Facts about Nairobi
The capital of Kenya is located 5,889 ft above sea level. Not enough to give you a constant headache, but enough to make the weather this close to the equator more bearable and the gym a rough test of endurance.
While Kenya has just $1,300 in GDP per capita, many districts such as Westlands make it look more like a middle-income country.
Somewhat surprisingly, Kenya isn’t cheap – most options that you might enjoy as a tourist are priced like in a major US metro area or even above that.
Let’s face it – Nairobi is short on many public services such as electricity, roads and, most importantly, public safety. While crime statistics have shown that it has gotten safer year after year, walking around after dark is simply not an option.
Many areas (including the CBD) feel ‘shaky’ to say the least, even during the day. It’s not as eerily quiet as Bogota – there are always people around – but I felt constantly watched and noticed when outside. This might be curiosity, but the barbed wire and many security precautions the locals take speak otherwise. While terrorism won’t be a major risk factor, sadly the lackadaisical approach to public safety in Kenya does make things easier for terrorists.
Stay in a car or inside after dark and avoid the more shady neighborhoods during the day. If you follow these simple rules, you should be perfectly fine.
There seem to be much fewer scams and less people approaching you during the day and night compared to other African cities. Besides the safety concerns, I felt the manic traffic and resulting pollution was the main hindrance to enjoying the city more. There is Uber, but 2 miles in this constantly gridlocked city can easily take one hour or more. Going from the airport to the Westlands area (less than 10 miles) took 3.5 hours during rush hour.
Now with these ‘wise’ words, here are my TOP 10 Things To Do in Nairobi.
This is a medium-sized museum with a couple of good exhibitions. It tells the story of the cradle of humankind that happened in Kenya and Ethiopia and runs you through Kenya’s process of independence. It’s good stuff, but foreigners pay $14 for the pleasure – that’s way too much!
The Central Business District (CBD) lets you see Nairobi in a nutshell. There is traffic, there are markets, offices and lots of places for lunch. Take an hour and stroll through the area during the day.
This mosque is over 100 years old and jam-packed into the busy streets of Nairobi’s CBD. Ask the security staff about the free tours. If you visit on a Friday, you can see the crowds descending for Friday Prayer – apparently there are up to 50,000 people that pray, even on the streets.
This place is my favorite downtown eating place and coffee shop. There is a varying menu of the day with delicious fish or chicken tandoori. The coffee is delicious and cheap (for Kenya, that is).
Unfortunately, though, no pictures are allowed here!
On a weekend, Nairobians come together in these city parks. They are surprisingly well-maintained and make for a nice stroll. Again, don’t overstay your welcome and leave before sunset!
Kenya has a huge Indian and Pakistani diaspora and Hashmi feeds them all over the weekend with fantastic barbecued meats.
Artcaffe has a number of locations across town – by far my favorite is the location at the Oval. It has a great patio overlooking the Westlands area and serves delicious food, coffee and alcohol. The WiFi is fast as well, so it was hard for me to leave!
The Nairobi Westgate Mall suffered from a devastating attack in fall 2013, with 67 people murdered and 150+ wounded. The mall was looted after the incident and never re-opened. The building is still there, however, and a stark reminder of those dark 4 days.
Nairobi National Park
In Nairobi, you can actually go on a ‘safari’ without leaving the city proper! This park is located just outside the city and can be reached in 30 minutes or less (go very early to avoid traffic and you can see more animals at sunrise).
You either need to join a tour or you can use your own vehicle if you are brave enough to drive in Nairobi. The entrance fees for foreigners are steep and all-inclusive day tours cost about $150.
With some luck, you can see all the major animals that the Maasai Mara has to offer as well. And you can do it on a long layover!
Explore the Westlands area
The Westlands commercial area and the residential areas west of it are as pretty as it gets; lush green vegetation and a more civilized lifestyle. It looks like a tropical version of a well-off London suburb, but with more barbed wire.