Go on safari, of course, but don't stop there. Wild and beautiful Kenya packs plenty in, from the steamy nightlife of Nairobi, to the towering peaks of Mount Kenya, to the golden plains of the Masai Mara. Here's how to get the most out of your trip.
Indulge Nairobi’s Wild Side
Why Go: A microcosm of all Kenya has to offer, the capital city is home to more than three million people living uniquely alongside the grassy plains of Nairobi National Park—where lions, zebras, and their friends roam while enjoying views of the downtown skyscrapers.
Yes, Nairobi seems to have it all: A contagious creativity reverberates from cutting-edge designers like John Kaveke fusing traditional and modern in bespoke ready-to-wear fashion, to Masai markets overflowing with handicrafts, plus renowned cultural institutions like the Nairobi National Museum housing an impressive collection of human ancestor fossils dating back millions of years. Even the matatus—popular, private minibuses—become unique and bold canvases of moving artworks that push through Nairobi’s infamously intense traffic. By night, sweltering clubs spill onto the sidewalks of the packed Westlands district tempting well into the night.
Amboseli National Reserve
Watered by underground streams from Mount Kilimanjaro, the marshes and grasslands of Amboseli National Reserve provide a dry-season refuge for elephants that draw visitors to Kenya from all over the world. The savannas around Amboseli are also a battleground, where wide-ranging wildlife comes into conflict with growing numbers of Maasai and their cattle.
Don’t leave Nairobi without visiting baby orphan elephants fostered by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, sitting right inside Nairobi National Park. Guests of iconic Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel can skip the crowds by arranging special up-close access during mealtime, when caretakers feed massive bottles to the highly intelligent and emotional mammals in the cutest scene imaginable. Anyone who just uses Nairobi as a safari springboard is definitely missing out.
Stay Here: Sleep in style at the centrally-located and historic Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel, the accommodation choice of Teddy Roosevelt on safari after retiring from his presidency. Its signature Tudor architecture appeared in Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, but more importantly, the spa inside doles out restorative massages before award-winning Tatu Restaurant serves up artfully-prepared Americano-Kenyan cuisine for dinner.
Straddle the Equator at Mount Kenya
Why Go: Some people come to Mount Kenya to hike for a handful of days up the second-highest mountain in Africa, or to train for the taller Mount Kilimanjaro. Novice adventurers need not feel discouraged, since the area surrounding this snowcapped peak presents plenty to do.
Stay Here: Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club flaunts sweeping views of the mountain from its pool, plus a range of activities to amuse practically anyone’s preferences. Actually dissected by the equator, this lodge urges relaxation while puttering around the golf course, weaving through the hedge maze, submitting to spa sessions, or taking long walks around the property with resident canine ambassadors Tusker and Grammy. Families will love the equatorial ceremony and horseback riding through Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy that surrounds the property, home to the rare mountain bongo. Or even better, let the Fairmont arrange an early morning horse ride into the bush to a romantic breakfast complete with eggs to order and champagne.
Lodge life means the opportunity to slow down, but if that’s not possible, head into nearby Nanyuki to stroll past the town’s historic train station, bustling market, and choice of nyoma choma (Kenyan barbeque) restaurants. Further afield there’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to the only three Northern White Rhinos left in the world.
Witness Epic Animal Migrations in Masai Mara
Why Go: Those seeking that classic Kenya safari experience should look no further than the rolling, open grasslands of Masai Mara, the country’s crown jewel that extends from Tanzania’s Serengeti. The annual wildebeest migration—when upwards of 1.5 million wildebeest and other animals summer in the greener pastures of Kenya, only to return south during the winter—is arguably the best time of year to go to watch an epic scene straight out of National Geographic of the herds crossing the river. Don’t fear if timing doesn’t work out though, since the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhinoceros) hang here all year long.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Stay Here: The Fairmont Masai Mara hosts 50 luxury tents surrounded on three sides by the Mara River, just brimming with hippos and crocodiles. Guests get reminded at check-in not to leave food around tents for those cheeky monkeys to steal (yes, they manage tent zippers) and hippos snort and splash all day and night, providing the appropriate background music for the spa tent.
Let the hotel take care of everything, from visits to nearby Masai villages to sundowner cocktails in the bush next to a roaring fire before dinner al fresco in a traditional boma structure overlooking the river. The best part of being here is the game drives around the area with the hotel’s skilled guides, from hippo sightings before the sun comes up to quietly watching prides of lions laze under acacia trees. There’s no better place to witness nature’s most impressive spectacles.