As one of the most beautiful African countries; Kenya’s rich history, abundance of wildlife and fast-growing economy is some of the reasons why it has seen an influx of tourists over the last couple of years. International hotel chains emerge from the grey skyline, one after the other throughout the capital, Nairobi.
Nairobi is a well-known tourist destination as travellers come from all corners of the globe to see the Big 5 in the savannah wilderness of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
I arrived in Nairobi on a Monday afternoon. After clearing customs, I proceeded to the car park where a friendly gentleman received me and escorted me to the hotel shuttle. The first thing I noticed was that the vehicles in Kenya are very different from South Africa. Although both are African countries, Kenya’s vehicles are predominantly unfamiliar Chinese brands.
The humidity in Nairobi took some getting used to, seeing that the city lies on the equator. We drove about an hour into the city and suddenly we were surrounded with cars, bikes, trucks and taxis which are called “matatu”.
Coming from the 7th most congested city in the world, I was overwhelmed by the amount of traffic on the road, how vehicles pass each other with only inches to spare and the friendly drivers that lets others pass with absolutely no road rage.
We approached a tall tower that rises above the surrounding buildings – Hilton Nairobi. We stopped at a security checkpoint where the vehicle was searched by guards and then proceeded to the entrance. Three eager porters were waiting to assist with my luggage and escourted me into the lobby. The large lobby with its marble counters, leather seats and winding staircase gave me a feel of “african luxury” and I immediately felt at home.
The rooms are well decorated with all the necessary amenities needed for a luxury stay. I even received a plate of sweet treats and a handwritten welcome card from the General Manager. I unpacked and headed to the large outdoor heated pool.
I asked the concierge to book a day tour of the city for me and a friend. The prices of tours are quite reasonable. The hotel also has vehicles available for tours and safaris. I highly recommend Marble Tours (http://www.marbletravel.com)
I spent the evening exploring the various shops in the lobby, went for a drink in the Jockey bar and made a few friends in the process.
The following morning we had breakfast. One of the items on the buffet was something called “arrowroot”. It’s nothing spectacular but as it’s a local item, I just had to try it.
The driver collected us and took me to an ATM to withdraw cash for the trip. Now I was ready to explore the city. Our first stop was at the National Museum which has a spell-binding display of early man and tribal regalia and adjacent to the Snake Park. I must say, if I didn’t visit this museum first, the rest of my exploration wouldn’t have made sense to me.
Our next stop was a huge temple. This was my first time inside a temple but unfortunately the entrance and parts of the building was under refurbishment, therefore I could only see the façade, side entrance and part of the inner building.
From there we drove on a road which seems to lead out of the city centre and past the United Nations headquarters and the American Embassy. We reached a shopping centre with several international luxury brands and one of the main Kenyan supermarkets, Nakumatt. This was the perfect opportunity to buy some gifts for my friends back home, and by gifts, I mean Kenyan coffee and tea.
Next we visited the major landmarks including the city (maasai) market which has hundreds of vendors selling memorabilia (remember to negotiate for cheaper prices), Jamia Mosque also has an adjacent building that houses rows and rows of small shops selling anything from perfume and clothing to electronics at reasonable prices.
We also drove past the Parliament buildings, the Upperhill viewpoint (which will soon be home to the new Hilton Nairobi but still under construction. Once completed it will be the tallest building in Africa). The driver then took me to the second largest slum in Africa – Kibera. What an amazing experience!
Suddenly the heavens opened and rain poured down. We are all used to rain but this was a different experience. It was extremely humid and the rain lasted for about 5 minutes. The fresh smell that emerged from the earth brought calmness over me and at this moment I fell in love with this city. As in the lyrics of Toto – Africa: “I’ll bless the rains down in Africa”.
We proceeded to our next stop, the Bomas of Kenya, which has various homesteads reflecting Kenya’s cocktail of cultures which has been faithfully recreated for visitors to see traditional village life. The highlight in the afternoon is the performance of traditional dances and folklore.
The next point of interest was by far my favourite during my trip to Kenya, the Giraffe Centre. I finally got an opportunity to come up close and personal with a giraffe, fed it and believe it or not, I even gave it a kiss.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a curio shop and found a Maasai Warrior. After paying him $10, I got an opportunity to take a photo with him. Be careful of taking photos without asking permission first, it might cost you several dollars.
Kenya banned smoking in many public and private places across the country so finding a suitable place to smoke was no easy task. Also, alcohol and gambling seems to be the name of the game. Casinos and bars are readily available in the city and locals seem to like partying.
One of my favourite pastimes was visiting the local coffee shops of which Java Café is the most famous chain restaurant/coffee shop and serves meals at reasonable prices and freshly ground, high quality coffee.
Another optional stop was at Carnivore, a restaurant famed for their wide selection of meats, including crocodile, camel and ostrich. Carnivore ensures that no visitor leaves hungry!
I decided to head back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours before going out for dinner.
The concierge recommended Fogo Gaucho, a Brazilian restaurant serving a buffet which includes various meats. The clever thing about them is the fact that they cut the meat portions from a skewer at your table. Each waiter has a different kind of meat and they will continue to supply you with meats until you show them the red card. Pretty awesome initiative.
The following morning after breakfast, I enquired from the concierge when I can buy bargains and experience the non-tourist side of Nairobi. I could not believe what happened next.
The concierge arranged for a taxi and went with me in the car to a suburb called Eastleigh. Located east of the central business district and predominantly inhabited by Somali immigrants; the locals call it “Little Mogadishu”. The streets are filled with stalls selling anything from spices to appliances and more. Don’t get me wrong, you get the feeling that you walked into a slum, yet the people are more welcoming than in most first world countries.
I found some amazing bargains with the help of the concierge who escorted me to back streets and high up in what seems to be old dilapidated buildings. I am forever grateful for this experience as I went where tourists rarely go. I’m sure most visitors have not even heard of this area, yet you get the ideas that Eastleigh operates as a town within the city.
I headed back to the hotel, and spent the rest of the day at the beautiful pool. As this was my last day, I had one more item left on my “Nairobi bucket list”, a massage at the Hilton Spa. I opted for a Swedish massage and afterwards I headed to the market opposite the hotel for some last-minute curio shopping.
The following morning, I had breakfast in the hotel’s executive lounge (excellent benefit of Gold & Diamond Honors members), and left for the airport.
This was truly one of the most memorable trips I have had. I definitely experienced my African Dream!