A Kenya Safari Dream Vacation!

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A Kenya Safari Dream Vacation!

I am still in awe that I had the chance to take one of my bucket list trips – and experience it in such an amazing way with some amazing animal loving women,

When my cousin said – hey let’s do an African Safari in the summer of 2018, I said sure. At the time it was a half hearted sure since I did not think we would really do it – I was afraid to travel internationally because of all that was going on in the world and then there was the cost and taking time off work.

But just a few weeks later – we managed to gather a group of 4 girls and put down the deposit for a trip to Kenya for August of 2019. Thanks to my cousin Shae for planning what would be the most amazing experience of my life!

Holy crap – I am going to Africa! 

I hope this post will inspire you to take a trip – where ever your bucket list may take you and if you are looking to go to Kenya – then the below will talk about all the great animal adventures we had and my recommendations!

NOTE: A lot of people know I am a pretty good photographer and expected I would take my pro camera with me – but I did not! I committed to spending my time “in the moment”. There are a whole lot of pictures of Africa out there – so it seemed silly for me to add to them. It was the best decision I have ever made because I enjoyed EVERY MINUTE of every city, animal, country and person I saw.

I lived the way living is supposed to be – in the moment and out of my phone and technology.

So while these images are not great – they are just enough for me to remember my journey – and that is all that matters right?

Animal Conservation

What was particularly cool about this trip was that each of the places we touched had a positive effect on animals in some way! Many of the hotels have conservation programs and we met so many amazing people who really care about the animals of Africa.

I will write more detailed articles about the conservation efforts in Africa soon!

The Planning: Travel For Change

We used a company called Travel for Change Africa to assist us with the planning of our trip and they did a fantastic job! They arranged everything for us – from drivers to hotels and made all the magic happen.

You can visit them online at Travel For Change Africa if you are interested in an African safari trip – I highly recommend them.

Traveling To Nairobi

The traveling to Africa was one of the parts that scared me the most. I had never been on a plane for as long as I needed to for this trip – and was super afraid I could not handle it. But it was not as bad as I thought – thankfully.

I departed Newark on August 13th and the total travel with 2 flights and a layover in London was about 20 hours.

I arrived at JKIA in Nairobi late on August 14th. One thing I did not realize is that where my flight landed was not a main terminal and I was supposed to meet the other 3 girls at the airport as they were arriving not long after. After sitting for a while, one of the attendants questioned why I was there – and thankfully helped direct me to where I needed to be. I should have looked at the airport more before hand!

After I met up with the other girls we met our driver and he took us to the After 40 Hotel in downtown Nairobi – where we immediately crashed from exhaustion. (For the record I do not recommend this hotel – our experience there was not good!)

Related: A Goatel hotel for true relaxation

Giraffe Manor

One August 15th our driver picked us up and took us to Giraffe Manor which was only a couple of hours from downtown Nairobi.

This was one of the highlights of the trip for sure! Giraffe Manor is small so it books out years in advance, we got lucky with the agent we used where we were able to stay at Giraffe Manor if we booked a room at one of their sister hotels. I am so glad we did!

Giraffe Manor is part of the Safari Collection of hotels which includes 4 different locations each having its own unique experience that you will love – you can see some information about the Solio Lodge below which is their sister lodge.

The Animals
Giraffe Manor houses a herd of Rothschild’s giraffe where they are cared for, loved and provide offspring to keep the population up.

While I love giraffes, I kind of fell in love with some warthogs that live there as well – also affectionally called Pumbaa for the rest of our trip! These guys were so adorable – and I am always a sucker for the underdog. There was also a large collection of birds with some amazing colors!

The Finch Hatton Suite
We were thrilled to be able to stay in this amazing suite that featured 2 levels and a circular Staircase. The bathroom had a tremendous shower that could have fit us all – and a separate bathtub, which sadly I did not have time to try out. The staff was AMAZING and catered to us at every moment. From getting us mimosas to starting a fire in our room – the service was exceptional.

The Food
There are no words for the food! I only took pictures of our first lunch there – but regret not taking more. Every meal was exceptional – healthy and unique.

Food and alcohol were included in our stay. They actually had a little do it yourself bar area and you can request other items as well. The morning we left we had the best mimosas!

The Spa
I actually had a one hour massage while I was there and it was literally the best massage I had ever had. I have severe issues in my upper shoulders – and she managed to bring me so much relief. I only wish I could have brought her back to NJ with me!

Spa visit was not included and was an extra fee.

