Kenya was a surprising detour for me during my epic career break – I spent 2 weeks in Nairobi and Mombasa with my friend Helen and her inaugural Rock My Adventure Tour [affiliate link] and had some unforgettable experiences. Kenya is well known for its animal encounter experiences, and I got pretty up close with lots of animals in Nairobi and on my Maasai Mara Safari and Nairobi, but I had so many other types of adventures on this trip.
A version of this article was first written for and published by Income, and republished here with additional thoughts and photos.
“When you travel in Africa, you have to prepare yourself physically and psychologically,” said Moses, the man in charge of the Mara Explorers campsite on the edge of Kenya’s famous Maasai Mara National Park where my group was settling in for the night. It had been a very long day of bumpy road travel from Nairobi, a journey that saw our bus break down at one point and left us stranded in the middle of nowhere for awhile, I was just very glad to stop moving for a while.
But the very next morning on safari, I watched a herd of wildebeest stampede down the banks of the Mara River and snake their way across the water through a rising cloud of dust. In true National Geographic documentary fashion, there was a soaring soundtrack playing in my head as I witnessed this sliver of a moment in the Great Migration, also known as the annual movement of zebra, gazelle and wildebeest searching for new grazing grounds between the Mara and the Serengeti plains.
Travel in Africa may be challenging at times, but moments like these remind me that it’s definitely worth the effort.
Wildlife around the corner
The beauty of Kenya is that nature is never far away, even from its urban centre. The capital of Nairobi is one of the most thriving economies in Africa and home to an increasing number of skyscrapers, a widening sprawl of buildings, and where traffic comes to an absolute standstill during peak hour. The city skyline forms the backdrop of Nairobi National Park where an electric fence is the only thing that separates Kenyan’s human residents from its wild neighbours.
I spent a morning at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage on the edge of the Nairobi National Park standing around with other tourists, cooing and watching baby elephants suckle milk from the largest baby bottles and gambolling around in red dirt. Later, I stood on an elevated platform at the Giraffe Centre, eye-to-eye with an endangered Rothschild Giraffe named Stacey that was all too happy to headbutt me when I was too slow to feed her.
Giraffe necks are pretty powerful – you do not want to get swung at by a snippy giraffe.
Animal encounters are imminent in Kenya, even in the most unexpected of places. On the overnight train from Nairobi to the coastal city of Mombasa, I was distracted from breakfast by the sightings of elephants flashing by my window as the train trundled through Tsavo National Park.
More than rolling plains
I came to Kenya expecting beautiful savannahs and lush landscapes, and Kenya delivered with aplomb, from the vast seemingly-endless green carpet of foliage of the Great Rift Valley to the golden plains of the national parks, dotted with the occasional Acacia tree and waving grasses.
But I was completely unprepared for the glory of the Kenyan Coast. Mombasa felt like a completely different world after the dusty dry landscapes and modern skyscrapers of Nairobi. This colourful coastal city is the second largest in Kenya and an important historical port on the eastern coast of Africa.
Just south of Mombasa, I laid eyes upon Diani Beach and decided that it was the most beautiful beach I had ever seen, with unreal turquoise waters and pure white sand that slipped right through your fingers. The fact that I saw camels walking across the beach only made this paradise more surreal.
Also, I went skydiving over Diani Beach and landed on the beach itself – isn’t this the most incredible view and landing spot?
My last night in Kenya was spent in Kilifi, a town north of Mombasa, in a local village house quaintly nicknamed ‘Giarama Paradise’, a name that’s hard to dispute as we watched the sun set on a picture-perfect bay in its garden while playing checkers with new friends. We supped that night on a lovingly home-cooked meal of Nyama Choma (a traditional roasted goat dish) and drank homemade palm wine from a neighbour.
Kenya is its people
My trip to Kenya was a feast of experiences, but it would have meant nothing without the warmth and hospitality of the Kenyans that I met at every juncture, from the kind-hearted drivers who stopped to try and help us fix the broken down bus en route to the Mara, to the Maasai tribe members who showed us their traditional dances and patiently taught us how to light a fire with just a few scraps of wood.
The Kenyan landscapes were breathtaking, the experiences unparalleled, but there are countless little moments with the Kenyan people that will dwell in my memories, like dancing with my friends under the stars of an open-air bar, to collecting a crowd of curious village children that followed our group around Kilifi.
I was prepared to challenge myself physically and mentally with this trip to Kenya, but what I didn’t expect was to leave a little bit of my heart behind in this beautiful country. I’ll see you again, Kenya, and I look forward to all of the new adventures that await me when I return.
Read more of my Kenya stories. I was on a small group tour organised by my friend Helen from Rock My Adventure [affiliate link] and it was such a ball – I’d recommend it if you’re new to travel in Africa or travelling solo!