A Guide to Nairobi: Giraffes, Elephants and Airbnbs

My first trip to Nairobi was for work. I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at the International School of Kenya over a long weekend. When I saw that the school suggested staying at either a couple hotels (one of which has a shuttle to the school for the seminar) and one Airbnb, for me it was an obvious choice. Airbnb all the way. But I also was lucky enough to have a full day to spend touring around Nairobi, after the seminar finished before flying back. I liked Nairobi so much, I worked it into my winter holidays trip, since we had to fly through there anyways. I was able to go back only about a month later.

Accommodations

One of the best Airbnb experiences of my life as staying at the Hob House in Nairobi. I chose this over the hotel, mainly because it was just down the street from where I needed to be for my seminar, but also because it had such amazing reviews. I usually prefer Airbnb places where I have the entire place to myself, but since I was going alone and I have heard mixed reviews on the safety issues in Kenya, I figured this was a good bet. And more my style of travel than staying in the hotel all the other teachers from other places would be staying.

First of all, I arrived in the middle of the night and Kelly, the owner, made sure that Maggie was up in order to show me to my room. They also arranged Charles to pick me up at the airport, for a fee, but worth every penny. Charles was incredibly kind and I felt so comfortable with him I hired him to take me around on my day off too!

I felt right at home at Hob House. Kelly and Peter were so lovely, and so welcoming. Kelly brought me along when she had errands to run, to allow me to pick up some things I needed from the store to bring back to Niamey with me. And it was so nice to spend time with her just chatting and learning about how she ended up in Nairobi. I spent every meal, well breakfast and dinner, at the Hob House (breakfast was included and dinner was extra, but worth it). Salome, the cook, was a local woman who made incredible dishes. I tried every breakfast and the Lebanese one was by far my favourite. Every dinner I spent sitting and talking with Kelly, Peter and their other guest Roy. They even took me with them for dessert on the Sunday night, as it had become a thing with Roy, he’d been staying there for awhile. If you aren’t staying here, at least book a dinner here one night, you won’t be disappointed.

I couldn’t recommend staying here enough. It may not be in the city, but its situated in a lovely neighbourhood and Kelly and Peter are so accommodating they will help you get wherever you need to go, whether taking you themselves or helping you hire a driver. They employ and train local staff, and are doing wonderful things, such as selling local art by decorating their house with it and selling to guests. I urge you, if you are in the Nairobi area to stay for at least one night at the Hob House, though it won’t be enough. We had a night and a half in Nairobi before we went to Madagascar and I brought my partner there to show him how amazing it is and he was so impressed. Our breakfast, the morning before our flight, he spent the whole morning discussing things with Kelly; no shortage of meaningful and intelligent conversations to be had.

(Airbnb link here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1237886)

We also stayed in a couple other hotels in Nairobi, one of which I recommend if you need to be right in the city, and the other I would avoid at all costs. La Maison Royale was a one night stop before we were picked up for our safari. They were very accommodating by letting us check in super early (as in 6am when our flight got in, instead of 2pm) and even picked us up at the airport (for a fee, can also use Uber instead for cheaper). Their breakfast buffet was incredible, as it featured the usual food but also curries and naan, which I love. We enjoyed it so much, we had dinner there cause I am always game for Indian food. Dinner was great, as we got to watch the sun set from the rooftop patio. Highly recommend at least eating here if you are in the city and craving curries.
(Link here: http://www.lmrhotel.com)

Now for hotels I don’t recommend, the Pebble Hotel. The only reason I booked this place was that it was cheap and close to the airport. We were set to get there at around 6pm and needed to leave around 2am for our flight home, after our safari. It wasn’t fancy, but we just needed somewhere to take a nap before we go. Well, we should’ve stayed at the Hob House again… The neighbourhood where this hotel is, was super sketchy. Our driver from our safari told us that we’d be fine, but not to leave any valuables in our hotel room while we are out of it. Always comforting. We didn’t want to leave so decided to have dinner at the hotel but they didn’t take cards so we had to walk down the street to get some cash. The food was super cheap, for a reason. Nick’s fish had no meat on it, and the ketchup was so watered down it made his fries into soup. The bed was so uncomfortable, we barely slept. And when we ordered an uber to come get us at 2am, the first one couldn’t find it, and gave up. The second one did a couple circles and finally found us. The only good thing was that it was so close to the airport we had plenty of time. Highly recommend staying further away from the airport and avoiding this place at all costs.

