ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BACKPACKING IN KENYA
I must confess, when you are born in Kenya, you can take everything around here for granted. Like you may sometimes find no reason to backpack, after all, you have been to all the nice places. The truth is, no matter how much you travel in Kenya, you will always find new things. I have organized trips for backpackers in Kenya and love the experience all over again with every trip. Here is information that is useful to anyone backpacking in Kenya, or Africa in general, and I have the guiding tips on my fingertips.
If you haven’t backpacked to Kenya (yet), it’s up to me to let you know what you are missing out on. A safari experience, beautiful sandy beaches, and deep culture, to name but a few is what you will forever talk about after your Kenyan visit. Here is all that you need to know about backpacking in Kenya.
Kenya is located on the Eastern part of Africa. It is bordered by Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Indian Ocean. Its capital city is Nairobi, other cities in Kenya include Mombasa and Kisumu. Kenya is famous for being the roots of US president Barrack Obama, actress Lupita Nyong’o and also some of the best marathoners in the world. It is the heartbeat of East and Central Africa, hosted the 2015 Global Entreprenuers Summit and its now termed as the Silicon Savannah. Oh, and of course, the wonder of the world, wildebeest migration.
Currency: Kenyan Shilling (Ksh.)
Time Zone: GMT +3
Language: Most Kenyans speak fluent English, Swahili and respective tribal languages.
Kenya is probably one of the easiest place to backpack compared to other African countries. If you are an English speaking person, you will find Kenya easy to pass through as many Kenyans speak English (don’t be irritated if you have to say something twice for them to understand, it has a lot to do with your accent).
The Cost of Backpacking in Kenya
Africa is one of the cheapest places for a backpacker. I have interacted with backpackers who have traveled to other parts of the world, including Asia and South America, and they agree that they find backpacking in Africa much cheaper.
For accommodation, depending on where you want to stay, you can find a dorm bed in hostels for around $10-15 depending on which part of the country you are at. Around a city like Nairobi there are several havens of cheap hotels where you can stay at. A double or twin private double room can cost about $20-30. A nice hotel room, clean with basic amenities can cost from $50 to $90. For a guide on accommodation, you can check out what I wrote about Cheap Hotels in Kenya. While in Nairobi, my backpacking guests stay at Khweza Bed and Breakfast.
Where to eat
Most hostels for backpackers and hotels will provide breakfast, and for lunch and supper you can eat at the hotel or out, as you tour the places. For a decent meal in Kenya you will have to pay at a sit down restaurant for $5-10. You can have some Chinese food, Japanese, Indian or any other cuisine at some upper end hotels for around $15 to 50. A litre of bottled water will cost $0.5-0.8.
A night out
Kenyan nightlife is vibrant, we a really good at partying. Don’t miss out on the night life especially if you are in Nairobi or Mombasa. Depending on where you go out, a bottle of beer will cost between $1.5- $4. You can buy alcohol from supermarkets and drink at your hotel room, or take along in your safari.
When you mention transport in Kenya, you will be told of the notorious ‘matatus’ especially in Nairobi. The local way to commute through Nairobi is also to use ‘matatus’ or buses, which are much cheaper than taxis but not as convenient. They can be noisy sometimes; but will help you move within the city, especially during the day. Plus it is one of the unique Kenyan experiences, why not try something new?
You can use a taxi if not traveling for a long distance, say while commuting in Nairobi. When traveling out of Nairobi, you can take a long-distance bus, a train, or a plane. There are local cheap flights that you can use, like Flight 540, or Jambo Jet- local flights that are economically priced. Alternatively, a tour firm can drive you to your destination especially if you are going on a safari. Most hotels offer excursions and tours; these are best because they provide transport, and you travel with other backpackers.
What you will spend your money on
This is of course the biggest expense for every traveler. Laying down your head after a hectic and hot Kenyan day is inevitable and however cheap accommodation you get. The backpackers hostels and cheap hotels will help you cut cost for accommodation, but feature that in your budget. Check out the cheap hotels in Kenya article on all the alternative places you can get accommodation.
Fuel for road trip
The plains, Savannah and wildlife in Kenya are best experienced by taking a road trip through the country. For a road trip, you have to hire a 4X4 vehicle, and we all know this can guzzle some fuel. If you are on a very tight budget, consider using public transport, or your hotel/hostels tour. When accessing a park like Masai Mara you will still need a vehicle and a tour guide. To cut cost, you can use public transport to Narok, the town near Masai Mara, and take a 4X4 from there, instead of hiring one all the way from Nairobi, again, to do this, you must have some confidence in the transport system.
