As the largest city in Kenya, Nairobi presents the best selection of restaurants and activities in the entire country, making this city a tourist hub. Spend your day exploring the markets, feeding a giraffe, or eating like a carnivore at one of the world’s most famous game meat restaurants. Nairobi’s appeal lies with its diversity. You can feel close to nature while exploring a national park and you can participate in one of East Africa’s bustling metropolises by shopping in the city center.
As a conscientious traveler, make your journey worthwhile by witnessing (you may want to witness) the harsh reality of Africa’s second-largest urban slum or support local workingwomen by touring a bead factory. In the evenings, you can grab a bite to eat at one of Nairobi’s many fine restaurants before going out dancing or to hear live music.
Take advantage of the tourism opportunities Nairobi presents, it would be a mistake to visit Kenya and skip (Nairobi) this amazing city. We recommend you take a few days to shed your jetlag and take some time to explore Kenya’s capital. Nairobi is a growing city with a diverse populace, so come see what one of Africa’s most prominent cities is all about.
1. Nairobi National Park: With giraffes in one direction and skyscrapers in the other, this park is the only protected area in the world in close proximity to a capital city (it’s seven kilometers from Nairobi). More than 400 species of birds having been observed—as well as leopards, lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, black rhinos, and more—the Nairobi National Park is worth a day’s visit. We recommend that you ask your hotel for the names of reputable touring companies that can take you through the park. You will need to take a valid passport to the park’s entrance in order to be granted entry. (+254-20-600800; email@example.com)
2. David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust specializes in raising orphaned elephants and black rhinos and reintroducing them to the wild. Every morning, visitors can watch the elephants be fed and bathed. Few sights are more charming than that of these young creatures interacting with the center’s staff, and the daily program provides you with insight into the techniques and rationale for the center’s goals.
3. Giraffe Center: Ever kissed a giraffe? It might serve you well. Giraffes have foot-long tongues that get plenty of sunlight during feeding times, and the animals have eaten acacia tree thorns for generations. Thus, giraffe saliva has antiseptic, sunproofing properties, so don’t be afraid of a smooch here or there! The center is home to the endangered Rothschild giraffe, and in addition to getting close to the animals, visitors can spend some time learning about the center’s history and mission. We guarantee that the Giraffe Center will provide you with one of the best photo opportunities of your trip.
4. Kibera: As the second-largest urban slum in Africa, sociologists and urban planners have studied Kibera for years in the fight against poverty. Speak to your hotel staff and ask for their recommendation of a guide who can take you through the slum. Please remember that Kibera is home to around one million people, so a visit should be conducted respectfully. Excessive photography or disregard for people’s property will likely result in an unfriendly welcome from Kibera’s residents. However, it has been our experience that respect and kindness will be returned in kind.
5. Kazuri Beads: Kazuri is Swahili for “small and beautiful,” and that is a perfect way to describe Kazuri beads. Local workers handcraft each bead out of clay from Mount Kenya. The majority of the factory’s craftsmen are from the nearby slums, and Kazuri beads provides them with a respectable income and childcare support. There is an excellent free tour through the factory which we highly recommend taking. The freshly-made beads sold in the gift shop make for an wonderful souvenir.
6. Carnivore Restaurant: Hungry for some ostrich? Crocodile? Zebra? Popular with groups returning from safari, this all-you-can-eat specialty restaurant is a necessity for the carnivore inside you.
7. Nairobi National Museum: For an interesting overview of Kenya through the millennia, visit the Nairobi National Museum. You can check out displays about various Kenyan tribes, prehistoric artifacts from the area (including three million year-old footprints!), and more than 900 stuffed birds and animals.
8. Snake Park: Located at the Nairobi National Museum, this is a great place to check out animals that are slimy and slithery. Full of snakes, lizards, crocodiles and alligators, the Snake Park only takes a few hours to see and is a very cool way to see all of the animals that you may miss (by choice) during the rest of your time in Kenya. Do not miss the Puff Adder and Black Mamba, two of the deadliest snakes in Africa.
