Getting There & Away
By Air -- Located 15km (9 1/4 miles) from the city center, Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (tel. 020/82-2111; www.kenyaairports.com) is East Africa's major air transport hub, and it sees its fair share of international air traffic, receiving large numbers of diplomatic and business travelers, not to mention many Westerners arriving for their first African safari.
Closer to the city center is the smaller Wilson Airport (tel. 020/50-1943), which specializes in domestic and charter flights; it's located on Langata Road, just 6km (3 3/4 miles) south of the city. Wilson is a hub for flights to a string of coastal destinations, national parks, and reserves, as well as scheduled and charter flights to private airstrips on wildlife preserves throughout the country (it's also used for a few flights to neighboring countries). The main domestic airlines (which may also fly to select airports in neighboring countries) are AirKenya (www.airkenya.com), SafariLink (www.safarilink-kenya.com), TropicAir (www.tropicairkenya.com), and Fly540 (www.fly540.com).
Taxis are always available at both airports, but in all likelihood, you'll feel better if you arrange a transfer in advance; this is usually done through a tour operator's ground agent. Someone with prior knowledge of your full itinerary will be waiting in the arrivals hall with a name board; they'll assist with luggage and get you to your Nairobi hotel or to your onward transfer in the quickest time possible, and also inform you of any amendments to your schedule. You can also arrange airport pick-up through your hotel, but if you have the patience and the will, it's relatively simple and safe (and considerably cheaper) to grab a cab at the airport; you'll discover that the fare is highly negotiable, almost always starting with an inflated suggestion from the driver; anything more than Ksh1,200 to reach downtown from the International Airport, and you're being hustled -- chances are, you'll end up paying Ksh1,500. If you're going into the city, it is, theoretically, also possible to catch the no. 34 City Hoppa bus and pay just Ksh30; the journey will take you as far as the bus "terminal" right near the Hilton Hotel, but if you've arrived with anything more than a small bag, you're going to battle stowing your luggage or, indeed, keeping an eye on it -- better to take a taxi.
By Road -- You can travel by road (including by bus or minibus) between Kenya and Tanzania. The main routes are from Mombasa or Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, and from Nairobi to Arusha and Moshi. Roads also, theoretically, connect Nairobi with the Ugandan capital, Kampala, and with Ethiopia, the main border crossing being at Moyale. Die-hard adventurers can ultimately travel to Nairobi by bus or 4X4 from Cape Town or Cairo -- but that's another story entirely.
By Train -- There is an overnight train connecting Mombasa (at the coast) with Nairobi; however, use this option only if you have time and patience, as it's grown increasingly notorious for an inability to operate according to schedule.
Your tour operator, hotel, or host can put together a sightseeing itinerary for you and will usually make all transport arrangements, so you needn't even pick up the phone or think about where you're headed. Some establishments, such as Giraffe Manor and Ngong House, have limited sightseeing included in the rate, ideal if you're in town for only a day or less but keen to explore a bit. If you prefer your independence and need a reliable taxi, this can also be arranged through your hotel. With an extensive network and fixed good-value rates for destinations all across Kenya, Kenatco (tel. 020/222-5123 or 072/183-0061; www.kenatco.com) can be relied upon to get you from A to B, or you can hire a car and driver for a specified number of hours. You can even book a pick-up online (although it's a bit laborious). Alternatively call Joseph Irungu (tel. 072/183-8661); he's based at Village Market near the UN headquarters and so is a good (and reliable) choice if you're in or around the northern suburbs, and he'll quote a price that's fair. With all cabs, you need to consider the city's heavy traffic and schedule pick-ups accordingly -- a driver will inevitably take longer than expected to get to you.
For people who don't have their own vehicle in Nairobi, the main modes of transport are either bus or matatu; the latter is basically a minibus taxi (as it's called in South Africa, or dala dala in Tanzania). These can both be useful (and extremely cheap) if you have time to figure out routes and are traveling without any luggage, bags, and valuables. If you're interested in how truly local transport operates, you can start investigating the chaotic throng of vehicles that continually pull in and depart from the sprawling bus stands near the Hilton Hotel.
