Giraffe Center, Two Days in Nairobi

Two Days in Nairobi

Our first trip to Africa was about seven years ago when we spent roughly 9 days in Kenya exploring Nairobi, going on a safari in Tsavo East, and spending time at the coast in the small town of Takaungu. It was a last-minute adventure but I was instantly hooked. As a kid, I always dreamed about Africa. As an adult, I’ve become addicted to the sights, sounds, and smells of the region. This time around, we celebrated our sixth trip to Africa and our second visit to Kenya where we dedicated three weeks to exploring new parts of the country with my parents in tow. Virtually every trip to Kenya will start or end in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, which has plenty on offer for a couple of nights of exploring and shaking off jetlag. Below, I’m sharing some inspiration for two days in Nairobi to maximize your Kenyan primer before your onward travel to the beach or bush. {Stay tuned for the inside scoop on our five days in the Masai Mara, five nights in Lamu, and a week of beach time in Diani Beach.}

Day 1: A Low-Key Kenyan Intro

Depending on your point of departure, the first of your two days in Nairobi will involve shaking off some jetlag and settling into your new timezone and pace. My parents arrived on the Turkish Airlines flight (great connections from the US to Nairobi) which lands at 3:40AM, a rather ungodly hour that makes your first day a bit of a push. We chose to keep their arrival day pretty lowkey with easy activities that let us go with the flow.

Giraffe Center

Giraffe Center, Two Days in Nairobi

The Giraffe Center – not to be confused with the iconic hotel, Giraffe Manor, is on most visitors’ list of must-visit spots in Nairobi. On our previous visit years ago, the center was crowded with visitors feeding giraffes and sitting in on informative sessions provided by the guides at the center. We opted for an early visit this go around (around 9:30AM) and were the only visitors there. The Giraffe Center is home to Rothschild’s Giraffes, the rarest of Kenya’s giraffe species, and gives guests the opportunity to feed them and see them close up. For my parents, this was their first brush with wildlife and part of their introduction to Kenya so seeing the giraffes close up help set the stage for what was to come on safari. Tickets for the Giraffe Center are around $15 per person and can be purchased in advance online or at the center (even during COVID) using card or cash.

Note: Given the situation with COVID, masks are required in public spaces including the Giraffe Center. As there were no other visitors around, the staff was kind enough to allow us to take a distanced mask-free photo but we otherwise maintained mask-wearing throughout public areas.

Shopping

As part of our introduction to Kenya, we carved out some time on our first day to visit some shops with local goods. If you’re visiting Kenya, you’ll find the best shops and broadest offerings are available in Nairobi. For great gifts and locally crafted high-quality goods check out Langata Links and Utamaduni Craft Centre. Some of my favorite purchases were from the Kazuri Bead Factory as well (featured below).

Boho Eatery

Giraffe Center, Two Days in Nairobi

Lunchtime means loads of options but my fellow herbivores will adore Boho Eatery in Karen. Scratch that – everyone will love Boho Eatery, and I swear it almost converted my parents into vegetarians with the options available. Don’t miss trying local brews, too. You’ll find the de facto Kenyan musts like Tusker, but also some cool craft beers as well. For non-beer drinkers (I feel you), the sangria is perfect on a sunny day. During our last visit to Nairobi we had lunch at Tamambothe restaurant on-site at the Karen Blixen Museum, which was also a lovely locale and perfect for a mid-day stop.

Kazuri Factory

Kazuri Bead Factory, Two Days in NairobiGiraffe Center, Two Days in Nairobi

The Kazuri Bead Factory is practically non-negotiable for me. If you have two days in Nairobi, this is a must, and honestly, even if you have just one day I’d add this to the list. Kazuri, which means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting on making handmade beads. Since then it’s grown from two women to hundreds of employees, the majority of whom are single mothers in the community. Kazuri exports internationally but there’s nothing like seeing the factory in action and being able to buy a couple of beautifully handcrafted pieces at the source. Plus, if you’re looking for gifts for friends and family at home, I find this an amazing option with a great story, supporting a wonderful cause.

Kazuri does not require an appointment to visit and tours are readily available during most of the day.

Drinks at Hemingways

Two Days in Nairobi

I’m all about dragging my evenings out when we’re traveling and after a year of lockdowns and limited options in most places, the idea of having a socially distanced cocktail at Hemingways was perfect. The bar staff is great, and you’ll have a range of creative cocktails on offer if you can pull yourself away from a classic G&T. For more inspiration, check out Citizen Femme’s guide to cocktail bars in Nairobi.

