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Nai Nami Street Tour, Nairobi | Ummi Goes Where?

Nairobi Downtown Tour with Nai Nami Street Kids

Are you one of those travelers who seek authentic local experiences that make for unforgettable stories to tell people back home? No one else has better street skills, insights, and personal stories to tell than former street kids.

NAI NAMI, which means “Nai (slang word for Nairobi) With Me” is a one-on-one, 3-hour walking tour in downtown Nairobi, founded in 2016 by Gianmarco Marinello and Sriram Damodaran who both gave up their careers and dedicated their lives to creating social change in Nairobi.

They trained youths from slums to become tour guides, thus allowing them to have a job, a stable income, and the opportunity to connect with people from all around the world. Since January 2019, Nai Nami Walking Tour is run and owned by the youths themselves.

Booking can be made on Airbnb app/website. It is necessary to book the tour at least 24 hours in advance. During the peak season (June – September), you should try to book 4 weeks in advance.

If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, you can register through this link here to get a special discount on your first booking. Booking can also be made on their official website and a few other booking platforms.

What to Expect on the Nairobi City Tour

The Meeting Point

The tour starts and ends in front of Bata Shop at Hilton Hotel, which is in the City Hall-Way, just opposite Kencom Bus Stage.

Do note that there is another Bata Shop in a nearby building, so make sure you go to the correct one. If you would like to go somewhere specific after the tour, your guides can help you get there.

The Guides

On the day that I joined the tour, the team consisted of 6 guides. Besides me, there were only two other guests — an elderly American couple.

Each of us was assigned our own guide to allow us to have a personal interaction and an opportunity to ask all our questions. The other three guides walked along, sometimes separating from the group and later joining us again.

The guides all went by nicknames. Mine was called Typhoon.

Nai Nami Nairobi Walking tour with street kids | Ummi Goes Where?
With Typhoon.

It was Nai Nami that turned their lives around — granting them a full-time job and a stable income by building on their street skills and life stories.

The Tour

The tour is not designed to be a sightseeing tour, therefore it doesn’t have a specific route.

Instead, it is more of a storytelling experience, where the guides will show you their former home — the bustling streets of Downtown Nairobi, the railway station, the Kariakor market, the river side, and other places that you are unlikely to venture on your own.

Where Obama used to live in Nairobi
Apparently, this is where Obama’s extended family used to live.
The downtown is a vibrant place where locals do business, shop at hidden markets, and eat at kibandas. Each of the streets has its own stories and secrets, which you will learn during the tour. If you’d like to buy something at the markets, your guide can also help you haggle for a local price.
The approach of the walking tour is not about teaching the slum youths things they don’t know, but about giving them the opportunity to create value from their existing street skills and teach others what they’ve learned while surviving on the streets.

Nairobi walking tour with street kids

Nairobi walking tour with street kids.

To be honest, learning about the city through their eyes was rather disturbing. I was appalled to learn about their living conditions and the violence they had to go through. But to them, this was their daily life. It was a sobering experience, to say the least.

Additional Info about NAI NAMI Walking Tour

  • Please bring your original passport or a copy of it (main page and the page showing the visa stamp). Everywhere in Kenya, you have to be prepared for random identity checks by the police. Therefore, you should have your documents with you at all times, not only on this tour.
  • Do not bring big cameras or DSLRs. According to Kenyan law, taking pictures in the streets of downtown is a punishable offense. Phones are fine, but please ask your guide first before taking photos. They will tell you when it is okay to take pictures, and when it is not.
  • The weather in Nairobi is unpredictable. Bring an umbrella/raincoat, and a light sweater.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. No sandals or high heels.
  • Local lunch is included at the end of the tour.

Final Thoughts

I was a little apprehensive when booking this tour because I feared that it would be the kind of setting that would drain my social battery very fast. With kids or young people (and sometimes people my age too), I always feel like I have to be ‘cool’ enough lest I bore them with my unfashionable, nerdy ways.

From the descriptions, I assumed that the guides were a very energetic, high-spirited lot, and I was right. I never quite adjusted to their energy level as a group, but fortunately, when we went on the one-on-one tour, it felt more chill. My guide was very accommodating and patient in answering all my questions.

Nai Nami Nairobi Walking tour with street kids | Ummi Goes Where?
Another photo with Typhoon.

At the end of the tour, we had a typical Kenyan meal at a local restaurant (please bring along some cash, and allocate some extra as you may be expected to pay for the guides as well).

After the meal, they walked me to the bus station, where I was to take an overnight bus to Kampala. And they even humored me when I wanted to try the street food, and khat (an addictive leaf that you chew to get high).

Nairobi street snacks.
Nairobi street snacks.
Khat leaves.
Khat leaves.

I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Nairobi. Not only will you get an invaluable experience touring the city like a local, you will also get the opportunity to become a role model to the disadvantaged youths, and to give them the things they never had before: purpose, employment, and a brighter future free from crime.

What do you think of this tour? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Posted in Kenya

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  2. bae roslan

    i suka this kind of tour, being a local. maybe i can give add kenya in my list now. never think of visiting Kenya. thanks for sharing

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Bae. Tour macam ni rasa lebih authentic sebab diorang local yang memang besar dan tinggal kat situ, bukan tour guide. Menarik cerita2 yang diorang share. Di antara negara2 Afrika Timur yang saya pernah pergi, saya paling suka Kenya.

    • ummi

      Kalau Ayu ke Nairobi nanti, boleh la join Nai Nami tour ni ya. Sebab kalau nak pergi sendiri ke tempat2 yang dibawa ni mungkin tak berani, terutama yang baru kali pertama di Afrika.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Huda. Alah, tak banyak mana pun bilnya tapi nak kena mention juga la kat sini takut orang tak prepare cukup cash, nanti jadi awkward pula.

    • ummi

      Ya, sis, tak boleh ambil gambar sesuka hati kat Nairobi ni, takut diorang ingat terrorist. Daun khat tu tak tau la apa namanya dalam bahasa Melayu, tapi dia lebih kurang sirih la, buat kunyah2, dan boleh jadi ketagih.

    • ummi

      Hehe, terima kasih, Kak Siti. Saya pun tak tau sama ada legal ke tak daun khat tu kat sana, sebab tengok semua orang selamba je kunyah benda tu. Di downtown Nairobi ni macam takde undang-undang sangat. Agaknya polis pun tak berani masuk.

    • ummi

      I wish the same for you, Zharif. Africa is a vast and beautiful continent. And be sure to keep this on your list of things to do when you visit Nairobi. They’re not exactly young kids anymore, but they grew up on the streets.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Jen! I personally prefer staying away from the well-trodden paths. Right now, Africa really attracts me. But I do have some articles on Japan and South Korea. Do check them out. 🙂

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