The East African country of Kenya is a pearl in sub-Saharan Africa. 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, and is one of the major economic hubs in Africa.
Cities and major towns
Kenya has 3 major cities:
- 1 Nairobi — the cosmopolitan capital city and economic centre of Kenya and most vibrant in the East African region.
- 2 Mombasa — historic port on the Indian Ocean seafront and probably Africa's longest continuously settled town.
- 3 Kisumu — the major city to the west, on the shore of Lake Victoria.
Major towns based on size and popularity as tourist destination include:
- 4 Lamu — main town of the Lamu Archipelago, renown internationally for its annual cultural festival.
- 5 Garissa — a predominantly Muslim town in the east close to Somalia
- 6 Lodwar — in the north on the main route to South Sudan with access to Lake Turkana
- 7 Malindi — the landing point of Vasco Da Gama in Kenya with a large Italian population
- 8 Meru — town near the base of Mount Kenya. It is the crossroads for travel to Nairobi
- 9 Nakuru — near lake Nakuru National Park and an extinct volcano (Menengai)
- 10 Mtwapa - the small town near mombasa has become a preferred place of residence for European pensioners and is a centre of night life
North of Nairobi: These parks, although very interesting and worth visiting, with fewer visitors than the southern parks.
- 1 Kakamega Rainforest - last primeval rainforest in the country and home to various monkeys and hundreds of bird species
- 2 Aberdare National Park — a cool and cloudy national park with lots of large game, and over 250 species of bird recorded
- 3 Sibiloi National Park
- 4 Mount Elgon National Park
- 5 Lake Nakuru National Park — a stunning 400 species of bird have been recorded here including the largest flocks of flamingos anywhere on earth
- 6 Mount Kenya National Park — challenging trekking on high peaks
South of Nairobi: The southern parks are the most visited, especially by those who divide their holidays between a safari and time on the beach.
- 7 Maasai Mara National Reserve — probably the most popular reserve in Kenya due to the high concentration of big cats
- 8 Nairobi National Park — virtually in Nairobi and a great option to see large game for those on a tight schedule
- 9 Tsavo East National Park — major game park for short safari trips from the coast
- 10 Tsavo West National Park — no. 2 game park for short safari trips from the coast
- 11 Amboseli National Park — a swampy lowland Maasai park that is one of the best places anywhere in Africa to view large mammals, especially elephants
See also African National Parks
|Currency||Kenyan shilling (KES)|
|Population||48.4 million (2017)|
|Electricity||240 volt / 50 hertz (BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||112 (emergency medical services, police, fire department), 999 (emergency medical services, police, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Kenya is one of the major economic hubs in Africa, considered to be the power hub of East and Central Africa. Kenya has re-based its economy and achieved the middle income level.
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. It receives a great deal of sunshine all year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning. Nairobi is at high altitude and can be quite cold, even during the day, between June and August.
The long rain season is from April to June, and the short rain season October to December. Rain is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is February to March, and the coldest July to August.
Game viewing is best in the dry seasons, which are from mid-June to October, and from late-December to mid-March. 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.) Coastal Kenya formed part of the Swahili Coast, which comprised of numerous wealthy city-states that engaged in trade across the Indian Ocean and Sahara Desert, one of the most prominent being the city of Mombasa.
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 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.
Kenya's political struggles have been 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 also many Somalis living outside that region, including a large community in Nairobi. However, compared to many 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 ethnic communities with a combination of 67% Bantus (Kikuyu, Swahili, Kamba, Luhya, Meru, Abagusii) and 30% Nilotes (Maasai, Luo, Samburu, Turkana and Kalenjin). Another important ethnic group are the Indians, who were largely brought over by the British as indentured servants during the colonial period and settled around major cities, and are predominantly business people. There is also a small but prominent white community that dates back to the colonial era, mostly of British descent.
- 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, Eswatini, 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, 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 on arrival or through a Kenyan embassy/consulate or the Kenya Government eVisa portal prior to departure. Visas on arrival cost:
- 72-hour Transit visa: US$20 €20, or £10
- 90-day Tourist visa single entry: US$50, €40, or £30
- 90-day East African multiple entry visa good for Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda) US$100, €90, or £65.
- the cheapest way to pay for the visa on arrival is with UK pounds (£).
Only single-entry visas are available through the eVisa portal. Unlike some countries' visas, the application for a Kenyan visa is short (1 page) and not very detailed.
A 3-month visa extension costs US$22.
