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Nairobi Travel Guide
Nairobi is best characterised by its variety of locally-given descriptive names, representative of the city's contrasting images of wealthy spacious suburbs, charming flower-lined streets and a refreshing climate, alongside crime, corruption, filth and poverty: names like 'Green City in the Sun', 'City of Flowers' and the Masai name 'Place of Cool Waters' attempt to overshadow the all too real version of 'Nairobbery' that stands as a warning to newly arrived tourists.
Nairobi is one of Africa's largest and most interesting cities. It is a place of enormous energy, a tireless and thriving bustle of people, and a city of differences. Assorted races, tribes and origins are all a part of its make-up. Rural immigrants and refugees are drawn by the hope of wealth and opportunity, international businessmen are attracted by profitable business prospects, and tourists are promised the makings of the perfect safari. The city centre buzzes with the energy, aspirations and opportunism of moneychangers, safari touts, would-be thieves, food vendors, trinket sellers, prostitutes, shoppers, security guards, and sharp-eyed shoe shiners assessing the footwear of the hurried throngs. Among them are the disillusioned faces of the unemployed, the beggars and the destitute.
Kenyatta Avenue is the city's favourite tourist image, a broad avenue fringed by trees and flowers that was originally designed to allow a twelve-oxen team to make a full turn. There are several museums and places of interest in the centre, including the National Museum and Snake Park. There are numerous markets selling traditional crafts, especially the appealing Masai market. Just outside of the centre is the Nairobi National Park, and the nearby Bomas of Kenya host performances of traditional dancing and singing. The Langata Giraffe Centre offers visitors the chance to hand-feed the Rothschild giraffes that inhabit the area.
Nairobi is also the safari capital of Africa and a good base for travel in Kenya. From here excursions and safaris can be arranged to any of the national parks or reserves in the country.
The most popular form of public transport in Nairobi is the matatu, usually a Nissan minibus, which operate on set routes collecting as many passengers as possible en route, with people boarding and disembarking wherever and whenever they choose. Loud music goes along with the ride in these cheap but unregulated and usually overcrowded vehicles that have become part of Kenyan culture. No less risky, but not as colourful, are the local bus services which operate on set routes and schedules through the city streets, renowned for overcrowding and speeding. Taxis are widely available and convenient, usually congregated in the street around hotels and areas frequented by tourists. Taxis are not metered and the fare should be agreed upon before departure. Nairobi taxis are marked with a yellow line along the side of the vehicle, or they are, surprisingly, large black London taxis. The better taxi companies have more modern vehicles, which can be booked by telephone. The best option if you are spending a day or two in the city is probably to hire a taxi and driver recommended for you by your hotel or tour operator. Three-wheel auto-rickshaws, or 'tuk-tuks' are also used as taxis in Nairobi. Walking in the city can be dangerous and is not a good idea after dark or outside of tourist areas.