Nairobi

The capital of Kenya and the largest city is Nairobi with a population of nearly four million.

Understand

This city on the Nairobi River is not only the largest and fastest growing in Kenya but one of the largest in Africa.

History

The word Nairobi derives from a water hole known in Maasai as Enkare Nyorobi, which means "cool waters". Nairobi, which had been a swamp area, was founded in 1899 as a railway camp for the Uganda Railway. By 1905, the city had become the capital of Kenya (then the British East Africa Protectorate), supplanting Mombasa and Machakos, the previous capitals. With the spread of plagues in the early 1900s, the town was burnt down and had to be rebuilt. Having a railway helped it to grow rapidly, becoming the second largest city in Kenya behind Mombasa. Nairobi also grew due to administration and tourism businesses (mostly big game hunting).

The British presence led to the creation of big hotels primarily for the British hunters. Nairobi has an East Indian community, who are the descendants of the labourers who built the railway and the merchants who set up shop during colonial times. After independence, Nairobi airport became the principal entrance point to Kenya and it still is today, although it has lost some of its importance to Mombasa.

Nairobi skyline from Nairobi National Park

Get in

For general information about visas and vaccinations, etc., see the Kenya article.

By plane

Regular flights to Nairobi are operated by Kenya Airways, Ethiopion airlines, Etihad airways, Air Mauritius, China Southern airlines, Saudia airlines, South African airways KLM, British Airways, RwandAir, Air Arabia, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Egypt Air, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and Swiss. Fly540, Jambo Jet, Kenya Airways is the national airline and travels throughout Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. Nairobi’s main airport is JKIA Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (IATA: NBO), which is 15km (9 mi) south-east from the centre of the city.

The main terminal building was destroyed by fire in 2013. Terminal 1A is the newly reconstructed section, and is linked to Terminal 1C by walkways both airside and landside. Terminal 1A has a small food court upstairs airside, and there is a Nairobi Java House between the two terminals airside. Terminal 1C has very little except for 10 small shops all selling the same souvenirs. Terminal 1A has a two small shops with a better selection of duty free and souvenirs.

There is also Wilson Airport, 11km (7 mi) south from the city's centre, that handles some domestic flights and general aviation.

Transfers

If taking a taxi from JKIA, use a reputable taxi. Many are waiting outside to give you conveyance, and the cost should be very near KES1,600 to the city centre; Westlands or places more west or north will be more. There is an official KAA taxi desk just after you exit the customs area, where you can buy a fixed-price voucher, and they will escort you to a taxi. When taking a taxi to your accommodation, do not be inveigled into taking their recommendation for accommodation.

From the centre, you can take Airport Bus #34 for only Ksh 50, to the international airport, from in front of the Ambassador Hotel on Moi avenue. 6am-8pm.

There is no official taxi desk at Wilson, and each airline operates out of their own hanger/terminal. It may be difficult to arrange a reputable taxi on arrival, but there are plenty at the kerb.

By train

Nairobi is also accessible by rail, with three times a week arrivals and departures at the Nairobi Railway station. at this time trains only go east to Mombasa. Trains are often a more comfortable and safe way to travel than bus, because of bad roads, bus mechanical issues.

There are 3 classes: First, Second and General. General class gets very overcrowded and not all participants always have seats, it is the least expensive and comfortable mode of travel. 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 vary depending on location and are Ksh 4405 to Mombasa but are all inclusive: bedding, breakfast, dinner; Second class costs vary depending on destination but are Ksh 3385 to Mombasa 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 on-line. On-line may be more expensive than in person. a 3rd class seat from Nairobi to Mombassa cost Ksh 680. 2nd class sleeper with out dinner/breakfast is Ksh 2335 two times the cost of the bus..

By bus

Nairobi is the centre of Kenya’s (mostly reliable) bus system. There are many bus companies operating to and from the country’s different cities.

By matatu

Matatus (14-18 seater minibuses) and shuttles (6 seater cars) are convenient, inexpensive (and often the only) modes of public transport for connecting Nairobi with towns and tourist destinations in the Rift Valley and Central Highlands such as Naivasha, Nyeri, Nanyuki, Isiolo, and Thika. Matatus can be obtained from the River Road area. Extreme caution should be exercised in this area because petty theft is a major concern and valuables such as mobile phones and wallets should not be prominently displayed here, particularly after dark and even while in the matatu (see safety section below). The best method of connecting to a matatu is to arrange for a taxi to drop you off and pick you up directly at the location of the matatu that you are boarding or alighting from. If you're boarding a matatu from Nairobi, tell the taxi driver your destination and they will drop you off at the correct location. If you are being picked up, then tell the taxi driver the location you're coming from as well as the matatu company that you are using (your ticket should have the operator's name). It is best to arrange for a taxi from the hotel you're staying at. The price is dependent on the distance of travel.

By boat

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.

Get around

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.

By hired car

Hiring a car is convenient as it allows you the freedom to explore Nairobi at your own pace. Most rental companies in Nairobi offer self-drive and chauffeured options respectively. You will find that a large fleet of cars available for hire are Japanese: Toyota, Nissan or Mitsubishi. You can hire both automatic and manual transmission. All rental cars are right-hand drive.

Car Rental prices vary but as of April 2015 the going rates were as follows:

  1. Saloon Car e.g Toyota Axio NZE, Toyota Fielder, Nissan Wingroad: (4 seater, under 1800cc, FWD) KES 4,000 per day.
  2. 4X4 Compact Car e.g Toyota RAV4, Nissan Xtrail, Suzuki Vitara: (4 seater, 4X4 2500cc. AWD) KES 8,000 per day.
  3. Large 4X4 e.g Toyota Prado, Mitsubishi Pajero: (4X4 luxury, Jeep 3500cc, AWD): KES 16,000 per day.
  4. 7 seater Minivans e.g Toyota Voxy or Alphard: (7 seater, 2500cc, FWD): KES 10,000 per day.
  5. Safari Vans e.g customised Toyota Hiace with a pop out roof: (8 Seater, 2500cc, 4WD): KES 10,000 per day
  6. Safari Jeep e.g customised Toyota Land Cruiser J70 jeep with a pop out roof: (8 seater, 3500cc, 4WD): KES 14,000 per day.

The car rental rates are often determined by the number of days and estimated mileage per day. Some car hire companies will give you a rate that is 50% cheaper but either give you a contract with a clause limiting you to visit the specific locations, an old car or require a hefty deposit. The rates are cheaper if you are hiring the car for a week, a month or are looking for a lease. Most car rental rates include unlimited mileage, PSV comprehensive insurance, theft and damage waivers.

The Driver and fuel are charged separately with some companies requiring that you hire a driver if you are taking a large 4X4/4WD (e.g a Toyota Prado, Land Cruiser j70, Range Rover, Land Cruiser VX, Land Rover discovery). The cost of a driver is relative but as of April 2015 the charges were KES 2500 per day inclusive of meals and accommodation.

Although a good number of local car hire companies are reliable, it is advisable that you either take photos of the car before the hire, or carefully note the dents or scratches on the car and agree. In addition, carefully read the rental contract to check for rules on insurance liabilities in case of accident / theft of the vehicle.

Here are some reliable Car Hire Companies in Kenya:

  1. Nairobi Car Hire offer good services for 4x4 and other categories of cars.
  2. Central car hire are a reliable, trustworthy and helpful rental company based in Nairobi. Two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles are available and are well maintained.
  3. Nairobi Car Hire Services provided by Hire N' Drive Kenya Limited who are very flexible with their rental terms and reliable. They accept credit card payment online with a very credible refund processing system. They also have a wide fleet of cars available at all major airports in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret.
  4. Elite Car Rental Kenya although their offices are located in Kikuyu Town, they are a reliable car rental company and have been in operation for close to 20 years.

By taxi

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.

If you want a pre-arranged taxi with consistent pricing, you can try Davina Cabs. They have cab service in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu and have recently opened an office in Eldoret.

