Friday, December 3, 2010

10 Things you should know about Nairobi

1. Getting There and Away

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (www.kenyaairports.co.ke/kaa/airports/jkia) is 18km east of the city centre. It is served by 49 scheduled airlines, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways. National carrier Kenya Airways (www.kenya-airways.com; tel: +254 20 327 4747; email: reservations@kenya-airways.com) flies to 36 cities worldwide.

2. Getting Around

Public transport around Nairobi is readily available. There are buses, matatus (mini-buses/vans) and cabs in addition to car hire companies. You can pick up a yellow taxi (cab) at the airport, though be prepared to pay anything upwards from Ksh 1,500 (US $20) into the city. For trips around the city, fares range between Ksh 300-500 ($4-6.70). Car hire is also available from $187 a day (try EuropCar, office at airport, tel +254 20 822 625).

3. Where to Stay

Book well in advance. Standard rooms vary between $60 and $250. The Fairview Hotel (Bishops Rd, Upper Hill; tel: +254 20 271 1321; www.fairview.com) offers homely luxury just outside the city. The Hilton Empire has a city centre location (Mama Ngina St; tel: +254 20 250 000; www.hilton.com). Alternatively, apartment rental offers fully furnished suites for about KSh 50,000-170,000 ($660-2,240) a month. The luxurious Palacina Residence and Suite (Kitale Lane, Off Dennis Pritt Rd; tel: +254 20 271 5517; www.palacina.com) has hotel rooms and apartments, or try the Chania Apartments (Chania Ave, Kilimani; tel: +254 20 229 117).

4. Eating Out

Kenyans love their meat and the most popular local delicacy is roasted red meat cooked over charcoal (nyama choma in Swahili). Try such traditional dishes at Chui’s Place (National Museum of Kenya, Museum Hill; tel: +254 072 1163 728), or head for a mindboggling array of exotic meats from crocodile to camel at Carnivore (Off Langata Rd; tel: +254 20 60 2775).

5. Nightlife

Notorious for its vibey bars and nightclubs, there’s plenty to keep you on the move until sunrise in Nairobi. Carnivore restaurant’s Simba Saloon is popular for its merrymaking, disco, and bar. Upmarket Mercury Lounge (ABC Place, off Waiyaki Way; tel: +254 20 445 1875) has tapas, cocktails, and live jazz every Saturday. For a more cultural experience, visit The Phoenix Players (Parliament Rd; tel: +254 20 225 506/212 601), Kenya’s most popular repertory theatre group.

6. Out of Town

Ninety minutes outside town, Lake Naivasha is the second largest freshwater lake in Kenya and a world-renowned birding destination. You can also see giraffes, buffalo, and Colobus monkeys wandering amongst the greenery. Take a boat trip, but beware of the hippos. The stunning Crater Lake Tented Camp (tel: +254 20 884 258) can organise daily excursions.

7. Sightseeing

Nairobi’s Animal Orphanage and Safari Walk (Langata Rd, KWS Headquarters; tel: +254 20 602 345; www.kws.org) gives you the first step towards Kenya’s expansive wildlife, amid lions, cheetahs, hippos and more. The Bomas of Kenya (Langata/Forest Edge Rd; tel: +254 20 891 801) have folklore and dance.

8. Shopping

Head for more than 150 outlets at The Village Market Shopping and Recreation Complex (Limuru Rd; tel: +254 20 552 488/90), which features a Maasai-themed craft market on Fridays, as well as waterslides and a playground for children.

9. Climate

Nairobi’s climate is fairly moderate and seasons are separated by long and short rains. The summer months are sunny and warm but comfortable, while winters are mild to cool with very chilly evenings. The wettest part of the year come with the long rains of late March to May. Short rains are from November to January.

10. Essential Reading

Nairobi was home to world renowned author, playwright, and "literary and social activist" Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, whose hard hitting plays, novels and socio-political accounts exposed neo-colonial Kenya to the world. Try Decolonising the Mind (1986), Petals of Blood (1977), and A Grain of Wheat (1967).