Explore Nairobi, Kenya
Explore Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and the largest city in the country. Nairobi has a population of three million plus. Situated on the Nairobi River, the city is not only the largest and fastest growing city in Kenya, but one of the largest in Africa.
Having a railroad system in the system helped it to have drastic growth, becoming the second largest city in Kenya behind Mombasa.
The city of Nairobi also grew due to administration and tourism businesses (mostly big game hunting). The British, who were one of Kenya’s colonizers, set up shop in Nairobi, leading to the creation of big hotels primarily for the British hunters. Also, Nairobi has an East Indian community from those who are the descendants of original colonial railway laborers and merchants.
Nairobi’s main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, southeast of the city centre.
Car hire from the airport is possible, and fairly painless with prices in line with other African countries
Many of the usual car hire chains have franchises in the city and several rental options are available. You can hire cars with a driver (chauffeur-driven) or on self-drive basis. Most car hire companies offer saloon cars, 4x4s, Vans, Buses and Safari Vans and Jeeps. Local car hire firms are available often on a cash-in-advance basis. These operators are cheaper and more flexible than the international brands, but you risk greater levels of hassle in the event of an accident, theft or breakdown.
What to see. Best top attractions in Nairobi, Kenya.
Nairobi is known as the safari capital of Africa; however the city has still managed to keep up with modernization. Unlike other cities, Nairobi is surrounded by 113 km² (70 mi²) of plains, cliffs and forest that makes up the city’s Nairobi National Park. The city is filled with many things to do during the day and the night. Tourists can have their pick from numerous safaris (wildlife, cultural, sport, adventure, scenic and specialist), ecotourism tours, restaurants, culture, shopping and entertainment. While in Nairobi, tourists can also engage in numerous sports from golf, rugby, athletics, polo, horse-racing, cricket and soccer.
- Nairobi National Park, just outside Nairobi. This is home to large herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Giraffe, Lion, Cheetah, Hippo, Rhino and even birdlife (over 400 species). Here you can also go on the Nairobi Safari Walk, an educational centre to make people aware of wildlife and habitat conservation. Also in the park is the Nairobi Animal Orphanage.
- Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, close to the Nairobi National Park. This Orphanage takes in elephant calves and rhinos from all over Kenya which were orphaned by poaching. Showing is only once per day from 11am-12pm (admission 500Ksh) and gives you a great opportunity to interact directly with baby elephants.
- Giraffe Centre, in Lang’ata right outside of Nairobi. The Centre breeds the endangered Rothschild Giraffe and has conservation/education programmes for Kenyan children. It also has many warthogs. Here you can feed giraffes by hand and even get a kiss (their tongues can get up to 20″ long and are antiseptic).
- Mamba Village. Typically the 3rd stop for most tourists after the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Center, this pleasant park is home to ostriches and crocodiles. Surprisingly quite interesting as you get the chance to interact directly with crocodiles and even hold a baby, with very knowledgeable employees serving as guides.
- Lake Naivasha. About 1.5hrs outside of central Nairobi, this area is a haven away from the chaos of the city where many 3rd and 4th generation British colonialists continue to reside. Crescent Island is a particularly nice place to visit, even if you have already done a safari. Unique because it gives you the opportunity to walk around the grounds literally alongside giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, impalas, etc.
- Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, 65 km from Nairobi, is centred around a 2,146-m mountain. This is a mountain forest and plain land, with a large population of Buffalo. It also serves as a refuge for Colobus monkeys, bushbuck, duiker, leopard, and a large variety of bird species.
- Kenyatta International Conference Center (K.I.C.C), (Central District). The best place to get that far ranging view over the sprawling, congested metropolis that is Nairobi. You can go up to the saucer-shaped top of the conference center’s round viewing tower and depending on smog and fog, you might be able to see as far as the slums and the national park
- US Embassy Memorial Site, (Central District). In 1998 a blast rocked downtown Nairobi. A truck had exploded next to the US Embassy building, reducing it to rubble and killing 212 people some on staff, most bystanders. On the same day, August 7, the US embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, was also subject to a similar terrorist attack. 21 people have been charged with the crime, including Osama Bin Laden. The former embassy site today contains a memorial that can be visited.
