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25 Kenya Travel Tips for First Timers

Kenya Travel Tips

 

East of the vast African lands is Kenya, a country that is a neighbor to other five more including Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, South Sudan, and Tanzania. These countries have promising tourism, and are rich with cultural and historical heritage. We decided to go to Kenya, the country with the most distinct and spectacular locations.

Kenya stands out in terms of attractions. It is highly recommended to visit the country due to its wildlife safaris, forests and divergent deserts, iconic landforms, and white sand beaches. Its people are also rich in culture and history, which makes them unique and fascinating. Because of that, we want to treat them according to their culturally accepted behaviors and norms. We would also wish to get the most knowledge we can before flying there to smoothly interact with our beloved Kenyans.

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For sure, you want to make the most of your travel in Kenya. But you should need a guide, perhaps to answer your travel queries such as ‘Is it safe there?’, ‘What should I bring there?’, ‘What place should  I visit?’

Here’s 25 Kenya Travel Tips to help you sort out your questions

1. Do You Need a Visa for Kenya?

Kenya Visa

It is a requisite for Filipino citizens to obtain an e-visa prior to travelling to Kenya. For travelers whose purpose is for tourism, they should apply at http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html and undergo three process: creating an account, applying and paying, and downloading.

Since application is online, it would not be a hassle anymore to go to a Kenyan embassy or consulate. Despite that, you need to secure necessary documents and information such as a passport, a scan of your passport’s bio page, a digital passport photo, return flight ticket, proof of accommodation, travel itinerary, an email address, and an acceptable mode of payment (like a credit or debit card).

Usually, it takes three (3) days to process your e-visa. However, they do batch processing which may take up more time that intended. Because of this, we suggest that you apply for a visa at least a week before your flight. In my case, I called the embassy and was instructed to print out the paid voucher amounting 51 USD (roughly around Php 2,600) and get my visa upon arrival. So if your e-visa approval is taking too long than usual, print your invoice and you can get your visa when you arrive in Kenya.

Kenya is also part of the East Africa Visa together with Uganda and Rwanda. It would be cheaper to get the east africa visa if you are visiting all three countries but you should apply for this in the country which you will first enter. 

2. Yellow Fever Vaccination

The Kenyan government mandates tourist to present a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate especially for countries with risk of Yellow Fever transmission. Fortunately for Philippines, it is not included among the list. Even for Kenya, the country has low risk too (unlike to some African and American countries), so you need not to worry. However, it comes handy so you should probably get yours, too, when at the airport. It costs 25 USD (2,500 KES).

When I landed at the in Kenya, I was not asked to present the Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. But when I was leaving to head to Bangkok and Myanmar, they won’t let me aboard unless I present one.So, might as well get yours for assurance. You don’t want to be turned away at the border.

3.Wifi/Data

The best way to get connected is to get your wifi and data plans at the airport. This will be the most convenient means of having internet connection as you travel around Kenya. As of 2019, there are four (4) network operators in the country which are Safaricom, Airtel-Telkom, and Faiba. Among the four, only Safaricom and Airtel has 4G/LTE network, which means the two has the most advanced network coverage among the options.

The government is strict in terms of obtaining sim cards. So to get one, you will be asked to present an identification card or passport. You should also register it immediately to adhere to the law, or avoid getting suspended. This is also one of the reasons why fewer smaller stores are selling it now.

Safaricom, the network which has the widest coverage, offers monthly data bundles. Here are its packages and its price:

Data Price
2 GB 500 KES 4.82 USD PHP 248.50
5 GB 1,000 KES 9.64 USD PHP 497
15 GB 2,000 KES 19.28 USD PHP 999
25 GB 3,000 KES 28.91 USD PHP 1,491

         Meanwhile, Airtel is the second biggest market player next to Safaricom. It offers 4G/LTE    to Nairobi and other major towns. The following are its plans with its price:

Data Price
1 GB* 300 KES 2.89 USD PHP 149
4 GB* 500 KES 4.82 USD PHP 248.5
10 GB** 1,000 KES 9.64 USD PHP 497
15 GB** 1,500 KES 14.46 USD PHP 745
25 GB** 2,000 KES 19.28 USD PHP 994
40 GB** 3,000 KES 28.92 USD PHP 1,491
*Free WhatsApp **Free WhatsApp and 5 GB YouTube

If going to more remote areas, it is best to use Safaricom even though it is more expensive than Airtel. But if staying in main towns and cities, you can choose Airtel.

