Kenya is undoubtedly one of the most magical and achingly beautiful countries in the world thanks to its diverse landscapes, a spectacular variety of wild animals, pristine beaches, fantastic hiking trails, friendly people and of course world-class safari opportunities.
Yes! I definitely recommending you to visit Kenya! But I also know how challenging it is visiting a new country. Therefore I wrote this guide for visiting Kenya with all my travel tips and things to know before you go.
Can you travel to Kenya now during the Corona Pandemic?
As of August 1st 2020 international flights to Kenya have resumed and travel to Kenya during the Corona pandemic is possible again. However precautions must be taken at all times. On arrival there will be a health check, temperature will be measured and you will need to fill out a health declaration form. You can also find this health declaration form for Kenya online. It is straight forward and the standard Covid-19 related questions are asked. No biggie!
Travelers from most Western countries are NOT required to quarantine, but regulations are subject to change on short notice. In public places face masks are obligated and tours, restaurants, etc. have put measurements in place to maintain social distancing.
This travel blog is aimed at making your trip to Kenya much easier. So here is a complete guide comprising of 30 things you should know before traveling to Kenya for the first time.
1. Is it safe to travel to Kenya
Kenya is pretty safe for tourists! Even though it is one of the most popular places to visit in Africa and used to tourists, you should always be beware of your surroundings and practice general common-sense safety rules.
For example, you should avoid high poverty places like slums where you could be a target for theft or getting mugged. At any time you should avoid wearing flashy jewellery or showing off expensive electronics while in public. If you’re inside a car keep the windows rolled up except for when you’re on one of those amazing Kenya safaris of course.
Also dressing down minimizes attention to yourself, but more about that later in what to wear in Kenya. Due to the high poverty rate in Kenya, tourists can be viewed as targets by opportunistic individuals. But I never had any big issues on all my Kenya trips!
In the main tourist destinations in Kenya, you may find yourself surrounded by vendors trying to sell you their merchandise. Although that’s not much of a safety concern, they can be slightly annoying. A polite but firm “no thank you” will mostly help get rid of them.
Above all don’t be an ignorant tourist! Always check the latest safety conditions and report. Please use your common sense, be respectful to the local culture and habits and you will be totally fine on your Kenya trip.
2. Best time to visit Kenya
Kenya is an all-year-round tourist destination. The question about when is the best time to visit Kenya largely depends on for what reason you travel to Kenya for. Safari, beaches, hiking all have a different best time to visit.
Since Kenya is located on the Equator, there are no real 4 seasons. Generally speaking, the seasons are broadly categorized into four periodes:
- hot and dry from January to March
- hot and wet from April to June
- warm and dry from July to October
- warm and wet in November and December.
However, the country’s weather pattern has seen drastic changes over the last 10 years and became rather unpredictable. The impact of climate change has been noticed throughout the years in Kenya.
Temperature in Kenya
Temperatures, on the other hand, are relatively consistent and highly influenced by the altitude only. For example, the temperatures at the coastal towns like Mombasa barely ever drop below 20° celsius (68 F). When it gets too hot during the day the cool ocean breeze helps to make it bearable.
In Nairobi temperatures can go as low as 5° celsius (41 F) around July in the cold season and as high as 26° celsius (79 F) around March and September which are the hottest months in Kenya.
The best time for safari in Kenya
Even though you can visit Kenya’s wildlife parks throughout the year, the best time is during one of the two dry seasons (January, February and March and from July till October).
The second dry season from July till October coincides with the Great Wildebeest Migration in Maasai Mara and therefore this is making it arguably the best time to visit Kenya after all.
During this breathtaking wildlife spectacle, millions of wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes make their way into Kenya’s Maasai Mara from Tanzania’s Serengeti. They cross the crocodile-infested Mara River.
One of the best times to visit Kenya for safari is during the dry seasons because then the animals are easier to spot. Animals keep moving in search of water which is quite scarce and the bushes are less dense.
If you don’t want to bump into lots of other tourists on your Kenya safari, the best time for you to visit would be around December during the short rains. Then you’ll get to admire the beautiful green vegetation and hopefully see many newborn animals on your Kenya safari as well as migratory birds that take advantage of the abundance of insects.
The best time for a beach holiday in Kenya
The weather in the coastal regions of Kenya like Diani, Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu remains hot and humid throughout the year. Even though it rains sometimes during the dry season, the rainfall is at its highest from March to May. So are you planning a Kenya beach holiday you should consider visiting the Kenya beaches outside of these months.
