The capital of Kenya is a vibrant and complex metropolis - full of life, surrounded by the natural world at its most elemental. The struggle to persist, to thrive, is as alive here as it ever was on the African plains, albeit in a more contemporary setting: here a Hilton Hotel and the ultra-modern I&M Bank Tower, there one of the largest and poorest slums the world has ever known. But amid the towering buildings and green spaces and congested highways, in spite of extremist attacks and formerly corrupt, post-colonial politicians, one gets a palpable sense that Kenyans here are proud of the fruits of their labor. This is an industrious city, where hard working men and women are every day carving out a cosmopolitan niche of their own: a new face of modern Africa. And it's working.
It was almost inevitable that Nairobi's reliance on tourism revenue (remember that it's the "Safari Capital" of the world, after all) would lead to an overly romanticized idea of Kenyan culture. Cue big attractions like the Bomas of Kenya and the Giraffe Centre which, despite their best intentions, can often be experienced as exploitative and kitschy. But explore a little deeper and you'll come across a wealth of more insightful and less talked about activities here, like a hike to the Maasai villages thriving on the rarely-visited slopes of neighboring Mount Suswa, or the African art displayed front and center inside the once-colonial Nairobi Gallery. Even the Toi and Maasai Markets, now serving almost as many visitors as they do locals, maintain an air of authenticity and chaos about them. But Kenyan heritage is only half the story, as contemporary Nairobi has developed a distinct feel and rhythm all its own. Multicultural influence can be experienced everywhere, from the minarets of the Jamia Mosque to the international flavors of Central District's copious restaurants. And let's not even get started on the nightlife, which pumps nightly from Baricho Road to the insatiable Westlands neighborhood.
But when inevitably your gaze begins to stretch beyond man-made architecture, at last coming home to rest on that solitary acacia whose canopy has shaded humanity since its infancy, you'll know the time has come. From nearby Nairobi National Park and the rapids of the Tana River to more profound destinations that include the untamed Maasai Mara and snow peaked Mt. Kenya, the selection of adventure that this city is best known for is every bit as incredible as you've been led to believe. There are waterfalls in Karura Forest, lava caves on Mount Suswa and just about every type of game animal you could hope to observe within a 2 hour drive. So pack your camera and extra film (err...wait, nevermind, just the camera), your hiking boots and your sunblock, and prepare yourself to experience some of the most awe inspiring spectacles and specimens mother nature can throw at you. This is Nairobi, after all; it's time to go on a safari.