Ins and outs

1 Getting there
2 Getting around
Best time to visit
Tourist information

Getting there

Nairobi is the most important air transport hub for East Africa, and international and domestic flights touch down at
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
. Although an untidy old building that is in desperate need of refurbishing, airport facilities are fully functional and include cafés, several banks (with longer banking hours than the rest of the country), ATMs, hotel booking, tour-operator and car-hire desks, and air-side, extensive duty free and souvenir shops and a branch of the excellent
Nairobi Java House
coffee shop, which also sells coffee beans for those wanting to take a lasting taste of Kenyan coffee home with them. Once through immigration and customs in the international arrivals hall, taxi drivers will start to badger you, but they are easy enough to deal with and move on to the next arrival if you say you are not interested or already have arranged a transfer. If you do want a taxi, expect to bargain for a ride into the city centre. Outside the domestic terminal (a short trolley push across the car park) is a desk for the
Airport Taxi Operators Association
. Pay at the desk, where they'll give you a receipt to show the driver. Most hotels and tour operators also provide transport inclusive of a holiday package or at the very least can arrange a shuttle bus. There is also a bus service to and from the airport,
 although this is best avoided if you have a lot of luggage as the buses get crowded nearer the city.

Nairobi's second airport is
Wilson Airport,
. This airport is used for domestic scheduled and charter flights by the light aircraft airlines, as well as being the base for
- the flying doctor service, and the annual host for the Nairobi International Air Show in November.

There are good road connections into the city from all directions. The long-distance bus station is on Landhies Road from where there are daily departures to most destinations.
Akamba Bus
is one of the better organized and safer of the many bus services travelling long distance within Kenya and to neighbouring countries. Their terminus is in Lagos Road. There are also several shuttle bus companies offering a daily service to/from Arusha and Moshi in Tanzania.

The railway station is at the southern end of Moi Avenue. It is easily spotted thanks to the coloured lights around the main entrance. There is currently only one passenger rail service from Nairobi to Mombasa, with the train travelling overnight through Tsavo National Park. The line from Nairobi to Kisumu was closed immediately after the 2008 riots. According to reports, it has recently started again but you are advised to check beforehand.

Getting around

Central Nairobi is bounded by Uhuru Highway to the west, Nairobi River to the north and east and the railway to the south. Across the Uhuru Highway is Uhuru Park and Central Park. In the southwest of this central triangle of about 5 sq km is the crop of high-rise buildings where most of the government buildings, offices, banks, hotels and shops are located. In the northern section the buildings are closer together and there are many less expensive shops and restaurants, while to the east of the triangle is the poorer section where there are cheaper hotels and restaurants, shops and markets. This is the area around River Road, which is very lively, full of character and has the authentic atmosphere of the African section of a great city (although it is an area in which visitors should take care over their safety).

Southeast of the city centre around the Mombasa Road is the concentrated industrial area that peters out near the airport. By contrast, to the south of here is the 117 sq km Nairobi National Park, which makes up about one fifth of the city's area. To the west of the city centre and hemmed in by the Langata and Ngong roads is the congested Kibera slum, and beyond here and past the Main Gate to Nairobi National Park are the affluent suburbs of Langata and Karen where many of the sights are located. Much of this area was sold for development by Karen Blixen, the Danish authoress, when she left Kenya in 1931, and these leafy suburbs are isolated from the rest of Nairobi by the Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary. There is a semi-country status with seemingly more dogs and horses than human residents. This is changing however, as clusters of homes are being built on what were once large plots with single dwellings, and estates of houses occupy former farmland.

Walking around central Nairobi is relatively straightforward, as the city centre is small and accessible. Taxis are widely available, convenient and are parked on just about every street corner. Any make of car can serve as a taxi, although all Nairobi taxis are white and marked with a yellow line along each side. There is also a large fleet of London black taxis operating within the city. Taxis are not metered, and a price should be agreed with the driver before departure. Expect to pay in the region of US$5 for a short hop across the city centre rising to US$15-20 for a ride to outlying areas.

City buses are numbered and operate on set routes throughout the city, and can be boarded at any stop and tickets purchased on board. You can catch buses as far as Karen and beyond, and the main city bus terminal is located at the end of River Road. There are also main bus stops outside the
Hilton Hotel
on Moi Avenue, outside Nation House on Tom Mboya Street, outside the Railway Station at the end of Moi Avenue, and outside the General Post Office on Kenyatta Avenue.
(minibuses) also operate on set routes and are the most popular form of local public transport. Again, like taxis most are white with a yellow stripe. Their destination is clearly written on the side. There are countless
stands throughout Nairobi, with continuous arrivals and departures throughout the day.

Most tour operators are able to arrange a tour of Nairobi, which is a very useful way of familiarizing yourself with the layout of the city, as well as seeing some of the sites that are further out. The tours will usually include a trip to the City Market, the Parliament buildings and the Nairobi National Museum. You can also hire a car for a day or two to explore on your own, but only do so if you have had any experience of manic, congested traffic typical of an African city, although the suburbs like Karen, and the Nairobi National Park, are easy to negotiate by road. 

Best time to visit

Nairobi lies 145 km south of the equator but it's far from hot. The city is at 1870 m, so temperatures are a moderate 15-25°C year-round and rarely reach over 30°C. September to April are the hottest months, with maximum temperatures averaging 24°C, but falling at night to around 13°C. May to August is cooler, with a maximum average of 21°C, and minimum of 11°C at night. The main rainy seasons are March to May and October to December, when it gets slightly humid and the streets become flooded and muddy.

Tourist information

There is no tourist information centre in Nairobi, but the tour operators will be able to help. There are several useful publications for sale at the bookshops. These include the annual:
Visitors' Guide Kenya
, which is published by Yellow Pages Kenya and lists attractions, shops, restaurants and services, and the similar
Go Places
, which comes out bi-monthly.
Kenya Tourism Federation 
offers a
tourist help line
 which is staffed 24 hours, and a safety and communication centre, which advises tourists on most things including road conditions or emergency help. If you want to go off the beaten track, get advice from them first.
Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS)
, also has a shop here that sells some useful brochures and maps on the national parks, and they are very helpful with advice about visiting the parks. For listings and restaurant and nightlife reviews,
Kenya Buzz,
, is a good source of information.


Historically, crime in Nairobi has been well documented with frequent muggings, bag snatchings, car-jackings and robberies. These can certainly be a problem if you are not extremely sensible, and if you walk around with a camera hanging from your neck, an obviously expensive watch, jewellery or a money belt showing, then you are very vulnerable. If you are at all unsure take a taxi that you should lock from the inside if possible, and make it a rule to always do so at night. Places to definitely avoid walking around are River Road and its neighbouring streets; as a rule of thumb do not wander casually much farther west than Moi Avenue. Some thieves specialize in jostling, robbing and snatching from new arrivals on buses and
and on these
do not
take items to eat offered by strangers, as they may have been drugged to aid robbery. Despite all this, things have improved in central Nairobi since the mid-1990s. The Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA) has worked with police to provide better policing of the streets and CCTV cameras have been installed, resulting in a marked decline in petty theft. Nevertheless it is always wise to exercise caution when walking around Nairobi, avoid walking around the city centre on Sundays as businesses are shut and the streets are virtually empty, and never walk around at night. If driving, be wary of car hijacking, especially at traffic lights in the suburbs. It's a good idea to travel with the windows closed and the doors locked. Remember, almost all car-jackers are armed and will use their weapons when faced with resistance.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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