If your plan is to combine your trip to the beach with your safari, the best time to travel to Kenya is between August and September.
The best time to go hiking in Kenya
The safest time for hiking and climbing around Mount Kenya is during the two dry seasons. The hiking trails can get quite slippery during the rainy season. If you plan on combining your Kenya hiking trip with the Kenya beaches, the best time to visit Kenya would be January or February.
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3. Visa for Kenya
When visiting Kenya you will need a visa. The Kenya visa will cost you between $30 and $50 and can be obtained on the internet. Click here for the official site to apply for the Kenya visa.
Make sure that you apply online at least three days in advance. If you’re planning on visiting other countries like Tanzania, Uganda, etc then the greater East Africa visa will be something for you. This one costs $100 for most nationalities.
Just like many other destinations, your passport needs to be valid for at least six months beyond your departure date out of Kenya. You also need at least two consecutive unstamped blank pages.
4. Travel insurance for Kenya
It’s also highly recommended that you purchase travel insurance for evacuation and medical emergencies. This offers you emergency treatment and an air ambulance to a hospital in Nairobi. Since a lot of things to do in Kenya are in fairly remote areas I strongly recommend you to get a good travel insurance.
I am using World Nomads for all my trips around the world. Get your free quotation below in case you don’t have travel insurance for Kenya yet.
5. Vaccinations and Health Requirements for Kenya
There are several vaccinations that you need to protect your health on your trip to Kenya. Some are mandatory while others aren’t. The compulsory vaccination is Yellow Fever and you will be required to show a certificate of inoculation on entry. So put your vaccinations book on your Kenya packing list.
There are several diseases that you could be exposed to when you travel to Kenya, so it is strongly recommended that you also get the following vaccines: diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A & B, typhoid, rabies, polio, and cholera.
Is there malaria in Kenya? Yes there is, but not everywhere. Nairobi and other highlands are low-risk malaria zones, but in the valleys and low lands it is recommended to take anti-malarial medication. The most commonly prescribed anti malaria medication for Kenya is Malarone. Although it is adviced, I did NOT take any malaria pills. It is totally up to you.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to pack some medication for headaches, stomach upsets, or any allergies that you may have. The supplies should be enough to last your entire trip.
6. What to pack for Kenya
To take the stress out of packing and to make sure that you bring everything you need on your trip, here’s a list of all the essentials that you need to pack:
- Comfortable clothes (including a swimming costume) and shoes
- Passport and a valid driver’s license if you’ll be doing some driving
- A camera plus extra batteries ( see my travel gear list for more tips)
- A wide-brimmed hat or cap
- Reef SAFE Sunscreen and lip balm
- universal travel adapter
- Credit cards and a small amount of cash in low denominations
- Malaria pills and other necessary medication
- Strong insect repellent
- Reading material and an iPod with downloaded music or podcasts
7. What to Wear
Ensure that you keep your clothing a bit conservative. Wearing hot pants, crop tops, and other clothes that show too much skin is not a good look especially in rural Kenya.
Make sure that the fabric comfortable especially in hot weather. Bring a sweater, jacket, or warm fleece blanket for the chilly morning and evenings.
8. Carry a copy of your passport
Always make sure that you carry a copy of your passport with you at all times. This is required by law in Kenya. If the police stop you, you’ll be expected to present it upon request. It happened to me several times, as I recommend you to leave your original passport in the safe in your hotel.
Nowadays a photo on your phone will often do the job, but still I recommend you bring a hard copy. It is a small effort to easily get you out of trouble.
9. Inform yourself about traveling to Kenya
Take time to read a guidebook before you visit Kenya. Read about the area you’ll be staying at and get pointers about the area. This helps you know about all the designated tourist destinations in Kenya like hotels and markets in advance and also lets you know if there are areas that need to be avoided. I can also recommend you my other Kenya travel blogs:
Reading ahead helps you plan accordingly for your trip by coming up with a proper to-do-list. This ensures that you have plenty of time between activities and time to rest in-between days.
However, if you didn’t have enough time I recommend you to order a Kenya Travel Guide online, like the Kenya Lonely Planet. Back in the days I always used them, nowadays I think they are a little outdated, but still a good source for Kenya travel tips.
