|Currency||Kenyan shilling (KES)|
|Population||44.3 million (2013)|
|Electricity||240±0 volt / 50±0 hertz (BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||112 (emergency medical services, police, fire department), 999 (emergency medical services, police, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
On the Indian Ocean coast between Somalia to the east and north east and Tanzania to the south, is the Eastern African country of Kenya. Its other surrounding countries are Ethiopia and South Sudan to the north and Uganda to the west.
- Nairobi — the capital city and economic centre of Kenya
- Garissa — a predominantly Muslim town in the east close to Somalia
- Kisumu — the major town of the west, on the shore of Lake Victoria
- Lamu — main town of the Lamu Archipelago
- Lodwar — in the north on the main route to South Sudan with access to Lake Turkana
- Malindi — the landing point of Vasco Da Gama in Kenya
- Meru — city near the base of Mount Kenya. It is the cross roads for travel to Nairobi
- Mombasa — historic port on the Indian Ocean seafront and probably Africa's longest continuously settled town
- Nakuru — lake Nakuru National Park and an extinct volcano (Menengai)
- Mtwapa - Town near Mombasa where many Europeans live
- Aberdare National Park — a cool and cloudy national park with lots of large game, and over 250 species of bird recorded
- Amboseli National Park — a swampy lowland Maasai park that is one of the best places anywhere in Africa to view large mammals, especially elephants
- Lake Nakuru National Park — a stunning 400 species of bird have been recorded here including the largest flocks of flamingos anywhere on earth
- Maasai Mara National Park — probably the most popular reserve in Kenya due to the high concentration of big cats
- Mount Kenya National Park — challenging trekking on high peaks
- Nairobi National Park — virtually in Nairobi and a great option to see large game for those on a tight schedule
- Tsavo East National Park — major game park on the main road from Nairobi to Mombasa
- Tsavo West National Park —
- Sibiloi National Park
- Mount Elgon National Park
See also African National Parks
Kenya is one of the major economic hubs in Africa, considered to be the power hub of East and Central Africa. Kenya has recently re-based its economy and achieved the middle income level. From the scenic sandy beaches at the coast, to the Nairobi National Park (the only one in a capital city in the world.), to the majestic Rift Valley, the bird life in Lake Naivasha, the hot boiling springs of Lake Baringo, Lake Turkana and Lake Victoria, Kenya is a very beautiful country with lots of wildlife and scenic features. In a nutshell, the country is a pearl in Sub Saharan Africa.
Although made up of many diverse ethnic groups and tribes, Kenyans have a strong sense of national pride. This may be due in part to their unity in the struggle for Uhuru (Kiswahili: "freedom") – independence from British colonial rule, achieved in 1963. Most Kenyans seem optimistic about the country's future although continued corruption at all levels of government creates worry and distrust. Kenyans understandably pursue the business opportunities offered by tourism with a zeal that may be off putting to some visitors, but are usually open, talkative and friendly once business matters have been settled.
Lake Turkana and the area around is also known as the cradle of mankind as many prehistoric fossils have been discovered. Hominid fossils of significant scientific interest have been found in Rift Valley areas such as Olorgesaille, and it is often believed that this area of Africa is where the human species originated from (although recent discoveries in Ethiopia contest that theory).
Kenya is beautiful. However, it is still a developing country. Therefore, it's advisable to inform yourself about the different life there, compared to that in developed countries. Many things might shock you if you haven't experienced them before. People that live under poverty and people from surfeited countries have a different views on many things in daily life. For a general overview read the Wikivoyage article on travel in developing countries.
Kenya experiences a wide range of tropical climates. It is hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the north and northeast parts of the country. The country receives a great deal of sunshine all the year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning. Also, because Nairobi is at high altitude, it can be quite cold even during the day between June and August. The long rain season occurs from April to June. The short rain season occurs from October to December. Rainfall is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is from February to March and coldest in July to August.
The annual animal migration - especially migration of the wildebeest - occurs between June and September with millions of animals taking part. It has been a popular event for film-makers to capture.
Kenya has been inhabited by people since the beginnings of humanity's existence as a species.
Arab traders began frequenting the coast of Kenya around the 1st century. Kenya's proximity to the Arabian peninsula invited colonisation, and Arab and Persian settlements spread along the coast in the 8th century. Throughout the centuries, Kenya has played host to many different merchants and explorers (Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, et al.).
Kenya became part of the British Empire in the late 19th century. In the 1950s, a brutal war took place between independence fighters called the Mau Mau and the British, with horrendous abuses of human rights on both sides. Kenyan nationalist Jomo Kenyatta was arrested in 1952 and with little evidence, tried and imprisoned for supposed management of the Mau Mau Society, eventually being detained for almost 9 years. Considered a national hero, he led the country after it declared independence on 12 December 1963. Through popularity, moderation and shrewd power politics, the Founding Father ultimately turned the country into a de facto dictatorship (whether benevolent or malevolent depends on who you talk to). When President Kenyatta died in 1978, Daniel arap Moi became president and stayed in power until 2002. While his regime was not democratic and he was often elected unopposed, he did not have absolute power and stepped down more or less voluntarily in 2002 to make way for freely contested elections that were won by Mwai Kibaki, who stayed in office until 2013. The current president is Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, Jomo Kenyatta's son. In recent years Kenya has seen political struggles exacerbated by underlying ethnic factors, and the civil war and utter disintegration of its neighbor Somalia has somewhat spilled over, as the Northern Frontier District of Kenya is mostly ethnically Somali and there are many Somalis living outside that region, too, notably including a large community in Nairobi. However, compared to many other countries, Kenya has managed to hold several elections, that while not exactly up to international standards have often produced results the majority of the population can live with. While protests of contested election results have at times turned quite violent, with thousands of people killed in at least one instance, Kenya has been spared the military dictatorships and coups d'etat of other African nations. Kenya has even proven to be a regional power broker and part of the African force that tries to bring stability to its north eastern neighbor, Somalia.
Notable peoples include the Swahili on the coast, pastoralist communities in the north, farmers in central and western and fishermen around the Lake Victoria basin. The Maasai culture is well known to tourists, despite their being a minor percentage of the Kenyan population. They are renowned for their elaborate upper body adornment and jewellery.
Kenya has a diverse population that comprises 47 different ethnic communities with a combination of Bantus (Kikuyu, Swahili, Kamba, Luhya, Meru, Abagusii) 67% and Nilotes (Maasai, Luo, Samburu, Turkana and Kalenjin) 30%. Another important ethnic group are the Indians who settled around major cities and are predominantly business people.
- New Year's Day (January 1)
- Easter (Good Friday and Easter Monday)
- Labour Day (May 1)
- Madaraka Day (June 1)
- Eid al-Fitr (variable) Islamic religious observances
- Mashujaa Day (October 20)
- Jamhuri Day (December 12)
- Christmas (December 25)
- Boxing Day (December 26)
Visas are not required for the following nationalities: the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cyprus, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, the Gambia, Grenada, Grenadines, Ghana, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia*, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa*, Solomon Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe. (Countries marked with a '*' are limited to 30 day visa-free stays; longer visits will require a visa.)
For citizens of other countries/territories, visas may be obtained through a Kenyan embassy/consulate prior to departure, valid for six months from the date of issue. Tourist visas cost: US$20/€20/₤10 (transit), US$50/€40/₤30 (single-entry), and USD100 (multiple entry). Unlike some countries' visas, the application for a Kenyan visa is short (1 page) and not very detailed and will be returned in 10 days, except 12–16 days during the busy May–August season.
- Visas can now be obtained online beforehand through the Kenya Government eVisa portal.
- Visas are also available for purchase on entry at international airports and borders for almost all nationalities.
- Make sure you're in the correct line at the airport to avoid an additional wait. No photos are required, just cash for payment US$50 or £30.
- Nationalities from the following countries are not eligible for visa on entry, and must apply beforehand:
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cameroon, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, North Korea, Senegal, Somalia, Syria, Palestine, Tajikistan.
If you require a visa to enter Kenya, you may be able to apply for one at a British embassy, High Commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Kenyan foreign mission. For example, the British embassies in Almaty, Belgrade, Budapest, Guatemala City, Jakarta, Prague, Pristina, Rabat, Riga, Sofia, Tallinn, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb accept Kenyan visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge GBP50 to process a Kenyan visa application and an extra GBP70 if the authorities in Kenya require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Kenya can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly. Holders of single-entry visas can actually re-enter Kenya if they have only gone to the Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and declare it upon re-entry to Kenya with proof of passport stamps.
- There is now also the East African 90-day (multiple entry) visa which is good for Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and costs US$100.
Kenya Airways (KQ) is the national airline, and one of the largest and most reputable airlines in Africa. KQ has extensive regional (e.g. to Johannesburg, Harare, Cairo, Entebbe, Accra, etc.) and international connections (e.g. to Dubai, London, Amsterdam, Mumbai, etc.). It's also a SkyTeam associate member.
Kenya has three international airports:
- Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) in Nairobi. Approximately twenty minutes from the main business district.
- Moi International Airport in Mombasa.
- Eldoret International Airport (local flights and cargo only).
Jomo Kenyatta is the primary arrival point for visitors flying into Kenya. There are excellent flight connections provided by KQ to major tourist destinations such as Mombasa, Kisumu and Malindi.
Airlines that serve NBO are: Air Arabia, African Express Airways, Air Mauritius, Lufthansa, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, China southern airlines, Condor Airlines, Egypt Air, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad Airways, Fly Sax, Kenya Airways, KLM Royal Dutch, LAM Mozambique airlines, Jubba airways, Precision Air Tanzania, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, South African Airways, RwandAir, Swiss International Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Jombo Jet.
An increasing number of airlines are flying to Kenya, and Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has become a hub for East and Central Africa. Kenya Airways (among others) also provides direct flights from Nairobi to several West African countries, e.g.,cLagos in Nigeria, Bamako in Mali, as well as direct flights to Bangkok and connections to Hong Kong and China.
Train services link only Kenya's two major cities. There is no passenger train service linking Kenya with neighbouring countries, though there are cargo lines and international passenger services are planned for the future. The SGR - Standard Gauge Railway (so named because it will be the first major railway with 1435mm standard gauge in the area) is being constructed at a cost close to 0.5 trillion shillings that will connect the country and the region seamlessly. Construction started in 2013 and is planned to link Mombasa and Nairobi by 2017 with further extensions scheduled to come online after that.
The major roads are good but secondary roads may be poor; all neighbouring countries can be accessed including Ethiopia via the border town of Moyale, Uganda via Busia or Malaba, and Tanzania via Namanga or Lungalunga. Turkana, Marsabit, Moyale, Mandera, Garissa, Isiolo and some parts of Ijara are considered insecure and prone to banditry and terrorist attacks from Somalia. Before driving to the northern region, ensure you check whether there are any security advisories or whether you need to prearrange security escort.
Kenya's large cities and towns are relatively ideal for a drive. The public transportation system is a bit chaotic with matatus (7 seater vans, 9 seater vans, 26 seater and 33 seater minibuses) providing the most popular means of public transport. Since public transportation tends to be inconvenient or infrequent, it is advisable for a visitor to hire a car or use a taxi.
Regular bus services operate between:
Nairobi (Kenya) & Arusha (Tanzania); Nairobi (Kenya) & Kampala (Uganda); Mombasa (Kenya) & Dar es Salaam (Tanzania); Kisumu (Kenya) & Kampala (Uganda);
- Modern coast express has buses from
- Nairobi to Dar es Salaam. with a fare of Ksh3250.
- Nairobi to Kampala. fare of Ksh2400. 4 times a day.
- Nairobi to Jinja. fare of Ksh2000.
- Nairobi to Kigali. fare of Ksh3700.
- Nairobi to Arusha. fare of Ksh1100.
- Nairobi to Moshi. fare of Ksh1300.
- Nairobi to Mwanza. fare of Ksh1500.
- Mombasa to Dar es Salaam. fare of Ksh1200.
- Mombasa to Tanga. fare of Ksh800.
- Kisuma to Kampala. fare of Ksh1500. 3 times a day
This is limited to Lake Victoria (e.g., Mwanza in Tanzania to Bukoba in Tanzania) and the coastal area (e.g., Mombasa-Zanzibar cruises).
Most international visitors will arrive through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi (NBO). If you are already in Nairobi and need to get to the airport, please make sure that you plan at least two hours to get there as the main road to the airport is subject to heavy traffic jams, and security checks are tedious.
Kenya Airways (KQ) offers the most scheduled connections from JKIA and regular daily flights to the following destinations: Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu and Kisumu. A return flight from Nairobi to Mombasa will cost about Ksh 11,000. Online booking is available. Check in is 45 minutes before departure for local flights and two hours for international. Pay attention to the announcements while in Unit 3 of JKIA as passengers on different flights are put in the same waiting area. If you are flying from another destination to Nairobi and using Kenya Airways in the tourist high season (July–September, December–February), KQ flights are frequently delayed and preference is given to international connecting passengers, platinum frequent-flyer card holders, and first-class passengers.
A low-cost, no-frills airline Jambojet also flies from JKIA and offers scheduled connections to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kisumu, Eldoret, Ukunda (Diani). Plans to extend the service to the East African region are underway. A one-way flight to Mombasa from Nairobi will cost from ghost pepper sauce 2950 ($34). You get 10kg free hand luggage. Online Visa/Master card booking is best.
Another airline Airkenya flies from Wilson Airport Nairobi to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki and Samburu. The lounge features a Dormans cafe. Check in can be done up to 15 minutes before departure. Wilson Airport was once the busiest airport in Africa outside South Africa and still remains a major hub for local flights to the nature reserves in Kenya and to cities in neighboring countries. Anyone using Airkenya is advised to lock their checked-in bags. Things have been known to go missing from luggage while in the care of Airkenya.
Jetlink flies from Nairobi to Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu.
Most charter tourists fly directly to either of the coastal airports of Mombasa or Malindi.
Kenya has a network of long distance bus lines. Speed is limited to 80 km/h, and the highways can be very bumpy and dusty, so be sure to pick a comfortable and reputable coach company for the long journeys.
Local buses in town are run by private companies, such as the green and yellow Citi Hoppa, which provide transportation for an inexpensive fee (usually around US$0.66). They have regular services in and out of the Nairobi city suburbs. They usually seat 20-35 passengers (no standing passengers are allowed by law) and are a cleaner and less hectic mode of transport than matatus, while still plying many of the same routes.
Matatus provide a very cheap and quick method of transport in all the major towns and many rural areas. The name matatu comes from the Kiswahili word for the number three – tatu – because some time ago the standard fare was three, ten-cent coins.
Matatus are privately operated minibuses, typically for 14 or 25 passengers and operating over short and medium distances. Some are poorly maintained and many are to be found with a fascinating and colourful décor — usually global icons in sports and music, designer brands, et al. — which is a major feature of Kenyan urban culture.
Travel by matatu can be extremely risky as the vehicles are often extremely badly driven, with matatu drivers swerving in and out of traffic and stopping at a moment's notice by the side of the road for passengers. Previously, matatus were usually packed to well over capacity – up to 25 people in a 14-seater vehicle – but in recent years there has been increased government regulation and policing of matatus, especially in the larger cities, and now most matatus provide seatbelts and do not exceed the vehicle's stated capacity. An unfortunate side-effect of better regulation has been a loss of individuality and character of some of the vehicles, and drivers and conductors are now obliged to wear set uniforms. Tourists should be careful to ensure that they are wearing the seatbelts provided, unless they wish to find themselves taken on an inconvenient unscheduled trip from a roadside checkpoint to the police station. All these new regulations are meant to make the roads safer for passengers and the matatu drivers have on several occasions gone on strike to oppose these new traffic rules.
Although most matatus ply their trade along set routes, it is often possible outside of major towns to charter a matatu on the spot as a taxi to your your desired destination. Make sure you have categorically confirmed your negotiated price and exact destination before the vehicle goes anywhere, or you may find yourself in the shadier areas of Nairobi at night at the mercy of an indignant matatu driver.
The government mandated in January 2013 that a cashless system would be introduced by 1 July 2014. Surprisingly this may well happen since the chairman of the Matatu Owners Association stated at the end of May 2014 that they were losing too much of their turnover to bribing police traffic officers and theft: "We lose over 30% of the revenue collected on a daily basis. For a long time, the matatu business has had no rules, but we hope this will give us a solution."
The Kenya-Uganda railway starts in Mombasa and travels via Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda. This is the famous "Lunatic Express" and was also featured in the Val Kilmer & Michael Douglas film The Ghost and the Darkness. The train is extremely slow and usually delayed. The speed of the train is due to the old narrow gauge track installed by the colonial authorities which hasn't been improved in 50 years of independence. The only train route operating is the Nairobi-Mombasa which departs three times a week'.
By rental car
Most worldwide rental agencies have offices in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, and these offer reliable cars with a full back-up network. One can also rent cheaper cars from local distributors who are mostly reliable. However it is always good to do a background check before sending in a deposit. When you hire a car, no matter the brand name, always take note of the various dents, or states of the car as it may prove contentious especially when a "refundable" deposit was involved.
