2 Days in Nairobi: How to Make the Most of a Short, Pre-Safari Stopover

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Innovative
BLACK 😍

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Nairobi was cool, man. This was the first stop in my first ever trip to the Motherland.

I think Nairobi, Kenya is a great bridge between the American world I’m used to, and the unmatched hustle and bustle that I’m told exists in all the big cities on the continent. Friends who’ve traveled more extensively through Africa say Nairobi is a great middle-ground to try before visiting, say, Lagos, Nigeria or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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A very partial view of the skyline from our balcony

Nairobi was a little hectic for sure, but having spent lots of time in Bangkok I didn’t feel completely out of sorts. The city is definitely unlike anything stateside, though!

Note that this guide is more useful for a short trip or pre-safari stopover than a true vacation in Nairobi. You might do better getting an Airbnb in the latter case, staying in a residential area and venturing downtown only when necessary. But we stayed downtown to maximize our 2 days, arriving Saturday afternoon and leaving Monday morning.


Logistics

Flights: 

Americans need a visa to visit Kenya, which costs $50. You can purchase a visa on arrival at customs, or pre-arrange it online using Kenya’s Official eVisa system. The Visa on Arrival line actually moved faster than the eVisa line, so I’d recommend skipping the online process altogether. Bring cash!

Hotel recommendations:

I plan obsessively for my trips and screen pics and reviews on TripAdvisor like a private investigator, so you can trust my recs! Lol.

Where we stayed: The Intercontinental, Nairobi

      • We landed on the Intercontinental because it was well-located for touristy things (the National Museum, Maasai Market, etc.), and it included breakfast. It was also one of the few hotels that let us pre-select a preference for two twin beds online.

        I was pleased with the choice! The staff was amazing, the food was good, and this wasn’t the priciest hotel on the list that we could’ve gone with…the room was just over $100/night. 

Alternate options that held up to my rigorous research lol:

Getting around:

Skip a rental. Periodt. Download Uber or Bolt (formerly Taxify).

Whatever you do, don’t rent a car in Nairobi! The driving is not like anything we’re used to as Americans, and I thanked God many times that I wasn’t the one behind the wheel. 🙂

The easiest way to get around in Nairobi is just like here at home — rideshare apps! We used Kenya’s Bolt app and Uber on our phones, connecting to WiFi to call our rides whenever possible and using my international plan to do so while out and about.

Which reminds me: something to keep in mind and budget for is either paying for an international plan, or buying a SIM card when you land in Kenya. Unlike in some destinations, I wouldn’t have felt quite comfortable relying solely on WiFi.  

Anyway, prices for Uber/Bolt rides are insanely low…I don’t think we ever paid more than $7 for a ride, including one that took us an hour out of downtown. The exchange rate is your friend! Both apps give you the choice of paying the driver in cash or by card in-app. 


Ok, now the good stuff! Here’s what we did to fill 2 solid days in Nairobi.

Day 1:

We arrived at the hotel in the evening, after 36 hours of travel and close to 2 hours of traffic from the airport. Thus, it would’ve been perfectly understandable to keep it light, just go to dinner, and maybe get a massage at the hotel. That’s what I recommend for the sane among us. 

We, however, grabbed a quick bite at the hotel before venturing out into town so I could get my hair done lol. We were gonna see about these Nairobi clubs on a Friday night. 😉

Pro Tip: Ladies. My Black queens. I know us, and I know our favorite thing to do before vacation is to get that hair braided.

Don’t do it! For the $100+ you’d spend on a basic set of cornrows stateside, you can get a full suite of hair and body services in Nairobi. And you won’t have to run all around town to do it!

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The hotel concierge recommended someplace a 5-minute drive away called Signature Moments. It turned out to be a one-stop-shop for all things hair, nails, waxing, and even massage. I need us to copy this ASAP back home! 

I got my hair braided and a gel manicure, for $30. Life-changing. 

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After about 2.5 hours in the salon (they’re also QUICK), we headed back to the hotel to get ready for a night out. 

We ended up at The Space Lounge, which was cool!  Surprisingly tame…I guess, being in Africa, I naively expected it to be the ultimate afrobeats-dancehall experience lol. But it was actually more reminiscent of LA, with well-dressed folks getting bottles for their table and dancing with their friends. A fun experience overall though! And another super cheap cab.

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And super cheap drinks!

Other nightlife recommendations we were given: K1 Klubhouse, Kiza Lounge, Choices, and New Club Hypnotica.


Day 2:

Morning

One thing we didn’t do that’s worth mentioning here is Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust. It’s open for only 1 hour a day, from 11am-12pm (which is exactly why we didn’t go LOL).

