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Nairobi- The Green City under the Sun
Nairobi, in spite of it all, is still the safari capital of Africa even though the modern world has caught up with it speedily. A boondocks no more, this bygone Maasai watering hole will do more than wet your appetite. Nairobi is sleepless, energetic and contempo, offering an impressive introduction to both wildlife and nightlife. Its music clubs pulsating with vivacity, bustling shops and spirited markets alongside a mélange of ‘food joints’ will certainly tempt your palate.
The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase, Enkare Nairobi, which translates to “place of cool waters” probably borrowed from the Nairobi river, gave the city its name. In addition to being a favourable site for the Nairobi railway camp, it was also chosen because of its network of rivers and temperate elevation. Furthermore the location ‘s central position between Mombasa and Kampala made it the ideal residential choice.
Although Nairobi is now thriving as one of Africa’s largest and most intriguing cities. This area was essentially an uninhabited swamp until a supply depot of the Uganda Railway, which soon became the railway’s headquarters, was built here in 1899. Not long afterwards, the town was completely rebuilt in the early 1900s following an outbreak of plague and the burning of the original town. In 1905, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as capital of the British Protectorate centered around administration and big game hunting. However its disadvantage as malaria prone area, it prompted the residents to attempt to have the town moved. Nonetheless it continued to grow under the British occupation until it eventually became the capital of a free Kenyan republic in 1963.
Nairobi as we know it today, is as contemporary as its people. An established hub for commerce and culture it can surely be defined as a prominent social center. This is a place of great contrasts where race, tribe and origin all contribute to its unmatched character. Enduring as a cosmopolitan and multicultural city, it has grow around its central business district ranking it as the most populous city in East Africa and the 12th largest city in Africa.
One of the most influential cities in Africa both politically and financially with the second oldest exchange and one of the largest in the continent. It hosts thousands of local businesses and over 100 major international companies and organizations. Nairobi also boasts as the regional headquarters of several international companies and organizations including the UNEP and UN-Habitat headquarters.
Many come to Kenya for a safari oblivious to the fact that you barely need to leave the capital to take one. The city in itself does have several tourist attractions although it may lack the appeal as a prime tourist destination. Most famous naturally is the Nairobi National Park which contains abundant wildlife making it a non-stop thrill ride of a wilderness excursion. Established back in 1946, this is Kenya’s first National Park and is really unique being the only game-reserve of this nature to border a major city.
Approximately 7 km south of the city centre, this phenonmenon is perhaps the only wildlife park in the world that you can visit by taxi or bus. The Park is open daily from 8:30 a.m-5:30 p.m. and is easily accessible on tarmac roads, mainly through Lang’ata Road. It is particularly ideal for travelers with stop-overs in Nairobi or those in Nairobi for business without the luxury of time for a long safari. The afternoons area best time to visit.
Covering an area of 117.21 km2 , it is relatively small in comparison to most of Africa’s well known national parks. The park contains two major ecosystems comprising of highland dry forest and savannah which feature a wide range of natural and artificial environments. Its predominant environment is open grass plain consisting mainly of savannah with scattered Acacia bushes and grass plains. There is a riverine forest along the south of the park that is drained by permanent rivers. Dams have also been set up on secondary rivers to disperse water over the plains and wetlands.
The western side is highlands are covered by dry forests and dense riverine vegetation with Wild Olives, Crotons and Cape Chestnut trees. In the grassland on lower slopes are species like Red grass, Crab grass and Bermuda grass with scattered Cypress and yellow-barked Fever trees. There are also some areas of broken bush and deep rocky valleys and gorges within the park. The species in the valleys are predominantly Acacia and Euphorbia candelabrum. Other tree species include White pear, Fig trees, Canthium shrubs, Sumacs and some legume species. Several plants like Spurges also grow on the rocky hillsides and are endemic to the area.
Serving as the northern limit for wildlife migrations, the concentration of wildlife in the park is highest when areas outside the park have dried up. The dams in turn have created a wonderful man-made habitat for myriads of birds and various aquatic animals.
Its diverse wildlife population, includes one of the highest densities of lions in the country. Other member of the Big 5 found in the park include the African buffalo, leopard and rhino. There are also hippopotamus, cheetahs, baboons, Burchell’s zebra, Coke’s hartebeest, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, elands, impala, Masai giraffe and waterbucks. It also has a high diversity of bird species of up to 500 permanent and migratory species.
It is also one of Kenya’s most successful rhinoceros sanctuaries. True to its moniker, the Kifaru Ark is one of only a few parks where visitors can be certain of seeing a black rhinoceros in its natural habitat. Another sanctuary within the park is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, located close to the park’s main entrance, where between 11 a.m. and noon you can watch keepers take orphaned baby rhinos and elephants for their daily mud baths.
Another major attraction in there is the Nairobi Safari Walk as it offers a rare on-foot experience of the animals. This is one activity that gives you an chance to see Kenya’s wildlife close hand rather than from the restrictions of a tour van. It is an exciting eye opener to Kenya’s Parks and Reserves that offers visitors an opportunity to discover and anticipate what is out there across the country.
