Nestled in East Africa and boasting an impressive landscape that shifts from a dramatic coastline to vast grasslands and mountain peaks, Kenya is one of Africa’s most popular destinations for safaris. The country is home to some of Africa’s most stunning geographical features including the Great Rift Valley.
Here, visitors can get up close and personal with Africa’s wildlife as they explore famous wildlife areas like the Maasai Mara Reserve or Amboseli National Park. With elephants, rhino, lions, and the great wildebeest migration, Kenya will leave you breathless.
Karibu – Welcome to Kenya
Conversation of animals and culture has become the focus in Kenya. The country’s strict laws of preservation have kept endangered animals from becoming extinct and Kenya has guarded the traditions and culture of the local people.
The Maasai, Swahili, and Turkana are some of the well-known groups of people that call Kenya home. With passion and love for their country, the locals are warm and welcoming to all visitors. Guests can get up close and personal by visiting villages, which gives them the opportunity to observe an array of local traditions and customs.
Urban at its core and surrounded by a National Park, Nairobi is Kenya’s much-loved capital. While polarizing in its appearance and character, Nairobi is often the first place that people see as it is home to the country’s international airport. The city has a rough reputation and petty crime is common, but underneath its tough exterior, Nairobi may surprise you.
The urban side of Nairobi is a fun place to explore with plenty of new restaurants and nightclubs to keep your attention. Yet, just beyond the city streets, the Nairobi National Park gives you a hint of Kenya’s safaris. From Nairobi, you can then hop to other destinations and explore everything that Kenya has to offer.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
As a part of East Africa, Kenya has an extensive history that dates back millions of years to the paleolithic time period. Early human ancestors from the genus Homo have been found in Kenya, which has made the country famous. The Leakey family made most of the discoveries including the Nariokotome Boy, which is a complete hominid skeleton belonging to the genus Homo. The discovery of that fossil and others in Kenya have made the country important in understanding human evolution.
Kenya continued to develop throughout the Neolithic period and Iron Age, which led to the expansion of the Bantu culture and development of the Swahili people. Since the 15th century, the Portuguese began to explore Africa’s East Coast, where they began to establish small settlements. This gave the Portuguese power over the trading routes that ran through the Indian Ocean, but it also created tension as confrontations between Omani Arabs began to rise.
Eventually, the Portuguese lost interest in the trade routes to Africa because of diminished profits. This allowed the Omani Arabs to take over the area and begin the colonization of Kenya and Tanzania. The Omani mostly stuck to the coastline of Kenya as they expanded by building plantations and they started importation of slaves, which continued throughout the 19th century.
Most of the Omani’s trading was with Europeans, who then began to map the interior areas of Kenya. Germany and England both took interest in Kenya, which led to the country becoming a British protectorate in 1895.
For almost 70 years, Britain ruled over Kenya. Some of the most significant additions to the country were the Uganda Railway, which connected the interior parts of Uganda and Kenya to the port of Mombasa. Conflict arose as World War I broke out and East Africa became a battle between Germany and Britain. Since, then Kenya sought to become more independent and the country formed a union.
It wouldn’t be until 1963 that Kenya would declare itself independent from Britain. Since then, Kenya has worked hard to stabilize its government and grow its economy. While issues like poverty, corruption, and crime are all present in Kenya, it is still a safe place for tourists to visit. Tourism is the second largest source of income for the country and those that choose to visit its borders can help out the locals by giving their tourist dollars to Kenya.
Tourism is so important to Kenya that the country has focused on using English as an official language. While the majority of the country speaks Swahili, the first official language, many people have begun to study and learn English to help them find a job. In addition to English and Swahili, many people in Kenya also speak their mother tongue within their community, which makes Kenya a multilingual country.
Most countries in Africa have strict entry requirements and Kenya is no exception to this rule. For US citizens who are traveling to Kenya it is highly recommended that you obtain a tourist visa prior to your arrival in the country. You can apply for a tourist visa online using the official government site for e-visas. A single-entry visa costs $51 US dollars.
If you choose not to obtain an e-visa, you can apply for a visa upon arrival. In the future, Kenya will eliminate visas upon arrival and ask that all visitors apply for an e-visa prior to their arrival. However, the changes to the visa have not been implemented and visas upon arrival are currently available at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
In addition to a visa, travelers will need to have a US passport that is valid for at least 6 months past their intended date of departure from Kenya. Your passport must have two blank pages. There are no currency restrictions for entry into Kenya, but you may not leave with more than $100,000 Kenyan Shillings or $921 US dollars.
Finally, all visitors must show proof of a recent Yellow Fever vaccine. If you do not have proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination, you will be denied entry into the country. The Yellow Fever vaccine is the only required immunization for entry into Kenya. However, other diseases like Malaria, Dengue, Cholera, Tubercluosis, Rabies, HIV, Hepatitis A and B are present within the country. You should ensure that your immunization boosters are up to date before you travel to Kenya. Travelers should also discuss Malaria prevention with their physician prior to traveling abroad.
