Two weeks Safari and Beach Kenya Itinerary
We just returned from an unforgettable safari vacation to Kenya, where we shared breakfast with Rothschild giraffes, danced at a Samburu wedding, saw a wild African Big Five and Samburu Special Five, held our breath while watching lions hunt, fell asleep to the sounds of hyenas laughing and lions roaring, watched the sunrise over the Masai Mara plains from a hot air balloon, had a delicious meal by a river full of hippos, walked with white rhinos, strolled a postcard-perfect white sand beach, and were spoiled at a luxury beach resort. The whole trip was incredible and set a benchmark that would be hard to match in the future. This was our itinerary.
At a glance:
- 2 nights at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi
- 3 nights at Saruni Samburu near Samburu National Reserve
- 3 nights at Saruni Mara near Masai Mara National Reserve
- 1 night at Saruni Wild near Masai Mara National Reserve – make it two for a perfect itinerary
- 4 nights at The Ocean SPA Lodge in Msambweni on Kenya’s south coast
Day 1. Arrive to Nairobi, Kenya
We flew from Helsinki to Nairobi via Doha with Qatar Airways and landed in Kenya at 8:30 AM. In our reservation information we had received from Saruni, we saw a line mentioning airport assistance, but we never expected that we would be collected directly from the plane by a private car and transferred to the passport control before anyone else. It was so convenient, and the process of getting our visas was very fast.
We decided that getting our visas on arrival would be the easiest option, and indeed this was the case. Visas are available for purchase on entry for almost all nationalities at international Kenyan airports and land borders. We didn’t need photos – only $50 USD/€40 EUR/£30 GBP in cash for payment, the visa application and the landing card that we had received on the plane. We had printed and filled out our visa applications at home before we’d left. The application form can be found from the ‘downloads’ section of www.immigration.go.ke website. You will need Form 22 – Application for Kenya Visa. Good news for families: children aged 16 and younger get their visas free of charge when traveling with parents.
The first thing we did after we arrived in Kenya was to cross off one long-standing item on our bucket list: going to the Giraffe Manor hotel. One of the most desirable accommodations in Kenya, the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi is a small boutique hotel where Rothschild giraffes join you for breakfast and afternoon tea.
Each of the hotel’s twelve rooms has own personality, no two rooms are the same.
Day 2. Nairobi
Giraffes joined us for a breakfast on the morning of the second day, which was an unforgettable experience. You can enjoy the breakfast in one of three places: the main dining room, the Garden Manor’s dining room or on the outdoor patio. Each of these locations is visited by giraffes in the morning.
We had only one full day in Nairobi, and the only place we planned to visit was David Sheldrick elephant orphanage. It is open to public on a daily basis for an hour between 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM, when the calves come in for their daily mudbath and midday feed. Entrance fee is 500 KES.
As foster parents of four baby elephants, we could also visit in the evening at 5:00 PM, when the orphans return to the stockades for the night. This evening visit is for foster parents only and needs to be booked in advance. Note that this visit is at the same time as high tea with giraffes at Giraffe Manor.
It is also possible to book a private encounter with elephants at an additional cost, but only ten people per day can attend. This takes place at 3:00 PM. Unfortunately, when we checked one month before our visit, no places were available – so we recommend booking the private visit well in advance. We visited the orphanage twice on our second day: once during the public hour and again in the evening.
Day 3. Flight to Samburu National Reserve
On the morning of the third day, we flew from Nairobi Wilson airport to the Samburu Kalama airstrip. Our flight with Air Kenya departed at 9:30 AM, so we had to leave the Giraffe Manor by 7:30 – but not before we had another incredible breakfast in the company of giraffes!
We were lucky that it was a Sunday and there was no morning traffic. If it had been a workday, we would have needed to leave at 6:30 AM, and would have missed the breakfast with giraffes.
It took around one hour, with a few stops in the middle of nowhere, to reach Samburu on a tiny plane.
We stayed at Saruni Samburu. This accommodation was incredibly quiet and peaceful, with stunning views over miles of unspoiled wilderness from each of six luxury eco-chic villas. Our family villa was spacious, comfortable and beautifully decorated with a vintage vibe.
The staff, most of whom were from local Samburu villages, were very professional, welcoming and friendly. And the last, but not least, the food was outstanding.
The day we arrived to Samburu was a wedding day in one of nearby villages. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to learn about Samburu people, culture and traditions.
Day 4. First safari drive in Kenya
After three days in Africa, we couldn’t wait to start the real safari experience. Our guides, Lepayon and Solomon, were wonderful Saruni Samburu guides – we cannot imagine better. We did three game drives while there, and each one exceeded our expectations. Among other animals, we saw all the big cats of Kenya – lions, leopards, cheetahs, as well as the Samburu Special Five: the Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, Somali ostrich and beisa oryx.
First time in our three African safaris we witnessed a lion’s hunt. It was so intense and thrilling, that for the few seconds it lasted, we felt like we’d forgotten how to breathe. In case you’re curious: we didn’t see the kill; the zebras got away. We also saw a lioness carrying her tiny cub in her mouth. More than once, she walked so close to our open vehicle that we could have touched her if it wasn’t so dangerous. It was a truly amazing sight that we will never forget!
After lunch, we joined our Samburu guides for a Warriors Academy to learn some bush skills and play the “stealing a cow” game, a favorite for the local kids.
Day 5. Samburu National Reserve
We were out for almost the entire day on our fifth day, from before sunrise to sunset, with just a few hours’ time in between the drives for lunch and some rest. It was a great day out!
The Samburu scenery in Kenya’s dry north is stunning for its dramatic range of landscapes: dry plains, river and mountains.
Breakfast in Samburu meant a bush breakfast alongside the Ewaso Nyiro River, the main source of water for the National Reserve – so you can expect herds of elephants, zebras and other animals to come for a drink while you have your Scotch eggs, pancakes and morning coffee.
We were happy to have a couple more close-up animal encounters in Samburu.
Day 6. Flight to Masai Mara
We left Samburu National Reserve in the morning and headed to the Masai Mara. As before, we flew with Air Kenya. Although the flying time was about an hour, it took us more than two hours to get there because we stopped in Laikipia for refueling and spent an hour there. Luckily for us, Laikipia had a decent cafe (with WiFi!) at the airport.
We arrived to Masai Mara just in time for lunch before the evening game drive. Our new guide, Sinia, met us at the airstrip and we headed to the Saruni Mara lodge.
Nestled among the hills of Mara North Conservancy, Saruni Mara has only six cottages. Our family villa, which was decorated with a natural history theme, was huge, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a cozy sitting area with a fireplace and dining table and a big veranda overlooking the magnificent scenery of the Masai Mara.
The food was great, especially the mushroom risotto. Even just writing about it makes me hungry!
Day 7. Hot air balloon ride in Masai Mara
On the morning of the seventh day, we left our warm beds in Saruni Mara at 4:00 AM (can you imagine!) and drove in complete darkness to a hot air balloon launch site in the Masai Mara. The early start was worth it. The flight was incredibly peaceful, and the sun rising over the plains was spectacular. We flew with Skyship Co. We had two Skyship balloons flying together, and we shared the sky with two other balloons from a different company. Our total flight time was an hour and 20 minutes. From the balloon, we could see a big herd of buffaloes, a group of elephants and some zebras, as well as gazelles, hippos and crocodiles. The landing was fun: the basket tipped over and the kids were laughing – they loved landing even more than they loved the actual balloon ride.
Our champagne breakfast on the open plains of the Masai Mara looked like a movie scene.
We were back at the lodge just before lunchtime. In the afternoon, before the evening game drive, we visited the Masai market. Held every Thursday in the village of Aitong, it is an authentic and colorful scene where local people from across the Mara region come to buy food, clothing and other supplies. There is also an important cattle market there, which we were disappointed to have missed. Make sure to arrive before midday if you want to see a cattle trade.
Day 8. Mara North Conservancy
We spent our entire eighth day on a game drive, during which we had a bush breakfast on the sweeping Mara plains watching zebras and antelopes, and a bush lunch near the river’s edge with hippos grunting and jostling below.
What we loved about the Mara North Conservancy and Saruni Mara was that even during the high season, we had a very private experience: there were only a few cars in the area, and sometimes we felt like we had the whole expanse of the Masai Mara reserve to ourselves.
The game viewing was fantastic – as one example, let us mention the 22 lions we saw that day!
Day 9. Saruni Wild
We couldn’t miss another bush breakfast in the Mara – because everything just tastes better in the open air.
