It’s late at night when we arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the 4 million inhabitant strong capital of Kenya. It’s January 2021 and Kenya has just implemented new immigration regulations. We have been tested for COVID-19 in Vienna 72 hours prior to our landing, registered our negative test results and received a QR code, that is now screened at the border. Additionally our temperatures are checked and our luggage is disinfected. They are not taking this virus lightly (as opposed to neighbouring Tanzania, but that’s another story). The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes, but we were already greeted by a team member of our local tour operator “Bush & Beyond” before the immigration. She manages the immigration process for us, which helps us settle with ease.
The Emakoko Lodge is located right at the edge of Nairobi National Park – where you can go on safari in the middle of the city!
On the way to the Emakoko – through the National Park
At the airport gate our driver and guide from the Emakoko lodge already awaits us. We’re surprised, that we’re picked up with a proper safari car already. Little did we know, that the drive to the lodge would lead us straight through a National Park. Within the city borders of Nairobi lies the “Nairobi National Park” – a park twice the size of the city of Salzburg. It’s pitch dark when we make our way through the park, so we have no idea what awaits us the next day, but let us give away as much – you can see giraffes in front of Nairobi’s shiny skyline and buffalos along the elevated railway tracks, that cross the park. It’s a crazy scene really.
The setting of Nairobi National park inside a sprawling metropolis is quite the juxtaposition!
A real safari home – in the middle of the city
The next morning we wake up at sunrise and enjoy a breakfast with the view. Only now we realise that the Emakoko is truly a safari home. It’s not a city hotel, although it’s located in Nairobi.
The Emakoko is built at an escarpment right at the edge of Nairobi National Park.
Whenever you go somewhere from here you have to cross the National Park. Each errand starts and ends with a game drive this way. That’s why be believe it’s not a bad location to start a Kenya roundtrip. In fact we see giraffes, buffalos and even rhinos here on the first day! Most visitors only stay one night in Nairobi to then go and continue on their safari. We opted for two nights, so we could have a bit more time in Nairobi and also go on a half-day excursion.
What to do in Nairobi
There are plenty of things to do in Nairobi apart from game drives in the Nairobi National Park. Wether you’re into wildlife, history or shopping – we would recommend to stay 2 nights in Nairobi to experience some of the charm of the capital of Kenya.
Giraffe Centre: Rothschild giraffe feeding
We make our way through the park and exiting on the Western side to visit the “Giraffe centre” and see the endangered Rothschild giraffe, that they try to safeguard and breed here. The giraffe centre is located just adjacent to the famous Giraffe manor, where guests can stay and have breakfast with the giraffes peaking through the windows. We opted against this, as we are not a big fan of staged wildlife encounters, but prefer the natural way to interact with animals. Having said that you are allowed to feed the 10 Rothschild giraffes, that stay at the Giraffe centre as well, which gives you the sensation of their super soft tongues touching your hands.
- Giraffe Centre
- Duma Rd, Nairobi, Kenia
- 1.500 Kenyan Schilling entrance per adult
- Includes feeding interaction with the Rothschild giraffes
- Mandatory hand washing & sanitising station at the entrance
Karen Blixen Museum: A glimpse of the colonial history
After our giraffe encounter we decide to pay a visit to the “Karen Blixen Museum” to learn more about the colonial history of Kenya. The Danish woman tried unsuccessfully to grow coffee and later returned home to write novels. One of those books was later turned into the movie “Out of Africa” and everyone who has seen it should definitely visit the museum. The house is truly located at the foothills of the Ngong Hills, which is nowadays just in the middle of the residential Karen neighbourhood of Nairobi. It’s not as wild as it used to be during Karen Blixen’s days, but an interesting glimpse into the history.
- Karen Blixen Museum
- Karen Rd, Nairobi, Kenia
- 1.200 Kenyan Schilling entrance per adult
- Includes a guided tour
If you have more time at your hands we recommend to visit the “Sheldrick Wildlife Trust” with it’s elephant and rhino orphanage or do some shopping at “Kazuri Beads” if you haven’t had enough of the colourful glass beads, that you will find all over Kenya.
Where to stay in Nairobi
Chances are high, that your safari will start and end in Nairobi. We tried & tested two different accommodations and would do it the same way next time we visit.
Start your safari at the Emakoko
There’s no better place to start your journey than the “Emakoko”. The family-run boutique lodge borders the Nairobi National Park and offers peace and solitude, while just being a 45 minutes ride from the airport. There’s only 10 rooms at the lodge – we stayed in one of the rooms in the private villa, which is built steep up at the cliff and can be reached with a quirky funicular lift. The rooms are incredibly spacious and feature a free-standing bathtub, private veranda and stunning vistas of the National Park surroundings. At the private villa there is also a swimming pool and guests enjoy the luxury of a var and private fireplace.
Activities include game drives, hikes, Nairobi excursions and visits of the giraffe centre and Sheldrick’s Wildlife trust.
- The Emakoko
- Nairobi National Park, Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, Kenia
- From 700 US$ per person
- Includes full board (lunch, dinner and breakfast), soft drinks, beer, house wine, non-luxury spirits, laundry, private airport transfers & private game drives & National Park fees. Also included are trips to the Karen area, including the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust & Giraffe Centre.
End your roundtrip at Hemingway’s resort
After our two-week safari throughout Kenya we decided to stay at the Hemingways Nairobi, which is a 5 star boutique luxury resort with 45 suites. The hotel is a meeting point of the local who is who and can get quite busy on the weekend – with jazz brunch and other activities. So it’s not as private as the Emakoko, but has more of a city vibe. It’s located in the super-chic Karen neighbourhood of Nairobi, with it’s expansive gardens and views of the Ngong hills. We enjoyed spending our time in our 80m² suite (all the suites have the same layout) with our private balcony and ordered room service. The wifi is fast, the food is very international (think Pizza, falafel & humus, burgers, and so on). It’s not very Kenyan in itself, but a perfectly relaxing place to end the trip.
Hemingway’s also organised our mandatory COVID-19 test for our return home. They work together with a lab in Nairobi, that sends a team out to the hotel. The swab test gets done in your room, so it doesn’t get more convenient than this.
- Hemingway’s Nairobi
- Karen Mbagathi Ridge, Kenia
- From 350 US$ per room
- Includes breakfast