Kenya travel guide: all you need to know to plan your trip

This post is also available in: Português

This Kenya travel guide was created based on both the experience of our friends and our own. We lived in Kenya for five months – from January to June 2015 – and we have a massive respect for their culture and the people over there. It’s a shame that so many people still have misconceptions about the African continent and we hope to help to clarify some doubts. This guide does not contain specific information about places to visit. For this, please read 5 reasons why Kenya should be your next destination.

Do you have any suggestions for this guide? Contact us!

LANGUAGE – How to communicate in Kenya

English and Swahili are the main languages. The majority of the population speak these two languages, especially in the big cities. However, in small rural towns, it is common to find people who will only speak their tribal dialect – Kenya is formed by at least 52 tribes. However, all the signs in Kenya are written in English, what makes easier to get around the country.

Sign in wrong English in Kenya
Sign in a countryside’s public school

TRANSPORT – How to get around in Kenya

There are four main ways of getting around in Kenya: Matatus, buses, pic-pic’s and taxis.

– Matatus

are simply overcrowded mini-vans. They are run by private associations called SACCOS – small banks founded by the people in order to raise funds for the association. Thus, you will see them always full of people as the more they carry, the more they earn.

They are the cheapest option when travelling in-town, albeit not so easy to understand where to take them. However, Kenyans are very helpful. Just ask them where to take a matatu to where you want to go and they will help.

The prices vary: In-town is normally from 70 to 150 Kenyan Schillings (US$0.7 to US$1.5) and from town to town, from 200 to 1000 (US$2 to US$10).

TIP: Be aware of the man working inside the matatu. They often confirm they are going to the destination you asked for just to get you inside their van. Once you have paid them, you will hear that they are actually going somewhere else and drop you in the middle of nowhere saying to take another vehicle to go to your destination. It’s also very common to be over charged because you are a tourist, so always ask other passengers about the fare and the direction.

– Buses

are also part of SACCOS, however they hardly operate in-town. They are obviously bigger than matatus and therefore slower and cheaper. They are good if you are carrying heavy loads or do not want to sit squeezed as you will probably be when taking mini-vans. Beside slower than matatus, they have more stops too.

– Pic-pic’s

are moto-taxis and they can carry up to 3 people plus the driver in the country side. It is normal to go on a drive without helmet as well. In the capital – Nairobi – though, it is not allowed to take more than one passenger – and do not insist as the police will stop you, and you are the one who will have to pay for the fine.

The pic-pic’s are very common and the best option to avoid the chaotic traffic-jam. Prices vary from 300 to 800 Kenyan Schillings (US$3 to US$8), depending where you are going.

– Taxis

are the most expensive of all these options but the most comfortable as well. They are a good option when going to or coming from the airport – about 2500 Kenyan Schillings, or US$25. Or going around the city at night – around 1000 KSch – US$10 – but also depend where you are going.

four people on a motorbike
Tiago, Esther, Dorkas and the driver

BANKS/ATM – How easy to cash out money

There are banks and international ATMs everywhere, even in small cities, which accept international cards. It is also easy to get cash out at the borders.

TIP: Be careful when crossing the border between Kenya and Tanzania in the coastal city of Lunga-Lunga as there are no ATM’s around. The closest one will be about 70km from there. So, if you are crossing this border, cash up before!

PRICES – How much you are paying for

Kenya is a relatively cheap place if compared to most European countries. You find a basic meal in local restaurants at US$2,50, and a dinner in a very fancy restaurant at US$30.

TIP: A part from the few places where the prices are fixed, you can bargain for absolutely everything and wait the price to drop as much as half. In addition, all the people who are not black are called “Mzungus” – originally referring to the Brits. We did not like they called us Mzungo, particularly because it implies a difference between us and locals. This is not a negative word per-se, but for many locals, it means money. So, prepare yourself to be over charged for everything. 

ACCOMMODATION – Where to stay in Kenya

There aren’t many hostels in the country as there aren’t many backpackers around the country either. Though, you will find some great ones at the southern coast, particularly in Diani Beach. We strongly recommend you to stay at South Coast Backpackers if going there – Read our backpacking in Africa.

Hotels, on the other hand, are very easy to be found. Just pay attention to the fact of, for some reason unknown to us, in many places restaurants are called hotel and hotels are called lodges! Yes, it can be very confusing! So, what you are looking for is a lodge and not a hotel – at least in Kenya!

