Saturday, 22 July 2017

A 48 hour guide to Nairobi, Kenya

Prior to flying to Nairobi last year, my BFF and I were dancing around our hotel room in Sydney singing (maybe screeching) along to Circle of Life over..and over…and over again. We were so stupendously excited that the thought of the 24 hours of travelling ahead of us didn’t even begin to phase us because..we were going on safari in Kenya!

It’s funny now to look back knowing that as we stepped on that plane, we had absolutely zero idea that our Eastern Africa road trip was about to be completely thrown over board and instead, we would spend the next four months in Nairobi.

‘4 months??’ I hear you say, ‘But…but what were you doing in Kenya for that long?’

My reply?

I was super busy having the time of my life.

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Say the word ‘Kenya’ to pretty much anyone, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the first word that springs into people’s mind is ‘safari’. Images of lions pacing the land of the Maasai Mara, of trucks hurtling across the national park in search of the inconspicuous leopard pack, in the heart stopping moment of being just yards away from the most incredibly beautiful wildlife you could ever wish to see.

And they’d be right, because oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, the Maasai Mara is truly a spectacle to see and it really is something that any travel or animal lover out there need to experience in their lifetime.

Maasai Mara, Kenya
However, say the word ‘Nairobi’ to someone and they take a little step back, perhaps scrunch their nose up a tad and ask ‘Oooh, it’s really dangerous there, isn't it’. Admittedly, before I touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I was feeling quite apprehensive about our decision. I say that with no qualms or fears that you reading this will judge me because, I took those feelings and those worries which had been subconsciously formed, added to from people who had never been, and threw them away. I went in with an open mind, ready to experience everything Nairobi had to offer, ready to see this city with my own eyes, create my own memories and form my own idea of the place.

And I did. And it’s a place that, in many ways, changed my complete outlook and perspective on travel, on life. It’s a place that educated me in never allowing a perception of a city or a country to override the reality. It’s a place that’s made me want to share with the whole world just how incredible it is but also want to whisper it veeeeery faintly because, well, can’t it just be our little secret?

Nairobi is one of the most incredible, friendly, vibrant and kindhearted cities I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. Having spent around four months there last year, we became pretty good pals, although we don’t talk about the couple of weeks where I was continuously drenched by sudden storms, do we N-dog?

Mmmhmmm, girl doesn't forget these things, she’ll forgive though.

I get asked quite a lot about what there is to do in and around Nairobi and instead of being that poor, poor person who gets stuck with me as I excitedly reel off activity after restaurant after activity after bar, I thought I’d do you all a favour and put it in a blog post instead.

Here’s how to spend a jam packed but INCREDIBLE 48 hours in this amazing city…

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DAY 1:

For a full 48 hours in Nairobi, I’d recommend going on safari after your time in the city because as weird as it sounds, you’re going to want to sleep for about 157 hours once you’re back from the Mara.

My friend and I stayed at Milimani Backpackers in a private room for our first week in Nairobi before we began working at sustainable charity, Marafiki Community International. We really liked it and would definitely recommend it.

For your first morning, get in a taxi and head to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, named 'the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world'. The entrance fee to get into the park is Ksh500 (approx £3/$5) and not only does this go towards the incredible protection and conservation programmes the Trust support across Eastern Africa, but you will also be able to watch baby elephants being fed, interacting with one another and the keepers as well as learn the history of the organisation and the little (or not so) guys themselves.

Info: The park is only between 11am-12pm however so make sure you get the most out of your experience and arrive on time!

Midday beckons and the park will close therefore next on the agenda, is heading to the suburb of Karen and continuing your Nairobi experience with a little history at the Karen Blixen Museum. Set in stunning grounds, take a guided tour of the property and grounds, learning all about the farm that the Danish author of the famous memoir, ‘Out of Africa’ lived on from 1917 to 1931.

Info: Would recommend reading the novel or watching the Oscar-winning movie adaptation (which was actually shot on the grounds!) to get the absolute most of your visit.

After a history filled few hours it’s time to get your animal fix once more soooo how does a little smooch with a giraffe sound? Great? Okay, well let's head to the Giraffe Centre just down the road.

Travel wise, there are a couple of options depending on your budget - you can either get a private taxi right to the gates or, if you're watching the ole shillings, you can catch the 24 matatu which will drop you off at the end of the road and will involve maybe a 15/20 minute walk to the centre itself.