9. Masai Market: Your trip to Nairobi will not be complete without bringing home some awesome souvenirs. The Masai Market, located in the city center, is full of handmade goods sold by Masai men and women. We recommend buying a handmade konga, the blunt wooden tool used by the Masai to hunt animals and protect their livestock. Regardless of what you purchase, we know you will enjoy the bustling atmosphere of the Masai Market.
10. Nairobi Arboretum: Covering more than seventy acres, the Nairobi Arboretum is only three kilometers from the city center and is a great way to spend an afternoon. Walk under the beautiful trees, have a picnic, and keep an eye out for the monkeys! There are more than 350 different species of plant in the entire arboretum, and they are beautiful throughout the year.
While Nairobi is pleasant year round, it is best to visit during the drier months, June through October. September and October are the driest and coolest months of the year.
Despite a close proximity to the equator, Nairobi’s weather is usually comfortable. March through May is the first rainy season, with April bringing the most rain, an average of 9.5 inches. November and December are also rainy, averaging 5.9 and 4.2 inches, respectively. The months of June through October are dry; July is the driest month, with an average rainfall of just .7 inches.
Passports/Visas: No additional visa is required if you are traveling to Nairobi from within Kenya. If traveling from outside the country, see Africa.com’s page on Kenya [LINK] for details on the proper documentation needed for visiting Kenya.
Transportation: Nairobi has two main airports, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport. If you are flying into or out of Kenya, you will most likely use Jomo Kenyatta. Wilson Airport is primarily used for domestic travel, but a limited number of flights around the African continent fly in and out of Wilson.
Kenya Railways and the Kenya Bus Service (as well as numerous privately-owned bus lines) all operate out of Nairobi, making it easy to travel to and from the city.
When exploring the city center, you are better off walking than experiencing a traffic jam from within a vehicle. The streets are well marked, and people are generally very helpful about giving directions. We highly recommend that you only walk in Nairobi during the daytime. Taking a taxi after dark is definitely advisable.
The most convenient way to get around Nairobi is with taxis. This is especially true at night, as Nairobi is not the safest place to walk around after dark. Most taxis are distinguished by a yellow line painted on the side of the car, and can be found throughout the city, especially in places where there are many tourists. Be sure to negotiate a price before you get into the car to avoid price gauging.
Public transportation is available throughout the city. The Kenya Bus Service operates many bus routes, however the most popular public transport are the privately-owned mini buses called matatus. While matatus are definitely the cheapest way to get around, they are also the most congested, as drivers will squeeze in as many passengers as possible, plus a few more. So hop on board if you are feeling brave.
Mobile Phones: If your mobile phone uses the GSM 900 system (standard with European mobiles, but most American and Canadian phones run on the 850/1900 system), then you will be able to use it in Kenya. However, be prepared to spend large amounts of money on phone calls.
Your best bet is to buy a SIM card from one of the two main companies in Kenya, Safaricom, and Zain. SIM cards and reload credits are sold all over the country. Keep in mind that text messages are significantly cheaper than phone calls and are free to receive.
Nairobi is a city where you need to be cognizant of your surroundings. Using common sense about dressing modestly and maintaining control of your belongings will go a long way in helping you avoid any uncomfortable situations. It is always a good idea to ask your hotel staff about the nearest police stations, as well as medical centers.
The U.S. Department of State’s consular website has a great deal of information about safety and security in Kenya. It can’t be repeated enough: be sensible when you travel. Crime rates vary between cities and townships in Kenya. Be alert and aware about your surroundings.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Kenya or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
1. Nairobi is Kenya’s capital and largest city. Mount Kenya sits to the northeast, Mt. Kilimanjaro can be seen in the south, and the Great Rift Valley is just west of the city.
2. Nairobi is sunny all year, but since it has an elevation of nearly a mile, it does not get too hot. There are two rainy seasons, March through May and November through December, and the driest months are June through October.
3. Kenya has a number of newspapers that are based out of Nairobi. The Daily Nation and the Standard are two of the better-known publications.
4. The main languages spoken in Nairobi are English and Swahili.
5. In Kenya, a smoking ban prohibits lighting up in any public area, including streets, parks, bars, markets, theaters, and restaurants. The ban also prohibits smoking in private homes and cars. However, some hotels and bars have designated smoking areas.