Long established as a stopover city from British colonial times when the Mombasa-Kampala railway was being built, Nairobi is Kenya’s busy, bustling capital. There are skyscrapers in the city centre, traffic clogged roads and red dust swirling in the streets; but there’s also vibrant lilac jacarandas, the green spaces of Nairobi National Park and vendors selling colourful trinkets amidst the noise and exhaust of matutus (12 seater mini buses) and boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) zooming around the city. If you only have 24 hours in Nairobi, here’s how to make it count.
Check into Wildebeest Eco Camp, located outside of the city centre. The camp offers a variety of accommodation options, from comfortable permanent tents (with in-built plumbing) to brick-and-mortar cottages to camp sites with hot water facilities. There is a bar and restaurant on-site, as well as a swimming pool and other facilities, perfect for families. There’s a small gift shop on the premises. Staff at the front desk will be happy to book safaris, transport or tours for you.
Take a cab or organise a driver to take you to the Giraffe Centre, which is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The centre runs a breeding program for the endangered Rothschild giraffe, and as part of their awareness campaign allows visitors to hand feed their tall and friendly charges. Rangers distribute pellets, which you feed, one at a time, to the giraffes. Each one has a name and his/her own temperament, which the rangers know intimately. If you get lucky you can even get kissed by a 12 cm long purple tongue!
Nearby is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a must see if you are in Nairobi. The trust which runs an elephant orphanage adjacent to Nairobi National Park. Regular visitors can drop by to see the baby elephants from 11 a.m. until noon each day (KSH 300); for USD50 you can foster an elephant instead and spend one on one time with them at the end of their busy day. Their keepers accompany them throughout the day and the babies are very attached – while visiting my foster elephant, Ndotto, he spent most of his time suckling his keepers coat edges – in the wild baby elephants self soothe by sucking on their mother’s ears, a behaviour akin to an infant sucking his thumb.
A Nairobi institution in its own right, Carnivore is a must visit dinner venue. Vegetarians need not apply, however. The restaurant offers the epitome of nyama choma, or barbecue meat – beef, chicken, pork, lamb, crocodile, ostrich, offal – name it, and Carnivore will carve and serve it, along with 8 different types of sauces. There’s also soup, bread and dessert included in the all you can eat price; pace yourself and wash it all down with a dawa, a classic Kenyan cocktail of vodka, sugar, honey and lime.
Start your day with an early morning safari in Nairobi National Park to spot some wildlife, or if you prefer to do your exploring on your own two legs, head to the Safari Walk, located inside the headquarters of the Kenya Wildlife Safari. Here, a suspended boardwalk allows for sightings of the park’s resident lions, ostriches and zebra, or if you’re very lucky, leopards and rhinos. The environment here is more zoo than endless savannah, but it suffices for a wildlife encounter if you’re pressed for time and unable to go on a safari to the Masai Mara.
On your last morning in Nairobi, head to City Market to stock up on souvenirs. Located on Muindi Mbingu Street, the market is open every day. You’ll find curios, masks, carvings, cloth, bags, fruit and flowers. Not all will be made to the same quality, so it pays to shop around before you make an offer. Make sure you’ve honed your bargaining skills and don’t make eye contact if you don’t intend to buy anything. Lastly, keep an eye out for pickpockets and if travelling with another female, make sure you are not separated by the crowd. Never bring more cash than you are willing to spend or lose.
For lunch, try out the food at Talisman near the Karen roundabout. The restaurant takes advantage of lush gardens, with a lovely indoor/outdoor setting, perfect for sunny days. The menu is varied, offering a mix of curries (a heritage of Kenya’s colonial British days when workers were brought in to help with building the railways), stir fries, burgers and pastas.
Located nearby in the Karen neighbourhood is the Karen Blixen Museum, which commemorates the life and loves of Karen Blixen, the Danish baroness of “Out of Africa” fame. She lived in Nairobi from 1914 to 1931, and her house has been converted into a museum. Displays include some of her original possessions, as well as props from the eponymous movie. Entrance fees to the museum include a guide, but my favourite moment was soaking up the peaceful views of the distant Ngong hills from the grounds of the house after the tour had ended.