Nairobi has had a tough year.
First there was the January terrorist attack at the 14 Riverside Drive complex, followed by a fresh outbreak of cholera in March.
Terrorist attacks aren’t new to Kenya with numerous taking place as far back as 1975. Somalia-based Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab is credited with many of the more recent attacks, with Kenya a target after sending its troops into Somalia in 2011.
However, Kenya is nothing if not resilient. The dusitD2 Nairobi hotel, seemingly the target of the January attack at the complex that also houses three international embassies, re-opened three weeks later, despite losing six staff members in the attack.
Now, the city is faced with a cholera epidemic. The water-borne virus, which attacks the digestive system, is contagious and spreading fast, with Nairobi residents advised to steer clear of roadside eateries and the city’s hospitals asked to activate their cholera wings to accommodate the rapid increase of sufferers.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Kenya remains one of the biggest economies in East and Central Africa, and the country continues to assert itself as a major business travel player, despite the challenges it faces.
Nairobi is the main business travel destination in Kenya and the capital city, surrounded by kilometres of plains, cliffs and forest that make up the city’s Nairobi National Park. It also features modern skyscrapers, quality restaurants, fully-equipped hospitals, modern shopping malls, and a number of schools.
In terms of layout, Nairobi has grown around its central business district. This takes a rectangular shape around the Uhuru Highway, Haille Selassie Avenue, Moi Avenue, and University Way. It features many of Nairobi’s important buildings, including the City Hall and Parliament building. The city square is also located within the perimeter.
Most of the skyscrapers in thisregion are the headquarters of businesses and corporations, such as the I&M Bank Tower and the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. The 1998 United States Embassy bombing took place in this district, prompting the building of a new embassy building in the suburbs.
Nairobi’s downtown area or CBD is bordered to the south-west by Uhuru Park and Central Park. The Mombasa to Kampala railway runs to the south-east of the district.
Today, many businesses are considering relocating and/or establishing their headquarters outside the CBD. This is because land is cheaper and better facilities can easily be built and maintained elsewhere. Two areas that are seeing a growth in companies and office space are Upper Hill, which is located approximately four kilometres from the CBD, and Westlands, which is about the same distance away from the city centre, just in a different direction.
Companies that have moved from the CBD to Upper Hill include Citibank and Coca- Cola, which in 2008 completed construction of its East and Central African headquarters, cementing the district as the one of the preferred locations for office space in Nairobi. The largest office development in this area is UAP Tower, a 33-storey office complex completed in 2015. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group) are also located in Upper Hill.
The Pinnacle Towers, still under construction in Upper Hill, is expected to be Africa’s tallest building. Part of its 70 mixed-use floors will include a 45-floor Hilton hotel, 20 floors of Class A offices and a Hilton rooftop bar on the 43rd floor. At 900 feet, the building will have the highest viewing deck in Africa and include five floors of shopping, entertainment, and restaurants, plus a health spa, gym and infinity pool. There will also be 200 residential apartments operated by Hilton.
AIRLINES & AIRPORT
The revamped Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the main entry point, and offers domestic, regional and international flights and connections. The Mombasa Highway runs adjacent to the airport, and is the main route of access to the city.
JKIA has undergone plenty of change in the past six years, not only due to it approaching capacity and being rather outdated, but also due to a destructive fire in 2013. Subsequent rebuilding and refurbishment resulted in JKIA opening Terminal 4 – now Terminal 1A – in 2014. But Terminal 1A is JKIA’s only modern terminal and is currently occupied by Kenya Airways and its Sky Team partners.
In terms of transport from JKIA, it has numerous taxis and car rental services that operate 24 hours a day. A taxi ride to the city centre will cost you between $25 and $40. You can use your Visa, MasterCard and Maestro cards to draw money from ATMs available at the airport. There are also 24- hour banking services and forex bureaux.
With regards lounges, the most recent additions to JKIA were the Pride and Simba lounges that opened in Terminal 1 in 2014 for Kenya Airways Premier World and Sky Priority passengers from SkyTeam partner airlines. Both lounges offer free wi-fi, a sound-proof transit passenger sleeping area, dining lounge, washrooms and showers. KQ also has its Msafiri lounge in Terminal 1D, inside security in the domestic departures area.