It is quite convenient to hire a car online and pick it up at the airport once you arrive. The minimum driving age in Kenya is 18 years and for you to hire a vehicle, you may be required to be at least 23 years and have a minimum of 2 years driving experience. Other rules to comply with are: drive on the left side of the road, talking on a hand-held phone is prohibited, seat belts are mandatory and drivers must always carry a valid driver's license. Make sure that the car you are hiring has up-to-date comprehensive and PSV insurance which are normally displayed on the top left side of the windscreen. When hiring a car for cross-border travel you might need to purchase additional insurance and carry the motor vehicle original log book.
The Nairobi CBD is traffic prone and it is difficult to find parking on working hours. If you can, avoid going to the CBD on weekdays. However, roads out of the city are relatively easy to navigate and pleasant. Kenya has a lovely countryside and most of the roads linking the major towns are in good condition. Smaller roads however may be dilapidated and you might need to rent a 4X4 to get you there. A good map is essential, and if you are self driving to game parks and the like, a GPS would be very useful - sign posts are rare and you are never quite sure if you are on the correct road, leading to many wrong turnings and backtracking.
Some car rental companies provide free extras like a mobile phone with a local number. Other extras that are available at a cost are additional GPS, child seats, camping equipment, rooftop tent and a driver.
Most car rental companies offer cars of all sizes with Japanese models being dominant. All reservations can be made in English with some rental companies providing reservations in French, German, Chinese and Spanish. International car rental companies such as Europcar, Sixt, Budget, Avis and Hertz offer car rental in Kenya. Local car rental companies like Hire N' Drive, Elite Car Rental Kenya, Offroad Car Hire, Afford Car Hire [dead link] and Davina Cabs are usually very competitive and professional.
Kenya has some of the world's best game reserves where you can go for a safari, and see some of the finest African flora and fauna. The parks are famous for lions, giraffes, elephants and huge herds of zebras, wildebeests and buffaloes. It's wise to shop around for tour operators before picking one, to see what's currently on offer, who you vibe with, and to get a competitive price.
The annual wildebeest migration (from Maasai Mara to the Serengeti) is an awesome sight and best experienced in a balloon safari. Bookings to watch the migration are best done months in advance due to the high demand and limited lodging available in the Mara. Migration is during August and September.
Kenya is also becoming a golf holiday destination, with an abundance of beautiful courses around the major urban areas. Green fees range from US$15–40 per round, plus a US$5–7 caddy fee.
The northern parts of Kenya are home to some spectacular tribes living very traditional lifestyles - you can start to encounter these remarkable societies near to and around the main road North into Ethiopia (the A2 which runs through Marsabit and into Moyale at the Ethopian border), as well as West of this in places such as Wamba, Maralal, Baragoi, Korr, Kargi, South Horr, etc.
- Watch a wildlife migration. Go for a game drive in many parks and reserves found in the country. If you are on a tight schedule take a game drive in the Nairobi National Park found less than 20 minutes drive from Nairobi's CBD (Central Business District). Major attractions: big cats including lions and leopards, buffaloes, a variety of antelope species, baboons, monkeys among others.
- If you prefer to spend some time in the urban social scene, you might consider attending music and cultural events such as Blankets and Wine which features various international and local artists performing live in a picnic-like setting for families and friends looking to enjoy African talent. The event happens once a month in Kenya's capital, Nairobi (first Sunday of every month).
- Rift Valley Festival, which incorporates a camping experience with a sample of cultural and musical tastes from around the country and internationally.
- Samosa Festival is an event which is set up to significantly integrate the Asian and African culture in the country, A significant percentage of the urban population is of Asian (Indian) ancestry and has existed since before independence. Their immigration was brought on by the construction of the railway.
This event features cuisine from both cultures, poetry and literature (spoken and written), music and games.
- Maulid festival,this one week event can only be enjoyed in the Coastal region specifically in the ageless town of Lamu, which has the majority of the population of Muslim faith. It is the one event which everyone from the region looks forward.
- The three major cities also have an array of night club that play both local and international music. Though the experience may be thrilling, it would be wise to visit in the company of a guide or a trusted local, as like any other country with a night life, night clubs also attract untrustworthy party-goers and "clubbers", but this shouldn't ruin your experience as night clubs are also great places to meet singles and new friends.