A guide and a cook
Once on a safari, you need a guide (talk to meJ); self drives are not encouraged in Kenyan parks. You may need a cook especially if you are camping, or hiking a mountain. If you are spending the night at a hotel, you eat at the hotel hence no need for a cook.
Entry into National parks and reserves
Entry fees into National Parks and reserves are unfortunately not that affordable for non-residents. Depending on how many reserves you get into, your pocket will have to weep. Most tickets into a reserve and National Park last 24 hours, or during your entire stay into the hotels inside the reserve. If you cannot afford many of these, there is free wildlife to view along Nairobi-Nakuru highway as you take the road trip! J Thank me later.
Your Health While Backpacking in Kenya
Healthcare in Nairobi and Mombasa and some other major towns is good, you will easily access health facilities. You should have traveler health insurance though. If you intend to be on a safari for a long length of time, you should get immunization against yellow fever, malaria, cholera, polio and typhoid.
Which Malaria tablets should you take?
There are currently 3 anti-malaria tablets prescribed while in sub-saharan Africa. These are Malarone, Lariam and Doxycycline. Each of this is as effective as the other, but you should confirm with your doctor before taking any. Some tourists get side effects such as nightmares, but mostly the side-effects are manageable. It is a personal choice on which drug you choose to take, but first conform with your GP.
Do you really need the yellow fever vaccination?
It is not required in your entry into Kenya but it is recommended; better safe than sorry.
Kenya’s electrical plug socket type?
We use the same as for UK, it is always recommended to carry a 2 plug adapter though.
How to acquire a visa
You need a visa to get into Kenya, available at the airport for about $50 single entry. If you are planning to visit the neighboring countries like Uganda and Tanzania, you can apply for an East African Visa allowing you multiple entries into the countries. For more information about visa requirements, visit http://www.kenyaembassy.com/visa.html
What to do while backpacking in Kenya
Safari tour in Kenya
Safari is a Swahili word meaning journey. There is a reason Kenya is the home of Lion King; Safaris. For a safari tour, I recommend the Masai Mara trip in Kenya as opposed to Serengeti in Tanzania. Though it is basically the same reserve only separated by the country border, the Masai Mara trip will take you closer to the action. For example, the wildebeest migration is best viewed at the Masai Mara reserve. Also, the distances covered during the safari are shorter hence cheaper; think about seeing all the animals in a concentrated area.
The Kenyan camps at Masai Mara are cheaper compared to those at the Serengeti. Of course there are luxury hotels in Masai Mara, but the camping experience is one you don’t want to miss. The camps comprise basic tents, thin mattresses, a lunging area, kitchen and dining room, nice camp fire and hot showers, yes, you can still take a hot shower in the wild. Masai worriors watch your campsite at night, so you can sleep well despite the sounds of hyenas and jackals in the bush. It is simply a backpackers dream.
Self-drive safaris are not allowed in Kenya, you must always have a guide with you. In South Africa, there are self drive tours but don’t expect to see the huge number of wildlife and action as you would in Kenya.
Kenya is known for some of the best beaches in the world, especially Diani beach in the south coast of Mombasa Island. Ending your Kenyan trip with a visit to the Kenyan coast is the ultimate style. After the long, exhausting safari, you need to lie on the beach and experience the sun, sand and sea. From Nairobi, or Masai Mara, you can catch a bus, train of plane to Mombasa, and its neighbouring towns like Malindi, Watamu or Lamu for the beach experience. Check some of the best beaches in Kenya http://www.travelstart.co.ke/blog/10-best-beaches-kenya/
Activities at the beach include diving, sailing, kite and wind surfing. Mombasa is a haven for backpackers; meeting different backpackers from different places and a lot of places you can get accommodation. These include:
The best places for backpackers in Mombasa or the neighbouring towns include
Meet Lesley the friendly and fun loving lady that owns Backpackers Nirvana. This is a beach house, close to Mombasa city center where you can get budget accommodation. The activities you can take part in while staying here include diving, sailing, kite and wind surfing. The Nirvana also offers therapies to relieve stress and relax for her guests. Hint: She offers free breakfast J
Meet Louis and Justine, two guys who know how to host parties and have fun. “Don’t think of us as a business, just think of us as a house with a pool and a bar” is their slogan, that says a lot on what you get at Diani Backpackers. Among the activities you get at Diani Backapackers beside the usual are; swimming pool with a tub, a fully stocked bar, games and cards, airport pickup service, monkey spotting, slip ‘n slide and 400m of the wonderful Diani Beach. Their accommodation plans include dorms, privates and camping. At Diani beach, you will enjoy activities like camel rides, motorbike rentals, scuba diving, a tour to Wasini Island, sightseeing at Shimba hills and of course, a vibrant nightlife!
