Here’s what you need to know before traveling to Kenya
By Milda Urbonaite
So you’re traveling to Kenya? Congratulations!
Whether you’re going on a safari, planning to test your endurance up Mount Kenya, or have your eyes set on city-getaways in Nairobi and Mombasa, you’ll have an unforgettable time!
Like any other trip, a trip to Kenya needs some preparations and will go much smoother if you know certain things ahead of time.
Here’s what you need to know before traveling to Kenya to have the time of your life.
Money, money, money
Many people traveling to Kenya book an all-inclusive safari and think that that’s all that they will need. However, you will need cash for souvenirs, activities, and tips, so make sure to have some local currency – Kenyan Shilling (KSH).
Even though US dollars are generally accepted, some places might not take bills older than 2003 since there’s been a severe counterfeiting problem.
If you have your credit cards with you, you’ll be able to take out cash at an ATM in larger cities and towns (Nairobi, Mombasa). VISA cards are the most accepted. Note that the daily withdrawal limit varies from 10.000 – 40,000 KSH (approx. $70 – 300).
Lastly, consider paying for things with your phone! Almost everybody in Kenya uses the mobile payment service M-Pesa where you simply load money into your phone.
Have around $250-300 a week for your miscellaneous purchases.
Transport and getting around
If you’re traveling on your own, you will need to get around the country. There are a few transportation options in Kenya to know about.
For long-distance travel, you can choose between trains, buses, flights, or hiring a car with the driver for the entire journey. This option comes with a perk of the driver acting as your tour guide!
For short-distance needs, choose matatus – local minivans or more adventurous tuk-tuks and boda-bodas (taxis on a motorbike). Be ready to experience the crazy traffic and a unique driving culture – it’s part of the adventure!
If you don’t want to be left without your devices, make sure you have proper power adapters. Kenya uses the same plugs as the UK (two or three-pin plugs), but because some places are different, it is best to bring a set or a versatile adapter.
You should also know that in some places, electricity generators are switched off during some parts of the day. For this, plan to charge your devices in advance.
If you’re traveling further into the rural areas and remote destinations, best to have power banks ready as a power socket might not be available.
It’s an eternal question on a traveler’s mind – how much should you tip your guides, drivers, waiters, and other people for their hard work?
The general consensus is this: for the guides or park rangers, it’s up to $10-20 a day, the staff at the restaurants 10% of the bill, drivers – $2-5 per transfer, SPA employees – 2-5$. Remember, taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped, but feel free to do so if you had a great ride.
Rainy seasons and weather
Did you know that Kenya has two rainy seasons? Well, now, you do!
Have that in mind before planning the holiday. Since you’ll be spending most of your time outside, it is easier to spot animals during the safari when it’s dry, and you definitely want to avoid getting stuck in muddy roads.
The long rainy season starts at the end of March and extends into May. The shorter one is in November and may continue until December.
Remember that June, July, August, September, and October are actually the coldest months. Most people associate the Africa with constant heat, but if you’re traveling during this time, mornings can get as chilly as 10°C/50°F. So pack that sweater and warm socks!
During the dry season daytime temperatures are usually around 23°C/73°F – 28°C/82°F.
Health and vaccines
One of the things you’ll need to take care of before traveling to Kenya is getting vaccinated.
Check with your local health provider and official Kenyan authorities, but you’ll most likely need vaccines for yellow fever, rabies, cholera, diphtheria, tetanus, rabies, typhoid, and a couple others.
The other thing is that you’ll want to bring is Malaria pills as the risk in Kenya is quite high. Malaria is spread by insects (mosquitoes), so stock up on bug and insect repellents.
Finally, because tap water in Kenya is so different than in the West, it is best to only drink bottled or boiled water in most places and avoid ice.
Bonding with the locals
The best memories of travel are the bonds we make with the local people. Kenyans are very friendly, but every traveler should also make an effort!
Kenya has two official languages – English and Swahili. And while English is the easy way to go, it’s always nice to learn a few Swahili words or phrases.
Another thing to remember is that you should always accept food if offered. Even if you’re not hungry – thank and at least try.
Luckily, most of the time, getting lunch is a great way to have a chat and taste something new!
Go on a safari
Most people go to Kenya specifically for a safari, and if it’s not on the initial itinerary – reconsider!
If you think it’s not for you – make an exception. You will be inspired by the majestic lions, giant elephants, and speedy cheetahs, rhinos, and zebras. Even if you can’t bet on them like the Kentucky Derby horses on Twin Spires, you can still bet all your money that you will have a great time!