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Nairobi runaround

Although Nairobi is undoubtedly East Africa’s prime metropolis, it offers surprisingly little of interest to the average visitor. We have a few favorite spots where we’ve taken most of our guests, such as the elephant orphanage and giraffe center, but our list of must-visit places is rather brief. It was therefore a bit of a challenge to come up with enough interesting activities to fill the three days we had in Nairobi before D’s family departed.

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Our first day back we hired a taxi and driver for a full day and took our car in for a much-needed check-up while D’s family explored Nairobi in pouring rain. D’s cousin left that night, but two friends of ours arrived in her stead, adding a further logistical challenge. Naturally, they too wanted to see baby elephants being bottle-fed at the orphanage while D’s sister was not keen to repeat the visit.

While our friends soaked up the animal cuteness, we went to nearby Bomas of Kenya, which bills itself as Kenya’s premiere destination for the preservation of the country’s cultural diversity. In the afternoons, trained dancers perform various traditional dances. In the morning, when we went, there was not much to do except take an unguided tour of the Bomas villages (boma means homestead in Swahili), which recreate the traditional dwellings of Kenya’s different ethnic groups. A few of the homesteads were unique, but as there are 42 tribes in Kenya, the huts all started to look alike after about ten minutes.

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Our visitors insisted on seeing museums and markets, though Nairobi is not particularly famous for either. There are a handful of museums in the city, but they are not much to write home about.  The city markets are also a far cry from the large, colorful bazaars in the Middle East and the indigenous markets of Latin America. We dropped our guests at the National Museum and suggested they stop at City Market on their way back to our house.

Kenya’s biggest draw is of course its animals and one does not have to leave Nairobi to go on safari. Nairobi National Park has a surprising amount of wildlife given its proximity to the city, but the entry fee for non-residents is hefty and it only makes sense to visit if one’s stopover in Kenya is too brief to allow a proper safari. Instead, D took our guests on a day trip to Lake Naivasha for a different kind of safari experience. The Crescent Island reserve, a moon-shaped peninsula that extends into the lake, does not have any predators so one can explore the reserve on foot, seeing zebras, giraffes, and buffalo as up close and personal as one dares.

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Despite our protestations that Kenyan cuisine is only worth the name if one goes to the coast (safari food does not count), our visitors demanded an authentic culinary experience. So one night we piled into the car and headed to Nairobi West, a strip of bars and butcheries located behind Nyayo Stadium at the edge of downtown, for some nyama choma. It was late and the pickings were slim. One of the butcheries was out of meat entirely and D had to go to another butchery while the rest of the gang sat on plastic chairs outside one of the bars, sipping cold Tuskers. Although Nairobi West is a bit unsavory, our guests enjoyed Kenyan barbecue so much that they had nyama choma for lunch the next day on the way back from Lake Naivasha.

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In the year and a half we’ve spent in Nairobi, we’ve hosted thirteen sets of visitors and have done a fair amount of exploring ourselves. Still, there must be some things we’ve missed and we’re always on the lookout for new favorite haunts. Those who know Nairobi well, where would you take your visitors if you had to play tour guide for a few days?

Thanks to Milena for the nyama choma picture and to Marina for the one of Bomas.

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. MMM I think you just about covered it. The Nairobi National Park was the one park I really enjoyed. The city, I didn’t care for. When I was there it was pretty dangerous. Not sure if it’s still like that.

    January 13, 2013
    • yep, still pretty dangerous. And there’s a ton of traffic too, which means it’s a pain to get from one place to the next. We went to Karen after our friends left and it felt like visiting another city because it takes so long to drive there and back.

      January 13, 2013
      • So sad. It used to be so beautiful and safe. Kenya and Zimbabwe have both become countries that just aren’t that great for tourism. Still miss Africa though, with a passion.

        January 13, 2013
        • Kenya is still great for tourism. The game parks are safe as is most of the coast. It’s just that Nairobi is pretty dangerous, which is why we advise our visitors to try to spend as little time in the city as possible.

          January 13, 2013
          • I know what you mean. I think that’s about the same everywhere now. Zimbabwe is trying to get its tourism back on track (not sure if they’re succeeding). Cities just aren’t the place to be.

            January 13, 2013
  2. Have you tried the Masaai Markets held around different venues through the week? Eg. Westgate on Tuesdays and Village Market on Fridays. I don’t remember which day it’s on in Yaya Centre. They have some pretty cool curios and local hand-,made souvenirs. City market is really unsafe now… :(
    ps. Another great place is the Simba Saloon at the Carnivore (for some good food and different kinds of meat and nyama choma). Try that some time! :)

    January 13, 2013
    • We live in Gigiri, pretty close to Village Market, where the Maasai market is held on Friday, but these guests weren’t all that into curio shopping. Actually, there are quite a few nice stores – Spinner’s Web (closer to Westgate), Utamaduni in Karen, etc…

      Still haven’t made it out to Carnivore – not sure if it’s still worth the trip as they’ve stopped serving a lot of the different meats that set them apart (probably for good), but we might have to go at least once before we leave East African shores.

      Thanks for the suggestions!

      January 13, 2013

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