A Visit to the Maasai Market in Nairobi
Maasai Market is the place to shop if you are looking for affordable, beautiful and colourful souvenirs to take back home with you. It is an open air market with a wide variety of items to shop including African pots and pans, African paintings, African materials, curios, jewellery, shoes, bags, clothes, utensils, you name it-it will be at the Maasai Market.
It is therefore no wonder that this is the one place all tourists flock for shopping when in Nairobi.
This market was named after the Maasai, one of the most popular tribes in Kenya.
How do you visit the Maasai Market?
I know, the question might sound strange, but it is not. Just like when shopping in many other places in the city of Nairobi, you have to be aware of the way you look, how you are dressed, and how you talk. You see, any of these or a combination of all of them, might be the determining factor on how you will be charged for whatever items you buy. The more sharply dressed you are and the quicker the person selling can determine that you are a foreigner, the higher the price of what you buy.
Some tourists cannot escape this though especially if you are not African. In that case, then you have to be ready to bargain and act like you know what you really want. Add some basic Swahili phrases here and there and engage the vendor and then you might be lucky to buy items at the same price a local would. Alternatively, get a local Kenyan friend and go shopping with them if you are working with a tight budget.
It is also important to note that too much bargaining can hurt the vendors’ pockets, especially if they insist on not changing the price. In that case, you should just pay what they ask for to make sure you don’t kill their business.
Where is the Maasai Market?
The most popular Maasai Market among many Nairobians is the one located in the city centre behind the Hilton Hotel at the High Court parking lot. It is always open on Saturdays. There is also one located at the Prestige Plaza along Ngong road which also operates on Saturdays.
Note however that the Market is always rotating around the city during the week.
It operates from about 8am to 7pm every day except Mondays.
If you are not available on Saturdays, then you can go to the Yaya Centre in Hurlingham on Sundays, and at Kijabe Street Park opposite the Norfolk Hotel and next to the Nairobi River on Tuesdays.
The one at the Prestige Plaza along Ngong road is also open on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, go to the Capital Centre on Mombasa Road, the Junction Shopping Mall on Thursdays (along Ngong Road), or the Village Market in Gigiri and Lavington Mall on Fridays.
Tips and Tricks for visiting the Maasai Market
The Maasai Market can be overwhelming especially to a tourist. What with the crowds of buyers, vendors calling you from every corner, hawkers stopping you to check out what they have to sell….it can be a little too much. So keep the following in mind:
Have your money in Kenya Shillings
This is the first step when shopping in any city around the world. If you are able to shop using the local currency, then the cheaper the shopping will be for you. There are many foreign exchange bureaus in the city centre, but you can also change your money at the airport or in any of the banks in town.
Shop with a local
You are almost always guaranteed to get a fair price for all the items you buy if you go shopping with a Kenyan friend. Someone who understands the language and is able to advise you when you are being overcharged. But as I mentioned earlier, don’t over bargain as it may hurt the business of the vendor, especially because most of the items they sell are handmade and worth what you pay for. You should also try and learn some basic Swahili which may add points to your whole shopping experience.
Avoid the Maasai Market in the city centre
This is the busiest of all the markets as it is a central point for most Nairobians. There are too many people squeezing on the small pathways in the market, and so it might be a little cumbersome to navigate. If you can, go shopping in the evening or visit all the other Maasai Markets mentioned above. They all offer the same products.
Try and sample as many vendors as possible
If you are not careful, you will find yourself buying everything from one person, missing out on all the varieties you could have bought from others. Of course they are all out to make money, but don’t be too sweet talked that you miss out on what others have to sell. Most of the vendors are kind and will even advise you on the best items to buy, but some can get a little irritating. But they are all just trying to make a coin.
A good idea would be to walk around the whole market checking to see what is there, then go back buying whatever you saw and liked.
As with any city, beware of your surroundings
Nairobi, just like other cities in the world, is not short of pickpockets. So always hold your purse tight, be present and aware of who is around you, and of course do not go around flashing expensive jewellery or bags, etc. You will attract the wrong kind of attention.