Reasons to Visit Kenya

Visit Kenya: Six Reasons to Visit

Visit Kenya: Hot Air Balloon Safari in Masai Mara National Reserve. Courtesy of  the Mara
Hot Air Balloon Safari in Masai Mara National Reserve.

Safari, Diversity, Beach, Hotels, Ease & Tech

The celebrated game safaris are only one of many things which tempt travellers from all over the world to visit the East African Region.  While Kenya, and East Africa in general, is much publicized the world over for its National Parks and Reserves, it is only in the past decade that the world has become aware of the fact that Kenya is on the forefront of some of the exemplar wildlife conservation projects in the world.  The outcome of these efforts have yielded bosting results. Nowhere, perhaps, on the African Continent is the conservation effort as robust and forward looking. So much so that the acclaimed safari lodges in many of the wildlife conservancies in Kenya have come to signify much more than the safari. They are collaborative efforts with the local communities to protect the wildlife. A large portion of the revenue generated from these unique lodges goes back to support conservation. In that, the visitor to Kenya eager to experience the joy of safari can now do so meaningfully, with the future in mind, and take pleasure in making a far-reaching contribution to the wellness of wildlife and their habitats.

The second reason to visit Kenya is that it offers as much, if not more, variety in a relatively compact area than perhaps anywhere else in Africa. In many ways, Kenya is a microcosm of Africa. All of Africa in one country: With habitats that range from seashores to snow-capped peaks, the great gush of the Rift Valley, and barren desert to rainforest; each in its unique composition and character.  This ecological gamut is of much interest to the traveller considering that about 80% of Kenya is classified as semi-arid, with the most fertile areas being in the central area of the country.  The country north of the equator (cutting across the mid of Kenya from east to west) presents a great similarly to the country south of it, although the features to the north are on a much grander scale.  North of the equator is famous Lake Turkana, south of it the smaller Lake Logipi. East and West of Lake Turkana are more than five reserves. South of Lake Turkana is the extensive Chalbi Desert. South of the equator are the wildlife-rich Maasai plains where Masai Mara National Reserve, Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks lie, with the Indian Ocean on the southeast corner. What that suggests is that in a distance of 50 kms one could go from fertile farmlands, forest, scrubland and rolling savannas. Across these varied environments are more than fifty National Parks, National Reserves and Forest Reserves.  They offer the motorist with a yen for the outdoor many opportunities for exploration and interesting driving.

The third reason to visit Kenya is the fact that it has some of the most stunning beaches and coastline in all of Africa, and indeed the world.  A growing number of travellers are coming to the region primarily for a holiday at the coast, with National Parks thrown in as incidentals.  From Shimoni travelling northwards – with Lamu as the most northerly beach prospect – the traveller will find that Kenya’s coast has aptly been named “The Coral Coast”. A virtually continuous coral reef, with breaks at Mombasa and Malindi, runs within a mile of the shore for well over 100 miles, offering a salubrious tropical getaway.  Mombasa itself, considered a useful logistic and holiday hub, has a lot to interest the travellers.  It’s also a popular jump-off for fishing the waters north and south of the Island. 

The fourth reason to visit Kenya is that there’s something for everyone’s lodging needs, from crawl-in tents to the most glorious safari lodges in Africa. Although some lodges are rough and ready and others quite plush, they are all, in context of locations and keeping to the local cultures, adequate. Each County of Kenya has its own architectural inclination and ambiance, and the different approach of locally inspired lodges and hotels should be a joy for the intrepid. Camping is noted where facilities are provided. Inside or near Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves, there are game lodges, sometimes called wildlife or safari lodges, but all meaning small hotels, often of striking architectural design. There are also, in many places, especially at the Mara, a great deal of tented camps (sometimes called tented lodges when the public areas are permanent or semi-permanent and when such amenities as a swimming pool are added). In some Parks, but regrettably not many, there are some self-service lodges. These are owned and run by Kenya Wildlife Service and are usually a bargain in terms of the cost per night. Self service accommodation, at the coast especially, has blossomed in the past five years, to offer more affordable and flexible alternative to the standard hotel life. Over and above that, the visitor to Kenya with a flexible schedule can drive a good bargain by arriving in the ‘low’ season, that is to avoid the months between December and March. Hotels rates in Kenya vary between visitor and resident and also by season of year – most hotels have a ‘high’ and ‘low’ season rate and may have a ‘mid’ season as well. You can be fairly sure that from the Tuesday after Easter until the first or 15th of July there will be low season rates.

The fifth reason to visit Kenya is that successive governments over the past two decades have improved Kenya’s road, airport and railway infrastructure.  By the same token, the 21st Century has indeed reached Kenya by way of technology, and is certainly over-much in evidence with Kenya being one of the tech-hubs of Africa.  What that translates to is that do-it-yourself holiday are now practical and relatively easy with a little advance planning.  An early start from Nairobi could bring you to Mombasa in time for a sumptuous Swahili lunch at the Coast of Kenya for under USD 10 aboard the SGR Nairobi-Mombasa Railway.  Then suitably fortified and by way of a hop-on hop-off tuk-tuk ride tour the sights of Mombasa.  Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu along the coast are also in air contact as well as on good roads. A few days at the coast is a tonic in relaxed living, to enjoy the fascinating interests of the place. What’s more, Nairobi is air contact with Wajir, Isiolo, Homa Bay, Eldoret, Kisumu and Lodwar with regular flights.

The six reason to visit Kenya is that it has a long history of political stability and a heritage as a popular touring destination, encouraging rather than restricting travel. The infrastructure is progressive, the best it have ever been, with many modes of travel and comfortable accommodations. Whether you are in on the game safaris, potential mountain climber or nature-lover, a cultural tour is a must.  In Kenya you get as warm a welcome as can be had in any part of Africa.

Visit Kenya: Expand Your Horizon

Visit Kenya – The Trip of a Lifetime – by Mr. Brynnorth

About Kenya: The Geography in a Nutshell

Kenya occupies an area of approximately 582,747 km2, of which lakes account for 13,545 km2. It is bounded by Tanzania in the south, by Uganda in the west, by Sudan and Ethiopia in the north and by Somalia and the Indian Ocean in the east. Her total population in 2017 was estimated at almost 50 million. The bulk of her populace live in three areas of Kenya; near Lake Victoria in the west and south-west, in central Kenya, and in an area of fairly dense population along the Coast Region of Kenya – between Malindi and Tanzania border. In these areas, the ground lies more than 3,000 feet above sea level, and the climate is equable and pleasant enough, particularly in the highlands that form the central part of Kenya, for farming and settlement. These areas take on about 20% of her total land surface area, where much of her population thrives in the constellation of small counties in Central Kenya, Western Kenya and the Coast Region of Kenya. About 80% of Kenya’s terrestrial land is listed as arid to semi-arid, where life is essentially a continual search of water and the little vegetation to be found here. Low plains form Kenya’s north and extend southeast to the coast. In the center, south and southwest of the country the plains rise into fertile highlands. The Great Rift Valley, running north to south, bisects the western half of Kenya. The major ecosystem of the highlands is montane forests, while arid and semi-arid lowlands are composed mainly of woodland, brushland, savanna and grassland. Closer to the coast, there are sporadic but significant patches of dryland forests.

Kenya rises from the coast to altitudes of 10,000 (+) feet before dropping down into Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana. In between these variations of altitudes are lush rolling farmlands, of wheat and maize fields, of great rolling expanses of tea and coffee plantations, dry bush, scrublands, deserts, palm fringed tracts of unspoiled beaches,  and Northern Region of Kenya, the big 50%, previously a marginalized region which offers some of the best driving experiences in Kenya, and not least on the 504 kms Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale highway that links Kenya to Ethiopia – a snaking smooth road takes drivers through unfamiliar horizons, new scenes and new faces. Kenya’s national border of 3,500 kilometers includes 536 kilometers of pristine coral-fringed coastline with the country offering four marine parks and five marine reserves. The coastal assets include: 830 km2 of coastal forests; floodplain wetlands; approximately 510 km2 of mangrove forest ecosystems, especially in Lamu; 12 species of sea grass; and 50,000 ha of coral reef protected under 2 marine parks and 2 marine reserves. The coast is divided between sandy areas and mangrove forests, while the offshore arc has abundant seagrass beds and a coral reef system. Kenya’s freshwater resources are divided between lakes, notably Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana, and several big rivers. It is upon this premise that Kenya must be understood or one that has inspired her modern quietus as the “land of variety.”  The country straddles the equator! 

Coastal Strip along Diani or the South Coast of Kenya.  Photo Courtesy
Coastal Strip along Diani or the South Coast of Kenya.

10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Safaris have been at the core of Kenya’s tourism for decades. Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves contain prolific wildlife; lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, hippopotamuses and buffaloes, among many. Kenya has set aside some 47,674 square kilometers (almost 10%) in 29 national parks, 27 national reserves, 4 wildlife sanctuaries, and 13 wildlife conservancies. Kenya is one of the world’s best destinations for bird watchers, and it has the famous annual wildebeest migration. It also entices adventure tourists with trekking in Mount Kenya, ballooning in the Maasai Mara and scuba diving in the Indian Ocean. Kenya is endowed with tremendous biodiversity. The country has approximately 2500 species of animals comprised of 1,133 birds, 315 mammals, 191 reptiles, 180 freshwater fish, 692 marine and brackish fish, and 88 amphibians, as well as 7,000 species of vascular plants and more than 2,000 fungi and bacteria. Of these, 1,100 species of vascular plants, 14 mammalian species, and 8 species of birds are endemic to the country. 103 species of bird, 51 mammals, 8 reptile and amphibians, and 26 fish species are listed as either ‘endangered’ or ‘threatened’.

1. Amboseli National Park

Area: 392 km2, Location: Kajiado County

Visit Kenya: View of the Amboseli National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Amboseli National Park is perhaps the most favoured park by photographers against the backdrop of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and its flat terrain. It runs across the dry Maasai savanna plains which harbour enormous wildlife resources. Amboseli is administered by the local Maasai through the Kajiado County Council and derives its name from the Maasai term “dry river bed” in reference to Lake Amboseli; which over dry weather is smooth enough to drive across, only forming a shallow lake in rainy seasons. Lake Amboseli is quite an extraordinary feature. As the heat haze form a remarkable mirage and at times it is difficult to distinguish between the mirage and the actual surface of the water. Amboseli National Park has a tremendous concentration of big game especially around the waterholes famed for its rhinos, elephant herds and is also one of East Africa’s best spots for viewing cheetahs. The smooth country makes it easy to drive across with one very useful observation point, consisting of a small hill overlooking the main swamps, and named the “Observation Hill”.

2. Meru National Park

Area: 890 km2, Location: Meru County

Visit Kenya: View of the Meru National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

This of course is where Elsa the lioness was rehabilitated back to the wild. Born Free and its 1966 movie adaptation tell the story of Elsa’s rearing from a small cub by Joy Adamson and her Kenya game warden husband George, who had shot Elsa’s mother. Within 3 years, the cub had grown to a 250-pound adult, without losing her tameness and affection for George and, in particular, Joy. But the Adamsons were determined to release Elsa to the wild, and did so in Meru National Park. Aside from being one of best watered National Parks with numerous permanent rivers draining from Nyambene that crisscross the park before joining up to River Tana. Meru National Park is laid out with well tended roads, campsites and lodges. The scenery varies from heavily wooded country in the north to semi-arid to the south with roads to three adjoining national parks.

3. Marsabit National Reserve & Park

Area: 360 km2, Location: Marsabit County

Visit Kenya: View of the Marsabit National Reserve & Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

The misty montane mosaic rising gently out of the near desert country between the Kaisut and Chalbi deserts and overlooking Lake Paradise and Mt. Marsabit has something romantic about it.  The name of the prominent volcanic bump “Mt. Marsabit” was derived from the white explorers description of the place as “Mars a bit” an old English word to mean “high and cool”, or again, Marsabicho which in Rendille means surrounded by mist, in reference to Mount Marsabit. On the slopes of Mount Marsabit, just a short distance from Lake Paradise, is a lodge and campsite.  Marsabit National Park is famed for its scenery, beautiful Crater Lakes and some of the largest elephants in Kenya.  It is also the jumping off place to the very remote and desolate Chalbi Desert – across “Kenya’s open museum of culture” inhabited by pastoralist communities who have stayed their traditional ways for many decades.  Further north lies the Sibiloi National Park.

4. Sibiloi National Park

Area: 1,570 km2, Location: Marsabit County

Visit Kenya: View of the Sibiloi National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Although not a common travel corridor, its remoteness has preserved its awe-inspiring natural beauty.  Sibiloi National Park is plausibly the northernmost touring destination in Kenya, which, for all the difficulty of getting there, is a rewarding place to visit.  And more than any other park it offers an element of surprise.  Its petrified forest, diversity of fauna, flora, Koobo Fora Museum, the tempestuous Lake Turkana, North and Central Islands are some of its fine and prominent attractions. Sibiloi National Park lies on the north-eastern shores of Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world, in an arid near desert area of scrubland.  However along the shore itself are large populations of zebras and oryx.  The shore is also home to one of Africa’s largest extant bask of crocodiles.  Sibiloi also contains vast fossils, famous as the source of man’s prehistoric past.

5. Lake Nakuru National Park

Area: 188 km2, Location: Nakuru County

Visit Kenya: View of the Lake Nakuru National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

The shallow 80 km2 lake encircled by wooded acacia and bounded by Menegai Crater in the north, Bahati Hills in the north-east, Lion Hills in the east, Eburu Crater in the west, and Mau Escarpment is a year-round timeless beauty. Lake Nakuru supports a dense bloom of the blue-green algae which is the major food source for the flamingos. The Lake is one of the world’s spectacular attractions for ornithologists. At most times of the year the lake shore is marked by an epic shimmering pink band, upto 20 yards wide.  On closer approach this is seen to be flamingos – millions of flamingos. The flamingos are by no means all.  More than 300 other species of birds have been listed in this park. The finest views of Lake Nakuru can be enjoyed from park’s three famed vantage points –  Baboon Cliff, Lion Hill or Out of Africa Hill. The park encompasses the whole of the lake bed and a strip of the surrounding terrain and it’s one of the most visited parks.

6. Aberdares National Park

Area: 762 km2, Location: Nyeri County

Visit Kenya: View of the Aberdare National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Aberdares comprises of an isolated mountain range that forms the eastern side of the Rift Valley, with its highest peak Ol Donyo Lesatima reaching 3999 m. A thrilling road across the forest gives way to views of Aberdare Range, Kinangop Peak, Twin Hills, Elephant Hill, Table Mountain, passing picturesque waterfalls and bamboo forests where big and small game can be easily spotted. Aberdares Park, described as a plateau of romantic views, is a treat to rare flora, waterfalls on icy streams and enormous wildlife resources.  Aberdares National Park has unique floral interest, bearing many of the sub-alpine plants not usually found in the tropics, and is also a sanctuary for elephants, buffalo and rhino, the rare bongo and giant forest hogs.  Unique to this park is the floodlit waterholes from where visitors observe wildlife from the balconies of Treetops Lodge or the Ark.

7. Nairobi National Park

Area: 117 km2, Location: Nairobi County

Visit Kenya: View of the Nairobi National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

The fact that Nairobi National Park sits just 7 kilometers from Nairobi’s Central District with such a fantastic concentration of animals is outright remarkable.  Africa unfolds here around every bend, unfenced and untamed, with the superb silhouette of Nairobi in the background.  Except for a few kilometers along the main roads near town (to keep the game out of  traffic) the park is not fenced. Wildlife move freely in and out of it across the un-fenced boundary with Kapiti Plains. Although subject to seasonality there is always a fantastic concentration of most of the animals which visitors can expect to encounter during safari in Kenya.  There are more than 100 fauna species in Nairobi National Park.  Game viewing is exceptional in the early morning hours and early evening, when the sunset behind Ngong Hills often provides a fine background for photographers.  Nairobi Park has many miles of all weather roads, laid out it numbered circuits. 

8. Tsavo National Parks

Area: 21, 812 km2 Tsavo East, Location: Kitui and Taita Taveta Counties

Area: 9,065 km2 Tsavo West, Location: Taita Taveta County

Visit Kenya: View of the Tsavos National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Tsavo National Parks – East and West – are famous not only for their size but also as the key stronghold for big game in Kenya.  Tsavo East covers about 20% of Kitui County while Tsavo West covers approximately 60% of Taita Taveta County.  Its population of about 20,000 elephants is believed to be the largest concentration of elephants in the wild. There are many spectacles in both Tsavo Park including the Mzima Springs: “there, the dry valley of arid lava stands in parched contrast to the millions of gallons of crystal sparkling water which gush out to the ground to provide beautiful pools, framed by palms and tamarinds”. There’s also the Lugard Falls, Mudanda Rock, Shetani Lava Flow, the Kitichwa Tembo Hill, Chaimu Crater, Lake Jipe, and the near Chyulu Hills National Park.

9. Shimba Hills National Park

Area: 300 km2, Location: Kwale County

Visit Kenya: View of the Shimba Hills National Park - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Shimba Hills was declared a National Forest in 1903 and then designated as a National Reserve in 1968. It was gazetted partly to protect the population of the rare sable antelope, and in 1971 it received an addition of the also endangered roan antelope.  Aside from being popular as a sanctuary for elephants, Shimba Hills National Park has one of Kenya’s most attractive scenery. The rolling hills with open grasslands and patches of rain forest overlooking the Indian Ocean serve as one the most impressive landscapes in Kenya. The park is linked with a fenced elephant corridor to the lovely 24 km2 Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary.  Visitors to the Shimba Hills National Park can also enjoy tours of the Sheldrick Falls, an impressive 25 meters high waterfall of fresh spring water, accessible by a marked 2 kms footpath through the lush gallery forests and spectacular views.

10. Masai Mara National Reserve

Area: 1,510 km2, Location: Nark County

Visit Kenya: View of the Masai Mara National Reserve - 10 Outstanding Game Parks in Kenya

Masai Mara National Reserve is undoubtedly the crown-jewel of Kenya’s faunal sanctuaries.  The rolling grassland, acacia woodland and the patches of riverine vegetation of Masai Mara Reserve offers dramatic and memorable scenery and an abundance of Africa’s cherished game.  Ecologically, it’s part of the Serengeti ecosystem extending from over the border with Tanzania. Masai Mara National Reserve accounts for 75 percent of wildlife in all Kenya’s protected areas. Most animals within the park move with seasonality in the grazing, most notably the annual migration of the wildebeest. More than any other reserve and park in Kenya the Masai Mara is dotted by umpteen luxury lodges, tented camps and campsites.  The are almost 35 revered luxury lodges mainly in the conservancies adjoining the Mara – Lemek Conservancy, Mara North Conservancy, the Mara Triangle, Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Naibosho, Olare, and Motorogi Conservancy.

Cultural Diversity in Kenya

Kenya has a great mix of cultural diversity The country has many archeological assets and colorful tribal cultures fascinating to researchers and tourists alike—and easily promoted in the tourism marketplace. An archaeological excavations around Lake Turkana in the early 1970s revealed skulls thought to be around 2 million years old boy that’s among the earliest human beings ever discovered—indeed a unique patrimony for mankind and for tourism. Kenya has a mosaic of 44 ethnic groups, each with its own culture and language, existing side by side, as the result of waves of in-migration (going back 4000 years) of Turkanas from Ethiopia; Kikuyu, Akamba, and Meru from West Africa; and the iconic Maasai, Luo and Samburu from southern Sudan. By the eighth century, Arabic, Indian, Persian, and even Chinese traders reached the Kenyan coast. They helped set up a string of coastal cities (for example, Mombasa and Lamu) and eventually the part-African, part-Arabic civilization known today as the Swahili. Kenya was invaded first by the Portuguese, who were ousted after 200 years of struggle with the Swahili, and finally by the British who left at Independence in 1963. Kenya’s cultural diversity forms an essential core of the touring options. Its rich diversity provide a foundation for tourism resource beyond nature and wildlife.

Visit Kenya: The Less-talked About Nairobi

Visit Kenya: Driving in Nairobi

10 Unique Things About Driving in Nairobi

Most visitors to Kenya arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) at the southern edge of Nairobi. From the airport, it is a short 17 kms hop north to the City on one of Nairobi’s busiest trunk roads, A104 Nairobi-Mombasa Road. Any visitor to Kenya who has read a thing or two about Nairobi might be aware that driving here is a process fraught with risk. The dangers of callousness, and the bewildering variety of dangers, can worry and confuse even the experienced motorist. The roads in Nairobi are noisier and busier in ways never seen before. The uptake of vehicles as the primary mode of travel in Nairobi has overtaken its infrastructure growth. The same factors that make driving in Nairobi hectic make driving elsewhere in Kenya equally hazardous; at least from an outsider’s perspective. Even so, there is no such thing as a perfect driving system in any city. The road traffic conditions, and the governing systems, through chance or temporary circumstances, vary in challenges. Every country has its own set of factors that partly explain the differences in driving, and on Nairobi’s roads it’s exhilaration and chaos. This, of course, implies spending more time in traffic, and a lot more time to observe the ‘attitudes and behaviors’ of Nairobi’s drivers.

1. Many Shades of Tint

Thankfully, this part of the world sees more sunshine than most countries. With the equator cutting across Kenya, east to west, the sun is almost always on high. Naturally, one would expect a reasonable interest in vehicle window tinting as a way of reducing light transmission, but, perhaps, not on the considerable scale seen in Nairobi. Car window tinting is much sought-after, and on average seven of every ten cars in Nairobi spot a form of tinting. Car window tinting in Nairobi is all pervading, from the rickety Toyota, superclass AMG, to the top-end Range Rover. The lack of specific laws about the degree of visible light transmittance means many variations of tints, imaginative and extreme. On the extreme, dark tinting makes it difficult to make out drivers or occupants even in the midday brightness of the African sun. Several car brands offer factory tint but by far the most popular in Nairobi is an after-factory tinting which for the hard-pressed, cash-strapped is godsend. The odd thing about car window tinting in Nairobi is that it seems to have very little to do with glare and about everything to do with privacy. And when the windows crack, they only go as far as the top of the head.

2. This is Toyota Country

As a comparatively cheaper brand, Toyota has fulfilled many people’s desire for a personal vehicle worldwide. The unwritten slogan about Toyota’s being simple cars is also largely responsible for its massive uptake in Nairobi, and generally speaking in Kenya. The simplicity of the Toyota is almost annoying, and really all you’ve got to know is how to drive. On the upside, to learn one Toyota is to learn all Toyotas. Of course, the fact that Toyotas’ use less fuel has its influence too. Many outsiders who find Toyota unfathomable because it does not bear any of the tell-tale signs of a successful enterprise should be aware that Toyota is on its way to become the largest car manufacturer in the world. In 2017, Toyota made 11 million cars. Not too long ago in Nairobi it used to be the car in-front of you was always a Toyota. Not so much now, car varieties have swelled. Having said that, seven of ten cars at almost any given place in Nairobi will be Toyotas’.

3. Matatu Rule the Roads

Everyday is halloween on the roads of Nairobi, thanks to the infamous matatu. Most of them wear unique ‘masks’. Then drive around like crazy. By the same token, the roads of Nairobi are rife with bullying. The antagonist, respectably, being the matatu: small public service buses. They exist to channel commuters from different points, traditionally from the estates to the city. But matatu do not do it with the prudence you would expect: “they wind through traffic like speed demons with a death wish, brakes screeching as they overtake in hairpin maneuvers while cursing other motorists as their touts menacingly thump the sides of slower cars. Their tyre axles make creaking sounds as they thud into gaping potholes and bump their mechanical manhoods on to the pedestrian walkways. For the Nairobi matatus, any path is a highway,” – Munene Kilongi.

4. Graffiti in Motion

The name may seem to conjure images of car racing, but Matatu, the primary public transportation in Nairobi, take a victory lap when it comes to imaginative and innovative trim and decorative designs. Nairobi’s reply to the jeepneys in the Philippines, the songthaews in Laos, the chicken buses in Central America, the trolley buses in Russia and the chiva expresses in Ecuador is audacious. The graffiti affected by the matatus of Nairobi is one of the most distinct in Africa, and indeed the world over. There are few other places you can spot mock-ups of Air Force One, Smoke City, Cash Money Records, Need 4 Speed Most Wanted, Assasin, Barcelona FC, Manchester United FC and Arafat alongside each other: these being some notable matutu graffiti. The despisers of the graffiti culture consider this chaotic artwork a reflection of the aggressive invasiveness of the matatus. The supporters, on the other hand, say there is something witty and original about the concept. Some say that the graffiti portrays Kenya’s outward looking quality. The underlying fact is that graffiti is good for business. Call it competitive advantage or not, but seven of ten matatus spot an original graffiti; often something or someone influential. Other fundamentals such as a business friendly atmosphere, supportive leaders and a go-great-guns urban culture in Nairobi contribute to the city’s matatu graffiti culture. Meanwhile, a great deal of companies specialising in matatu graffiti have expanded in the city to tap an eager liveware, helping grow the craft in Nairobi. The result is a unique culture.

5. Don’t Drive in Downtown Nairobi

If you have the choice as a visitor to Kenya, then, don’t drive in Nairobi. If you must, the best advice given to the visitor to Kenya on how to cope with the road traffic conditions is: “Expect anything. Depend on nothing”. Howbeit, Kenya’s roads are not as dangerous as outsiders tend to portray them – they just take a little getting used to. Still and all, if yourself take into consideration that the last masterplan of Nairobi was prepared in 1948, and that by 1973 a City Council report had indicated that the city’s transport system is not well planned and integrated, Nairobi was always a prime candidate for Andrew Younghusband’s “Don’t Drive Here – Nairobi” on Nat Geo. By and large, driving in Nairobi is a bumper-to-bumper affair at peaks hours (8:00 am and 5:00 pm) and nowhere is the consensus greater and the craze as profound as in downtown of Nairobi. It’s hard to imagine of any other place in Kenya that is as busy as Downtown. The importance of downtown Nairobi as a commuter interchange cannot be underplayed as the journey for every inbound and outbound traveler, to and from every corner of Kenya, as well as, local commuters with exception of a few routes west and south of Nairobi, begins or ends in Downtown Nairobi. The result of is a massive, endless congregation throughout the day. The disregard for human life here is distressing. There is practically no separation of traffic, pedestrians, hand drawn carts and boda-boda and the value for safety is dismal.

6. About Not Keeping Left in Nairobi

It’s never quite apparent unless you are in a hurry, that it becomes obvious that keeping left unless you are overtaking is a motoring rule seven out of ten drivers in Nairobi completely disregard. On many roads in Nairobi, with a speed limit of more than 80 km/h, where there are familiar speed signs “Keep Left Unless Overtaking” and road markings, some in the right place, some not maintained, most being flagrantly disregarded, lies a bewildering reality for many visitors to Kenya. It is easy to assume that on roads of two or more lanes where the speed limit is greater than 80 km/h that motorists would keep off the right-hand lane; that is unless they are overtaking, turning right, avoiding an obstacle, driving in congested traffic or are otherwise instructed by road signs. What this disregard to keeping left has degenerated to is erratic overtaking, poor lane merging and an overuse of the horn. The complacency for observing this simple rule may be the hangover effects of Nairobi’s noted traffic jams or lack of its perceived value.

7. Nairobi’s Boys in Blue

The effectiveness of police enforcement of traffic laws depends critically on the attitudes of the driving community as well as that of the police themselves. This means that it is important to know what drivers think about general issues such as road safety, enforcement and traffic laws, and even what they think about particular issues such as speeding, bribery and drink-driving. Be that as may be, the system is nowhere near perfect on the roads of Nairobi that has a few breaks and loopholes in the system. There is a general ethos of impunity among traffic officers in Kenya. The outcome is that seven of ten drivers in Nairobi are willing to offer a bribe, often even before being asked for one. This is how things need to be done. It’s a catch 22! As no private motorist wants to be on the receiving end of the “long arm of the law” which may land you in difficult, lengthy and expensive processes, with simple solutions taking almost a whole day to resolve. The police on the roads of Nairobi usually exercise the greatest good sense in their interpretation of the law, but sometimes enforce the letter of the law with no consideration for extenuating circumstances. Motorists on the roads of Nairobi have, in responding to the boys in blue, developed their own sense of touch and judgement in their dealing with them, typically using courtesy and good humour as the general pitch. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you make a policeman on the roads of Nairobi angry he will throw the book at you on a minor formality, while if you make him laugh he may wave you happily on.

8. A Case of the Rainy Mondays

Whenever unexpected rain strikes Nairobi City and its environs, as it does every so often, and comically just before rush hour, the motorists and pundits blame the traffic policemen for the resulting traffic jam. These claims are never really that satisfying, and often end up sounding like a simplistic way of saying, “we don’t really have an idea why rain causes so much traffic snarl-ups on the roads of Nairobi”. Arguably the most recent example of this phenomenon at its rifest was in May 2018, when hundreds of motorists spend the night in traffic, many half submerged, after a two-hour downpour during rush hour. In the same way, seven out of every ten private car owners in Nairobi will openly admit to having spend at least five extra hours in traffic as a result of snarl-ups “caused” by rain. And even when such admission is not forthcoming, the impediments are easily observable. Each step taken by authorities over the past two decades designed to prop up road safety in Kenya with emphasis on creating a proper drainage system have not yielded much, and are not likely to change soon. You could say, it’s all too predictably that when it rains in Nairobi, traffic will surely come to a complete halt. And the situation could go on for hours. Of course rain inevitably causes snarl-ups in many countries, but nowhere near the scale seen in Nairobi.

9. A Legend Among the Roads in Nairobi

Uhuru Highway, that section of the A104 Mombasa-Kampala Road passing over the western edge of the main business district for 5 kms – from Nyayo Stadium to Chiromo Interchange near the National Museum of Kenya, takes the crown as the most important road in Nairobi in boosting the efficiency of traffic flow. The road, which delivers motorists from the east, south and west areas of the county into the central business district, is a lesson on the looming traffic crises Nairobi is facing due to a lionized thriving infrastructure boom over an already developed urban space. If something peculiar happens along its length, at any given time of day – which makes many a motorist in Nairobi very nervous – the results are catastrophic. A crises! One proposed remedy to unclog this road was the construction of two loops around the city that bypass it, for the motorist not intending to enter the central business district. It is easy for outsiders to admire the Nairobi National Park, perhaps because it is the only park in the world in a city. It is a charming place to visit, but to get there requires in most cases using Uhuru Highway at some point. The same applies to most visitors to Kenya. The case for the overpass roadway over Uhuru Highway and the adjoining section of Mombasa Road up until Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is not proven yet. Critics of the 50 bn., road say its results are hard to interpret, partly because of Kenya’s pace of economic expansion and the role of Nairobi as the regional hub.

10. Contagious Hooting

Kenya’s fast-growing economy has brought with it slow moving cars. Inching through the crowded streets of Nairobi brings both exhilaration and frustration. Nairobi’s graffiti’d matatus, battered buses, boda-bodas and personal vehicles all somehow manage to creep forward, and its motorists, skilled at brides and obviously not keeping left, are also masters of furious hooting. One of the most curious peculiarities on the roads of Nairobi is that of the matatu hooting while approaching every bus terminus on the highways; perhaps to intimidate other matatu, perhaps as competitive advantage, perhaps to woo potential riders, or even just their invasiveness. The bizarre way matutu drive in Nairobi also leaves a trail of ferocious hooting especially from the small-smart-cars, who do it more from flight that fight. The roads of Nairobi are filled with hooting and honking.

Matwana Matatu Culture – CNN Inside Africa Feature