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Why Nairobi has upstaged Paris as the best city to visit

 A view of the Nairobi CBD. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The jury is out. Nairobi, the much-vaunted 'green city under the sun' has finally upstaged Paris as the destination of choice for 2024, according to the global travel guide, Lonely Planet.

The Kenyan capital also beat other globally acclaimed cities such as Montreal in Canada, Philadelphia and Kansas, both in the United States and Jakarta, Indonesia for the 'Best in Travel 2024' slot.

According to Lonely Planet, Nairobi has overcome its colonial past to emerge as one of the world's social capital, drawing thousands of visitors from all corners of the world every year.

"Kenya's capital is staking its claim as a global centre of culture, sizzling with unmissable travel experiences. The city is shrugging off the colonial gaze and embracing its unique rhythms, with a dynamic array of restaurants, food carts and cafes, along with a steady rotation of arts and cultural venues that all fuel a distinct Nairobi cool," states Lonely Planet.

One of the key attractions cited by Lonely Planet is Nairobi National Park, the oldest in Kenya, where animals roam freely with only three sides fenced to keep of the animals from nearby residential areas.

"Add in its namesake national park teeming with wildlife within easy reach of the city centre, and you've got yourself an unforgettable trip," Lonely Planet adds.

Few know that the area where Nairobi National Park lies was used by British soldiers as a training ground during World War I and II, indiscriminately killing wild animals. Mervyn Cowie, the park's first director stated: "The area which is now Nairobi National Park had been ravaged by military needs of two world wars; it had been used as training ground and depot areas, with the animals acting as living targets. It took a hell of a hammering."

Cowie was instrumental in setting up the park despite stiff opposition from settlers who saw no need to set aside land for wild animals in a region earmarked for the largest human settlement in the country.

Several Kenyan celebrities, musicians and artists featured in Lonely Planet describe what makes Nairobi tick and why it is worth visiting.

"In Nairobi, you will see matatus everywhere. The thing about matatus is the art and graffiti that are so unique to Nairobi and you are not going to see them anywhere else in the world," says singer and songwriter, Patricia Kihoro.

Others spoke of the culinary experiences such as chapati and spiced stews shaped by the heavy Indian presence in the city.

For Blinky Bill, a musician, that irresistible slice of mutura that keeps young ladies lining up to the fellow in a faded overcoat defines the urban hype in the evenings.

"Mutura, a type of African sausage, is peak Nairobi street food, especially after an epic night out," he says.

The mutura goes hand in hand with smokey kachumbari, another Nairobi delicacy now carving a niche of its own not to mention the informal kibanda cuisine that has gained popularity among Nairobians during lunch hour and which gets a favourable mention among Nairobi's culinary highlights.

Lonely Planet also highlights the Maasai culture that is steeply ingrained in city life through the popular Maasai market in various parts of the city. In fact, Nairobi grew out of a small railway settlement in a region long used by the Maasai as a watering ground for their cattle, hence the name Uaso Nyrobi, 'a place of cool waters'.

It was never meant to be a city. In 1899, the year the railway construction reached Nairobi, it was not meant to be anything more than a camping ground and depot for construction materials before tackling the daunting Rift Valley escarpment.

Railway engineer Ronald Preston had unsavoury words about the location. "A bleak, swampy stretch of soggy landscape, wind-swept, devoid of human habitation of any sort, the resort of thousands of wild animals of every species. The only evidence of the occasional presence of humankind was the old caravan track skirting the bog-like plains."

But shortly thereafter, Nairobi captured the imagination of kings, queens, princes and presidents initially drawn by the abundance of wildlife within the vicinity.

Theodore Roosevelt and members of the British royal family are among those who made game hunting forays around the capital and were part of the foreigners of popularised the Swahili word safari, one of the few to make it into the English dictionary.

As Lonely Planet narration concludes, "Nairobi is about being loud, intense and love".

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