Nairobi city is the largest in Kenya and Eastern Africa and among the fastest growing cities in Africa. This Nairobi guide for first timers is meant to help Nairobi visitors with all the information they may need while in the city from security, food, accommodation, banking to transport.
Area – 696 km2
Population- 4 million
Government- The Capital City of The Republic of Kenya
Language – Swahili, English, Sheng’ (English/Swahili fusion)
Currency- Kenya Shilling (KES)
Voltage- 240-250 V (UK Plug Type)
This one is crazy but I’m gonna tell you the rules. Negotiate the bus fare for your journey with the conductor (kange) before you board the bus. If you’re not sure of your destination don’t sit at the back of the bus. Keep reminding the kange of where you’ll be alighting.
If you don’t like extremely loud music, wait for a quieter bus.
Be sure to download Uber/Little Cabs/Taxify Apps on your phone upon landing for convenience when you need a taxi.
Alternatively, is the Call-and-Go traditional taxis which require your negotiation skills, and some acting local. They’re normally yellow in colour or White with a yellow line.
The best means of transport if in downtown or Central Business District (CBD) as we call it. Be careful with your surrounding as you walk, especially in secluded alleys. Avoid them if you can.
If walking in the main streets which are normally crowded (Tom Mboya Street, Moi Avenue, Kenyatta Avenue), hold on to your bag tight. Don’t carry your backpack on your back if you can.
There is no bicycle sideways in Nairobi, never seen any in Nairobi roads. Karura Forest, however, offers nice untarmacked cycling paths. They also have bikes for hire available for cycling within the forest.
Driving in Nairobi is crazy and can be tricky. Hardly any rules are followed except on major highways outside the city where there are policemen to arrest you if you speed.
Unless you’re planning to drive out of the city, I’d advise you don’t hire a car.
Most joints in the City Centre are pocket-friendly. Example:
- Highlands Restaurant
- Sizzling Grill
- Maxland Restaurant
- Java Coffee House
- Urban Eatery in Delta Corner, Westlands
- Nyama Mama in Delta Corner, Westlands
- Arbor House on James Gichuru Road, Lavington
- Sarit Centre Food Court
- Village Market Food Court
- Coloseum Italian Restaurant on West End Towers, Waiyaki Way
- Fast food outlets like Gallitos, Steers, Debonnairs, Subway, KFC, Dominos, Big Square
- Food courts in all major shopping malls have affordable restaurants serving a variety of local and international cuisines.
- Caramel Restaurant & Lounge at ABC Place, Waiyaki Way
- The Lord Erroll
- Carnivore Simba Saloon along Lang’ata road. They serve Game meat
- Lucca at Vila Rossa Kempinski, Nairobi
- Fogo Gaucho Brazillian Restaurants in Westlands
- Thai Chi at Sarova Stanley
- Gypsys Bar in Westlands
- Brew Bistro Westlands & Ngong Road
- K1 Klub House on Muthithi Road, Parklands
- J’s Bar in Westlands and Karen
- Mercury Lounge at ABC Place
- Space Lounge along Ngong Road
- Black Diamond on Mpaka Road, Westlands
- Tavern Irish Pub at The Mirage, Waiyaki Way
- Natives Sports Bar along Thika Road
I’ll discuss only budget accommodation here since backpacking is not very common in Nairobi:
- Wildebeest Eco Camp at 151 Mokoyet Road, Karen
- Milimani Backpackers along Lang’ata Road
- Kenya Comfort Hotel
- Upperhill Campsite & Backpackers along Hospital Road
- Manyatta Backpackers on Milimani Road
- Mid-range and luxury accommodation can be found at Booking.com
Close Places To Visit
- Nairobi National Park
- Giraffe Centre
- Bomas of Kenya
- David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
- Maasai Market
- Nairobi Safari Walk
- Mamba Village
- Kitengela Hot Glass
- Karen Blixen Museum – where the movie ‘Out of Africa’ was filmed
- Nairobi National Museum
- The Giraffe Manor
- Uhuru Gardens
- Lukenya Motorcross for Quad biking /ATV challenge
This part of Nairobi Guide discusses security, banking, currency exchange, tipping and dealing with beggars in the streets:
Security in Nairobi
For matters security, I’m going to divide it into two; Snatch & Run/Con artists and Terrorism.
Nairobi has been hit by terrorists in the recent past perhaps at a higher magnitude than in most African countries. The Westgate Mall attack was the bloodiest and to date, the memories give us some chills.
As a result, you’ll notice that security bar codes are almost everywhere in the city you go. You will be asked to have your bags searched as you enter most premises. This helps to weed out any possible attackers.
Snatch & Run / Con Artists
I talked about how to carry your backpacker earlier in this post. Putting it on your back may entice thieves to open the zipper and snatch your valuables. If carrying a handbag or sling bag, hold it firmly or ‘hug’ it.
For Con Artists, I won’t say much. If it’s too good to be true, take the opposite direction, please. Not everybody is a certified Nairobi Guide so careful with who you take as a guide.
Free advice. I know you’ve heard a lot from international media about Nairobi, especially on matters security. Nairobi is nowhere close to the safest city in the world. It’s a competitive city and everybody will try aggressively to earn a living, sometimes in all the wrong ways.
Many Nairobians get offended if you say their city is very unsafe, especially if you mention what you watched on CNN or BBC 😀
When in Nairobi, stay aware of your surroundings. Trust your guts if they tell you otherwise. Better safe than sorry you know.
All major currencies in the world are changeable against the Kenyan Shilling. Forex Bureaus are available in the Airport, most shopping Malls and in the city centre.
This Nairobi Guide doesn’t recommend banks for changing currencies because they give crappy rates. Nairobi’s banking hours are Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm, some open till late, Saturdays 9 pm to 12 pm, with some going until 3 pm.
Only tip for good service. If crappy, you don’t have to tip as it’s not mandatory.
Some people have a habit of asking for tips, it’s up to you to tip if you think the person deserves.
Profile Beggars/Homeless Nairobians before you tip
Some homeless people both young and older are not that needy after all. They’re just lazy.
Although there’s no way to tell unless you live in Nairobi long enough, use your instincts. Remember not to tip to your last dollar as you still need to get back home.
Nairobi Guide on Safety in Summary
- Avoid common tourist traps such as flashing money and credit cards around, and wearing an excessive amount of jewelry.
- Know where your valuables are and keep your bag strapped across your chest and shoulder so that it hangs in front of you and can be monitored.
- Don’t walk the city streets alone after dark – keep to the busier areas and take taxis to get around. Walking around in the daytime is mostly safe.
- Lock all car doors at all times in the city.
- Park in lit areas at night.
- Don’t leave your belongings in plain view in your hired car to tempt passers-by. Put possessions in the boot when you park (day or night), it will only take you a couple of seconds.
- Take the bare minimum of accessories to the beach.
- Be careful when driving late at night, as there may be drunken drivers on the roads.
From this Nairobi Guide, there’s clearly so much to do in Nairobi. Dive in the culture, drink Tusker and eat Nyama Choma, and fall in love with this city.
What do you love/hate about Nairobi? Share with me on the comments box below.