Almost every Kenyan safari includes a layover in Nairobi. But visitors would do well to stay a while longer and book at least one night at Giraffe Manor, an exclusive hotel set within an indigenous forest only 25 minutes, but a world away, from the city center. As one of the most unique hotels in the world, it’s the envy of every Instagrammer, because, well, where else can one have breakfast with a giraffe?
It was late in the evening when my wife and I arrived at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, where we met our driver from the hotel. It takes about half an hour to get to the Karen neighborhood where the manor is situated, and our drive was filled with stories of the city and Swahili basics (“Asante,” for instance, means “thank you”). Our driver also gave us a primer on giraffes:
“Don’t walk behind them or turn your back on them. Giraffes are very food motivated and won’t hesitate to head-butt you to get what they want. Watch out for Kelly who is particularly feisty.”
It was after 10 p.m. by the time we rolled through the gates onto the 12-acre estate of the hotel. The 1932 building, styled after a Scottish hunting lodge, stood in stark contrast to the urban landscape we had just passed through.
Despite the late hour, the hotel staff was waiting for us with hot towels and fresh fruit juice, and the manager gave us a short orientation. All the rooms at Giraffe Manor are named after the Rothschild giraffes that call the property home. We were told we would be staying in “Kelly,” which we found amusing.
The staff had also prepared a snack for us, which turned out to be a meal set in the dining room of the newer garden wing of the hotel. Despite being built just a few years ago, the building matches the style of the old home perfectly. I was served a chicken potpie, and my vegetarian wife had couscous and stuffed vegetables. It was a simple but delicious repast after 20 hours of traveling. We toasted gin and tonics and enjoyed a South African red before retiring.
The Kelly room is on the second floor with a view of the courtyard. In the distance we could see the silhouettes of giraffes moving in the dark. A bowl of alfalfa pellets sat on the dresser and the anticipation of a morning feeding would have been too much to bear were it not for the comforts of the room, which included a claw foot tub and hot water bottles tucked under the duvet of our canopy king bed.
After their nighttime walk, the giraffes are let back onto the property at dawn, and they head directly to the hotel for breakfast. A couple of them poked their snouts into the window of our room for a light snack. Afterward, we walked down to the dining room for the main event.
Having breakfast with a giraffe is like living inside a children’s book. The delicate white dining room is punctuated by long swaying giraffe necks craning through the picture windows. There are many opportunities to feed them by hand — and even by mouth (a very wet experience). The center table of the room is reserved for newcomers, who have to learn to bob and weave around hungry animals while eating poached eggs. The other guests have more room to enjoy their breakfast and the spectacle of the newcomers in the hot seat.
The food itself was a pleasant mix of classic egg dishes, fresh fruit and a stout French press of Kenyan coffee. The baked goods were a particular highlight of every meal throughout our stay.
After breakfast guests relax or hang out with the giraffes until their afternoon excursions. Our choice activity was to visit baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Trust operates a nonprofit rescue center on the edge of Nairobi National Park, where they raise elephants orphaned all over Kenya. Trips to the nearby Giraffe Centre or the Karen Blixen Museum, the home at the center of Out of Africa, can also be arranged.
We returned from the elephant orphanage to a satisfying lunch amid the well-manicured courtyard gardens of the hotel. I skipped dessert in favor of a local Tusker beer and conversation with the friendly management team.
At sunset the guests and staff gather for tea, cookies, cocktails and one last feeding of the giraffes before dark. The antics of an overexcited baby warthog entertained us as the sun went down.
Dinner was a family-style meal, but the conversations with other guests about their safari adventures were more memorable than the food. Gin and tonics by the large fireplace were a perfect end to our stay, and we left early the next morning for a flight to the Samburu National Reserve and a safari adventure of our own.