Nairobi, Kenya is a popular gateway city for tourists who are heading to other parts of Kenya for safaris or to the countries of Uganda or Tanzania. As we know, Africa offers much more than wildlife and Nairobi is much more than a stop-over point en route to another destination. Nairobi is a bustling city offering fine cuisine, nightlife, cultural activities and many other attractions that make it worthwhile to stop and stay.
One thing that kept me busy during my time in Nairobi was the many amazing markets featuring local and often, handcrafted items by small makers and small businesses. I would get everything from pillows to freshly pressed juices while at the same time supporting local black businesses.
In this edition of “Black Travel, Black Dollars,” I am sharing six of my favorite markets where you can find a wonderful assortment of handcrafted, locally produced items by Black-owned businesses. These events offer not only great shopping but also cultural activities, food, music, wine and dancing. These markets are not exclusive to Black businesses. However, you will find smaller businesses many of them Black-owned. A great feature of these markets, besides those mentioned earlier, is that you can shop multiple businesses under one roof which is a great time saver.
To save yourself the headache of having to scramble to find cash while you are at the market, bring some money with you. If you don't want to carry large sums of money, you can also sign up for a M-Pesa account which will allow you to make cashless transactions.
Before you head out, be sure to check the market pages for the time and location of events as well as for any updates as things can and do change. Also, note that most of the markets are outdoors so dress accordingly.
Featuring all made in Kenya products, the Asenka Pop Up Market is where you want to be for your Kenya shopping list. Held in Kileleshwa, this market is great for the entire family. Fun for the kids and activities (i.e., shopping) for the adults. You will find everything from leather goods to spices, eggs and nut butters at this market.
Shop ‘til you drop at Karen Flea Market held the first Saturday of the month at the venue Tamambo, Karen Blixen Coffee Garden located in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi. This the newest market of the bunch with a tagline of “Meet. Eat. Shop and Be Merry.” With a lineup of impressive locally made goods, I am sure any visitor to this market will do exactly that. Tamambo is a full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This is one market where you can stay all day. Come for brunch and stay until the evening for live music and drinks. Even catch a community class by the Africa Yoga Project. In between, you can shop more than 30 vendors offering a variety of different items. The K1 Flea Market event happens every Sunday at the K1 Klub House located in the Parklands area of Nairobi. This is an outdoor market with some seating and areas that are covered; however, plan and dress for the weather. People definitely come “fresh from the barber shop and fly from the beauty salon,” so don’t be afraid to dress up a bit for this one.
I can attest that the self-proclaimed, “small market with a huge vibe in Nairobi featuring the best in handmade by small independent business,” known as the Pop Up and Chill Handmakers Market, is definitely that. As the name implies, all the items here are original, unique, handcrafted and/or vintage. Bring your kids to this one as they have a special area for children complete with crafts and other activities. This market is also outdoors and features a DJ who spins popular tunes.
Happening on the first Sunday of each month is The Nairobi Flea Market located at the Alchemist Bar in the Parklands area. If you stay in Nairobi for longer than a few weeks, you will probably be very familiar with the Alchemist Bar before you leave. The Alchemist Bar is popular with both locals and expats has a diverse array of programming and events that make it part of the “it” scene in Nairobi. The Nairobi Flea Market is the self-proclaimed “biggest flea market in Nairobi.” Restaurants offer brunch, food trucks are stationed onsite and there is live music and lots of shopping. There is also a “kiddie korner” for the kids as well. This market goes from 11 am to midnight. If bringing kids, try to attend earlier in the day, the evening is for grown folks!
Hosted at The Node, an event space featuring a cafe, restaurant and a bar you can’t go wrong at the Savannah Street Fair, a new event held in the Westlands area of Nairobi. Their last event had nearly 50 vendors selling home decor items and furniture. Though luggage is only but so large, it may be impractical to buy a couch, but here you can find some amazing smaller home decor pieces you can bring back that would be not only stunning in your home but also make great conversation pieces. Food and drinks are also readily available.
If you are counting, you will realize that we promised six markets, but this addition makes seven and is truly the one not to miss. Supporting local growers is important, as farming is vital to the economy, but unfortunately, some smaller growers don't make it into the larger grocery stores. Markets like the Naivasha Farmers' Market gives consumers the opportunity to try new products and offers the sellers a cost-effective platform to reach buyers. At the Naivasha Farmers Market, you will find spices, coffee, chocolate, wine, jams and chutneys, fresh baked goods, cheeses, meat and much more. Sounds delicious? It is, but here is the catch: Naivasha is about one hour and thirty minutes from Nairobi, so consider this a day trip. The good news is there are plenty of transportation options to get there and the trip is worth it. You might as well do some exploring of the Rift Valley while you are there and take in other sites in and around Naivasha.
A Few of My Favorite Things and Honorable Mentions
I couldn't list the markets without giving some insight into a few of my favorite businesses to shop with. Terra Cold Press Juice, CarBie Natural Beauty, Workshop Nairobi, Mugzie’s Naturals, L’Heritier and Mushkagifts you can find at a few of the markets listed above.
The Sweet Spot Cupcakes bakes the best cupcakes in Nairobi, hands down. It’s the perfect fill for your sweet tooth and they’ll deliver!
Not to miss is Reafric, a social enterprise that makes quality shoes out of waste cut-offs collected in cleanup efforts in Kibera. Kibera is the largest urban slum in Africa, home to amazing innovators like Otieno J. Okoth founder of Reafric. Reafric provides training and jobs to locals while reusing materials that would otherwise litter the community. Don’t leave Nairobi without a pair of Reafric shoes, they are available in many styles and colors for both men and women.
As a bonus, I strongly suggest you treat yourself to a pamper session while in Nairobi and Flair by Betty is the perfect place to go for pampering. You'll be served your choice of juice, wine, tea or coffee while you receive your services. The professionalism and attention to detail are refreshing and the overall experience and service is impeccable. If you go for hair services do not, I repeat do not, miss out on the “treatment.” You can thank me for that tip later.
Also, note that many of the businesses will deliver. Their delivery services may come in handy if you see something you really want but are strapped for cash or you are unable to carry the items with you.
More About M-Pesa
Depending on the market, you will find more vendors will accept M-Pesa than credit cards (think of it as being similar to Cash App). You can get a M-Pesa account at a Safaricom (Safaricom is a cell phone service similar to T-Mobile and Verizon) location. All you need is your passport and cash to deposit. Now you can make mobile payments without any cash in your pocket. As long as your M-Pesa account is funded with sufficient funds to cover your payments, you are good to go.
To plan your overall trip to Kenya, visit the Kenya Tourism Board at http://ktb.go.ke/. You can also like and follow the markets on Facebook for particular businesses, upcoming events and other happenings.