Often times, we look at cities as transit stops to our inland oasis of holiday destinations. But, Nairobi is one such city where you can wake up and decide to take a safari in the national park, or walk the trails of a forest, or get up late to catch a picturesque brunch and then browse markets or hit the bars around town. It has something for everyone and it was my home for three years. So, take it from my memories of my favorite home, Nairobi is worth stopping for.
The capital city hosts an international airport that receives visitors from all over the world. If you’re lucky and you fly into Nairobi during the day, make sure to peek outside your window as the announcements for the landing are made — you might see a herd of deer galloping across the vastness of the Nairobi National Park with the silhouette of the city running parallel at the horizon — the magic begins early.
Whether you’re staying on in the city for a couple of days or have a flight to catch the next day, the next few things might give you an idea of how and where to spend your time:
One of my fondest memories of Nairobi is packing a picnic with my friends and going to Karura forest (yes, there’s a forest in the city!) to spend the day. We hiked the trails (the butterfly trail was my favorite), climbed waterfalls and explored caves. From the inside, it was hard to remember that we were standing somewhere in the middle of a city and it always amazed me how easily forgettable that was.
The Karura Forest Reserve is in the northern part of Nairobi and is easily accessible by public transport or private cars. Although there is a service fee to enter the forest, it is minimal and the pass is valid till the gates close for the day. The forest is open from 6:00am to 5:00pm so if you’re looking to catch a morning run or just laze around in the afternoon sun, Karura is ideal. There is also a beautiful restaurant on the forest grounds that sits on the banks of a river and is perfect for a Sunday brunch or a romantic date night — take your pick!
Nani’s Kitengela Glass is a hidden gem within the city. Located by the Nairobi National Park, it is a myriad of colors and illusions that are nothing short of breathtaking and magical. It was founded in 1981 by Nani Croze who began to build sculptures for shade in the semi-arid region. Her philosophy for mainly using materials such as grass, mud and stone in her early work was that money was always scarce but now, with the way that the world has progressed, artists at the center continue to mainly only use recycled materials such as old glass, scrap metal and wastepaper. Glass started being used by Nani to create mosaics but evolved into glass blowing sculptures by her son Anselm, and beads by her daughter, Katrineka.
The Kitengela Glass Art studio is not only great for walking around mosaic paths to watch artists create in their element but also for the hosts of other activities that the place offers: camel riding, swimming, glass mosaic classes as well as felting. They also have an option of booking workshops for individuals or groups if you call ahead of time. If art is your thing, and you want to witness incredible work by local and international artists with a sustainable philosophy, you must check out Kitengela!
Any kind of ziplining is an adrenaline rush but ziplining across East Africa’s longest one is a serious adventure! The Flying Fox zipline at The Forest is located only 45 minutes from Nairobi city and has options ranging from a zip that’s 330m to one that is 425m long. The whole activity takes around 1-2 hours, from the briefing to the actual ziplining, so make sure to count that into your planned time. And, as if ziplining at 60kph over the lush Kereita forest wasn’t enough, the adventure area has other many other activities including paintball, mountain biking and even archery.
So, hop into a cab and head out to The Forest for an exciting adventure filled day!
The Giraffe Manor is exactly what it sounds like — a beautifully constructed historic manor with giraffes that roam freely on the property grounds. It is one of the most talked about things to do in Nairobi but I can promise you, it is well worth the hype! Not only is it an incredible boutique hotel but is also a sanctuary for the conservation of Rothschild’s giraffes. The manor is extremely popular and it is better to make bookings well in advance if you want to stay there! While at the manor, you can have breakfast with the giraffes or visit the giraffe center nearby to feed the elegant creatures, indulge in a spa or hop on for a horse riding adventure. There’s plenty to do at the manor and it is perfect if you want to feel close to the wonders of nature while still being in the city!
This last suggestion is one of my favorite places! Whether it was a Friday afternoon after school or a Saturday evening, I often found myself in the midst of a Maasai Market at least once a month. I’d be looking for yet another beaded bracelet to add to my collection while my mother indulged in carved wooden spoons and salad bowls shaped like swans. It was our little ritual and honestly, it wasn’t about the things we bought as much as it was about the people we met. My mother especially, was a local celebrity by the end of our time in Kenya, she had spent so much time with the women at the market for three years that they had shared family stories, life woes, and parenting tips (of which I was the guinea pig of course).
The Maasai Markets in Nairobi move around the city and are hosted at different venues on different days of the week. They typically open at 8am and the vendors start closing shop around 6pm which gives people plenty of time to visit, peruse and buy extraordinary things! The vendors are always open to bargaining and the entire exchange is as respectful as it is entertaining. Whether you’re looking for gifts to take back home or mementos to remind you of your time in Kenya, Maasai markets are the perfect place to visit.
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