There was a famous movie made during the 1980s – starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford – that romanticised the life of a young woman living in the wilds of Africa. Out of Africa was based on the autobiography of Karen Blixen and how she lived in a rural house near Nairobi, Kenya in the early 1900s. The area is now a leafy suburb (aptly called Karen) on the outskirts of a now sprawling Nairobi city.
The neighborhood of Karen is the best way to start your weekend in Nairobi, the area is a microcosm of Kenya in many ways, where old meets new, where expats work alongside locals, and where the wilds of Africa can be sensed even on the outskirts of this major city.
We suggest touring the “Karen Blixen Museum”, followed by a refined afternoon tea in the lush gardens around the house. Quaint interiors and a lot of memorabilia goes a long way in transporting visitors back to the past.
The Giraffe Centre
Not far from the museum is a wonderful sanctuary dedicated to protecting the Rothschild Giraffe. When you first arrive at the centre, the incredibly knowledgeable staff give an in-depth presentation on the species and the history of the sanctuary itself.
A beautiful touch here is the hundreds of pictures that cover the walls. Each of these drawings were made by local school children and they are also for sale, meaning you can take a genuinely unique souvenir home with you while donating money to a local school in the process.
Another highlight, is the observation deck where you can to get up close and personal with the Rothschild Giraffe whilst feeding them. A great photo op and as good a time as any, to kiss your first giraffe.
The Giraffe Centre is open 9am-5.30pm daily; entrance fee of 1000 Kenyan shillings applies. There’s a small outdoor coffee shop with delicious cakes and an excellent curio shop near the exit.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
A fascinating history lies behind the name above the gate of this elephant orphanage. David Sheldrick was born in Egypt in the early 20th century, and moved to Kenya as a child, where his father developed a coffee farm. Sheldrick then served as a Major during World War II and was the founding warden of Tsavo, the biggest National Park in Kenya.
His wife set up this wonderful charity in memory of her husband’s life-long protection of African wildlife when he passed away. The trust helps to protect and provide care for baby elephants when they are not able to survive in the wilderness alone. Today, the trust is funded entirely by donations and amazingly, they’ve also increased their efforts in recent years towards protecting the endangered rhino.
There’s a beautiful experience to be had each morning when the trust invites visitors to join them at feeding time. One by one, baby elephants join their bigger brothers and sisters, as the park wardens provide the food. You can expect a magical experience while the elephants play with their keepers, all the while attempting to explain everything about each individual character.
You can foster a elephant, you can leave a donation, you can learn everything possible about this wonderful animal – but one thing is for sure, you will leave the David Sheldrick Trust with a smile on your face.
Feeding time at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is at 11am, but it’s recommended you arrive early at 10.30am.
Nairobi National Park
It would be a shame not to see wildlife trekking across open landscapes on a visit to Kenya, and Nairobi National Park is the perfect opportunity to see it in person. The park is located just on the outskirts of Nairobi, which means it’s a short drive away but the wild and beautiful sights and sounds make it a whole world away from the city.
It is possible to rent a car and self-drive your way but hiring a driver or taking a tour is more beneficial since the locals know everything about the environment. The driver or guide will be able to explain the park, the animals, and African culture in general; they’ll also take you to the best locations for spotting lions or hyenas.
The park is large so as to accommodate the 100 species of mammals and 400 species of bird who occupy the space. All the “Big Five” – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, and buffalo – are all lurking somewhere beyond the horizon.
A tour of Nairobi National Park will take three to four hours, depending on what you find. Regardless of what you come across that day though, this is one of the true African experiences you will not want to miss out on.
Nairobi National Park is open 9am – 5pm daily. Entrance fees of US$30 per adult and 200 Kenyan shillings per vehicle applies.
Other honorable mentions for day excursions in Nairobi include exploring the Kibera township and the Kazuri beads factory, which helps single mothers find employment.
Best place to eat in Nairobi
When you visit Nairobi for the first time, it’s easy to be influenced by much of the online negativity surrounding the city. However, most of this information is more of a means to gain readership than tell the true story. For anyone who ventures outside the confines of their hotel in the evening, there are many wonderful places to eat and social bars in which to find some entertainment.
There are not many restaurants in a major city around Africa who can dominate the food scene in the way that Talisman has done for the past two decades. In fact, the restaurant has a monthly foodie event. It’s also a haven for art lovers, as exhibitions takes place on the grounds recently.
The enchanting interior of Talisman is a nice mix between both contemporary and traditional design with a huge number of local crafts on display. Food-wise, expect a fusion of food from the coasts of Tanzania all the way to the heart of Asia. Try the Feta and Coriander Samosa and you’ll realise why this restaurant should be at the top of anyone’s list.
Best place to drink in Nairobi
The nightlife in Nairobi is one of the most colorful scenes in East Africa. The upscale rooftop bar in the Tribe Hotel manages to be a chill out spot, while Havana Bar offers an interesting mix of locals and expats in a Latin atmosphere.
One bar you can’t miss is Gipsy Bar. This place has such a great atmosphere on weekends in particular and the crowd is always a mix between young and old, local and tourists. Whether you want to mingle with locals, have a few social drinks with a friend, catch a game of television or dance the night away, the Gypsy bar is the perfect spot to cater for everyone’s interests.
As far as nightclubs go, there are more hardcore places to visit such as Black Diamond and Club Cubano, but everything considered there should be enough in Gypsy bar to hold your interest for the entire evening.
So what are your favourite places in Nairobi? Let us know in the comments.
Hero image courtesy of Ninara.