My African adventures. Nairobi.
A business nomad recaps three years of on again, off again travel to Nairobi.
Nairobi, May 2013. I can see city lights and a highway snaking below under halogen lights as we make our approach to the runway . I am thinking Marathon Man and David Rudisha as the Emirates EK 721 from Dubai lands in Nairobi and I become the first member of my generation to set foot in Africa for work.
On my next two trips as we make our software pitch to clients in down town, my stay is defined by meetings, the hotel room and a day trip to Nairobi National Park.
During my first few trips we are locked within the hotel and a trip outside is allowed only with a local chaperone. As we get more comfortable with the city, the more adventurous among us, plan evening dinners outside our normal operating radius, but always with a company driver and a company car.
The city is defined by glimpses caught from hotel balconies, office windows and car windscreens.
It is only when I get the courage to walk around on the streets and have my first glass of freshly squeezed Tree Tomato juice that I begin to get a sense of the city and its people. A sense of Africa. Alive, energetic and full of promise.
Nairobi First Impressions.
Long lines. 4 large air crafts disembark a thousand tourists in less than an hour at 8 pm in the evening. There are no shortcuts unless you are traveling business or first. Fill in the immigration and visa forms before you land. Stand close to the left side door (diagonally opposite to the driver) of the shuttle bus. Bring something to read, dress in layers (it gets sticky quickly) and settle down. The immigration officers are polite and doing their very best.
African Safari at Nairobi National Park. US$ 275 to get the van with the roof that opens up. Better experience than the 4 wheel drive Land Cruisers. Leave at 6 am in the morning. Worth every single cent. Don’t chicken out, plan day trip, budget the time and cough out the cash.
Sushi in WestLands. Surprisingly fresh choices across rolls and sashimi. Experiment and explore.
Karen County Lodges — December 2013
Six months later in December I am back running a risk training workshop for a large client.
My next memory is landing in Nairobi in a wheel chair. There is no lifter so I have to figure out a way to make it to tarmac via the staircase. But from that point on wards, the trip is a breeze. The wheel chair cuts across lines; I have finally found the perfect short cut.
It’s a short two day trip for a client meeting that couldn’t be postponed. I am booked at the Sarova Stanely because of access to customer site. As my regular haunt for the last three years, Sarova has become a second home in Africa. There are no surprises and I know what to expect from the room.
Hob House — March 2016
By March 2016, after ditching the wheel chair, my new middle name is experiment. On my way to Rwanda, Hob House, a delightful bed and breakfast becomes my first discovery.
Nairobi Travel Tips.
- Hotels. Dusit D2, Sankara and Sarova Stanley — In that order if you are a business traveler and need access to the city. Karen County Lodges and Hob House for families and tour groups. Air crews tend to flock to the Intercontinental. There is not much to watch on local hotel channels, bring your own entertainment.
Hob House especially if you are a weary traveler and need a break from the hospitality industry.
2. SIM with Data. You can get a small amount exchanged inside or outside the arrivals lounge. Get a local SIM with data. at the airport SIM, with 2 – 4 GB data and talk time will only set you back two thousand Kenyan shillings and will allow you to work your way through the hotel. You won’t be able to stream at the same speeds but it is sufficient to browse, check emails and download documents. It is significantly cheaper than roaming.
3. Heading back to the airport. Leave early especially if it is raining or the evening rush hour has begun (post 4 pm – week days). You also have to budget for the vehicle security line which may take as much as twenty to thirty minutes on bad days.
The check in counter tends to close 40 minutes before departure and is just a short hop away from immigration and boarding gates. Other than the airline lounges there is a coffee shop towards one end of the departure lounge. The lounges are clean and functional but tend to get very crowded for evening flights. If you can afford to arrive and depart on a Saturday or Sunday. This will free you up from any worries related to the rush hour Nairobi traffic jam. You may still run into the occasional half marathon and marathon related road closure but its manageable on the weekends.
4. Vaccinations and travel papers. Have everything in order, especially your yellow fever vaccination certificate. They sometimes do random checks and ask for it.
5. Visas and Transit through Nairobi. If you are travelling onward to Rwanda or Uganda via Kenya you can take a transit break on the same visa if you have the East African Tourist Visa. For instance I was traveling to Kigali via Nairobi and wanted to step out of the airport on my way in to Kigali as well as my way out to Kenya. I just needed a single entry Kenya visa to cover both exits out of Nairobi airport.
6. Food and Drink. Ask for freshly squeezed Tree Tomato Juice. If it’s too thick for your taste, ask them to mix it in with Passion Fruit. It’s a flavor unique to East Africa and Nairobi does it best. Nairobi also does a great job on fusion cuisine. Check out Talisman in Karen, Carnivore and Hashmi’s as well as the Tripadvisor list for more recommendations.
7. Avoid election season. Basic ground rule while traveling in Africa. It’s a very emotional continent.
Follow me around the world as I explore interesting cities as part of my work related travel.