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Kenya Travel Guide

Safari Visitors Often Skip This Crucial Step

Nairobi is more than just a gateway to the Masai Mara—it’s worth a full stop.

In Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, “hakuna matata” is more than a catchphrase—it’s a state of mind. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or planning to visit Nairobi for the first time, this city will captivate you. Here you will find street vendors among skyscrapers and fine dining restaurants featuring street food. The cosmopolitan city boasts contemporary culture with infusions of tradition. Given its significance on the continent, an immersive tour of the city can give visitors a taste of the greater culture.

Here are 13 tips that can create an immersive cultural experience when visiting Nairobi.


Take a Walking Tour

A Nairobi city walking tour presents an exhaustive and exhilarating adventure in equal measures, where visitors can marvel at the city’s skyscrapers and chat with welcoming people. Unmissable sites at the city center include the August 7th Memorial Park, the Kenya National Archives, the KICC, a 28-story building providing a bird’s eye view of the entire city, and the nearby Nairobi National Museum with the Snake Park next door. One can spot monuments of Kenya’s heroes and influential figures along the city streets, like the Dedan Kimathi and Tom Mboya Monuments. Other hit spots outside the city center include the Bomas of Kenya, the Giraffe Center (here, visitors get to interact up close with the giraffes and feed them), and the Nairobi (Sheldrick) Elephant Orphanage, a rehabilitation center for orphaned elephants.

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INSIDER TIPVisitors must book in advance as visitation to the elephant orphanage is limited to specific hours of the day.

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Enjoy the Cuisine

Nairobi residents take great pride in their food, and visitors should try at least the staples. The Carnivore Restaurant Nairobi is famed as the ultimate beast of a feast with mouthwatering Nyama Choma, Swahili for grilled goat meat, a common staple in Nairobi. This meal is enjoyed with ugali, a type of corn meal, salsa, and a beer to wash it down. Street foods like mutura, grilled potatoes, samosas, and eggs are real treats along the city streets. This city also has modern restaurants that incorporate Kenyan culture. For burger lovers, don’t miss Mama Rocks and try their Kuku Republic burger. Jiko Restaurant at the Tribe epitomizes organic local dishes with a curated seasonal menu. Although traditional vegetables are generally available all year round, mid and end year are great times to visit the restaurant as traditional vegetables are guaranteed to be in season.

Use Public Transport

Public service vehicles are commonly referred to as matatu (minibuses and buses) in Swahili. Transport in Nairobi is vibrant; the vehicles blast loud music and boast colorful graffiti. While rides can often feel like a chaotic video game, there is order, and the crew is in pursuit of a daily target. The fare from the city center to various city neighborhoods averages around $1 during peak hours and less than a dollar during off-peak hours. The bus conductors often collect fare by hand, so don’t be alarmed by the hand signals used to inform passengers to pass along their fare.

Alternatively, there is a train though it only operates in a few city neighborhoods. The city is easily navigable by public transport as parking can sometimes be a challenge to private and personal cars. The public transport system in Nairobi is a bit of organized chaos, especially in navigating unpredictable traffic. Thanks to the Nairobi Expressway, the tolled highspeed highway allows motorists to evade traffic at a fee.

INSIDER TIPTraffic jams can be long and hectic, especially during peak hours.

Attend a City Festival

Beautiful people, pomp, and color describe the nature of festivals in this bustling city. Events in the city are a one-stop shop for delicious food, great music, and welcoming people, and you need to polish your dance moves. The Nairobi Festival is a fun-filled six-day fair that captures the true essence of the pop culture of Nairobi. This annual festival is held in December at Uhuru Park, and it provides a great way to experience the city, culture, and people all in one place. Blankets and Wine is another grand festival held on the first Sunday of every quarter and the last Sunday before Christmas, showcasing music, food, and fashion. This picnic-style festival is family-friendly, and one has to purchase tickets in advance to attend at the select venues within the city.

Scott Woodham Photography/Shutterstock

Go off the Beaten Path

Hidden alleys, backstreets, and less popular locations that are not mainstream to tourists provide unique experiences. While just one day is not enough to fully explore this city, you can engage in a few excursions to learn the personality of a Nairobian. Get breakfast at the Swahili Plate, where you can get authentic Kenyan food. Try their mbaazi combo that comes with lentil stew, spiced donuts, and tea; this will cost you $3.50. For lunch, visit Mama Oliech Restaurant to get a taste of fish servings that have been sampled by global celebrities. The Roadhouse Grill is another place to be in one of Nairobi’s lush and well-to-do neighborhoods. To get there, take an Uber or Bolt. It is not the typical fun-filled weekend hangout vibe; here, you get to meet the business people living it up during their work day.

