Nairobi is one of the busiest and fast growing cities in Africa, to many visitors, it is a city they are sad to leave and one to which they vow to come back to. The city is the home to more than 3 million people and a bubbling melting point for most of Kenya's 40-plus ethnic groups. The name "Nairobi" comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyrobi, which translates to "cold water", the Maasai name of the Nairobi river, which in turn lent its name to the city. However, it is popularly known as the "Green City in the Sun" and is surrounded by several expanding villa suburbs.
Nairobi have several tourist attractions. The most famous is the Nairobi National Park. The national park is unique in being the only game-reserve of this nature to border a capital city, or any major city. The park contains many animals including lions, giraffes, and black rhinos. The park is home to over 400 species of birds. The Nairobi Safari Walk is a major attraction to the Nairobi National Park as it offers a rare on-foot experience of the animals.
Nairobi is home to several museums, sites, and monuments. The Nairobi National Museum is the country's National Museum and largest in the city. It houses a large collection of artifacts portraying Kenya's rich heritage through history, nature, culture, and contemporary art. It also includes the full remains of a homo erectus popularly known as the Turkana boy. Other prominent museums include the Nairobi Gallery, Nairobi Railway Museum, and the Karen Blixen Museum located in the affluent Karen suburb. Uhuru Gardens, a national monument and the largest memorial park in Kenya, is also the place where the first Kenyan flag was raised at independence. It is located along Langata road near the Wilson Airport.
Nairobi is nicknamed the Safari Capital of the World, and has many spectacular hotels to cater for safari-bound tourists. Five star hotels in Nairobi include the Nairobi Serena, Laico Regency (formerly Grand Regency Hotel), Windsor (Karen), Holiday Inn, Nairobi Safari Club (Lilian Towers), The Stanley Hotel, Safari Park & Casino, InterContinental, Panari Hotel, Hilton, and the Norfolk Hotel. Other newer ones include the Crowne Plaza Hotel Nairobi in Upper Hill area, the Sankara Nairobi in Westlands, Tribe Hotel-Village Market, House of Wayne, The Eastland Hotel, Ole Sereni, and The Boma located along Mombasa Highway. Upcoming establishments include The Best Western Premier-Nairobi, Radisson Blu and Kempinski which are near completion. International chains apart from the Hilton, the Intercontinental group, and Serena Hotels are also setting up prime properties in Nairobi city.
Shopping malls in Nairobi include; The Yaya Centre (Hurlingham), Sarit Centre (Westlands), Westgate Shopping Mall (Westlands), ABC Place (Westlands), The Village Market (Gigiri), Junciton Shopping Centre (Ngong Road), Prestige Plaza (Ngong Road), Crossroads Shopping Centre (Karen), and T-Mall (Langata). Nakumatt, Uchumi, and Tuskys are the largest supermarket chains with modern stores throughout the city.
The Nairobi Java House is a popular coffee house and restaurant chain with multiple branches located around the city including one at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Other coffee chains include Dormans Coffee House and Savannah which is part of Sasini Tea, a blue chip tea producer in Kenya owned by Naushad Merali - an admired investment guru. Kenyan tea and coffee are very popular both locally and internationally and one can purchase premium gourmet blends at any of these outlets.
Nairobi's night life is very popular with tourists, both young and old. From a collection of gourmet restaurants offering local and international cuisine, Nairobi has something to offer to every age and pocket. Most common known food establishments include The Carnivore and The Tamarind Restaurants which have outlets in Langata, City Centre, and the Village Market. For those more discerning travellers, one can choose from a wide array of local cuisine, Mediterranean, fast food, Ethiopian, and Arabian. The city's nightlife is mostly centred along friends and colleagues meeting after work especially on Fridays - commonly known as "Furahiday" (Happy Day), theme nights, events and concerts, and of late a new trend - "herbal bubble" or "Shiisha". The most popular clubbing spots are centred in upmarket Westlands which has come to be known as "Electric Avenue", Karen, Langata, Hurlingham, and "uptown" venues in the city centre. Nairobians generally go out every day of the week and most establishments are open till late.
Kenya’s unit of currency is the shilling (KShs) (slang: Bob). There are no currency restrictions into or out of Kenya for currency transactions. Forex bureau are available both at the airport and at the city center with various currencies being traded.
Basic Safety Rules for Travelers to Kenya
- Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage.
- Don't walk on your own at night in the major cities or on empty beaches.
- Don't carry too much cash with you.
- Wear a money belt that fits under your clothes.
- Don't carry a lot of camera equipment especially in the major cities.
Most international credit cards are accepted in Kenya.
