I recently wrote about traveling without my son and how to do it guilt-free. Given how much I love traveling with James, I will only leave him behind for a good reason. This trip presented two problems (distance and a busy work schedule), but there was no way I was missing it.
Not only was this my first trip to East Africa, but I went to Kenya with a friend who previously lived there and even speaks some Swahili. So, I had an expert to show me around in a country that would otherwise be difficult to navigate on my own. I’ll write about her organization in a future post as well to share more about why we were there. But until then, here is what I thought of Nairobi!
We stayed at Fairmont The Norfolk which was perfect for us. At around $154/night, I thought that was a very reasonable price for a high end hotel with a ton of staff and great security. They have a beautiful outdoor terrace that was great for a cocktail and relaxing at the end of a long day. Most of the rooms also come with either a terrace or balcony that you can use during the day before mosquitos become a concern.
The people are amazing: We spent quite a bit of time in one of the slums of Nairobi and I loved every single person I met. Kenyans have a beautiful culture that perfectly mixes formality with familiarity. In nearly all of my encounters, whether at the hotel or out in the streets, the general vibe was friendly and jovial. People danced and made jokes. In many ways, I thought their culture was much more focused on the positives of life than what I’m used to at home.
Take a safari, even if it’s short: You can’t go to East Africa and not go on a safari – in fact, a safari is probably your main activity here. But, like I said, we were in Kenya for a work trip so there wasn’t much leisure time. However, we needed to take a trip out to Naivasha to scope out some campsites which also served as a quick safari. The drive was about two hours and between that drive and visiting a few campsites, we saw a ton of wildlife, including: giraffes, zebras, warthogs, monkeys, baboons, turtles, hippos, exotic birds, and more. I’m hoping to make it back out there next year to do a longer safari, hopefully with my little one along for the ride.
Visit the Giraffe Center or the Elephant Orphanage: Another way to get up close with the animals is to take a visit to the Giraffe Center or the Elephant Orphanage. We were able to spend some time at the Giraffe Center and I loved it. This is also a fantastic activity for kids since you can feed (or even kiss!) the giraffes. Next door, you’ll find Giraffe Manor where you can rent a room and eat breakfast with the giraffes. It’s on the pricy side, but if you’re looking for a unique experience, that would certainly fit the bill.
Do some shopping: Nairobi is a great place to pick up souvenirs. You have a lot of options; we did most of our shopping at the Maasai Market in Nairobi. You can find jewelry, scarves, vases and decor, and tons more. I ended up with a bunch of carved pink stone pieces, including a big, medium, and small lion as well as a lioness to represent each of my family members (dad, baby, dog, mom). I also picked up a t-shirt for James, per my tradition of buying him one t-shirt for each country I visit. And I always keep them once he’s outgrown them so I’ve got a nice little box of memories to give him one day as an adult.
Keep in mind while you’re shopping that prices are always negotiable. I recommend shopping around to get a good idea of a fair price and then bargain with that in mind.
Never trust a taxi driver: Seriously, be safe and smart when you’re in Kenya (like you should be anywhere). They have Uber now, which is a great way to get around and what I primarily used. You may also be able to have your hotel set up transportation or hire a private driver for your stay. I wouldn’t rely on taxis though as they’re more likely to overcharge you.
We also took Nairobi’s public transportation a few times and rode in a matatu, which was an experience – though I wouldn’t recommend it for your first time visiting unless you’ve got a local with you. The matatus are basically giant vans that are stuffed with people and transport you as a bus would. Some of them blasted hip hop music out the windows. Riding in a crowded matatu with Tupac’s “California” playing was definitely a highlight of the trip.
If you’ve been to Kenya recently or are planning a trip, I would love to hear about it in the comments!