Giraffe Manor: Our full report
A temple to the benign cult of the giraffe, Giraffe Manor is one of Kenya's most popular luxury lodges.Originally built in 1932, it has been a country house hotel since 1984. Most of the hotel's patch of land comprises the Giraffe Centre, and a group of these gentle creatures roams the grounds. They visit the house and gardens daily to be fed through the windows. If you're aiming to stay here, book as early as you possibly can, as rooms are often taken a year or more ahead.
Located in the southern part of Nairobi's suburb of Karen, Giraffe Manor was founded by the US conservationist Betty Leslie-Melville and her husband Jock, who bought the house in 1974, rescued it from dereliction, and opened it to guests in 1984. It was bought by its present owners in 2007.
With the original building in the style of a Scottish hunting lodge, the hotel now has two main buildings – the original Giraffe Manor or Historic Manor, with six rooms, and Garden Manor, a six-room annexe architecturally in keeping with the original, that was first completed in 2011, and extended with two further rooms in 2017.
Giraffe Manor's style hovers somewhere between playing at lord of the manor and doing it for real. The quite formal physical surroundings are tempered by a focus on comfort and a practical informality of management style that places guests' needs at the top of the agenda.
The main shared areas of Giraffe Manor are all on the ground floor of the original manor house – the comfortable lounge, furnished with a mix of armchairs, sofas, occasional tables and artworks, and the famous breakfast room, known as the 'Sun Room', where the resident giraffes crane their heads every morning through the huge windows to feed on giraffe pellets that guests are encouraged to offer them. Some guests are even up for a 'giraffe kiss' – holding a pellet between the lips for it to be retrieved by a giraffe's sticky tongue. Also in the main house is a formal wood-panelled dining room, where dinner is served to guests who dine together at the large table. At the south-east corner of the main manor is the library - a cosy hideaway with books, board games and TV, for evenings or rare indoor days.
The Garden Manor has its own manorial hallway and staircase, stylish sitting room and formal dining room. Behind the Garden Manor, there's a separate, small conservatory or greenhouse called the Orchid House, where people sometimes have private dinners.
Between the main house and the Garden Manor is a pleasant courtyard patio area, which is the usual location for lunch, or for guests wanting to eat dinner privately. To the left of the Garden Manor is a shop that carries a good range of interesting and stylish crafts and souvenirs, and a treatment room.
All ten superior rooms and two suites at Giraffe Manor are en-suite and well furnished. Formerly, the eight superior rooms were noticeably larger and/or had better views than the two standard rooms, and were also more expensive. In 2019, the two former standard rooms, both in the east wing of the Main Manor (Lynn and Marlon) were rebuilt and considerably expanded and remodelled to become superior rooms.
Please note that rooms in the Historic Manor can only be booked by people who are also staying at one or more of Giraffe Manor's sister properties: Solio, Sasaab or Sala's Camp. The only exception is if you are booking Giraffe Manor within four weeks of arrival, in which case you can book Historic Manor rooms without having to book one of the sister properties.
All the rooms at Giraffe Manor are named after living or former giraffe residents of the manor grounds. Incorporated on the first floor of the main manor are four superior rooms:
- Jock, a fine twin room with two single beds (can be pushed together to make one large bed) on the south-east corner above the library;
- Betty, with a king-size, four-poster bed and a big sofa, on the south-west corner above the Sun Room;
- Daisy, with a double bed convertible to twin beds, on the north-west corner, above the Sun Room.
- Marlon, with a double bed convertible to twin beds, on the east side of the house, with a separate lounge area and private balcony.
- Lynn on the ground floor in the northeast corner (double or twin).
The Karen Blixen Suite in the Historic Manor is huge (113m² or 1,216ft²), and includes a lounge, an en-suite double room and an en-suite twin room, with a shared terrace from where you can feed the giraffes.
