Kenya Facts / kenya Tourism

20 Things to know before traveling to Kenya

This is in Kenya.

I travelled to Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. So far, I have only travelled in Southern Africa. Kenya was supposed to be my first country in East Africa. The country with coastline on the Indian Ocean is a combination of stunningly beautiful beaches, rich African culture and abundant wildlife. I got to travel in Kenya for 10 days and can’t recommend adding Kenya to your bucket list enough – it is worth it. I put together a list of 20 things for you to know before traveling to Kenya:

1. Language I Kenya Country

The national language in Kenya is Swahili, which is a mixture of Arabic, Portuguese and Local Bantu languages. Swahili is spoken in a few other countries which includes Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. English is the other official language in Kenya.

2. Money / ATM´s

The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling (KSH). Especially in the rural areas you might not find an ATM easily. Also not all of them accept VISA or Mastercard.  Always make sure you get your money sorted in the bigger city and you have a bit of cash when traveling to the rural areas. Also what I experienced in almost every African country is that there is a withdrawal limit per day which is about 10.000 – 40,000 KSH (approx. 80 EUR – 320 EUR).

3. African National Parks and Safaris

Kenya is one of the number one safari destinations in Africa. The area around Nairobi and down to Masai Mara is Masai territory, the best known and most famous tribe in Kenya. The Masai subsist on their own livestock (goats, sheep, cattle). They have always used their land for grazing and pasture and have always coexisted with the wild animals. This is why you find the best game viewing options in the National Parks that are located in the Masai areas which includes Nairobi National Park, Amboseli National Park and Masai Mara Game Park.

This is an Elephant at Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya.

4. Plugs

In Kenya the power sockets are type G.

5. Yellow Fever

When traveling to Kenya you will need a yellow fever certificate if coming from a country with risk of yellow fever. I know that you don´t need one when traveling from Europe. Even when not coming from a yellow fever area but want to carry on with your travels to another African country make sure you have a yellow fever certificate. Personally, I was asked when traveling back to South Africa to show my certificate. Please double check with the requirement of the country you are traveling to and from.

Tourradar

6. Best time to travel

Kenya is famous for its Kenyan safaris and its white endless beaches but this is dependent on when you travel to Kenya- especially in terms of seasonal safari.  If you come to Kenya for some game drives it’s an all year round thing but July to September is peak season as this is the time when you can witness the Wildebeest Migration. Be aware that this is also the most expensive season. If you are not coming to see the Migration then Masai Mara offers the best game drive options throughout the entire year. If you come to Kenya for beach holidays on the coast then January to March is the best time for you to travel and July to October is the best time to combine a safari and a beach tour.

This is the Kilifi Creek in Kilifi, a coastal town in Kenya.

7. Tipping

People working in bars and restaurants are dependent on tips as their salary is quite low. If you go to a bar or a restaurant, at least 10% is recommended.

8. Local food and drinks

There is a strong influence of the Arabic and Indian cuisine in Kenya. When in Kenya please try some of the following local food like:

  • Chapati with beans in coconut sauce
  • Chicken Biryani and rice
  • Aliya, Osuga, Kachumbari and Ugali
  • Mukimo and Nyama Choma

This is a traditional Kenyan dish called Mukimo and Nyama choma

To find out what exactly that is and to find more recommendations, read my post.

9. How to get around/Public Transport

9.1. uber

Uber works in Mombasa and Nairobi but the service is not as good as other big cities in the world (for instance in Cape Town). I took uber going from the airport in Mombasa to my hotel and going from my hotel to the airport in Nairobi and it worked perfectly. Avoid ordering uber during rush hours as your driver might not arrive and also don’t rely too heavily on them. Always have a second option.

9.2. Matatus

For those who want to travel local the Matatus, colorfully designed buses, can take you basically everywhere around the country and don´t charge you an arm and a leg. Keep in mind, it will take you a while especially when traveling long distances. From Mombasa to Kilifi (a distance of about 60 km) I paid about 1,50 EUR. My advice: don’t take Matatus in the evening or at night. Rather book a shuttle with the place you are staying or take an uber.

This is a Tuk Tuk, a way of transport in Kenya.

9.3. Boda Boda/ Tuk Tuk

Another way of getting around in the cities and villages are the Boda Boda (motorbikes) and Tuk Tuks which are still cheap but compared to the Matatus more expensive. If you use a Boda Boda please ask the driver for a helmet as most of them don´t provide helmets which is super dangerous.

9.4. train/ plane

If you want to get from Nairobi to Mombasa there is a good train connection (one way approx. 25 EUR). Flying is not that expensive either. Find the best deal here:

10. e-pesa

In Kenya, a bigger % of bills are paid via M-pesa ? M-pesa is an app on your phone where you upload money and can pay easily with your phone. M-pesa started off in Kenya and has since spread to other countries.

11. Kenyan People

Malawi is called `The warm hearth of Africa´ due to their super friendly and welcoming people. I found Kenya to be the same. Besides the locals, you will also find lots of expats in Kenya. In the area of Malindi you can find many Italians and in the area of Nairobi you find many expats from all over the world due to the UN that is based there and the numerous amount of embassies.

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12. Traffic and rush hour

Especially in Nairobi and Mombasa traffic during rush hour can be crazy. A stretch of 1- 2 kilometers between 6-9 a.m. and 4-6p.m. can easily take you 2 -3 hours. Carefully plan your day outside of those times.

13. Malaria

Malaria does exist in Kenya. Almost all the lodges, guesthouses and backpackers have mosquito nets. Still, make sure you take every possible precaution.

14. Places to see

  • Mount Kenya
  • Nairobi (read my post about my daytrip in Nairobi here)

This is at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi.

  • Kilifi (10 Things to do in Kilifi you are going to find here)
  • Mombasa (10 Things to do in Mombasa you are going to find here)
  • Diani Beach
  • Masai Mara
  • Amboseli National Park
  • Lake Naivasha

Here you can find the full itinerary of my 10 day trip to Kenya.

15. Places to stay

Here you can find places I stayed at as well as ones recommended by friends and Kenyan locals alike. Please bear in mind that especially in Nairobi and Mombasa it is really difficult to find good budget places.

16. Kenya Visa

Many nationalities need a visa to travel to Kenya. You can apply online in advance or get your visa at the airport upon arrival. I paid 40 EUR for my visa at the airport.

17. Sim Card/ Data/ Wifi

When I travel to a certain country I always get myself a local sim card with some airtime (call time/text time) and data.

In Kenya you can find the following main provider: Safaricom, Airtel, Telkom. I got a sim card from Safaricom with 1 GB data and 300 KSH airtime which came to a total of 1000 KSH (10 EUR).  It is supposed to be the best network. Depending on the area or the place you are staying but the Wifi is not always that good – especially in the rural areas and so I used my phone as a hotspot for my laptop.

18. Safety

Most people might think traveling alone as a woman in Africa is always going to be tricky. I flew from Cape Town to Nairobi, and then to Mombasa. From Mombasa I traveled by means of public transport (Matatu, Tuc Tuc and Boda Boda (motorbike)) during the day. I booked myself a taxi to the airport in Mombasa through my hostel as I had to leave at 4 a.m. and in Kilifi there was no uber available. Using uber in Nairobi at 5 a.m. was totally fine. Traveling the way I just mentioned and walking around especially in the rural areas and smaller cities I felt totally safe.

My recommendation:

  • Use your common sense
  • Ask the people you are staying with or your hotel staff if it is safe where you are planning on going and during the time you are planning on going

This is Kenya, a country in East Africa.

19. Tap Water

People that are not used to African water shouldn’t drink it. Even locals don’t drink it as there used to be problems with it back in the day. Rather be safe and get yourself bottled water. You could take things a step further and invest in a lifestraw, this lets you drink water from any watering hole.

20. Security checks

You might experience security check quite often for example in shopping centers, at the airport… There was an attack at a shopping center a few years ago that´s why the police are more careful now. However, it made me feel safer having them checking.

Check out my video:

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Would you like to read and see more about my Africa trips? Here we go!

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It stands March 2018