Nairobi might not be the most convenient weekend getaway, unless you’re in the region like us, but if you’re planning a Kenyan safari or trekking trip, it’s well-worth scheduling in a relaxed weekend in Nairobi. Relaxed, you say? In Nairobi? Despite the traffic and the hustle and bustle, I’m here to tell you that a zen state is possible, and here’s how, dear readers.
Arriving on Friday night, arrange an airport pick up with your hotel and head over there. Instead of picking a spot downtown, plump for the leafy suburb of Karen in the South-West, where the green space and plethora of bon-vivant venues will equip you well for a weekend of kicking back. The Nomad’s Concierge loves The Purdy Arms for a mid-range option, or the inimitable Hemingway’s if you can stretch to it. In any case, once you’ve unpacked and freshened up and made sure you’ve got Uber on your phone, head to Hemingway’s for a relaxed cocktail amongst the tufted leather seats and marble fireplace.
On Saturday morning, head over to The Purdy Arms for a hearty brunch that’ll set you up for the day. The veranda looking out over the hotel’s luscious garden is perfect for people watching and getting a sense of life in Kenyan suburbia, as there’s always something on. The sports bar inside usually provides the right amount of banterous background noise. There’s a whole range of fun activities from paintballing to archery hosted from the gardens but they’re perhaps not in line with the relaxation aim. However, don’t leave without visiting the artisan shops that flank the drive. I fell in love with the quirky BBQs in the shape of buses and all sorts, but after 20 minutes making no headway on how to get one home, I reluctantly admitted defeat. Some day, BBQ, some day.
From there, head to the Giraffe Centre to get up close and personal with the most graceful of beasts. You’ll be given a handful of feed that you can offer up to a giraffe for them to extract from your hand with their extravagantly long tongues. A totally unique experience! The place isn’t huge, so no need to schedule more than an hour there and be warned, there’s no WiFi here, so don’t rely on Uber for your return trip unless you’re free and easy with roaming charges.
At the Sheldrike Wildlife Trust, you’ll meet orphaned elephants, who you can see playfully jumping about and loving their safe and cared for life. At 5pm each day, you can visit to adopt one of the elephants, committing to financial supports its care in exchange for photos.
Stop by The Hub shopping centre, choosing one of their large range of restaurants for some lunch. We opted for Picazzo for tapas, churros and sangria in stylish surroundings. The shopping centre itself has many global brands alongside some fabulous local shops for souvenirs you’ll actually use in your home. My favourite of these was Blue Rhino, where I got some great candles, batik style placemats and had to resist any more of the beautiful handmade soft furnishings.
An unmissable Karen experience is Escape Room Kenya, around the corner from The Hub. If you don’t know the premise of an escape room, your group will be thrust into a locked room and you have an hour to solve the puzzles and escape. The Karen version is very well done. It’s not high-tech but the scenarios are fun and convincing, the plotlines get you in the mood and the puzzles are well-thought out and really enjoyable. Best of all, you can play from two players to a bigger group. And the props for the photo at the end are fabulous. It’s good, clean fun. (If you’re looking for an escape room closer to home, check out this review of an epic sounding Glasgow escape room!)
As night falls, the perfect Karen dinner spot is The Talisman restaurant, right next door in the same compound. Book an outside table ahead of time, where you’ll be supplied with blankets and your own fire in the shape of a rot-iron frog. The restaurant has a sumptuous menu of gastro-delights and a whole separate sushi menu to choose from. This is relaxed elegance at its finest.
Sundays are made for hiking and being at one with nature, so after fuelling with your hotel breakfast head over to the Ngong Hills. A well-prepared Nomad would be wise to take water and snacks and beware it can get quite cool and windy. After hiring a ranger / guide for peace of mind at the front gate (or KFS opposite the Ngong Police Station), you can set off along the seven hills, which will take about 2.5-3 hours to reach the furthest point (Kona Baridi). Arrange a car to pick you up there – after all, this weekend is about relaxing, not exhausting, ourselves. Of course, there’s no need to go the whole way if you prefer to walk a little way there and back. In any case, along the way you’ll chat with Maasai herdsmen and spot buffalo, all the time with a stunning backdrop.
After earning your lunch, head to Matbronze Museum to visit their well-served café, before wandering around the fabulous array of bronze animal sculptures set amongst pristine gardens.
Depending on how leisurely your day has been and the timing of your flight, perhaps there’s time to fit in the nearby Karen Blixen Museum, the well-preserved home of the Out of Africa author. Much of the film adaptation was set there and it’s an intimate look into the author’s life. The Coffee Garden restaurant comes well recommended too for some refreshment.
And that is your 48 hours in Karen, Nairobi! I’d love to hear how it goes, Nomads, and any of your other discoveries. Let me know in the comments section below!