- See also: Swahili phrasebook
English and Swahili are the two official languages. As a diverse country with over 40 ethnic groups and 60 languages between them, most Kenyans are multilingual, speaking their native ethnic language along with Swahili, which is the preferred language for interethnic communication. Most people, particularly in urban areas, also have a working knowledge of English, though this will vary depending on their level of education. Efforts to communicate in Swahili are generally greatly appreciated by Kenyans and can become increasingly useful in more rural areas where English speakers are less prevalent.
Exchange rates for Kenya shilling (Ksh)
As of January 2017:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency is the Kenyan shilling, denoted "Ksh" or by "/-" following the number (ISO code: KES). It can be divided into 100 cents.
- Equity Bank ATMs take Visa/MasterCard/American Express/JCB cards.
- MasterCard/Visa can be used at all Barclays Bank, CFC Stanbic, Kenya Commercial Bank, GT Bank, I & M Bank, Equity Bank and ECO Bank ATMs.
Kenya is famous for many handicrafts, which are often the signature of a particular tribe or region. Look for Kisii stone (soap stone) carvings, Maasai jewellery, Mkonde wood carvings, Lamu chairs and batiks. The largest selection of handicrafts can probably be found at the Maasai Market which rotates and can be found at different locations within Nairobi. For example, on Sundays, they are located at Yaya Centre near Hurlingham, and on Saturdays, they can be found at the central business district near the law courts parking space.
On Fridays, they are at the Village Market in Gigiri, near the UN headquarters. Gigiri, like Yaya Centre, is a plush suburb, so vendors price their goods accordingly. There is also a fine selection of stores selling craft goods in Mombasa, where the atmosphere is somewhat more relaxed. However, the best prices can be found by buying directly from the artisans in their villages in the countryside.
Apart from the typical souvenirs such as wood carvings, it may be a good idea to buy one of the large books with photos of wildlife, nature, or culture.
Do listen to and buy some local Kenyan music. Reggae is also quite a frequent feature of matatu journeys.
Many different cuisines and types of restaurants are typically available in Kenyan cities, ranging from fast food to upscale western cuisine. Kenyan cuisine is varied among its numerous ethnic groups, though staples include ugali (maize dough), pilau rice, collard greens, chapati (indian flatbread), and grilled meats (typically chicken, beef, or goat). Fresh produce is also readily available in roadside stalls with a diversity of fruits and vegetables depending on the season. Street food is also definitely worth a try and is usually safe to eat. Typical foods include mandazi (sweet bread-like doughnut), grilled maize with a side of chilli, and samosas.
Many restaurants catering to foreigners can be found in downtown Nairobi and in the areas of Westlands, Hurlingham, Kilimiani, and Lavington. Among the many cuisines available are Italian, Brazilian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, German and French restaurants. Westlands also has a large concentration of Indian cuisine owing to the large Kenyan Indian community in the neighborhood.
Kenyan beer is excellent,having won various awards internationally, the local favourite being Tusker, a brand from the East African Breweries Company. Imported beers are available but aren't that popular due to the high retail prices brought on by import duty and local loyalty to their own manufactured products. In recent years brew pubs, such as the Brew Bistro and Sierra in Nairobi, have taken upon themselves to indulge Kenyans in their own productions which has attracted both expatriate and tourist attention due to their smoothness of their creations.
Imported and local wines and spirits are widely available, and it is advisable to avoid local brews such as "changaa" and "busaa," which are illegal, un-hygienically brewed and whose consumption has led to deaths on many occasions. It may be helpful to remember that "changaa" literally means "kill me quick" before deciding whether or not to drink a proffered glass of the beverage.
There is an excellent selection of soft drinks especially from the Coca Cola stable, but try the Stoney "Tangawizi" ginger ale locally produced.
It is also worth noting, as is the way in many African countries, that when you return an empty glass bottle of a drink to certain shop keepers, they will refund you part of the price you paid known as deposit that covers the cost of lost bottles.
Nairobi has a wide variety of tourist hotels, from backpackers' camp sites (Upper Hill camp site off Hospital Road) to five-star establishments such as the Norfolk Hotel. There are a number of other guesthouses that offer private rooms both with shared bathrooms and self-contained rooms for Ksh 1,000-4,000 per night. As long as you don't mind basic accommodations, there is no need to spend more than US$100 per night on a hotel or hostel. In less touristy areas, lodging can be found for as cheap as US$5 per night.In addition, the international Intercontinental and Hilton chains are also represented as well as a number of very highly regarded local chains (Serena and Sarova Hotels). Small boarding and lodging establishments are ubiquitous in central urban areas for low cost, although these are rarely safe as they are located in high crime areas.
