For serious shoppers, Nairobi can be a revelatory adventure. Not only are the country's (and the continent's) diverse arts and crafts well represented here, but there's an abundance of exceptionally creative designers producing covetable clothing, unique accessories, Africa-inspired furniture, and downright beautiful objects to show off in your home. It's also great to know that there are so many community- and environmentally conscious endeavors, with lots of focus on sustainable, eco-friendly practices. And there are numerous opportunities to shop at informal markets, too. Some of the best places to shop are reviewed here, but there are many more, so speak to your host if you have any specific interests.
If you're looking for a more general shopping experience, or simply need to get a few mundane chores done, and want to see how locals go about their daily activities, you might want to head for one of Nairobi's many shopping centers, which, for the most part, aren't too different from a mall you might visit in Canada, Australia, or the U.S.
Tip: Be aware that when shopping at markets, you'll need to pay in cash (hawkers are usually more than keen to accept foreign currency), and some shops will not accept credit cards without some form of official identification.
Canvas Safari: On the Hunt for Great Kenyan Art
While most visitors to East Africa know what they want when it comes to seeing wildlife -- namely, to track and photograph the Big Five -- most people are stumped when it comes to hunting down a worthwhile souvenir. Usually they make a beeline for the dozens of curios shops catering to popular taste -- paintings or batiks of Maasai warriors leaning on their spears, their shukas a winning splash of red, or maybe a ponderously drawn lion licking its lips, or a leopard apparently asleep in a tree. But now, increasingly, there is a new breed of tourists on the prowl -- shrewd art collectors who have heard whispers that Kenya is home to a growing group of painters and sculptors who are making it big on the international scene. These visitors wisely ignore the tourist tat and instead, supported by a knowledgeable local guide, head for the galleries and studios that house works by some of the country's leading artists, whose paintings and sculptures are now shown in museums throughout the world and owned by top international private collections, including those of Jean Pigozzi, the World Bank, and the Daraja Group.
Names to look out for among the young lions of Kenyan painting include Peterson Kamwathi, with his edgy animal studies and life-size charcoal drawings reflecting the country's troubled political history, and Jesse N'gang'a, whose brightly colored canvases, with their iconography of skulls, skeletons, and graffiti, express the sort of grim gaiety last seen in the works of the American neo-expressionists and European masters such as Constance Permeke and James Ensor. Other artists whose work is being snapped up include Sane Wadu, Chain Muhandi, Richard Onyango -- who chronicled the life and death of his gargantuan lover, Suzie Droze -- Wanyu Brush, and the Nairobi surrealist Richard Kimathi.
The extent of available talent in Kenya is truly astounding -- and with major new artists appearing on the scene every few years, it is still possible to pick up a bargain. You just have to get there and spot the talent before the major collectors have moved in.
Let's Go to the Maasai Market
If you're in the mood for haggling, then by all means check out the multifangled selection of arts, crafts, jewelry, kikois, kangas, and assorted miscellany that's sold at the so-called Maasai Market, which now happens 5 days a week at a different venue each day (except Mon and Thurs) -- ask your hotel concierge or manager for today's location. While you'll potentially score a bargain, the constant sales pitch and low-key harassment from some vendors can be extremely off-putting.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.