Transportation

To go to Nairobi, I flew with Ethiopian Airlines, cheapest and fastest way to get there from Niamey. I have always had great experiences with that airline, from the food, the service and all around comfort level. I would definitely recommend this airline, though let’s be honest, if you are in my shoes, you book whatever airline is the cheapest flight to where you want to go. So if you are looking at this airline and haven’t flown with them, no worries, they are great for the cost.

Uber in Nairobi is safe and reliable, even in the middle of the night. So yeah, the one guy couldn’t find our hotel, but that was the hotel’s fault more than the uber driver. Can’t blame the guy. The next guy found us no problem and was such a nice, clean car. So polite. So cheap. And I had asked around on some travel groups opinions on using it there and got nothing but good responses. So we used it and was happy with the outcome. Don’t hesitate to order an uber.

I had the Hob House arrange for Charles to pick me up from the airport, as I was alone and arriving at 1:20am, and a little nervous about finding my way around. It paid off, as Charles was out there with a sign with my name on it and he was super friendly and exactly the kind of driver I love. We talked the entire drive and he told me all about his life in Kenya. I liked my time with him so much I hired him to drive me around to see some sites on the Sunday after my work stuff was done. For $70US, he took me around all day to wherever I wanted, though I let him choose what he thought I would like to see, which was great. I highly recommend hiring him if you want to get around Nairobi seeing the sites, or if you need a reliable and safe airport transfer.

Things to See & Do

Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage was by far my favourite part of my trips to Nairobi. I want to go back again and again. I love elephants, and am a huge advocate for ethical animal tourism. Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage is dedicated to helping orphaned elephants from the wild and caring for them until they are ready to go back out and take care of themselves. They are open for one hour every day for visitors to come visit and learn about what the orphanage is doing to help the animals. You learn all about what the orphanage does, and how they care for them and even get to know the backstories on how the elephants were found. The thing I enjoy most is that they don’t take volunteers, as elephants need the stability and consistency of having the same people caring for them and choose to use local people who actually know what they are doing. You are allowed to touch the elephants but they are kept in a specific area with the caretakers and interaction is minimal. But it is an incredible experience.

The Giraffe Centre was a pretty incredible option for things to do in Nairobi. Originally I looked into staying at the Giraffe Manor, as I see it all the time on Instagram and thought it would be amazing. Well unfortunately I am not made of money, so it was not feasible to stay there. But luckily I found out you can have a pretty incredible up close and personal, and most importantly ethical, interaction with giraffes at the Giraffe Centre for a very small price. I had met some ladies at the orphanage heading to the Giraffe Centre next so I met them there. It was such a cool experience to be able to feed the giraffes and even get a “kiss” from one.

Charles also took me to the Kazuri Bead Factory, but unfortunately it was closed at the time; it was a Sunday after all. So I wasn’t able to see the bead making but I was able to go in the store and see all the different things they make there. Naturally I bought myself a beaded necklace, and my mum an elephant statue to add to her collection. My favourite part was seeing the wild monkeys jumping on our car as we were trying to get in.

And the last stop of my Sunday fun day with Charles was the Karen Blixen Museum. If you don’t know Karen Blixen, you are not alone. I didn’t know much about her either. But I kinda liked that. As I went in with no knowledge and left feeling like I needed to now watch Out of Africa and read her books. When you go to the museum you are given a guide for your group, I had a group of one, and your guide takes you through the museum, explaining everything about her life. It was fascinating and I encourage you to look into her life if you have a chance. And if you are in Nairobi, check this place out, if you like museums and all that.

