Wanderlust: My Nairobi Travel Guide
By Erica Root
I had the incredible opportunity to spend this past July in Nairobi, Kenya. Last month, I shared some of my general travel tips with the GOTG readers. This month, I share my traveler’s guide for Nairobi.
Before getting to know Nairobi, we need to know a little about the country in which it resides: Kenya. Kenya is located in East Africa, and is not, in fact, an area that has been impacted by the Ebola crisis. You should have seen how big the eyes of the medical assistant checking me in for my doctor’s appointment got when I mentioned that I had indeed traveled to Africa in the past three weeks.
Of course, one of Kenya’s major claims to fame is that it is President Obama’s homeland. At least, that’s what conservative news stations will have you believe. This we know is not true. It is, however, where the President’s father was born, and is where his half-sister resides. He also happened to visit Kenya while I was there, which was as amazing as you might imagine. Tons of money was spent to beautify the city in advance of his arrival; including heavy mulching of the main road that connects the airport to the city center. A road that President Obama ended up driving in the dark, due to his evening arrival. The excitement in the air was palpable and as a representative from the U.S., I fielded a ton of questions from co-workers, drivers, and random passers-by on the street.
Size-wise, Kenya is slightly larger than the state of Texas, and has a population of just 44 million; versus the 38.8 million people who live in California alone.
Nairobi itself is a city bursting at the brims. While there, I was told that of the estimated 4 million people in Nairobi, nearly one-half to three-quarters were living in the slums. (If you’ve seen the Netflix original show Sense8, you will see a glimpse of the Kibera slum, one of the largest slums in Africa, and only two miles away from where I stayed while in Kenya.) The roads are in desperate need of repair to accommodate the massive amount of people in cars, buses, and walking along the road.
And while my primary purpose in visiting Nairobi was for work, I was able to have evenings and weekends to explore all the city had to offer. With that I thought I’d give you a little travel guide should you ever find yourself in this beautiful city:
Here Are My Top Five Things to Do in Nairobi:
- Nairobi National Park – The Nairobi National Park is just a 20-minute drive from the city-center. That is, if you don’t hit traffic. Which you shouldn’t if you plan to get there at the crack of dawn to maximize the amount of animals you will see. Pro tip: visit the park at dawn or at dusk. That is when the animals are the most active. The cool thing about the park: anyone with a car can drive around, you don’t need a guide.
- Elephant Orphanage – Ever wanted to pet a baby elephant, but never had the chance? Well, now you do. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – aka the elephant orphanage – is open only one hour every day to tourists. The elephants are allowed to roam around an area enclosed by only a drawstring, and tourists are able to pet them as they walk by. They seem to enjoy the attention and the affection, before they get sent back to live their normal lives. The elephants found here have been rescued from the wild, their parents almost always victims of poachers; unfortunately, the ivory trade remains alive and well. Once the animals have matured enough, they are brought out to socialize with wild elephants, until they are accepted by a family. After this long process, which takes years, the elephants are eventually released into the wild. I was lucky enough to pet one of the elephants and he felt like tree bark, not soft like I had imagined. After I pet him he walked a little further, attempting his prison break. Tourists wanting pictures captured him gently as they waited for one of the animal handlers to come and gently guide him back to the right side of the ropes.
- Giraffe Center/Giraffe Manor – Downtown Abbey meets African game reserve. The giraffe center let’s you get up close and personal with giraffes. You ascend a staircase attached to a platform so that you can be eye level with the quirky creatures. Buckets of feed are passed around, and the giraffe simply goes down the line taking food from whomever will feed him. If you are a high-roller – which I am not – you can shell out a few hundred bucks to spend the night in Giraffe Manor, where you can pet giraffes from your own hotel room. I am not kidding. You have to check out the pictures on their website.
- Maasai Market – The Maasai Market is named after the Maasai tribe from Eastern Africa who are known for being badass warriors. The markets are the place to buy trinkets for friends and family and to practice your negotiating skills. I had so much luck negotiating that I had to buy another suitcase to carry everything back with me…
- Ride in a Matatu – For the most part, I’d recommend you find a taxi driver that you know and trust to take you around the city; however, a Matatu is definitely an uncomfortable experience that you should probably have if you go to Nairobi. Matatus are buses that run all over the city carrying people, who are smooshed together, for a very low price. Be wary of pick-pockets, but mostly just enjoy an authentic experience where you are sitting uncomfortably close to your neighbor and will debate whether or not you should just walk the rest of the way to your destination.
And there you have it, my top five things to do in Nairobi. I hope this guide proves useful to you should you ever find yourself in this beautiful city. Happy travels!