Marianna Hunt

How to combine city break and safari in Kenya

Nairobi's thriving arts scene makes it worth more than a quick stop-off

  • From Spectator Life
The deck at Hemingways Eden in Nairobi [Hemingways Eden]

Nairobi is blossoming. With its vibrant art world, nascent farm-to-fork restaurant scene and unique hotels, east Africa’s biggest city is increasingly on the radar of international travellers. ‘We’re definitely seeing people wanting to stay longer in Nairobi,’ says Rose Hipwood of the Luxury Safari Company. ‘It’s absolutely a cosmopolitan city now. Rather than flying in and flying straight out on safari, people are wanting to extend their stays and see what restaurants, bars and museums there are.’

The country’s safari offering is developing, too. Away from the crowds of the Maasai Mara, lesser-known hotspots are finding a following – devoid of people but brimming with nature. As Kenya marks 60 years of independence from British rule, here’s how to combine city break and safari here – and what hidden gems to put on your hitlist.

The city

Nairobi [iStock]

While for years watchers of Africa’s art scene had their gaze fixed on the west of the continent (Ghana, Nigeria and so on), Kenya is at last making its way into the spotlight. Nairobi has established itself as a creative hub, with artist collectives and studios popping up all over the city. Since 2013 it has hosted the East African Art Auction (the largest in the region), and while at present the city has no major art galleries, plans are afoot for two mammoth new cultural spaces: the National Art Gallery of Kenya and the Eastern African Museum of Art, Nairobi. 

Until they arrive, the best way to experience Kenya’s art scene is by popping into the studios of some of its best artists. On a day’s art tour with Hemingways Eden (a boutique hotel with its own private gallery) I got to chat with up-and-coming stars such as Kaloki Nyamai and peruse the wares at artist collectives including Kuona Trust. At the latter, I watched leather workers cutting and sewing cow skins into gorgeously Instagrammable home furnishings and wood workers chipping away at sculptures, before browsing stylish streetwear from Kenyan fashion brands. 

Hemingways Eden is a former artists’ home turned hotel and gallery [Hemingways Eden]

As my baggage allowance wasn’t going to let me take home a hand-crafted cabinet or oil painting, we also stopped by Utamaduni Craft Centre – a delightful maze of boutiques selling artisan wares on a smaller scale and with a leafy courtyard café.

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