Visas can now be obtained online beforehand through the Kenya Government eVisa portal. Two years after Kenya introduced the e-Visa, some scammers try to reap unsuspecting visa applicants by creating fake websites. E-visas for Kenya can only be applied for on the official government website.
Make sure you're in the correct line at the airport to avoid an additional wait. No photos are required, just cash for payment.
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 £50 to process a Kenyan visa application and an extra £70 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 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.
Plastic bags are forbidden in Kenya. The ban on the import of plastic bags also applies to tourists. There are strict penalties. Plastic bags in your baggage are to be handed in upon arrival in Kenya.
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) and international connections (e.g. to Dubai, London, Amsterdam, New York City, Mumbai). It's also a SkyTeam associate member.
Kenya has three international airports:
- Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO IATA) 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, Jambo Jet.
More 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., Lagos in Nigeria, Bamako in Mali, as well as direct flights to Bangkok and connections to Hong Kong and China.
Major roads are typically paved with various states of maintenance though secondary roads outside of urban areas are typically unpaved. All neighbouring countries can be accessed by road, 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.
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. Ksh 3,250.
- Nairobi to Kampala. Ksh 2,300.
- Nairobi to Jinja. Ksh 2,000.
- Nairobi to Kigali. Ksh 3,700.
- Nairobi to Arusha. Ksh 1,100.
- Nairobi to Moshi. Ksh 1,300.
- Nairobi to Mwanza. Ksh 1,700.
- Mombasa to Dar es Salaam. Ksh 2,000.
- Mombasa to Tanga. Ksh 800.
- Kisuma to Kampala. Ksh 1,500.
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, 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. 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.
Jambojet is a low-cost, no-frills airline 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. Jambojet now fly to/from Uganda. A one-way flight to Mombasa from Nairobi can cost as little as Ksh 3500 depending on the timing (checked luggage requires an additional fee). Tickets can be booked online and paid for with Visa and Mastercard.
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.
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 such as Modern Coast for the long journeys.
Local buses in town are run by private companies, such as the green and yellow Citi Hoppa, which provide transportation along various routes for Ksh 50-100. 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 are privately operated minibuses, typically for 14 or 25 passengers and operating over short and medium distances. They 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 operate along set routes, picking and dropping off passengers at any point along the way. Most rides within cities cost 20 to 40 Ksh.
Many matatus 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 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. Matatus used to be usually packed to well over capacity – up to 25 people in a 14-seater vehicle. It is strongly advised not to take matatus at night, as they are known targets for robberies, in addition to the increased risks of reckless night driving.
Passenger trains are making a comeback in Kenya with the new railway line, often referred to SGR (short for standard-gauge railway). The first phase, linking the capital Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa, is fully operational with two trains in each direction every day, journey time is about five hours. Construction is ongoing on the section towards Kisumu and the border with Uganda. The first section of this route, from Nairobi to Naivasha opened in late 2019.
Trains are banded as Madaraka Express and are operated by Kenya Railways. There is one Express train and one Inter-Country, with the latter making more stops along the route. As of 2020, tickets for the full journey are Ksh 3,000 for first class and Ksh 1,000 for second. Tickets can be bought at their dedicated website. Notice that while the trains operate at semi-high speed, stations are often located far from the city centre. In both Nairobi and Mombasa, travel time from the city centre to the station is up to one hour.
The old colonial railway line is still used for some freight, but as of 2020, there's no passenger trains.
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.
When it comes to renting a car for a safari, consider booking a customized vehicle driven by a local tour driver-guide, provided by a Kenya based tour operator. The reason is that the road conditions in Kenya will pose a major challenge to anyone used to the high standards of quality roads and standards of driving in the West or parts of Asia as well. Roads, even national highways in some cases are in a state of disrepair, may have potholes, unmarked speed breakers (particularly dangerous) and a lack of road signs or directions. It is the general consensus even among Kenyans that standards of driving and road safety in Kenya are deficient and the country has a high rate of serious accidents. Renting a safari vehicle with a trained driver~guide is often not that expensive and this service is offered by companies in Kenya such as Shoor Car Rental and Market Hire. There are two types of safari vehicles: the less costly minibus (tour vans) and the 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser models which cost more but are larger and have four wheel drive. Both vehicle types have game viewing roofs and the minibus is suitable for travel to most destinations except those that may have involve rough or muddy road travel.
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, and Davina Cabs [dead link] 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 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 also is a great destination for beach holidays, with several located along the coastal regions and the city of Mombasa, especially Diani Beach. Other coastal towns worth visiting include Lamu and Malindi.
