5 places to feel like you’re on safari without leaving Nairobi
Escape the city from within the city
Kenya is world-renowned for its astonishing array of fauna and flora, as immortalised in the film Out of Africa and countless wildlife documentaries. When we hear the word ‘safari’ (the Swahili word for ‘journey’) we immediately picture the wide savannah, parades of giraffe and elephants, and big cats on the prowl. Kenya’s main destinations for safari are the Masai Mara, Tsavo East National Park and Amboseli National Park.
However, it is possible to get an incredible safari experience entirely within Nairobi city limits. Here are five places where you can experience the magic of Kenya’s wilderness without ever leaving its capital city.
This rescue and recovery centre for elephants and rhinos opens at 11am each day, when the public are invited to gather around a muddy watering hole and watch as baby elephants trot out of the bush to be fed by their keepers with giant bottles. The bottles contain a formula to replace elephant’s milk that has taken nearly 40 years to perfect! After feeding, the elephants mud-bathe and frolic around the perimeter, rubbing against the audience and soaking up the attention. One of the keepers then introduces the individual elephants and tells their stories, but beware, as these stories are mostly tragic – these are orphans after all. If your heart has been well and truly melted, you can ‘adopt’ an elephant and receive monthly updates on its progress.
Top tip: Independent slots to visit the trust are booked up weeks in advance. A sure-fire way to get tickets is to go with a tour company, combining the trust with a drive through Nairobi National Park.
The classic Nairobi photo is of a giraffe or lion framed by a modern city skyline, and the city’s national park offers plenty of opportunities to get your own version of this iconic shot. The first national park in East Africa (established in 1946) is also unique in lying within the city borders. Rise early to see hippos in the dawn mist, lions waking up to go on the prowl and giraffes browsing through thorny acacia trees. This is also one of the best places in the world to see the endangered black rhino, earning the park its nickname Kifaru Ark (‘kifaru’ is the Swahili word for rhino) for its conservation efforts. The ivory-burning site near the entrance is a further moving testimony to Kenya’s anti-poaching commitments and dedication to preserving its majestic wildlife.
Top tip: It’s well worth organising your park visit with an official guide and good-quality vehicle (it can be bumpy) with a viewing roof. The guides are very knowledgeable and know the regular haunts of all the different animals, as well as having the driving skills to manoeuvre safely around the park.
For a walking safari, come to another green jewel in Nairobi’s urban sprawl. Karura is an ancient woodland that offers a glimpse of what the area would have looked like if the city had never been built. There are 2,500 acres of towering trees, tangled vines, waterfalls and caves to explore along winding paths, and most are suitable for mountain bikes as well as walkers. The forest is also home to a diverse range of birds and mammals, from the colourful flashes of the variable sunbird to troops of colobus monkeys.
Top tip: Relax after your walk with drinks and food at the serene River Café, not far from the forest entrance.
If you’d like to get a little more up-close and personal to Kenyan wildlife, this is the place. Founded in 1979 by Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville, the centre is responsible for rescuing the Rothschild’s giraffe from the brink of extinction. The centre breeds and rears the giraffes, then releases them back into the wild. On arrival, you’re given a bowlful of giraffe treats before ascending a wooden structure that takes you to head-height with the giraffes and gives you a view of their babies. Now it’s time to hand-feed these amazing animals, creating the perfect photo opportunity.
Top tip: Don’t offer the food and then pull back – giraffes do not like to be teased and they may try to headbutt you to show their displeasure!
For an authentic safari experience, somehow only minutes away from the international airport, book a tent at this camp – the only one that actually sits within the National Park. The tents are spacious and comfy, and exactly what you’d find in the bigger parks. They all have toilets and showers, but to add that ‘bush flavour’ the water is heated over a log fire and brought to your tent by attentive Maasai staff. Based inside a serene forest valley, you can dine under the stars, then sleep surrounded by the noises of the wilderness around you… with not a whisper of Nairobi’s traffic, just a few miles away.
Top tip: Toast your adventures with Kenya’s signature cocktail, the dawa (Swahili for ‘medicine’ or ‘potion’). It’s a potent mix of vodka, sugar, honey and lime – the perfect sundowner at the end of your Nairobi city safari.