Are you traveling to Kenya and don’t know what to expect or prepare for? That feeling of excitement mixed in with the nerves of traveling somewhere new.
I know exactly how that feels because I traveled to Kenya this past summer and had an absolute blast. However, I made plenty of rookie mistakes that I want you to avoid.
These best Kenya travel tips are based on my real experience while visiting Kenya so you can get the most accurate and real information possible.
So you can have the best trip to Kenya and avoid my rookie mistakes.
1. Understand Your Visa and Entry Requirements
The first step in planning your trip to Kenya is to know your visa and passport requirements.
Most travelers will require a visa, which can be conveniently applied for online through the Kenyan eVisa portal. Most tourists will simply need a single entry visa that is valid for 90 days from the date of issuance.
It’s essential to ensure your passport has at least six months of validity remaining from your date of arrival in Kenya.
For comprehensive details on all other entry requirements, visit the U.S Travel State Government. This resource provides all the necessary information to ensure your entry into Kenya is smooth and compliant with all local regulations.
2. Understand Your Health and Vaccination Requirements
Before your trip to Kenya, The U.S Travel State Government advises being up to date with all your vaccines. You should also have proof of your yellow fever immunization (also called yellow book) or you may be denied entry.
For yellow fever vaccinations, your local health department is often the best and most cost-effective option. The health departments usually provide vaccinations either for free or at a minimal charge, but you’ll need to book your appointment well in advance due to high demand.
You can also use private medical facilities that also offer Yellow Fever vaccines, but they tend to be 2-3 times more expensive.
I used a private medical facility and ended up paying over $200 just for the yellow fever vaccine.
Please avoid my rookie mistake and try to go to a local health department if possible.
It’s also important to note that not all travel insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines for international travel. So always check your insurance policy beforehand to avoid unexpected expenses.
Before your trip, also consult with your doctor about taking anti-malarial medication as a precaution.
To be best prepared for your trip, make sure to know your entry and visa requirements as well as these international travel essentials to have prepared before your trip!
3. Know the Best Time to Visit
If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit Kenya, then let me tell you that the dry season is the perfect for game drives. Especially in late July to early October is also a prime time to see the great wildebeest migration.
I personally traveled to Kenya in late July and the weather was amazing and the wildlife was abundant. With plenty of opportunities to see the big 5 and the great migration!
If you enjoy birdwatching or photography, you may enjoy traveling to Kenya from November to May. This time is also considered the rainy season which attracts birds to migrate from other African or European countries to eat food.
The rain also transforms the dusty landscapes into lush green which is perfect to take beautiful pictures.
4. Know What to Pack for a Kenyan Safari
When packing for your Kenyan safari (especially during the dry/winter seasons), the mornings can be chilly and the afternoons are hot.
When I traveled to Kenya, I totally did not realize that July is considered winter time, so I did not dress warmly enough. So I was cold until the sun came out. Rookie mistake!
So please learn from my mistakes and pack at least 1-2 warm layers.
If you enjoy the cold (and I do not), then you may enjoy the temperature and may be happy with just a jacket.
During the rest of the day, try to wear light and breathable clothes that can easily be taken off into layers.
You should also pack earthy neutral colors (such as green, khaki, brown, etc). Not only will you blend in with the natural surroundings but bright colors will scare away the cool animals that you want to see.
Try to avoid dark colors like blue and black. This will not only make you feel hotter in the sun, but you will also attract more bugs as mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors.
Also, don’t forget a high-SPF sunscreen, a cute safari hat, sunglasses, and a good pair of binoculars for spotting animals from afar.
5. Don’t Forget Insect Repellent
Malaria is a common real concern here and for the love of food, please do not forget your insect repellent.
Your bug spray should have at least 25 to 30% DEET and along with your malaria pills, you should be fine.
During my trip to Kenya, I used Sawyer 98% Deet-based bug spray with permethrin Spray on my clothing and I didn’t get bit once. This product was a lifesaver for me!
However, a friend that I made on the trip was not so lucky…
One day she forgot to wear bug spray, and her bug bites swelled up into small bubbles on her skin that lasted for days. Ironically enough, she was a travel nurse and knew better.
So please, take it from me and her: be careful and use the right precautions to protect yourself from insect bites.
5. Plastic Bags Are Banned in Kenya
Kenya has a ban on all plastic bags. So, before you start packing for your trip, remove any plastic packages and bags from your suitcase.
Trust me, it’s better to be safe than sorry, as you don’t want to run into issues with the local law as soon as you land.
Instead, pack reusable bags for your shopping and other needs. Not only is this a great way to travel more sustainably but it also complies with the banned plastic bags law.
7. Carry Different Forms of Currency
Whenever I travel, I carry at least three forms of currency. A credit card, your home country currency or US dollars in cash, and the currency of your destination that you’re traveling to.
By having backups, this covers any situation in which you need to pay and they don’t accept one form of currency. However mastercard and visa cards are wildly accepted throughout Kenya.
When in Kenya, you will be using the Kenyan Shilling (KES), and it’s a great idea to get these from your local bank before your trip or once you arrive in a country.
While in Kenya, also try to have smaller denominations of Kenyan shillings for paying for small items like food or souvenirs.
8. Staying Safe in Kenya
Whenever you travel abroad (especially by yourself) it’s essential to know the best solo travel safety tips so you can travel confidently and safely.
When I traveled to Kenya, I felt safe the entire time but I was with a designated tour guide.
Only in the evening did I venture out with a few friends like a crazy person.
Please do not walk alone (at any time of the day), unless you are walking with a large group of people that you feel safe with. Instead, call a reputable taxi service.
During your trip make sure you have these best travel essentials like a safety alarm or undercover money belt to keep your money and phone safe as you walk.
If you are walking on the streets, keep an eye out for “street children” (as a Kenyan local called them). These kids and other adults are great at pickpocketing and can be really sneaky so you never even notice them.
Overall, Kenya is safe but just proceed with a healthy amount of common sense and precaution.
9. Support Responsible Tourism
Kenya is big on sustainable tourism and eco-friendly tours that support their local people, are eco-friendly, and ethically interact with animals.
Responsible tourism companies often have certifications that show they’re committed to protecting nature and supporting local people.
To check if a company supports responsible tourism, then check out their certifications. This should be clearly shown on their home page, mission page, or why choose us page. You can check out Ecotourism in Kenya which is focused on promoting responsible tourism within Kenya.
Also, when it comes to wildlife, make sure you’re supporting ethical animal encounters by knowing the best tips from choosing the right tour guide to saying no to animal souvenirs.
This also means choosing activities and tours that don’t harm or stress the animals.
10. Do Adventure Activities
There are so many incredible things to do in Kenya and I highly recommend that you do them all.
Kenya is a paradise if you love wildlife, nature, or photography. So I encourage you to book that hot air balloon ride over the Maasai Mara as you’re watching the great migration from the air.
These are incredible memories that you will have forever, so I encourage you to do it!
Also, make sure that you plan at least 3-5 safari game drive days especially if you want to see the big 5. You are not guaranteed to see any of these animals, so you need to have enough game drive days that you can ensure you have the best possibility to see them.
11. Learn How to Bargain
If you’re shy or don’t like confrontation, then I am sorry but you need to learn how to negotiate in Kenya. While you’re shopping, especially for souvenirs, you are expected to bargain (but no one ever tells you this).
Instead, an employee will give you a basket and tell you to shop your heart away. In the end, they will give you a price and most people pay it.
However, if you can learn how to bargain, you will get items at a fair price (sometimes half of what the original price was for).
Remember these souvenirs are handcrafted, so try to find a price that the artist deserves that will make them happy but also does not scam you out of your money.
Also, if possible, always pay in shillings.
I noticed that at the beginning of negotiations, I was often asked how I would pay “American dollars, visa card, or shillings?”. This is because the prices are often more expensive when you’re paying in american dollars or visa cards.
So do yourself and your wallet a favor, and learn how to bargain and carry extra shillings.
12. Shopping and Souvenir Tips
If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to bring back a piece of Kenya with you.
There are plenty of souvenir markets across Kenya and the best part is all the crafts are locally made. And not locally made in China, but actually, handcrafted by Kenyan locals.
You can even see their workshops outside of most gift stores.
If you do not see a clearly defined price tag on items, then it’s usually safe to bargain for a lower price. If you’re ever unsure if you can bargain at a place, just ask “Is this the final price” or “that is too much, can you go any lower?”
My friend and I were getting so good at bargaining while in Kenya, my friend started bargaining for a better price at a gift store in the airport. And the cashier simply laughed and said that they “do not do that here”.
So if you’re ever unsure, then try to ask for a lower price and see what happens.
Remember these crafts are unique and locally crafted, so try to pay a fair price for the talent of the artist. I promise that your loved ones will love all your gifts.
13. Explore Kenyan Food
Kenya has some of the most delicious food in the world and you have to try it. You’ve got to try Ugali, which is a simple, thick dish made from corn. It’s a staple in Kenya and goes really well with different kinds of meat or vegetable dishes.