Dinner at Talisman Restaurant

Two Days in Nairobi

Nairobi got a bad rap for years, but as we experienced during our first trip to the Kenyan capital, there’s a vibrant scene there when it comes to local craftsmen, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. With COVID keeping much of Nairobi pared back, we opted to revisit a place that we’d known from a previous visit: Talisman Restaurant. Talisman always gets a double thumbs up from everyone who passes through and is generally a safe bet for quality food. Full disclosure: Kenya’s curfew made dining extremely rushed since restaurants had to close early to allow all staff to be home by 10PM. Looking for other restaurants to consider in Nairobi? Check out Culture Trip’s guide to dining in Nairobi for some inspiration.

Day 2

With two days in Nairobi, your second day can include a bit more activity with your mind and body settling into your new time zone. We started with a family breakfast to get the caffeine flowing before heading out to explore. Our day included an afternoon at Shagala Bagala, a gin house and secluded hangout that feels miles away from the city. Nairobi’s newest addition, Shagala Bagala isn’t quite officially open to the public yet, but is producing some amazing gins that converted my parents from anti-gin to nightly enthusiasts during our trip.

Kitengela Glass Factory

Kitengela Glass, Two Days in Nairobi
Courtesy of Kitengela Glass

In cities like Nairobi, my mission usually includes finding outposts where talented artisans are producing amazing items that allow travelers to support the community in a tangible way. The Kazuri Factory (above) provides one such opportunity, and Kitengela Glass Factory is another way to support artisans at work, watch them in their element, and take a piece of the city home with you in an extra special way. You can find Kintengela pieces at local craft shops as well, but if you want to see glassblowers in action, you need to head to the facility where you can watch and purchase or even participate in a small class of your own. Most experiences on offer just need a bit of notice (one to two hours) to secure your space.

A Private Afternoon with DSWT

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Two Days in Nairobi

On our first visit to Nairobi, a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (now dubbed solely the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) was a must for us. Started in the late 1970s, the trust is best known for its work in protecting elephants, operating the most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. To date, they’ve successfully raised 263 orphans, attended to almost 7500 veterinary cases, and mobilized 18 mobile antipoaching units. The work being done is wonderful, and the commitment by the caretakers is next-level. Visiting the trust pre-COVID was fairly simple: you could join for the public visitation hour for about $20 per person and could watch the orphans being fed in their cohorts (from the tiniest babies up to the older youngsters). Orphaned elephants are typically at the trust for a few years before matriculating to their Tsavo unit where they can slowly readjust to being back in the wild when they’re ready.

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Two Days in Nairobi

COVID has forced the normal public sessions to be closed, which means not only can visitors not take in a quick sample of the work the foundation is doing; it also means that one of their income streams has been completely removed. The exception to this if you’re interested in visiting is a private session at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, available each afternoon for guests interested in paying a premium for an extra-special experience. Groups are defined as units of up to 10 people and the flat fee doesn’t adjust for more or fewer individuals participating. There were just four of us, but it was something that we felt my parents would find extra-special. What I expected was something similar to last time: us watching the handlers with the orphans, watching them eat and observing them play. What we experienced was something more than that: the hour we had with the elephants was educational to start and then interactive, allowing us to be with the elephants, watching them bathe and play, and allowing them to come close to meet us. Scott’s parents gifted us an option of an orphaned elephant, Kiombo, a few years back and we got to see him during our visit, just a few months before he moves on to be reintegrated back into the wild. Below is a quick video with a few snippets from our afternoon at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:

You’re likely in Nairobi as part of a bigger trip, which means you’ll be jetting off the next morning to one of Kenya’s national parks on safari. I’ll be recapping our five days in the Masai Mara soon, including our hot air balloon ride in the Masai Mara, but suffice it to say that it was one of the best safaris we’ve experienced in terms of game sightings. Whether or not to include any real time in Nairobi is sometimes a question — is it better to just jet straight to the bush or beach and skip Nairobi entirely? If it’s your first time in Kenya and time permits, I’d suggest two days in Nairobi (at least one night!) to help set the foundation for your time in Kenya, to take in some unique experiences available in the city, and to fall into your new pace and time zone before you’re fully immersed in days of game viewing.

What do you think? Have you been to the Kenyan capital? How would you spend two days in Nairobi?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort.