A lot of our globetrotters who book on the Maasai Mara ride have one or two days to spend in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, either before or after their ride. With that said, I thought I would put together a list of my favourite things to do in Nairobi which all circulate around the affluent suburb of Karen. Nairobi traffic is absolute hell – traffic jam, stand-still, watch-the-grass-grow, agonisingly slow. All roads leading into and out of the ant’s nest city centre are bumper to bumper, hence why I recommend hovering in and around Karen, which isn’t too far (by Nairobi standards) from Wilson Airport, the regional airport where you’ll start and finish your ride.
I’ve been sending globetrotters to Macushla House in Karen for a couple of years now. It’s a cosy, safari-style chic boutique hotel with breakfast included and dinner available. A perfect abode to sleep off the jet lag or recover after your safari.
Here are my recommendations:
The Giraffe Center: This is a fun place no matter what your age. Visitors have the opportunity to eyeball, smooch and hand feed giraffes. A building has been built so that the giraffes are at your eye level, and pellets are given out by the smiling staff to coax the giraffes in for a closer look. The giraffes graze around the sanctuary and it’s their choice to interact with the throng of tourists that visit the non-profit sanctuary each year. It’s a great place to get lots of pics of yourself up close and personal with these flirty, long-eyelashed, curious creatures. For the brave, put a pellet between your teeth and receive your first tongue kiss from a giraffe! If you have the time, the guided tour is worth listening to as they explain the differences between all of the giraffe species and go into detail on the conservation work that is taking place. There is a modest-sized craft building that you can spend some shillings in on your way out if you so wish.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: I’ve written about this amazing, tear-jerking place in the past here. To gain access to the private feeding time, where you’re not competing for elbow room with large groups of school children, you’ll need to adopt an orphaned elephant or rhino from the orphanage. I believe it’s a small price to pay to help these amazing African creatures and I’m the first to recommend this to my guests. As a proud parent to one of the orphaned elephants, you and your fellow parents get to see the orphans being fed by their handlers, who are with them 24/7. The orphanage has saved countless elephants over the years and I guarantee this will be a highlight of your trip.
Utamaduni Craft Centre: You won’t have the ability to shop when you’re riding through the pancake-flat plains of the Mara, apart from a visit to a Maasai village where you can purchase from the local Maasai mamas. Trust me, you’ll want to visit this craft centre, which is situated in a double-story Kikuyu style house consisting of 18 rooms filled with exceptional East African craft. Even if it’s the day before your safari begins, you can always leave your purchases at your hotel.
Karen Blixen House & Tour: I’m a romantic at heart and one of my favourite love stories is the life of Danish author Karen Blixen and her life in Kenya. You know the one – the blockbuster movie ‘Out of Africa’ starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. If you’re a follower then it’s well worth a visit to the farm that Karen farmed as a coffee plantation, where you can take a tour of the house where the film was produced. The guides show you through the house and provide interesting titbits on the making of the film and insights into Karen Blixen’s life on the coffee plantation.
Kazuri Beads: Another favourite shopping spot in Kenya is the Kazuri Beads outlet, which produces handmade ceramic beads and pottery. The word ‘kazuri’ means small and beautiful in Swahili. Kazuri Beads was established from humble beginnings in 1975 and is now a world-renowned producer of jewellery. Well worth a peek.
In between this sightseeing you’ll need to eat, sit down and relax.
The Talisman: If you’re looking for a lunch or dinner restaurant, the Kenyan locals speak highly of The Talisman, situated in Karen. Don’t think you’ll be served traditional Kenyan fare like ugali and vegetables – it has a sophisticated menu with Indian influences. A great place to have a couple of drinks post-safari and talk about the thrills and spills of your riding adventure.
Tamambo: Another great spot in the leafy suburb of Karen to enjoy lunch in between smooching giraffes and gasping at baby elephants.
Carnivores: It’s Kenyan kitsch, but I love it all the same and get a kick out of taking my clients here. Fun with a group of safari-goers, Carnivores is all about the meat, so vegetarians beware. Over the years I’ve noticed the game meat is slowly dwindling from the menu, and folk must go with a roaring appetite to get your stomach’s worth. Remember, if your flag is up it means that a range of different meats will be shovelled onto your plate until you surrender your flag. Make sure you hail ‘The Doctor’ over to your table, who makes a mean Dawa (swahili for medicine) made of honey, freshly squeezed lime, vodka, sugar and ice. A Dawa is my all time favourite safari drink – unfortunately it never tastes the same when made in Australia – believe me, I’ve tried! While we’re on the topic of sundowners – Tusker – the Kenyan beer, a delicous ale with an elephant on the label – be sure to have one!