Long considered a launch pad into Kenya’s safari regions or a mere stopover en route to other African nations, Nairobi is finally being recognised as a destination in its own right. This pulsing African city, with its lingering colonial flavour, offers fantastic shopping and dining options, colonial-style stays, and abundant wildlife within the city limits. Its reputation when it comes to crime can’t be totally ignored, but if you avoid wandering in the small hours and keep your wits about you, you will probably be surprised just how relaxed you feel in the city.
Karen Blixen, the Danish baroness who wrote the novel Out of Africa, lived in Kenya from 1914 to 1931. Her lovely home in Karen, the suburb named after her, is now a museum where you can peruse her furniture, clothing, art and books, as well as bits and pieces used for the film. Visit the nearby Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, set in a beautiful historic home and its surrounding gardens, afterwards for lunch and a dawa, Kenya’s national cocktail made of vodka, honey and lime.
If you want to meet the who’s who of Nairobi, spend an evening at Talisman restaurant. An indoor outdoor space with exotic interiors including carved Pakistani pillars and antique stained glass, it’s the place to see and be seen. The menu is deliciously fresh (they have their own organic farm), including tasty curries and an excellent Zanzibari fish soup, the atmosphere is vibrant and, if you stick around, later there’ll be dancing. See thetalismanrestaurant.com
You’ve got to stay alert at Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre: get too close to the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes and they’ll lick you on the face, so make sure to grab a handful of peanut pellets for them to snack on instead. For full giraffe immersion, spend a night next door at Giraffe Manor, a colonial-era home turned high-end hotel where giraffes poke their heads into the windows to graze off guest’s plates. See giraffecenter.org
Kazuri Beads is a remarkable social enterprise that has, since it started in 1975, employed hundreds of disadvantaged women to make beautiful coloured beads and pottery. You can buy these, of course, but the highlight is getting a tour of the workshops where the pottery is hand-rolled and fired, and hearing the uplifting stories of the workers whose lives have been improved by this business. Other shops worth visiting are Kitengela Glass for stylish blown glassware, and Utamaduni where 18 shops sell tribal-style fabrics, jewellery, masks and more inside a converted traditional Kikuyu house. See kazuri.com
Set within 2.5 acres of tropical gardens, House of Waine is a family-owned and run colonial-style villa, and a peaceful escape from downtown Nairobi. There’s a large pool to lay by, a lovely lounge room with an open fireplace, and each of the 11 rooms are decorated differently, all with freestanding tubs. See houseofwaine.com
Nairobi is the only city in the world with a safari park set right in the middle of it. Inside the 117-square-kilometre Nairobi National Park you’ll spot lions, leopards, giraffes, rhinos and more. A full city safari experience, for those who don’t have time to venture further afield.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of Bench Africa. See benchafrica.com.au