I cannot count the number of times people would automatically assume I lived in South Africa when I mentioned to them that I grew up in Africa. Well let me tell you now, there are in fact 53 other countries that make up Africa besides South Africa, one of them being Kenya.
Not even making it into the top 5 most visited African countries, Kenya is arguably a very underrated travel destination; despite its famous connections to the likes of Barrack Obama, his dad is Kenyan in case you didn’t know, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will popped the question to Kate while on safari there.
Perhaps its your safety you’re concerned about or the number of vaccinations you might require that’s putting you off visiting the East African country, but if you happen to go against the grain and embark on a journey to the magical country then let me give you some pointers of what to do during your stay.
If your itinerary only allows for your trip to take place in Nairobi and not venture to the plains of the savannahs or the coastal regions, not to worry there is still plenty to do in the capital without feeling like you missed out on great opportunities.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 things to do during your stay!
One of, if not the most popular reasons why people visit Africa is for their wonderful abundance of majestic animals and Kenya has no shortage of chances to come face-to-face with many of them, but if you’re pressed for time and can’t make it for a full-throttle safari experience, try your luck in Nairobi’s National Park. Bordering the city centre, it’s easily accessible for day trips – almost quirky in its setting, it’s amusing that amongst the vast plains and acacia trees you can see the city skyline on the horizon. The park is 117sq.km with almost every species, except elephants present, and if you visit on a good day you might just be lucky enough to see everything.
TIPS: Start your adventure in the morning allowing you to spend the entire day in the park for more chances of encountering animals. There is a park fee, which is a lot higher for non-residents in comparison to residents and citizens. Once arriving at the National Park via the main gate purchase your tickets, which are US$50 for a non-resident adult and a 350 shilling car fee, continue on to the store next to the ticket office and get your hands on a map of the National Park – trust me this will come in handy! Another handy tip is to go in a 4-wheel drive, especially if it has rained or is forecasted to rain, I cannot count the number of times we almost got bogged or aqua planned!
Trust me the early morning wake up call for this one is more than worth it! What better way to top your trip than with an encounter with baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust? The Trust has spent decades dedicated to protecting and preserving Africa’s wilderness and denizens, with particular focus on elephants and Black rhinos due to the ever-growing threat on their endangered species. Unlike your typical zoo or animal orphanage in which the animals are ultimately confined in cages for the rest of their life, the Sheldrick trust rehabilitates orphaned elephants and reintegrates them back into the wild.
Attending the orphanage gives you the experience to watch the cutest baby elephants as their keepers feed them from enlarged milk bottles before they roll around and play in the mud and dirt, the elephants that is! If you’re extra lucky, some of them may venture over to you giving you the opportunity for a quick pat. Visitors are given the opportunity to adopt one of the elephants for themselves or perhaps as a gift to someone, visit their website to find out more.
TIPS: The trust only allows 1 hour of visits with the elephants per day, this is to ensure the amount of human interaction is limited so they do not become accustomed to us when they are released back into the wild. In light of this, you can only visit the orphanage between 11am and noon, so it’s best to arrive early to secure a good viewing spot. Although not considered an entry fee and rather a donation to access the elephants, a minimum of 500 shillings (around about $7 Australian dollars) is expected.
It’s very common for those who venture to the elephant orphanage to then venture on to the giraffe centre. Here you are given the chance to be face-to-face, literally, with giraffes and the opportunity to feed them. Most people opt for the standard hand full of pellets method when it comes to feeding, but for those after a once in a lifetime experience, go for the mouth-to-mouth option. The latter is not for everyone but my theory is, “when will you ever have the chance to feed a giraffe from your mouth again?” It is a once in a lifetime opportunity after all, so why not suffer through the slightly extensive amount of saliva for an experience not many others can say they have done.
TIPS: On occasion you may require patience, especially if you have ventured to the giraffe centre from the elephants straight away along with the hundred other people that were also at the elephant orphanage. If you find yourself there on a hectic day, spend some time wandering through the gift shop or even the little museum like display they have on show to let the crowd disperse slightly before you take your turn at feeding the long necked beauties. For those of you brave enough to do the mouth-to-mouth experience, the keepers there will tell you this, but make sure you only do the experience with the female giraffes as the males can get a little feisty and you may find yourself being head-butted by them. On another feisty note, be aware of where you are standing in comparison to the giraffes, they get freaked out if you stand directly to their side and, again, will attempt to head-butt you.
Maasai Markets, a typical tourist destination all over Kenya and your one stop shop for all those tourist gifts for friends and family back home. For those who aren’t sure what a Maasai Market is, here’s the low down, it is a form of a bazaar where the locals set up camp for the day with their various forms of souvenirs and trinkets. There are several of these held throughout Nairobi on various days, many of them only one-day events – although you can find permanent ones, these are not recommend for tourists unless you have a local or guide with you. Depending on what kind of trinkets and souvenirs you’re after, much of what you will come across is tacky but if you delve deep enough into the market you can find some really great stuff from jewellery to household items.
TIPS: I would suggest going with a local or someone who has been to a market before, especially if you are a mzungu (white person)! This is because of the prices and bargaining aspect. Being a tourist you’ll always be charged more than what it is worth. Consider the 3rd rule, what ever you want to buy, only agree to pay a third of what they first ask you! After all you’re in a market, the prices aren’t set so put those bargaining skills to use. Try to take small currency notes with you and avoid having only 1000/= notes, it makes the process of bargaining easier and also looks better, especially if you say you can only pay 500 shillings and give them a 1000 shilling note. At the end of the day, keep in mind that the vendors are trying to run a business and make a living so yes, go all for it when bargaining but not to an extent that they aren’t getting anything out of the sale. Remember, arguing over 100 shillings is the equivalent of arguing over AUS$1.40. Avoid carrying expensive things on you such as jewellery – you’d hate for it to fall off or for someone to try to trade you something for your ring. If you’re planning on spending a long time at the market it is outside and it can get very hot, carry a water bottle with you no matter how used to the heat you are.
There is a famous meat restaurant in Nairobi called Carnivore, which most of the tourists flock to because they’re told that it’s the best, but if you ask me it’s not all that. As someone who lived in Nairobi for 8 years, I ventured to Carnivore only once, but Fogo Gaucho on the other hand, I frequented often! Set up similar to Carnivore, it is pretty much an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse where the guests are treated to an extensive salad and sides’ bar, and a selection of 16 different cuts of meat bought to the table by grill waiters. The restaurant works on the system where you keep eating until you turn over a token on your table – one side is green letting the waiters know to continue bringing you food, while the other is red indicating you require a break or are finished.
TIPS: Go on an empty stomach! There is so much food on offer; you will want to try everything. For those vegetarians out there, just because it is a steakhouse doesn’t mean you can’t attend the experience, many friends I have been here with are vegetarians and they went purely for the salad and sides bar as they argue it is one of the best!