The Best Safaris In Kenya

Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park
By Stuart Butler

While most capital cities have their collection of attractive parks filled with neatly cut lawns, old trees, meandering paths and perhaps a boating lake, Nairobi has gone one step further.

Its biggest ‘park’ is in fact a 117 kmsq swathe of undulating savannah grasslands and acacia woodlands. And while it doesn’t have a boating lake it does have lions. And buffalo. And rhinos. All of which means that it’s probably not such a sensible place for an after work stroll.

It is though a fabulous safari destination and although the park is much loved by the city’s 4.4 million residents (who put up a huge fight every time some developer comes up with some scheme to try and build on a part of the park) it is woefully overlooked by visitors to Kenya.

What makes this oversight even more extraordinary is that the majority of tourists landing in Kenya spend their first and last nights in one of the hotels very close to the park boundaries, but they never bother to visit. Well, we are here to put things right. You absolutely should try and squeeze in a trip to Nairobi National Park.

Safari in Nairobi National Park

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Hirolas grazing in the savannah of Nairobi Park in central Kenya

Hirolas grazing in Nairobi National Park with the Kenyan capital in the background

Nairobi National Park wildlife

Nairobi has an incredible diversity of wildlife (and even more diverse birdlife) including all of the Big Five except elephants.

The park has healthy numbers of buffalo, plenty of highly elusive leopard who like to slide out of the park and prey on Nairobian’s pet dogs, plus a good number of lions and rhinos.

There are also lots of giraffes, zebras, baboons, warthogs and more and with just a morning here you can easily tick off a good selection of all the classic East African safari creatures.

Nairobi National Park highlights

Megafauna & city life

Where else on earth can you stare in awe at lions and leopards with a backdrop of city tower blocks?

It might not be a horizon as mother nature made it, but the buildings of downtown Nairobi make for a unique backdrop to any safari here. Sometimes even the cats get a bit too curious about those buildings; prides of lions have been known to stop the city’s rush hour traffic after they walk into busy neighbourhoods surrounding the park and fall asleep on the road!

Nairobi safari walk

On the fringes of the park, this is a raised boardwalk past enclosures of African wildlife. It’s not exactly a zoo but it’s definitely not ‘wild’ either. What it is though is a lot of interest and enjoyment for those travelling with children.

Animal orphanage

Also on the park fringes is this orphanage that gives a home to abandoned or injured animals that would otherwise never make it alone in the big, bad wild. Again, it’s good for children.

Lions

Who would have thought it? Wild lions within a capital city! Nairobi National Park is perhaps surprisingly a great place to look for lions. There are quite a few here and they are very much habituated to safari vehicles so will loll around on the side of the road while you click away.

When to visit

Nairobi National Park can be visited year round. Although much of the park is now either fenced in or hemmed in by developments there are some southern parts of the park where animals can still (just about) freely move in and out of the park and during the April, May and November rainy season many creatures do just this.

How to get to Nairobi National Park

Visiting Nairobi National Park could not be easier. You can get off your plane at the international airport, clear customs and half-an-hour later be out in the bush scanning your binoculars across the landscape in a search for animals.

Every tour company in the city offers half or full-day Nairobi National Park tours which makes this a great budget safari park.

Where to stay

Nairobi is the biggest and most important city in East Africa and as such has hundreds of places to stay ranging from grimy backpacker hangouts to swish boutique hotels as well as the whole array of international chain hotels. Whatever category you opt for though be aware that Nairobi is an expensive city and you’ll likely pay more for a room here than you would for a similar such place in most Western European capitals.

All this choice means that it’s easy to find a room in Nairobi, but because of the size of the city and the often dreadful traffic it’s sensible to select a hotel within the vicinity of the park. The good news is that these are often the more desirable parts of the city in which to stay anyway.

Accommodation in the upmarket Karen and Langata areas are close to the main park entrance and the hotels near Jomo Kenyatta International Airport also give excellent park access through the parks East Gate.

Nairobi National Park

Stuart Butler

Stuart is the author of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal, the Rough Guide to Nepal, the Tibet chapter of the Rough Guide to China and the Bradt guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. He also writes widely about East Africa and conservation issues.

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