The cosmopolitan capital of Kenya, today home to 1.5 million people, began as a swampy tent city at the turn of the century. Until the late 1800s, it was nothing more than a watering hole for the Maasai. Then came the Mombasa to Uganda railway and its 32,000 indentured Indian laborers. By 1900, Nairobi had become a town with substantial buildings and a permanent population. In 1907, the fledgling town became capital of British East Africa.

Like most modern cities, Nairobi has crowded markets and trading areas, middle class suburbs, and spacious mansions for the rich and powerful. It also has vast overcrowded tenements and slums, exploitation, and high unemployment. Between these two worlds, the city offers big screen film, theaters, restaurants, bookshops, cafes and bars full of tourists from all over the world.

Nairobi’s City Center is in the area bounded by Uhuru Highway, Haile Selassie Ave., Tom Mboya Way, and University Way. Bus stations and train stations are within an easy walk of the City Center. Uhuru Park sits to the west of City Center and, just beyond, are some of the city’s better middle to top-range accommodations. Travelers are cautioned not to walk in this area at night as Uhuru Park and its environs have been described as a mugger’s paradise! Also west of the park are a number of government ministries, hospitals, and a popular youth hostel. Budget travelers will find more moderately priced accommodations clustered around Latema Road, on the fringe of the River Road. The middle class suburbs of Ngong and Hurlingham sprawl out beyond the western boundaries of the city. Prominent warning signs, patrolling security, and high fences visibly underscore the economic disparity and crime concerns that characterize parts of Nairobi.

The University of Nairobi, Kenya’s National Museum, and the International Casino dominate the area north of City Center. One of Nairobi’s original colonial hotels, The Norfolk, is also located here. Aga Khan Hospital and the Parklands, a suburb dominated by many of Nairobi’s Asian minority, are located north-east of the city. Due east of this area are the African suburbs of Eastleigh and Pangani along with the country bus station.

Exploring Nairobi
Nairobi provides a vast array of opportunity for exploration and discovery. For history/anthropology buffs, the National archives and the National Museum of Kenya are essential stops. Both feature fascinating exhibits and showcase relics found nowhere else in the world. The Railway Museum details the history of the Lunatic Line and includes numerous photographs and other memorabilia. Travelers interested in art may enjoy the Gallery Watatu, a commercial gallery featuring revolving displays by over 30 artists from across Africa. The Payapaa Arts Center is a working artists’ studio used by painters and sculptors. It also features a permanent collection and a sales gallery.

Nairobi is perhaps the only capital city in the world that feature wildlife game parks that offer a constant view of the city skyline. Travelers can visit an animal orphanage at Langata maintained by the World Wide Fund for Nature as an animal hospital and a research/breeding center for rare species. Also at Langata is a Giraffe Center dedicated to the protection and nurturing of the rare Rothschild giraffe. Since 1978, the center has been operated by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife who maintains a special emphasis of conservation and education. Nairobi National Park covers a 120 sq km area between the city and the Athi River. Established in 1946, this was the first game reserve to be officially declared a national park and today features over 80 species of mammal and 500 species of bird.

Also of cultural interest to travelers is the Bomas of Kenya, an African folk center featuring small tribal villages and souvenirs. Uhuru Gardens mark Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963 with a monument, musical fountain, and garden area. Limuru and Ngong Hills on the outskirts of Nairobi provide travelers with a taste of British colonial life at the turn of the century.
Surrounded by an arid, extraterrestrial landscape that is often devoid of life, the long body of Lake Turkana droops down from the Ethiopian border, extending nearly 200 miles from north to south and 30 miles at its widest point. It is Africa's fourth largest lake, fondly called the Jade Sea because of its breathtaking color.