Nairobi is a city that will surprise you, whatever your expectations. The financial center populated by glass skyscrapers, the unruly traffic that threatens to suffocate its roads, the movie suburbs with mansions that are lost among hills and forests, the shanty neighborhoods, dirty, gay, poor, people full of dreams and hopes…it has it all.
Nairobi is the largest and richest city in East Africa and you will find the best and worst in this region. Have drinks at a pool bar on the roof of a hotel? Yes. Places of tremendous poverty? One of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world? Check. Prestigious museums of natural history? Elephants, zebras and lions at the gates of the city? In Nairobi. Quality restaurants where you can taste African, European or Asian cuisine? Streets full of holes and bumps and lamps that don’t work? Check.
In the city you will find Kenyans from all over the country, people from other parts of Africa and the various cooperators, diplomats, journalists and other adventurers with the intentions of changing the world.
Located near the equator, dawn and dusk are at the same time all year and the temperature is usually always tempered. Daytime begins at 6:30am and by 19:30pm it’s dark. Then much of the city is shut down and it is better to get around by taxi or on public transport routes that one knows well. Rainy seasons, more or less between March and May and again between September and October, cool the atmosphere and make it more uncomfortable to move through a muddy city.
Despite its bad reputation, the Kenyan capital is no more dangerous than any big European city and, as usual, simple common sense is all the protection you need. In Nairobi, there are several worlds that will fascinate the determined, open traveler and wanting to discover a city that truly is different.
Original Sleeping Sites
- Giraffe Manor (http://www.giraffemanor.com, +254 202 513 166). As the name suggests, this hotel in the area of Langata, and is populated by giraffes that can peer their head into your window for you to feed them. It is very luxurious but also quite expensive.
- Ngong House (http://www.ngonghouse.com, +254 722 434 965). Located in the suburb valley of Karen, near the Ngong Hills and far from the center, Ngong House is famous for its rooms built on trees.
- Nairobi Tented Camp (http://www.nairobitentedcamp.com, +254 202 603 337). This camp is within the Nairobi National Park, so you have direct access to the safaris in the park. The accommodation is in large tents furnished as if they were rooms.
- African Heritage House (http://www.africanheritagebook.com/housemain.html, +254 721 518 389). Its owners present it as “the most photographed house in Africa” and some people consider it an architectural marvel. It is designed by mixing different styles of construction of mud houses of the continent and its rooms are small museums of African art.
The cheaper options
- Miti Mingi Guest House (http://www.mitimingi.com, +254 750 204 984, Terrace Close). An eco-friendly guesthouse situated close to Westlands and surrounded by gardens, Miti Mingi is an affordable and very interesting option.
- YMCA Central Nairobi (http://www.kenyaymca.com, +254 202 606 239, State House Road). This YMCA hostel probably offers the best value for money in this type of accommodation. For about $20, you can have a single room with bathroom and breakfast. In addition, it is very close to the city center and has a swimming pool and gym.
Five ways to taste Kenyan cuisine
- Talisman (www.talismanrestaurant.com, 254 20 883 213). Situated in an old colonial style house in Karen, Talisman is one of the best restaurants in Nairobi. Their meat and fish mix local trends with European.
- Tamarind (www.tamarind.co.ke/tamarind-nairobi, 254 202 251 811, Off Harambee Avenue). Specializing in seafood, Tamarind is a deluxe restaurant in the center of the city. Very expensive and with a very posh atmosphere but the food is excellent.
- Tamambo Village Market (www.tamarind.co.ke/tamambo, 254 207 124 005). Tamambo mixes the European and Asian cuisines with traditional African dishes and the result is very interesting. It also usually has live music but the down side is that it is in the Village Market, a shopping center in the area of the UN headquarters.
Bars and clubs for your wild night:
- Gypsy (254 204 440 836). Gypsy is one of the most popular bars in Westlands, which attracts Kenyans and foreigners alike. It is ideal for watching sports (on giant screens if the event is important), food is ok and the burgers are pretty good. It is separated into several environments and on weekends its terrace is filled with electronic music.
- Havana (www.havana.co.ke, 254 204 450 653, Woodvale Grove). Havana is very frequented by Westerners, especially on Thursday night, when people fill the terrace and stretch out on the street and between cars. It is a small bar where you can eat Caribbean-inspired dishes and continue until late with cocktails. It has live music on weekends.
- Mercury (www.mercurylounge.co.ke/index2.php, 254-770-30014, Waiyaki Way). It says serving ‘tapas’ and although we would not call it that, these entrees are not bad at all. It is also a bar and usually has a good atmosphere. It is right next to Seven Seafood & Grill and, like this, the downside is that it is in a strip mall and next to the parking lot.
- Atlantis Garden (254 203 875 002, Chaka Road). Coco Jambo perfectly represents a type of bar very popular with the local population. Large, spread over several spaces and with a large garden. Also, in this and other bars. Here you can eat the national dish, nyama choma, grilled meat in swahili. The meat is hung in large pieces and you can even choose which one you want or see how they cut it. In the evening, you can continue with Kenyan beers, Tusker, White Cap, or have drinks.
WHAT TO DO
- Nairobi National Park (www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/NANP.html, 254 202 423 423). Go on safari at the gates of the city? Want to see lions, zebras, giraffes or elephants with skyscrapers in the background? Nairobi is the only city in the world where you can do something like that. The park is so close to the city that encounters with lions or other animals with the inhabitants of the luxurious suburbs in the area are not uncommon. Inside, there is a hotel / camp where you can sleep and eat.
- Center of the Giraffes (giraffecenter.org, 254 734 890 952) and Orphanage for Elephants and Rhinoceroses (www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/orphans.asp, 254 733 891 996). If King Juan Carlos had come to Kenya instead of Botswana, the children of his victim would have ended up in this orphanage (although hunting elephants is illegal in Kenya). Small pachyderms live here with the offspring of another endangered species, the rhinoceros. You can interact with them and even sponsor or adopt one. In the Center of the Giraffes there is a platform from which you can feed these animals. If you really want animals, you can put a piece of your food in your mouth and the giraffe will catch you licking your whole face with his black and rough tongue.
- National Museum of Nairobi (www.museums.or.ke/content/blogcategory/11/17/, 254 721 308 485, Museum Hill). This museum includes objects that travel throughout the history of Kenya in a broad sense, also natural, and, for example, has some of the oldest remains of hominids in the world. It is also an ethnographic museum that shows the different cultures that coexist in Kenya.
Leaving from Nairobi
Kenya is much more than Nairobi and, if you have time, you have to travel to other parts of the country. You can leave from:
- Safari to the Masai Mara and see the Great Migration (www.magicalkenya.com).
- Safaris or camping in the Aberdares or in Tsavo or the Amboseli or visit any of the numerous natural spaces of the country (www.kws.org).
- Climbing Mount Kenya (www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/MKNP.html), which gives name to the country and is almost as high as Kilimanjaro (which is in neighboring Tanzania, very close to the border with Kenya) .
- Getaway to the coast of Mombasa (www.magicalkenya.com) and Diani (http://www.magicalkenya.com). Wonderful (but crowded) beaches.