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Last year, we featured practical tips to Nairobi from Brian at Beyond Bmore. Here’s another perspective from Jennifer, who lived in Nairobi for a bit. Jennifer of the blog, From Mississippi with Love, previously wrote about Tel Aviv, Namibia and Victoria Falls. Here are her practical tips.
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Kenya is the gateway to East Africa and has increased in popularity over the past few years. Home to the setting of Lion King, the Maasai Mara, delicious nyama choma, and one of the fastest developing economies, it has no shortage of things to do and places to see, especially in its capital – Nairobi.
Crossing immigration at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is pretty seamless. Have your proof of yellow fever vaccination handy as they do check. There are a few visa options for US citizens visiting Kenya:
- East Africa Tourism Visa: multi-entry and exit for 3 months to Kenya,
Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. $100.
- Kenyan Single Entry Tourism Visa: single-entry and exit into Kenya, valid for 3 months before travel, and allowed to stay for 90 days. $50.
- Kenyan Transit Visa: For a stay up to 72 hours. Those just connecting with flights and staying in the airport do not need to apply. $20.
Note that there is a $1 processing fee if you choose to apply for an e-visa online.
After passing through immigration, there are counters to change money, ATMs to withdraw money, and areas to buy phone packages. Finding your party may be slightly difficult given the construction around the new terminal. International arrivals are still processed through the temporary terminal out of the previous parking structure.
Kenya operates off the Kenyan shilling (~105 Ksh to 1 USD). ATMs are located throughout the country, though if you are in Nairobi, major credit cards are often accepted as well.
Getting around Nairobi can be a nightmare as traffic can be horrendous. Driving yourself may take a special type of grit as most traffic rules are treated more like guidelines. You can also hire cars/drivers for the day, which most hotels/accommodations will be able to assist in doing. Uber has entered the Nairobi market, which has been a game changer for getting around. An Uber competitor, LittleCabs, has also been developed by Safaricom.
The public transit system is very unreliable. Matatus, which are shared vans/buses, are the most utilized source of transit, though they are often crowded, do not have air conditioning/heat, and run quite slowly as it makes stops for every person on board. However, they are the cheapest option for transit in and around Kenya.
Accommodation & Neighborhoods
Hotels in Nairobi range from super luxurious, 5-star accommodation (i.e., Serena Hotel) to lower-quality places. Airbnb has taken off here with people renting out accommodation this way. Having stayed in past Airbnbs in Nairobi, I find it quite affordable and safe!
Nairobi is made up of different neighborhoods or estates. Most expats tend to live and work in Kilimani and Westlands, which are also where you can find the bulk of restaurants and hotels. Karen, a new up and coming neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi, is quite close but can be challenging to reach during traffic.
Swahili and English are the national languages.
While Kenya has no dearth of adventures outside of Nairobi, there are activities in Nairobi in addition to the Giraffe Center and Elephant Orphanage. For example, there are:
- Nairobi State Park: If you want a taste of a safari but don’t have the time or means to make it to the Maasai Mara, give Nairobi State Park a try. Having gone once with my family, I can assure you that most of the big game can be spotted here (we even saw a lioness with three cubs!).
- Karen: A little neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi, Karen is almost idyllic in nature. Brunch and restaurants here abound with plenty of outdoor seating.
- Ostrich Farm: Lastly, there is also an ostrich farm in Nairobi, where you’re able to see ostriches ranging from babies to fully grown. You can also ride an ostrich around an enclosed area (they are among the fastest creatures on land) and also try ostrich in the café.
Nairobi has 4G service! While some have their allegiances and loyalties to certain carriers (Safaricom, Airtel, MTN), internet is easily accessible. Buying data bundles at the airport or throughout the city should be fairly straightforward and simple. Do take note that buying a data bundle will go much further than just the regular pay-as-you-go.
Generally, clothing norms in Nairobi is very western. The cultural necessity for women to cover their legs and shoulders that you may find in other African countries is less stringent, especially in Nairobi. Personally, I would dress more conservatively than in the States/Europe (i.e., avoid short shorts, miniskirts, strapless and tank tops).
There is quite the nightlife and clubbing scene in Nairobi. It’s not uncommon to see miniskirts, tight clothing, and extremely high heels. As with any other city, wear what would make you feel most comfortable. You may garner more attention with an eye catching outfit, which may not always be a good thing!
Safety and Security
Be cognizant of your surroundings and don’t go looking for trouble. Avoid walking at night, especially when alone. If driving, avoid stopping at the roundabouts at night if no others are stopping – groups are sometimes mugged here.
Medical facilities in Nairobi are among the best on the continent. Aga Khan University Hospital is JSI-accredited, and Nairobi Hospital also offers extremely good service. Health facilities are difficult to reach outside of Nairobi, so take care to note that before traveling.
Malaria is not present in Nairobi given its high altitude but is present in lower altitude regions. Take care to visit your doctor prior to leaving for Kenya to obtain anti-malarial medication (prophylaxis). It may also be prudent to ask your doctor for some ciproflaxin (for traveler’s diarrhea and most gastrointestinal infections).
About the Author
Growing up in rural Mississippi, Jennifer always dreamed of exploring the world. Since those days, she’s developed irresistible wanderlust and called a number of places home: US (San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Philadelphia), England, Malawi, Liberia, Israel, and most recently, Kenya. She’s in love with her sports teams (the New Orleans Saints and Manchester City), running (currently training for the Berlin marathon), and adrenaline sports (skydiving, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, sandboarding). One day, she hopes to utilize her love of cooking and sports by opening up her own Southern-style boozy brunch sports pub. Follow her on her blog, From Mississippi with Love or @jennnnnwong on instagram.
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