Visit Nairobi - reader in cafe

The One Reason You Should Visit Nairobi, Kenya

Derek Kenya 36 Comments

Visit Nairobi - city view from above
I’m in Nairobi, Kenya.

It’s a strange place, at least for a traveler, or more specifically, at least for me.

From what I’ve gathered, most travelers visit Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, for one or two days, maybe three at most, either before or after their safari experience in other parts of the country (which I’ll be doing this weekend). I chose to spend the past week here, mainly because I like to travel slowly so that I can combine working and traveling – work a few hours in the morning, head out in the afternoon to explore – but I can see why some would prefer a shorter stint here.

First, I’m staying at the Khweza Bed and Breakfast, perhaps the best budget hotel in this expensive city and a place that I’ll write more about soon. It has a great location, very affordable rooms and a rooftop restaurant with excellent food at reasonable prices (and a great view over the city). I’m definitely happy I found this place.

When it comes to the city itself though, let’s see…

The Central Business District is only 1 kilometer away from the guesthouse and I’ve been down there a couple of times now. The more upscale Westlands neighborhood is also just a short ride away and I’ve spent an entire day there too. But after several days out in the city now, I must admit that I’m still lost as to what this city is all about.

To begin with, many people, starting with the driver who picked us up from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, are fond of talking about the endless activities going on in this city but when pressed further, nobody has been able to give me something specific to do. The conversation usually ends with, “right now is not a good time, not much happening today”. And that is perfectly fine, but it is slightly odd after hearing how this city is 24 hours of nonstop activity time and time again.

The restaurants we’ve eaten at have been okay (K’Osewe in the city center was quite good, as is the restaurant at Khweza Bed and Breakfast!). The markets we visited were an experience that I don’t need to repeat any time soon. Walking into a market here involves what might be the most intense version of market ‘brokers’ following you around and trying to pressure you (quite aggressively I might add) into buying things at inflated prices. A simple “No, thank you” doesn’t work and despite my experience in intense markets – from Delhi to Kabul to Cairo to Mexico City to San Salvador to Manila – I honestly have never seen anything like what I witnessed here in Nairobi.

Go to the Maasai Market in the CBD and I doubt you’ll be able to take it for more than 10 minutes. That’s about how long we lasted before we got out of there.

Visit Nairobi - street scene

As for safety, a topic on every visitor’s mind here, almost every local I meet tells me the city is very safe but then they follow it up with “but don’t go here, don’t go out at night, carry your backpack on your front, make sure everywhere you go has good security” and so on. I’ve walked around a decent amount now and I haven’t felt unsafe at any time, not even for a minute. But constantly hearing how important it is to watch yourself and your stuff definitely makes you think twice.

The traffic is endless too. It can take 30 minutes to travel 1 kilometer. And the roads are in poor condition at best.

Okay, don’t worry. I haven’t turned into a grumpy traveler. I’m just having a hard time finding my groove as I visit Nairobi for the first time. Sometimes you find it, sometimes you don’t. Maybe I’m just tired after spending the past few weeks in India, I don’t know.

Oh, but wait!

Here’s The One Reason You Should Visit Nairobi

This is the one thing that instantly makes me forget everything above and allows me to go to bed at night with a big smile on my face, feeling good and happy about being here in Nairobi…the people.

Visit Nairobi and you’ll find a city full of outgoing people who are ready to greet you with the warmest of smiles, the grandest of welcomes, the most open of conversations and the most energetic of high fives and handshakes. It’s not everyone but it does happen often, on the streets, in the restaurants and cafes, in the guesthouse, in the shops, while stuck in traffic and so on.

These sincere smiles are really out of control. They provide an instant boost of happiness and an instant cure to any frustrations. You forget about the traffic, you forget about any safety issues and about the thick exhaust pouring out of the matatus as you walk behind one. You forget about the dizziness and headaches from the malarone and the high prices for everything you need to purchase as well.

All you want is to be in the presence of more smiles, more people whose kindness and positive approach to life is contagious.

Whether it’s the waiter at K’Osewe who, with a little extra bounce in his step, goes out of his way to make our experience positive or the man on the side of the road that gives our taxi driver directions and welcomes us to the Karen neighborhood with a beaming “Karibou!” or the female soldier who can’t stop smiling at us as she checks our bags before we climb to the 28th floor of the convention center for a view out over the city, you can’t help but smile back or give another high five or simply feel damn good every single time it happens.

Visit Nairobi - reader in cafe

Even watching people interact with each other, it’s something else. There’s this calm, fluid method of communication where you can call out to anyone (street vendor to driver, driver to driver, bus passenger to passerby, etc.) and start chatting and laughing and debating as if you’ve know the other person for decades. And it almost always ends with two big smiles as well.