Learn Common Swahili Phrases

Swahili is the most common language in Nairobi, and the majority of the people converse in it. However, different neighbors in Nairobi have different languages only known/spoken by its residents, popularly known as sheng. Learning common words like greetings (sasa, mambo, or jambo), and saying thank you (asante), can be great conversation starters when talking to strangers or having small talk in a queue or at the bar. It goes a long way in learning a few insights and recommendations for unique experiences.

Volunteer With Wildlife

There are numerous avenues for volunteering ranging from wildlife management to conservation. African Impact provides a variety of volunteer projects in Kenya, ranging from wildlife research and conservation to environmental sustainability. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and AFEW also offer volunteer opportunities for visitors to engage in animal conservation and make donations to support the organization’s conservation efforts.

Get a Safaricom Sim

Talk about convenience! Forget the hustle of disrupting your perfect itinerary to make a bank run to get cash. Visitors can find the Safaricom sim in different Safaricom and Safaricom authorized mobile shops within the city for $1. It provides access to a mobile money service that can be linked to Kenyan banks and allows transactions between individual mobile and business accounts. The mobile money service known as M-pesa has eased the convenience of transactions. Most businesses have embraced cashless transactions.


Visit Green Spaces

Travelers often underrate the green spaces in Nairobi, away from the honking horns and the loud chatter of the streets. Uhuru Park and John Michuki Memorial Park are within the city center and offer serene environments for relaxing. These spaces are family-friendly as one can visit with children. Outside the city center, you’ve got Karura Forest and the Ngong Hills, where one can enjoy biking and hiking while listening to the beautiful sounds of nature. The Nairobi Arboretum is the city’s green paradise for birding, sighting animal species like the Vervet monkeys, and studying different indigenous and exotic plants. Visitors can enjoy quiet walks and attend festivals organized by The Friends of Nairobi Arboretum at the Arboretum. Finally, the Nairobi National Park is not one to miss; it is the world’s wildlife capital, where you can enjoy a safari with the city skyscrapers providing a beautiful backdrop. The entrance to the park varies according to nationality and age; $43 for non-resident adults and $22 for non-resident children.

INSIDER TIPGreen spaces within the city only accept cashless payment.

Tour the City’s Markets

This is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Nairobi. The Maasai Market is one of the most traditional markets in Nairobi, displaying the Maasai culture in all its glory. The pop-up market is accessible at different locations in the city on different days of the week. Visitors can buy African antiques at the market like beaded jewelry, paintings, sculptures, and woven baskets commonly referred to as kiondo. Muthurwa and the City Market be a bit of a sensory overload but in a good way. These markets can get chaotic, but they are your best shot at getting groceries, clothing, and other household items at pocket-friendly prices. And the haggling! It is a talent, which can be intimidating if one is not used to it. It is all part of the experience.

Stay at the City Hotels

There are a wide range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly to luxury hotels. Sarova Stanley, Savora Panafric, Nairobi Serena Hotel, where a night’s stay averagely costs $200–these luxury hotels also offer airport transfers to ease the convenience of transport to and from the airport. Visitors can also enjoy their stay at Villa Rosa Kempinski, located outside the city center, and get a taste of their limousine service for airport transfers. The hotels provide visitors with different amenities and facilities like swimming and gyms. If you desire a home experience, you can book an Airbnb from the app and get the home away from home experience.

Explore the Exuberant Nairobi Nightlife

After-dark escapades and good music help when you need to let your hair down. Club settings with different music genres are unimaginable in this city. Most bars are concentrated in Westlands, Nairobi’s most affluent neighborhoods. The Alchemist is the place for you if you are into open-air movies and open-mic events. The Brew Bistro Rooftop brings a whole new definition to nightlife–part micro-brewery, part gastro club, part nightclub, this bar is for the connoisseur of craft beer.

Alcohol is gererally reasonably priced, and different joints have a variety of drinks to choose from, be it beer, wine, or whiskey. Tipping is customary; depending on the service quality, anything between 10-15% of your bill is acceptable. The dress code mainly depends on your hangout sport—bars and pubs are usually casual, while hotel bars and nightclubs tend to be fancier.

Take Advantage of Warm Weather

Nairobi’s weather is beautiful, warm, and sunny throughout the year. However, there are long rains between March and May and short rains between October and December. The weather may vary between different locations in the city, so check the forecast before planning any major outdoor activities

fouDor May 10, 2023

Any chance you might include description or title to the photos you enclose? Boggles my mind why a publication dedicated to travel information skips such an important step.

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Jackie May 10, 2023

I was in Nairobi in late March for a safari.  Arriving at our airport hotel, we were met with guards and a bomb sniffing dog.  As much as these picks sound like fun be aware of safety issues. Based on travel advisories regarding threats to tourists, we opted not to leaave the hotel.