Kenya’s capital has plenty of vibe and urban energy. Indeed, there are more than enough Nairobi highlights to make a Nairobi day trip a great start or end to a safari itinerary. We’d heard such good things that we decided to spend a couple of days there at the end of our Kenyan safari and do a Nairobi day trip, instead of simply seeing its two airports. It turned out to be one of Kenya’s best safari experiences.
Nairobi is reputed to have one of the world’s most pleasant climates, but even more than the weather, we noticed a real buzz about the place, as millions of Kenyans went about the business of making a shilling.
Nairobi has a vital (if slightly frenetic) energy. For this reason, and also to find the best routes between the best Nairobi day trip experiences, we were glad to have a guide to drive us through the sometimes chaotic traffic.
The city contains many cool, shady oases, and our Nairobi day trip began in one of them: the lush garden of our hotel, where we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. We’d debated an earlier start at the Giraffe Centre but opted instead for an afternoon visit there. That meant an extra cup or two of excellent Kenyan coffee before our 10am departure.
Nairobi began life as a cluster of tents – a temporary home to individuals working on the railway line connecting Kenya’s coast to Uganda – and grew to be a safari hub, attracting travellers from around the globe. Fittingly, our Nairobi highlights included the kind of wildlife moments you might not expect in a concrete jungle.
Nairobi is also, of course, home to several million Kenyans, and our drive through the city gave us a sense of what urban life in Kenya is like. It seemed that the entire population was on the move: buying, selling and being late for work.
Kenya’s capital is perhaps the only city in the world that contains a gazetted nature reserve, and Nairobi National Park was our first destination. We were there to visit the elephant orphans being cared for at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
We wanted to learn more about adopting one of the calves, and spending time watching them mud bathe and drinking milk convinced us. It was wonderful to see these elephant (most of whom had been abandoned or orphaned in the wild) getting a second chance in life.
Buoyed by our elephant calf encounter, we headed for our next stop: the Kazuri Beads factory in the suburb of Karen. This part of the city takes its name from its most famous former resident – Blixen’s ‘farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills’ is just around the corner. Since her time, an entire city has grown up around her house, which is now a museum.
Rather than Kenya’s colonial history, we were here to experience the vibrancy of its contemporary culture. The Kazuri ladies (this is a very successful women’s upliftment project) are the Willy Wonkas of the jewellery world: we saw ceramic beads of every imaginable colour and shape being made and strung into irresistible pieces.
Needless to say, we left somewhat more adorned than when we arrived! Meeting the ladies who’d designed and made our friendship bracelets made the entire experience much more fulfilling – our choice of purchase was no coincidence, either.
Sensing that the shopping bug (the only insect we saw during our entire Nairobi day trip) had bitten, our guide next took us to the emporium of African craft and decor items that is the Utamaduni Shops, also in Karen.
The artistry on display was breathtaking, with objets d’art from the entire continent. In many ways, Nairobi is the Rome of Africa: all roads lead there. As I exclaimed in delight at discovery after discovery, my partner drolly commented, ‘We’re going to need a bigger house!’
The shops in this converted Kikuyu house are complemented by a wonderful garden restaurant (our number one tip for enjoying Nairobi highlights would be to always eat al fresco).
Our Nairobi day trip ended where it might have begun, but for that protracted breakfast: at the Giraffe Centre, home to ten Rothschild’s giraffe.
Our entire day had been wonderful, but meeting and feeding Daisy IV, a giraffe born at the centre, was head and shoulders above our other experiences. Armed with more tall tales of perfectly mascaraed lashes and tongues that go on for miles and miles, we reluctantly left her and her friends for the return trip to our own sanctuary in the city.
We were back at our hotel by 3.30pm, in good time to miss the traffic. In Nairobi, perhaps more so than in any other metropolis, the term ‘rush hour’ is a complete misnomer. We were happy to do our own slowing down over afternoon tea beneath the bougainvillea.