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Nairobi History

Founded by the British as a dusty railway depot in 1890, the once marshy area was turned into a hub for the Uganda Railway, which connected Mombasa in the East with the rubber tappers of Kampala. What the early planners didn't realise was how popular Nairobi's elevated position and abundant water supplies would prove to be with settlers, who flocked there to establish properties where they could.

Nairobi's reputation for safari tourism began then too as the city established itself as a holiday resort for big-game hunters, with British authorities moving to cordon off and protect vast stretches of wilderness all over the country. It proved so popular that even Ernest Hemingway visited in a quest to bag some game.

Behind the scenes however, all was not as well. Black locals, already struggling under the burden of heavy taxes, became incensed when laws were passed in 1915 that restricted land ownership to whites only. Grievances continued to fester and when WWII ended, these flared into unrest, eventually leading to Kenyan independence in 1963. Nairobi was duly installed as the capital.

Post-independence, Nairobi continued to grow and remained enormously popular with tourists. Problems, however, arose as the city's rapid expansion overwhelmed its infrastructure, leading to the development of the vast Kibera slum. The situation was worsened by rampant government corruption and a heavy-handed response dealt out by former President Daniel Arap Moi to any sign of resistance to his rule. As a result the city began to suffer a spate of thefts and muggings, giving rise to Nairobi's nickname, Nairobbery.

Today, the Nairobbery stereotype still holds true, although things have improved for the residents of Kibera since the removal of Moi in 2002.

Problems still remain, not least in the threat posed by Islamic terrorists, but with tightened security staving off some of the danger, Nairobi remains one of Africa's most popular – and intriguing – capitals.

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Featured Hotels


Sentrim 680 Hotel

This reasonably priced mid-range hotel in Nairobi is in a decent location. It is a bit shabby and not much to look at, but is safe, has clean rooms with en-suite bathrooms, useful facilities, a restaurant and its own bar. Rooms facing the main road can cop a bit of noise, so ask for one at the back.

Upper Hill Campsite

Part campsite for overland groups, part backpacker hostel, this expansive place is a hike from the centre of Nairobi, but it makes up for this with excellent facilities. Staff can organise all sorts of safaris and excursions, and the spacious, secure compound has its own bar, restaurant and games room.

Terminal Hotel

A good-value alternative to the backpacker crash pads, the Terminal Hotel in Nairobi is simple but well located. You get what you pay for in terms of luxuries, but the rooms have bathrooms and you can walk to everything in the centre. Ask for a room at the back, away from the street noise.

Giraffe Manor

Where else in the world can you be woken in the morning by a giraffe peering into your bedroom window? Attached to the AFEW Giraffe Centre, this grand Edwardian manor is decked out with Karen Blixen's old furniture, and staying here feels like staying in a posh country home. Factor in fine food and wine and a personal chauffeur and it's easy to see the appeal.

Kenya Comfort Hotel

Well looked after, central and friendly, the Kenya Comfort Hotel offers decent facilities at a reasonable price. It's a secure hotel in Nairobi, and the rooftop lounge offers beautiful views over the city. The rooms are tiled, modern and clean, and there's a restaurant and bar if you don't feel like braving the city streets after dark.

Hotel Ambassadeur Nairobi

Standards have slipped slightly since the days when this tall tower hosted politicians and presidents, but it's still a cut above the competition. The comfortable rooms are well appointed, and there's a good bar and restaurant. It's a popular venue in Nairobi for weddings and conferences, so book ahead.