Also, make sure than you never ever lose your sim card’s plate. It is the card where your sim is attached when you purchased. You can take a picture just to be sure. The sim  card needs a code each time to open it. If your phone suddenly shuts off or you ran out of battery and your phone dies, you will be asked to enter this pin when your phone starts. If you don’t have the number, then you might as well buy a new sim card. I tried calling the hotline and they couldn’t help me. They told me to go to the nearest Safaricom, which in the safaris or national parks is not that easy so best you keep the pin number.

4. Visit the Magical Kenya booth at the Airport for more tips and Assistance

To give you light, Magical Kenya is a tourism board which is designed to help tourist in their travel needs in Kenya. They offer suggestions of what activities to do, which places to visit, and even safe places to stay. In other words, it’s a help desk for tourists who needs assistance.

When I was at the airport, I was assisted by Nelson and Edmond for both the Yellow Fever card and gave me maps and more information about the city,  They were really friendly and all. So if you need some aid for your travel matters, approach the Magical Kenya booth immediately. They are amongst the reliable persons who can help you in your travel.

5.How to get from the Airport to the city

Like in any country, even when in Georgia, taxis are lining up at the airport exit which will try to lure you into riding but for a higher price. To avoid this, download apps such as Bolt (formerly Taxify) or Uber in advance to sort out your ride. You can connect to the airport’s wifi, or use your existing data (assuming that you already have your tourist sim card).

If by any chance you don’t have a phone or means to connect to the internet,opt for the yellow taxi. Their rates are fixed and is printed out, so you have the slightest chance to be tricked. You can also haggle a bit, see if they can slash even just a tiny amount from the fare. Nevertheless, the price they give you is reliable because the whole trip is monitored. In fact, they are that trustworthy that even if you left something, you can follow them up. But then, try not to.

You can also ride a bus for a more economical option. It usually runs around every 20 minutes, so be careful to catch them when you see it. A ride from the airport to the city center costs about 35 KES (0.34 USD).

If not, there are mini-buses and shuttle services. A mini-bus ride costs about 40 KES (0.39 USD) while a shuttle is around 90 KES (8.67 USD).

6. Be Prepared for Airport Queues/ Lines

One problem you can encounter at the airport is the long queue. If your time of arrival is on midday, or rush hours, you may suffer the hassle of long lines at sim cards, ATMs, visas, and yellow fever card.

In my case, I arrived close to midnight so I did not experience battling at the busy airport. It was an easy transaction for me. But just in case, whatever time you arrive, make sure to arrive at the airport really early.

7.Airport Security and Security in Kenya

Speaking of long lines, here’s one of the reasons why you can’t get through the airport as swiftly as you wish—security checks. Kenya was just attacked by terrorists early this year (2019) and its neighboring countries are quite giving ethnic tensions. So to keep you and the residents safe, they do vigorous check points.

At the airport gate, security checks will welcome you. You may need to remove a lot of things just to get through, such as content of your bag or luggage. You’ll not just have to undergo one, but a lot! In fact, saying “a lot” is an understatement.

They also do the same at hotels. For instance, I stayed at Radisson Blu, and was asked to get off the car just for normal security check up. Then went back again to reach the lobby entrance. It was exhausting and can make you a bit impatient, but it’s for your own good so politely comply.

10.Traffic in Kenya ( Kenya Travel Tips)

You sure have experienced bad traffic in the Philippines or other countries such as in Bangkok, India, and Vietnam. Be prepared to experience that, too, in Kenya. Its capital, Nairobi, is entitled to be one of the most congested cities in the world. So if you have schedules, make sure to arrive earlier. If the destination is within the proximity, you can also choose to walk.

11.Is Kenya safe for solo female travelers?