10. Getting around Kenya
Some people prefer to rent a jeep or van and use it to drive themselves around. Yes, can’t deny that this sounds like lots of fun and is a lot cheaper than hiring a tour guide but driving around especially in the parks is no joke – you could easily get lost too. If you’re a first-timer who loves your freedom and care about your safety, hire a 4x4 land cruiser (this will make the ride less bumpy) and a driver.
For all my tips of how to get around Kenya read my extensive article in the link, where I explain everything about busses, trains, domestic flights and local transport.
When moving from one part of the country to another e.g. from Nairobi to Mombasa, find a budget airline that operates that route or take the train. Other cheaper options to move around include taxis, matatus, boda-bodas, or tuk-tuks.
11. Driving in Kenya - DIY
In Kenya they drive on the left. This is very important for you to know if you plan on renting a car on go on a road trip in Kenya.
You should also expect to be held up in traffic around the major towns during rush hours. The traffic in Nairobi is horrendous! If you want to get anywhere around the city especially to the airport, factor in a huge amount of time that you’re going to spend in traffic. My Kenya itinerary for 10 days is a great start for planning your self driving trip to Kenya.
12. Safaris, hiking, mountains and lakes
Safaris allow you to take a drive on the wild side. There are lots of safaris and multiple different national parks and reserves for you to choose from. On top of that there is some excellent hiking, and amazing lakes. If you’re confused and can’t choose between them, here is a list of some of the best places in to visit in Kenya:
- Maasai Mara
- Tsavo East
- Hell’s Gate
- Lake Nakuru
- Lake Turkana
- Mount Kenya
- Nairobi National Park
The currency used in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling abbreviated as KSH. Don’t be confused when you hear people using the word “bob” it’s slang for shilling.
The exchange rate for the KSH to the USD varies of course, but in general you can easily say that $1 = 100 KSH. You can exchange your Euros, GBP, USD everywhere around major tourist destinations in Kenya. Banks and Forex Bureau are obviously the safest places to exchange money, but I never had a problem doing it random places either.
Always make sure to have some Kenyan Shilling on you especially of you are on a road trip in Kenya. For local markets, to tip people, local restaurants, souvenirs, etc.
14. ATMs and credit cards
Note that you can only withdraw Kenyan shillings at the ATMs which are widely available throughout the country. Beware of suspicious people hanging around the bank or following you if you come out of the bank. A valuable Kenya travel tip is to use ATMs inside shopping malls. The maximum amount ATMs in Kenya will let you withdraw is KSH 50,000 = approximately 500 USD.
Most lodges and restaurants accept MasterCard and Visa cards as a form of payment. Some international hotels accept Euros and US dollars in cash but their exchange rate is mostly pretty bad, so I would not recommend this to you. Always check beforehand because some places do not accept foreign cash or cards.
15. How much does a trip to Kenya cost?
Kenya is not the best backpack destination in the world and neither is it overly expensive.
Most tour companies are all-inclusive meaning that your meals, accommodation, and transportation are catered for. However, you still need money for other purposes like purchasing souvenirs and tipping. Budget for about $250-$300 for extra expenses.
The national park entrance fee in Kenya varies between $25 and $100 per day, a 3-course meal at an international restaurant will cost around $30 per person, and between for places to stay in Kenya you will mostly between $50 and $200 per night depending on your level of required luxury.
16. Travel to Kenya on a budget
There’s a growing backpacker trail in Kenya and hostels catering for budget travelers are growing in number and popularity. Airbnb also has a lot of hidden gems, especially at the coast.
The travel options in Kenya are limitless. If you want someone to show you around throughout your trip you can find numerous travel and tours companies to take you on an off-the-shelf or a tailor-made itinerary. You can arrange it yourself on arrival in Nairobi or book them in advanced. Here are some options of Kenya tours for all budgets.
Alternatively, if you want more independence you can definitely backpack in Kenya. Many travelers have been there before you and you will surely not be alone. It is fairly easy to travel to Kenya on a budget. Major cities are well connected by reasonable coaches and long distance busses or you could even opt to take a train from Nairobi to Mombassa.
Don’t forget that even in Kenya there are taxi apps. Thank god for Uber in Kenya! It makes traveling around so much easier, convenient, safer and reliable.
