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Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is a city of myth and mystery, a gateway to an array of East Africa's most dramatic game preserves and national parks as well as a cosmopolitan business, trade and tourism center with one of the world's most active stock markets.
With a population of more than 1.1 million, it is Kenya's largest city. Yet, perhaps because it lies so near such major wildlife parks as the Nairobi National Park, TsavoNational Park and the Masai Mara Reserve, this thoroughly modern city seems well attuned to its natural surroundings. Even its name -- from the Masai "enkare nyarobi " -- means "Place of Cool Waters." It's also known as the "Green City in the Sun."
Sun and water play major roles here, in this mile-high city a mere 90 miles from the equator. The rainiest months of April and May are enough to dampen even the hardiest oftourist's wanderlust, but most of the year its temperate warmth and proximity to parks make Nairobi a major destination for thousands of tour groups and organized safaris.
Nairobi is a modern place, with little history before its founding a century ago as the headquarters for the Uganda Railway's Kenyan extension, being built between Kisumu, then called Port Florence, on Lake Victoria and Mombasa, then the capital, on the Indian Ocean. During the railway construction, a man-eating lion -- some said a demon indisguise -- preyed on the workers, spawning one of Kenya's most horrific legends. The Michael Douglas-Val Kilmer flick The Ghost in the Darkness was based on that toothsome terror.
In 1899, the railway made its way to Nairobi, the approximate midway point between Mombasa and Port Florence, and railway headquarters buildings, workers' housing andattendant businesses sprung up in the former Masai farmland along the Nairobi River. The settlement quickly became a city, and in 1905, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as the capitalcity.
Though most leisure travelers to Nairobi use the city as a staging area for the nearby parks and preserves, Nairobi has its share of attractions worth visiting. Among the major sights: The Nairobi Railway Museum, which has a chilling exhibit on the killer lion legend; the National Museum, with exhibits on Kenya's cultural and natural history; and, for the slithering set, the Snake Park, with squirming pits of East African reptiles.