By bus (matatu)

Matatus (public minibuses/commuter buses) are generally used for travelling between downtown Nairobi and the suburbs. Matatus vary in size, between the van sized 14 seat Matatus and the larger 50 seat buses. While generally safe, you should be aware that matatus are involved in a high number of accidents every year. Matatus are often overcrowded with more people than seatbelts and therefore can be dangerous if involved in accidents. Because there are no licensing requirements, matatus are often poorly driven, with drivers passing on curbs, speeding, or passing in oncoming lanes while cars are oncoming. On each bus is a conductor who will hang out of the matatu and call out a price (usually between KES10 and KES40) and location the matatu is driving. Recently, the government has decided to ban the 14-seat matatus inside Nairobi, effective January 2011 in hopes of reducing traffic and accidents in town. The best choice is probably the City Hoppa bus service and of late the revived Kenya Bus Service. Beware of traffic jams on the major highways, not only in the rush hours.

By foot

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. Thugs are rampant in many areas. The city centre may be considered safe by some to venture on foot, but it can't be considered a pleasant experience. Expect to be approached by beggars, touts, etc.

By road

Car hire from the airport is possible, and fairly painless with prices in line with other African countries. In the recent past Nairobi had a severe car-jacking problem, but because of increased police check-points it is marginally safer these days. Travelling during the day reduces your chances of getting car-jacked as most car-jackings occur after dark, but even so, carjacking can still happen at any time of day, even with a strong police presence. However, do watch out for undisciplined drivers, as they take little regard for safety.

See

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 113km² (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).

Around Nairobi

Do

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. A Barlays ATM can be found near Gate 9 within the security area, easily accessible when arriving, and another one on the left side immediately after leaving the security area. 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 Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity bank, Guaranty trust bank, I & M Bank, C F C Stanbic Bank, ECO Bank give better exchange rates than any of the FOREX bureaus. and also have Master card ATMs Independent machines such as PayNet have lower cash limits and may have a higher fee. there is no ATM fee for overseas visa or master cards at any of the Stanbic or Eco banks ATMs.

Cash is dispensed in units of KES1,000. 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. Be aware that many exchange bureaus and hotels will NOT accept or exchange American currency printed before 2000. When the exchange bureaus do accept pre-2000 notes, they typically offer substantially lower exchange rates than for currency printed after 2000. Exchange rates are also typically lower for small denomination currency than for $100 and $50 bills.

Credit Cards Many specialty stores will accept international credit cards, however they may charge a 5% fee for using them. The Nakumat and Uchumi supermarket chains 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.

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 in Westlands.

The Sarit Centre will be recognizable to any Western traveller as a shopping mall, with Clothing, shipping and internet are all available here. In addition, there is a small cinema. Other malls in Nairobi include Yaya Centre near Hurlingham and The Mall in Westlands.

The Westgate shopping mall was the target of a terrorist attack in 2013 that resulted in the destruction of a large part of the mall. It reopen in July 2015.

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 butchery.

For local curios and souvenirs, the most easily accessible and tourist-friendly is the Maasai Market, held on Fridays at the Village Market, an upmarket, open concept shopping centre near the United Nations and American Embassy complexes. Bargaining is necessary, and one should probably not spend more than KES1000 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.

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 or kikoy (a traditional wrap for Swahili men, predominantly at the coast). Haria's Stamp Shop (been around for more than 70 years!) (www.hariastamp.com) has one of the best selections of kikoy as well as other African fabrics and souvenirs.

Supermarkets

Shopping Malls

Safari

Nairobi is also the capital of safaris in Kenya. There are tour operators from budget to world class all over the city. Yet it is not easy find the best fitting. Here are some options.

Eat

budget

Mid-range

Nairobi has a fantastic array of mid-range eateries.

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, Galito's, 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 (literally: meat roast), chapati and other specialities.

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

Budget

The area around Tom Mboya street has a lot of low cost hotels and is safe to walk around. Budget accommodation in Nairobi is from Ksh 1000 for a single room.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Nairobi has a reputation for thievery. Beware of snatch and grab, con artists, or groups of people following you. Scams are elaborate and can involve up to 10 or more people working together. The best advice for a tourist is to stay in the city centre, know where you are at all times, and pretend you know where you're going (even if you don't). If you find yourself in an unfamiliar area your best bet is to find a taxi (although you will probably pay dearly if the driver suspects a panicked westerner!). Don't carry large quantities of money or passports on the street, and assume that anyone trying to engage you is up to no good or trying to sell you something. If one stays smart and plays safe, without going around much after dark, Nairobi can be safe place to stay. Most locals are honest people who will happily help you if you approach them.

Kenyans are proud people and there is not a lot of begging like you find in some other countries. Some opportunistic people will hang around shopping centres and beg, but they will generally accept a simple 'sorry' and leave you alone if you do not give. Many of these 'beggars' are middle class kids or adults who have realised they can profit from exploiting white guilt, and should not be encouraged. If you are ever lucky enough to visit a slum as a local (not on some perverse tourist safari) you will discover the poorest of the poor do not even beg.

Outside of tourist and expat communities, young children will become excited at the sight of a white person and may come running towards you to try to shake your hand while yelling out 'mzungu' (white person) or 'how are you?'. Older kids are more reserved, and you should be wary of kids who are older than 9 or 10 who are trying to distract or get close to you.

Slums should be avoided by tourists as you will attract a lot of attention which can quickly turn into a dangerous situation.

Apart from the inner city centre, Nairobi dies out at night. Streets are mostly empty. Do not walk alone after nightfall. Always use taxis. The areas north and east of River Road should be avoided, especially if you're not a local!

Biashara Street is a safe shopping street due to the presence of 10-15 Maasai guards. A place to avoid as a tourist is the City Market; you could end up paying a much higher price than on Biashara Street.

If you are in a matatu and moving slowly through traffic, particularly after dark, you should keep your window closed if your valuables are in reach to prevent people snatching them from the outside (there are thieves who walk through traffic looking for such opportunities). Mobile phones and wallets should be securely kept and not displayed prominently during calls or cash transactions in the River Road area, particularly after dark.

Eastleigh (known as 'little Mogadishu') is an area near the city centre that is decaying due to years of neglect by the government (including the police). It is predominantly populated by Somalian migrants and refugees, and most Kenyans will not go there for fear of their safety. Tourists would be wise to avoid it day and night.

There have been several grenade attacks in the city for which Al-Shabaab have claimed responsibility. These are likely to be ongoing while the Kenyan army has a presence in Somalia. They are random and often fatal, and one should be wary and report any suspicious behaviour. Associated with the terrorist threat, you can expect to pass through security checkpoints with armed guards at most attractions, shopping malls and even on the streets. You can expect (at times) to have to have your bags searched, and car checked.

Stay healthy

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 outside the more upscale establishments. Before eating, make sure that the food is freshly and thoroughly cooked and served hot. Also avoid seafood, except at upmarket restaurants and hotels, and make sure that your fruits and vegetables have been properly washed 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.

Insects

In Africa you are going to be exposed to yellow fever, dengue fever, other viral diseases, sleeping sickness, filariasis and malaria, although none of these diseases is a concern in Nairobi itself. 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 and 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. The average temperature is around 25 C (maximum might reach 30 C) throughout the year. People coming from Asian countries like India will not have much problem with the weather, in fact it would definitely seem pleasant all along the year. For people who are from Cold countries 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.

Connect

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 KES0.5/minute to KES1/minute, usually with a minimum fee of KES5-20. The more expensive internet cafés are rarely better and the best ones charge KES1/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 fairly good coverage from all providers (Safaricom, Orange, Yu 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) on Safaricom, Orange, Yu and Airtel. There is also CDMA2000 on Orange. Phones and SIM cards are available at many locations throughout Nairobi and the country including at the airport. 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. Phones are sold "unlocked" by outlets for use on any network. Safaricom though does sell a number of phones locked to its 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 3/= per minute. Overseas calls cost around 5/= per minute to the United States (~USD$0.06/minute) and 3/= per minute to India (~INR 1.80, USD 0.04) on the Airtel network.

3G data service is available in most coverage areas on Safaricom and is of a fairly high standard. The other networks have 3G in major population areas and EDGE/GPRS everywhere else. If you have a smart phone you should buy a data pack (200mb, 500mb or 1.5gb) or your credit will go down very fast!

Cope

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.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 31, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.