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.
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.
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.
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.
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.