Nairobi is the capital of Kenya since 1963 and it’s the fourth largest city in Africa. It was founded in 1899 as a supply station for the Uganda railway, from Mombasa to Uganda. Nowadays the city still features the colourful colonial architecture in its buildings, along with the rich history and culture that people maintain very much alive.
It’s hard to think that with all the traffic and so much population within the city, just 15 minutes away you can encounter a whole variety of wildlife, such as lions, cheetah, zebras, giraffes, rhinos and others.
Most people stay for just a small period of time as a gateway to the safari parks in Kenya. Like me I have stayed for one day on arrival and another day when I came back from my safari. I explored the city mostly on my arrival to Kenya and I tried to do the most of my time.
Although there a lot of things to do in Nairobi I avoided the ones with the animals as I was going to see them in the safari parks in the following days.
Currency: KES – Kenyan Shilling, think 1USD ± 100KES or 1€ ±110KES
Language: Both English and Swahili are official languages in Kenya. Most people in Nairobi will be able to speak English. Although, saying some words in Swahili can win you many smiles. At least make the effort to know these ones:
Hello – Jambo • Thank you – Asante • Excuse me – Samahani
Please – Tafadhali • Sorry – Pole
Main airport: Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Touchdown in chaotic Nairobi
As soon as I landed I could feel it immediately, my first contact with Africa was intense and vibrant.
We arrived to Nairobi on a Saturday morning and went for an early check in to the hotel. Nairobi is a buzzy city, lots of traffic with the crazy matatu drivers, plenty of people just watching the world go by and lots of things to do.
People are super friendly and that really surprised me. The contrast between the skyscrapers and the poorly done brick houses reflects the big difference between the very rich and very poor, which really puts you thinking. Before I go I had researched about Nairobi and there are lots of safety concerns when it comes to the city. I must say that I had no problems during my stay and people were very honest towards us.
Staying safe in Nairobi
We stayed in the Laico Regency Hotel which has lots of security and gives you a sense of being safe. Its right in the middle of the city centre as we wanted to go out and explore the surroundings. When it was just to go around to the supermarket or to have dinner we walked but when we wanted to explore further we got a taxi to guide us.
On our first day we had a taxi driver for the all day that took us to the main spots in town where normally people go, avoiding the big masses of tourists in other parts. There were some places that when we suggested to go the taxi driver got more nervous than us.
But that did not scare me. The best way to stay safe to be honest is to avoid carrying anything you will be sad to loose. I had left my wedding ring back home in Europe and we were not carrying any cameras or expensive phones, nothing!
And there we were! Walking in the main streets of the city just like one of the thousands of people that pass there every day. Even when we went to visit some of the markets people were just curious about us and being really nice. Most of the time they just wanted to teach us some words and making us feel welcome.
Our taxi driver told us about how dangerous the city is and that he was robbed several times in the pass even just by walking in the street. As a safety tip carry only the essentials and if you do go on an adventure like me along the streets of the city centre and the local markets, don’t take anything with you that will possibly attract a thief. If you do see yourself being mugged never resist, it is not worth it!
Another thing I really noted in Nairobi was the amount of army guards everywhere. Don’t freak out as this is usual in any place you go, even the simple supermarket had an armed guard and a metal detector. According to the people we have talked to, this has become common since the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in 2013.
Things to do in Nairobi
Even if you are just staying for a short period of time, Nairobi has some cool places to see! It covers most of anyone’s interest really, nature and culture lovers, brave yourself, you came to the right place!
#1 National Museum
The National Museum is an educational way to spend a few hours in the city. The highlights are collections of some of the earliest human fossils in the world as well as an important display about East Africa history.
#2 Karen Blixen’s House & Museum
This museum is famous because it was once the house of the Out of Africa author Karen Blixen that lived there between 1914 to 1931, where she ran a coffee plantation.
#3 Nairobi National Park
The park is considered a sanctuary for a lot of species, including the endangered rhino. Visitors may spot lions, gazelles, buffalos, warthogs, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, ostriches and more than 400 species of birds.
#4 David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
This centre cares for young abandoned elephants in order to release them into the wild once they grow. The program looks very interesting and you can bottle feed a baby elephant. I will definitely visit on my next time in Nairobi.
#5 Giraffe Centre
This non-profit centre is on the grounds of the Giraffe Manor Guesthouse and provides conservation for the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes. They also have educational sessions and a raised platform that allows visitors to feed the giraffes.
#6 Visit some of the local markets
In Nairobi you can easily get fresh fruit and vegetables from random farmers on the roads and in many markets. We visited two very different ones, the Village Market, one of Kenya’s leading shopping malls where we had lunch and Kenyatta Market where dozens of women do their hair in so many different styles. I loved the way people were so friendly out there and very interested in my husband blonde hair; I guess he was quite exotic!
#7 Eat Nyama Choma in the famous Carnivore Restaurant
Nyama Choma is barbecue meat done like in no other country. Drink a cold Tusker Beer with that and you are on the first step to embrace Kenya’s cuisine.
You can eat this type of barbecue meat in the famous Carnivore restaurant which apart from the delicious food and cocktails has a very cool environment with music and dancing. They serve all kinds of meat, including some game meat.
Due to some recent rules, nowadays the most exotic meat you will eat out there is crocodile and ostrich. Because I have never tried this before it was quite awkward and I didn’t really like the crocodile meat, it was just too fatty. But all the other meats were delicious. They keep on bringing food until you put you white flag down! I sure had loads of fun and recommend it to anyone visiting Nairobi.
Nairobi was the first stop of my adventure in Africa and I really loved the city and the people that I met on my way. I wish I had more time to get to visit some of the recommended places because when I visited I was more interested to see how they lived out there. The city does have a bad reputation but I did not get to know this side, on the other hand I thought the city was vibrant and full of exciting places with culture and history.