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I spent a week in Kenya: here’s why you should too

Safari in Kenya

At the end of last year, having not travelled outside Europe for over eight years, I decided enough was enough, and wanted to leave the continent as I huddled in the cold of my London flat. While many of my friends had gulped down their big dose of revenge travel after Covid, I hadn’t gone beyond mainland Europe (which were still beaut trips that I wouldn’t have traded for anything – shoutout to Sicily in particular which will always have my heart – there’s a reason why White Lotus was filmed there).

But the “big” trip was still calling me. I wanted an adventure. Something different to anything I’d done before. And I’d always wanted to see lions in their natural home ever since I was a kid – Lion King was a fave and my first word was “cat” so safari was always gonna be a shoe-in at some point. 

That was when Kenya came to me, and in particular, Kenyan Highlights. I would only need to take a week off work with a packed itinerary giving me some of the best bits of the country including a plethora of game drives, and an expert Trip Manager, plus a group of like minded travellers wanting to explore East Africa.

In short, that week is something that will stick with me forever. So here are just some of the reasons I think everyone should go to Kenya.

1. The wildlife in the National Parks

Ok, we’ll start with the obvious one which I knew was gonna be pretty exceptional, but still outdid my expectations by some distance. On the first day, I was already in awe as we drove down from Nairobi to Maasai Mara National Reserve as baboons were lining the roads to welcome us as we surveyed the Great Rift Valley. Ridiculous.

And then we actually got to the reserve and began our first game drive. We came to a stop just outside our safari camp as our Trip Manager Haron asked us to look down to the right of us and there was a dung beetle shifting a ball of well, you know what, which was around four times the size of it.

What followed over the next few hours blew everyone away. Instantly, we saw a dazzle of zebras (I’m not gonna lie, I did look up that collective noun), which had us all reaching for our cameras, but then came the star studded line up of  4 of the Big 5. It began with water buffaloes, along with a handful of elephants, before Haron told us he saw a couple of lions in the distance.

He drove us beyond the smattering of other safari vehicles, and incredibly not just the two female lions we originally saw, but 5, then 6, then 7 cubs all sat down just a couple of metres away from our car as we all remained amazed and silent (apart from one of our group who cried a few happy tears).

Haron’s radio then burst into life, with one of his fellow safari guides giving him some animal intel in Swahili, and we drove on with a promise of a “secret mission”. We drove for about 20 minutes in anticipation before we saw it. A leopard slowly, gracefully making its way through the undergrowth alongside our car as Haron beamed widely, and told us just how lucky we were.

This may have been the standout moment in any of the National Parks for me, but Nairobi National Park also had stunning wildlife with the city skyscrapers in the backdrop while Amboseli National Park was most famous for its elephants. It was super moving to see so many large families together, and we even got a sight of Craig: the oldest big tusker around at over 50 and a bit of a celeb so it was a real treat to catch a glimpse of him.

Also shoutouts go to the cheetahs, hippos, flamingos, wildebeest we saw… I could go on.

2. The hospitality

In short, everyone was just so very, very friendly, and proud to show off Kenya as a destination. As soon as I was off the plane in Nairobi, airport staff were quick to help two fellow travellers and me out with a taxi, and from there, anyone and everyone who I spoke to in Kenya was so warm in their welcome.

Of course, some of the biggest welcomes came from Haron and Denis who drove the other of the two safari vehicles. Both were friendly, hospitable, and just desperate to tell us about their country.

But we were also literally welcomed into people’s homes and workplaces. Whether that was a traditional Maasai village, the Kazuri Bead Factory which gives employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society (in particular single mothers), or Kibera.

Kibera is the largest urban slum in Africa with high levels of poverty. We were invited into Kibera by Mirror of Hope, a community organisation which Contiki supports, as part of a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience. We were told about the work that they focus on to support vulnerable women and children, as we were kindly invited into the home of one family who they had helped, and guided around a part of Kibera. 

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3. The sunrises… and the sunsets

I’ve been lucky to see some pretty spectacular sunrises/sunsets in my lifetime, but nothing prepared me for Kenya. One morning, Haron tipped us off about a special vantage point in the camp we were staying in Amboseli, and at 6AM, we saw the sun peek its head above Mount Kilimanjaro. 

But the way down was pretty spectacular too. The night before that, we saw the orangest sky I had ever seen. Like burnt orange. Honestly, it looked like a lil scoop of mango sorbet you wanted to stick your spoon into.

Kenya sunset

Image source:Nick Roberts

4. The baby elephants

Okay, so I’ve talked about the animals in the National Parks, but we also took a trip to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a harmonised chorus of people saying aww before. And with good reason.

It’s seen as one of the most successful elephant rescue and rehabilitation programs in the world, and where we got to see tens of baby elephants slurp from giant milk bottles, as head keeper Edwin told us their names and the different reasons why they were there, along with how they were going to be reinstated back into the wild.

5. The terrain

My fave place we went to throughout the whole week was an area of the Maasai Mara National Park called the Mara Triangle. It was peaceful, serene and just a bit of a dream as our wildlife sightseeing counter went up and up.

But it was also here where we saw some really unique terrain. That included green mounds that legit looked like Teletubbies Hill. And so many acacia trees.

Those weren’t just in the Mara Triangle by the way, but also in all the different National Parks. Seeing these with a sunset in the background, an elephant in the foreground genuinely made me feel like I was in Mufasa’s living room.

Safari in Kenya

Image source:Nick Roberts

6. The food

Being honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Kenyan food before heading there. But the often hearty, warming cuisine was something that I really looked forward to after a game drive or a trip to Nairobi.

One standout was irio which is a mix of mashed peas and potato. For a mushy peas connoisseur like myself, this was a dream. Paired with a goat stew, and washed down with a pint of the local Tusker lager, I was extremely satisfied.

Also, one thing you have to eat if you go to Kenya is mango. Super fresh and juicy, it’s the perfect dessert or snack.

If you wanna check out the full itinerary and book your East African adventure, check out Kenyan Highlights.

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