The Picture Experience
One of the things Giraffe Manor is most known for is the picture taking experiences with the giraffes. If you follow the Safari Collection on Instagram there is no shortage of perfect looking people taking amazing images with these beautiful creatures. But mere mortals like me – just do not stack up, but I do have one picture of me below getting ready for my big kiss!

The staff works hard to make sure every visitor gets a magical experience. We did pictures the night we got there and then in the morning at breakfast is when the giraffes come and eat with us and we were able to get these shots.

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

On August 16th we were picked up from Giraffe Manor and taken to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which was only about an hour or so away.

This my one “must do” on the trip and I am so thrilled to have had the chance to show some support to a group I have supported for many years. I am a lover of elephants beyond words – and to see how much work this organization does makes my heart full.

The Sheldrick Trust does a variety of things to help protect animals including aerial surveillance to prevent illegal activity, anti-poaching protection, education and more. But what they are most known for and what we learned more about on our visit was the Orphan’s Project where they rescue and rehabilitate baby elephants – we will as rhinos and other animals.

Baby elephants are saved from situations like their mom being killed, drought, development and more. The Sheldrick Trust will save these babies, raise them at the trust and set them back into the wild when they are able to survive.

It was cool to see all of the babies they currently have and hear each of their stories.

The Bad Part Of The Experience
While I am glad I went – I have to say it was a bit frustrating just HOW many people were there. It was way too crowded to get close to the elephants – and the standing room only made it a less than great experience. I wish they had a press only option or even a higher paid fee to get a more personal experience so we can ask more questions and really get the full experience of what they do.

Right now they only allow the Trust to be opened for 1 hour per day – which we totally understand, but it does affect the experience you will have and if you are a die-hard animal advocate like I am, you will want to learn more!

Also to note there is a 500 Kenya Shillings fee to enter the Trust. Once you are there you can also adopt an elephant or shop their adorable gift area to get a gift that will help them support the elephants.

Maasai Mara

Right after Sheldrick our driver took us to Wilson Airport where we enjoyed a great lunch at Java restaurant and then took an estimated 2 hour flight over to Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

When we landed on the dirt landing strip in Maasai – we met what would become one of our favorite people on the trip – our driver Omondi (aka John). He would be responsible for us for the next several days – and our job was to make his job more fun, and I think we did that!

Safari driver in Kenya

We stayed at the reserve for 3 nights (16th, 17th and 18th) and it exceeded all of our expectations!

We stayed at Base Camp Maasai Mara and where introduced to the Maasai Warriors who were some of the most amazing people I had ever met.

The Tents
This part of the trip was definitely less luxurious than Giraffe Manor – I guess you can call it “glamping”. We were in tents, but they were not your typically tents – and the whole facility overlooked the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. The tent I stayed in allowed us to easily see zebras, cheetahs and more just across the way.

There are only 12 tents total so it is a very intimate setting and you will feel like you have the place to yourself most of the time.

I took a couple of pictures, but cannot seem to find them so sorry for not sharing!

One thing about staying at Base Camp is that because it is technically on the reserve, after dark you need to have a warrior walk you back to your tent. One of the first things I noticed was the beware of monkeys sign near our tent – later I heard, and learned – there are a whole lot of monkeys out there! A picture below shows one that was not too far from our tent!

The security are local Maasai warriors and this is how we really got to learn more about them! These men were true warriors and made us feel incredibly safe.

The Restaurant & Bar
We spent a lot of time in these 2 locations! Because once you are done with a drive there is nothing else to really do – you usually head to the bar or to the main public area which is the ONLY area to get internet!

The Food
Our meals were fantastic! Everything was creative and unique and we definitely had a great experience at every meal from the food to the service. The chef was so sweet and we really appreciated him spending time with us! The extra special touch of the words on our soup – well that was just something we loved!

Food was included but alcohol is not.

Below are some images of this part of Base Camp.

We really enjoyed the time we had with these guys! One of my favorite pictures from the trip is all of us hanging with the warriors. They learned about our culture – we learned about their culture – and we all laughed and talked until those early morning hours.

Hanging with the staff is the best way to make your trip amazing! We highly recommend it.

Thank you to all the Maasai guys for giving us the best time ever!

The crazy mzungus miss you!!!!!!

One of the best parts of our stay at Base Camp was the singing! If you watch one video today – let this be it. This was a special performance the staff and warriors did for us when we asked! I LOVE their singing and hope you will too.

The Game Drives
Our true excitement came in the fact that our driver worked his butt off to make sure we saw the “Big 5”! The big 5 are the lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and buffalo – and we managed to see every one of them! If you are planning to go to Africa – having a GREAT driver will make all the different. He was professional, fun, abided by the “laws” of the safari and cared about our experience. We hit the jackpot!

