As well as boasting an absolutely thrilling capital city, Kenya also has some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife anywhere on the planet. A trip to this corner of the globe would not be complete without experiencing both the intensity of Nairobi and the vast, wondrous plains of the Maasai Mara. Both places are teeming with life – Nairobi is a colorful, heaving melting pot of humanity, while the Maasai Mara is packed full of big game, little game and all-sizes-in-between game!
To experience this dream African destination, we recommend flying into Nairobi, spending a few days and nights exploring the city, and then traveling by road through the Rift Valley (you could fly but this drive is too awesome to miss!) to the Maasai Mara for a safari.
Flying to Kenya, taking in its hectic capital city, and then moving on to the awe-inspiring Maasai Mara is a trip worthy of anybody’s bucket list. So before you go, have a read through our Kenya recommendations and add your particular favorites to your BUCKiTDREAM planner.
See the Big Game Right On the Edge Of the City At the Nairobi City Safari Nairobi National Park is located only 7 km south of the city center. The 117 km2 park is the only protected nature reserve with a large variety of wild animals within the precincts of a major city anywhere in the world. You can see the skyscrapers of downtown Nairobi over the shoulder of a wild giraffe as she munches fresh leaves – it’s an odd juxtaposition and certainly a sight to behold. Guided day and night tours are available.
Take a Guided Tour of Kibera, the World’s Biggest Slum Kibera is home to about one million people and styles itself as ‘The friendliest slum in the world’. A tour of ‘The city of hope’ will be an enlightening experience, as your guide will show you an inside look at the inhabitants’ day-to-day lives. The tour includes a visit to a local orphanage, bead factory and a typical Kibera home. The warmth, resilience and ingenuity of the locals is truly inspiring.
Whizz Through Nairobi’s Streets On a Matatu Matatus are an East African institution. These privately owned minibus taxis are known for being extremely souped-up; their owner’s deck them out in inordinate amounts of bling – crazy and colorful paint-jobs, fluorescent lights, big-screen TVs and heavy sound-systems are all standard fare. The drivers of matatus pride themselves on beating the traffic and getting to their destination in record time, and this can lead to some seriously chaotic driving. Still, they must be fairly safe as 70% of Nairobi residents use matatus as their primary mode of transport. Journeys rarely cost more than $1. So jump aboard, and buckle the hell up!
Help Save Kenya’s Elephants and Rhinos At the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Situated within the Nairobi National Park, this non-profit trust is dedicated to protecting vulnerable elephants and rhinos and is one of Nairobi’s main attractions. Watching the adorable baby elephants bottle-feed and play around in the mud is a heartwarming experience. You can even ‘adopt’ one of the elephants by committing to support it with regular donations, receiving regular updates on its progress.
Explore Nairobi’s Museums Nairobi has three great museums to check out. To investigate Kenya’s rich heritage go to the Nairobi National Museum, which is situated in downtown Nairobi. The iconic farmhouse setting of the film Out of Africa is now the Karen Blixen Museum, and the Nairobi Railway Museum, adjacent to the main train station, is home to some huge, brutish and beautiful old steam locomotives; definitely worth a visit.
Visit Nairobi’s Maasai Market This market sells handmade crafts, jewelry, clothes, shoes, spices and all manner of interesting knick-knacks. The market sets up in a different location each day – check out the schedule for its location on the days you are in town. Make sure you haggle; it really would be rude not to!
Take a Hike in the Karura forest This urban forest within Nairobi is lush and wild and has many great hiking trails, lots of thick greenery and fantastic, gushing waterfalls. This is a wonderful place for a hike.
Drive Through the Rift Valley You can fly from Nairobi into the Maasai Mara in a mere 45 minutes. But if you do that you miss the incredible five-hour drive through the Rift Valley. This drive from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara is one of the world’s great road trips.