You can also find loads of campgrounds around Kenya. Most lodges charge about $20 for you to pitch your tent. On the other hand, camping inside national parks, reserves, and conservancies could cost you up to $50 per person per night. I wouldn’t recommend camping in wild and unsafe places. If you’re looking to save a little, you can cook the meals yourself outside your tent.
17. Tipping in Kenya
Tipping guides, drivers, and staff is normal in Kenya. It shows that you appreciate the services offered and locals love to go the extra mile for it. Tipping may either be done in USD or KSH. Here are some general tipping guidelines:
- Ranger or guide: $10 to $20 per day
- Butler: $5 to $15 per day
- Transfers: $5 per transfer
- Porters: $1 per bag
- Restaurants: 10% of the bill
18. Visit a Shopping Mall
Malls are also popular hangouts for locals and you can easily spend a day getting lost in one of the dozens of huge, state-of-the-art shopping malls. I am not a fan of shopping malls in general, but it is fun to walk around for sure. There are food courts as well where you can find cheap dining options.
Visiting a shopping mall in Kenya is another way of seeing a slice of the Kenyan culture and its people rather than safaris, wildlife, beautiful beaches and amazing landscapes. Trust me they are an experience!
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19. Get a Kenya sim card on arrival
If you want to stay connected to the internet than get yourself a Kenya sim czard on arrival. It is pretty easy and can be done in 5 minutes. You will get them everywhere around the big cities, but the easiest is to buy a Kenya sim card at Nairobi Airport.
Have your passport ready and get your some GB to keep your friends up to date on Instagram about your amazing trip to Kenya.
Safaricom is the leading telecommunication company in Kenya and it offers great call and data packages.
20. WiFi in Kenya
Most upscale hotels offer WiFi free of charge, but it is definitely not always good. Often it can be nerve-racking slow and that is another reason to buy a Kenya sim card. Nothing beats a 4G connection, which is usually widely available!
It is also recommended to use a VPN service for extra privacy may you use any public WiFi in Kenya, like in shopping malls, hotels, lodges, etc.
21. Drinking water
The tap water in Kenya is safe for brushing your teeth and for taking a bath, but it is not recommend to drink the water from the tap in Kenya. This doesn’t mean that tap water is necessarily contaminated but your body may not be used to it.
It is advices that you drink bottled water at all times during your Kenya trip. Most hotels, lodges, and safari camps provide clean, filtered, sterilized, or boiled drinking water for their guests.
22. Electricity plugs in Kenya
Kenya has reliable electricity. To charge your phone, camera, or other electronics, you should have an adapter at hand though. The Kenya power plugs are comparable to the ones in the UK and are 240 V.
I always advice people to bring a universal travel adapter with them, they are cheap and worth it.
Lodges located in remote areas use solar energy or diesel generators to provide power for lighting and charging. Therefore when traveling to remote areas in Kenya use the electricity responsible.
23. Buying souvenirs - what to buy in Kenya
Kenya, just like other African countries is known for its cultural wealth which also means that the souvenir buying opportunities are numerous. You can buy them from specific markets that deal in these souvenirs or from the tribesmen and women who make a living by vending their beautiful artefacts along the side of the road.
Some common items that you could buy are local wood carvings, maasai beads, kiondo (beautiful hand-woven handbags), kikoy/shuka (a colorful local piece of fabric that may be used as a blanket or table cloth), leather products, as well as traditional artifacts like swords, bows, arrows, spears, shields, etc.
At all times remember that bargaining is key when buying souvenirs on your Kenya trip.
24. Delicious Kenya food you should try
The national dish in Kenya is “ugali”. This is a hard porridge mash made from maize flour and is usually served with a portion of fried green vegetables with “nyama choma” – something that you definitely need to try out.
Nyama choma is Kenya’s signature roast meat dish that has now gained global significance. The ugali is best enjoyed without any cutlery. Dig in using your hands, roll the ugali into a ball, dip it into your place, scoop the accompaniment, and eat.
In the coastal region, they have a wide selection of mouthwatering Swahili dishes like samosas, biryani, pilau, mahamri, and chapattis.
Ooh, another craving-satisfying dish that you totally need to try when visiting Kenya is the mayai (eggs) pasua and smokie pasua. Pasua means split open. They are eggs or smokies that have been cut open and filled with “kachumbari” which is the local name for salsa containing a mixture of chopped onions, tomatoes, and coriander and sometimes chilies. These are easily found in almost any street in major towns.
