As the sun rises each morning in equatorial East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, is already bustling with traffic, streams of pedestrians and people pushing carts. In Nairobi's markets, the floors are washed, and fresh produce is artfully arranged; the tea sellers unlock their stalls and light their fires; and merchants raise the iron screens from their store windows. Flowers are everywhere, and it is particularly attractive on some of the city's main avenues and in Uhuru Park around December when the jacaranda trees are in bloom.
Travelers will find that Nairobi is more cosmopolitan and less stressful than many capital cities in Africa. The city center has a lively and modern Central Business District (CBD), some fine colonial buildings, and spacious squares and leafy well-tended parks that are popular with office workers at lunchtime. The attractive and peaceful suburbs to the west, which peter out to the picturesque Ngong Hills overlooking the Rift Valley, are where most of the sights and better accommodations are located.
But you should still be prepared for frustration and inconvenience. Nairobi is a place of contrasts, combining all the trappings of the developed world (high-rise office blocks and upscale shopping malls) with the Third World, evident in the frantic matatu and bus stands, heaving markets, and the slums and townships that ring the city.
Most travelers to Kenya spend a couple of nights in Nairobi before or after a safari. This is time enough to do some curio shopping or perhaps visit the National Museum or the Karen Blixen Museum. Other Nairobi attractions include the Giraffe Centre, where you can feed a giraffe, and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage, where each morning visitors can watch the baby elephants at bath time.
Lying on the outskirts of the city, Nairobi National Park is one of the easiest to visit in the country. Combined with visits to the Animal Orphanage and Safari Walk at the entrance, a half-day visit is a good introduction to the wildlife you are likely to encounter on a longer safari in the rest of the country. Nairobi also boasts the best restaurants and nightlife in Kenya; the most famous is Carnivore, which is on most travelers' itineraries.
Because of Nairobi's high unemployment rate and associated poverty, travelers should always be alert to the possibility of robbery. However, there have been successful efforts to improve Nairobi's appearance and security, and petty crime and muggings have been considerably reduced in the city center. Several police information centers and CCTV have been installed in downtown Nairobi, making the police more accessible to the city's residents. During the day and early evening, the upper part of the city center, west of Moi Avenue, is considered generally safe. But in the east of the center, around the crowded markets and bus stands, you still have to be extremely alert.
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