Nairobi is the Capital city of Kenya, representative of the city's contrasting images of wealthy spacious suburbs, charming flower-lined streets and a refreshing climate. Nairobi is best characterized by its descriptive names, like 'Green City in the Sun', 'City of Flowers' and the Masai name 'Place of Cool Waters'.
Nairobi is one of Africa's largest and most interesting cities of assorted races, tribes and origins are all a part of its make-up. Rural immigrants and refugees are drawn by the hope of wealth and opportunity, international businessmen are attracted by profitable business prospects, and tourists are promised the makings of the perfect safari. The city center buzzes with the energy, shoppers, tourists, safari touts, food vendors and trinket sellers, security guards, and sharp-eyed shoe shiners. Among them are the disillusioned faces of the unemployed, the beggars and the destitute.
There are several museums and places of interest in the city, including the National Museum and Snake Park. There are numerous markets selling traditional crafts, especially the appealing Masai market that takes place at different locations depending on the day of the week. Just outside of the center is the Nairobi National Park, and the nearby Bomas of Kenya host performances of traditional dancing and singing. The Langata Giraffe Center offers visitors the chance to hand-feed the Rothschild giraffes that inhabit the area.
Getting Around: The most popular form of public transport in Nairobi is the matatu, usually a Nissan minibus, which operate on set routes collecting as many passengers as possible en route, with people boarding and disembarking wherever and whenever they choose. Loud music goes along with the ride in these cheap but unregulated and usually overcrowded vehicles that have become part of Kenyan culture. No less risky, but not as colorful, are the local bus services which operate on set routes and schedules through the city streets, renowned for overcrowding and speeding. Taxis are widely available and convenient, usually congregated in the street around hotels and areas frequented by tourists. Taxis are not metered and the fare should be agreed upon before departure. Nairobi taxis are marked with a yellow line along the side of the vehicle, or they are, surprisingly, large black London taxis. The better taxi companies have more modern vehicles, which can be booked by telephone. Three-wheel auto-rickshaws, or 'tuk-tuks' are also used as taxis in Nairobi.
Climate: Situated at a high altitude, Nairobi has a moderate climate.
The Great Rift Valley
The Rift Valley was created millions of years ago when the earth's crust was weakened and it tore apart creating a split thousands of kilometers long down the continent of Africa, up to 62 miles (100km) wide in places. Volcanic eruptions on either side caused the floor to sink into a flat plain creating the Great Rift Valley. It is one of Kenya's characteristic features and divides the country in half, from north to south, with stunning panoramas and beautiful escarpment backdrops. The wide valley is scattered with a few volcanoes and several lakes; it is inhabited by grazing animals, Masai herders and small-town dwellers.
The lakes known for their stunning scenery and variety of bird life include Lakes Naivasha, Elementeita, Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo, are located in the Rift Valley region. The freshwater ecosystems at Lake Naivasha and Baringo, the nature reserve at Lake Bogoria, and the Nakuru National Park are a source of endless fascination, teeming with an incredible diversity of birds and large concentrations of animals. Hell's Gate National Park allows visitors to walk or cycle among the wildlife, and nearby Elsamere Conservation Center provides a look at the life of Joy Adamson and the lioness Elsa, of 'Born Free' fame.
There are more than 20 National Parks & Game Reserves spread throught the country, which are home to abudant wildlife. From the famous Masai Mara National Reserve, home of the wildebeest migrating herds and astounding big cat numbers, Kakamega Forest Reserve which was established to protect the only mid altitude tropical rainforest in Kenya, a remnant and eastern limit of rainforests of Zaire and West Africa affinities are unique in Kenya and the forest contains many species found nowhere else in the country.
Mombasa is the center of activity in the region and Kenya's second largest town. North of Mombasa the coast is lined with resort complexes catering mainly to package tourists, with luxury accommodation, fine cuisine and excellent services. Calm waters and palm-backed beaches are in abundance. Further north is the resort town of Malindi, as well as Watamu Bay, and the islands of the Lamu.
The south coast was once remote and inaccessible, covered in lush forest and renowned for its slave trade and tropical plantations, but today little of the forest remains and it has become part of Kenya's mainstream tourism. The region's popularity is due to its image as an idyllic haven with white beaches and azure waters, where sheltered waters protected by coral reefs invite underwater exploration. The coast is host to a wide range of resorts offering excellent facilities, but also has many less developed getaways. Further south the small fishing village of Shimoni is home to a series of deep coastal caves and is a popular base for diving and deep-sea fishing.
The Kenyan coast is lined with a mixture of beautiful white sand beaches and tourist resorts, interspersed with Arab and Portuguese forts, overgrown ruins of Swahili outposts and old trading port towns that are the remnants of its fascinating history. The first traders along the coast were Arabs from the Persian Gulf and several settlements developed during the 12th century. The Swahili language that evolved as a means of communication between the locals and the Arab traders is still spoken today. Trade continued even after the Portuguese took control of the whole coastal region in 1498 and throughout the towns the architecture reflects the changes in occupation and their cultural differences.
Spectacular coral reefs with colorful plant and fish life provide world-class snorkeling and diving among pristine coral gardens in the pleasantly warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The marine parks at Malindi, Watamu Bay and Shimoni contain undisturbed coral reefs and enormous fish due to the lack of coastal fishing traffic.
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