- Tana River, is an hour’s drive from the city. White water rafting throughout cataracts, which leads to the 14 falls can be done here. The rafting trip also includes a full BBQ lunch.
- Nairobi National Museum. 8:30AM-5:30PM. Where visitors can learn about Kenya, its history and culture. The museum celebrated 100 years in 2010. A live snake compound is adjacent but not for the timid. Exhibits include numerous taxidermic wildlife, the history of modern Kenya, East African currency, and artifacts from across Kenya. The exhibition of hominid fossils is world class and houses the world’s largest collection of fossils of human ancestors, including an 18-million-year-old skull from proconsul and skulls of Paranthropus aethiopicus, Homo erectus, Homo habilis dating from 1.75 million to 2.5 million years ago.
- National Railway Museum, visitors can learn more about the history of Kenya’s railroads and the Kenya/Uganda railway. It also houses, some of the engines and rolling stock from the country’s colonial period.
- Nairobi Gallery. This is a museum housing only special exhibits, so the featured artwork is always changing.
- Karen Blixen Museum is based on the Karen Blixen’s book “Out of Africa”. Her house is now the home of the museum. It is on the outskirts of Nairobi and a taxi or bus can get you to the museum.
- Bomas of Kenya, portrays Kenya’s culture. Visitors can see exhibits of traditional Kenyan homes, artifacts, dances, music, and song.
- Uhuru Gardens, built in remembrance of the struggle for independence, which Kenya was granted in 1963. The monument is a 24-m high triumphal column supporting a pair of clasped hands and the dove of peace, high over a statue of freedom fighter raising the flag. The monument is surrounded by fountains and lush-landscaped gardens.
- West lands by night, Visit the bustling and hip Westlands district, which has turned into the new nightlife center of Nairobi. Many restaurants and bars line the busy Woodvale Grove and Mpaka Road. A visit to ‘Treehouse’ club is good for those not willing to stray too far from their comfort zone, with an expat crowd rather than often overcrowded local clubs. Traffic can become hectic, well into the early hours. Security is generally tight and the action spills out from packed clubs into the street.
- Jamia Mosque is tucked away in between other buildings there are striking views to be glimpsed of its intricate structure from many different angles. Easily the most impressive religious structure in the capital, access to the interior is not open to non-muslims.
What to do in Nairobi, Kenya.
- Safari in central Nairobi Park.
- Try the many excellent restaurants in Nairobi.
- Go dancing and be a part of Nairobi’s excellent nightlife
- Go ice skating at Panari
- Visit Village Market and Sherlocks with your friends
- Go to Maasai market and buy keepsakes for yourself and friends. Prepare to haggle and as a guide, pay about half to two thirds of the asking price.
- Do something different: visit Kibera, the slums of Nairobi.
- Go-Down Arts Centre. A former warehouse turned arts centre – this has also happened in Nairobi and this spot allows you to get a glimpse of what contemporary Kenyan artists are up to, including exhibitions, performances and discussions.
- Kazuri Beads shop – Started in 1977 the workshop of beads is adjacent to Karen Blixen’s Museum. Started by an English woman to provide sustainable income to the poor Kenyan women. Has beautiful jewelry created of clay brought from the areas surrounding Mt. Kenya.
- Visit Oloo’s Children Center (OCC) in Kibera: Lend a hand at the volunteer operated school, take a tour of Kibera, and have a cup of tea with the OCC Founder. The founder of the school lives in Kibera and works to provide children in need with education and meals.
What to buy
There are quite a number of networked banking machines in major shopping areas of Nairobi as well as the arrivals area of the airport.
