48 Hours In: Nairobi

Warm days and wildlife on your doorstep make Kenya's capital an appealing place in which to escape winter. Richard Trillo reports.

Click here for 48Hours In...Nairobi map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

January, especially the quieter second half of the month, is always a good time to be in Kenya: it is usually dry and a good period for wildlife-viewing. In the capital, the weather should be fine – it's as hot as it ever gets on the equator at 1,700m altitude with maximum temperatures in the high 20Cs.

Touch down

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Kenya Airways (020-8283 1800; kenya-airways.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com) fly from Heathrow to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport, 15km southeast of the centre.

There's no public transport into town. The simplest transfer is a pre-arranged pick-up with your hotel or safari company. Otherwise, contact the reputable Kenatco Taxis (00 254 721 830 061; kenatco.com) which charges Ksh1,900 (£13.50) to the centre. Journey times vary from 20 minutes to more than two hours depending on the time of day – gridlock can occur from 6.30-10.30am and 4-9pm.

Get your bearings

Nairobi is a sprawling city close to the eastern rim of the Great Rift Valley. Poor suburbs fill many parts of the southern and eastern outskirts. The central business district (CBD) covers less than a square kilometre and is divided into north and south by Kenyatta Avenue. The railway station (1) is on its southern flank. It is safer than it used to be, and askaris (security guards) are everywhere, but be wary of thieves.

Some 3km north of the CBD is the fast-expanding satellite business district of Westlands. North of Westlands, expensive suburbs fill the tree-lined valleys. Stretching southwest from the CBD, a succession of neighbourhoods cloaks what were once plains towards Nairobi National Park (2) and the Ngong Hills.

Private bus companies, shared minibus taxis (matatus) and cabs keep Nairobi moving. Most visitors use taxis – the fare is about Ksh100 (0.70p) per kilometre with a minimum charge of Ksh200 (£1.40) – or you can hire a cab for the day which, depending on your itinerary, should work out at about Ksh5,000-7,000 (£35-50). Always confirm the price in advance.

Nairobi has no tourist office, but the online listings magazine Kenyabuzz (www.kenyabuzz.com) is a useful resource. The Kenya Tourist Board can also provide information (00 254 20 2711 262; magicalkenya.com).

Check in

Efficiently managed and central is the very comfortable Sankara (3) on Woodvale Grove in Westlands (00 254 20 420 8000; sankara.com), which has the amenities of a large establishment – rooftop pool, Thai spa, first-class food – with the feel of a boutique hotel. Doubles start at US$210 (£140), room only.

About 15km from the city centre, Nairobi Tented Camp (4) is the only place to stay inside Nairobi National Park (00 254 20 260 3337; nairobitentedcamp.com). Overnight stays, including meals, drinks, park fees and a game drive, are US$335 (£223) per person based on two sharing.

If you're on a budget, Wildebeest Camp (5) off Ngong Road near the city centre (00 254 20 2103 505; wildebeestcamp.com) offers the option of rooms, dorm beds, basic tents, more palatial safari tents, or camping with your own equipment. Doubles from Ksh2,500 (£19), including breakfast.

Day one

Take a view

The 30-floor Kenyatta International Conference Centre (6) is Nairobi's iconic structure (00 254 20 224 7247; www.kicc.co.ke; daily, 6am-6pm; Ksh400/£2.80). A fast lift takes you to the viewing deck, from where there are unobstructed views across the city – and on clear days, north to Mount Kenya and south to Mount Kilimanjaro.

Take a hike

Leaving the ground floor of the KICC cross City Square (7), passing fountains, a statue of the country's first president Jomo Kenyatta and the handsome Law Courts building (8), you emerge on to City-Hall Way. Turn right and then turn left on Simba Street, around the back of the Hilton. Here, at the bottom of Kimathi Street, stands a statue of the freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi (9) – a rare memorial to Kenya's bloody Mau Mau era at the end of the colonial period.

Facing the Hilton, on the east side of Moi Avenue, stands the imposing Bank of India building. This is now the home of the National Archives (10), a frequently overlooked museum and art gallery with a fine collection of crafts, plus oddball paintings and interesting black-and-white photos (00 254 722 599 212).

Outside the archives, the monument to Tom Mboya (11) unveiled in October commemorates the trade unionist and politician who was assassinated in this spot in 1969.

Three blocks south along Moi Avenue, you come to the August 7 Memorial Park (12), a restful garden and memorial centre created in memory of the victims of the 1998 US Embassy bombing ( memorialparkkenya.org).

