Best Things to do in Nairobi, Kenya’s Gateway City

Words by Dawn Bradnick @DawnJorgensen

Nairobi as Kenya’s capital city is a hub of heaving cars and buses, khaki clad elated tourists and ultra-cool fashionista locals proudly embracing the infectious energy of the country’s largest gateway city.

A place that allows you to experience Kenya’s multi-ethnic culture, blending people from all walks of life in a fusion of old and new. Adorned with modern skyscrapers, world class restaurants, fully equipped hospitals, modern shopping malls, abundant transportation options, and universities and colleges making their mark – you will find it all in this city that seems to never sleep.

Nairobi is also often used as a jumping-off point for safari trips elsewhere in Kenya, but should you find yourself here for a day or two and are interested in exploring – here is what I recommend you do in this vibrant East African city.

City Orientation Tour

Discover Nairobi’s highlights, from historic landmarks to best viewpoints on a sightseeing tour of the city. You’ll see century-old buildings, Parliament buildings, the Nairobi Railway Museum, the Nairobi National Museum, and might consider finishing the tour with lunch or dinner at a local restaurant. The Masai Market and even a visit to Kibera the largest slum in Sub-Saharan Africa can be included. Organised tours usually include pick up and drop off from your accommodation.

The Nairobi National Park

A park within the heart of the city, Nairobi National Park was established in 1946 and was Kenya’s first national park. Located a short drive from the city centre, the 117 km2 park one of Africa’s smallest. Here wide open grass plains, a backdrop of city scrapers and scattered acacia trees play host to a wide variety of wildlife including the endangered black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes and diverse birdlife with over 400 species recorded.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

A visit to the precious orphan elephants at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a moving experience that is bound to leave your heart bursting with admiration for the incredible work being done here, yet saddened by the knowledge that these babies should be with their families. There are usually about 30 or more babies in their care, all rescued after losing their mothers to poaching, human intervention or even after falling down wells. Catch them coming in from a day in the reserve, Masai blankets for warmth, ready for their dinner of milk before bed. While there possibly consider fostering one of the baby elephants in support of their work, I have. https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/

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This is how it should be for baby elephants: growing up in the wild alongside their kin. Tragically, 35 young elephants in Zimbabwe have been robbed of that destiny — and mounting evidence suggests that the country is getting ready to ship these captured calves overseas. This wouldn’t be anything new for Zimbabwe. In the past seven years, they have captured 97 wild-living young elephants and sold them overseas to live in captive conditions. They attempt to justify these actions as a means to manage their elephant population and generate funds for conservation. (It’s important to note that while Zimbabwe’s elephant populations are growing in some areas, they continue to decline in other parts of the country — and, as a whole, elephant numbers across Africa remain in decline.) ⠀⠀ The capture and sale of young elephants to live in captivity overseas is not a conservation solution, it is solely a commercial act — and one that was essentially recognised as such at the recent CITES CoP18, where countries agreed to end the export of live elephants. Zimbabwe is a member of CITES, but the resolution is not yet binding, and signs indicate that the country’s Wildlife Authority may be attempting to export these elephants before that happens. For the sake of the 35 elephants being held captive, we urge you to write to the CITES Secretariat to demand they immediately seek — and make public — clarification from Zimbabwe that they will not export these elephants overseas. The export of these elephants is not only ethically wrong, it would also make a mockery of the recent CITES decision to ban exports of live elephants. We also encourage you to write to the Zimbabwe CITES Management Authority to request information on the intended actions around the 35 elephants being held in Hwange. You might also consider writing to your country’s senior official on wildlife or environmental affairs, urging them to contact their counterpart in Zimbabwe to seek answers. Contact the CITES Secretariat: www.bit.ly/cites-contact Contact the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority: www.bit.ly/cites-zimbabwe _________ Photo © David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

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Kazuri Beads Kenya

Take a tour of the Kazuri Beads Kenya. Kazuri means small and beautiful in Swahili, which is how this project began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting in making ceramic beads by hand. Each bead is shaped from clay by hand, then kiln fired, hand painted, glazed and fired again before being used to make up a necklace or bracelet. It is more more than just jewellery, it’s a piece of art. Now employing over 300 people with a strong social upliftment program in place, it’s the perfect place to find a gift of souvenir while supporting a good cause.

Walk the Karura Forest Park

The hustle of Nairobi’s city life can be overwhelming, which is why the lush scenery of Karura Forest is the perfect escape. Early mornings are the best time of day to beat the hot African sun and the rowdy crowd. The forest sits on a bed of one million-year-old volcanic rock and houses a variety of indigenous animals such as the big-eyed Bush Baby and handsome Bushbuck. Walk or jog through the ancient Mau Mau caves, remains of the Kenyan struggle for independence, or stop for a break at one of the local waterfalls.

The Karen Blixen Museum

The Karen Blixen Museum located 10 km outside of Nairobi ‘at the foot of the Ngong Hills’, is the former African home of Danish author Karen Blixen, famous for her book Out of Africa which chronicles life at the estate.Karen Blixen lived here between 1914 and 1931, leaving after a series of personal tragedies, but the lovely colonial house has been preserved as a museum set in expansive gardens. Buy the book if you haven’t read it, the words weave intrigue and romance in a way that seems lost in time.

Curio Shopping

Two shops with incredible offerings include Love Bird Curios and the very impressive and vast Utamaduni Craft Centre. For everything from beaded masks to brass earrings, Maasai spears and unique, hand-made Kenyan crafts, you can’t go wrong at the ever-popular Maasai Village Market. Be prepared to haggle for best prices.

Where to Stay in Nairobi

The well-located Villa Rosa Kempinski on Chiromo Road is excellent for high end luxury with its six differently themed restaurants and trendy crowd-drawing The Balcony Bar. Giraffe Manor in the Langata suburb of Nairobi is an exclusive boutique hotel set in 5 hectares of private land within an expansive indigenous forest that offers a unique experience as you’ll get to enjoy the company of the resident Rothschild’s giraffe.

Should a touch of wellness appeal, Entim Sidai is a health focussed sanctuary in the heart of Karen with views of the Ngong hills from the property, while House Of Waine, an 11 bedroom luxury boutique hotel in Karen district offers easy access to all attractions. For something better suited to the budget conscious traveller, you can’t go wrong with Wildebeest Eco Camp in Karen, which has a range of affordable options from Deluxe Safari Tents to Cottage Rooms, and even a camping site.

Useful Information to help with your planning

Getting to Nairobi is easy with Kenyan Airways offering direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg. Bear in mind that there are two airports in Nairobi, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which services international flights, and the Wilson Airport for regional flights, including those to most safari lodges.

The traffic in Nairobi is infamously bad and it makes good sense to stay in the area that offers the attractions you’re interested in, or you could find yourself driving for an hour or two on either side of each place you visit.

No visa is required for South Africans for up to 90 days – granted you have a valid passport.

Be sure to grab a Tusker Beer to enjoy overlooking the seductive Ngong Hills.

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