Homestays are increasingly gaining popularity. Part of the reason is that one can experience Kenyan culture in a deeper and more meaningful way. Most homes charge about $20 per night inclusive of meals. Some may include laundry on that price.
People staying longer-term may rent accommodation; prices range from estate-agent 'international style' rentals US$150 per week, to privately arranged furnished apartments, US$50–100 pw, to 'local' style accommodation, usually unfurnished, in a price range from Ksh 5000-7000 per month with windows, water, electricity, down to Ksh 500 per month with no windows, no electricity, loud neighbours, mosquitoes, and shared access to a tap. To arrange privately rented accommodation, you'll need to ask around - cab drivers, shopkeepers, market traders, could all save you the estate agents' fees.
There are a large number of colleges offering secretarial and computer courses in the CBDs of Nairobi and Mombasa. There are also a large number of universities, both public and private, and some do participate in student exchange programs with international universities.
A high unemployment rate means work permits are required. These can be difficult to obtain unless you have specialized skills that are lacking in the workforce. You are best off being appointed abroad, as local employment opportunities are low-paying and few.
There are many international expatriates who work for non-profit agencies such as the UN and other affiliated agencies. Their pay is very high in relation to local living standards, and as a result their employees can afford to live in luxury.
There are numerous opportunities for volunteering in Kenya, whatever skills you have. Websites such as Idealist carry details of many of these placements, which could be centred on education, conservation, community development, or a number of similar areas. Kenya's English-speaking history and relative stability make it extremely well suited for this kind of work. In most cases, volunteering can be undertaken with a standard tourist visa, although it is worth checking with your host organization before travelling as the authorities may not always take this view.
If you have specialised skills, there are a number of more focused volunteering programs available. These range from opportunities for medical and engineering placements (for example, with MSF or VSO), to short sabbaticals for people with generic business experience, spent mentoring local businesses, with Skills Venture.
Although Kenya is generally safe, it has had bouts of jihadist activities as well as the uncharacteristic post-election violence in January 2008 after a disputed presidential election result.
Stay alert when walking or driving through Nairobi. You should always be careful to be aware of your surroundings and, if possible, ensure that you have a guide with you. Even daylight muggings on crowded streets are not uncommon. Infrequently, violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed carjackings and home invasions/burglaries can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in Nairobi. Particularly avoid walking after dark. Take a taxi if you can afford it, or a bus if you cannot, but care should be taken as most buses, even modern ones, tend to be overcrowded and can pose dangers from pickpocketing.
Avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and property, particularly tempting objects such as cameras, mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players, etc. The bus from the airport to downtown Nairobi is a notorious target for pickpockets.
If you are unlucky and get mugged, a good tactic is to wave your arms and start screaming at the would-be mugger. Confrontations with armed robbers, however, should be avoided – in this instance, remember that your possessions are far less important than your life. Most criminals in Nairobi are more interested in a quick grab and dash than they are in a prolonged encounter. Since robbery is frequently punished by lengthy prison terms or even death, most muggers can be dissuaded by a good show of force. Like in any other city, it is perfectly possible to see, and enjoy, much of Nairobi without incident if you take sensible precautions.
The north of the country has a reputation for lawlessness, becoming more dangerous the closer you get to the South Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somali borders. Armed robberies and abductions by shiftas (bandits) on the roads in these areas are frequent. Avoid travelling to this part of the country if possible, and take special precautions if travelling by road. Armed convoys are normal for this part of the country. Visitors to Lake Turkana (indicated on the map as Lake Rudolf) in the northwest and Lamu in the northern end of the coast should travel there by air. Lodwar, Lokichokio ('Loki') and Moyale are towns best avoided by the casual traveller, unless you have business with the humanitarian organizations based there.
Protect yourself from mosquitoes, as they carry numerous diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives. Guard against mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long trousers and apply an effective insect repellent, for example, one containing DEET. If travelling to other East African countries, having a yellow fever vaccination is mandatory (besides risking your health if you don't have it, you might also encounter complications and might have to bribe your way across the border). It can be administered at an affordable price at most reliable Nairobi clinics and hospitals but needs 10 days before it provides protection - so get your vaccination upfront!
