Because the tourist visa for Egypt is only 30 days, we had one extra week in Kenya before the timing would be right to fly to Cairo. In our 2020 itinerary, we’d planned to spend that week in Mombasa. This year, that seemed like too much trouble since it requires a roundtrip flight or long train ride, neither of which sounded appealing. We could have just extended our four-week stay in central Nairobi by another week, but instead we decided to explore a different area, the affluent Nairobi suburbs to the south. These include Karen, Langata, and the neighborhood we ultimately chose, Karen Hardy.
Arrival in Karen Hardy
From our apartment in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa neighborhood it was about a 45-minute Uber ride to Karen Hardy. Our Kileleshwa hosts were kind enough to give us a late checkout for noon. Unfortunately, our Karen Hardy host was unwilling to let us drop off our luggage or check in any earlier than the stated 2 p.m. time, so we had a bit of time to wait. We chose to have lunch at a healthy restaurant a few minutes drive from our new Airbnb called Boho.
Walking into the restaurant, I could immediately feel the difference between Karen Hardy and where we’d come from. We were lucky to get one of the last tables without a reservation and the restaurant was nearly full, unlike most of the places we’d dined out at in Nairobi. And, nearly every patron was white. This was strangely jarring after a month of being in the racial minority everywhere we went. But the food, though a bit overpriced, was good and comfortable to us (vegetarian tacos for Chad and an ahi poke bowl for me).
After lunch we got another Uber to go to our Airbnb, a guest house in a mid-sized compound at the end of a side road (review below). This was a very different setup from our 13th floor apartment in Kileleshwa! But we like contrast and we definitely found that in our new home for the week.
Oloolua Nature Trail and Best Meal Out
One reason we chose Karen Hardy is that it holds many Nairobi tourist attractions including the Giraffe Centre and Nairobi National Park. But for our first excursion, we just did a late afternoon hike at a nature trail that is managed by the Primate Research Center. Ironically, we didn’t see any monkeys along the trail, but we still had a really nice 2 mile hike. We tried walking up the road after to find a restaurant or hotel where we could have a drink without requiring another Uber ride, but there’s not much out there. However, after walking away from the protected area, we stumbled upon a group of sikes monkeys! We passed the time waiting for our Uber watching them play.
Our next stop was a bar where we got one of the last unreserved tables. This seemed a little odd until the waitress explained that England would be playing their quarterfinal Rugby World Cup match in a couple hours. We enjoyed our beer there but decided to jet before it got too crowded.
Our waitress at Boho had recommended a restaurant called Under the Swahili Tree when we asked for her recommendation for local food (which Boho clearly didn’t have). It proved to be a great choice! And while they were set up for a big rugby crowd, it unfortunately didn’t materialize. Still, we enjoyed watching pieces of the match before and after our meal. And the meal itself was fantastic! Chad got their Sunday roast (okay, this was not authentic Kenyan but we couldn’t resist). I got a fish curry. Both were excellent, as were our cocktails. We really had a terrific time and it proved to be a very exciting match, which England won (though we were rooting for the underdogs from Fiji).
The Giraffe Centre
For our visit to the Giraffe Centre, we arrived on a Tuesday morning just after it’s opening time of 9 a.m. and were among the first guests of the day. The Giraffe Centre is a program for breeding Rothschild giraffes to be released into the wild to help maintain the giraffe population. They have four mother giraffes, one male, and the offspring until they are old enough to be taken to join the giraffe population in one of the reserves. Visitors get to feed the giraffes some snack pellets (one kind made of grasses, another they like better that includes molasses) while learning about them from the educators on staff. It was a ton of fun and we learned as much as we’d ever like to know about giraffes (very strange animal!). Probably what we learned the most is what a giraffe’s tongue feels like because they were not shy about taking their snack pellets from your hand!
After our time with the giraffes, we walked across the street to their nature trail, which is also where the giraffes go at night. We enjoyed a relaxing hike through the paths then took an Uber up to Karen Hardy’s main mall, the Galleria, and grabbed brunch at Artcaffe, a popular Nairobi chain. We’d been seeing them everywhere so I’m glad we got a chance to try one.
Urban Safari in Nairobi National Park
For our last day in Kenya, we booked a half-day “urban safari” in Nairobi National Park. We’d been planning to skip this attraction, but circumstances forced our hand. The activity I most wanted to do in Nairobi was to visit the baby elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage. This is located in Nairobi National Park but until a month before our visit, you could access it without paying a park admission. However, the Kenyan Wildlife Service changed this rule, so rather than just 2000 shillings to visit the elephants (under $14), we’d also have to pay $45 each for entry to the national park. If we were going to do that, I wanted to get a chance to see the park, which would require a driver and guide (like the other parks, it’s not safe to just walk around so they require a vehicle).