*Find your lodge in Kenya here

swimming pool in Diani Beach, Kenya
South Coast Backpacker’s swimming pool, in Diani Beach

FOOD – What to eat in Kenya

Some of the most traditional Kenyan foods are:

  • Ugali – It looks like rice and is made from maize. It is to be eaten with the hands;
  • Sukuma Wiki – It’s kale cooked with tomato. “Sukuma wiki” actually means “the push for the week”;
  • Githere – It is a mix of beans, tomato and maize;
  • Chapati – It is a type of bread without baking flour. Everyone knows as it’s quite famous worldwide;
  • Chicken; lamb – Eaten fried, grilled or stewed. Just delicious;
  • Mandazi – To eat at breakfast time. It is like a chapatti but smaller with baking flour and sugar.
  • Pili pili (or piri piri for some) – Strong and good chilli pepper to eat with practically everything!

TIP: By the coast you will find an incredible variety of seafood at a very affordable prices. Over there you will find the amazing traditional Swahili coconut riceBy lake Victoria, it is compulsory to eat the tilapia fish! It is one of the best fish we have eaten! We recommend the city of Kisumu for those exploring this side of the country – and it’s the city where the family of former US President Barack Obama came from 🙂

chicken on a barbecue with Tiago
Chicken barbecue

Attention: It is advisable to travel only on the south coast of Kenya due to the closeness of the north coast to Somalia and the situation with Al-Shabaab – information updated in June 2018. The British Embassy advises to travel on the north coast just if it’s essential.

PEOPLE – How are the people you meet in Kenya

Kenyans are extremely friendly and warm. They will not harassed you as much as in Egypt or India – a lot less in fact. But often, you will see people coming around to get to know you. It is mostly in a very friendly way but it can become annoying sometimes. In this case, a directive “please, leave me alone” will be enough.

They always try to help you though, but be careful with people insisting on helping you as they might ask for money in the end.

IS IT SAFE FOR WOMEN TO TRAVEL IN KENYA- topic written based on other travellers saying

Kenya is a sexist country but men are not disrespectful towards women. It’s common to hear people saying they would like to have a “mzungo wife“, for example, and they can be quite flirtatious. But a firm “stop” will do the job.

CRIMINALITY – How safe is Kenya

Kenya it is indeed a place to be cautious, though it’s not as dangerous as many people think. We lived there for 5 months and never faced any danger whatsoever in there.

It’s true that we were based most of our time in the countryside. But we used to go to Nairobi quite often and we never felt more unsafe than in Sao Paulo, for instance. Thus, chill out, use your common sense and be cautious with your belongings. Also, watch where to walk alone too and then nothing bad should happen to you.

VISA TO KENYA- What are the costs?

Transitory: US$20 and is valid for 3 days.

Single journey: As from 1st of September 2015, all countries from Europe and the majority of the American continent need to apply online for a visa – you can find the form on the link The process can take up to 7 days and the visa costs US$51 and is valid for 3 months, renewable for another 3.

Multiple Entries: It is the same process of the Single Journey visa but it costs US$100 and is valid for 3 months too.

East African Tourist visa: US$101. It is a great option for those traveling to Uganda and Rwanda too as it allows you to go around these countries without additional visa expenditures during a period of 90 days.


  • Hi – Jambo
  • What’s up? – Habari gani?
  • How much is it? – Pesa ngapi?
  • Toilet – Choo
  • Good bye – Kwaheri
  • Ok – Sawa
  • Do you speak English? – Una ongea Kizungu?
  • Thank you – Asante
  • Thank you very much – Asante sana
  • Por favor – tafadhali
  • Qual é o seu nome – jina lako nani?
  • Meu nome é – jina lango …
  • 1 – moja
  • 2 – mbili
  • 3 – tatu
  • 4 – nano
  • 10 – kumi

Nairobi (2 days) – Nakuru, lake Naivasha (Hell´s gate – 2 days) – Kisumu (2 days) – Nairobi (Maasai Mara – 3 days) – Mombassa (Tiwi and diani beach – 5 days)

We hope you enjoyed our Kenya Travel Guide and that it helps you planning your trip around this fascinating country. Any doubts, suggestions or feedback you may have, just drop us a line on the comments below or send us an e-mail. Safe travels!

*Article originally written on May 2015, and updated on June 2018.