Top 8 Best Day Trips From Nairobi
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
Nairobi is the gateway to so much that’s good about Kenya, and the starting point for many an unforgettable safari. It’s also an ideal base for an exciting day trip. While you could reach many of the bigger national parks, such as Amboseli or Lake Nakuru National Parks, and be back in Nairobi by nightfall, we don’t recommend that you travel Kenya’s roads (and most small planes don’t fly) before or after dark. Also, a day trip to these parks would only allow you to see the animals during the middle of the day, which is not a great time for spotting wildlife. Instead, what follows is our pick of the best day trips from Nairobi.
1. Nairobi National Park
Lioness at Nairobi National Park. Source: flickr.com/photos/nagarjun/44439437372
Less a day trip than an essential part of the Nairobi experience, Nairobi National Park is a unique experience. There are some classic East African landscapes here, including rolling savannah and light woodland. And the park has incredible wildlife, to be sure: there’s an excellent chance that you’ll see lions and rhinos, as well as wildebeest, zebra, impala, buffalo, hippo, crocodile and giraffe. What’s remarkable about this catalogue of charismatic creatures is that they’re roaming completely wild and free with city skyscrapers in the background.
2. Ngong Hills
Visible from many places in town, the Ngong Hills, west of Nairobi, carry deep meaning for those nostalgic for the earliest days of the East African safari. If you’ve ever seen the film, or read the book, Out of Africa, you’ll remember the line, ‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.’ This was where the colonial elite went to play. You can search for the echoes of this era at the Ngong Hills Racecourse, which holds race meetings a couple of Sundays most months. And you could also track down the overgrown grave of Denys Finch Hatton, the dashing love interest of Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). At the latter, watch for the lion said to guard his tomb…
3. Swara Plains Conservancy
Wildebeests, Swara Plains. Source: flickr.com/photos/143541511@N08/44087460882
Out on the Athi-Kapiti Plains, off the Nairobi-Mombasa Road southeast of Nairobi, the Swara Plains Conservancy is like an oasis of calm and quiet. Safari trails weave across the plains. This used to be one of the most prolific areas for wildlife close to Nairobi, with wildlife migrating through here between Nairobi and Amboseli National Parks, and many of the animals have returned thanks to the conservancy’s important work. You’ll probably encounter a surprising array of wildlife, including impala, zebra and giraffe; cheetah and spotted hyena are both possible. The conservancy’s headquarters occupies a lovely, shady spot beneath the acacias.
4. Lake Magadi
Wildebeests and flamingos. Source: flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/2485582349
One of the least-known of Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes and one of the best day trips from Nairobi, Lake Magadi is like Kenya before the tourists arrived. Just beyond Magadi township, you’ll enter a lunar landscape of salt lakes with great encrustations of salt around the lakeshore. There are also small colonies of flamingos, and springs where you can take a restorative soak in the hot water. On your way south, stop off at Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site, an important archeological site first excavated in the 1940s where you can still see some fossils and the remains of stone tools.
Waterfall in Kenya
A sojourn northeast of the capital to Thika is one of the more underrated day trips from Nairobi. Made famous by Elspeth Huxley’s classic colonial memoir The Flame Trees of Thika (1959), Thika is now a modern provincial town and provides an opportunity to experience urban Kenyan life beyond the usual tourist circuit. Stop off at the historic Blue Post Hotel, and seek out the pretty Chania and Thika Falls nearby. Best of all, book a tour and lunch at the Karunguru Coffee Estate. It’s a brilliant way to spend the day.
6. Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park
Ol Donyo Sabuk, near Thika
Ol Donyo Sabuk is one of the smallest national parks in Kenya. One of the best things about coming here is that you may have the park all to yourself; very few travelers make it to Ol Donyo Sabuk. There’s not a lot of wildlife, but you might see buffalo, as well as colobus and Sykes’ monkeys and baboons. Another highlight is the chance to get out and walk (accompanied by a ranger): climb quiet trails to the summit of Ol Donyo Sabuk (2,146m), called Kilimambongo (Buffalo Mountain) by the Kikuyu people. Watch for the distinctive Afro-alpine vegetation along the way.
7. Mt Longonot National Park
Thomson's gazelles in front of Mount Longonot
Shapely Mt Longonot, northwest of Nairobi, is a stunning former volcano, and one of the best such hikes in Kenya. It’s a gradual climb from the car park up to the crater rim, from where you’ll look down into the forested lost world of the crater. The views out over the rest of the Rift Valley from here are also superb. If you have enough water and you’re keen to continue, a trail encircles the rim, with so many exceptional views as you walk around this special place. Watch for sulfurous steam rising from vents down on the crater floor and inner walls.
8. Kiambethu Tea Farm
Kiambethu Tea Farm. Source: flickr.com/photos/ninara/15965899196
In the rolling green hills northwest of Nairobi, this tea estate is easy to reach, yet a world away from the noise and bustle of the capital. The tours at 11am take you through how tea is made, and there’s a chance to walk through the indigenous forest on the farm. Stay for lunch where chefs prepare meals made from local ingredients. Tea-tasting is also a big part of the appeal of a visit here.
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