See the website FAQs for more information about this public elephant viewing, and plan to get in line around 10:30am just to be safe. This excursion makes sense to do on the same day as the Giraffe Centre, since they’re both a while out of downtown Nairobi but only 10 minutes apart. 

While we chose sleep after the clurb and did not make it 🙂 I’m told the Sheldrick Orphanage is an awesome experience. This blog gives a great overview of the experience, though, if you want to decide for yourself! Note that admission is cash only, so come prepared.

We did, however, make it to the Giraffe Centre, and it was  a w e s o m e ! Very worth the drive in my opinion, even though we only stayed for about an hour.

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We arrived at 11:30am to no lines, just beating what turned out to be a busy lunchtime rush. The entry fee converts to ~$15, payable by debit or credit.

If you’re coming with kids you could easily stay longer than an hour…all the little ones I saw were very entertained! 🙂

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Otherwise, this place is great for photo opps, a few feedings, and maybe a cup of coffee or a snack on the patio. There are also employees available to give a brief conservation presentation if you’re interested. 

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If you have time to kill, check out the nature trail across the road! We did the short loop (~10 minutes) and enjoyed the signs pointing out different plants/herbs and their uses. There’s admittedly not much to it, but it was a nice little something to do while we waited for our ride back to downtown Nairobi. 

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This would be a great time for lunch at Talisman Restaurant. While I didn’t make it myself, this swanky restaurant came highly recommended and is just 5 miles away from the Giraffe Centre. Check out their hours, menus, and reviews.

Afternoon

After returning from the Giraffe Centre, we walked from the hotel to the Maasai Market, the city’s famous pop-up market that happened to be just a few blocks away from us that day. 

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I have mixed feelings about the Maasai Market and recommend the experience with hesitation…

It’s an unforgettable experience, and I’m glad I went in hindsight. But it is hectic, a little anxiety-inducing, and a definite tourist trap at the end of the day. You will 100% see the exact same items at every market you visit, in Kenya and even beyond.

Still, it’s unlike anything you’ll experience here in the States! I will say I enjoyed chatting with the super-friendly vendors (in between them trying to sell me way-overpriced goods…) and taking in the beauty of all the art.

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It was awesome seeing so many women running their own shops!

But just know, it’s not for the faint of heart! Older folks and young children may not do too well amidst all the chaos and heat. 

Honestly, my biggest recommendation would be to go with no intention of purchasing anything. Ideally, have little to no cash on you–and be able to show it lol!

Once it’s clear you won’t (better yet, can’t) buy anything, you should be left alone to enjoy the market. But if you have any cash at all, know that you will be flanked by at least 2 people at all times hoping to get you to buy. 

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Overall, I say it’s worth a visit if you’re brave and strategic. 😉 Going once is more than good enough for me.

Evening

After this experience, we indulged in a now-much-needed massage at the hotel. For 4200 shillings (~$42), you can get a 1 hour aromatherapy massage in a private, relaxing room onsite. And let me tell you, two hours isn’t a bad idea–the masseuses were magic!

At this point, you can venture back out for dinner if you’re game. We, on the other hand, were exhausted and needed to pack for our safari the next morning. We once again had dinner at the hotel before winding down for bed.  

Pro tip: After returning from safari, we had one more night in Nairobi before catching a morning flight to Zanzibar. Instead of staying downtown that last night, we stayed near the airport at the Hilton Garden Inn…no need to be downtown (and deal with the accompanying traffic) if you aren’t exploring it. 🙂 We caught the free shuttle to the airport from the hotel early that morning, and were glad for it. 


Other recommendations:

  • Nairobi National Park – if you don’t have a safari planned, I’m told you can see most of the animals you’re probably hoping to see right there in Nairobi National Park! It’s close to the city center, so it doesn’t require too much special planning. Morning and evening game drives are recommended for taking in the most animal activity.
  • Nairobi National Museum – we meant to go, but never made it! It was super close to the hotel, so consider it another easy thing to tack on if time allows.
  • Karura Forest – apparently a great place to exercise while also getting your nature fix. They have a brunch place on site (River Cafe) that comes highly recommended.
  • Nairobi Railway Museum – I’m no more interested in trains than the next person lol, but multiple people brought this up as a great and historically important museum. It’s a little ways out from downtown, in the direction of the airport.
  • Sundown drinks at a rooftop bar like those at the Sankara or Tribe Hotels.

And those are my tips for keeping busy on a short stay in Nairobi! I will definitely be back.

Let me know if I missed anything, or if you’d add anything based on your own trip! 

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(photos by me)

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