1. To get context in Kibera
Some 60% of Nairobi’s residents live in slum areas, which make up just 6% of the city’s land. Take away some added awareness and leave a little extra cash behind on a tour of the biggest: Kibera – a sobering but not a depressing experience.
Around 250,000 people are thought to live in Kibera (no one really knows exactly how many there are), most of whom sleep in make-shift shacks. The area isn’t without its problems – there’s a high HIV infection rate and no proper drainage for waste and sewage – but it’s still thriving with small businesses, from wedding dress shops to bakeries and butchers.
Take a tour with a trusted operator (Kibera Tours or Explore Kibera both run reliable and responsible excursions) or local NGO worker.
2. To visit the excellent Nairobi National Museum
By far the biggest and best museum in the country, and a good introduction to Kenyan culture and natural history, Nairobi National Museum is a must-see.
The Great Hall of Mammals has some impressive displays: giraffe, elephants, zebras and okapi all feature in a few excellent dioramas, and the majority of the country’s mammals are on display along the walls.
Visit the human origins exhibit to see the near-complete “Turkana Boy” – a 1.6-million-year-old skeleton found near Lake Turkana in the north.
3. To sample the excellent shopping
If you’re after Maasai crafts (whether traditional beaded jewellery or items made up for the tourist industry), or carvings and crafts in general, the city’s various Maasai markets are excellent – though they are no longer the cheap, hot tip they once were.
Initiated downtown opposite the post office in the mid-1990s, the original group of Maasai and other women from rural areas (as well as a number of men) were moved several times by city council askaris and now convene to display their wares at various places throughout the week.
You’ll sometimes find prices well below those in the tourist markets, but you’ll likely have to bargain hard to get what seems like an acceptable price. All the markets are open roughly from 8am to 3pm.
Alternatively, head to Gikomba, the largest general market in Nairobi. It’s a spot that few tourists ever see, a labyrinth of muddy alleyways, courtyards and open sewers. It’s also a place to experience an exhilarating slice of Nairobi life, and just about anything can be found on sale, from school uniforms to industrial-size ovens.
4. To see big cats just outside the city
On Nairobi’s doorstep, Nairobi National Park is home to most of Kenya’s big mammals, and the place for classic photos of plains animals against a backdrop of skyscrapers.
If you’re keen to do some game watching, come in the few hours after dawn (ask the rangers for the latest updates on arrival on where to see what) and you might be lucky enough to spot a leopard.
Hippos can usually be viewed at a pretty pool at the confluence of the Mbagathi and Athi rivers, and the far southeast of the park is the best place to spot zebra, antelope, giraffe, eland, buffalo and ostriches.