When, on our journey to Zimbabwe, my boyfriend Greg and I were presented with the choice of spending 21-hours inside the confines of airplanes and airports or taking a break to explore Nairobi, a.k.a. the world’s ‘Wildlife Capital’, there wasn’t much deliberation. As the second largest city in East Africa, Nairobi is a bustling metropolis, but with just 12-hours to explore the city before our next departure our timeline is tight. Faith blooms from the idea that with the right local guide it’s more than possible to get an authentic and revealing experience out of an extremely brief stay.
Catching a ride
After some negotiation on price, Moses, one of the many taxi drivers who wait outside of the capital’s airport, agrees to be the guy for the job for 7,000KES (around £65). In his dusty beige sedan, he’ll be taking us to two of the many animal refuges dotted along the outskirts of Nairobi National Park before we head to the city’s center.
Nairobi Animal Orphanage
Our early 8 am arrival makes us the orphanage’s second group of visitors for the day giving us the opportunity for a somewhat private tour. Behind metal fences, crested cranes perch on bare tree branches, the golden crown feathers on their head glowing in the light like halos. In other enclosures lions lie sleepily, paying little attention to our presence. What’s most impressive about the park is a number of lions they have here, possibly outnumbering the quantity of all the other species combined, Helen tells us ‘lions in Kenya are plenty’.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Our next destination is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Here, between the hours of eleven and twelve, doting keepers dressed in jungle green overcoats and sun-bleached safari hats play parent to the youngest of the 39-orphaned elephants that have been rescued and taken in by the organization’s nursery.
Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick founded the Trust in 1977 in commemoration of her late husband David. It draws visitors from across the globe due to its recognition as the world’s most successful rescue and rehabilitation program for orphaned elephants.
The city center
The drive to Nairobi’s center is surprisingly fast and we arrive while the streets are still vibrant with life. Here, modern afro-beat songs boom from parked cars and busy stores. The music brings a rhythm to what can best be described as a carnival of chaos — unbelievably there appeared to be more order in the National Park that on the center’s congested asphalt pavements, cracked from the blistering heat of the blazing African sun. The relieving breeze brings with it wafts of grilled chicken from the take-out stores that line the streets and in the roads, lofty palm trees appear to be the only efficient tool in dictating the direction of the traffic. Among it all, brightly colored matatu buses, graphitized with the faces of the likes of Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, and Ciara, weave impulsively between each other.
Before we leave for our next stop, Nakuru, we begin to think about where to eat. But first, we bid farewell to Moses, had we not had him we’d have no idea how to navigate the busy city.
How we traveled: We flew into Nairobi from Hong Kong via Kenya Airlines and arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at around 7 am. Once in the city, we hired Moses, our taxi driver, directly from outside of the airport’s arrivals hall.
What we did: We visited the Nairobi Animal Orphanage (25 USD entry per person) and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (7 USD entry per person)
Where we ate: We ate breakfast on the plane and stopped off at a petrol station for snacks while traveling between the parks. When in the city center we ate at one of the many local restaurants located near the Accra Road matatu stage. Prices range between 2-6 USD.
Where we stayed: While we didn’t stay in Nairobi on the day described above, we spent one night in the city on our way to Zimbabwe and stayed in an AirBnB with an amazing host.
Tips & Tricks: Many of the animal parks and other vendors charge in USD while local shops and restaurants charge in KES so I recommend bringing funds in both currencies.