Swelteringly hot and sprawlingly huge, Nairobi – Kenya’s thriving, constantly on-the-go capital, may seem overwhelming to business and leisure travelers alike. With a population of over three-million, Nairobi is one of Africa’s largest cities: and, like any major metropolis, it has much – maybe even too much – to offer the curious traveler. From national parks to trendy cafes and eateries, from local handicrafts to ear-shattering, heart-pumping nightclubs, Nairobi has it all. And while historically many visitors to Nairobi have used the city as a “stopping-off point” before heading into the wilderness on a safari or big game hunt, the city itself has much to offer the intrepid and the savvy traveller: those willing to look beyond the surface and explore a diverse, thriving cultural center within. We here at Never Fly Coach Again have narrowed down the myriad of options on offer here to help you make the smartest, savviest decisions about how to spend your time in Nairobi. Any one of the five options listed below will help you experience the best of the city; all five, and you’re all but guaranteed a rewarding stay in Kenya’s capital.
Nairobi National Park
Who needs a safari when you’ve got the Nairobi National Park? Nairobi is one of the few places in the world where you can go see giraffes in the wild on your lunch-break. The only protected area in the world to have such a wealth of flora and fauna within shouting distance of a world capital, Nairobi National Park is easily accessible (7 km_ by car and pubic transport from Nairobi’s city center, and is popular with tourists and residents alike. Major attractions here include the black rhinoceros, as well as more notorious large predators like the cheetah and lion. Keep an eye out for zebra and wildebeests. If you’d like to stay longer, the Nairobi Tented Camp offers overnight accommodation options. A far more economical option than a traditional safari.
If you love handicrafts, be sure to visit one of the numerous Maasai Markets on offer all around Nairobi. These open-air craft markets feature the best in Maasai-made handicrafts, from wood carvings to drawings, fabrics to jewelry and other curiosities. Come prepared to haggle – it’s de rigeur here – and spend a day talking with shopkeepers and learning more about the numerous wares on offer. Be mindful, often “gifts” given by shopkeepers come with the implicit obligation to buy more from that same stall; otherwise, you may find yourself being chased for payment. The market switches location depending on the day – it’s open every day but monday. Head to the Westgate Shopping Mall on Tuesdays, the Capital Centre on Mombasa Road on Wednesdays, the Nakumatt Junciton Shopping Mall on Thursdays, the Village Market in Gigiri on Fridays, the High Court Parking Lot in the city centre on Saturdays, and the Hurlingham Yaya Centre on Sundays.
Karen Blixen Museum
Many Westerners first have their imaginations captured by Africa as a result of the famous Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, based on the novel (and, more prominently, the life story) of Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen. Learn more about the colonial experience of Africa, and Blixen’s own fascinating biography, at the Karen Blixen Museum, a beautifully-preserved fieldstone bungalow memorializing Blixen and her work. Pieces of Blixen’s furniture dot the house, although many of the rooms use period-appropriate furniture that did not belong to Blixen in order to recreate the atmosphere of Blixen’s world.
Drink Some Tusker Beer
Few people know that Nairobi has its own beer. Tusker, owned by East African Breweries, is the national beer of Kenya: a pale lager that has garnered a share of the world market in recent years. Tusker Beer is the perfect choice for a cool-down on one of Nairobi’s hot summer days – for a relaxing place to enjoy this beverage, head to the terrace at the oh-so-elegant Lord Delamere Terrace restaurant at the Norfolk Hotel (Harry Thuku Road) for a stylish, English-accented experience.
Eat some Nyama Choma
Wildebeest, ostriches, and crocodiles, oh my! If Tusker Beer is the Kenyan national drink, nyamba choma – barbecued meat – is Kenya’s national dish. Few places in Kenya are better outlets to try such barbecued game specialties as the aptly named Carnivore, an open-air restaurant in the Nairobi suburb of Langanta that focuses on grilled and charred game. The meat, skewered on traditional Maasai swords, cooked over hot coals, and served on cast iron plates, ranges from the traditional to the exotic (yes, crocodile is on the menu here). Just don’t bring your vegetarian friends.