular configuration. The houses are surrounded by a fence made of thorny branches on the outside and another one on the inside, creating an enkang. The ensemble delimits a central circle (emboo) where the cow herd is kept, to protect it from predators at night.
- Each dwelling is located on the periphery forming a central space. The houses, called Enkaji, are designed and built by the women with branch arches covered with several layers of a mixture of soil, urine and cow dung. The whole thing dries in the sun in a few hours and insulates the house. The interior space is divided by thin partitions forming small open rooms. The main room contains a fireplace that is used to cook food, chase away insects and to light and heat the Enkaji at night. The adults sleep on a bed made of branches while an adjacent area in front of the entrance is reserved for young animals. There was no electricity or running water in the village we visited.
- Over the years, many projects have begun to help Maasai tribal leaders find ways to preserve their traditions while also balancing the education needs of their children for the modern world. The emerging forms of employment among the Maasai people include farming and wage employment (as rangers, safari guides, servers, hotel workers, etc. ) Many Maasai have moved away from the nomadic life to positions in commerce and government.
After three days at Basecamp, we drove about an hour to a second camp. Eagle View is located on an escarpment, with the most stunning sweeping views I’ve ever seen. It’s impossible to capture them in a photo but I did my best. The guest center overlooks the Koiyaki Plains, a natural salt lick and watering hole all providing a common hunting site for predators and unique game viewing perspectives.
While at Eagle View, we went on a walking safari and it was a treat to walk the land and see the animals from a different vantage point than the vehicle. Our Maasai guides shared lots of info about the native plants and herbs that they eat and use as medicine. We got to dig up and taste a wild carrot.
Traveling in Africa requires being on some small (10-seater) flights and there are significant luggage and weight restrictions (although they aren’t always enforced.) On our trip, we were charged $60 once for our luggage being overweight, but truthfully, we could and should have been charged more often. And we definitely had some “discussions” with the gate agents because we insisted on carrying our bags on all of our flights.
Packing for travel is one of my superpowers. I hate checking my luggage and I love trying to figure out how to pare down and still look cute with a minimal amount of gear. Check out my 7 best packing tips for grownups as well as this video where I share some of the additional Covid precautions and supplies we carried.
Planning Your Trip to Kenya
While you could certainly plan a trip to Kenya yourself, navigating the many flights, ever-changing Covid regulations and travel logistics is complicated.
If you’re planning to stay at any of the Basecamp properties, you can book with them directly and their staff can also help you plan your time in Nairobi and your in-country flights.
We worked with a boutique travel company, F&T Luxury Travel to help us plan our time in Nairobi as well as our gorilla trek adventure in Uganda. We met Fin (the F in the company name) and Thais (the T) on our honeymoon in S. Africa. Fin was our ranger and T managed the lodge where we were staying. They relocated to Brazil during Covid and decided to combine their passions for delighting people, wildlife and travel by opening F&T Luxury Travel. Pop over to their website and sign up for their newsletter. We’re looking forward to planning more trips with them in the future.