He also shared a lot of information about the plight of the safari and the animals that call it home and share how his over 20 years of experience he has seen things not going as well as it had been in the past.

We did a few different game drives with him which allowed us to see different animals and landscapes. One was a morning drive, one was a night drive and the other was an all day drive with a picnic lunch.

The Maasai Tribe

This was probably one of the last pieces of the trip I thought I would find myself so interested in. My African Safari plans only included animals – not people. But meeting some of the warriors at the Base Camp made me want to learn more about these friendly people.

At the Base Camp we met “Dixon” who became a friend – and took the time to help us plan a trip his community so we could learn more.

Not only did we learn more – it was a kick in the ass to remember just how good our lives are.

Or is it?

The one thing I noticed as soon as I walked onto their land – the happiness and love the children had. Children who had no toys – no candy – no technology. These were the happiest children I had ever met.

Before we went to their village we asked Dixon what we could bring them! So we stopped at the local market and picked up some treats for the kids and some cooking needs for the moms.

While we were there they did a dance, showed us how to light a fire with cow poop and a stick – and invited us into their homes to see how they live. The whole experience was seriously life changing.

Below are just a few images from the village where they do their shopping and where they live.

Lake Naivasha

On August 19th – we were picked up by our buddy and after an amazing send off by our new “Maasai” family – we headed out for a several hour drive up to Lake Naivasha where we were scheduled to do a boat ride, guided nature walk and enjoy a nice night at Naivasha-Sopa Lodge.

Naivasha-Sopa Lodge
Sadly we were all incredibly disappointed with the lodge itself. Maybe we got spoiled after Giraffe Manor and Base Camp – but this lodge was lacking in service and just seemed unfriendly. But on the flip side it was incredibly gorgeous and there was a generous amount of animals roaming the grounds!

This is the only place on the whole trip I would not recommend and I would not go back to.

The Animals
While we did not get to see as many as we would have liked, there are a lot of animal that call Sopa home. The hippos do come up from the lake at night to graze the lawn (and I swear I did see one!), there are monkeys and waterbuck and giraffes as well.

One thing people need to remember is that hippos are dangerous! This hotel actually has had a few people who were mauled by hippos on the property.

Lake Naivasha Boat Ride
While I enjoyed the boat ride because I love hippos – and we did get to see a few while we were out there, the person manning the boat spent more time on his phone than conversing with us. He did not seem at all interested in his job, so that was a bit disappointing.

Crescent Island Walking Tour
Halfway through the boat ride we stopped at Crescent Island where we had an exceptional walking tour where we learned about the animals that inhabit the island. Turns out many were brought in for the movie Out of Africa – and they left them there when the movie was done. The guide clearly loved what he did and this was a fun thing to do after sitting so much!

The food was just OK. It was a buffet style which was good because there were a lot of options, but overall it was not on par with what we would have expected for a lodge of this scale.

Food was included and only water for a beverage. Any other beverages or alcohol you have to pay for. (It would have been nice if they told us this before we ordered iced tea!)

Solio Lodge

On August 20th we were picked up by our ever ready driver and transported to Nyeri which was about 3.5 hours away. This was our final destination in Kenya and I cannot believe how fast it all went.

In Nyeri we stayed at Solio Lodge, this was the place we had to book in order to get a room at Giraffe Manor because it is part of the Safari Collection of accommodations – although it was extremely expensive – it was extremely worth it.

This was like the last present on Christmas – you know the one the parents hide because it is the best gift – that is about how I felt with Solio. To say the lodge is gorgeous is an understatement. The staff was superb. The game drives were amazing because they allowed us to get closer than any other drive we had been on, and of course because our driver, well he kind of rocked.

There was a long entry way and a lot of gates to get to the lodge – but I later learned it was for the safety and protection of the animals. Upon our arrival Ava welcomed us and she was an amazing host making us feel like we were staying in her home.

The Food
No words for how amazing the food was. Everything is fresh and grown in their gardens which just added to the amazingness of this lodge.

Food and alcohol were included.

The Animals
Solio Lodge is a private sanctuary that houses both black and white rhinos. We got to see the white rhinos up close and personal while sipping wine and snacking on cheese as you can see below! The white rhinos are the friendlier of the bunch so it is common to see really large groups of them.

We also got to see lions – the highlight for this drive is that at one point we got to see them after feasting on their prey which was a great experience. The circle of life is amazing as we learned and it made it easier to see the prey in that form.

There are also giraffes, impalas and leopards on the premises. The only one we did not see during our stay was the leopards.