- Standard chartered bank allows access to over 60 moneylink ATM’s situated at all its branches, major shopping malls, and other strategic locations country wide.
- Barclaycash ATMs can accept any international VISA and MASTERCARD credit cards.
- Moneylink also enables holders of VISA cards to link up to their home bank or credit card account through moneylink ATMs.
- Travellors cheques are also readily recognizable and accepted at most places.
Several vaccinations are highly recommended, they include:
- Yellow Fever
- Hepatitis A
It is also recommended that you are up to date with your polio and tetanus vaccinations. Contact a travel clinic at least 3 months before you plan to travel.
There's a risk of catching malaria when you travel in Kenya. The highlands used to be a low-risk area, but even there you have to be careful and take precautions. Kenya is home to the chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria as well as several others. Make sure your doctor or travel clinic knows you are traveling to Kenya (don't just say Africa) so s/he can prescribe the right anti-malarial medication. Learning tips on how to avoid malaria will also help.
Following recent legislation by the Kenyan government, European visitors do not require a tourist visa to enter Kenya, but entry business visas are required.
At the Airport(s)
Niarobi - Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Jomo Kenyatta international airport is half-an-hour’s drive from the Nairobi city centre. Taxis are readily available but it is advisable for tourists to establish the fare before setting off for their destination. Also present are state controlled Kenatco Taxis and London style cabs which work on a fixed rate and have to charge as per kilometer as determined by law. However, most tourist hotels have their own minibus transport which can be arranged through reception.
Most international visitors will arrive through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi (NBO). If you are already in Nairobi and need to get to the airport, please make sure that you plan at least two hours to get there as the main road to the airport has heavy traffic jams, and security checks are tedious.
Kenya Airways (KQ) offers the most scheduled connections from JKIA and regular daily flights to the following destinations: Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu and Kisumu. A return flight from Nairobi to Mombasa will cost about KShs 11,000. Online booking is available. Check in is 45 minutes before departure for local flights and two hours for international. Pay attention to the announcements while in Unit 3 of JKIA as passengers on different flights are put in the same waiting area. If you are flying from another destination to Nairobi and using Kenya Airways in the tourist high season (July-September, December-February), note that KQ flights are frequently delayed and preference is given to international connecting passengers, platinum frequent-flyer card holders, and first-class passengers.
A low-cost, no-frills airline Fly540 also flies from JKIA and offers scheduled connections to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kisumu and Masaai Mara. Plans are to extend the service to the East African region. A return flight to Mombasa from Nairobi will cost about $99 (without tax) Online booking is possible.
Another airline Air Kenya flies from Wilson Airport Nairobi to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki and Samburu. The lounge features a Dorman’s cafe. Check in can be done up to 15 minutes before departure. Wilson Airport was once the busiest airport in Africa outside South Africa and still remains a major hub for local flights to the nature reserves in Kenya and to cities in neighboring countries.
Most charter tourists fly directly to either of the coastal airports of Mombasa or Malindi.
Kenya has a network of long distance bus lines. Speed is limited to 80km/h. Local buses in town are run by private companies, such as the green and yellow Citi Hoppa, which provide transportation for an inexpensive fee (usually around US$ 0.66). They have regular services in and out of the Nairobi city suburbs. They usually seat 20-35 passengers (no standing passengers allowed by law) and are a cleaner and less hectic mode of transport than matatus, while still plying many of the same routes.
Matatus are privately operated minibuses, typically for 14 or 25 passengers and operating over short and medium distances.. Previously Matatus were usually packed to well over capacity – up to 25 people in a 14-seater vehicle – but in recent years there has been increased government regulation and policing of matatus, especially in the larger cities, and now most matatus provide seatbelts and do not exceed the vehicle's stated capacity. Tourists should be careful to ensure that they are wearing the seatbelts provided, unless they wish to find themselves taken on an inconvenient unscheduled trip from a road checkpoint to the police station.
Matatus provide a very cheap and quick method of transport in all the major towns and many rural areas. The name matatu hails from the Kiswahili word for the number three – tatu – because some time ago the standard fare was three ten-cent coins.
The Kenya-Uganda railway starts in Mombasa and travels via Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda. This is the famous "Lunatic Express" and was also featured in the Michael Douglas film "The Ghost and the Darkness."
You can hire a jeep and drive through Kenya, though you need to be proficient at traveling.
By Rental Car
Most worldwide rental agencies have offices in Nairobi and Mombasa, and these offer expensive but reliable cars with a full back-up network. One can also rent cheaper cars from local distributors who are mostly reliable.
What to carry on Safari
Space in the safari vehicle is limited and we request that you pay particular attention to the following guidelines.
