Saturday, September 25, 2010


Nairobi is a completely modern creation and almost everything here has been built in the last 100 years. Until the 1890s the whole area was just an isolated swamp, but as the rails of the East Africa railway fell into place, a depot was established on the edge of a small stream known to the Maasai as Ewaso Nyirobi (a place of sweet, cool waters). Nairobi quickly developed into the administrative nerve-centre of the Uganda Railway, and in 1901 the capital of the British Protectorate was moved here from Mombasa to allow more effective control of the interior.

Even when the first permanent buildings were constructed, Nairobi remained a real frontier town, with rhinos and lions freely roaming the streets, and lines of iron-roofed bungalows stretching ignominiously across the plain. However, once the railway was up and running, wealth began to flow into the city. The colonial government built some grand hotels to accommodate the first tourists to Kenya - big-game hunters, lured by the attraction of shooting the country's almost naively tame wildlife. However, almost all of the colonial-era buildings were replaced by bland modern of lice buildings following independence in 1963.

As East Africa's largest city and the region's main transport hub, Nairobi is situated firmly at the centre of national life and politics, a position that did the city no favours in 1998, when the US embassy on Moi Ave was blown up by militants linked to Osama bin Laden, killing more than 200 Kenyans and 8 Americans.


The compact city centre is bounded by Uhuru Highway, Haile Selassie Ave. Tom Mboya St and University Way. Northeast of the centre, on the eastern side of Tom Mboya St, is the rougher River Rd area, where most cheap holds and bus offices are found; this district has a bad reputation for robbery and counterfeit products, so be careful.

Various suburbs surround the downtown area Southwest of the centre, beyond Uhuru and Central Parks, are Upper Hill, Milimani and Hurlingham, with several hostels, campsites and midrange hotels. Further out are Wilson Airport, Nairobi National Park and the expat enclaves of Langata and Karen. The country's main airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, is southeast of the centre.

North of the centre you will find the suburbs of Westlands and Parklands. The suburbs further out, such as Kibera, Kayole and Githurai, are mainly poverty-stricken slums.


For a rudimentary guide to the downtown area, many hotels and travel companies give out free promotional maps. For more detailed coverage, the best option is the City of Nairobi: Map & Guide produced by Survey of Kenya. It covers the suburbs and has a detailed map of the central area, but it's difficult to get. Also adequate, with some hotels and places of interest marked, is the 1:15,000 Map Guide of Nairobi City Censure (KSh200) published by Interland Maps.

Much better, though bulkier, is Nairobi Adz (KSh510) by RW Moss. Like the equivalents in other countries, the AtoZ covers the whole city in detail.

Barely one hundred years old, Nairobi like the country it capitalizes, is a city of many contrasts. Nairobi's inhabitants are just as diverse as the heritage from which they come. Indigenous African Kenyans are the clear majority in town. But Asian Kenyans are prominent in many areas of commerce and industry. Most Asian Kenyans are third or fourth generation descendants of those who came a century ago from the Indian sub-continent to build the country's railway. The numbers of Somali, Ethiopian and Ugandan residents are growing, as Nairobi has become a haven for the politically and business minded. Kenya'sover40differenttribesconvergeandmix well with the Europeans and other foreign nationals and expatriates. The spirit of the Kenyan people is sometimes overwhelming to the newcomer. Hospitality, warm smiles and graciousness are everyday expressions of welcome.

Nairobi buzzes with local and international travelers coming and going for business, pleasure, or simply transiting. The city has over 60 hotels to accommodate visitors, whether they prefer luxury all the way, are here on a shoestring budget or fall somewhere in between. The city has more than adequate numbers of three-, four- and five-star hotels, including some of the oldest and finest in East Africa

With great diversity in the people and cultures found in Kenya's capital city, it is no surprise that there is a wide variety restaurants. Nearly every major ethnic group in the world is represented in Nairobi through its cuisine. The variety goes one step farther with choices ranging from five-star restaurants to take-out service and everything in between. Assuredly, no one goes away from Nairobi feeling disappointed in the food!

The city and its environs have everything to offer the visitor and resident alike. Sight-seeing and attractions in and around the city are plentiful. The Nairobi National Park is one of the country's most frequented game parks. It is unique in that it borders on the city limits and is just eight kilometres (five miles) from downtown. The National Museum of Kenya is a must-see for all Nairobi visitors. A visit to the museum is useful for gathering information on the background of the country, the land, the people, the history, the birds and the animals, especially before going off on safari.

Day excursions to game parks and other attractions are easily arranged. A visit to the Nairobi suburb of Karen is quite popular. The town was named after Karen Blixen who wrote "Out of Africa" under the pen name of Isak Dinesen. It is very easy to spend a full day in the Karen area Among the town's attractions is one of the country's top golf courses. Karen Country Club. Other popular attractions include Giraffe Manor, the Ostrich Park, Mamba Village, the cultural dance program at the Bomas of Kenya, the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and Museum, and bats of wonderful shopping.

1 comment:

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