Useful information for backpacking Kenya

We went to Kenya in May 2015,
during a complete trip (8 months), 
through Southern and Eastern Africa.

If you are planning a budget trip in Kenya, here you can find useful general information. 
We wrote specific articles about route, public transport, visa..., you find them on the right sidebar menu.  

KENYA AT A GLANCE 
   WEATHER IN KENYA    

Mid march to end of may is the rainy season, with a small rain around November. North Kenya is much drier. December to february and june to september are usually dry months. June to September are also the famous months for migrations in Masai Mara, a crowded season.

We were in Kenya in May, rainy and low season, had mainly beautiful days to walk around, but also experienced rains in the evenings. Most of the times, no change of plans, it was a nice time there. Not many travellers, but maybe not the best time of the year if thinking in camping around.

   CHEAP ACCOMODATION IN KENYA   

Every town has at least one lodge. So it´s really easy to find a local basic room everywhere in Kenya, usually, rooms are very clean.. Quality - price relation is good, as it is in Tanzania too.
Price in local accommodation in Kenya: single room from 600 Sh and double from 1.000 Sh, self-contained (6-10 $ for a room!). Usually, 2 people can sleep in a single room, beds are not too small (check, you have to be small size like us maybe). Even basic rooms have mosquito nets.

Expect to pay a bit more in big cities like Nairobi. And also in tourist camps-places, focused to foreign customers, where prices are usually in US$, starting around 40-50$/room.

 Rooms in local accommodation in Kenya: good and cheap!

If visiting game parks and national parks, camping is really expensive inside, as the normal camping is 30 $/pp and special is 50 $/pp (remote and only have a hole-toilet!).

Couchsurfing in  Kenya:
The community looks big but in fact there are also many young people who joined it just to approach the tourists. So always double check!
Not so many active people in fact, most of them are foreigners.
Places where you can find a host are limited to Nairobi and a few big towns. We just did CS in Nairobi.


   MONEY   

It´s the Kenya Shilling (KSh or Sh).
In May 2015, the exchange rate was: 1 €= 103 Sh. Good ATM rate, similar to money changers.

You will find banks and ATMs for international cards in the main towns, in most of the banks, like Stanbic, Barclays, Standart Chartered, Visa and Master cards. Easy. No fees, no small limit.
Payment by card is not avalaible usually, except maybe in some expensive places.
Money changers: easy to find in the main towns.
For tourist activities (national parks, safaris, etc.) and in some tourist hotels, US$ are also used. But also possible to pay in Shillings.  

   TELECOMS IN KENYA   

Buying a SIM card is easy in Kenya and cheap (100 Sh in a company shop, maybe a bit more in airtime places). 3G net in the main towns, E-net in smaller. 
Safaricom is the biggest company, Airtel and Orange have a more limited market (big cities).

Easy to find airtime everywhere (vouchers), usually airtime has a limited expire time (24 hours or 1 week or 1 month). Minimum airtime is 10 Sh. One week internet plan costs around 50 Sh. Ask if any special pack internet+calls+sms but usually they don´t exist and you have to opt for data or calls plans.

We didn´t like the service of Safaricom, coverage was good, but slow, the worst we experienced in Africa (maybe too many people using it). We didn´t like the way to had airtime and get plans, confusing. It´s the main company in Kenya but we can´t recommend it. Never had problems with Airtel or MTN in other African countries. So maybe better try Airtel in Kenya too.

Not too many wifi spots but easy to find an internet shop in main towns.

   FOOD & DRINKS IN KENYA   

Many small local restaurants everywhere, serving food all day long (sometimes open 24 h or til late at night). Often called “hotel”, sometimes restaurants. Compared with Tanzania or Uganda, eating in Kenya is a bit more expensive, but still cheap and OK.

Eat in a butchery: the real Kenya experience! “Nyama Choma” concept. Yes, you see the fresh meat hanging, the butcher cuts it and they cook it there, BBQ mainly("choma") or fried sometimes ("tayaki"). There are tables and side dishes (ugali, chapatis). Goat, lamb, beef, pork, ribs, sausages, insides. You order per weight. Around 400-500 sh/kg (4-5 €/kg), usually ½ kg/pp is fine. Check what they are cooking and choose your piece. They will bring the meat on a board and cut it in small pieces.You have to experience it!



Some restaurants are specialised in fried chicken (around 200 sh) and chips (80-100 sh) and snacks. Chips masala are spicy.

Local restaurants have usually a menu. Prices: Dishes around 100-350 sh (1-3.5 €) and not too big. Pilau (rice with spices), curries, spaghetti, rice, ugali (maize), beans, meat, and Kenyan specials like “kienyeji” (mashed potatoes with beans and corn), “mukimo” (same, with sweet potatoes), “githeri” (beans and maize).

Many lodges (even the cheap ones) have a restaurant and a pub on the first floor, at normal prices.

A “spanish omelette” in Kenya is an omelette with vegetables (onions, tomatoes, etc.), so don´t expect the same than in Spain with potatoes!
Easy to find snacks, chapatis (20-30 Sh), samosas or sambusas (30 Sh) and other snacks (mandazis, etc).

Most of the lodges don´t have a kitchen for customers but you can always ask if you want to cook.
We always eat in the street, except sometimes when doing couchsurfing that we cooked.

Supermarkets in Kenya: plenty, everywhere, well supplied. Nakumatt, Tuskys, Naivas, etc. Even shopping malls in the main towns, just outside the centers, but prices tend to be quite expensive.
Markets and fruit stalls are cheap places to buy fruit and vegetables.


Water is not safe to drink in Kenya, but boiled it´s usually OK, except some rift valley places (fluorid problem), always ask first. 
Water bottles are sold everywhere, quite expensive, around 40 Sh (1 l) or bigger.
Sodas are really cheap in shops and local restaurants (30 Sh for a 33 cl).
Beer: local beers (Tusker, Pilsner, White Cap, etc.) cost around 150 Sh for a 50 cl bottle (1.5 €) in local pubs or alcohol shops (many).

   NATIONAL PARKS IN KENYA    

Parks in Kenya are expensive, like in all East Africa.
You can go on your own, self-drive there, but it´s not usual in Kenya (only expats and the few local people who can afford it maybe). Organised tours are the most commun way of visiting Kenya parks.
National Parks in Kenya are under the managment of  Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). In their website, you can find the fees.


Main national parks in Kenya:  

Amboseli and Nakuru (both premium parks, more expensive, 80$/pp/day).
Aberdare (65$/pp/day), Nairobi (50$/pp/day), Tsavo (East&West, 75$/pp/day).
And add 4$/ small car/day!
Fees are usually for 24 hours (people and car).
Prices are for foreigners. If resident in Kenya it will cost less than 15 $ and even if for local people. But cars are same expensive price for everyone!
Masai Mara is not a national park, it´s out of KWS. There are different protected areas, with special status, like Mara Triangle & Masai Mara National Reserve (the most visited) and also private reserves. Fees: 80 $/pp/day and 4$/small car/day.

Lake Bogoria Nature Reserve is also out of  KWS.
Safari card for KWS: a “smart” card, but many travellers complain, saying it´s confusing. Many complains so check well in advance. Not easy to be an independent visitor of Kenya game parks!

Hard to find good maps of the parks, with gates, areas, etc. Services seem to be quite limited.

   LANGUAGE - COMMUNICATION IN KENYA   

Funny anti-theft system in the lodges
English is spoken everywhere, communication is not a problem in Kenya.
Only in remote areas, like northern Kenya, it will get harder to talk with everybody.
Many local languages.


   SAFETY IN KENYA

Kenya was the only country in our Africa trip (12 countries) where we felt unsafe in the streets, even during the day.  
Nairobi has a very bad reputation, true. We had no problem, but just passed the center quick.
In any big Kenya town, be carefull. Avoid going out at night. Always many people around, and a lot of "lost" guys.

In smaller towns and villages, like Maralal, Naivasha, Nyahururu, Baringo, it was OK, the atmosphere is more relaxed there.

Warning: Like in Tanzania, take precautions if going on safari or doing couchsurfing with local people. Never let money in the room or tent. We heard stories about money stolen in a house doing CS in Nairobi for exemple.

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