Not many travellers are clued up on what actually makes Nairobi tick. From its vibrant cultural life to its unlikely national park, Nairobi is a melting pot of attractions that draw even the most adventurous of tourists to its bustling heart.
Nairobi is the capital and largest city of Kenya. It is also Kenya’s principal economic, administrative and cultural centre. Here a five things you probably didn’t know about this famous cosmopolitan city.
Nairobi was founded in the late 1890s as a British railroad camp on the Mombasa to Uganda railway. When the railway construction workers reached this area in 1899, they set up a basic camp and supply depot called “Mile 327”. From 1899 to 1905 it served as a British provincial capital. In 1905 the city became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate (called Kenya Colony from 1920 to 1963), and in 1963 it became the capital of independent Kenya.
2. The name
Nairobi is located in an area that was once frequented by the pastoral Maasai. The local Maasai called this highland swamp e nai’robe – the place of cool water. The phrase is also the Maasai name of the Nairobi River, which in turn lent its name to the city.
3. The weather
Although Nairobi is situated a few degrees south of the equator, its high altitude – between 1,660m and 1,800m above sea level – means that the city’s climate is mild year-round. Visitors are spared the extreme, blistering temperatures found in other regions of Africa, or even other areas within Kenya. Summer months in Nairobi are December through March, when average highs are in the upper 20ºs and lows are in the mid to upper 10ºs. Winter months (June through September) are a little cooler. Average highs are in the lower 20ºs, and lows are in the lower 10ºs.
London has red buses, New York has its taxi cabs, the Philippines has the Jeepneys, New Delhi has rickshaws, and Nairobi has its matatus.
Matatu is slang for mini buses that are used as public transport in Kenya. In Nairobi, public transportation is the norm for the majority of the population and matatus play a critical role in providing city dwellers with transport.
A unique feature of matatus is the outlandish art on their body. Nairobi matatus are a sight to behold, especially for first-time visitors. Graffiti from pop culture, music icons and contemporary topics adorn the sides of the matatus in a show of artistic prowess. The more colourful the van, the more famous it is and the more likely it is to attract passengers.
It is impossible to comprehend Nairobi without its matatus. Matatus have evolved to become more than just a means of transport. They are a cultural phenomenon.
5. The Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is the only national park in Africa that borders a capital city. Set alongside its southern suburbs, the park is right next to the city. Seeing wildlife with a backdrop of the city skyline can be somehow incongruous – but that’s what makes the park special.
Wide open grass plains and scattered acacia bush play host to a wide variety of wildlife such as the Critically Endangered black rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, buffalo, giraffe and diverse bird-life (over 520 species recorded).
It is an absolutely magical experience to see lions hunting in the morning and in a few minutes you are in a fancy shopping mall in the same city. That experience is Nairobi in a nutshell.
International airlines fly to Nairobi from Europe, the United States, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, South Africa and other places. Nairobi is also a major airline hub to most other African countries and destinations.
Bountiful Safaris are conveniently located in Nairobi – the perfect starting point for travelling to the numerous safari destinations in Kenya and other East African countries.
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