Difference between revisions of "Nairobi"
Revision as of 18:37, 19 March 2010
Nairobi has a population of between three and four million. The city is the largest and fastest growing city in Kenya and one of the largest in Africa and lies on the Nairobi River.
The word Nairobi (pronounced /naɪˈrəʊbɪ/) derives from a water hole known in Maasai (an Eastern Nilotic language) as Enkare Nyirobi, which means “cool waters“. Nairobi, which was a swamp area, was founded in 1899 and was first a railway camp for the Uganda Railway. The city became Kenya’s capital, which Mombasa was initially, and it also became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate in 1905. With the spread of plagues in the early 1900s, the town was burnt down and had to be rebuilt. 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 a port in Nairobi leading to the creation of big hotels primarily for the British hunters. Also, Nairobi has an East Indian community, who are the descendents of original colonial railway labourers and merchants.
Prior to entering Kenya, citizens of some countries have to have a visa before entry. Citizens from most other countries will be able to obtain a visa upon entry at the airport or border crossing (if overlanding). A single Entry Visa costs US$25 (has gone down from US$50) valid for three months and a transit visa will cost US$15 (from mid-2009). Border visas can also be paid in Euros. If you are only traveling through the country via a connecting flight and will not leave the secure area of the airport you will not need a visa.
Regular flights to Nairobi are operated by Air Kenya, Kenya Airways, KLM, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airways. Kenya Airways is the national airline and travels throughout Europe, America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. Nairobi’s main airport is JKIA Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (IATA: NBO), which is 15 km (9 mi) southeast from the center of the city. If taking a taxi from JKIA, use a reputable taxi, many are waiting outside for to give you conveyance, and the cost should be very near 1,500KSh to the city centre; Westlands or such places more west or north will be more. When taking a taxi to your accommodation, do not be inveigled into taking their recommendation for accommodation although this is very at your own risk. There is also Wilson Airport, 11 km (7 mi) south from the city's center, that is for domestic flights , more lighter, Cessna-type aircrafts can be seen there. The military/ government airport is in Eastleigh district (pron: "East-Lee"), a very large residential area of housing in the east/north-east of Nairobi, but the government airport is fenced around and does not handle civilian traffic. From the center, you can take Bus #34 for 50KSH, to the international airport, from in front of the Ambassador Hotel.
The city is also accessible by trains, with daily arrivals and departures at the Nairobi Railway station. The trains go east to Mombasa and west to Kisumu. There are 3 classes: First, Second and General. First and Second are sleepers. First have 2 seats in a cabin, Second have 4. In Second Class genders are separated unless you purchase the entire compartment of 4 seats. First-class costs around $50 all inclusive: bedding, breakfast, dinner; Second is $35 all inclusive. Both can be purchased without bedding or food. Tickets have to be booked through the office on Station Road in south-central Nairobi, or online.
Kenya’s bus system is mostly reliable * There are many bus companies that have routes going to and from the country’s different cities, including Nairobi, which is the centre of the bus network.
Entry into Nairobi by boat is of course not possible, however one could certainly arrive in Kenya by boat via Mombasa or Lamu, proceeding by road, air or rail to Nairobi. Immigration should be processed at the port facility.
Be careful getting around Nairobi. Traffic is very bad like any other major city, but if you use common sense and a local or guide you should be able to get where you want.
Taxis are not very cheap, but will make city life easier, and safer, at least at night. Prices should always be set before the trip, and paid afterwards. They can be found parked around hotels and tourist areas. The taxis tend to be marked with a yellow line on each side. Your best bet is to ask a local or at your hotel. Matatus (public minibuses/ commuter buses) are all right for traveling to the suburbs, but the best choice is probably the City Hoppa bus service and of late the revived Kenya Bus Service. Beware of traffic jams on the large motorways, not only in the rush hours.
Walking around Nairobi is fairly easy since the city is small and places are easy to get to. However, there are some areas within the city where tourists should not go, and walking around at night should be minimised.
Car hire from the airport is possible, and fairly painless with prices in line with other African countries. Nairobi in recent past has had a severe car-jacking problem, but because of increased police check-points it is marginally safer these days. Traveling during the day reduces your chances of getting car-jacked as most car-jackings occur after dark.
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 football (soccer).
There are quite a number of networked banking machines in major shopping areas of Nairobi as well as the arrivals area of the airport. Most transactions are cash only, so it is best to have enough cash on hand to pay for purchases and transport. Major banks such as Barclays, Kenya Commercial Bank and Standard Bank give better exchange rates than any of the FOREX bureaus. Independent machines such as Pesa-point have lower cash limits and may have a higher fee. As an example, in 2007 Barclays did not charge any additional fee for a cash withdrawal but gave a lower exchange rate than Kenya Commercial Bank. KCB charges a CDN$5 fee for a withdrawal with a maximum of 40,000/= per day.
Cash is dispensed in units of 1000/=. Note that many smaller businesses will not have much change, so before going shopping for curios be sure to have a good selection of smaller notes.
Forex Bureaus are located in many parts of the city where tourists are common. They will exchange cash of different currencies, and may also accept a personal cheque for Kenyan cash. They will want a photocopy of your passport before they exchange money. Rates are not bad, but will be worse than a banking machine will offer.
Credit Cards Many specialty stores will accept international credit cards, however they will normally tell you up front that they will charge you bank fees, typically 5% of the purchase. The Nakumat and Uchumi supermarket chains would accept credit cards without a surcharge.
This may also be a good place to repeat the warning about safety. Pickpockets are rampant in Nairobi and have been known to keep an eye on people getting cash from a machine. It is best to carry cash in a hidden pouch rather than a wallet. Men: do not carry your wallet in your back pocket, and women: do not carry your purse to your side or behind you, particularly in busy locations.
The three primary supermarkets in Nairobi are Tusky's, Uchumi, Naivas and Nakumatt. For goods beyond supermarket fare, try either the Sarit Centre, YaYa centre or Nakumatt Westlands, which are both located in the Westlands suburb.
The Sarit Centre will be recognizable to any Western traveller as a shopping mall, with an Uchumi 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.
Nakumatt Westgate is a just finished competitor to Sarit Centre. It is a large building with many spaces for stores to move in to (they have yet to move in at the time of this writing, however the building is still unfinished). Currently, the primary occupant is the Nakumatt itself, which has modeled itself to emulate a Super Wal-Mart type experience.
Any taxi driver will know these two shopping centers by name, so getting there is not a problem.
An additional smaller supermarket, catering more to expatriates, is in ABC Plaza, along Waiyaki Way. Chandarana supermarket carries a wide variety of imported goods, Zucchini greengrocer is a highly dependable spot for clean and varied veggies, and Gilani's is a well stocked western style buchery.
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, and one should probably not spend more than 1000KSh on one item, except in extraordinary circumstances.
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.
Another Nakumatt is located at Nakumatt Junction, past Lavington towards the Ngong Racecourse (Horse Flat-Racing takes place 3 Sundays a month, and is a great way to spend an afternoon). The Nakumatt Junction shopping complex features a few more boutiques - one of note being Zebu, a store highlighting local Designer Annabelle Thom's leather bags and more, where you will find higher quality and higher prices for beautiful designs.
Biashara Street, located downtown, is the spot for textiles. Make sure you pick up at least one kikoi (a traditional wrap for Swahili men, predominantly at the coast).
Roast House in the city centre facing the matatu station on Tom Mboya Rd. Regular local prices with more selection, excellent food, friendly service. Very busy at lunchtime.
Nairobi has a fantastic array of mid-range eateries.
Java House, with quite a few locations, including The Junction, ABC Place, and close to the United Nations, features a western coffee house menu, from bagels to burritos, with excellent coffees and milkshakes, and a full breakfast menu. 500KSh-750 for a complete meal. Another popular coffeehouse is Dormans
Trattoria is an Italian restaurant. Do not expect anything decent when it comes to the mains (all around 700KSh). However, there is a fabulous and extensive dessert menu, including crepes, tiramisu, souffle, and a coffee granita with fresh cream (250KSh-500).
Motherland, is an authentic ethiopian restaurant with great and affordable food (typical of ethiopian restaurants in Nairobi!).
Havana Bar, Woodvale Grove, Westlands. Popular bar and restaurant with a laid-back Latin theme. Renowned for their sizzling Fajitas, steaks and seafood dishes. Reasonably priced. The kitchen is open daily from noon til late.  Tel: 020-4450653
Village Market Food Court, Has an array of different ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Italian, Chinese and German, as well as a Mongolian Barbeque. Good prices as well. Venture further into Village Market to find a good Japanese restaurant as well, though with slightly steeper prices. There are also food courts at other malls in the city.
Nairobi has a wide range of Indian restaurants that speaks to the significant South Asian community in Kenya. The city also offers other restaurants specializing in different European and Asian cuisine.
Common fast food restaurants include Steers, Debonairs, Wimpy, local favourite, Kenchic among others.
In addition, there are several local restaurants that cater to local cuisine like sukuma wiki (green spinach-like vegetable, 'Kale' in English), ugali (corn bread, ground maize flour and made to a tasty white bread/porridge form), nyama choma (lit: meat roast), chapati and other specialities.
The Carnivore, located just outside the city, close to the Uhuru Gardens, is a luxury restaurant famous for its meats. In 2006, the restaurant was listed as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Once seated, different masaai grilled meats will be carried around on sticks and carved to your plate at request. Very expensive by Kenyan standards, beware of additional taxes and catering levys. Reservations might be a good idea, ask at your hotel.
Furusato, located in Westlands, has fantastic Japanese food. For a price.
The Rusty Nail, in Karen, has been super in the past, but mediocre of late. No reason not to give it another chance.
The Lord Errol, past Village Market and into Runda, is said to have very good food, and is popular with the expat crowd.
"Moonflower," on State House hill at the Palacina hotel, is a very upscale bistro / fusion / grill restaurant in a lovely outdoor setting. Fantastic food.
"Pango Brasserie" at the Fairview Hotel features upscale french and continental dishes. Dinner begins in an underground stone winecellar where the chef will send out complimentary tasters while you sip a bottle of wine of your choice.
"Alan Bobbe's Bistro" is a venerable, legendary restaurant now located on Riverside Drive. Founded in 1962, the restaurant features French haute-cuisine at about a third of what you would pay in Paris!
The area around the main bus station has a ton of budget hotels and you can save on a taxi.
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, probably even use a webcam or watch YouTube. Prices are usually at ranges from 0.5KSh/minute to 1KSh/minute, usually with a minimum fee of 5-20KSh. The more expensive internet cafés are rarely better and the best ones charge 1KSh/minute with discounts for using the internet for longer. 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 coverage for the two main providers, Safaricom and Zain(formerly Celtel) extending to most populated parts of the country. The phone system is GSM 900 (European standard). Phones and SIM cards are available at many locations throughout Nairobi and the country. Phone prices are very competitive and priced for average income Kenyans. A basic phone may be obtained new from an independent dealer for ~2000/=. A vast majority of people use pre-paid phones with scratch-card top-ups available at a huge number of merchants across the country. All phones are sold "unlocked" for use on any network. Much business is conducted via mobile phone, so possession of one for even a relatively short stay in the country can be beneficial. Rates are extremely affordable with in-country calls at around 8/= per minute and SMS at 3/50. Overseas calls cost around 30/= per minute to North America (~USD$0.40/minute) if the VOIP feature is used.
GPRS/EDGE data service is available in most coverage areas on Safaricom (only 3G service) or Zain with enabled phones. Newer mobile providers including Orange Kenya and Econet have coverage in urban areas and competitive pricing.
Nairobi has a reputation for thievery. Beware of snatch and grab, con artists, or groups of people following you. The best advice for a tourist is to stay in city centre, know where you are at all times, and pretend you know where you're going (even if you don't). Don't carry large quantities of money or passports on the street, and the general rule is that anyone trying to talk to you (there will be many) is up to no good. Scams abound. In recent years, crime has significantly reduced, though one should still be wary.
Apart from the inner city centre, Nairobi dies out at night. Streets are mostly empty. Do not walk alone after nightfalls. Always use taxi.The areas north and east of River Road should be avoided, especially if you're not a local!
It is recommended that before tourists come to Nairobi, that they should be vaccinated well in advance (6 weeks) of their trip. The most common recommended vaccines for people traveling to Africa are Tetanus, Diphtheria, Polio, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Rabies and Meningitis.
Food and beverages
Be careful with the food that you eat. Before eating, make sure that the food is freshly and thoroughly cooked and served hot. Do not eat buffet, re-heated or food that has been exposed to flies. Also avoid seafood, 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.
In Africa you are going to be exposed to yellow fever, dengue fever, other viral diseases, sleeping sickness, filariasis and malaria. When insects are biting you should cover up and wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers, socks and pyjamas especially when night falls. It is best to use an insect repellent that contains DEET on your exposed skin and clothing. As for mosquito nets, it is best to use a permethrin-impregnated net along with an insecticide such a pyrethrum coils or an electric mosquito killer during the night. And remember to spray your hotel room every evening.
Heat & Sun
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids (not coffee, alcohol or strong tea) to avoid dehydration. To know if you well hydrated, you body would always produce plenty of clear urine. For most people it takes them three weeks to become accustomed to the heat. 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.
Smoking is against the law out on the streets in the city center (the downtown grid area with numerous skyscrapers). There are certain smoking zones, and outside of the city center it becomes much easier to find locations where it is acceptable. 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 a day's visit, and lakeshore country clubs are a good place for lunch. You can take a boat ride on the lake to see hippos, or go for a walk among zebra and giraffes on Crescent Island.
Further afield, Nakuru National Park deservedly warrants a 1-night stay for a late-afternoon and early-morning game drive.