Don’t be afraid to try street food in Kenya, it is delicious, worth trying, cheap and safe to eat.
25. Kenya Politics is a hot topic everywhere
Kenyans are quite political and more often than not you’ll bump into a group of people discussing “siasa” which is the Swahili word for politics. Such talks are quite lively and often tense, especially around the electioneering period.
Despite the claims that Kenya is unsafe due to ethnic tension caused by politics, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nothing serious ever happens such that the stability of the country is put in jeopardy.
26. Heaven for photographers
When traveling to Kenya make sure to bring a good camera and lens. Of course our modern smartphones make things a lot easier nowadays, but you will see they are not that useful on safaris.
Curious which cameras and lenses I carry around? Check out my travel gear list here.
Be aware though that it is not allowed to take pictures or videos at railway stations, airports, military barracks, police posts and government buildings.
Also, if you like to take pictures of a local or with them, ALWAYS ask first. Show some respect!
Although Kenya is predominantly a Christian state, the country embraces spiritual diversity. There are many churches, mosques, and Hindu temples to be found across the country as well.
28. Cultural Events
As a multi-ethnic nation, Kenya’s different tribes hold interesting cultural festivals every now and then in different parts of the country. Some of the most popular festivals include the Mombasa Carnival, Lamu Cultural Festival, Maralal Camel Derby and the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival.
29. Nightlife in Kenya
If you are the type who like to party, there are many popular joints where you can go to enjoy your “Furahi-day” as they like to call Friday in Kenya. In Nairobi there is Westlands and in Mombasa there is Mtwapa. ‘Furahi’ is a Swahili word for ‘be happy’. Afterwards, order an Uber to drop you back home.
Through the major beach destinations in Kenya you will find nightlife as well. Diani is probably the most popular place for parties on the beach.
There are many local beers that you need to try out including Tusker, Tusker Malt, Tusker Lite, and Tusker Cider. Tusker is Kenya’s most-loved beer and the golden premium lager is best served chilled – “baridi.”
30. Plastic bags are banned
Plastic bags are banned in Kenya so make sure you only use reusable bags to hold your shopping and personal items. The ban was put in place to reduce the plastic pollution that was becoming an environmental nuisance. Violators have to pay hefty fines or face possible jail time. Something Western countries could learn from I would say! Well done Kenya.
31. Bribing is illegal
Giving bribes is very much illegal. You might sometimes think it is a good idea to get you quickly out of trouble but instead it could get you into a lot of trouble. Think twice!
32. Language in Kenya
Kenya is a multilingual country with English and Swahili being the official languages. Many locals speak both languages fluently. Learning a few Swahili words will look good and impress the Kenyan people. Your effort regardless of whether you you are pronouncing it the right way will be received with a big smile.
Here are some words to get you started:
- Hujambo or simply Jambo = means Hello
- Habari = Hello, how are you? (a common way of greeting)
- Poa sana or mzuri sana = I’m good/fine
- Hakuna Matata = It’s alright / no problem
- Asante (sana) = thank you (very much)
- Karibu = welcome
- Hatari = danger
- Pole = sorry
- Hapana = no
- Ndio = yes
Besides English and Swahili, there are lots of local languages and dialects in rural areas.
33. People of Kenya
Last but not least let’s talk about the magnificent people of Kenya!
Kenyans are incredibly friendly. From my experience, I found out that the people of this beautiful nation have beautiful hearts and they’re very open, hospitable and delighted to welcome tourists to Kenya.you into their country.
Do not shy away from getting in touch with locals, meeting, greeting, talking, and getting to know them during your visit to Kenya. They are more than willing to help you enormously and will be delighted if you share your passion for their beautiful nation.
Enjoy your trip to Kenya
Africa is a magical continent with mountains, beaches, and beautiful wild animals like elephants, lions, and wildebeests and you can find it all when visiting Kenya. If you have always wanted to experience this unbelievable setting in a single hit, then this country is the place to go.
However, before your first trip to Kenya all the above mentioned Kenya tips are great to know to make the most of this incredible travel destination in Africa.
I hope that my tips and recommendations help to make things a lot easier. I also hope that you get to love Kenya, just as I did. Its diversity is unrivalled.
Also thanks to Traveltomtom writer Kim Paffen, who contributed with the beautiful pictures of Kenya. Her countless trips to Kenya were another valuable source creating this Kenya travel blog.