What to do in Nairobi? There’s a lot! Many people skip through this city as a passthrough to get to their next destination. It has a bad reputation due to reports of high crime and government corruption. And of course, there was the mass mall shooting in 2013 by an extreme Islamic Group in response to Kenya’s help to Somalia during their civil war.
One thing that was very obvious was the high security in every public place (as a result). It seems Kenya is trying to protect its tourist industry. I felt safe.
If you plan a safari trip in Kenya, you will likely fly into Nairobi. My family arrived in Nairobi to meet me at the end of my 8 day mission work with kids in Kenya. We spent 2 nights and 1 full day in the city before heading out on our safari vacation. We also spent a day in Nairobi at the end of our safari trip.
I think at least 2 full days and 3 consecutive nights (first night is arriving and going straight to bed) is necessary to spend in this unique city to get a sense of the local culture.
Where We Stayed
Located in a neighborhood called Karen, this small boutique hotel was the perfect start of our vacation in Kenya.
This hotel is a converted mansion with 11 rooms. We loved the serenity of the grounds and the luxurious feel of the rooms.
The pool area has a nice sitting area to spend time outdoors.
We loved how each room has it’s own decor theme and charm. They are spacious and comfortable.
It is very unique and special to have a hotel with this size grounds in the middle of the city.
The service at this hotel was five star. We very much enjoyed the team at House of Waine. Next time we visit Nairobi, we will stay here again!
Other Hotels I Visited in Nairobi
I am surprised to see the following hotels ranked higher than House of Waine on Trip Advisor.
Tribe Hotel: When I first arrived in Nairobi before working with Matanya’s Hope, I stayed here for 2 nights. It felt 3 star to me. Nothing special, but clean and seems to be a good location for business travelers. It is located near the US Embassy and seemed to have many business guests while I was there (during elections). This hotel is next to the Village Market which is popular for shopping.
Ole Sereni: We stayed at this hotel for about 3 hours at the end of our safari trip. It is close to the airport. From the outside, it looks like a tall rectangular high security, kind of ugly building. But inside, it is lavish and bustling with guests and business. It reminded me of a small Vegas hotel on the inside.
Nairobi Serena Hotel: I visited here for dinner and a massage. It is in the center of the city center so it seemed convenient. I liked the spa but the hotel restaurant was a 3 star level in food and service. It is a large hotel and somewhat impersonal.
What We Did
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya is one of the most successful rescue and rehabilitation centers for orphaned elephants in the world.
They have a 1 hour window each day where they allow 200 visitors in to watch the feeding of the babies. Baby elephants depend on milk for two years. Eventually, the orphans are introduced back into the wild.
When a baby elephant is rescued, it usually means that their mother and father have been killed. Generally, the parents are killed for their ivory by poachers.
This is one of the most popular spots to visit as a tourist. It is a must to visit during their 1 hour/day feeding time.
The have information on each elephant’s story and how they were rescued.
Really sweet to watch them play.
We visited the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi whose main program is the breeding of the endangered Rothschild Giraffe.
The calves are nurtured and then released into the wild at two to three-years-old when they are independent enough to survive. So far the center has released more than 40 giraffes into safe game parks and conservancies across the country.
Warthogs on the side of the road by the Giraffe Center get fed Giraffe pellets.
Did you know giraffe tongues are medicinal and sanitary? Acacia trees are what giraffes mostly feed on. The leaves, bark, roots are used to produce medicine in Kenya.
We loved how close we could get to the giraffes!
Utamaduni Craft Centre
This shopping building is comprised of about 18 shops with fixed pricing. It carries higher-end African arts and crafts, mostly for tourists. We found a few unique items here which we’re happy we purchased. But the pricing was much higher than can be found at the street markets. We did not have time to visit a Maasai Market which is where we wanted to go.
What I Recommend
Along with the above sites we enjoyed, I recommend the following:
As part of the mission work I did with Matanya’s Hope, I visited a school in one of the largest slums in the world, Kibera. I wish we had more time to take my family through this area of Nairobi and to have them visit the school.
I recommend families who visit Nairobi to take a guided tour through Kibera with a local. It is an eye opening and educational experience.
Airlines allow each traveler to bring 2 50lb suitcases. Most bring much less due to safari weight restrictions. Why not use the excess baggage allowance to bring gently used clothing, shoes and school supplies for children in Kenya? This would be a much appreciated donation for a school in Kibera.
Watch this 3 minute video of my visit to a school in Kibera. These are some of the most needy kids in the world.
Visit a Maasai Market
Nairobi has the most Maasai markets in the country. The Maasai market runs from Tuesday to Sunday, in different parts of the city. The most popular market days are Saturday and Sunday, when the traders operate from the High Court Parking lot in the city centre.
Remember to be cautious and bargain well! Prices are offered at about 10 times what they will generally accept.
What I Don’t Recommend
I am shocked this restaurant is rated 9 of 514 on Trip Advisor! It is a 100% tourist destination where the servers bring plates of various all-you-can-eat meat to your table. Chicken, pork, lamb, beef, crocodile, rabbit, and even ox balls are offered. Looking at all the meat made me want to become a vegetarian! Ugh. You know when you look around and see 0 locals, something is off.
Souvenir Shops Suggested by Tour Guides
The one-building shops filled with souvenirs near tourist areas mark their prices 10-20 times what the items are worth. Many times the tour guide is paid a commission for bringing tourists to the shops. In my opinion, these shops do not negotiate to fair prices and should be avoided! I don’t mind supporting businesses, but I don’t like to be taken advantage of just because I am a Westerner.
Here is a 4 minute video which highlights our time in Nairobi! A very good cultural experience.