Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi is a relatively recent invention, and its success is largely due to its location. Situated at 1,661m above sea level, approximately halfway between Mombasa on the coast and Kampala, capital of Uganda, it enjoys one of the most benign climates in the world. With temperatures rarely rising above 25°C, and never below 10°C, the city is too cool for the malarial mosquito, and never unpleasantly hot.
In 1899 the building of the Uganda Railway line produced a need for a supply depot and camp. Nairobi was chosen because of its proximity to several rivers – indeed its name comes from the Maasai words for cool waters. After an outbreak of plague and the burning of the town, it was completely rebuilt, and in 1905 it replaced Mombasa as the capital of the British Protectorate. Growing rapidly as an administrative centre, British big game hunters began to visit Nairobi, prompting the building of several grand, colonial style hotels. Ever more British ex-patriots, decided to settle here and between 1920 and 1950 their numbers grew from 9,000 to 80,000 causing tension with the local tribes and sparking the Mau-Mau rebellion. Kenya finally gained independence from Britain in 1963.
Today Nairobi is a disjointed mix of first-world skyscrapers, big business, restaurants, glitzy malls, wealthy ex-pats in colonial villas or gated communities, and teeming slums such as notorious Kibera, full of those who have moved here from the interior or refugees from Somalia or Sudan. There are also long-established communities from India and Pakistan.
Despite its problems, this is a vivid, lively, cosmopolitan city. People take their fun seriously and music and nightlife go until daybreak. There is plenty to see, from museums and galleries to the wonderful Nairobi National Park on the outskirts of town. Also notable are the city’s green spaces – Uhuru Park, in central Nairobi, is one of several excellent spots to visit if you need respite from big city life.
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