Your luggage is restricted to:-
- 1 bag not exceeding 12kgs and 65x46 cm. We recommend that you pack your personal effects in an inexpensive barrel/sausage bag available from discount stores, hypermarkets and sports shops
- + 1 sleeping bag & small pillow (warm sleeping bag or blanket for winter)
- + 1 small handbag (airline type) or daypack containing money, travel documents and camera equipment. This will be allowed inside the vehicle, placed by the passenger's feet
- + 1 waist pouch or money belt
- + 1 small fold-up bag to be used on itineraries that include short excursions. Essential for the Sesriem and Sossusvlei excursions and optional excursions
We recommend that you utilize old or inexpensive luggage. Suitcases are unsuitable for our type of safaris. You may use a small/medium-sized rucksack, provided that it has no frame.
IMPORTANT: To avoid Lost Luggage in transit: Please take your sleeping bag, medication and toiletries with you on board the plane. For passengers with connecting flights, please allow sufficient connecting time between flights (usually 2 hours). We suggest you check your luggage to each transfer point airport en route, especially if traveling via Johannesburg, to allow you to identify and collect your luggage and re-check to your final destination.
Clothing and Personal Effects (Please take the Minimum): Most people make the mistake of taking along too much clothing. Take along comfortable, casual and semi-casual, "wash and wear" clothes. Bright colors and white are not suitable for game viewing.
This list below is purely a guideline, and will depend on the duration/length of the safari as well as month/season traveling. Additional warmer clothing may be required during June/July/August:-
- 1-2 pair/s of smart/ casual trousers
- 3-4 pairs of shorts
- 7 Shirts/ T-shirts (any combination)
- 1 light cotton dress/sarong for the ladies
- 1 jersey for the evenings (April to August)
- 1 tracksuit (April to August)
- 1 windbreaker/ rain jacket (December to March)
- 1 warm jacket (May - September: winter nights can be very cold!)
- 1 pair of walking/ running shoes
- 1 pair of sandals/ thongs/ rafting or canoeing shoes
- Underwear and socks
- 1 swimming costume
- 1 sun hat
- 1 towel
Essential to have a pair of rafting or canoeing shoes. A long sleeved shirt will provide protection from the sun. We also recommend a pair of gloves and a sarong.
Also remember the following:-
- 1 liter water bottle (essential)
- 1 torch + batteries (essential)
- 1 roll toilet paper
- Bath soap, Toothbrush/toothpaste
- Shampoo & hair conditioner
- Comb/ hair brush, nail brush
- Razor & blades (preferable battery operated shaver)
- Suntan lotion/ Sun block
- Lip balm
- Hand cream & Moisturizing Cream
- Insect repellent
- Tissues or disposable moist tissues (e.g. Wet Ones)
- Washing powder, plug for sink
- Washing line (length of cord) pegs
- Plastic bag (to pack wet/ dirty clothing)
- Spectacles (if worn) - some people have trouble with contact lenses & dust
- Pen for immigration formalities
- 1 note book
- Multi-purpose knife (e.g. Swiss army knife)
NB: small sports/ kit bag for excursions as mentioned under "Luggage"
You are also welcome to bring along a bottle of your favorite drink liquor.
Personal Medical Kit:
We suggest that you take along the following:-
- Aspirins/ paracetamol
- Anti-diarrhea pills and laxatives (consult your pharmacist for advice)
- Throat lozenges
- Antiseptic cream
- Insect bite cream
- Eye drops
- Anti-malaria tablets (refer MALARIA section)
- Any other medicines & toiletries you regularly use
- Energy bar drink for canoeing safari
- Dehydrate powder/ sachets
Maps and Field Guides:
We recommend the following:-
- Michelin Map No 955 - Africa Central & South, Madagascar
- Robert's Birds of Southern Africa - G L Maclean
- Newman's Birds of Southern Africa - Kenneth Newman
- Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa - Chris & Tilde Stuart
- Southern Africa Mammals - Robin Frandsen
For photography of birds and animals a 300mm telephoto lens is recommended. Films & batteries are only available in larger cities and tend to be expensive. We recommend that you take along sufficient films and a spare battery for your camera.
Many people bring video cameras on safari. The power supply in Kenya is mostly 220-240 volts. It may be possible to recharge the video camera off the battery of the vehicle through a 12 volt cigarette lighter socket. We recommend that you take along enough batteries and recharging equipment with cigarette lighter adapter.
When visiting wildlife areas it is essential that participants have a pair of binoculars for their personal use, in order to benefit fully from the safari
There are various outlets in the different cities:
- Nakumatt Stores (24 hour services)
- Uchumi supermarkets
- Sarit, Capital and Yaya center
- Village market