Giraffe Centre, Karen
The Giraffe Centre combines exciting activite and responsible conservation, with it's main aim to educate the youth of Kenya whilst protecting the highly endangered Rothschild's giraffe. The adult entrance fee is Ksh1000 (equivalent to around £8/$10) and allows you the opportunity to feed the giraffes with directly from your hand or if you're feeling particularly loving (?), you can hold a pellet between your lips and one of these long necked creatures will give you a (VERY) slobbery kiss.

Info: The money from your entrance fee as well as your gift shop and cafe purchases goes towards providing conservation education for school children in Nairobi so it really is a great cause as well as an amazing experience.

Now, Nairobi is known for it's stunning landscapes and it's booming tea and coffee trade however it is also becoming increasingly renowned for it's global foodie scene. There are a number of restaurants and foods you must try whilst in Nairobi and that includes the local favourites (mmm gimme all the chapatti!) and an area you'll be utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants and bars is Westlands. If you're looking for a buzzing area, great food and drink and a place or three to dance, get yourself over to this suburb and you'll be set for the night, I promise.

Artcaffe, Nairobi
Day 2:

On the morning of day 2, you should take a trip into the city centre. Despite a whole lot of scaremongering about the trials and tribulations of Nairobi city centre, simply act like you would in any other major city in the world - keep your belongings safe and secure, be aware of your surroundings and you will be absolutely fine.

Spending an hour or two in the Nairobi Gallery is definitely worth doing to learn a little more about the city's past and current creative history. Being oh so cultured is thirsty work though isn't it but fear not, you are only about a ten minute walk away to popular eatery, The Mug, which serves delicious coffee and even better cake. There are a huge variety of places to eat around this area however so if you're looking for something a little more substantial, local or not, you can't go more than a couple of yards without seeing a restaurant, cafe or takeout.

View from the KICC
Refreshments over, it's time to head to the KICC because whilst you've covered a lot of ground by now, it's time to see Nairobi from the rooftops, and not just any rooftop, but from the second highest building in Kenya. For tourists, the entrance fee is Ksh400 which is insanely good value to get stunning 360 views of the city of Nairobi for as far as the eye can see and you can stay for as long as you wish.

Next, hop in a taxi or catch a matatu to The Junction Shopping Mall's Maasai Mara market time! (ONLY ON A THURSDAY, if it is a different day, please click here for the market's weekly schedule because locations change every day). The Maasai Mara market is where you get your haggle on, although I really cannot offer you any tips on what to do because I am truly abysmal at it and if anything, I end up paying more.


The market has everything you could possibly wish for, in every colour and pattern and design you could ever think of. From African print dresses and scarves, to wall canvas' and trinkets, to jewellery, handbags and shoes, there is something for everyone and anyone and even if you aren't suuuuuper bothered about shopping, it's an experience in itself just to walk around, take it all in and watch the live acts and dances that are performed.

Info: Catching a matatu from the city can be a little hectic as there are SO many different buses stationed in quite a few different locations but please just ask one of the drivers if you are unsure - in my experiences they have always been happy to help and tried their best to send us off in the right direction with the correct info. Don't be scared of asking for help!

Night time beckons and the only place you can head on your final night in Nairobi, is Carnivore (except if you're a vegetarian for painfully obvious reasons..) Carnivore Restaurant describe themselves as a 'Beast of a Feast' and oh boy, they're nothing if not accurate.

The concept of Carnivore is basically that a wide variety of meats including chicken, lamb, sirloin steak, crocodile and ostrrich, are carved at your individual table throughout the night. Whole joints of meat, which are roasted on traditional Maasai swords over a ginormous charcoal that you can see from pretty much anywhere in the restaurant, are brought to you, and you can decide whether you'd like to sample or swerve and this continues until your entire table is full at which point you wave the white flag and place it in the middle of your table to indicate you surrender.

For a set price, you receive unlimited meats, which even at one point includes having the opportunity to sample a bull's testicle (squidgy texture, less said the better...!), a delicious selection of side dishes and sauces, soup, dessert and Kenyan coffee.

The atmosphere is really, really great and made even better by the infamous Doctor Dawa, who serves house cocktail, the 'Dawa', on a portable tray - beware though, the doctor really likes to serve this fabulous concoction and you may wake up the next day cursing that damn medicine man...

It's a great experience and one that really stands out for me from the range of different places I ate in Kenya as a whole so whilst it isn't particularly cheap, I really think it's worth it.

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And there we have it - a 48 hour itinerary for your time in the Kenyan capital. There is, of course, so more to do and see in and around Nairobi so don't be confined to my recommendations above - I wrote a post last year on 10 amazing things to do in the city too so the possibilities of how to spend your time in Nairobi are endless!

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