When violent crime grew in the 1990s in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, many tourists simply used it as a gateway to their safari tours in parks just outside the city. Because of its reputation for crime, it once earned the nickname "Nairobbery." And while conditions have vastly improved with greater police visibility, not many travelers will purposely put the city on their itinerary. But by employing the usual precautionary measures that any wise traveler would take, one can explore and appreciate Nairobi's hidden gems.
Before heading off for a safari outside the city, learn all about Kenya first in the Nairobi National Museum. The Bomas of Kenya tourist village is a colorful way to learn about Kenyan culture through its traditional dances, songs, homes and artifacts. Kenya's struggle for independence is remembered in the Uhuru Gardens. This is also a cool place to unwind thanks to its lush gardens and fountains. You can then proceed to the Nairobi National Park for your date with zebras, wildebeests and 400 other animals. Don't forget to take the Nairobi Safari Walk while you're there. The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is close to the National Park and is home to baby elephants and rhinos who were orphaned by poaching. The Giraffe Center and Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park are also worth a trip. Whitewater rafting is also an option on the Tana River, an hour away from the city. The beaches of Nairobi, Dani Beach in particular, also offer great opportunities for swimming and water sports.
If there's any place in the world that boasts of a wide—and we mean really wide—array of culinary delights, it's got to be Nairobi. Chinese, Thai, Indian and other international food offerings are offered alongside traditional Kenyan cuisine usually composed of nyama choma, beans, potatoes and maize. There are many restaurants and bars along Woodvale Grove and Mpaka Road in the Westlands district. The Village Market Food Court features many ethnic cuisines. If you want to try nyama choma, street-food style, head to the stalls located behind the Railway Museum for fast and cheap fare.
From big shopping centers to trendy boutiques to craft stalls, you'll never run out of places to shop in Nairobi. The main shopping complexes in the city include Nakumatt Westgate, the Sarit Center, and the Yaya Center. For souvenirs and local crafts, head straight for the Maasai Market every Friday at the Village Market Shopping Center near the United Nations complex. Be sure to grab a kikoy – a traditional African sarong – at the textile shops along Biashara Street.