There are also lounges located airside that can be accessed by economy class passengers, for a fee or through a membership programme: Aspire Lounge (Terminal 1B, opposite Gate 10); Turkish Airlines Star Alliance Lounge (Terminal 1E, after Gate 3, Priority Pass); Mara Lounge (Terminal 2, Level 1, Priority Pass); Mount Kenya Lounge (Terminal 2, Level 1, Priority Pass).
In terms of airlines, Kenya Airways has an extensive route network and offers connections from JKIA to most major African cities. It also offers direct services to the likes of France, the Netherlands and the UK in Europe; China, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand in Asia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, whilst Jambojet, KQ’s low-cost subsidiary, flies to Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Malindi and Diani in Kenya, and Entebbe in Uganda. Fellow African big-hitters SAA and Ethiopian Airlines also fly in to Nairobi, whilst alternative European connections are provided by the likes of BA, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, SWISS, Air France and KLM. No surprise that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways also all have Nairobi routes.
Nairobi offers a selection of high-quality hotels including many international brands, such as Mövenpick, Radisson Blu, InterContinental, Hilton, Best Western, Fairmont, Kempinski and Crowne Plaza, as well as a number of very highly regarded local chains, such as Serena and Sarova Hotels.
The newest ‘kid on the block’ is the Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Nairobi, which opened in April 2018. It’s in the suburb of Westlands, Nairobi’s commercial, retail and entertainment suburb about 20 kilometres from JKIA and a few kilometres from the CBD. The hotel has 276 rooms, suites and residences and an extensive food and beverage offering, in the form of its Baluba and The View restaurants, with the latter offering an amazing view from the 24th floor, along with the unique concept of being a revolving restaurant! The hotel has also positioned itself as one of Nairobi’s premier events venues, with a range of large ballroom and smaller venues.
Also relatively new to the Nairobi hotel scene is the 171- room City Lodge Hotel at Two Rivers Mall, which opened at the beginning of 2018. Situated adjacent to the Two Rivers Mall in Runda, East Africa’s largest shopping mall and mixed-use development, the hotel is owned and operated by the City Lodge Hotel Group.
Hilton was one of the first international brands with a presence in Nairobi, with its landmark property in the heart of the CBD and in close proximity to Kenyatta International Convention Centre. It also has a DoubleTree by Hilton property, which is located along Ngong Road and close to the Karen Blixen Museum, Giraffe Centre and the David Shedrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage.
Radisson Hotels opened its 271- room Radisson Blu in Upper Hill in 2015. It offers free high-speed wi-fi, great city or park views, international or Kenyan cuisine all day in the Larder restaurant, an open kitchen at the elegant Chop House, an Alfresco Pool Bar & Grill, and a cigar lounge. The hotel also has one of the largest meeting facilities in Kenya, with 14 versatile meeting rooms, a spacious pre-function area, a business centre, the latest in audio-visual technology, and secure parking for all guests.
A short trip down the road you’ll find two five-star properties that opened in recent years – the Villa Rosa Kempinski and the dusitD2 Nairobi, which opened in close proximity to each other, between the CBD and Westlands.
The Dusit property, despite being the site of a vicious terrorist attack in January, is a stunning hotel and more in the ‘boutique’ space, with some rather elegant touches. It has some intriguing spaces and also offers world-class cuisine from its array of bars and restaurants, stylish and spacious guestrooms, unique event spaces, and an inviting Devarana Spa. Also be sure to check out the hotel’s striking red swimming pool!
Fairmont’s The Norfolk Hotel has played a leading role in Kenya’s colourful history, and continues to be one of Nairobi’s finest and best-known hotels, boasting 170 guest rooms and suites, eight conference rooms, a heated outdoor swimming pool, health club with gym, sauna and steam room, gift shops, and its own private tropical gardens.
The InterContinental Nairobi is ideally located for business, close to the parliament buildings and CBD, and adjacent to Kenyatta International Convention Centre, as is the Laico Regency in the same area.
The Nairobi Serena is very popular and one of the old, established hotels in the city. It has a colonial feel, but has also kept pace with the times, and still offers a quality five-star experience, along with a great location, should you need to be in close proximity to the city centre. The hotel is currently undergoing prolonged refurbishment, phase one of which was completed in Q4 2018. Upgrades to the North Wing include new high-speed lifts, energy-efficient mood lighting, modern air-conditioning, and an executive lounge on the seventh floor with two private meeting rooms. There is also a new 450m2 ballroom with a capacity to accommodate 450 people theatre-style. A parking silo with a capacity for 120 cars has been constructed, and a new fusion restaurant is scheduled to open next month. The second phase of the hotel’s refurbishment was due to be completed by Q1 2019, when the full room inventory of 199 rooms was due to be operational.
There are a couple of contemporary hotel options, one of which is the Tribe Hotel, which has received great reviews and looks to have some stunning facilities and rooms. Then there’s the Sankara Nairobi, which initially set the standard when it opened in Westlands about six years ago. The Sankara offering is nothing short of five-star, with an eye-catching pool area, modern rooms, outstanding service and an inviting steakhouse. The hotel joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection last year and was due to undergo a rebranding exercise in Q1 2019.
In a similar category is Hemingways in Karen, offering an exclusive, boutique five-star experience.
Just a few hundred metres away from the Sankara is the Southern Sun Nairobi, the Park Inn by Radisson Nairobi Westlands, and the ibis Styles Nairobi Westlands. Also in close proximity is the Concord Hotel & Suites, located on Wangapala Road and within walking distance of the Diamond Plaza Shopping Centre.
Competing with the Radisson Blu in Upper Hill are the Crowne Plaza and the Fairview, which is a homely four-star hotel now owned by City Lodge. The Fairview also has what was previously known as the Country Lodge attached to it, and this hotel has been rebranded as a Town Lodge, which is City Lodge’s two-star brand.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts has two properties, in the form of the Best Western Plus Meridian Hotel and the Executive Residency by Best Western Nairobi, which caters more to the long-stay market. The property consists of 48 non-smoking one and two-bedroom apartments. Each apartment is fully equipped with a kitchen, dining room, living room, high-speed internet access, flat screen TV, work desk area, and daily housekeeping services. Guests can also make use of a fitness centre and an indoor heated swimming pool, whilst the Slate meeting room can accommodate up to 60 people for business meetings, corporate training and product launches. The Grove Restaurant located on the rooftop offers views of the city.
Another hotel worth noting is the Sarova Stanley, whilst on the airport road you have the Ole Sereni and the new Hilton Garden Inn Nairobi Airport. The former overlooks the national park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see game roaming on the other side of the fence.
Also on the airport road are the Panari Hotel and the pair of the Eka Hotel and The Boma Hotel, whilst the newish Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport is on the doorstep of JKIA, as is the Crowne Plaza. Marriott has another Four Points property in the suburb of Hurlingham.
If you like your golf and don’t mind being some way from the CBD, there’s the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club.
Visa exemptions are applied to nationals of the following African countries: Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africans are limited to 30-day visa-free stays, and longer visits require a visa.
In 2015 Kenya stopped issuing visas on arrival. Visitors are now required to purchase a visa online in advance of travel and will be asked to produce a printed copy of the e-Visa upon check-in, without which they will not be permitted entry into Kenya. Alternatively, travellers can also contact their nearest Kenyan embassy, high commission or consulate to arrange a visa. Travel agents or tour operators will be able to register and make visa applications on their clients’ behalf. An e-Visa will be valid for 90 days from the date of approval and not from the date of arrival in Kenya.
Kenya has a rich variety of cuisine. The ethnic cuisine of Kenya’s various tribes includes the famous “Nyama Choma” and “ugali” dishes. Kenya’s coffee and tea have received accolades as some of the best products in the world.
Safe wildlife game meat, such as crocodile and ostrich, is served in up-market restaurants, including the highly recommended Carnivore Restaurant. In the hotels and restaurants, you will find a sophisticated blend of European standards with ethnic Kenyan food.
There is also a host of international cuisine available in restaurants and hotels, including Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, French, Mexican, Korean and Lebanese dishes.
There are a host of traditional taxi options at Jomo Kenyatta International, but there are alternatives. Uber is present in the city and also offers its cheaper Uber ChapChap service. The fuel-efficient option has a base fare of 80 shillings ($0.80) and allows passengers to take short trips within the CBD and its environs. Another option to consider is Secure Drive, if you’re looking for something more than a ride-hailing service. Secure Drive is a global security chauffeur service orientated towards clientele who require secure transfers or chauffeur services. It is ideal for clients whose risk profiles may not justify protective details or agents, but who are nonetheless exposed to potential travel-related risks, or who may be travelling in unfamiliar countries or cities.