While many people may consider Africa to be a budget destination because of the high level of poverty throughout the continent, tourists should be prepared to raise their spending budgets when planning a trip to Kenya. With exclusive experiences and mega safaris, Kenya has become a destination for the wealthy. Budget backpackers can make it work, but most travelers will find that the biggest expenses of their trip will go towards the airline ticket, accommodation, and safaris.
Other parts of your spending budget will include food, drink, and transportation. Most travelers will save money by eating at local establishments, but you also have to be careful about where you dine. In unregulated restaurants, travelers are more likely to become sick. This means that you should choose well-known restaurants, which means higher prices. Transportation can also be very expensive, especially if you are traveling to different parks or reserves in Kenya.
Most travelers would not call Kenya a budget friendly destination, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune visiting the country either. With a spending budget outline, you can determine what you can and cannot afford on your trip to Kenya.
Before you can get too excited about visiting Kenya’s famous parks, you will need to make a reservation with an airline and plan the dates of your trip. On average, tourists will pay $1,100 US dollars for a flight from the United States to Kenya. However, the cost of a flight will be affected by the time of year that you travel.
The tourist high season in Kenya lines up with the dry season, which runs from June to October. This is also the best time to view the wildlife including the famous wildebeest migration, which happens annually from August to October. From June to October, tourists should also expect to pay more for a flight than during the tourist off season.
The next big portion of your budget will be spent on accommodation. Most accommodation prices in Kenya range from budget to mid-range and luxury options. For backpackers, the most affordable types of accommodation will be hostels or campsites. Both have an average price of $30 US dollars per night. Guest houses are also a popular option in Kenya and average prices hover around $50-$60 US dollars per night.
A mid-range hotel in Kenya would charge $90-$125 US dollars per night. These types of hotels would put a larger focus on guests’ comfort and security, which makes them a great choice for travelers who are concerned about their safety while abroad. Luxury accommodation options can be very expensive and range in price from $150-$1000 US dollars per night.
The large range in price for luxury accommodation comes down to where in Kenya you are located and what you are doing. Luxury hotels in Kenya will normally cost less than $300 US dollars per night, unless you are on safari, which is when the nightly prices rise.
For most accommodation options, the price of food will not be included in the price or nightly rate. The only exception to this is if you have booked an all-inclusive safari, which would include the price of food and transportation. For financial security, travelers should include the cost of food and drink in their spending budget.
With a long history, as well as hundreds of ethnic groups residing in Kenya, the country’s cuisine is a diverse spread of delicious dishes. Local ingredients are sourced from the ocean and agriculture. The most popular ingredients include vegetables, meat, and fish. Many meals also include a starchy ingredient like potatoes or corn.
One of Kenya’s favorite dishes is called ugali, which is a dough made of maize or sorghum flour. The dough is served with stew and is a popular choice because of its high levels of iron. Another side dish that is popular in Kenya is Sukuma wiki. This is a dish that combines collard greens with onions and tomatoes. Sukuma wiki can also be eaten as a main dish.
The best meat dish that locals and tourists love is called nyama choma, which is a meat-based dish that is often sold by street vendors. Seasoned with salt and pepper, the meat is simplistic but packed with flavor. A unique dish that is served as a snack after dinner is chips mayai. Chips mayai is an omelet stuffed with French fries. While it may seem like an odd combination, many people eat it with tomato sauce to add more flavor.
Some of Kenya’s most popular snack food includes mandazi, pilau, and mukimo. These are all bread or tortilla like dishes, which are served as a side with meat or stew. While these are just some of the popular menu items, there are even more dishes that you can try. With dozens of options, Kenya will keep your taste buds entertained.
For backpackers, you should plan to spend about $10 US dollars per meal. For some travelers this equates to spending up to $30 US dollars per day on food. If you want to eat in popular restaurants or tourist areas, you will need to significantly increase your budget with most travelers spending $60-$90 US dollars per day. In the best restaurants, a meal will cost $20-$30 US dollars.
Another big expense when dining out is the cost of alcohol, which is moderately expensive in Kenya. Most people will spend about $5 US dollars for a beverage like beer or a glass of wine. However, in some tourist areas, you may have to spend up to $7 US dollars for an alcoholic beverage.
While many travelers will save money by finding affordable places to eat, the cost of airfare and accommodation means that a trip to Kenya will still be quite expensive. Overall, travelers should expect to spend about $110 US dollars per day in Kenya. Budget travelers may be able to lower the cost to about $90 US dollars per day at the bare minimum.
Mid-range budgets often provide travelers more comfort and would cost $150-$200 US dollars per day. Luxury vacations in Kenya can cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars per day depending on your choice of accommodation, food, and drink.
Another big part of your spending budget and often the number one reason why you would be interested in visiting Kenya is the wildlife safaris. Kenya is famous for its wildlife and safaris are the best way to get out and explore the wonder of the country’s natural landscapes. However, going on safari is expensive and the cost of a safari is an important part of your spending budget.
Kenya’s popularity as a top destination for safaris means that the National Parks and reserves have expensive entrance fees and visitation rules. Park fees are very expensive and in popular areas like Nairobi National Park, you will be asked to pay $50 US dollars per person as an entrance fee. If you book a safari, the park fee should be included in your price.
Budget safaris are an option in Kenya and are the best choice for travelers who want to experience the local wildlife without breaking the bank. Budget safaris will cost about $150 US dollars per day and would provide accommodation in the form of tents in established camps. Mid-range safaris will charge about $350 US dollars per day and would have more comfortable rooms with private amenities.
Luxury safaris will be very expensive in Kenya and you should expect to spend $7,000-$15,000 US dollars for an all-inclusive package. The duration of the safari will range from 7-14 days. The most expensive options will cost about $1,000 US dollars per day. However, the average cost is about $700-$800 US dollars per day for a luxury option.
How to Get Around
The last part of your spending budget will cover the cost of transportation around Kenya. It can be tricky to get around Kenya, but there are plenty of options for travelers that range in price from affordable to lavish. The most popular ways to get around Kenya include domestic flights, car rentals or a private driver, buses, trains, and ferries.
The most expensive option for traveling around Kenya is domestic flights. While this is the most convenient way to explore Kenya’s landscape, you will need to significantly raise your spending budget if you plan on using domestic flights to travel. Most domestic flights will cost a couple hundred dollars. The most expensive flights will charge $275-$375 US dollars. Shorter flights are more affordable and will cost less than $100 US dollars.
For more freedom, but with its own set of risks, some travelers will choose to rent a car. Car rentals cost about $50 US dollars per day, not including the price of gas. However, driving in Kenya can be difficult because of the poor road conditions and frequent police stops.
Some travelers choose to avoid these issues by hiring a private driver, which allows them to travel independently, but eliminate the risks of driving themselves. Private drivers in Kenya will charge $60-$120 US dollars per day.
Buses and Taxis
For budget travelers, the best way to get around is by using the local buses, matatus (minibuses), or taxis. Most rides will cost less than $15 US dollars with shorter rides costing less than $10 US dollars. However, for your safety, it is better to use a reliable bus service. The matatus are popular amongst locals but have a poor reputation of being unsafe. If you choose to take a matatu, you should travel with a group and not be afraid to be asked to be let off of the bus.
Taxis are another option and they are affordable for short distances. Most taxi rides that are short in duration should cost less than $10 US dollars. However, long distance taxi rides could cost up to $20 US dollars.
Boats and Ferries
If you are in a coastal area of Kenya, boats and ferries can be used to travel around the ocean and from port to port. Ferries are very affordable, and many will charge less than $2 US dollars per journey.
Points of Interest
For most travelers, visiting cities in Kenya isn’t at the top of their list. Instead, most people will choose their destination based on Kenya’s points of interest. Outside of Nairobi, there are small cities, but unless you’re traveling to a point of interest that is located nearby, you probably won’t venture into too many towns or villages.
Here is a breakdown of the capital and the best points of interest in Nairobi.
Often used as Kenya’s jumping-off point, Nairobi will surprise most visitors who choose to stay within the city limits for a few days. While most people will immediately head to other parts of Kenya, Nairobi shouldn’t be overlooked. As a metropolitan capital, Nairobi is full of energy and it has embraced a new future.
Long gone are the days of the once small town, which has been turned into a cosmopolitan capital. Here, visitors can explore the new restaurants and bars as they enjoy their first days in Kenya. Safety is a concern in the city and travelers should never go out alone or at night.
Nairobi National Park
Located just outside of Nairobi is the National Park, which is home to some of Africa’s most famous animals. Some of the most sought-after animals that guests are eager to view are the black rhinoceros, lions, leopards, giraffes, and cheetahs. With three sides of the park enclosed by fences, one side is left completely open, which gives the animals freedom to move from within the park to the nearby Kitengela plains.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
Connected to Tanzania’s famous Serengeti National Park, Maasai Mara National Reserve is Kenya’s most famous wildlife area. The park was named after the Maasai people whose ancestors lived in the area. Most tourists go to Maasai Mara to view Africa’s Big Five animals and go on a safari. The park is also the location where millions of wildebeest migrate from Maasai Mara to the Serengeti. Security in the park is taken seriously and it is highly recommended that visitors book a safari to explore the area.
Amboseli National Park
Another famous park in Kenya is Amboseli, which gives visitors magnificent views of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Amboseli is frequently named as having some of the best wildlife viewing in the world and it gives you the chance to get up close and personal with Africa’s wildlife. Animals that reside in the park include Africa’s Big Five, hyenas, giraffes, and zebras.
Sitting on the floor of the Great Rift Valley is Lake Nakuru, which is famous for its black and white rhinos, as well as the pink flamingoes. A national park is tied to the area, which helps protect the local wildlife. Tourists can visit the park on safari or on their own in hopes to catch a glimpse of its famous inhabitants. The close proximity to Nairobi also makes this national park the adventure for a day trip out of the city.
Get Out and Go
With an endless landscape that has been well-protected and preserved, Kenya is Africa’s King of Safaris. Conservation is a serious topic here and poachers have been met with armed guards. For tourists, this makes Kenya the best place to go to see Africa’s unique wildlife. Yet, no matter whether you are out in the parks or exploring a city, you won’t leave disappointed because Kenya is Africa’s most dazzling safari destination.