I discovered so many things you need to know about Kenya before I even left the country! These are all things that people don’t tell you about, but are so important to be aware of..
You need to have a yellow fever vaccination before you fly to Kenya; and it’s advisable to have this done at least 6-8 weeks before you travel. You may be asked to show officials your certificate as proof in order to enter the country. It costs £60 at any travel pharmacy or at the GP and the great thing is that it lasts a lifetime.
I also had to have Typhoid, Tetanus & Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B – that was such a painful arm day! Check with your GP about other vaccinations you need, as you may not need all of these. It obviously depends on which ones you’ve had in the past and how long ago that was.
Malaria is common in Kenya; not so much in Nairobi, but there is a high risk of it at Maasai Mara and in Mombasa. Anti-malaria tablets and other suitable precautions eg: covering up at night, using a mosquito repellent and/or mosquito net are advisable. I personally swear by Avon Skin So Soft; a dry oil spray that smells pleasant and is good for the skin. Most importantly though, it’s a very effective insect repellent! I only got bitten by mosquitos on the two days of my trip that I forgot to use this – it’s a game changer!
As a British citizen, you need a visa when travelling to Kenya but there are a few options. Obviously check your country’s government website for entry requirements for your passport if you aren’t from the UK.
If you are just visiting Kenya, you can either purchase a visa on arrival or apply for an eVisa online ahead of your travels. The latter is what we did. It’s a bit of a long winded process, particularly if you are staying with family, as they require a lot of information from them including a letter of invitation and copies of their passports. It’s quite ridiculous to be honest, but it will save you a lot of time at the airport.
If you’re travelling to other countries, you may opt for the East Africa visa, which grants access to Rwanda, Uganda & Kenya. This works out much cheaper than buying individual visas for these countries and must be applied for online, in advance.
You may also need transit visas if you have a layover, but you can purchase these at the airport.
3. Kenya is expensive!
Whether you’re grocery shopping, dining out in Nairobi or spending two nights on safari at Maasai Mara; Kenya is expensive! Most of the locals prefer the imported groceries, but of course, you can choose not to buy those or eat local cuisine or streetfood instead.
It’s important to be aware of how much your trip will cost, particularly if you’re on a budget. For example, a 1 litre carton of long life Alpro Oat milk costs £1.50 in the UK, and 550 Kshs (approx £4.50) in Nairobi! Dinner for two in a nice restaurant will set you back around £40-50.
Entrance fees for tourists in Kenya can cost up to 7 times more than what the residents pay. There’s obviously nothing that you can do about this, it’s just the way it works in East Africa and some countries in Asia.
4. How to get around Kenya
- Uber – is the most common, cheap and best way of getting around the city. Be mindful of the time of day, as if you try to order one during rush hour, they’ll never turn up! Best saved for off-peak times.
- Matatus – these are minivans that operate in a similar way to busses. Known to be a fun and adventurous ride, normally accompanied by some loud African music and some reckless driving, they are an experience! It’s worth noting that many travellers do use this method of transport, but local friends and family never use them and warned us to stay away! They are rarely insured and are frequently hijacked and so passengers get robbed. I’d rather pay a little extra and get an uber – the cost is minuscule once converted and you can’t put a price on your safety.
- Boda bodas – these are cheap motorbike taxis that you can order through the uber app. Not the safest mode of transport, due to the road infrastructure, reckless driving and lack of helmets, but they can weave through traffic faster than any other transportation!
- Tuk-tuks – in Mombasa are a cheap way of travelling short distances. Meters very rarely work, so be prepared to haggle to get the best price before you jump in!
- Private driver – In my opinion, the best way to travel long distances in Kenya. They’re probably harder to find if you don’t know any locals, but we mainly used private drivers for our day trips in and outside of Nairobi. It’s safe and cheap – we paid from £20/day within Nairobi and £50/day for a trip outside the city.
When you mention Nairobi to any Kenyan, the first thing they’ll warn you about is the traffic. And it’s true, the traffic there is horrendous! If you’ve planned a day trip and want to get anywhere in this city, you should aim to leave at around 6 or 7am. We did this every day on our trip, and it really does save a lot of time.
Most flights from the UK tend to land in Kenya at 5am (if you fly with Kenya Airways) which is perfect! The last thing you want to do is sit in a 3 hour traffic jam after a long flight – and yes, a 20 minute journey often takes 3 hours in Nairobi rush hour or when it’s raining.
Security runs high in Kenya; especially at airports and shopping centres.
At the airport, before you even approach the car park, you need to get out of the car (unless elderly/disabled) and walk through a body scanner while the car is searched. At the entrance to the building, luggage has to be screened and you need to walk through another body scanner – and then you have the usual security after you check in. For certain destinations, there is another security check at the boarding gate too – so allow plenty of time for all this!
We arrived an hour early to the airport (3 hours before our flight departed) and even then, we almost missed the flight as all the lines for security were extremely long!
Shopping centres also have body scanners that you need to walk through as you enter, and all bags are searched.
While ATMs are common in larger cities like Nairobi, you might find that they only take a certain type of card eg: Mastercard or Visa, and not both. So it’s wise to always have some cash to hand.
The daily maximum limit you can withdraw from an ATM varies from bank to bank, but it can be as low as 20,000 KSh (approx $200 USD/£150 GBP).
As well as credit cards and local currency (Kenyan shillings), you may want to take some USD currency with you. This is often used to pay for services like safaris, entrance fees and hotels directly and will be helpful in an emergency.
8. Plastic ban
Plastic bags are banned in Kenya and you risk being fined for bringing them into the country. On arrival, luggage is randomly checked, so you should ensure that you haven’t accidentally packed any carrier bags.
Single-use plastic water bottles are also banned from many parks and forests such as Karura Forest, so ensure you pack a reusable bottle – but bear in mind that tap water isn’t safe to drink in Kenya.
9. Carry Your Passport
You are required by law to carry your passport with you at all times in Kenya. A copy of it should suffice, but if you’re stopped by the Police, you may be expected to present the original document.
Speaking of which..
10. Don’t get scammed by the police!
Be aware of thieves posing as police officers or private Security Guards, and always ask to see identification.
Never mind fake police officers, even the real ones can be dishonest. On the spot fines from traffic police are common, but not legal. If you are stopped, the officer should issue you with a ‘receipt for cash bond’, a piece of paper telling you when and where you need to attend court to answer the charge against you. If they don’t follow this process, they’re just trying their luck to scam you out of some money!
Our uber was stopped by police in Mombasa on our way to the airport. He accused Jass of not wearing his seat belt and said he would either have to pay a fine on the spot or wait for some documents to arrive with a court date. Jass said he’d wait for the court date and I called another police officer over to confirm the situation. All of a sudden, the guy just waved us off saying he’d let us off this time!