When I first arrived in Nairobi, I had no idea what to expect. My pre-travel research left me with little more information than how to pack like a pro for the Safari. Once I arrived, I realized I had completely gotten it wrong.
Nairobi is similar to New York, with sky high apartments in modern designs, massive office buildings and the like. Although Nairobi appeared to be another massive metropolis, it is completely unlike any city I have ever visited. The most enchanting part about Nairobi that sets it apart from other cities is its connection with nature and environmental conservation. If you are a traveler who loves both nature and urban living, Nairobi may be your new favorite destination.
There are a lot of unfortunate myths that exist about Nairobi at the moment. For one, its nickname in the past was Nai-rob-i, due to the threat of thefts. Recent terrorist attacks have also made tourists second guess visiting this amazing city. However, during my stay, there was not one moment I felt unsafe. Crime levels have rapidly been decreasing and there is tight security by the Kenyan government to ensure the safety of their citizens and visitors. You do not need to be fearful of pick-pockets any more than you would be when visiting Paris or London.
With that said, Nairobi is by far the most unusual and stunning city I have ever visited. If you are thinking about visiting or are visiting Nairobi for the first time, here are 5 attractions you cannot miss.
1. Nairobi National Park
Nairobi is the only city in the world that can boast its own game park right within its city limits. It is truly spectacular to view giraffes walking in their natural habitat, with the backdrop of sky scrapers from the city just in the horizon. There are three options for your visit to the National Park. You can first go on a game drive, which is just like any Safari, and is perfect if you are stretched for time and cannot make the 6-hour trek to the Maasai Mara or other game reserves.
The drive can easily last the entire day, and it is recommended to visit early in the morning in order to increase your chances of seeing lions hunting or other animals frolicking before their afternoon nap sessions. The best part of this attraction is that you do not necessarily need to pay for a game driver, you can get your driver that takes you around the city to also take you for a game drive. This can help cut down the costs for the drive.
The second attraction is the Animal Orphanage. Their set up is similar to a zoo, filled with animals who have been rescued from the wild. The animals are mostly predators, so you will see many lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and other creatures. You will also see mischievous monkeys lurking about. Sadly, the animals cannot be reintegrated into the wild, due to issues ranging from lacking hunting skills and being rejected from their packs due to their time in captivity. Guided tours are provided, and will help you to become an animal expert! Be prepared to tip the tour guide, even though you probably did not ask for the tour itself.
The third option is a Nature Walk. We decided to pass on this attraction, as we ran out of time after our game drive and tour of the Orphanage. But we were told this is where you are able to see Rhino’s, which are extremely difficult to catch a glimpse of while on a Safari. If you have the time, I would highly recommend checking out as many or all of these attractions at the National Park.
2. Giraffe Centre
The Giraffe Centre is definitely a hot-spot for tourists. This attraction is an interactive experience, where you are able to pet and feed the giraffes. Once you arrive, you are given two handfuls of food to feed the giraffes. Use the food wisely, as the giraffes are on a diet and two handfuls is the limit per person.
After you have taken a good selfie with your new giraffe friends, you can head to their information centre to learn more about the animals, or head to the café to have some chai. There is also a gift shop located right at the centre, which are close to prices you would get at a market. This was definitely a highlight of our trip, and makes for the perfect relaxing afternoon.
3. Elephant Orphanage
The Elephant Orphanage differs from the Animal Orphanage in the National Park in that the animals are not kept in a zoo-style arrangement. The Orphanage is also located in the National Park, however it has a separate entrance and is not associated with the other areas of the National Park. Once thing to note, this attraction is only open Monday to Friday from 11:00am until 12:00pm. Just one hour a day, so be prepared to arrive early so you do not miss out.
Once you arrive, the caretakers and trainers of the elephants will march them out, one by one, where they will eat their lunch and have a mud bath for visitors to view. The elephants are babies, so they sometimes do not listen and may burst into the crowd.
The Elephant Orphanage also differs from the Animal Orphanage in that the elephants are able to be released back into the wild. The elephants are rescued, taken care of until they are of age then are reintegrated into the wild. On your way out, be sure to check out their pop-up gift shop, or head to the adoption table to adopt your own elephant. The adoption has some extra viewing perks for your next visit, which may be appealing to those who are elephant fanatics.
4. Nairobi National Museums
Nairobi has a number of National Museums throughout the city. We chose to visit the National History Museum, and were not disappointed. The Museum is host to a massive amount of information on all of the different animal species throughout Kenya. There are also exhibits that feature Lucy, one of the first potential humans or point from which humans evolved from.
There is some differentiation on the theories, but it is a fascinating exhibit. There are also exhibits that feature the traditional lifestyles of some of the ethnic groups, which Kenya is home to over 50 different ethnic groups with roughly 68 different languages spoken. There is also a section that takes the visitor through the colonial and post-colonial period of the country, which is perfect for any history buffs.
As an added attraction, there is also a Snake Park located outside of the museum. You can buy a combination entrance ticket to reduce the price if you want to visit the museum and the park. Within the park, you will find some terrifying snakes, including a 10-foot-long python, and many other creatures you hope to never encounter in their natural habitat. There are also a number of turtles and crocodiles on display. Although seemingly a random touch to the museum, it is not one you want to miss.
5. Maasai Market
I would highly recommend visiting the Maasai Market for your souvenir shopping. The markets take place daily at different locations throughout Nairobi, however the largest market occurs on Saturday in downtown Nairobi. This is the perfect place to test out some Swahili, especially Habari to greet (which means hello/how are you), which can also work to cut down the price of some items.
Tourists in Kenya often get what is referred to as Muzungu pricing (foreigner in Swahili). This means that even despite your best bartering efforts, you will still probably end up paying a significant amount more than a local would. Some ways to try to reduce this is to tell the merchant you believe they are giving you the Muzungu pricing. Slipping in some Swahili words also helps in my experience. The advice I was given was to take the merchants initial price and divide it by three, then that is the actual price for the item.
Sometimes you will get ‘ripped off’, however rest easy knowing that everything is hand crafted by the Maasai. The carvings are made from local wood, the beaded necklaces are crafted using stones found by the rivers, and the famous Maasai blankets are weaved using local wool and dyed using various plants. The majority of the funds do go back into the communities as well. This market is by far the best place to get some amazing art and other goods, and I would argue is also worth a visit for the experience alone.
These are just a handful of the exciting things to do in Nairobi. These attractions in particular are ones that you cannot find anywhere else in the world, which is why I think they are musts. Although many don’t think of Kenya as their next destination, I would encourage people to visit, as it is a once in a lifetime vacation that you will not regret.