Many specialty stores accept international credit cards; however they normally tell you up front that they will charge you bank fees, typically 5% of the purchase. The Carrefour and shoprite supermarket chains would accept credit cards without a surcharge.
The six primary supermarkets in Nairobi are Choppies, Tusky’s, Shoprite, Naivas, Carrefour and Wallmart Game. For goods beyond supermarket fare, try Yaya Centre on Argwings Kodhek Road in the Kilimani area, The Junction on Ngong Road, or the Sarit Centre and Westgate which are both located in the Westlands suburb. there is also Garden city mall which also has a shoprite.
The Sarit Centre will be recognizable to any Western traveller as a shopping mall, with an Carrefour supermarket inside. Clothing, shipping, and Internet are all available here. In addition, there is a small movie theater. Other malls in Nairobi include Yaya Centre near Hurlingham and The Mall in Westlands.
For local curios and souvenirs, the most easily accessible and tourist-friendly is the Maasai Market, held on Fridays at the Village Market, an upscale, open concept shopping center near the United Nations and American Embassy complexes. Bargaining is necessary.
For slightly better prices, visit the Tuesday market in town, just down from the Norfolk hotel. This market is less secure, but is larger and offers more variety and opportunity for bargaining.
Food and beverages
Be careful with the food that you eat outside the more upscale establishments. Before eating, make sure that the food is freshly and thoroughly cooked and served hot. Also avoid seafood, apart from the upmarket restaurants and hotels, and make sure that your fruits and vegetables have been properly sterilized in clean water. The safest fruits to eat are bananas and papayas. Do not drink tap water or brush your teeth with it. Only use bottled or canned drinks (especially popular brands). Also, do not use ice as it may also be contaminated water, and remember that alcohol does not sterilize a drink. The general rule of thumb is, the more high end an establishment is, the greater the safety of the food and drink within.
Heat & Sun
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids (not coffee, alcohol or strong tea) to avoid dehydration. The average temperature is around 25 C throughout the year. Try to avoid plenty of physical exertion and try to stay in the shade and keep cool as much as possible. Increase the amount of salt intake in your food and water. Also, apply a lot of high factor sunscreen, avoid direct sunlight, and try to wear a hat and shady clothing.
There are very many internet cafés around Nairobi, but connection speeds and computers are not always super fast, but still you will manage to open your email. Most of the good cafés are found in Norwich Union which has quite a number just opposite Hilton Hotel next to Nandos while the expensive ones are found in malls in Westlands. Although it may be more appropriate for tourists to use the ones in Westlands since they are usually less crowded and are more exclusive but not necessarily faster or better in terms of equipment.
Free wireless internet is available at Java House restaurants and Doorman’s coffee shops in the city and malls. Some bars like Havana in Westlands also offer free wifi. The internet cafe in Sarit Centre also has wireless internet available at a good speed and a reasonable price.
Mobile Phones are ubiquitous in Kenya with fairly good coverage from all providers (Safaricom, Orange and Airtel) that extends to most populated parts of the country. Safaricom has the best national coverage especially if you are using 3G data. The phone system is GSM 900 and 3G 2100 (Asian and European standard).
Smoking is against the law out on the streets in the city center. However, a general rule would be to not smoke along the side of any roads or streets with pedestrians and/or vehicles. Be observant and take your cues from other smokers – if there are no smokers or cigarette butts on the ground, it is likely a non-smoking location.
Lake Naivasha is worth at least a day’s visit and has enough to keep you occupied for two or three days. Lakeshore country clubs are a good place for lunch. You can take a boat ride on the lake to see hippos, go for a walk among zebra and giraffes on Crescent Island, ride thoroughbred horses among zebra, giraffes and wildebeest at the Sanctuary Farm, and ride bicycles among wildlife and dramatic scenery at Hell’s Gate National Park.
Further afield, Nakuru National Park deservedly warrants a 1-night stay for a late-afternoon and early-morning game drive.