Visiting Nairobi? Quick Tips For Independent Travelers
Nairobi, which is both the political and administrative capital city of Kenya, has a lot to offer. It is a modern cosmopolitan city. It is one of the largest cities on the African continent. On the travel front, Nairobi can be called the Safari capital of Africa. It is located at an altitude just over 1600 above sea level.
Briefly, this is how Nairobi was born: When the constructors of the Kenya-Uganda railway reached the current location of Nairobi in 1899, they set up a basic camp and supply deport. At this time they simply labeled the camp site as – Mile 327. The local Maasai tribe called this highland swamp Ewaso Nai’robi – the place of cold water. The camp eventually became a rustic village and then evolved into a shanty town which by 1907 was the capital of all the British East Africa. It was soon an important centre for the colony and a Mecca for adventurers, hunters and travelers from all over the world. As Kenya gained independence from the British rule in 1963, Nairobi was retained as the capital city.
For the independent traveler, not in the controlling hands of a tour operator, a few guidelines and tips might be of help as you visit.
Your arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is the main airport in Nairobi. It is large in comparison with most other airports within east and central Africa. Travelers from some other parts of the world – Europe, Asia, North and South America will however find it quite small. After immigration and customs procedures at the respective desks, you will easily find taxis that can take you to the city centre. The city lies about 20 minutes from the airport.
The other airport, Wilson Airport handles light aircraft and quite a number of scheduled and chartered domestic flights. If you are arriving at Jomo kenyatta International Airport and boarding another flight at Wilson Airport or the other way round, please allow enough time for this connection. You might need anything between 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the how heavy the traffic is.
English and Kiswahili are the most widely spoken languages in Nairobi. English speaking travelers will therefore be at ease in and around Nairobi.
Transportation around the city is easy and generally safe. Make sure to only use official taxis, which have a yellow band along each side. Taxis are not metered and a rate should be agreed with the driver before departure.
Buses can boarded at any stop and tickets purchased from the conductor.
Public mini buses, known as Matatu, operate on the city routes throughout the day and are the most popular form of local transport.
You may also consider renting a car. Renting a vehicle is very easy in Kenya. There are many car hire companies even at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when you arrive.
Safety and Security
Visitors are advised not to leave cash and valuables in their hotel rooms but to make use of hotel safe deposit boxes and safes.
Visitors should not carry large sums in cash while walking on the streets, jewelry and valuables should be left home or kept in the hotel custody.
Walking at night alone should be avoided; Kenya has an efficient police force as well as a special Tourist Police Unit with highly trained officers. In addition, most hotels employ experienced security personnel. However, it is advisable to always take those precautions you would take anywhere else in the world.
Keep copies of your important documents in the event you misplace the originals.
Kenya has an established postal service for both local and international post. It is advisable to use a courier company for important documents that are time-sensitive.
If you have a mobile phone with a roaming connection, you can make use of Kenya’s cellular network, which covers most to the country, namely: Safaricom, Zain and Telkom Kenya.
Most hotels offer international telephone and fax service and it is advisable to check the relative prices in advance. Nairobi also has a number of communication centres – internet cafes – where you can make international calls and access the internet at affordable rates.
Nairobi has sophisticated supermarkets, boutiques and shopping malls as well as open-air markets where you can purchase local hand-crafts and souvenirs. The main shopping areas in Nairobi are: The Village Market, Sarit Centre, The Junction, The Mall, and Crossroads Karen .
Major credit cards are widely accepted. Most Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) can accept international VISA and MASTERCARD credit cards. ATMs can be found at airports, bank branches, shopping malls and gas stations.
Traveler’s cheques would be the best and safer way to carry money to Nairobi. They are also accepted by most hotels. But you will still need hard cash to secure many other services. The easiest currency to exchange is the US dollar, Sterling pounds and the Euro.
The unit of currency is the Kenya Shilling. It is abbreviated as Ksh or KES. Notes are available in denominations of Kenya Shillings 1000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Coins are available in 40, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
Eating out and Cuisines
There are many restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisines. And most offer world-class services. In fact, the Carnivore Restaurant has been voted amongst the world’s top 50 restaurants. The presence of a considerable number of expatriates in the country has buoyed the existence of an indulging variety of authentic and top class restaurants in Nairobi. For example, at the Panari Centre on Mombasa road, you will find Pampa Grill. Here guests enjoy the Brazilian Churrascaria style of dining. Asian influence is strong and you will not have look hard to find Chinese, Japanese and Indian restaurants. And most of these restaurants are open until late night.
General Entertainment and general Night life
The Carnivore Restaurant, besides being a well-known game-meat restaurant, has also kept its strong position as a leading and unique entertainment joint in Nairobi.
Generally, Nairobi has what one would call 24/7 night life. From the city centre to the suburbs, you will find a whole range of casinos, clubs, pubs and restaurants that operate throughout the week!
Other useful tips and Information
Use a map or ask for proper information when going anywhere.
Drink only bottled water and avoid eating raw food.
Tipping is not mandatory in Kenya but it is not forbidden.