Post Summary: Kenya travel tips you should know
When we first decided we would travel around Africa, we knew that a trip to Kenya could not be missed. After selling our beloved Land Cruiser in Uganda we hopped on a flight over to see what Kenya had to offer.
From the plains of the Masai Mara to buzzing Nairobi to laid back Swahili beach vibes these are the Kenya travel tips to keep in the back of your head.
Out Top Kenya Travel Tips
Nairobi isn’t that bad
Nairobi, or “Nairobbery” has a strong reputation for being unsafe. Before we landed in Africa years ago, I heard terrifying stories about visitors in Nairobi. We arrived with very few expectations of the city but were pleasantly surprised with Nairobi.
Not only did we feel safe, but the city is packed with hip restaurants, rooftop bars, trendy coffeehouses, and beautiful hotels. Not only that but Nairobi National Park is the only national park in the world that lies next to a capital city with other animal refugees and orphanages scattered about the city.
As always – stay out of bad neighborhoods, don’t walk alone at night, and use universal common sense, and Nairobi might even become your favorite African city.
Kenya is the Africa you think of
Endless plains of grass, ancient tribal warriors, and teeming with wildlife. It’s the Africa of your dreams. If you have been considering traveling to Africa for the first time, Kenya may be the place for you. Portrayed in countless movies, books, and nature documentaries Kenya is well known.
Education is King in Kenya
Speaking of African movies, have you checked out the movie “The First Grader?” It’s the tale of Kimani Maruge, an 81-year-old man who decides to go to primary school for the first time when the Kenyan government made it free.
The story is true, and Maruge is considered somewhat of a hero throughout the country. The motivation to learn in Kenya is extraordinary, with literacy rates around 85%.
The Economy is Booming
While Kenya is still a developing country, it’s important to note that it still has the most powerful economy in East Africa. It only took a few days in the country’s capital for us to realize the nation is unlike most of its African counterparts.
There is a growing middle class, infrastructure, and a strong business sector. We happened to visit right before the 2017 elections, and it seemed most Kenyans were hopeful about the prospect of their country. That being said, the wealth divide in Kenya was also one of the most apparent we have seen in Africa. Only rivaled that of South Africa.
One of my top Kenya travel tips is to go on a safari there! Make sure to pack your bag with your safari clothes because if you’re headed to Kenya, you should partake in at least one safari.
The name safari comes from the Swahili meaning “journey” or “trip.” It is close to the city at Nairobi National Park, the famous Masai Mara, Amboseli, or Tsavo. Game spotting here is top-notch, and the Kenyan Wildlife Service takes pride in their country’s natural landscapes and wildlife.
Kenya is your African movie
Out of Africa was the best picture winner of 1988 and possibly one of Robert Redford’s best films. The movie was based on Karen Blixen’s account of her time in colonial Kenya. What other big-time movies are set in Kenya? How about “I Dreamed of Africa,” based on Kuki Gallman’s novel. Or “The Constant Gardener” telling the tale of pharmaceutical corruption…yup, that was Kenya too!
Obviously, not all movies about Africa are set in Kenya, but many of those dramatized Hollywood flicks are. If you want to live out an African movie, then grab your gramophone and head to Kenya.
The Kenyan Shillings is the currency in Kenya and is currently valued at 100:1 to the US Dollar. USD newer than 2006 is widely accepted at many establishments around the country. We also have no problem using our credit card in Nairobi. I wouldn’t call Kenya a cheap destination – far from it, actually.
National park and conservancy fees can range anywhere from $40-$120 per day for foreigners. If you plan on staying in a lodge, hotel, or eating, you can also expect to pay a high price for those luxuries. The “cheap” hotel we regularly use in Nairobi costs around $100 USD a night.
Boda Boda’s, Piki-Piki’s, and Matatu’s
No, those aren’t the names of some far-off African-inspired cocktail. They are some of the main modes of transport in Kenya. Boda Bodas are bicycles for short distances, while Piki-piki’s are motorcycle taxis. These operate in smaller towns and cities and are a popular way to get around.
Watch the Boda Boda’s and piki pikis weave in and out of traffic and get passengers to destinations in half the time a car can. Matatus are the cheapest and most efficient way to get around for locals. Matatus or minibusses are hard to miss with blaring music, custom paint jobs, and neon lights.
None of these modes of transport is the safest option by any means, but they are fun and flexible and allow you to get more into local Kenyan life.
Those Coastal Vibes
Kenya isn’t just good for safaris, but the Kenyan Coast also boasts white sand beaches and is the perfect place to come for peace and quiet on the Indian Ocean. Malindi, Watamu, Diani Beach, and Lamu all have that Swahili vibe that can also be found on the Tanzanian coast.
Some of the best food in Kenya can be found on the coast, and some of the most interesting architecture and culture.
Like Tanzania, the main language in Kenya is Swahili, and learning some basic phrases will definitely enhance your experience with the locals. If you venture into the country’s west, you will undoubtedly come across the Masai people.
The Maasai all speak Maa, but most understand Swahili as well. However, lodges, tourist attractions, and everyday people will likely speak English in Nairobi. It’s common for many Kenyans to speak a mix of Swahili and English when conversing.
Essential Items For a Kenyan Safari
Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
- Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.