Basically, there’s no such thing as being 100% safe in places around the world. You have to constantly mind about yourself and your belongings. When I was in Kenya, I did not experience being harmed, so I can say it’s quite safe there. But I suggest you also make measures that will not attract mishaps, like staying vigilant all the time, securing your personal belongings, not showing off expensive things, and riding at reputable taxis.  If looking for a ride, always use your Uber, Bolt, Stik app. That way, you can avoid certain opportunist drivers or people.

As much as possible, do not go out at night to wander the streets. Once, we wanted to do so, but the guards warned us not to. That is the only time I felt unsafe. Other than that incident, Kenya is fine for female solo travelers.

12. Kenyans are really Friendly

One of the highlights in my travel to Kenya is my encounter to its friendly people. I observed how respectful they are to others, and how valuable morality is to them. They strongly embrace what is morally right, beautiful, and true. So despite taking about how we should be careful around certain types of people in Kenya, rest assured that many are those who would offer you help, just like my experience in the Magical Kenya booth. Over all, the people are loving. They would love to share their passion of their culture and traditions to help you.

13.Booking Flights

Most will have to reach Kenya by plane. More flights will be available as the dry season approaches but it is best to book your flights further than that. Doing this can save you money, especially if you are mindful of other fees such as for the baggage. One money saver is availing a combination of a full-service airline and low-cost carrier.

14.MPESA

M-Pesa (M stands for mobile, while “Pesa” is the Swahili term for money) is a mobile-based system that allows Kenyans to transfer money, pay bills, or avail other online services even without a bank account. They just need to have a Kenyan sim (preferably Safaricom) and register to M-Pesa to use it.

Even tourists can use M-Pesa for their transactions. Simply get a Safaricom sim and have a Safaricom agent assist your registration. You will need your valid passport to sign up, so do not forget to bring it with you. If successfully activate for M-Pesa, you can enjoy services such as sending money, withdrawing cash, buying airtime, applying for loans and savings and paying bills (Lipa na M-Pesa). You can visit

15.Do You Need Malaria Pills?

Malaria can be a serious problem of the country but it is not enough reason for tourists to be terrified. First, it is not really rampant overall Kenya, except for places near the coast. Second, there are anti-malaria medications you can take to not be infected. It is classified as over-the-counter medicine so you do not have to worry about prescriptions. Unless you have other health conditions, better consult your doctor just to be sure.

16.Local Drink

Trying the local drinks in Kenya will ‘booze’ your travel experience in the country. Just like its delicacies, its drinks tell a different side of Kenya. Two of its famous drinks are the flagship brand Tusker lager and a generic wine called mnazi. A Tusker is a local lager named after a famous elephant. It is very popular and served almost everywhere in Kenya. They also have Tusker Malt Lager and White Cap Lager.

In rural areas, however, Kenyans serve mnazi, a naturally fermented wine from the coconut palm tree. It is also called pombe ya mnazi and is similar to Philippine’s tuba. When buying a drink, make sure that you are over 18, or you will face lawful consequences.

Kenya is also famous for the controversial Changaa and Busaa. Busaa is made of fermented millet, maize and sorghum. But when distilled, it becomes changaa. It was banned before due to its health risks from its added toxic ingredients, processing and storing. Though the government already lifted the ban under several conditions, it is still necessary to be extra careful in taking such drinks.

If not into alcohol, why not try the Kenyan ginger tea? It is locally called chai ya tangawizi. It is made from brewed ginger, milk, sugar and black tea; and is perfect for eating Kenyan recipe pastries.

17.Simple Languages

Aside from the fun, learning at least a few basic Swahili terms can help you in your everyday dealings with people in Kenya. Almost all of them speak English because it is one of the official languages. But a greater portion speaks Swahili (second official language). Here are some words you can surely use:

Hello Jambo
Thank you Asante
Thank you very much Asante sana
Good bye Kwa Heri
Please Tafadhali
Nice to meet you Nafurahi kukuona
Okay Sawa
Excuse me Samahani
I don’t understand Sielewi
Can you help me? Tafadhali, naomba msaada

18.Safaris

Kenya is everything you think of Africa, especially when we talk about safari. Two of the best visited safaris in Kenya are the Masai Mara National Reserve and Nairobi National Park.

