When you think of an adventure in Africa, think about travelling to Kenya. This beautiful country in East Africa offers a wide range of things to do, whether you are interested in a jeep safari, a white sandy beach, or a hike some meters away from sea level. Planning a trip can be daunting, but you do not have to overthink when it comes to Kenya. We put together a list of things you need to know before travelling to Kenya.
#1. You Will Need a Visa.
Before COVID, most nationalities could enter Kenya without a visa or would get a visitor’s pass at the port of entry. However, things have changed, and you must apply for a visitor’s visa online before coming to Kenya. You can do both the application and the payment online. Also, you will be required to print it in colour and present it at the port of entry.
A Kenyan tourist visa is usually valid for 90 days. However, suppose you wish to extend your stay in Kenya. In that case, you can apply for an extension online (sometimes the website doesn’t work) or physically go to the main immigration offices in Nairobi to get an extension.
READ MORE: 19 Breathtaking Things To Do in Kenya.
#2. You will Need Vaccines If It’s Your First Time.
When travelling to Kenya for the first time, you will be required to get the following vaccines;
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)
- Tetanus, Diphtheria & Pertussis (TDAP)
However, it is good to consult your doctor to see which other vaccines they would recommend for your visit. Requirements for the vaccination may vary depending on which region in Kenya you are visiting.
#3. Tipping is not a must in Kenya, but it is appreciated.
Depending on the service and the quality of food, you can tip. Anything b between 10%-15%. Many hotels prefer you sign off the bill if you have accommodation with them, but you can still use cash to tip the service or Mpesa (mobile money)
#4. Making Payments
The currency used in Kenya is mostly the Kenyan shilling. $1 is the equivalent of ksh. 118 as of July 2022. Paying in Kenya is mostly done using Mpesa. Mpesa is a mobile phone-based money transfer service, payments, and micro-financing service, launched in 2007 by Vodafone and Safaricom, the largest mobile network operator in Kenya. Mpesa allows you to deposit and withdraw money on your phone, send it to other Safaricom mobile users, and make payments in almost all stores, regardless of the store’s size in Kenya.
To use Mpesa in Kenya, you must register for a Safaricom sim card. Other means of payment include cash, cards are accepted in major stores and most restaurants, but if you intend to buy something from small vendors by the roadside, cash or mpesa are your only options.
When paying, you will hear people talking about bob, don’t get lost; it means a shilling, so for example, if someone tells you something costs twenty bob, it means twenty shillings.
#5. Sim Cards & Mobile Internet.
Getting a phone sim card or an esim while in Kenya is easy. If you intend to stay for over a week or come back later, getting a sim card while in Kenya will be a good idea to help with calls, internet connection, and mobile payments, as discussed earlier.
There are several mobile providers in Kenya, but it is advisable for you to get a Safaricom sim card. Safaricom is the largest provider with coverage even in the interior parts of Kenya. In addition, Mpesa, which is from Safaricom, is accepted countrywide as a means of payment.
A Safaricom sim card costs ksh.100, which equals $1. After getting the sim card, you can purchase the various available data plans by dialing *544# and then follow the prompts, or you can download my Safaricom app on your phone for android click here for IOS click here and purchase data plans from the app’s dashboard.
Depending on where you are going, you can use various means of transport while in Kenya. Uber and other similar apps are very common in Nairobi and major cities. Matatus, which are minivans used as a public means of transport, are very common and can be accessed even in the interior parts of Kenya. There are also public buses that cover short distances of Nairobi and its environs and some that go to long distances like Mombasa, Kisumu, and Kakamega.
Bodaboda is also a very common means of transport: a taxi motorbike. However, be careful with these. Though Kenya’s driving is crazy, Boda Bodas are rough but a fast means of getting places even with the heavy traffic in major towns like Nairobi. Tuktuk is also very common in Kenya, especially in Mombasa and other coastal towns. They are an easy, cheap way of getting from point A to point B. Whatever you do, make sure you ride a matatu in Kenya and Nairobi especially, it’s crazy, but the thrill is worth it. You won’t die, I promise.
If you want to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa, there is a train that goes on that route. Domestic flights are also available to major tourist destinations like Maasai Mara, Mombasa, and Kisumu. Depending on the town you plan on visiting, check whether there are flights to that town.
#7. Language and the people.
English and Swahili are the most common languages in major cities and towns. Other local languages are also prevalent, but if the local people suspect you do not understand, they quickly switch and try English.
While in Kenya, try to learn a few Swahili words; the local people will appreciate you for that. Foreigners are hugely greeted using “Jambo,” which you can reply with “sijambo” or just “Jambo.” However, suppose you want to flex your sheng (a language born in the city which mixes Swahili and English, basically, Kenya’s slang) abilities. In that case, you can greet people with “sasa” or “mambo,” and the answer to these two is “poa.”
The people of Kenya are generally very friendly and welcoming. So, don’t take offence if strangers smile or say hi to you. If you are white, you will hear them call you mzungu; no, they are not racist or trying to insult; it’s just the Swahili name for a white person.
#8. Safety and security
Generally, Kenya is very safe if you stick to places your consulate advises. You want to avoid areas around the Kenya-Somalia borders as they can be unsafe. Check your consulate website to see the areas they warn you against.