Kilifi Backpackers http://www.kilifibackpackers.com/
Kilifi Backpackers consider themselves as your distant relatives. At one hour’s drive from Mombasa or Malindi, Kilifi is the place to be if you want to immerse yourself into the culture of the coastal locals in Kenya. Also get activities like reef snorkeling trips, moonlit dhow sailing, village walks and beach bonfires, live music events and wild cliff adventures. I would recommend this place if you happen to be in Kilifi.
Other backpackers hostels and hotels you can check in the Kenyan coast are Eden Parlour (Nyali), Kenyabeds Backpackers Nirvana (Nyali), Distant Relatives Lodge & backpackers (Kilifi), Beach Africa (Mtwapa), Makuti Villa (Kilifi), Twiga Lodge (Tiwi), Stilts (Diani), Kumba House (Malindi), Arocha (Watamu), Marijani (Watamu).
Islands at the Kenya Coast
Have you ever ridden a donkey? It is an experience you will never forget. Welcome to Lamu Island. Being in Lamu is like visiting a place in a novel; it’s so relaxed and looks like something from the 19th century, no cars, you can walk through the narrow streets, take a bike or even better, a donkey. Lamu old town is one of the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa. If you want exotic, less crowded white beaches, make sure you catch a boat to Lamu.
Other islands worth paying a visit in the Kenyan coast include Wasini Island, Chale Island. Lamu Island has backpacking hostels and hotels suitable for a backpacker with any kind of budget.
Lakes in Kenya
One of the blessings in Kenya is the Great Rift Valley. Not only does it provide sights worth sighing at, it is also the floor bed to many lakes that you can tour. Lake Nakuru is known for millions of pink flamingoes that migrate to and fro the lake in seasons. If you are lucky, you will find a mass of pink flamingoes that cover the lake. Ever heard of Hell’s gate? It’s a national park close to Lake Naivasha, one of the great attractions along the Great Rift Valley.
Your trip along the lakes will take you to Lake Baringo is a freshwater lake nourishing healthy fish, hippos, birds and crocodile population. Lake Bogoria on the other hand is an alkaline laje with geysers and mineral spas fir you to indulge in, plus a hot water spring that is quite a sight.
Take a road trip through Kenya as you gaze into the plains and massive beauty of Kenya. Where else do you get baboons, zebras, gazelles grazing by the roadside? For the ultimate roadtrip in Kenya, consider a drive to Nakuru, Samburu, (if you feel adventurous and have the time can go all the way to Lake Trukana), Nanyuki and back to Nairobi, before heading to the coast for some sand. If you have not added Masai Mara into the roadtrip mix, that would be a great place to finish with as the climax, or the Amboseli as you head to Mombasa, where you get to see Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Hiking is one of my favourite outdoor activities, I can take you to almost all the coolest hiking spots in Kenya. With the right hiking boots, and an extra pair, Kenya is a great place to hike. The weather is wonderful, the sun won’t turn you into a lobster, and you won’t get frostbite even when we Kenyans claim it is very cold. If you are into hiking, I have some favourite hiking trails that I can recommend. Some of these are hiking at the Mt. Kenya, Mt. Longonot or the Aberdare Ranges some other hiking trails in Kenya are Hells Gate, and the ultimate hike, Mt. Kilimanjaro. For these hikes it is advisable to be accompanied by a guide, not to get lost in the trails or risk meeting some wild animals. http://www.magicalkenya.com/what-to-do/active-travel/hiking-and-trekking/
Is it safe to backpack in Kenya?
Kenya is generally safe for a backpacker. A while ago, there was a travel advisory due to terrorist threat, which has since been lifted. All the same, it is good to keep safe as in any other country. Take a taxi if it is late, get a guide to advise you on the unsafe places, in any country, safety is up to you.
Tips for backpacker safari
- Bring extra water on safari
- Bring your own binoculars, most times the guide has one but you need a good view
- Use the tour company as a taxi, you are safer this way.
- Don’t get out of the vehicle during safari, it is risky and animals could spring from anywhere.
- Don’t let your guide stray from the designated paths, they are there for a reason.
Thank you for reading this almost 3,000 words article. If there is any question you would like me to answer about backpacking in Kenya, drop your question in the comment section, via email or social media and I’ll be happy to help. If you plan to come to Kenya soon, contact me to arrange a wonderful safari experience for you, plus I really like making friends.