Kenya is also becoming a golf holiday destination, thanks to the many beautiful lush courses around the major urban areas including some which have hosted international Golf tournaments such as Muthaiga and Karen Golf Courses. Outside of Nairobi there is the well known Limuru Golf Club and the Great Rift Valley Golf Resort close to Lake Naivasha. Green fees range from US$15–60 per round, plus a US$5–7 caddy fee for 18 holes.
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, and South Horr.
- Beaches: Travel organizations usually offer beach holidays at South Coast or North Coast, which simply means south or north of Mombasa. While the South Coast (Tiwi Beach, Diani Beach, Galu Beach, Gazi Beach, Msambweni Beach, Mwazaro Beach) has the nicer beaches and more primordial nature the North Coast near Mombasa (Njali Beach, Bamburi Beach, Shandzu Beach, Mtwapa Beaches, Kikambala Beach) offers much more activities. The beaches further north (Kilifi, Watamu, Malindi) are like South Coast, primordial and tranquil, not as long and broad as Diani Beach but even more photogenic.
- Safari: Watch a wildlife migration in one of the National Parks. 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, less than 20 minutes drive from Nairobi's central business district. Major attractions: big cats including lions and leopards, buffaloes, a variety of antelope species, baboons, and monkeys, among others.
- If you want to spend some time in the urban social scene, you might consider attending music and cultural events such as Blankets and Wine, which features international and local artists performing in a picnic-like setting for families and friends looking to enjoy African talent. The event happens on the first Sunday of every month in Nairobi.
- 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 set up to integrate the Asian and African cultures 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 is a one-week event that 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 have an array of nightclubs that play 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 nightlife, nightclubs may attract untrustworthy party-goers and "clubbers", but this shouldn't ruin your experience as nightclubs 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
As of January 2020:
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.
- MasterCard and Visa can be used at all the Equity Bank and Ecobank ATMs.
- Equity Bank ATMs also accept American Express, JCB, Diners Club, Union Pay and Discover cards.
- Banks in Kenya have ATM fees of up to Ksh430 to use overseas cards in their ATMs. The only banks without a fee for overseas bank cards are those of Equity Bank and Ecobank.
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 a very popular genre of music here.
Do note that merchants are open to bargaining. They will most often raise the price significantly for foreigners, so do not be afraid to haggle.
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.
Kenya has several local beer brands, the most popular being Tusker. Imported beers are generally available in higher-end establishments.
Imported and local wines and spirits are widely available, though 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.
Soft drinks, especially from Coca Cola, are widely available, and the strong, locally-produced Stoney "Tangawizi" ginger ale is fantastic.
Most bars and small shops will expect you to leave behind your glass bottles so they can return them to their distributors.
Nairobi has a wide variety of tourist hotels, from backpackers hostels 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 Ksh 1,000. US$10 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 US$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 5,000-7,000 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 many colleges offering secretarial and computer courses in the CBDs of Nairobi and Mombasa. There are also many universities, both public and private, and some 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 and occasional post-election violence.
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, and MP3 players. 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. If arriving from or travelling to other African countries, having a yellow fever vaccination certificate is typically mandatory. The vaccine can be administered at an affordable price at most reliable Nairobi clinics and hospitals.
Malaria medications are recommended if traveling to rural areas (Nairobi is not within the malaria zone). 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 and 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. Consult your physician and government health advisories for current advice.
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 US$12-30 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, 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 and topless bathing are prohibited in Kenya. Even though some hotels allow topless or nude sunbathing, these are in restricted areas and not in public.
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. 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 common to see people of the same gender hold hands while engaged in conversation.
Permission is required in order to take pictures of people, as a matter of etiquette. Photos of military and public facilities such as police stations, banks, ferries, etc. are typically prohibited.
If you are invited to a Kenyan home, it is proper to bring a small gift according to the occasion. If you are a white man and go out with Kenyans, you are expected to pay the bills. If you invite a Kenyan out to a pub or restaurant, you are also expected to pay their transport costs, especially if you are a man inviting a woman.
It is disrespectful to reject food offered to you. Always accept tea and chapati, or mandazi, which is very commonly offered to visitors.
Internet cafés are common throughout Kenya and usually offer decent link quality. Expect prices of Ksh 0.50-1.00 per minute. Most cyber cafes now charge Ksh 0.50 per minute.
Safaricom, Airtel, Telkom: 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 2018, a 10GB data bundle good for one month costs Ksh 1,000 from Airtel or Telkom while a 5GB from Safaricom costs Ksh 1,000. 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# (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.