The Garden Manor has been beautifully built to stay architecturally close, and as far as possible similar in details and furnishings, to the main house. Being set back from the main lawns, you don't get the same degree of giraffe interaction here, but all the rooms (Arlene, Kelly, Helen, Salma, Edd and the Finch Hatton Suite) are superior standard and you can sometimes feed giraffes from Kelly and Helen. On our most recent visit to Giraffe Manor, in 2018, we stayed in Kelly and were greeted by two giraffes nosing through the window first thing in the morning.
Not surprisingly, the bathrooms in the Garden Manor rooms are more contemporary in style than those in the main house, with glass-walled walk-in rainfall showers and features such as Kitengela stained-glass windows and skylights.
There's a large, family suite – Finch Hatton – with a big, four-poster bed plus a single on the ground floor and twins in a loft/mezzanine area.
Then there are three lovely first-floor rooms in the Garden Manor:
- Kelly which can be a twin or a triple, and features a skylight and Kitengela glass;
- Helen, a twin or double;
- Arlene which is a double.
Please note that rooms in the Historic Manor can only be booked by people who are also staying at one or more of Giraffe Manor's sister properties for a minimum of two nights: Solio, Sasaab or Sala's Camp. The only exception is if you are booking Giraffe Manor within four weeks of arrival, in which case you can book Garden Manor rooms without having to book one of the sister properties.
All the rooms on the property are equipped with hairdryers, torches, safes, designer toiletries – and small buckets of giraffe pellets of course – but there are no locks from the outside on the doors in the Manor House (Garden Manor rooms are lockable, and all rooms can be locked from within). All the rooms have UK-style, three-pin sockets and you can charge equipment or use hairdryers at any time. Superior rooms all have bath tubs (the two standard rooms do not), and Jock, Betty, Kelly, Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen have big fireplaces – you may well want to have a fire lit on a chilly July evening.
The nearby Retreat offers guests spa facilities, an infinity pool, breezy roof top terrace and cafe, all available at an extra cost. The Retreat also has several bookable day rooms. Please note, however, the day rooms can only be booked if you are a guest of one Giraffe Manor's sister properties, Solio, Sasaab or Sala's Camp.
The most popular activity at Giraffe Manor is simply relaxing: there's a blissfully comfortable atmosphere here and the sort of staff who tend to anticipate your habitual needs, whatever they may be – cold beer, cup of tea, snack, glass of water…
Meeting, feeding and observing the delightful Rothschild giraffes is itself hugely enjoyable and amusingly chaotic, and particularly fun for children. You can do this a breakfast time in the Sun Room, or out on the terrace at tea time in the afternoon. If you're staying in the Garden Manor you will not be able to have breakfast in the Sun Room, as tables are always occupied by Main Manor guests. As the property generally runs at capacity all year round, it is worth noting that experiences like afternoon tea with the giraffes are typically shared between 15-25 guests at a time.
The Giraffe Centre, which gives Giraffe Manor its raison d'être, is run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife to conserve rare Rothschild giraffes, and it's open daily from 9am to 6pm (no charge for Giraffe Manor guests). You can feed and photograph giraffes from the high-level viewing platform here.
While at Giraffe Manor (between the 11am check-in and 10am check-out) you have use of a driver and vehicle for any local excursions you wish to make. Local visits around the suburb of Karen include the Elephant Orphanage run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the Utamaduni crafts shop, the Karen Blixen Museum and several small galleries and shopping centres. When you stay at Giraffe Manor, transport to visit all of them is included, but entrance fees, where applicable, are extra. Only visits to the AFEW Giraffe Centre itself, across the lawn, are included in the rates.
To visit Nairobi National Park, it's best to book an early morning or late afternoon visit in advance with Expert Africa, as the lodge has to organise a suitable 4x4 vehicle (additional costs). You can also spend the day volunteering at a One Horizon feeding centre in one of Nairobi's slums (additional costs) – which is about as far from Giraffe Manor in every sense but distance as you could possibly imagine.