To me, when you visit Nairobi, it’s all about the people.

Visit Nairobi - city Uber driver

Forget about the sights – whatever they may be – and just come here to soak up the vibe from your interactions with the matatu drivers on Moi Avenue, the mango vendors downtown, the security guards at the Westgate mall, the general store owner in the CBD, the cashier at the Java House Express cafe, the man selling jeans at the intersection of Ngara and Murang’a Roads and beyond.

Who cares if you’re stuck in traffic at a roundabout for an hour or aimlessly wandering around the city center with a backpack on your chest or sitting on a rooftop all day not knowing what else to do when you are engulfed by such positive energy almost every time you interact with someone who calls this city home?

I’ll take it, that’s for sure. How about you?


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Comments 36

  1. Linda M Freund

    The people make the difference, where ever you go, your daily adventures, it’s the people.
    It’s all about the people. My visit to Jamaica taught me so much about people. Etched in
    my heart, still. Glad for your experiences, the memories will last forever and make you smile
    long after you stop your travels, if ever you do!!!

  2. Ray

    Glad to hear that you were able to see Kenyan culture at its finest within Nairobi. I typically prefer to head out to smaller towns and villages in a new country to get these types of experiences as I am not a huge fan of large cities as they all seem the same to me in some form or another. You’ve opened my mind about that thought process after writing about your experience, Earl. Maybe I should consider spending more time in larger cities whenever I visit a new country or else I might miss out something significant. Thank you!

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  3. Victoria @The British Berliner

    Cool post Earl!

    I’ve never been to Kenya so I’m really interested to read all about your experience there. I think the way the people describe things is similar to the way they do it in India. “Yes. And then No. Then Yes again!”

    I liked the video. Again, its India in Africa. The tight traffic, the sand and dirt, the closeness of people living together, the hassle of shop-keepers, the markets, and of course the warmth of the people. Re-the market. I’ve only been to South Africa once, and I was with my German girlfriend who lived out there for half the year. And the locals charged me 10 times more what they charged her! And why? Because I was a tourist?

    On asking how they would know since my skin tone would be similar to theirs. Apparantly, it was the way I was dressed (jeans), and I walked like a man lol!

  4. Jason Storal

    There are beautiful countries filled with cold and angry people like America, Czech, South Korea and Iceland, and there are ugly countries filled with beautiful and warm people like Cambodia, Haiti, and Kenya.

    As of yet, I haven’t found a good mix of people and natural beauty.

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      Derek

      You’re definitely not looking closely enough. In my 18 years of travel, I’ve discovered that the majority of people in every country are warm and kind.

  5. Pingback: Best Budget Hotel in Nairobi: Khweza Bed and Breakfast - Wandering Earl

  6. NTripping

    Aren’t people always the best reason to travel to a destination? 🙂 Even if a place is incredibly beautiful, if the people there are unfriendly and rude, it would spoil the whole experience.
    Another great post, Earl! Thanks for sharing it in such a great way 🙂

  7. Alex Steven

    Hey Earl , nice read…thanks for sharing such an honest experience of yours. I have never been to Nairobi but would definitely love to visit now, mainly to meet such heart warming people.

  8. Carole J

    Hey, Derek,
    The world is full of wonderful people. Thanks for reminding me of that, given there are some in the US right now that don’t seem to realize how kind and friendly people in other places are. I’m waiting for your next Wandering Earl Tour to go to Africa. I’m ready to sign up today!!!

  9. Dmitriy

    Thank you for sharing your experience exploring Nairobi with such honestly. I personally know few people from Kenya and I have added Nairobi to my travel bucket list long time ago. After reading your story, I still want to visit this city very much but I will be more prepared.
    Again, thank you for your post.

  10. andrea

    Thanks for the honest article, it makes me want to see for myself, and I much prefer to read your honest impressions than a “puff piece.”

  11. Trev Newman

    Loved this article when l was a kid (5 years) in Kenya a guy saved my life (from drowning) but l never got the chance to thank him !!! Often think about Kenya and how that local guy gave me a second chance.

    1. kevan Hubbard

      Nairobi must be one of the few cities on earth with a national park in them or very close to them?others Sydney, Rio de Janeiro,Toronto.

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      1. Ray

        Earl, I had a feeling you used one of the audio tracks provided by YouTube Editor. Great choice of song! I tend to use YouTube Editor for most of my short clips, as well, for my blog. Loved your video of everyday life in Nairobi. Please continue to mix these types of short video clips with photos in future blog posts.

  12. Kevan Hubbard

    Very enlightening article on Nairobi.must admit I’ve never been just landed at the airport once reroute Johannesburg to either London or Luxembourg,can’t remember which.

  13. Tracey McLean

    Hey Earl! Yes good to have you back to the blogs!

    I remember you having said you hadn’t seen Africa so I”m glad you are! I loved loved loved parts of that continent..when I went, I saw South and Western Africa so I can’t attest to Kenya but I sincerely hope you have an amazing time. Looking forward to more of your amazing posts!

  14. Steve C

    Hey Earl, good to have you back doing blogs. I missed you there for awhile.

    I visited Nairobi way back in 1988 on our RTW trip. I don’t remember that the people there were so overly friendly as we didn’t spend that much time in the city. We too had just come from India and what a cultural change. We were there just long enough to set up a safari with one of the many safari companies on the main street and do a mail stop; back when the only way to communicate with the outside world was to pick up mail at the American Express office. That was pre-internet. It was also when everyone changed money on the black market. Bad idea, as I was pick-pocketed within 15 minutes on a sidewalk just outside the market. My Bad!

    One of our favorite places to hang out was the famous Thorntree. It was a restaurant on the main drag, maybe a hotel too as my memory fades. The big thing was a tree right in the middle of the restaurant that travelers would pin messages to other travelers. The food was good too.

    We had to laugh as the hotel where we stayed served also as a red light hotel with lots of coming and going during the day and night. We were pretty hardened travelers by then having been on the road over a year, and it didn’t bother us. By then, we knew to always to get a room on the second floor, at the very least. Our room had a balcony overlooking a make shift street market below. That was fun to just watch, from a safe place.

    The best restaurant by far was one called “The Carnivore”, a taxi ride just outside of town. It was an outside place with a huge bonfire in the middle of all the tables circling it. Adjacent the fire were Masai spears stuck into the ground, speared with BBQ’ing meats of all kinds: Crocodile, wildebeest, ostrich, …. You didn’t really order anything as you could pick and choose as they would come around to your table and fork off a chunk of meat from the spear onto your plate. Way cool!

    We set up a safari with one of the local companies. It was a two week trip to several parks to view the famous Big Five. We stayed in a different place every night in tents. Our support staff would cook us meals on an open fire. Our group traveled in a couple mini buses. The whole group had to get out and help push the bus one time when we got stuck in the mud. One night, we could hear an elephant walk right through our camp, tramping right next to our tent! Back then, bargaining with all the safari companies, we, two of us, got a two week safari, everything included, for $400 bucks! Let us know what the going rate is now. I bet it’s a lot less than trying to set up something online ahead of time now.

    While in Kenya, you gotta gotta go to Lamu, up the coast from Mombasa. Take the train to Mombasa from Nairobi. While yer at it, take the bus across the boarder to Tanzania, around Mt. Kilimanjaro, and do a safari to the several parks there, from Arusha.

    Stay safe Earl, and always watch your stuff or it will have a new owner in the blink of an eye. That’s experience talking!

  15. Mary

    Hi Earl, I’ve just returned from a long trip to Kenya, although Nairobi wasn’t the highlight of it – people and the amazing experiences I liver there had made up for it. There are some amazing mission sites around Nairobi that could be interesting to see should you wish to mix up with the locals and do some volunteering? Let me know if you need help and I’ll pass you through the details 😉

  16. Manish Anand

    Very well articulated Derek, its the magic of your words that mesmerizes me the most.
    Do keep writing as you wander around Africa a bit more. I am planning to follow your footsteps … soon.
    Cheers !!

  17. Maureen

    Thank you for highlighting one of the best things about my country. It can be chaotic at times but nonetheless its beautiful and i love every inch of it. Enjoy the rest of your stay 😉

  18. grahame

    Hi Derek

    So nice to read another excellent article of yours and while I don’t always finish an article all the way through, this one was way too interesting not to read it all the way to the end. And this comes from a guy who not only lives in Africa, (Cape Town in South Africa) I have been to many African countries including Egypt, Marocco, Namibia and a couple of close calls in some other African countries. Never been to Kenya yet. Maybe not after what you had to say here. Would like to visit Mali though as my father would always tell us as kids that he was going to send us to Timbuktu. Had no idea where that was as a kid. Have you been to Mali as I would love to hear what it’s like there? Thanks again for a great article

  19. Nyarko

    Thanks for exploring Kenya and the happiness you have experienced.Don’t forget to visit my country Ghana too.The experience in my country will exceed all.we are waiting.Thanks for exploring Africa(The land of rich culture)

  20. Kristin Winslow

    Great post, Derek. I feel like I’m there! Your words and video paint a picture I feel like I can step right into. Nicely done!

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