This is the main town of Garissa district. Garissa is a predominantly Muslim (Somali) town. Garissa lies on the Tana River and is the geographic gateway to the interior of the northeastern province. It is a hub in the ongoing humanitarian food aid program into the northeast of Kenya.
There are daily bus services from Nairobi to Garissa. The road to Garissa is hard surfaced and in good condition. By car, the journey takes about 4 to 5 hours. Garissa has an airfield but no scheduled flights.
Garissa is small enough to get around on foot, but taxis can easily be hired. Beyond Garissa itself the roads are unsurfaced and frequently become impassable even by 4-wheel drive vehicles during the rains.
Transport from Garissa is good if heading for Nairobi. However, when trying to reach the coastal towns, such as Malindi or Mombasa, be aware that transport is very limited, with buses leaving only at 5 AM. The Garissa - Mombasa road currently has an unsurfaced gap of around 60km, on which travel is fairly difficult without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Plan at least a day to travel this route.
Garissa is off the tourist trail and offers insight into the Somali way of life without crossing into Somalia itself. The town has attractive side streets with traditional brightly-painted shop fronts. Out of town the landscape is thorn scrub. Wildlife to be glimpsed from the road includes eagles, dikdik, baboons, giraffes, warthogs, garnoogs and meerkats. Large herds of camels are often seen being moved by families between seasonal village sites.
You can buy traditional Somali curio items such as dhiil, ameel and an array of calabashes
Most internationals eat at the Nomad Hotel and there are several small hotel cafes around town.
This is a mainly Muslim town so alcohol is not widely sold. The Maji Club opposite the Nomad Hotel is the most popular gathering place for non-Muslim locals and visitors to town. There are also quite a number of other places to socialize and have a cold tusker, like the Government Guest House, Jamhuri Club and Town Club. There is a new classic hotel on board.
The Nomad Hotel is the most popular accommodation for visiting internationals including UN and other aid agency staff. There are two other hotels in the main street (one is the Halgan) that offer modern air conditioned rooms with en suite facilities for less than US$10 per night. There are also Hidig and Ainulqamar which offer good accommodation, meals, and services.
Northeastern Kenya has an 'edgy' feel but there is no particular threat to foreigners. Garissa town was recently named to be the safest town in East and Central Africa. People in Garissa are generally very friendly; visitors should be aware they may be assumed to be UN personnel. The memory of the outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (viral zoonosis carried by bats, mosquitos, and livestock which can be transmitted to humans and can be fatal) in December 2006 in Garissa district causing deaths may deter visitors, even though that was 6 years ago.
Cellular phones operated by Safaricom and others work well in the town and along much of the Nairobi-Garissa road. Phone cards can be bought in kiosks and shops in town.
There is an internet cafe on the ground floor of the Halgan Hotel building in the main street. It is usually closed for short periods at prayer time. Another reliable and fast cyber cafe is located in Jihan Center which is at the center of town.