Retracing your steps north past the National Archives (10), you reach Kenyatta Avenue. One block west, on Banda Street, stands the imposing McMillan Memorial Library (13), dating from 1930, and its neighbour, the Jamia Mosque (14). Another block west, on Muindi Mbingu Street, is City Market (15), an odoriferous muddle of butchers' slabs, mountains of fruit and overpriced crafts and souvenirs.

Walk north from here a couple of blocks and you come to the pretty Jeevanjee Gardens (16), where the benches are the lunchtime escape for office workers and the lawns the occasional venue for noisy preachers and political meetings.

Lunch on the run

The fusion restaurant Seven (17) at ABC Place in Westlands (00 254 737 776 677; experienceseven.com) is a fresh and friendly new seafood and grill venue. Tuck into a big salade niçoise for Ksh900 (£6.40) or an Ultimate burger and fries for Ksh725 (£5.15).

Window shopping

New malls seem to open almost every month. Village Market (18), Westgate (19) and Junction (20) are probably the best, with familiar brands as well as local retailers. To bargain for crafts, head for one of the rotating "Maasai markets", usually found one day a week at each mall, currently on Saturdays at Galleria (21) and Capital Centre (22).

An aperitif

The Thorn Tree Café (23), at the Sarova Stanley Hotel (00 254 20 275 7000; sarovahotels.com), is a good, central location for a secluded drink – but is also a shrine to pre-internet backpacking in Africa, when the noticeboard on the thorn tree carried messages from travellers heading hither and thither.

So renowned was it that Lonely Planet christened its online travellers' forum The Thorn Tree, but the tree here is not the original. A cold Tusker beer costs Ksh330 (£2.30) or try a dawa – Kenya's cocktail of vodka, honey and lime – for Ksh650 (£4.60).

Dining with the locals

Haandi (24) in The Mall, Westlands (00 254 20 444 8294; haandi-restaurants.com), provides a broad spectrum of Nairobi dinnertime life. North Indian food is prepared in the on-show kitchen. Dishes include a diwani haandi, featuring peas, beans and cauliflower cooked in ginger and garlic, at Ksh545 (£3.90) and a meaty haandi saag of mutton and spinach at Ksh685 (£4.80).

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Nairobi's main church is All Saints' Cathedral (25) (00 254 733 597 260; allsaintsnairobi.org), the focus of many pro-democracy rallies over the years. Services on Sundays include Holy Communion at 7am, and modern services at 8am and 9.30am.

Out to brunch

Book a table well in advance at the outdoor River Café (26) in the verdant suburb of Rosslyn (00 254 725 969 891; 7.30-6pm daily). There's a garden centre and space for the kids to play. The brunch menu tops out at eggs royale with smoked salmon for Ksh950 (£6.70).

A walk in the park

Also in the northern suburbs, the recently opened Karura Forest (27) is a secure and delightful sanctuary of indigenous rainforest and blue gum plantation (00 254 722 891 654; karurafriends.org; daily 6am–6.30pm; Ksh600/£4.20). Wildlife includes bushbuck and monkeys. Popular with joggers and dog walkers, it has marked trails to waterfalls.

Cultural afternoon

At the National Museum (28) (museums.or.ke; daily 9am–5 .30pm; Ksh800/£5.60), try to hook up with one of the keen and informative guides on arrival (no extra charge). Highlights include the fossils of human ancestors, specimens of most of Kenya's birds and mammals and a good variety of tribal crafts and artefacts.

Take a ride

Try at least one matatu ride, complete with thumping hip-hop and yelling ticket-sellers. Numbers 111 and 125 start at the railway station (1) and run out along Langata Road to the Nairobi National Park (2) gates. Fares vary wildly, but average about Ksh10 (7p) per kilometre.

Icing on the cake

Nairobi National Park (2) is the city's crowning glory, nearly 120 square kilometres of rolling savannah starting in the southern suburbs (daily 6.30am-6.30pm; kws.org; admission valid 24 hours Ksh3,600/£25.50).

Unfenced along its southern boundary, the park is home to nearly all the plains wildlife. You have as good a chance of seeing a lion kill here as anywhere – and perhaps a better chance of seeing rare black rhinos.

For rewarding close-up encounters with baby pachyderms, call in at the elephant and rhino orphanage (29) on the west side of the park (daily 11am–noon; sheldrickwildlifetrust.org). Visits cost Ksh500 (£3.50).

Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn