Ah, the age of superconnections. So, when I published the last piece on emerging market innovation through a Nairobi lens, it led to Ulrike Reinhard, the publisher putting me in contact with Serge Lescouarnec who runs Serge the Concierge. I had the chance to write my own 10 do’s and don’ts for the city I love and call home. Would love to know what you think.
10 Do’s and Don’ts in Nairobi
Affectionately known as the Green City in the Sun, Nairobi’s typically bathed in the sun’s warm gaze with minimal humidity and a calm breeze at a high of 26°.
1. Do Take A Safari
Sometimes it’s easy for a Nairobian to forget that we’re one of the only cities in the world to have a National Park in the city limits. The Nairobi National Park is an amazing sight to see. Fresh off your business meeting with 2 hours to kill before you need to be at the airport? Why not head to the National Park and see some lions on the prowl or watch a herd of buffalo by sunset. There’s several types of safaris to take, whether wildlife, cultural, adventure, sport, scenic and specialist. Nairobi’s known as Africa’s safari capital for good reason.
2. Do Visit a “Maasai Market”
On any given day of the week, somewhere in Nairobi, there’s an open air market of hand-crafted crafts commonly referred to as a “Maasai Market”. It’s recommended you visit with a local to do the bargaining for you, but you can be sure to find some good finds here, whether it’s jewellery, clothing, carvings, statuettes or beadwork, you’ll find a little piece of Nairobi to take back home with you.
3. Do Prepare for The Traffic
Rush-hour in Nairobi can be manic and the ride from the airport will most likely give you a baptism-by-fire as a passenger immersed in Nairobi’s traffic. It’s best to travel between rush-hour times, avoiding 7-9AM, 1-2PM and 5-7PM. You can be stuck in traffic quite a while if you hit it, from 30 minutes to a grim 2-3 hours. Local radio alerts on which roads tend to be helpful.
4. Do Try Nyama Choma!
Nyama Choma is the typical Kenyan barbeque. Usually consisting of goat meat served with other delicious treats such as ugali (maizemeal) and kachumbari (salsa) this is a must-try. There’s also Do try the various meat products of the barbeque as well as authentic Kenyan dishes. Immerse yourself! Do consult locally for a great place to have nyama-choma and visit with a local for best experience.
5. Got Your Game Face On? Try The Carnivore
One of Nairobi’s attractions is The Carnivore Restaurant, where you can try an array of wild game meat in a buffet-style where the meats keep coming until you say it stop. Delicacies include zebra, gazelle, wildebeeste, crocodile, camel among other seasonal treats.
6. Do Ask About The Need-To-Know Laws
Recently there’s been some changes to the municipal laws e.g. don’t cross the road while speaking on your cellphone (unless on handsfree), no leaning or sitting on ledges and no serving drinks after 11 PM (this one’s currently being debated) get yourself a refresher by asking anyone from your cab driver or any local what bunch of city-centre related rules that you need to know.
7. Do Keep Your Valuables With You
It’s common to visit coffee shops, where there’s free Wi-Fi and take a bathroom break leaving your valuables in plain sight. For this, in Nairobi it’s better safe than sorry.
8. Do Get On Top of The Kenya International Conference Centre
One of the best place to view get a 360 degree view of the city of Nairobi in all its sun-bathed spleandour. It’s one smart way to watch the sun set and if the fog’s not too heavy you can see all across the outskirts of the city, from the slums to the National Park; entry can cost Ksh. 400/200 ($5/$2.50)
9. Do Have Kenyan Tea (and Coffee)
Take my word for it, Kenyans have some great tea, ask for a cup to be prepared in typical Kenyan fashion with milk (or without, if that’s your preference) and relish the great flavour and aroma of one of nature’s most beautiful gifts. You won’t regret it! And while you’re at it, sample some of the world’s best cofee. Some noteworthy coffee houses include the Nairobi Java House, Dormans Coffee and Pete’s Coffee.
10. Do Kiss A Giraffe!
The Giraffe Centre breeds the endangered Rothschild Giraffe and has education and conservation programmes for children as well as as plenty of information on giraffes. Part of their program involves feeding the giraffes and you have the option to kiss a giraffe in the process. With the way our planet’s going, this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
1. Don’t Forget To Ask The Price of the Taxi/Cab Before You Depart
When it comes to driving and commuting across the city you’ve got options, and if you choose the most stable of these options – the taxi cab, it’s good to keep a few things in mind. Always agree a price upfront and proceed to pay after. Cabs here don’t typically operate meters and set prices as per distance to be travelled, the earlier you can hear the price stated (and in some cases bargain) the better. They’re not cheap, but can make life easier and safer. If possible ask a local for a referral or at your hotel.
