We spent the first four days of our Africa trip in Karen, a suburb in the west of Nairobi. While central Nairobi is very much a city, with noise, traffic and hectic streets, Karen is a leafier, more affluent area, where some residents don’t even feel like Nairobians.
While it’s probably worth spending a day in Nairobi en route to other parts of Kenya, some people completely by-pass the city for this peaceful enclave. As long as you have Uber – the cheapest and safest way to get around (or in our case, a very helpful Airbnb host who offers you lifts) you will find this is a great area to spend a few days.
Here are some great things to do while you stay here.
Visit the Karen Blixen Museum
You can’t visit Karen without seeing the Karen Blixen Museum. Located on Museum Hill, this is the second house that the Out of Africa author lived in and I think you’ll agree, the way it has been preserved is amazing. Take a guided tour through the house and you will find the late Danish author’s original furniture and belongings. You’ll also spot the beautiful artwork she painted of Maasai tribesmen and the dining room where she entertained her guests.
There are original photos of her husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke and lover Denis Finch Hatton, and the layout of much of her house has remained unchanged.
Once you’ve heard about the author’s life, take a stroll through the gardens to see the original equipment from Karen Bilxen’s coffee farm. The manicured gardens and views of the Ngong hills are almost worth the visit alone. Oh, and when you’ve finished your tour, hop over to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden Restaurant for some more Out of Africa nostalgia.
Take a tour of The Kazuri Bead Factory
A short distance from the Karen Blixen Museum (about a 20 minute walk), is the Kazuri Bead Factory. Kazuri (which means ‘small and beautiful’ in Swahili) was set up by the late Mark and Regina Newman in 1975 as a way to help underprivileged women make a living. Over 40 years later, the Newmans’ legacy is still going strong and Kazuri is a member of the world Trade Organisation. Guided tours of around 20 minutes will take you through the pottery and bead making process, all the way from the production of clay, to the final painting of the beaded jewellery. You’ll meet the various employees at work along the way and see the kilns where the clay is baked. At the end of the tour, you’ll have the chance to purchase all sorts of beautiful pottery and beads in the onsite factory shop. All proceeds go back into supporting the business and it makes for a fascinating visit.
Have lunch at the Matbronze Museum
Matbronze is a Foundry and Wildlife Gallery on Kifaru Lane. And from the moment you set eyes on the larger-than-life elephant head with glowing eyes at the entrance, you’ll see this is a place with quirk and artistic flair.
The gallery here was founded in 1987 by Denis Matthews and the bronze wildlife sculptures you see here comprise one of the largest collections of its kind in Africa. Peruse the gallery and gorgeous gift shop of bronze jewellery, statues, ornaments and pieces of art. There are also manicured gardens, sprinkled with more captivating sculptures. The Matbronze Café is also great for coffees, milkshakes and tasty lunch dishes.
Enjoy a unique stay at Giraffe Manor
If you read this piece, you’ll have already got a glimpse of this boutique hotel that offers an astonishingly up-close experience with the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. Giraffe Manor is located in Langata, which is easily reachable from Karen. And if you’re lucky to stay here, you can experience both morning and evening feeding times with the giraffes, over breakfast and sundowners. As hotel staff fill you in on the different personalities of each animal and the backstory of conservationist Betty Leslie Melville, you can’t help but be touched by this wonderful place. Feeding the giraffes pellets by hand as you stand right in front of them and then watching them drift back into the nature reserve come sundown is an unforgettable experience.
Kiss a Giraffe at The Giraffe Centre
If you don’t manage to visit the Giraffe Manor, a trip to the nearby Giraffe Centre is a must. It’s just $10 entry into this nature attraction and you can almost guarantee that you will meet at least one or two of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes during your visit. Once you’ve mastered how to befriend one of these gentle creatures, you can earn their trust and stroke (and maybe even kiss) one of them. Give yourself plenty of time to watch the various giraffes come and watch them graze and interact in the distance. It will give you a whole new appreciation of these special creatures. Read about my experience at the Giraffe Centre here.
Adopt an Elephant at The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Dame Daphne Sheldrick is a special lady. After her husband David Sheldrick – a passionate conservationist – passed away, she set up the Sheldrick Wldlife Trust in his memory in Karen, Nairobi. The trust is a place where orphaned elephants have been brought in and cared for for nearly 40 years and it’s an amazing place to visit – it brought me to tears! You can either visit in the morning to watch the elephants play, or visit in the evening at 5pm for a slightly more intimate experience where you can adopt an elephant. We watched the elephants scuttle in with their keepers from the national park with the trust’s orphaned ostrich, before they had feeding time in their pens. The trust is also home to Maxwell, a blind rhino, and a baby giraffe and it has been visited by people worldwide including a whole range of celebrities.
Eat like a lion at Carnivore
Vegetarians may want to look away now. Carnivore restaurant is a bit of an institution amongst tourists and ex-pats in Nairobi and as you can tell by the name, there’s a lot of meat involved. Although the food wasn’t quite as good as I expected, it’s perhaps worth a visit for the fun vibe and chance to try some unusual types of meat. The most unusual ones on the menu when we visited were crocodile (quite nice) and ostrich (not so nice). It’s all served in the style of a Brazilian rodizio (flag up means ‘feed me’, flag down means ‘I’m full). And you can watch the meat being cooked from a huge grill. Carnivore is located in Langata and is part of the Tamarind restaurant group. So look out for its sister restaurants including Nairobi Tamarind at The Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and Roast, at Karen’s upscale shopping mall, The Hub.
Have you been to Karen and do you have any tips for things to do there? Drop me a note and let me know!