However, cities like Nairobi are mostly safe. You will notice the presence of security guards at the entrances of buildings, residential properties, and malls. These guards are usually not armed, but they are there to search bags and scan people going in and out; things are a little different due to the previous terrorist attacks in Kenya.
At the airport, when you arrive, they also scan your bags to ensure you are not carrying anything that could harm the general public. Be patient with the security procedure as sometimes it may take longer, but it will ensure you are safe during your stay.
#9. Kenya is not always hot.
When people visit Kenya, they imagine hot and dry weather. Sometimes Kenya gets wet and cold. Especially if you travel anywhere between May and August (July especially), pack some warm clothes.
Also, people in Kenya are a bit conservative regarding dressing. This isn’t common in major cities like Nairobi, but if you intend to go to the coastal towns where there is a lot of Muslim population, you might need something that doesn’t show your flesh soo much.
Light clothes are also advisable for the coastal area, which is hotter than the mainland.
#10. Bargaining in Kenya.
While in Kenya, I would advise that you try going to one of those open-air markets. Try the open-air market, whether you want a Maasai market or a souvenir shop. There is a lot of variety to pick from, and the prices are generally low.
One thing, though, is don’t forget to bargain. Sometimes the sellers start with a higher price and expect you to bargain. Please don’t go too low, like half what they mentioned but subtracting a couple of dollars from the mentioned price is okay.
Also, at the open-air markets, some sellers might approach you with what they are selling, don’t fret; they are not attacking you; they are just trying to make you impulse buy; just say, “no thank you,” or “asanti” (Swahili word for thank you) they will walk away.
#11. Taking pictures is prohibited in some areas.
Some government buildings and embassies do not allow taking pictures or videos. Look for a camera with a cross sign on the walls and avoid taking pictures on the streets unless you have a subject like a person; sometimes, you could get arrested and questioned.
Also, for security, avoid removing your phone in crowded areas, especially in Nairobi, CBD; someone could grab it and run.
Keep an eye on your purse and backpack, especially in Nairobi CBD.
#12. Remember to pack a power bank.
Though power blackouts might not last long in major cities, they happen. So having a backup to charge your phone will go a long way. Also, if you are staying in an Airbnb, I find it helpful to check if they have generator backup just in case power goes out. This will be especially helpful if you work online or just for your peace of mind.
The power bank will also come in handy when you go out on safaris, where you can’t charge your phone unless you go back to your hotel or are exploring some interior rural areas with no electricity.
#13.Traffic and the don’t rush culture.
You probably have already heard the rumours that Nairobi has one of the craziest traffic you will ever see. Besides the crazy driving, which is safe, traffic congestion in major cities like Nairobi and Mombasa is common. This means you have to add a few hours if you have an appointment or a flight to catch.
Thankfully, in Nairobi, the new expressway has reduced the time you would take to get to the airport. So if you suspect you might be late, just ask your uber driver to use the expressway. Usually, they try to avoid it because of the toll fees, so just ask them and probably pay the fee; it’s somewhere between $0.5 and $3.50 depending on the distance. I am sure that isn’t worth being stuck in traffic for an hour or so, or worse still, missing a flight.
In the time culture in Kenya, you might experience a bit of African timing, especially if you are invited to a party or something like that. While Nairobi can be a bit rushed and chaotic, the heat in some areas like Mombasa doesn’t encourage any rush. So keep it cool; in Swahili, they say polepole, meaning slowly.
#14. Food and water.
There is a lot of Indian and Swahili influence on Kenyan cuisine. The celebrated chapati, a shallow fried flatbread, has an Indian origin and is widely eaten in Kenya. Rice and ugali are also very common. Rice can be cooked in various forms depending on what town you visit. If you visit Mombasa, be sure to eat chicken Biryani, it will change your whole view on rice.
Ugali is a staple in Kenya; this simple recipe meal is made by mixing boiling water with cornstarch and stirring it until solid. Almost every community in Kenya eats ugali. It is used as a side for various meats and vegetables. If you are curious, try ugali while in Kenya, and the locals will tell you using your hands to eat ugali makes it sweeter than using cutlery.
Street food is also very common in Kenya; if you are bold enough, you can try some of it but stay away from the street meat as your body may not be very well adapted to it, and you could get some stomach upsets. When it comes to drinking water, you can boil tap water in Kenya, cool it then drink it. However, if you want to avoid boiling, get bottled water but by all means, avoid drinking unboiled tap water.
#15. Identification documents.
You should carry your identification document with you as you walk around Kenya. Sometimes the corps might pull you aside and ask for a passport; just for safety, always have it with you.
When visiting Kenya, register with your embassy in Kenya. The USA one, for example, sends updates to its citizens visiting Kenya on new covid 19 restrictions or any security concerns. Also, it is good to know the address of your embassy not because anything might happen to you while in Kenya but just for your peace of mind so you can enjoy your safari in peace.
#17.Insect repellents and health
Malaria is still common in Kenya, so taking some anti-malaria pills with you while travelling to Kenya is advisable. Also, if you detect some buzzing mosquitoes in your room and ask for assistance, they could give you a mosquito net if they haven’t already. Better still, carry your mosquito repellent.
There you have it! These are the 17 most important things you need to know before travelling to Kenya. If you have been to Kenya before, please share anything I might have left out in the comments.