Nairobi, Kenya’s beating heart, offers the perfect blend of a growing metropolis and unspoilt natural beauty, says Olivia Balsinger
Nairobi, Kenya’s dynamic and metropolitan capital, certainly knows how to defy the stereotypes. While many refer to it as a rugged and desolate savannah, Nairobi is actually a modern, burgeoning destination. The fastest growing city in Africa, Nairobi is continually evolving as much more than an overnight stopover for intrepid travellers to explore, instead transitioning into a holiday in itself.
In fact, “Kenya’s beating heart,” a more accurate and fitting nickname for Nairobi, is a melting pot of vibrant culture, exciting nightlife, international restaurants and hospitable locals, eager to welcome guests into their pulsating city. And just a stone’s throw outside of Nairobi’s city limits are several enthralling wildlife-centric attractions. The juxtaposition between the urban modernity and the peacefulness of the surrounding bush (forested area) gives travellers a comprehensive sample of the true soul of modern-day Africa.
Your first objective when touching down in Nairobi should be becoming acquainted with the layout of the sprawling metropolis. Once settled, taking a city tour is a way to gain perspective and explore Nairobi’s “must sees,” without feeling overwhelmed. A stop is recommended at the 28-storey Kenyatta International Conference Center building, whose top floor provides sweeping, panoramic views of the city.
From cultural hotspots to bustling markets and from glitzy bars to nature safaris, Nairobi has a lot to offer. For example, the African Heritage House, overlooking the Nairobi National Park, designed by American Alan Donovan, co-founder of the African Heritage Pan African Galleries, gives an insight into the mud architectures found throughout the continent of Africa. Another cultural gem is the GoDown Art Centre, a nonprofit warehouse-turned-studio that is now home to a diverse range of visual and performing art exhibits. The Karen Blixen Museum, named after the Danish coffee farmer and writer of Out of Africa, has been converted into a treasure trove of the author’s memorabilia from her young adulthood on the continent. It’s best to explore these attractions with a guide!
If visiting on a Friday, getting lost in the labyrinth of stalls at Maasai Market in northern Nairobi is a necessity. This is where you will find everything – from popular souvenirs to delicately made traditional trinkets from local villages, and from toy airplanes made of bottle caps to intricate pieces of artworks. It is the perfect environment to practice your bargaining skills. These markets move around the city throughout the week and wares on offer include jewellery and baskets made by members of the Maasai tribe.
The only thing more exciting than navigating through the market is encountering wildlife. Nairobi National Park, sitting on the outskirts of the city, is home to those animals you’d hope to encounter on safaris — large herds of giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, rhino, cheetah and majestic prides of lion, meandering through the grass. What differentiates the park from other safari locations in Africa, is its proximity to the metropolis. The park, perhaps Kenya’s most well-known, sits on the southern boundary of Nairobi, is said to be the only national park on the planet to border a country’s capital. Experiencing animals interacting in their natural habitats — chasing their next dinner, seeking refuge for their cubs and hoping to survive another night amongst lurking predators — on safari is one thing, but it is quite another to view this spectacle against the backdrop of Nairobi’s glittering skyline.
It’s not only location that makes this park unique. It is known for the success it has had in preserving its rhino population. The world’s densest concentration of black rhinoceros (currently more than 50) inhabit the park’s sanctuary and there is immense effort being made to prevent poaching. Additionally, rangers keeping watchful eyes on the prides of lion, are often able to give updates to visitors about their location! And with the park’s wetland area sustaining approximately 400 bird species, ornithology enthusiasts will be delighted. A guided tour of the park is a must and costs around USD 75 for half day.
For more wild adventure, spend the night camping in one of the city’s national parks, underneath a sprawl of stars. For more comforts and thrill, book into one of Nairobi’s most Instagrammable locations — the Giraffe Manor. Though prices here are slightly steep, the opportunity to enjoy breakfast in the company of a curious giraffe poking its head through the hotel’s window is extraordinarily unique and gushingly adorable. Nairobi lets you tailor your experience of the city. And whatever be the budget, your Nairobi experience is sure to sure to give you memories to last a lifetime.