Warning: As a general rule, do not leave any valuables in plain sight inside any vehicle and do not carry valuables around with you; flimsy backpacks and handbags are also vulnerable. Be wary of using your mobile phone with the car window open, as snatch-and-grab scenarios are all too common. Most important, don't get into unmarked or ambiguously identified vehicles whose drivers claim to be taxi drivers -- there have been reports of travelers being mugged in this way, and basically left naked in a ditch with everything taken off them.
Nairobi's business-oriented city center is actually quite compact, and you can probably walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes. The center is also where a good number of business hotels, budget lodgings, restaurants, bars, and rather old-fashioned shopping centers are located. Kenya's Parliament is also located here, as are a handful of the city's museums. Beyond the center, Nairobi sprawls in every direction, with leafy upmarket suburbs to the north and south. Westlands, which is northwest of the center, has a high concentration of restaurants, bars, and upmarket shopping malls (including Westgate, the city's newest) frequented by large numbers of expats, many of whom are associated with the foreign embassies located nearby, as well as by UN representatives. Nearby, in a couple of green and unbelievably wealthy neighborhoods, many of these expats live. The areas most popular with travelers are the suburbs south of the city, notably Karen and adjacent Langata, established on what was once the coffee plantation of Danish author Karen Blixen. These two suburbs -- also referred to simply as Karengata -- are the preserve of Nairobi's white Kenyan community, many of whom are loathe to ever visit the city center itself. You can hardly blame them, though, since Karengata feels nothing like a city at all -- for now, it remains countryside. Here you're never too far from Wilson Airport, the main hub for scheduled domestic and charter flights to the major safari destinations, and you have a number of the city's most impressive attractions, including the main entrance for Nairobi National Park, right on your doorstep; shopping here is an adventure.
Your best bet for any sort of meaningful information and news about the city is to ask your host if you're staying in a smaller hotel or guesthouse; these people are usually passionate about Kenya and their city and know its ins and outs. If you're staying in one of the larger city hotels, speak to the hotel concierge, but be warned that many of them give pretty much standard responses about what to see and where to eat, and few have experienced any of these places for themselves; the concierge at the Tribe hotel at the Village Market in Gigiri is very thorough. If you want to surf for information before you travel, try the expat community website Inside Nairobi (http://insidenairobi.xemzi.com), which includes Google Earth maps for all places listed. For up-to-the-minute information on Kenya's national parks, visit www.kws.org.
Tour Operators & Guided Tours
Nairobi does a brisk safari trade, and at times it seems that just about anyone will be able to sell you a trip to the Masai Mara, Amboseli, or just about anywhere you care to imagine. I wouldn't recommend leaving any safari planning until your arrival in Nairobi unless you have the luxury of time. For all accommodations and in-Kenya arrangements -- from airport transfers to accommodations reservations and domestic flight arrangements -- I rely exclusively on Bush and Beyond (formerly known as Bush Homes of East Africa; www.bush-and-beyond.com); Chris Flatt, who oversees the operation, has intimate knowledge of virtually every corner of the country, and his team is on the ball, savvy, and immensely helpful, making you feel as though you're a guest rather than a tourist. As a rule, they don't support mass-market, package tourism operations and (unless you request otherwise) will ensure that you're put up in exclusive, mostly family- or community-run lodges, camps, and guesthouses. Their network is extensive, and their itineraries generally ensure that you stay away from the crowds. What's great is that Chris will sagely recommend alternatives if he is unable to assist, or should you be looking for something a little cheaper; a safari with Bush and Beyond starts at around $600 per person per day.
Frank Whalley is one of East Africa's foremost art critics; his weekly columns in The EastAfrican pretty much set the tone for the region's emerging contemporary art scene. Frank's Lenga Juu (Kiswahili for "Aim High") is a small, personal consultancy offering specialized art tours, as well as tailored holidays especially geared to art lovers wanting to expand their knowledge (and perhaps ownership) of contemporary African painting. Frank arranges exclusive tours of artists' studios, where collectors and enthusiasts can interact with Kenya's leading practitioners and even acquire work before it's shown to agents or galleries. Gallery tours can be arranged, too, where you can obtain choice works at specially discounted rates; excursions in Nairobi usually start with tea and snacks in Frank's own home, where you can look at his own marvelous collection of tribal and more modern African art. Frank also puts together bespoke tours that can include painting tuition by practicing artists, as well as time at a game reserve and perhaps a break at the coast to round off. For longer trips, you should contact Frank well in advance (tel. 072/252-5195; firstname.lastname@example.org).