Things not to do: Do not go to the movies. Okay maybe not any movie theatre but we went to the movie theatre in the Sarit Centre and it was a disaster. I really wanted to take my partner to see the new Star Wars movie; it had just come out and we don’t have a theatre where we live. We bought our tickets, wandered around shopping a bit. We got back in time for the show. After 20 minutes beyond when it was supposed to start, we got word from an employee that they were just waiting to get approval to show it and then it would be on. Needless to say after over an hour, we gave up. They almost didn’t give us our money back, they kept telling us it won’t be much longer. But we didn’t want to waste our whole day waiting in a movie theatre for nothing. So we left.

The Sarit Centre, on the other hand, is a good little shopping centre to grab things you might need. I always get a sim card wherever I am, so I got my orange SIM card there. I also bought some toys for my classroom to bring back. Some electronics that we couldn’t get back in Niamey. And of course, the grocery store. Now there are better shopping centres out there, but this one had everything I needed.

Nairobi is such a great city, and although most people use it as a in between spot to head to the Masai Mara or other points outside of Nairobi, I encourage you to spend some time seeing what Nairobi has to offer before or after you head out on your safari.

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42 thoughts on “A Guide to Nairobi: Giraffes, Elephants and Airbnbs

  1. Great post. I really want to go to Giraffe Manor but it’s good to know you can go to the Giraffe Centre independently if you can’t afford the Manor (which in all likelyhood I probably can’t doh!)
    The Elephant Orphanage sounds equally great, I’m glad there are places doing this in the world. Hopefully in the future we will have more like this and a lot less ‘animal tourism’.

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      1. I think we are definitely making progress in the right direction, so I’m hopeful!

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  2. This takes me straight back to my own visit to Nairobi, especially the Sheldrick elephant sanctuary and the Giraffe Centre. They are wonderful places where you really feel that the animals come first. I also recommend Nairobi National Park for a safari, they have most of the big game there and it is so close and so easy!

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  3. Oh, we share your love towards The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust! They do an amazing job – and the baby elephants are simply irresistible. I’d love to visit Giraffe Manor or Giraffe Centre when returning to Nairobi. We also enjoyed visiting the slum of Kibera.

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  4. Great post. Your airbnb sounds amazing. So glad you got the airport pick up and that they were so accomodaring. Also love the animals. . Giraffes and elephants are like my favorite creatures in the whole wide world.

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  5. Great post, Sara! I also went to the Giraffe Centre and the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend them as well. I wanted to get to the Karen Blixen Museum between tours (I did Nomad’s Masai Mara and Gorillas tour, 3 days in Nairobi in between, then Nairobi to Vic Falls tour) but didn’t manage to fit it in.

    Nairobi was an interesting city. I really did enjoy my time there – though found myself feeling a bit more at ease when I had a friend with me. My first few days in the country, prior to my tour I felt a bit out of sorts being there all by myself.

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  6. wow the animal encounters you had look incredible! I never really thought of visiting Nairobi but you’ve changed my mind 😉

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  7. Great post! I was in South Africa years ago during high school and I’ve been thinking about going back to visit other parts of Africa, so I’ll have to keep your post in mind.

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  8. I would love to visit and get to touch that super cute giraffe as well! I also love the photos. We never visited Africa, and we would love to do a tour and check out some amazing places and some of the great landscapes. I can imagine the fantastic photo opportunities around. Thank you for the guide

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  9. I would definitely have chosen Airbnb as well!! Hob House looks incredible from their Airbnb photos. Also I am saving this for later because that elephant orphanage sounds like suuuuuch a good experience!

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  10. I’ve seen so many photos of Giraffe Manor that it’s good to hear there is an affordable alternative out there!
    Nairobi looks like a wonderful place to visit and I’m glad to read that you’ve returned for a trip

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  11. I have always wanted to visit Kenya, specifically Nairobi because I work with so many people from Kenya! They’re always telling me how beautiful it is, and the safaris seem like so much fun!

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  12. Gosh this post is so packed with awesome info. Kenya has always been a huge bucket list destination for me, so I’m definitely saving this for the future. Sorry you weren’t able to enjoy your movie theatre experience btw haha, but hopefully you caught Star Wars eventually 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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