Only 140 kilometres south of the equator, Nairobi is situated between the rolling waves of Kenya’s 450 kilometre coastline, and the gentle shoreline of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake and a source of the Nile.
European missionaries first began settling in East Africa during the 1840s, and by the 1890s the British Government formalised the settlements as a British Protectorate. By 1895 the Protectorate – which encompassed modern day Kenya – was known as British East Africa, and Mombasa was its capital.
Nairobi has grown from inauspicious beginnings in 1899 as a rail depot on the line to Uganda, to becoming a trade capital, and eventually the political centre of the British colony of Kenya. Following the dismantling of the British Empire, on 12th December 1963 the independent country of Kenya emerged, with Nairobi as its capital and Jomo Kenyatta its first President.
Today’s Nairobi is a thriving Kenyan city which is best known as a gateway to the country’s iconic safari industry. Travellers from across the globe depart from Nairobi to visit the heartlands of the Masaai Mara where millions of wildebeest embark on the world’s largest and most phenomenal wildlife migration.
For many, Nairobi is just a springboard to Kenya’s northern safari industry, but there are still many attractions to keep any visitor to Nairobi entertained.
Whilst many of Nairobi’s colonial era buildings were knocked down to make way for modern buildings, the city has not lost its sense of the past. The farmhouse of Karen Blixen, the ‘Out Of Africa’ author who lived in Nairobi between 1913 and 1931, has been turned into an excellent museum. The historical coffee farming suburb in which it is located, 32 kilometres from Nairobi, has been named Karen after one of Nairobi’s most beloved proponents.
Tribal Kenya is also represented and in 1971 the Government founded ‘Bomas of Kenya’, a cultural tourist district in Langata. The Bomas, or traditional ethnic homesteads, host dance performances which represent Kenya’s 16 tribal groups, including the Kikuyu and Maasai.
However, for those who can’t wait to see Kenyan wildlife, the Nairobi National Park is 113 square kilometres of plains, cliffs and acacia forest, just seven kilometres south of the city. The park is home to herds of zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and giraffe, pods of hippo and groups of lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. Visitors may also be lucky enough to see the rare and strangely-named black rhinoceros. It’s actually the same colour as the white rhino: grey.
As Africa’s fourth largest city, Nairobi features great nightlife and a wide array of dining options. Unfortunately the city’s reputation for rampant petty crime is well deserved, and visitors do need to be on their guard, particularly at night.
One of Nairobi busiest evening districts is Westlands, the new nightlife centre of Nairobi where many restaurants and bars line the busy Woodvale Grove and Mpaka Road. Traffic can become hectic, even by Nairobi standards, and the action spills out from packed clubs into the street well into the early hours.
Nairobi’s population of three million includes a significant South Asian community who have been present in Kenya since the country’s colonial days. This ensures there are numerous Indian restaurants across the city, alongside ethnic African diners which range from Kenyan to Somalian to Ethiopian. And with such a vast array of game in the area, Nairobi is also a great place for the culinary curious: try wildebeest, kudu, crocodile or impala.
Kenya may be the safari capital of the world, but there is much more to the country than just wildlife. Travellers looking for rest and rejuvenation will enjoy the beaches on Kenya’s 450 kilometre stretch of coastline. Diani Beach, 30 kilometres south of Mombasa, is a white sand beach known for its colourful coral reefs and is a wonderful place to relax in a hammock with a good book, snorkel the coral reefs or paddle across the Indian Ocean in an outrigger canoe.