Big in Africa: Things to do in Nairobi besides getting mugged

This month, Big in Japan is on vacation in Africa, and will be bringing you travel news and happenings from around this often misunderstood continent.

Nairobi, the less than gentle capital of Kenya, serves as the jumping off point for East Africa’s most storied game parks. Indeed, ‘Nai-robbery’ is home to extraordinary extremes in wealth and poverty, which sadly fuels a staggering amount of street crime.

Despite its infamous reputation however, Nairobi is a wonderfully dynamic and culturally rich city. The outskirts of the Kenyan capital also present numerous opportunities to interact with Africa’s charismatic wildlife.

As with major cities the world over, it pays to exercise caution while in Nairobi, though you needn’t be paralyzed with fear while passing time here. Indeed, all it takes is a little common sense and an awareness of your surroundings to minimize your chances of becoming a victim.

And, assuming you can get over a somewhat healthy preoccupation with your personal security, you can actually really enjoy yourself in Nairobi.

Here is a list of cool things to do while in Nairobi:

Dine on crocodile, camel and ostrich. The suburb of Langata is home to Carnivore, one of the most famous tourist restaurants on the continent. While it’s no longer legal to dine on wild meat, you can still taste a few exotic animals that have been farm-raised for human consumption.

See an antelope get taken down by a lion. Believe it or not, there is an unfenced national park literally on the edge of the capital. Nairobi National Park, which is somewhat incongruously positioned next to the airport, boasts a healthy number of felines as well as more than fifty wild rhinos.

Watch a baby elephant get bottle-fed. Part of Nairobi National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust raises orphaned baby elephants with the goal of reintroducing them to the wild. Between the hours of 11am and noon daily, you can watch these playful little guys be hand reared by the dedicated staff.

Dance to the latest Swahili beats. Although a good number of tourists are content to shut the windows and lock the doors after sunset, Nairobi really comes alive at night. If you’re feeling a little cabin crazy, head to any of the bars and clubs in the Westlands for a dose of the Tusker lager-fueled nightlife.

French kiss a giraffe. Although you may make your better half jealous, stop by the Langata Giraffe Centre where you can stand on a raised platform and get intimate with a giraffe. The center is run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, so all of the proceeds go directly to conservation.

Haggle for a three-foot wooden giraffe. The city market on Muindi Mbingu Street is your one-stop shop for quintessential Kenyan souvenirs. While touristy figurines may not be your thing, Kenyan artisans also produce some stunning work, including hand-inlaid soapstone bowls, intricately carved wooden masks, and extremely detailed Masaai beadwork.

Moral of the story: while in Nairobi, take the words ‘Hakuna Matata’ to heart and relax…

** A special shout-out to my travelling buddy Adam Karlin – Spring Break Mombasa!!! **