Kenya is a land of extremes, a country that evokes images of wild animals, dusty savannahs and Maasai tribesmen. It is a country of white sand beaches, active volcanoes, and the Great Rift Valley. In the cool highlands in the south of the country lies Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Please check out our Nairobi City Guide.
Nairobi is one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities, increasingly influential, and increasingly crowded. Known as the ‘Green City in the Sun’, Nairobi is a place of extremes and the only city in the world with a wildlife park within its borders. In Nairobi, you can watch wild lions take down a zebra with the backdrop of a city skyline. A city of high-end malls, colonial country clubs juxtaposed with expansive slums and village and extreme poverty.
In Nairobi, you can spot a giraffe on your way to school and have a family of warthogs stop traffic at a city junction. You can pay 700 dollars a night for a hotel room but pay a cleaner $70 for a month’s work.
Nairobi is real Africa, wicked and wonderful. A dusty, gritty place filled with natural wonders, a capital city unlike any other. To really enjoy your stay in this city, enjoy our Nairobi city guide.
When to visit Nairobi?
Nairobi sits on Kenya’s highlands. Its elevated location was chosen by the British colonists because of its cool climate. Winters can dip down to 12 degrees Celsius at night and the summers are a modest 28 degrees.
This is in stark contrast to the rest of the country where temperatures are a steady 30 degrees at the coast and up to 45 Celsius in the northern deserts.
The best time to visit is between the short rains which are October-November and the long rains which occur between April and June. Although, with climate change, the rains are less predictable. Some years the rains barely arrive at all and in 2018 they lasted for six months.
The summers are long, hot, and dry. The winter season June – September is sunny but cooler, it is also migration time for wild animals should you be tempted to hop out of Nairobi over to the Maasai Mara to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
How to get to Nairobi
As Kenya’s capital, most flights fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which is located on the outskirts of the city, about 30 minutes by taxi.
Jambojet and Fly540 are local airlines that fly several times a day between the major cities. You can also charter a small plane to fly you to safari destinations.
The SGR train runs daily between Nairobi and Mombasa. It stops at eight destinations in between. Voi and Mtito Andei are handy drops off points for a safari in the Tsavo National Park. The train is cheap and clean and modern.
Long-distance buses are available but are very basic with little in the way of luxury. There are no formal bus stations. You contact the office directly and find the closest departure point from you.
Local companies include:
- Akamba Buses
- Eldoret Express
- Easy Bus
- Coast Bus
Getting around Nairobi
Nairobi has Uber and Taxify. They have been unreliable in the past but are slowly improving.
Boda boda are small taxi motorbikes you will see everywhere. You will get to your destination for very little cost but may be taking your life into your own hands.
These are local buses & minivans that pick up and drop off passengers on shorter routes. Some Matatus are a work of art, graffiti painted with music blasting at top volume. Ask a local where the matatu is going and hop on and hop off as you will. Matatus are very inexpensive starting at 30 c, but they are driven by maniacs!
The Kenya bus company offers a more rigid timetable and routes and more reliable service. Check out the timetable here. http://kenyabus.net/
It is possible to hire a car in Nairobi, although driving in Nairobi is a hair raising experience, and suitable for confident drivers only. Cars can be picked up at Nairobi airport.
Where to stay
Nairobi is East Africa’s biggest city, that has gone from sleepy town to metropolis in half a century. While there are many beautiful and modern hotels to stay in, Nairobi is a new city and so there is little in the way of architectural history. It’s a developing city, with people from all over Kenya traveling to their capital in search of work. At the same time, the lack of accommodation has forced the poorer part of the population into slums.
Despite this, there are many peaceful and beautiful areas to stay and to visit.
Close to the CBD, this is Nairobi’s centre for restaurants, bars, and shops. Two huge malls the Sarit centre and the ill-famed Westgate are here.
Muthaiga and Gigiri
Muthaiga and Gigiri are former colonial areas with a genteel feel, known as the Beverley Hills of Nairobi. Gigiri is home to the Village Market a huge mall with 20+ restaurants and some of the best shopping to be found in the city.
The United Nations and many embassies are here so you will find leafy streets with palatial ambassadorial homes. Runda is close to Gigiri for places to go out.
Karen is on the outskirts of Nairobi, it is a leafy, green area with a lot going on. If you are in Nairobi to see the animals, then Karen is close to Nairobi National park, the Giraffe Centre and the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. There are some excellent restaurants and a few good malls.
What to do in Nairobi
Nairobi National Park
Location: Main entrance on Langata road
100 km of untouched savannah, woodland, and wetland is home to Kenya’s native animals. You will find all the Big 5 here, except for elephants that were relocated due to human/wildlife conflict.
Nairobi National Park is located within the city borders and offers an incredible and authentic safari experience. These are truly wild animals living within their natural habitat.
Karura Forest and the River Café
Location: Main entrance on Limuru Road
Karura Forest is a huge area of indigenous forest located within the city. Bike and walking trails criss-cross this jungle of trees and flowering plants. Karura is a wildlife haven with monkeys, antelopes, civets, genets, honey badgers, and even jackals. The River Café within Karura is a great place for lunch
David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Location: Magadi Road
The world-famous orphanage rescues orphaned and injured elephants from all over Kenya. Visiting time is 11.00 am where you can meet the orphans and experience a talk by one of the wardens. Foster an elephant and you will get the chance to visit elephants in the evening. This is a whole hour in which you can meet, feed, and get to learn about the elephants in a small group or 1:1.
Location: Duma Road, Hardy
The Giraffe Centre offers sanctuary to the endangered Rothschild Giraffes. At the Centre, you can meet, touch, and feed the giraffes as well as learn about their endangered status. Take a walk in the sanctuary opposite the park to spot a wild giraffe, watch out for the many grumpy warthogs.
Karen Blixen Museum
Location: Karen Road
If you watched “Out of Africa” before coming to Kenya then you need to visit the Karen Blixen museum. The Baroness gave away many of her belongings before leaving Kenya but over the years the museum has worked to reclaim them. Her house is now nearly completely intact. It’s a fascinating step back in time.
Carnivore: a meat lovers mecca
Location: Langata Road
Carnivore is a Nairobi institution. Styled like a Brazilian Churrasco, your waiter serves you endless cuts of meat served on Maasai swords, The meat which is barbequed over hot coals includes crocodile, ostrich balls and many other types of Kenyan game meat. Carnivore invented the Dawa cocktail, a vodka and lime drink so delicious it is now severed in every bar in Kenya.
The Village Market
Location: Limuru Road
Arguably at the best mall in Kenya. There are over 20 good restaurants and bars, and one of the widest selection of shops in Kenya. Shopping isn’t renowned in Kenya with very few well-known brands or chains here, but you will find an abundance of crafts and paintings.
Shop your heart out at Spinners Web
Location: Kitisuru Road
Kenyan streets are stuffed with people selling local crafts but if you don’t have the time or inclination to haggle with people on street corners then head to Spinners Web for your baskets, kikoys and jewelry.
The prices aren’t much more expensive than those on the streets and are often cheaper than at the Maasai market.
It sells a huge range of trinkets, souvenirs, clothes, and art.
Easy walking safari at the Safari Walk
Location: Entrance to Nairobi National Park on Langata Road
Safaris are incredible but there is no guarantee of seeing the animals. The safari walk is a circular walk where you can visit lions, leopards, rhino, hyena, cheetah, and more. The animals have been rescued from throughout the country and are unable to be released back into the wild. A good option if you have young children.
Kazuri Beads factory
Location: Mbagathi Drive, Karen
Kazuri beads run a small bead factory and shop in Karen.
Their handcrafted beads are each individually made by local women. Kazuri was started by two mothers looking for work, as their beads increased in popularity they were able to offer employment to other out of work women. Kazuri now employs over 340 women, offering them a much-needed lifeline.
Kazuri sells its beads individually or uses them to create gorgeous jewelry. See the beads being made then shop it up, They also sell beaded sandals and household goods such as vases and ornaments.
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