Malaria prophylactics, taken as pills during the trip, can be highly effective. Consult your physician. The prophylactics most commonly used in this region are doxycycline (an antibiotic) and malarone (a combination of atovaquone and proguanil, also sold locally as malanil). (Chloroquine is not as useful because of the high incidence of resistance. Mefloquine, also known as lariam, mefliam, and mephaquin, is associated with various side effects, including a high incidence of mood disturbances and a lower risk of severe neurological disturbance.)
If you get flu-like symptoms, including fever, joint aches and vomiting, consult a doctor immediately. If no doctor is available, take a treatment dose of an appropriate anti-malarial and go immediately to a hospital. While the public hospitals are slightly cheaper, long waits and poor conditions and care at these facilities may make it worthwhile to go to a private clinic. Costs will vary, but a typical trip to the hospital for malaria testing, doctor's consultation, and medication will cost USD12-30 depending on the clinic. As malaria can become serious, a trip to the hospital is recommended at the first symptoms of malaria.
If you get such symptoms within twelve months of returning home, seek a doctor's advice very quickly and immediately tell him where you have been in the last year. Delayed treatment, even by just a few hours, can lead to permanent brain and liver damage or death.
Do not have unprotected sex as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are a risk. The country's Adult HIV Prevalence rate (15th in the world) is over 6.1% or 1 in 16 adults. Voluntary Testing and Counselling (VCT) clinics offer free testing and counselling for HIV/AIDS.
Cholera is another danger. When in affected areas, see a doctor immediately and drink plenty of water.
All water should be treated, either by boiling or through purifying tablets or filters. This includes Nairobi as well as rural areas. Typhoid fever is a risk and, like malaria prophylactics, the vaccination is not 100% effective. It is advisable to buy bottled water for drinking. It is available countrywide. All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed. While eating from the roadside kiosks is part of the cultural experience that one should not miss, note that such places do not always have the highest sanitary conditions and stomach illnesses can result.
It is advisable to have travel and accident insurance.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Kenya during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Although Kenya is predominantly Christian and somewhat liberal, there are areas with major Muslim influence, such at the Coastal regions, where it is considered indecent to wear short dresses. This is true in rural Christian areas as well. The locals, however, are extremely friendly.
Beachwear is acceptable on the beach but not while strolling around town.Nudism as well as topless bathing is prohibited in Kenya. Even though some hotels allow topless or nude sunbathing, these are in restricted areas and not in public areas.
Kissing or heavy petting is frowned upon in public, even though Kenyan youth engage in both, liberally in night clubs.
Homosexuality is against the law but is practised secretly. Any overt displays of homosexuality (especially male to male relationships) may, at times, result in open hostility. Although violent reactions are quite uncommon, it is best to be discreet if engaging in any such activities with travel mates or locals. However, it is customary to hold a same sex person's hand while engaged in conversation.
Permission is required in order to take pictures of people, as a matter of etiquette. Prohibited are photos of military and public facilities such as police stations, banks, ferries, etc. This is strictly countered, so be careful!
Going as a white guy with Kenyans in a pub or restaurant you are expected to pay. If you do not want to do that, then first check it out! If you are invited home to Kenyans, the guest gift should be according to the occasion. At a meeting on a tea, one brings a trifle, with invitation to the food corresponding more, as wine and sweets for the children. To bring nothing is offensive.
Internet cafés are common throughout Kenya and usually offer decent link quality. Expect prices around 0.50c/1Ksh per minute. Most cyber cafes now charge 0.50c KES per minute.
Safaricom, Airtel, Orange Telkom and YU: After purchasing a starter SIM card you may access the net instantly, if you have an Internet-capable handset or a modem. However, when using your account balance to pay for access, the prices are steep. It is much cheaper to purchase a data bundle, and the more expensive ones offer much better price/limit ratio. For example in January 2016, a 2GB data bundle costs Ksh 1000 from Orange Telkom while a 3GB from Safaricom costs Ksh 1000. A SIM card costs between Ksh 50-100.
You will be required to provide valid identification as it is required by law that all SIM cards be registered.
You may purchase the bundles by charging your account with scratch top-up cards and then dialling *100# or *544# (Safaricom and Airtel), *124# (Orange Telkom). Be warned that once the data bundle is finished the Internet access will be done by a fallback method using your current account balance, which is much more expensive.