After the morning game drive, we arrived to our new home – Saruni Wild. It is difficult to describe how amazing this place was. When your tent is surrounded by grazing wildebeests and zebras, when you sit on an outdoor veranda relaxing after delicious lunch and a giraffe is staring at you from the nearby bushes, when you fall asleep to lions’ roars – it is just magical.
Saruni Wild has only three tents: one family tent and two doubles. The family tent is huge – really huge. It has one king-size bed, two single beds, and two bathrooms, one on each end of the tent. It was beautiful, with all the comfort you could need, and with all kinds of animals just steps away. Perfect! Our only regret was that we had only one night there.
In the evening we visited a small white rhino sanctuary. There were two rhinos there, whose names were Queen Elizabeth and Kofi Annan. We learned about work being done to increase the white rhino population in Kenya. And we were thrilled to be able to walk so close to the animals.
Day 10. Flight to Diani on Kenya’s south coast
A typical safari day in Kenya began at 5:30 AM, which meant that by 6:00 AM we were out for the morning game drive. Our tenth day was no exception. Today we had a new safari guide, Saruni Kisimei, who was passionate about wildlife, knowledgeable, and who had a great sense of humor. We asked to see the sunrise in an open place with animals roaming around. And he drove us to the perfect place – with a picturesque acacia tree that was backlit by the sun. As we stood and enjoyed the start of a new day, we saw zebras, wildebeests, some gazelles, topi and hyena all passing under the acacia tree. It was a great scene to photograph.
There could have been no better end to our Kenyan safari adventure than the scene of three lions – a mother and her cubs – feeding on a zebra and about 30 hyenas around them, trying repeatedly to attack the big cats and steal their catch.
At 2:00 PM, we left the magical Masai Mara and flew to Diani Ukunda with Mombasa Air. Our luxury beach resort, The Ocean SPA Lodge, was just 20 minutes from the airport.
Day 11. Msambweni beach
We were really happy to have a few days relaxing days at the beach after the safari adventure. We did the same last year while on safari in South Africa and Mozambique and were glad we did.
The Ocean SPA Lodge is located at Msambweni beach, which is one of Kenya’s most quiet and unspoiled beaches.
It would be only fair to start from the food at The Ocean SPA Lodge, as it was outstanding: the multi-course meals were served three times a day, and they were light, fresh, catered to our every need and beautifully served – it was a gastronomical delight.
In addition to spacious and comfortable rooms, the giant swimming pool and spa made it the perfect place to relax and restore mind and spirit.
Day 12. Diani beach
After enjoying Msambweni beach, we decided to check out the more touristy Diani beach. We spent a few hours there, visiting the quaint Waterlovers Beach Resort, walking along the beach for over an hour – we also rode a camel.
Waterlovers Beach Resort looked fantastic – small, intimate and stylish, and right in front of the gorgeous beach.
Diani beach is stunning with its pure white sand and turquoise water. We loved it! The only downside was that beach boys were a bit annoying, and we had company for the entire time we spent at the beach.
Day 13. Msambweni beach
Our thirteenth day passed quickly as we enjoyed eating delicious meals, being pampered with spa treatments and relaxing by the pool.
Day 14. Time to leave Kenya
As much as we would have loved to stay longer, it was time for us to leave Kenya. Our first flight of the day was the Safarilink flight from Diani to Nairobi Wilson Airport. We left Diani at 3:30 PM and landed in Nairobi at 5:10 PM, with one stop en route to pick up more passengers.
We had dinner at one of the best restaurants in Nairobi, The Talisman. It was a perfect ending to an amazing vacation.
After dinner, we headed straight to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for our midnight flight to Qatar, where we spent another two days before heading home.
Great photos and some good information! Do you have any photography articles and info on what gear you use? I am goung to Kenya in August and cannot wait!
Hi Sarah, unfortunately we don’t have any articles about our photo equipment, except for underwater photography. As you are not the first who asked about that, I would definitely would write something up in a near future.
For Kenya, we had two Canon bodies (5D mk III and 5Ds), with following lenses: Canon 16-35 F4 IS, Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II and Canon 300 2.8L IS + Canon 1.4 extender, and few small fast primes, such as, 35, 50 and 85.
Really such an amazing post… I like your pictures. Thanks for sharing this useful blog with us.
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