2. Don’t Expect Perfect Timing
“Fast food” has a different meaning here, add a few minutes. If you’ve got an casual appointment ask if they mean Kenyan time which can typically mean a small delay of 5-15 minutes to longer. Also expect people to give you their projected place e.g.
3. Don’t Go To The Malls
You came all this way to stick to the malls? Really? Sure you can do better than that. There’s plenty of places to explore in good old Nairobi. If you must, however, The Westgate Mall, Sarit Center, Yaya Centre and Nakumatt Junction are good malls to shop and relax at.
4. Don’t Forget To Carry Change, It Helps Drive a Bargain!
Try and break down your money at the Forex into smaller denominations. The largest being the Ksh. 1,000 note. If you’re going shopping and negotiating it usually pays to have change. Bargaining tactic: “I only have Ksh. 500, so the maximum I can pay for it is Ksh. 300.”
5. Don’t Forget to Ride a Matatu (at least once)
This is debatable, but it’s hard to argue that matatus (minivan taxis) aren’t part of the lifeblood of the city. Loved and loathed, they are a reflection of popular culture and the Kenyan experience. I’d recommend that if looking for a rush, you take a ride on a matatu (there’s routes that are more lively than others) in the company of a local companion. I insist you have a local companion if you’d like to check this off your bucket list. Take care of your pockets and personal items on the trip.
6. Don’t Carry Large Amounts of Cash. Join The Mobile Money Revolution!
With the mobile money revolution going on in Kenya, you may as well experience it. Instead of carrying cash everywhere you go, you could opt to balance cash, credit and mobile money. If you’re in town for more than a week, try register a SIM card and see how convenient and useful it will prove to be for goods at local supermarkets, stores, cab fare and other informal payments. You could start with Safaricom’s M-Pesa for example, the most popular mobile platform which transacted over $7 Billion in 2010 and generates more in a month than PayPal Mobile does in a year and more than Western Union’s global equivalent.
7. Don’t Forget You Might Need to Pay for a Visa Upon Arrival
Some visitors have to pay for a visa upon entry at the airport or border crossing. A single entry visa costs $50 and is valid for 3 months. A transit visa is $20. You can also pay in Euros and English Pounds. If travelling through Kenya on a connecting flight and don’t leave the airport, you don’t need a visa. A single entry visa is useful though because you’re good for the whole East African region: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
8. Don’t Expect Amazing Internet Speeds
…unless you really need them, in which case you ought to get yourself a portable 3G modem (currently only from Safaricom), where 300MB will set you back Ksh. 1,000 (approx $12.50). Overall, there’s fibre and there are hundreds of cyber cafes across the city but it can pay to have a backup dongle in case. The 3G signal has proven to be reliable in the city limits and in major towns in Kenya. If you would like to opt for a cyber cafe, you’ll find some of the fastest cyber cafe’s in the city centre at Norwich Union House, opposite the Hilton Hotel. Expensive ones tend to be in the big shopping malls and in the Westlands area though they’re more exclusive and less crowded (but not necessarily faster).
9. Don’t Smoke on the Streets
A friend of mine recently faced some trouble for this one and it’s certainly not obvious. Smoking on the streets of Nairobi’s city centre is against the law, except in designated smoking zones. If anything, take your cue from other smokers.
10. Don’t Forget To Ask About Roadworks
It’s useful if planning extensive road travel that you ask about roadworks if you’re up and about the city and its environs. There’s been some great construction but it can affect your timing by as little as a few minutes to as much as several hours or make you miss your engagement altogether.
As Nairobi blogger, M.I.L.O.N.A.R.E puts it: “Me I Love Nairobi Regardless” (Kenyans have a penchant for starting sentences by saying “me, I”) not to mention a habit of replying to the greeting “hello” by saying “fine.” Those are just some of the peculiarities that make Kenyans who they are.
It’s a beautiful city with its quirks but a fantastic and memorable place to visit, and lucky for me, I call it home.
Special thanks to Serge. Original Article appears here.
What are your do’s and don’ts in Nairobi? Think I missed one? Agree or disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments.