For those of you travelers and tourists who prefer to cut back on multiple stopovers to Africa, JFK now has nonstop flights to Kenya through Kenya Airways! En route to Tanzania, I was in search of an “affordable” flight option with minimal stops, and flying into Kenya seemed to be my best option! Most flights to Tanzania, however, required a bit of a layover in a neighboring African country. But after a long, 15 hour flight from New York to Nairobi, I was ready to stretch my legs in Kenya for seven hours before making my way to my next destination.
But is seven hours really enough time to adventure away from the airport and to explore a city? With a little research and planning, you can explore Nairobi and not have to twiddle your thumbs at the terminal (while it now has free WI-FI, Nairobi airport is lacking in restaurants and entertainment). If you are a US citizen, a transit visit will only cost you about $25 for the day, which is well worth it to explore and see what Nairobi has to offer.
1. Go on an urban safari at Nairobi National Park
While I was torn between an urban safari and visiting the giraffe center (more on that below), I opted to get my feet wet by going on safari. An Uber ride from the airport to the park is approximately 20-25 minutes. I went during a low time of day (around 11AM) where the park is typically busy during sunrise or sundown, which meant waiting for the driver to pick me up, but was well worth the wait! The park guides know the best areas for sighting a variety of wildlife.
There’s something unique about seeing wildlife so close to a city. As we were driving through a herd of zebras, Nairobi’s Hass Tower was still in plane sight. It is absolutely incredible how close these animals coexist with not only one another, but live in such proximity to an urban civilization!
2. Giraffe Center (African Fund for Endangered Wildlife)
Next time I find myself in Kenya (hopefully for longer than 7 hours next time!) this will be the first place I check out! As a sanctuary for giraffes, the center’s mission is to educate Kenyan children, residents, and non-residents about wildlife and the environment, as a method for supporting conservation efforts. Habitat loss in western Kenya has pushed the Rothschild giraffe on the brink of extinction. While still having quite a ways to go, the Giraffe Center has successfully released breeding populations to a number of Kenya’s natural parks.
Visitors can attend a short lecture to learn more about why efforts are being made to protect this endangered species, as well as learn more about the wildlife in general in Kenya. The center also includes a nature hike, as well as the opportunity to observe, hand-feed, and interact with the residents (who doesn’t want to be close to a giraffe?!).
3. City Tour of Nairobi
Many people don’t think of urban metropolis residing in Africa, but you would be surprised! Nairobi is a city that is full of life, yet with a laid back attitude. Depending on the length of your layover, the city can be explored by car or by foot. Ideas for a city tour include exploring the National Museum, depicting Kenya’s culture, the botanical gardens, and Kenyatta Market.
These are just some sample ideas of how to experience a layover in Nairobi. While a day is too short to truly experience a country, no long layover should be wasted at the airport terminal!