If you love trying famous drinks, then you must have a Keyan signature drink, the Dawa. It contains vodka, lime juice, sugar, honey, dawa sticks, and quartered limes. This drink is absolutely delicious, and I highly recommend ordering at least one while in Kenya.
If you love to eat street food, then just make sure that the place appears to be clean and keeps up with hygiene standards.
If you have dietary restrictions, then do not worry as Kenyan food is largely influenced by India so they have plenty of vegan or vegetarian options.
Just be sure to ask if any meat broth was used in the soaps, vegetables, or beans. Any place I ate at, it was clearly labeled so I found eating in Kenya as a vegan plentiful and oh so delicious!
14. Know Basic Swahili Phrases
English and Swahili are widely spoken across Kenya, so you should have no difficulty speaking with natives.
However, even learning a few basic phrases can really enhance your experience. Start with ‘Jambo’ for hello and ‘Asante’ for thank you.
Trust me, the locals love it when you try to communicate (even basic words) in their local language. It’s a small gesture, but it goes a long way in making connections with the local people.
When I traveled to Kenya, I actually received good discounts from souvenir stores after trying to say basic phrases to them like “how much” or “how are you” in Swahili.
So a friendly smile and knowing a couple basic words in Swahili will take you a long way.
15. Learn the Local Customs
Whenever you travel to a foreign country, it’s good practice to get familiar with their local customs and culture.
Kenyans are big on politeness and friendly greetings.
Kenya is diverse and is generally really accepting. However, some people appreciate a conservative approach to clothing. Especially if visiting the Masai tribe or going out in rural areas of Kenya.
Also try to avoid photographing local people, as they may not like this or expect a huge amount of payment from you to take their pictures.
Under no circumstance are you able to take pictures of government buildings, and there will be clear signs around the buildings that you cannot photograph.
16. Hakuna Matata
Hakuna matata means no worries for the rest of your days….
I thought this was only used in the Disney movie, the Lion King, but it’s an actual saying that the locals use. In everyday conversations, in their welcome songs, and more.
I thought it was so funny and so incredible at the same time.
At least in America, we have a huge “hustle culture” where we always need the next big thing to satisfy us. After my trip to Kenya, I realized how much I needed to let go of my stress, pressures of perfection, and worries.
So this Kenya travel tips is here to remind you to be present in the moment and let go of your worries (especially the ones outside of your control).
As silly as it may sound, lean into a Hakuna Matata because it truly is a way of life.
19. Tipping In Kenya
You are expected to tip in Kenya at least 10% of the bill and when you receive exceptionally good service then try to tip closer to 15-20%.
Whenever possible, try to tip in local KES shillings as it’s easier for locals to use it.
Safari Guides and Drivers: You should always tip your safari guide and drivers. If you’re doing a multi day long tour with the same driver, then you can pay them at the end of the trip.
My tour guide, Peter, was extremely knowledgeable, and kind, gave me personal relationship advice, and always positioned the vehicle to get the best pictures possible. Peter was also such a sweet and humble human being.
On my last day, I actually cried saying goodbye to him, because of the amazing impact he had on my life in the short amount of time that I knew him.
So I personally tip my safari and tour guide extremely well and I highly recommend that you do too.
Depending on the quality of their service, you should consider tipping them between Kes1,000 ($10) to Kes2,000 ($20)per person per day.
It’s a gesture that goes a long way in appreciating their hard work and expertise.
Tour operators or leaders: Sometimes if you’re traveling in a large group, you will have a tour leader that is different from our safari driver. You are expected to tip both people separately.
For groups larger than 10 people, a tip of Kes1,000 (about $10) per person per day is standard.
For smaller groups, say less than 10, a tip of Kes2,000 (or $20) per person per day is recommended.
Waitstaff in Restaurants: You can tip 10% of your total bill is a good rule of thumb for waitstaff. However, adding a bit more is always appreciated and helps to acknowledge good service.
Porters and Luggage Handlers: When you’re at your hotel or accommodation, and someone carries your luggage to your door, you’re expected to tip $1-3 USD per bag.
Taxi Drivers: For taxi services, including Uber or Bolt, tipping isn’t mandatory but is appreciated. You can tip them anything from Kes100 upwards or around 10% of the total fare. This small act of kindness is often highly valued by the drivers.
Overall tipping is greatly appreciated and directly supports the local communities of Kenya. Especially, if they made a big impact on your trip like Peter had on mine.
Thank you Peter!
With these best insider Kenya travel tips, I hope that you have found them helpful for your first or next adventure to Kenya.
I truly loved traveling to Kenya, and I hope that you find it as magical as I did.
Hakuna Matata and safe travels!