Visit the Maasai Mara The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a huge game reserve in Narok County, Kenya. It is named in honor of the indigenous people of the area, the Maasai people. The reserve is world-famous for its population of lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, buffalo, antelopes, giraffes and rhino, and for the annual Great Migration of millions of zebra, topi, gazelle and wildebeest into the Maasai Mara from the neighboring Serengeti from July to October. This place is teeming with wildlife like nowhere else on Earth!
High-end Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel was built in 1904 and has been a favorite landmark in Nairobi for over 100 years. It boasts an enviable location adjacent to the Central Business District and near the Blixen Museum and Elephant Sanctuary. Beautiful gardens, a range of restaurants, a health club and an outdoor pool make this hotel a truly luxurious base from which to explore Kenya.
Medium The Boma Nairobi is a comfortable hotel only 5 km from the CBD. Luxury rooms, good restaurants and a spa make this another good hotel option in the city.
Budget: Khweza Bed and Breakfast serves as a great budget option in Nairobi with clean, basic and comfortable rooms and very friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Accommodations in the Maasai Mara
Semadep Safari Camp Get the authentic Maasai experience by staying at a safari camp in the Maasai Mara run by the Maasai people. You can stay in a permanent tent or bring your own. The locally sourced, traditionally prepared food is delicious, and evening drinks with the locals and your fellow travelers will be a bonding experience that will stay with you forever. This is the best way to see the local wildlife while also learning about the local people. Staying so close to nature and getting to meet the wonderful, friendly locals who call this place home is a truly beautiful experience.
Airbnb Another way to get a very authentic Maasai experience is to stay in a manyatta (mud hut) in a Maasai-built eco-community in the Maasai Mara. The best way to organize this is to contact the Maasai owners directly on Airbnb.
Nyama Choma is the favorite local dish. It is chicken, beef or goat, slow-cooked over hot coals. The meat will quite literally melt in your mouth and is usually eaten with a tangy relish called kachumbari. This is African barbecue at its best.
The most popular street food is roasted makai, which is maize roasted over hot coals. This simple and cheap snack is available on every street corner.
The Carnivore in Nairobi specializes in exotic game meat such as ostrich, crocodile, zebra, gazelle, wildebeest and camel.
Drinks and Nightlife
Alcohol is widely available in Kenya. Kenyans like to party and Nairobi nightlife is famous for being very lively. There are lots of small neighborhood bars, restaurants and guesthouses with a super-friendly vibe, and these are great places to start your night. Nightclubs usually open fairly late and often go on until dawn.
Brew Bistro is a really fun bar on Ngong Road that specializes in craft beers and great local food. This place is chilled by day but raucous and fun by night, with live bands and DJs.
Klub House, in the Parklands area of Nairobi, is a big favorite with locals and tourists. There is live music most nights, but the reggae night on Thursday is one of the most renowned parties in town!
The local Kenyan beer is Tusker and it’s delicious chilled on a warm evening.
Kenya is famous for its coffee and a great local cafe is Nairobi Java House.
Tips and Culture
- In Nairobi it’s wise to keep your valuables close to you and keep an eye out for suspicious activity, as street robberies and muggings are frequent in certain areas. Ask at your hotel which zones of the city to avoid.
- Entry fees to the Maasai Mara are currently $80 for adult (non-East African citizen) and $30 for children.
- The best time to visit the Maasai Mara is during the Great Migration from July to October.
See the Maasai Mara From Way Up High On a Balloon Safari Our Kenyan must-see is a balloon ride over the Maasai Mara. Float above the grassy plains and watch from your elevated vantage point as the wild nature below does its thing. This tour includes balloon ride, coffees, lunch and a safari drive back to your camp. There is no better way to really appreciate this majestic place than from a hot air balloon.
Kenya is a diverse and exciting country and definitely a bucket list-worthy destination for any intrepid traveler. So while you are taking a white-knuckle ride in a souped-up matatu, or getting deep into nature in the Maasai Mara, why not inspire your friends by sharing your dream Kenya experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?