Other attractions in the park are the animal migrations in July and August, the Ivory Burning Site Monument and Nairobi Animal Orphanage. Established in 1964, it is the oldest animal shelter in Kenya and rehabilitation centre for abandoned or injured wild animals. Secured within the park’s lush landscape, this special facility is home to more than 20 different animals and bird species.
Nairobi is surrounded by several expanding suburbs with dense tree-cover and plenty of green spaces making it the ‘Green City in the Sun’ as is it popularly known. It is situated at 1o1736o49’E adjacent to the eastern edge of the Rift Valley, with the Ngong Hills, west of the city, serving as the most conspicuous geographical feature around the region.
The city enjoys a moderate climate at an elevation of 1795m. It has a subtropical highland climate makes for some cool evenings and gets colder especially in the June to July periods, when the temperature can drop to about 10 °C. The sunniest and warmest part of the year is usually from December to March, when temperatures average the mid-twenties during the day. The mean maximum temperature for this period is around 24 °C .
There are two rainy seasons which can be moderate. The cloudiest part of the year is just after the first rainy season until around September when conditions are usually overcast with drizzle. As Nairobi is situated close to the equator, the differences between the seasons are typically minimal. The timing of sunrise and sunset also varies little throughout the year for the same reason.
Today, many businesses are considering relocating or establishing their headquarters outside the Central Business District area. Two areas that are seeing a growth in companies and office space are Upper Hill, which is situated approximately 4 km from the CBD and Westlands, which is also about the same distance away from the city centre.
Many lower-middle and upper-middle income neighbourhoods are located in the north-central areas. Nearlly all of the up market suburbs are situated to the west and north-central of Nairobi where most European settlers resided during the colonial times. The low and lower income estates are located mainly in far eastern Nairobi. Further southwest, are the Ngong/Embulbul suburbs, which are also considered as part of the greater Nairobi metropolitan area.
Although Nairobi serves as both a tourist destination and a transport hub most visitors tend to dive in and out of the city the shortest time possible. This is mostly attributed to its ‘Nairobbery’ notoriety,yet it’s easy enough to evade the worst of the city’s dangers once you are oriented and as far Kenyan cities go, this one has plenty going for it. It’s indiscriminate café culture and titillating nightlife make it virtually the only place in the country where you can get a truly varied menu.
The many parks and open spaces throughout the city make it differ in several ways from other Kenyan regions. The most visited of these is the Uhuru Park which is a centre for outdoor speeches, services and rallies. It borders the Central Business District and the neighbourhouring Upper Hill. The Central Park,which is adjacent to Uhuru Park, is also a popular spot. Futher from the CBD, along Langata road near the Wilson Airport is the Uhuru Gardens. It is the largest memorial park in Kenya and national monument where the first Kenyan flag was raised at independence. Other notable clearances include the Jeevanjee Gardens, City Park, 7th August Memorial Park and the Nairobi Arboretum.
Nairobi is home to the Nairobi National Museum’s, which is the largest in the city. It houses a large collection of artefacts portraying Kenya’s rich heritage through history, nature, culture and contemporary art. Other noteworthy places include Jomo Kenyatta’s Mausoleum, Kenya National Theatre, Bomas of Kenya and the Kenya National Archives. The top art galleries in Nairobi include the Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art and the Mizizi Arts Centre. There are also other smaller yet popular museums like the Nairobi Railway Museum and the Karen Blixen Museum which is located in the affluent Karen suburb.
Built in 1912 ,the bungalow-style house bought by Karen Blixen and her then-husband in 1917, was once the centre piece of their farm life. The grounds, which feature original equipment from the coffee farm, are available for touring visitors are interested in guided tours of the house. Its rooms are designed in both the original decor and props from the 1985 film, ‘Out of Africa’ ,an Oscar winning movie based on Karen’s an autobiography by the same title. There is also a gift shop within the premises and the museum is open every day between 9:30 a.m and 6.00 p.m, including on weekends and public holidays.
The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Giraffe centre is approximately 5 km from the city centre. It was founded in 1979 by Jock Leslie-Melville, the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish Earl, when he and his wife captured an infant giraffe. Their aspiration then was to start a programme of breeding giraffe in captivity at their home in Langata. Today this sanctuary is an acclaimed refuge for the endangered Rothschild giraffe that is found only in the grasslands of East Africa. The center also operates as an educational program for Kenyan school children to teach them about wildlife conservation.
The centre is also home to several warthogs which freely roam the area along with the giraffes. It is futhermore the location of the Giraffe Manor, one of Nairobi’s most iconic historical buildings. This edifice dates back to the 1930s and is reminiscent of the early days of Europeans in East Africa. The estate is now an exclusive guesthouse where the giraffes pay an occasional visit as wander freely through the verdant gardens.
Also located in Nairobi’s leafy Karen suburb, about 13 km away from the cacophony of the city, is the Nairobi Mamba Village resort. Spread over 30 acres, it is home to around 70 Nile crocodiles that are known to be the largest of the species and the most dangerous.There are also giraffes, camels, an ostrich park and a peacock pen in the facreage along with a variety of other birds. It has a man-made lake with boats and fairground equipment in addition to its entertainment.
It is also fitted with a camp site and accommodation tents, restaurant, conference facilities, party and wedding facilities and an animal farm that are perfect for a group of up to 80 children or 50 adults. Mamba Village also has within its grounds a deluxe campsite for more up luxurious accommodation.
The city’s night life is very popular with both young and old tourists. From a collection of gourmet restaurants and bistros offering local and international cuisine, Nairobi has something to offer to every age and pocket. Most common known food establishments include The Carnivore and Tamarind Restaurants which have outlets in Langata, the City Centre and the Village Market. For the more experiential travellers, one can choose from a wide array of local dishes, exotic cuisines and fast food establishments around its boroughs.
The most popular clubbing spots are centred in up-market Westlands which has come to be known as Nairobi’s ‘Electric Avenue’. Other choice haunts can be found in 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.
Shops and Markets
There are a number of shopping malls in the Nairobi Area. These include: The West Gate mall, Prestige Plaza, the Village Market, the Sarit Center, the Junction. A variety of amenities are provided at these malls and include cinemas, fashion and apparel boutiques, bookshops, electronics and grocery stores, coffeehouses, restaurants and bars.
One of the great experiences for visitors in Nairobi is a visit to the exhibition stalls and open air markets. Bargaining is the name of the game and vendors are usually willing to negotiate prices with shoppers. If you are not a local, it is advisable whenever possible to have someone with you who speaks the language and is conversant with the special bargaining lingo of the market vendors so that you can get the best deals for your purchases. Second-hand clothes or ‘Mitumba’ markets are also quite common and are a ideal option for those who want to be fashionable yet budget conscious.
Stadiums and Sporting grounds
Nairobi is East Africa’s sporting centre and football is the most popular sport. Its premier sports facilities are the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani and the Nyayo Stadium located close to the CBD. These venues make them convenient locations for international tournaments, national events and social gatherings. Other notable annual competitions staged in Nairobi include Safari Rally, Safari Sevens rugby union tournament, and the Nairobi Marathon.
Golfing is another growing attraction, with six courses within a 20 km radius of the city The big-league golf clubs include the Windsor Country Club, Karen Country Club and Muthaiga Country Club. The Kenya Open golf tournament, which is part of the Challenge Tour,, in addition takes place here. In Nairobi is also has the largest ice rink in Africa, the Solar Ice Rink at the Panari Hotel’s Sky Centre.
Practical Travel information
The crowded city center is actually safe to walk in compared to a few years back, when muggings, carjackings and kidnappings emptied it as residents began referring to Nairobi as “Nairobbery.” Today walking around Nairobi is relatively safe as the town is small and accessible. However, some areas can be a security risk and it is best to seek local advice before setting out.
The Wilson airport, located 11 kms outside of the city centre, is the domestic hub for both scheduled and chartered domestic flights.
The city is served by highways that link Mombasa to Kampala and Arusha and most of the roads are tarmacked. Matatus which ply through the city are the most common form of public transport. These matatus are privately owned minibuses and generally seat fourteen to twenty-four passengers though some operators still tend to overload them.
The matatu’s destination is imprinted on the side of the bus and matatus following designated routes have specific route numbers. They were easily distinguishable by their extravagant paint schemes. Owners would paint their matatu with various colourful decorations, such as their favourite football team or hip hop artist to attract more commuters. Nowadays they are not as showy as they once were due to stringent traffic rules
Taxis are also widely available and convenient. They are often parked in the streets around alloted buildings and are marked with a yellow line along each side. These taxis are not metered and prices should be agreed with the driver before departure. Always ask for local advice or at your hotel for correct rates. There are several Taxi companies which operate with phone bookings, modern vehicles and competent drivers at reasonable rates. Several of these companies also have airport booking offices.
Buses are becoming increasingly common throughout the city and also operate on set routes and schedules. Since Nairobi serves as the centre of Kenya’s extensive bus network, many bus companies operate to and from destinations all over the country. They can be boarded at any stop and tickets can be purchased on board.
Nairobi was founded as a railway town, and the main headquarters of Kenya Railways is still situated at Nairobi railway station, near the city centre. The line runs through Nairobi, from Mombasa to Kampala. Though its main use is for freights, there are regular night passenger trains which connect Nairobi to Mombasa and Kisumu. A number of morning and evening commuter trains connect the centre with the suburbs although the city has no proper railing system.
Where to stay
Nairobi has many grand hotels to cater for its visitors. As the British occupiers started to explore the region, they started using Nairobi as their first port of call. This prompted the colonial government to build several impressive hotels in the city whose main occupants were mainily big-game hunters. Its reputable hotels include the Nairobi Serena Nairobi, Laico Regency, Windsor, Holiday Inn, Nairobi Safari Club, The Stanley Hotel, Safari Park & Casino, Inter-Continental, Panari Hotel, Hilton and the Fairmont Hotel.
Other newer introductions include the Crowne Plaza Hotel 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. There are also a number of International chains apart from the Hilton, the Intercontinental group and Serena Hotels currently setting up prime properties in the city.
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