So, I reached out to Zippy at our prior safari company, Australken, and she arranged a half-day driver and van for $105 to pick us up at 6 a.m. to see the park prior to our 11 a.m. appointment with the baby elephants (you can only visit the Sheldrick Orphanage during their designated one-hour meet-the-elephants show; it’s popular and space is limited so it is highly recommended to book this well in advance of your visit. I booked ours about 3 weeks out).
We were thrilled when the van pulled up for our safari that we recognized the driver. It was Zack, our driver/guide from our prior safari. He used all the same tricks as in the other parks to find us some amazing animal encounters, including a pride of lions finishing their zebra breakfast. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story from the day.
Our safari ended with the visit I’d arranged to Sheldrick. We had fun hour watching the baby rhino then baby elephants get their feeding and playtime. The presenter introduced all 25 elephants and told the stories of how they were found. Very sad and the recurring theme was human causes. But most are able to be reintroduced to the wild around age 3 or 4 and are accepted into wild herds. It was very inspiring to hear and an added bonus was getting to pet the baby elephants.
Life in Karen Hardy
The biggest challenge of our Airbnb was that the compound was locked for security 24 hours a day, so anytime we wanted to come and go we had to call the caretaker to unlock the gate. He was a very kind man and always happy to do so, but we really didn’t like not being able to come and go at will.
But, the place had some advantages, including being within walking distance of a small mall called Hardy Post that had a good enough grocery store for our needs. A mixed blessing was that many of the roads in Karen Hardy are unpaved. This was great for Chad’s daily runs but made for bumpy car rides.
Another challenge for car rides (always by Uber) was that many of the roads also had a barrier arm blocking access that had to be manually lifted via pulley by a security person. It was unclear to me how these barriers made the neighborhood safer but interesting to see that part of daily life.
Just like in Nairobi proper, we were very car dependent in Karen Hardy. The traffic is much better here but everything is pretty spread out. We had the small Hardy Post mall we could walk to and one overpriced restaurant we tried, but other than that, we needed an Uber to go anywhere.
I can see why tourists tend to choose these suburbs because of their proximity to attractions and perceived sense of safety, but we much preferred Kileleshwa. However, our favorite was another affluent neighborhood, Gigiri to the north (mentioned in my We’re Home post). If we come back to Nairobi, and I hope we do, we’d choose to stay near Gigiri if possible, with Kileleshwa or Kilimani as our second choice.
I’m glad we decided to stay a week in Karen Hardy to see a different side of Nairobi. It definitely had a more relaxed vibe and we enjoyed walking around the neighborhood. And we had a great time engaging with the animal activities down there. I think it was a great way to end our time in Kenya.
Although more accurately, we chose to end our time in an airport hotel (review below). Because of the difficulty of reaching the guest house and having a VERY early flight to Egypt, we decided to move closer to the airport for our last short night. This proved to be a great choice and about the same price to do an Uber, hotel room, and use the hotel shuttle as the private transfer service I had been considering. We enjoyed a light vegetarian meal in the hotel restaurant and slept well for the five hours we had before leaving for the airport. I think this was a good solution to part of our Karen Hardy Challenge.
Airbnb review – We liked this guest house overall but hated having to call the caretaker, Elisha, every time we wanted to leave or enter. This should have been disclosed in the description and house rules. Had we known about it, we wouldn’t have chosen this Airbnb. However, we really enjoyed getting to know Elisha and he was always happy to let us out or in, though he didn’t always hear the phone on our first try. The location in Karen Hardy is great – convenient to the Giraffe Centre and Nairobi NP, walking distance to a nice restaurant (Cultiva) and a small mall (Hardy Post) with a grocery store, ATM, and Artcaffe. The space is a bit smaller than appears in the photos but very functional and the wifi worked great in the house. The only other small snag was that we had to wait about 45 minutes after the stated check in time for the cleaning to be finished. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if the host had shown flexibility in allowing us to drop off our luggage earlier.
Kozi Suites Nairobi Airport – Great hotel before an early flight – Incredible value. Room was clean and comfortable. Reliable shuttle service at 2 a.m. We enjoyed the vegetarian food at the restaurant on the 9th floor for dinner – so nice to not have to go out or deal with delivery. Also nice to have a refrigerator and kettle in the room.