Safari in Nairobi

wildlife meets city life:
a Coke's Hartebeest roams the savannah while Nairobi's skyline pokes in the distance


"This isn't the Bronx Zoo anymore", I quipped as our van hit the rotted road past the entrance gate. There were 2 other New Yorkers with me. Mike, a local guy with bucked tooth, was driving the three of us on a van. We were about to explore Nairobi National Park, Kenya's first, established in 1946. It sounds personally fitting, this being my first safari.


At only 117 square kilometers in size, this protected area is small compared to Kenya's big stalwarts. But what makes this park so unique is the fact that it is close to the city. So close that Nairobi's skyline can actually be seen from the open grass plains that pretty much define the terrain where the wild animals roam. There are thankfully fences to separate wildlife from city life.

Having only arrived the night before, I was still battling with jet lag. Traveling to Africa from the US often involves a hop via Europe, in my case flying through Amsterdam on KLM. While the air ticket was free and my Intrepid overland journey was generously discounted, that still didn't guarantee a restful sleep nor my body clock adjusted accordingly.

Black rhinoceros
Cape buffalo

When Mike showed up at the hotel lobby to pick me up early in the morning, my yawns turn to smile, helped by cups of strong Kenyan coffee. Here I was feeling finally energetic, fueled by the thought of seeing my first wild animals in Africa. For many of us, animal viewings are limited to what's available in the local zoos. Now that I'm really kicking it up a notch, the last thing I want to be seen by animals is yawning back at them.

Safari is Swahili word for "journey" - which in itself already explains what one has to go through just to travel to Africa. What this also means is the associated costs and they're not always cheap. Even planning an indie trip for those with limited time and budget is difficult as there's hardly any infrastructure that supports it. Which boils down to hooking up with reputable tour operators.

Vervet monkey - equipped with blue balls & red penis

In my case, this urban safari was part of Intrepid's Urban Adventures. Considering the hefty conservation fees to enter Kenya's national parks and the distances involved while on a game drive, having all logistics taken cared of by Intrepid was definitely worth its weight in Xanax.

We haven't gone far past the park's main gate and we already spot wildlife. "Giraffes!", we all exclaimed. My tour mates Dean and Jessica opened the sun roof for a better view. Out in the savannah were more wild animals grazing as they normally would, looking back curiously, if not suspiciously, at our car and its camera-wielding occupants.

Lioness ponders her next meal
Several choices of prey for the lioness

Further on, we craned our necks at what is the day's best encounter: that of a lioness stalking a herd of antelope. The air was still, our breaths were on hold. "Come on, come on", we muttered in whispers. We waited for the lioness to make the first move but nothing was happening. In the end, the lioness decided to lay down, hidden yet again by the grass.

Mike drove us further away, stopping the car with every animal sighting and explaining animal behavior at the same time. Park regulations prohibit us from feeding animals, making noises and stepping off the car. After what seemed like an endless slow drive, we reached an area where we were allowed to finally walk - with an armed escort no less.

Stay close to the one with the gun
No To Ivory Trade!
Monument marking the burning of 12 tons of ivory (the mound at the back is what's left)

The safari walk is basically a one-hour walk in the bushes which gave us a closer look at some animals. Knowing there are lions spread throughout the park and seeing how good they are with playing stealth, I made sure the armed escort wasn't far away (never mind if the rifle seemed like it belong to a museum than to thwart beastly fangs).

While we dodged animal poo along the trail, walking just like this felt like going back to the old days when safari began with the first European settlers in Africa. It was exciting, it was unnerving. Only God knew what's lurking behind those bushes.


  1. Wow, the adventure continues! I should say I am not a big fan of animals (which is why I am not too thrilled to visit East and Southern Africa), but your pictures make me think twice. And those blue balls look almost glow in the dark! :-)

    1. Once you finally get eye to eye with a wild animal in Africa, you feel like asking "why it took me so long to get here?". The experience is a huge eye-opener.

  2. I would hate to think that there is interaction between the wild animals and the tourists that come to see them. Leave the animals wild as they are. If one wants to touch or feed an animal to go a zoo or a petting zoo. MHO!

    What an incredible trip this is! BTW, you seem to profess loyalty to Intrepid :)

    1. I love Intrepid because they basically ran the kind of trips I want to indulge in. And they tend to cost less than G Adventures (another travel outfitter I've traveled with previously).

  3. An African Safari! That's one thing I still need to cross out from my bucket list. I do envy you right now!

    1. It took me a long time but the wait was so worth it.

  4. This blog has been more of a travel site but a Discovery-channel | National-Geographic-kind-of-thing now. Who doesn't want to experience African safari anyway? Thanks for taking us there with this blog series!

    Great captures! I wish I know how to soften my photos too or better, I hope not to be too lazy on manipulating my cam and knowing its settings and all. Amazing shots, Dennis as always! And you scored another free airfare and discounts! Ang husay talaga!!! :)

    1. Thanks Doc. The softer effect is due to the 70-300mm lens brought on this trip - a hasty purchase I made after not finding anything within my budget just before I left for Kenya. It'll probably take me more time before I can get my hands on really faster zoom lens.


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