Right at the lodge you can find Colobus monkeys enjoying some fun time in the grass too.

There was so much more here than we had expected and it definitely was a highlight of the trip!

Horseback Riding
This was my first time ever on a horse! We did a horseback ride through the reserve replacing our 4 wheel transportation and although it was a bit chilly and started to drizzle – it was an amazing experience to be at one with the preserve.

One of the things we love most about The Safari Collection – which is the parent brand for Giraffe Manor and Solio Lodge is the impact they have not only on the animals they protect – but their local community. Solio had a display of the growth of their impact over the years, in the images below you can see what they have done for 2018. Over $1.1 million was donated to a variety of organizations – so when you stay at these locations – you are making such a difference!

The Equator

Unexpected stop! Our driver recommended we stop here on our way back to Nairobi – and if our driver says to do something, well we do it!

This was so cool because once we stopped there were a few guys there waiting to prove that we were in fact on the equator by doing the water trick to show the water pouring in reverse or not at all. We got a certificate showing proof we were there too, so all in all it was a fun stop!

Below are my girls getting ready to see the proof!

Stopping at the equator in Kenya

Back To Nairobi

On August 21st the driver took us back to Nairobi to catch our flights! While I was heading back to the US – the rest of the girls went on to Uganda to do some gorilla trekking which sounds like it was equally amazing.

Gorilla trekking was my cousins dream – so I am so glad she got to have this experience!

The trip home was lonely – but uneventful. I thought long and hard about all the experiences I had and what I learned along the way.

What I Packed For Africa

Before I left for this trip I must have spent HOURS surfing the web for what to wear. What a colossal waste of time that was! I am here to tell you that most of the articles you see on how to dress for a safari, well they are just trying to make money.

If you travel to the Kenya area in August it is actually colder than you would expect – and pretty dry as well. We all wished we had brought an extra jacket!

Here is what I packed and I note what I needed or didn’t – this was everything I packed for 8 days of vacation and 2 days of travel time.

  • 2 pairs of zippered leg pants (so I can use them as pants or shorts) – did not really need them since it was too chilly for shorts. Could have just went with khakis or cargo pants.
  • 1 pair of cropped cargo pants
  • 1 pair of cropped sport leggings
  • 1 sport shirt
  • 1 pair of pajama pants
  • 1 pajama shirt
  • 1 denim button down shirt (I should have brought another button down)
  • 3 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 Columbia lightweight fleece
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 12 underwear
  • 2 sport bras
  • 3 regular bras
  • Safari hat (never wore)
  • Scarf
  • Bar soap and shampoo – this was a great idea!
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Malaria medicine
  • Diarrhea medicine (never needed!)
  • Hand lotion
  • Baby wipes
  • Facial wipes (should have brought more – used them all because the water was so yucky and I always felt gross!)
  • Hair ties
  • Sneakers
  • Flip Flops
  • Chapstick
  • Deodorant
  • Dental floss
  • Cell phone & charger
  • Extra battery charger (this came in super handy since some places had limited outlets and some days we were on the road a long time)

All of the places we stayed did laundry – some included it in the cost, others charged – but I did account for this when I packed! The only thing they do not wash is underwear so I packed enough for the trip.

And no – I did not bring any makeup at all!

The Cost Of A Kenya Safari

Believe me I was terrified to spend money on this trip – with a kid going to college and being self employed – money is a bit tight so this was a big decision, but the good news is it did not cost nearly as much as I thought it would!

Keep in mind the costs below are based on 4 of us going!

Airline – $1400
Round trip from Newark, NJ to JKIA in Nariobi. I purchased this about 9 months in advance of my trip.

Travel For Change$3,600
This included everything! The game drives, driver, hotels, etc.

Cash – $400
We needed cash for tips and gifts to bring home mostly – I originally took $200 with me, but we hit the bank at one point and I took out another $200 while we were there. We tipped our driver quite a bit because he was amazing, we tipped our waiters and a lot of the staff at many of the places we stayed because they were just so amazing!

So for about $5,000 I lived my dream. Well worth it!

Questions? Comments?
Have you been to Africa? Do you plan on going? Have questions? Bark at us in the comment box below!

Jill Caren CharityPaws

Jill Caren

Jill is an avid animal lover who spends her time helping animal rescues by photographing homeless pets and through her work on CharityPaws.

She is currently owned by Cleo, an American Pit Bull Terrier and Snoopy Cat. Her inspiration comes from her girls Ginger and Riley (RIP) – pit mix sisters who were loved family members for almost 15 years.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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