Once famous for all the wrong reasons, Nairobi is now emerging as a hip and edgy city, buzzing with culture, art, and development—all on the doorstep of some of the world’s most incredible national parks.
For elephant lovers, there’s no better place to visit than the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an institution that has been caring for and rehabilitating baby elephants since the late 1970s. Most of the elephants living at the sanctuary were rescued after being orphaned at an age when they were too young to survive alone. Once they are old enough, the elephants are released back into the wild. Between 11 a.m. and noon each day, visitors are allowed to observe the elephants at feeding time and hear about the trust's work.
Just outside the city, on the road to the Masai Mara, you will travel along the Great Rift Valley escarpment. The Great Rift Valley is truly a beautiful site as it stretches all the way from Lebanon to Mozambique. Stop to have a cup of tea or a cold drink at one of the wooden shops on the cliff edge and take in the incredible views of the valley below.
On the outskirts of the city lies the world-famous Nairobi National Park, which is home to a variety of animals including lions, cheetahs, giraffes, and leopards. It's also one of the best places to see the endangered black rhino. What really makes this park unusual is that you have the Nairobi skyline as a backdrop; it’s not uncommon to see animals as you drive along the highway to and from the airport.
Just south of the city, near Lake Magadi, you will find Ologesailie, an important archaeological site. Several fossils, tools, and artifacts have been found here dating back more than 600,000 years to the time of our earliest ancestors who inhabited the area between 490,000 and 1.2 million years ago.
For an insight into Kenyan culture, Bomas of Kenya is a great place to start. Kenya is a diverse country and the project was set up to preserve Kenyan culture and values by educating visitors in traditional ways of life. This is done through music and dance performances, as well as by exhibiting the various types of bomas (enclosed homesteads) that people live in. Visitors will learn about the customs of some of the ethnic groups found in Kenya while there, too.
Best Day Trip
A few hours outside of Nairobi you’ll find one of the world’s most visually iconic safari destinations, Amboseli National Park. Lying at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is just over the border in Tanzania, Amboseli is famous for having one of the healthiest elephant populations in Africa; visitors can see herds of up to a hundred of these beautiful creatures at a time. If you are lucky and it’s a clear day, you should see Kilimanjaro as well.
Off the Beaten Path
To get away from the tourist crowds, head to City Park Hawkers, a local fruit and vegetable market in town. It’s great to wander around the market to observe everyday Nairobian life, but the real treat lies within. Hidden away behind some of the stalls, you will find small restaurants serving ugali and delicious nyama choma for the workers. So, do as the locals do and grab yourself a spot of lunch.
Most Iconic Experience
When in Nairobi, find yourself a bargain at one of the Maasai Markets. The Maasai Market takes place at a different location around town each day, selling all kinds of African trinkets including jewelry, bags, leather goods, clothes, and wood carvings. But be warned, the touts are usually in full force and will follow you around offering to “help,” but really, they are taking a commission from the stall owners. You can pick up a few bargains here but only if your negotiation skills are up to scratch. For a slightly calmer experience, visit the fixed Maasai Market at the Galleria Mall.
Kenyans know how to party, so when the sun goes down there are plenty of places to drink and dance the night away. A great place to spend an evening is the Westlands part of town, where you’ll find several cool venues including The Alchemist, which is a bar and event space with live music, DJs, and tasty food. Or you can try Brew Bistro, which is famous for its excellent craft beers.
Make a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum at the foot of the Ngong Hills in Karen. The museum was once the home of Karen Blixen, the Danish author of Out of Africa, after whom the suburb is named. A visit to the museum will give you an interesting insight into Kenya’s colonial past.