Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, has been ranked as the topmost city in Africa, and third best in the world to visit in 2017, by the United Kingdom travel publisher Rough Guides.
Ahead of Kenya on the list is Paris, France which was ranked first and Iran’s Isfahan which was placed second, followed by Nairobi. Others are Bristol, England (4th), Antwerp, Belgium, fifth, Medellin, Colombia sixth, Atlanta, US was placed seventh, Osaka, Japan eighth, and Guadalajara in Mexico ninth. Completing the list of top 10 cities was Palma, Mallorca.
According to Rough Guides, “Nairobi, Africa’s youngest, fastest-growing metropolis and the beating heart of the continent’s largest economy, has for too long been overlooked.”
The travel publisher notes there’s more to Kenya’s national parks, palm-fringed beaches, traditional art markets, museums and coffee stores.
Rough Guides urges travelers to “make time to explore further” as they would “find a dynamic urban landscape with cool restaurants, groundbreaking art projects, and a burgeoning fashion scene.”
“Skip Nairobi now, and you are missing out big time,” observed Rough Guides.
So what makes Nairobi appealing?
1. World’s wildlife capital
As you have already heard before, Nairobi boasts a national park just a few kilometers from the central business district. Visitors to the park have an opportunity to see the Big Five including buffalos, giraffes, lions, baboons, wildebeest, zebras, cheetahs, gazelles, hyenas, and endangered black rhino along many other animals.
Bird watchers also have an opportunity to enjoy up to 300 migratory and endemic bird species at the site.
If you have limited time in the country, the national park should be able to give you a taste of what to expect in the wild.
You may also want to explore Giraffe Center in the outskirts of Nairobi and other game ranches around the city.
2. Baby Elephants
If you are like me who takes pleasure in seeing baby animals from tamed cats, calves, and lambs to the wild ones, then you will enjoy the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust located within Nairobi National Park. The wildlife organization specializes in raising baby elephants orphaned by poaching. If you are in time (11 am-12 noon), you will see them guzzling milk from large bottles. The young elephants also kick soccer balls, and you can touch them as they stroll in the mid-morning sun. If you wish, you can foster one or two of them for a year or so.
3. ‘Out of Africa’- A movie experience
Fans of the ever popular 1985 movie, Out of Africa, will love a tour around the Karen Blixen Museum, just 10 kilometers from Nairobi’s city center. Karen Blixen a Danish author lived here from 1917 to 1931. Her famed memoir was written from this house. The movie was, however, not shot here because the rooms were too small for the crew and cameras.
There’s much to see here including the gramophone Denys Finch- Hutton gave her, and Louis Vuitton trunk which she brought from Denmark. Her belongings and props used in the film are also there for your exploration.
4. Arts, crafts and culture
You are a lover of art, crafts, and culture? Nairobi busts with all these. From shopping malls to permanent and makeshift markets arts and crafts items that give you a real feel of Kenyan culture can be found.
Several Maasai markets are strategically placed within the CBD as well as outside the city center. The secret is to find cheaper items which mostly can be found in permanent and wholesale markets such as the Kariokor market, a walk away from the city.
To experience the culture of the local people, museums such as the Nairobi National Museum gives an insight into the history of Nairobi and Kenya as a whole. You will be introduced to the animals and people that originated in Kenya. You will have a chance to see animals that still roam the country today.
If you are lucky, you will be introduced to everyday traditions of some of the famous ethnic groups such as Maasai, Swahili, and Kikuyu people among many other ethnic groups.
5. Kenyan and foreign dishes
Nairobi loves its food. Most of the food in Nairobi’s restaurants and food cafes is meat. From local cuisines to much-advanced foods, visitors have a choice in what to eat.
Kenya is known for its favorite nyama choma, which is barbecued meat. Nyama choma can come in the form of chicken, beef, ostrich, turkey, and the sweetest of them all, goat (especially one that has been grazing on wild plants). You can also try Swahili dishes in some restaurants.
For electric and modern eating experiences, try urban eateries within the city. Here you will find Mediterranean salads, Chinese, and Indian delicacies and many others.
Fast food joints are spread in several locations across the city. For those adventurous enough to explore the culinary options in Nairobi, there is no end to the strange, unique and delicious dishes one can find.
6. Local beverages
Being one of the largest coffee producers in the world, Nairobi boasts several local and franchised coffee shops for your enjoyment. Kenya’s coffee is a must try during your visit. You might want to start the day off by savoring the freshness of Kenyan coffee or tea, whichever you pick.
Did I mention there is Nairobi beer? To calm you during the day or after a day’s walk in the sun and dust, try a cold glass of Tusker. You can find joints, bars, and high-end lounges to enjoy your evening.
7. Kibera Slums
Well, this is not one of those to do things considered by many tourists. Kibera slum is the largest in the world, and will not only be an educative but also inspiring visit. With over one million people living in the congested shanty rooms, people have survived and made a great life for themselves and their families.
Do not be in a hurry to go into the slum for a walk, though. Be sure to take a well-versed tour guide with you. Remember to dress appropriately, and avoid carrying flashy items with you. The resilience and humanity in this town will change your perspective towards life.
There are local community organizations that support local members through works of art, basketry, drama and other social activities that you might want to experience. Ask your guide about such options.
When traveling around Nairobi, you might want to try the local mini busses dubbed ‘matatu’. The pimped buses are famed for their loud music, and sometimes movies on screens strategically placed inside the bus and occasionally outside some ‘cooler’ buses.
Although traffic police are always on the lookout for overloaded matatus, sometimes, the conductors hanging out the side door always seem to find space to pack more people and luggage. For comfort, you can pick a taxi within the city. Uber and other shared rides are also available.
A good rule of thumb is that KSH 100 is equivalent to USD 1. That is easy to remember right? Bring money in small denominations when going to the market, or traveling in public transport. It will make bargaining at the market easier. If possible, get a Swahili-speaking tour guide or a friend to help you haggle and make the best out of your trip.
Image Credit: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust