A sprawling cosmopolitan capital city, Nairobi offers a unique combination of reflecting skyscraper buildings and railway frontier town. It is one of the most significant cities in East Africa and an important player on the pan-African stage. It is also the diplomatic base for many countries in Africa including international embassies and holds the headquarters for the United Nations, many multi-national companies and non-governmental organisations.
Where to stay
Nairobi has a wide range of hotels, including well-appointed hotels of international standards with full facilities for tourists and business travellers. Other cities and large towns all have a good range of hotel accommodation, with small boutique hotels also becoming increasingly popular in Nairobi, on the coast and in wilderness areas. For backpackers and those looking for budget lodgings, Nairobi offers basic hotels and lodgings.
Kenya boasts some of the finest dining in the world, with its diversity of history and culture combined with the abundance of natural produce lending itself to a broad variety of cuisine. The Kenyan climate is ideal for alfresco dining and meals are often served outside in many camps, lodges and restaurants. There is also a varied range of restaurants in Nairobi covering a world of cuisines from Korean BBQ and French Nouvelle Cuisine to Ethiopian Injera and Tandori specialities. As an example the carnivore restaurant in Nairobi is a unique dining experience and serves up every kind of meat imaginable, including four choices of game meat. It is cooked on traditional Masai swords, with waiters then carrying around the swords through the restaurant, carving unlimited amounts of prime meat on hot, cast iron plates in front of customers.
Some of the best shopping spots in the city are located in Westland, Parklands and Gigiri. The popular shopping malls include The Village Market Gigiri and Sarit Centre Westlands. Both malls contain a wide selection of shops, western style food courts and cinemas. In addition Village Market offers two mini golf courses, Friday Maasai market where local crafts and curios can be obtained and bowling allies. Groceries and general shopping can be obtained from either Nakumatt or Uchumi chain of supermarkets which offer a wide selection of items at reasonable prices.
As the clubs and discos in Kenya don’t get busy until around midnight it’s a good idea to start off a night out at the bars. Several clubs stage cultural nights, featuring traditional music, food and drink from some of the main ethnic communities. If you want the lowdown on where to go – the best source of information on any given weekend would be one of the locals.
Some of the highlights of the city include the National Museum of Kenya and the Karen Blixen Museum (www.museums.or.ke), Daphne Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage (www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org), Giraffe Manor (www.giraffemanor.com) and the Maasai markets.
Nairobi National Park
Where else in the world can you find herds of zebra and giraffe, lion and rhino families living free and wild just 20 minutes away from a major city centre? Nairobi National Park was Kenya’s first national park and remains one of Kenya’s greatest treasures. Visitors can observe herds of zebra and giraffe, lions and rhino families in their natural environment. (www.kws.go.ke/nairobi.html)
Events in Nairobi
Kenyan Music Festival
The festival attracts students from schools and universities, who are shortlisted from regional contests, every August to compete. Categories of competition include African, Western and Oriental music, and may be vocal, instrumental or dance-oriented. One of the main highlights of the festival are the folk songs performed by native Kenyan tribes.
East African Art Festival Held annually in Nairobi by the Kenya National Museum, the three-day event includes artists from across East Africa who display their artwork, paintings, traditional artefacts and architectural designs.
How to get around
Nairobi offers a large number of options for those looking to travel around the country and many ground handlers and tour operators will offer transfers for those heading off on game drives into safari parks.
Driving: Visitors to Nairobi require an international driver’s license. Kenyans drive on the left hand side and distances are measured and signposted in kilometres, with petrol/diesel sold by the litre. Ensure that your vehicle is suitable for handling rough roads before embarking on a journey. Hire cars are widely available in Nairobi and other large towns.
Cycling: Long distance cycling is possible in Kenya but cyclists should be alert to traffic on the major roads. There is also plenty of scope for off-road and mountain biking in Kenya. Serious cyclists should come equipped with a repair kit and spare parts to make repairs on the road much easier. Competent bicycle fundis (mechanics) can be found in Nairobi.
Taxi: In Nairobi, taxis are widely available and convenient. Often parked in the street around hotels, restaurants and other popular tourist areas they can also be ordered. Taxis are not metered, and a price should be agreed with the driver before departure.
Bus: Within Nairobi, the large Kenyan buses operate on set routes and schedules, can be boarded at any stop and tickets purchased on board. Buses also regularly run between most cities and towns. There are several bus companies with extensive inter-country networks connecting most cities and towns. Buses also run across borders into Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Matatu: The most popular (and cheapest) form of public transport in Nairobi is the matatu minibus which has become a national icon and a large part of Kenyan modern culture. Operating on set routes and collecting as many passengers as possible along the way, passengers board and alight whenever and wherever they choose. Matatus use music and spectacular painted designs to attract clientele.
Rail: Kenya has frequent railway connections between Nairobi and Mombasa - the most popular rail route for visitors – as well as Nairobi to Kisumu and Kampala. Tickets can be bought from railway stations or in advance through local travel agencies.
Location: Eastern coast of Africa.
Time: GMT + 3 hours
Language: English (official), Kiswahili (national), and other many tribal languages
Area: 580,367 km2
Population: Approximately 37,953,840
Religion: The official religion is Christianity
Electricity: 220 volts. Standard UK style plugs, with some variations in remote areas.
Telephone Code: +254
Currency: Kenya Shillings are the main currency for Kenya however US dollar, pound and euros are also widely accepted
Passport/visa requirements: Visitors from the UK and western Europe must present a valid passport of their country, valid for at least six months, upon arrival. All visitors are also required to obtain an entry visa. These can be obtained prior to travel through the Kenya High Commission in London or purchased on arrival for US$25.
Airports: The main international airport for Kenya is Nairobi Kenyatta Jomo airport, which is served by the UK and is the gateway to Kenya and other regions within the country. Nairobi Wilson airport has many internal airline operators and tends to be used for internal transfers. Internal domestic flights are dominated by Kenya Airways, Regional Air, and Air Kenya. There are also many domestic air charter operations in Kenya which cater individuals and groups and prove an ideal way to visit remote areas, or avoid long drives. Most charter companies will charge a set rate for a journey, regardless of the number of passengers.
Flight time: 8 hours 30 minutes.
For more information contact: Kenya High Commission, 45 Portland Place, London, W1 Tel: 020-7636 2371 / 5
Website: www.kenyahighcommission.net or visit the Kenya Tourist Board Website at www.magicalkenya.com