Masai Mara National Reserve

Sunrise at Porini cheetah Camp
Hearing the jungle come to life from above this rock is amazing

Perhaps, this safari park is the most famous of all in Kenya. It is known for the herds that visit and stays in the place due to the Great Wilderbeest Migration which happens in June to October. During these months, Masai lions, African leopards, Tanzanian cheetahs, zebras, gazelle and wildebeests can be seen all over the place.

You can get there through a local flight which offers 40-minute trip from Nairobi. If travelling by land, journey can take about 5 hours. It is best to get a three-day guided tour to have a full grasp of the safari experience. It usually cost at least 305 USD (roughly Php 15,741 or KSh 31,634) for the said three-day tour, but exposure to the wild is worthwhile.


          Read about My Masai Mara Experience 


Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park Animals

You might get confused, but there is really a national park in the city. The park is said to be the first of Kenya’s and is unique because of the skyscraper sight at the wildlife park itself. Activities you can do ranges from a simple stroll to see its wild inhabitants, going to the traditional tribal village display (such as the Bomas of Kenya), visiting the animal orphanage, and stoping by at the animal nurseries. The highlight of the park are the black rhinos, so you should probably find it there in your trip.

Fee for admission varies depending on your citizenship. If a local citizen or a working foreigner in the country, price of entrance ticket is lower. For tourists, however, admission costs KSh 4,300 (41.46 USD) for adults and KSh 2,200 (21.21 USD) for children. The park is open every day at 6AM to 7PM and is located at Langata Road, Nairobi. It is the most accessible since it is just south of the city.


Read about my Nairobi National Park Experience and Travel Guide


19.What to pack

Your stay in Kenya may be very different from the rest of your travel in other parts of the world. In fact, preparation for Kenya requires a lot of adjustments just like on what to bring. Since flying to Kenya is like signing in Safaris, you have to make sure that you really are Safari ready. Here are the things you should bring:

  • Important documents such as airline tickets, passport, visa
  • Vaccination certificates (Yellow fever certificate)
  • Itinerary
  • Photocopy of documents if possible
  • Prescription medications
  • Malaria pills
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun screen
  • Insect repellent
  • Eye drops
  • Skin and hair moisturizers
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash
  • Dusk mask
  • Anti-diarrhea medicine, motion sickness tablets
  • Large ziplock bags (to secure your gadgets from getting wet)
  • Small compass
  • Electrical adapters (Type G)
  • Binoculars
  • Travel water bottle
  • Camera gear
  • Safari shirt
  • Safari pants
  • Safari boots
  • Travel towel
  • Clothes that are greens, or khakis to blend in

20.Plastics are not allowed

Eco tourism in Nairobi

As part of their environmental campaign to support wildlife, the government of Kenya imposed plastic bag ban in 2017. In this act, anyone who is manufacturing, using, selling or distributing carrier bags will face lawful consequences. To avoid serious problems, make sure that you don’t have any plastic bags in your belongings or luggage. Dispose them while still at the airport (in your country) to avoid hassle and charges.

21.Kenya plug and adapter

One common problem for tourists in Kenya is their plug and socket. They use the type G plug which has a standard voltage of 240 V. This type is characterized by a British three-pin rectangular blade and is rarely used in appliances in the Philippines. In the country and in US, they commonly use type A electrical plug (with two flat parallel pins), and type B (with two flat parallel pins and a circular pin). So to be able to charge your devices, better bring a type G adapter.

22.How to get around

There are a lot of ways, as to how you will get around Kenya. There are domestic flights, car rentals, matatus (minibus), buses, motorbike taxis (piki-piki), bicycle with a padded passenger seat (boda-boda), and taxis.

Domestic flights

Porini Rhino Camp Meru National Park
Air Kenya Flight to Meru

Most of the safari parks have airfields that cater safari clients such as that of Masai Mara. Other than that, there are also flights to the main cities and towns such as to Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale, and Nanyuki. There are also flights to coastal resorts such as in Diani Beach.

There are a lot of airlines that travel back and forth domestically. The prices are also budget friendly. For instance, a city to city trip from Nairobi to Mombasa is averagely 58 USD (Php 3,000 » KSh 6,030). It’s cheaper compared to ballpark return fares because it is not affected by season. Speaking of park fares, a flight from Nairobi to Masai Mara can cost 345 USD (KSh 35, 790) during peak seasons.

Car rentals

You can negotiate to rent for a car because all parks and reserves are open to private vehicles. There is an age requirement though, so you can only rent if you are 23 (minimum age is 25 for others) and above.

Prices vary, but if you choose to rent with a driver-guide, you usually pay an additional Ksh 3,000 (around 29 USD) per day. Check to the renting company if they have collision damage waiver (CDW), theft protection waiver (TPW), and a passenger service vehicle (PSV) license. These documents will at least lessen the bills you’ll pay if something happens to the car, such as if it is napped.

Matatu (Minibus)

MatatuKenya Travel Tips

This is the local name for a minibus and is the main means of transportation to locals. Cost for a matatu ride ranges from KSh 3 to 7 per kilometer. If you are from the airport to the city center, you’ll pay at least KSh 40 (0.39 USD). If you have a baggage, it will not be charged to you unless it’s a huge load. Commonly, matatu’s route is around towns or cities only. But there are also matatus which travel from city to city or town to town. Drivers will not usually try to overcharge you, but if you have doubts, check with other passengers.

Piki-piki/Tuk-tuk (Motorbike Taxi)

Several towns and cities have motorbike taxis which they call piki-piki. Unlike in matatus, fare in piki-piki are not fixed so you have to negotiate first with the driver to a reasonable price. You can ride a piki-piki of you are going on short distances only. They can overcharge you if you do take them in long routes. Also, it is safer to take buses or taxis for distant rides. A piki-piki driver may ask you KSh 100 (»1 USD) for a short distance ride.

Boda-boda (bicycle taxis)

In smaller towns, taxis are not around so you either ride piki-piki or a boda-boda. Boda-boda are bicycle taxis with a padded seat for passengers. Obviously, this is only good for short distances. The minimum fare is around KSh 100 (»1 USD), too. Quite expensive and slow, so if you have other choices, and if it is safe, go for it.

Taxi

Taxis can be found almost at any town and city, even the remote once if it’s a tourist spot. Just like what is mentioned earlier in this article, you have to ride only at reputable taxi companies (such as the yellow taxi) or book ahead in apps like Uber or Bolt (formerly Taxify). Fares in yellow taxi are fixed, so they won’t overcharge you. A ride can cost you around KSh 350 to 600 for short distances.

23.Currency

The currency of Kenya is expressed in Kenyan shilling (Code: KES, Sign: KSh). Since a floating currency, exchange rate may be a little unstable. As of October 2019, the equivalent of 1 US dollar is 103.75 KES (also, 1 USD = PHP 51.58). Bank notes include 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 denominations. Whereas coins can be in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 40 KES.

You’ll be needing KES cash to transact with stores, pay fares, of admission fees. But in big establishments, they usually accept US dollars, too. So if you have, you can use it instead of the KSh. Also, if you registered in M-Pesa, you can use it as a mode of payment especially if the store or shop is accepting virtual disbursements. Despite this, it is still more practical to use local currency with you.

You can exchange your money at any official money exchangers, especially upon your arrival at the country. If you go to “just any shop” or was approached by a black market tout, chances are they’ll overprice the rates, and might even give you counterfeited Kenyan shillings.

If you run out of money, the best way to go exchange is at the nearest bank or ATM. In fact, this is one of the best options since fees in money exchangers at the airports or hotels can be a little higher compared to when you convert your money to KES at an ATM. Usually, you can withdraw up to 40,000 KES at a one-time transaction, though it differs from bank to bank.

24.Best time to visit and where

Kenya has four seasons, and you can visit each part of it throughout the year. From January to March, hot and dry season is experienced. It is followed by long rains because of its hot and wet climate from April to June. Then, Kenya becomes warm and dry during the months of July to October. Which will later on become warm and wet, characterized by short rains, in November and December.

With this, the best time to go to wildlife parks are from the months of January to March, and July to October. Through this months, climate is dry. Also, during the second dry season (July to October), the Great Wildebeest Migration occurs, which allows tourists to see spectacular phenomenon in Masai Mara. In addition, the said months are also good for mountain activities, such as hiking Mount Kenya. However, weather can become unstable depending on time and altitude, so better stay tuned for weather updates if planning to go for a hike.

Meanwhile, those who wanted to experience aquatic adventure shall head to the coast during the months of June to December and January to mid-March. Also, the water is at its clearest during the months of October, November, and March, so these are the best time to do snorkeling or diving.

Whale sharks migrate, too, and they pass by at the Diani Beach during the months of October to April. You better be around the coastal area during these periods, if you wanted to experience whale shark safaris.

25.Is it safe to drink tap water in Kenya

 It is always a good idea to stick with a bottled water. Foreign substances might still be living in the water and it might upset your stomach (or worse than that). So to keep you from sickness, spend an extra Kenyan shilling for a bottled water.

Outside the cities, it is advisable not to drink tap water. If you don’t have a choice, at least bring it to a boil. But as much as possible, drink only bottled water.

26.Tipping in Kenya

Typical workers in Kenya do not really earn a lot. They have meager salaries to suffice their daily needs. So as much as possible, give them tips to show your gratitude. For instance, if you encountered a very polite and flexible taxi driver or waiter, at least pay higher than the fare, or tip at least 10% of the meal price. When going to safari with a guide, they should be given tips of at least 1,000 KES (around 10 USD). That way, they feel that their eagerness to provide good service is rewarded.

27.Food in Kenya

Make sure to try Kenyan specialties when you visit there. Some of their most famous dishes are the following:

Ugali

This is a dish made of maize flour and typically replaces the rice to a meal. It is usually eaten with a meat stew called assupu.

Sukuma Wiki

This is a meal made of sautéed collard greens, onions and tomatoes. The greens are usually mistakenly regarded to spinach or kale. The meal is a side to meaty dishes and is perfect if eaten with ugali.

Nyama Choma

Nyama Choma is a barbecued meat seasoned with salt and pepper. What makes it special is it is served with a spicy tomato relish. The best way to serve it is by accompanying with ugali and eating with your hands.

Mutura

Matura is a sausage but not a typical one. It is made from combined fresh blood and meat added by spices like ginger, scallions, red and green chilies, and garlic. It is perfect if accompanied with a local beer (Tusker lager).

Githeri

Another Kenyan staple is githeri, a one-pot dish made of corn and beans. This is a comfort food and is perfect for any kind of mood. You can eat it plain or with a seasoning of your choice.

Mandazi

Going to the African pastry is the famous mandazi, an African doughnut. It is made with flour, milk, eggs, yeast and sugar, and sometimes added with coconut milk for taste. The dough is fried in oil. It goes well with an African tea in an afternoon after visiting Nairobi National Park.

24.Time zone

Kenya is in the East Africa Time Zone (EAT) and is three (3) hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC+03:00) or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3). Time zone is the same as in Moscow, Arabia and Eastern Europe. To compare, the Philippines is eight (8) hours ahead of GMT, so we are five (5) hours ahead of Kenya which has GMT+3. So for instance, if it is 7:00 AM in the Philippines, it would only be 2:00 AM in Kenya.

Also, Kenya is among the 60% of the world that does not observe daylight saving time as of 2019. This is same as in the Philippines.

25.Do Kenyans speak English?

The official languages in Kenya are Swahili and English. Because of this, you’ll often find local people who you can transact with using the international language. This makes it easier to ask for information or request for an assistance. They tend to be chatty and friendly, too, which is handy especially when in need. But if by chance, you can’t get someone to talk to you in English, head to the Magical Kenya booth at the airport.

Overall, Kenya is such a wonderful place to venture. I thought I already saw and experience a lot in my travels, but Kenya has so much unique things to offer. It’s like a journey to an unfamiliar world. The vastness of species and wondrous creations draw me closer to nature, closer than any places have taken me. Truly, Kenya is one of the best places to visit, an opportunity no one should ever miss.

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