Nairobi National Park: The Complete Guide

White rhino against an urban backdrop in Nairobi National Park, Kenya

Verónica Paradinas Duro / Getty Images

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Nairobi National Park

Address
Karen KWS SAFARI WALK, EDUCATION CENTRE, Animal Orphanage Road, Nairobi, Kenya
Phone +254 20 2423423

Situated just 7 miles from the center of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi National Park is a pretty special phenomenon. Where else can you view critically endangered rhinos against a backdrop of downtown skyscrapers, or spot giraffes from your window seat as you land at the city’s international airport? For those about to embark on a tour of Kenya’s more famous safari destinations (think Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu, and the mighty Maasai Mara), Nairobi National Park offers a worthwhile introduction to the country’s animal and birdlife. For those passing through the capital, the park is an opportunity to get a taste of the wild without ever leaving the city limits. 

Things to Do

Whether you choose to self-drive or join an organized tour, game drives are the main attraction of a visit to Nairobi National Park. Although the park is by no means the most authentic safari experience in Kenya, the juxtaposition of seeing wild animals in such an incongruously urban setting is a major draw for many visitors. Another highlight is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, whose orphanage for rescued elephants and rhinos is located inside the park. Founded by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 1977, the charity welcomes members of the public for one hour in the morning every day to watch the babies being bathed and fed.

For the most part, visitors are prohibited from exiting their vehicles while inside the park—there could be a lion hanging out nearby, after all. However, there are a couple of marked spots where you can stretch your legs and walk around, including a scenic picnic area at Impala Observation Point for having lunch. One of the best walking trails takes you to the hippo pools, where the largest concentration of these aquatic herbivores can be found.

In 1989, former president Daniel Arap Moi ordered the burning of 12 tons of confiscated elephant ivory inside the park as a symbol of Kenya’s zero-tolerance policy on ivory trafficking. This event is commemorated by the Ivory Burning Site Monument and a must-see spot for conservationists.

Safari

With a total area of just over 45 square miles, Nairobi National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Africa and yet it supports an astonishing variety of wildlife. It is home to four of the Big Five animals (with elephants being the notable exception), including black and white rhino. It is one of the most successful rhino sanctuaries in Kenya and one of only a few places left in the world where visitors are virtually guaranteed a sighting of the critically endangered eastern black rhino. In addition to lion and leopard, the park’s predators include cheetah and hyena while herbivores range from the Maasai giraffe to Coke’s hartebeest, eland, waterbuck, and impala. 

Choosing the right safari tour operator isn't easy, especially since many local companies—which tend to be the cheapest—don't have websites. However, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, or KATO, maintains a directory of reputable tour operators in the country, so start there. Another option is to simply arrive at the main gate of the national park where there are always tour guides waiting and available to hire for the day.

Where to Camp

There are three public campsites within the park, all of which offer electricity, hot water showers, and communal kitchens. If you don’t have a tent, you can rent one from the main gate.

For a camping experience that's a step up from just pitching a tent, the Nairobi Tented Camp is located within the park boundaries and is more of a "glamorous camping" experience. Located on the west side of the reserve, it includes nine luxurious permanent tents, all with en-suite bathrooms and solar lighting. Gourmet meals are served in the bush under the stars or in the dining tent, and water is heated over log fires.

Where to Stay Nearby

Nairobi National Park is also conveniently close to the affluent suburbs of Langata and Karen, both of which offer a wide range of accommodation options ranging from comfortable guesthouses to five-star hotels.

  • Giraffe Manor: For nature lovers, this guesthouse is located on the grounds of the Giraffe Centre in Langata. In addition to 12 double rooms outfitted in grand colonial style, this boutique option is made special by the Rothschild’s giraffes that roam freely around its grounds. Staying here also puts you within easy reach of other top Nairobi attractions.
  • Palacina Residential Hotel: This family-run hotel is known just as much for its warm and friendly service as it is for its boutique vibe. It's located in the Kilimani neighborhood not far from the presidential residence, and just 20 minutes by car from the national park entrance gate.
  • Emakoko: If you want an African bush experience in Nairobi, then Emakoko is about as close as you can get. This 10-room lodge is located on the southern edge of the national park and far away from the busy city center, so guests can fully disconnect and enjoy Nairobi's natural side.

How to Get There

Nairobi National Park is within Nairobi's city limits and just 6 miles from the city center. If you have access to a car or plan on hiring one, you can self-drive around Nairobi National Park. Otherwise, it’s possible to hire a six-seater Land Cruiser (complete with a driver and guide) from the main gate.

The cheapest way to experience the park is on the Kenya Wildlife Service shuttle safari. This passenger coach runs on weekends and public holidays and departs from Development House in the city center or from the main gate of the park.

It is also possible to get to the park using public transport: just hop on the bus—Matatu 125 or 126—from Nairobi Railway Station, both of which drop you at the main gate. The journey from the station takes around 35 minutes.

Accessibility

Nairobi National Park is mostly explored from the inside of a vehicle, making it accessible for most guests with mobility challenges. However, between the bumpy roads and frequent stops, be aware that a safari is much more physically demanding than just sitting in a car. Thankfully, there are multiple tour operators in Kenya that are fully dedicated to assisting travelers with disabilities, such as Go Africa Safaris or Spot Kenya Safaris. You can use them to answer questions about your upcoming trip or even to book a multiday safari around the entire country.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust inside the park, or the baby elephant nursery, is also accessible to visitors in wheelchairs. It's a short pathway from the parking lot to the center and even though it's a little bumpy, most wheelchair users shouldn't have a problem.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Unless you know where you're going, entering the park with a tour guide is recommended. The guides communicate with each other about animal locations, giving visitors the best chance of seeing the animals that they're most interested in.
  • Opt for a vehicle with an open roof for the best unobstructed views of what's around you.
  • Travelers often focus solely on spotting lions, buffalo, rhinos, and leopards, but remember there are over 100 other mammals and 400 bird species that you can also see in the park.
  • Animals are most active in the early morning and in the evening—especially the big cats. Aim to visit early in the day or late in the day for the best chance to see something exciting.
  • The wet seasons are April to June and again from October to November. The roads can get difficult to navigate so hiring a guide is extra important, but there are also fewer crowds and gorgeous wildflowers in bloom.
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Nairobi National Park: The Complete Guide