Giraffe Manor is a unique and charmingly eccentric country house hotel that has enduring appeal. When it first opened, it was neck and shoulders above Nairobi's other places to stay. Our many visits, including stays in both the Main and Garden Manors in 2017 and 2018, have convinced us that it's still one of the best places around the city. Having long outgrown its early novelty appeal, Giraffe Manor is somewhere to which people can happily return over and over again. The frequent difficulty of getting a room here, often as much as a year or more in advance, is testament to its allure.
- Nairobi, Kenya
- Ideal length of stay
- 2 nights
- By day, allow one hour for the transfer to/from Wilson Airport, and 1.5 hours to/from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). Arriving late at night into JKIA, we reached Giraffe Manor in 25 minutes.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Breakfast includes homemade muesli, pastries, fruit and the whole works if you'd like a cooked breakfast. But the food is somewhat overshadowed by the interaction with the giraffes!
At both lunch and dinner there is a set three-course menu. During our last stay in November 2018, we found the food to be nicely balanced, plentiful and with an element of sophistication. Dishes included a roasted vegetable, feta and tomato relish mezze; Swahili red snapper kebabs with a coconut cashew sauce; and apple crumble with Chantilly cream.
If you arrive very late, off a flight for example, you will be offered a later supper.
- Dining style
- Individual Tables
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Breakfast is eaten in the Sun Room (if staying in the main manor), a conservatory-style room at the west end of the main manor, which is the daily venue for the famous giraffe-feeding when the giraffes crane their necks through the large windows for pellets. Guests usually eat lunch in the outdoor patio area between the main manor and the garden manor and dine together in the evenings around a large table in the formal main manor dining room. Arranged in advance, you can also eat in your room. Betty and Daisy rooms share a first-floor patio/roof terrace, which is a popular spot for a romantic dinner.
- Drinks included
- All standard alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included, except Champagne, luxury spirits and premium wines for which there are set charges. You can also put in special requests in advance which will be supplied at cost where possible.
- Photography holidays
- Giraffe Manor is a wonderful place to get close-up photos of giraffes. It also makes a very appropriate venue for photographing special occcasions. If you prefer to have this done by a professional photographer, Giraffe Manor can lay on a photo shoot at extra cost.
- See ideas for Photography holidays
- From its grand hallway to the designer toiletries, everything about this lodge makes a statement of luxury. While every room is exceptionally comfortable, it is the unique attraction of the giraffes that makes this Nairobi’s most popular luxury base.
- See ideas for Luxury
- Attitude towards children
- Children of all ages are welcome.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- Feeding giraffes at the house and visiting the Giraffe Centre itself are both very popular with children.
- Cots and highchairs are available.
- Generally recommended for children
- We warmly recommend Giraffe Manor for children. Most children will love the whole set-up and the house is clearly very welcoming to them. However, parents need to be wary of mixing little ones with giraffe hooves. If your children want to run around or play in the gardens, please be sure to enlist the help of staff to clear the area of megafauna and stay with the children the whole time.
- Power supply notes
- There's a backup generator to ensure 24 hour power.
- There's free WiFi throughout the Main Manor and Garden Manor. There are good mobile signals for most networks.
- TV & radio
- There's a TV in the library in the main manor.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The Nairobi Water company provides treated water for the plumbing, while drinking water is decanted to flasks and jugs from bought-in supplies.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- Karen Hospital is a seven-minute drive away. There’s also a branch of Nairobi Hospital nearby that’s open 24 hours.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- The giraffes around the grounds have a gentle demeanour but they are very large and can headbutt or kick, so guests need to observe house rules when getting anywhere near them while outside. The manor has round-the-clock security, including a guarded gate.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in all the buildings and Giraffe Manor’s fire policy is detailed in the room packs.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Full Laundry Service is included, and takes 24-48 hours depending on the weather.
- There are digital room safes in every room. Foreign exchange is available or can be facilitated at nearby forex centres. There are ATMs at nearby shopping centres in Karen, which can be included in your excursions in lodge vehicles.
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa, MasterCard and Amex are accepted with no surcharge.
Other lodges in Nairobi
Alternative places to stay in this same area.