It stands out as one of the symbols of Africa, it’s Kenya and it’s not only the economic engine room of East Africa but it’s lined with some incredible beaches, delightful foods, incredible people and inspiring wildlife. Kenya is a must for any African adventure.
Population: 40 million
Currency: Kenyan Shilling – $1 – 60Ks
Economy: GDP (PPP) – 60 410 (81st); GDP Per Capita $1570 (145th)
Human Development Index: .541 (147th)
Sporting Trivia: For Kenya, it’s all about the running events. We were there when Nairobi was gearing up to host the African athletics championships. In this place, athletics news and track and field stars replace the football champions on the billboards and in the local newspapers which is something refreshing.
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Entry Requirements: The visa cost has been reduced since the political turbulance of 2007. The visa will cost US $25 and is available at the land border with Tanzania. You can also travel to other countries that are part of the East African Community without needing a multiple entry visa. Keep a close eye on developments here as the East African Union is working towards developing a one Visa fits all program, which will be sensational for travellers.
Learn the lingo: 85% – Kenyans speak great English and in big centres like Nairobi you’ll hear it spoken alongside the local tongues like Swahili.
Getting there: We stumbled across the shuttle service we ended up taking when we were inquiring about the price of safaris. We got a shuttle from Arusha, Tanzania and the 6 hour trip set us back 22500 Tanzanian shillings ($20). Even the public buses were costly and the road to reach the border doesn’t have a great deal going for it aside from the excessive dust. It is however a pretty cool trip though as you do get to see a lot of Masai herding their cattle across the plains and of course Mt Kilimanjaro as a side setting.
Where did we stay: Nairobi International Youth Hostel. It’s just outside of town up the hill past the park. This place is pretty busy, it comes with the normal ‘generic’ hostel feel which is a bit of a downer, but they have everything you might want – internet (albeit overpriced), food and even a hairdresser if you are in need of a trim. A room in a dorm will set you back 600Ks. It is a pretty good place but the walk up the hill breathing in the toxic fumes of traffic congestion will give your lungs a work out, that is of course is you don’t pass out.
Getting a feed: Central Nairobi delivers on the food front. There is an abundance of restaurants serving chicken, burgers and chips. You can get a pretty massive feed for around 100-120 Ks ($2). The only downer to these places is that they have watered down the sauces to the extent that they are barely sauces anymore and are more like flavoured water. Nairobi also has some stylish places near Westlands if you want to live it up. You will also find a lot of Tusker supermarkets around to stock up on anything you might need.
On the town: It’s pretty great to be honest. Nairobi boasts perhaps the most developed and enjoyable nightlife scene we came across outside of South Africa. Head to the Westlands and you’ll be impressed by it’s lounge bars like Havana where locals rub shoulder to shoulder with expats. After warming up there the only option is to duck around the corner to Black Diamond which is one of the best nightclubs we have come across in Africa. This is also a favourite place for prostitutes, but from our experience, they’ll be all drinking Heineken so it doesn’t take much to work out who they are (we’re pretty sure they are supplied free by the bar). Either way they are nice enough and naturally are up for a chat. This place is a must when in Nairobi as you can dance and down quality Kenyan beers until your hearts content.
Traveller scene: There were plenty of people coming through Nairobi whilst we were in town. You can easily tee up any sort of organised African Safari you’d like. There were also a number of conferences on whilst we were there, including the scouts, and also a number of Africans from other parts of the continent in town looking for work in this economic hub. If you happen to meet any expats, make sure you ask for some local knowledge, the guys we met pointed us in the right direction and a few free beers never goes astray when you’re on the road.
Highlight: Have we mentioned we had fun in Nairobi? It was less about the sightseeing here for us and more about getting amongst the nightlife after a long couple of weeks on the road and in more remote places – Black Diamond for it’s total diversity is something that we’d say is a must.
Getting there: It was an early morning bus from Nairobi for us to Kisumu. This was about a 6 hour journey and cost 1000Ks ($14). A pretty smooth ride through the Ruhr Valley and then up through the tea field lined hills.
Where did we stay: We stayed in an incredibly cheap hotel on the back end of town. It was so cheap we’re not even sure if it had a name to tell you about. You can get a double room for under 1000Ks here and it’s in the quieter part of town, walking distance to the shared taxi rank.
Getting a feed: Is this part of the world, can you go past 5Ks samousas? Fried crisp thin pastry loaded with anything ranging from beans to beef – So good.
On the town: Kisumu has a few good places to have a bit of fun and get on the beers. There is a great rooftop bar run by a couple of Dutchies where you can relax for a few and watch the sun come down over Lake Victoria. It’s slightly overpriced but that’s because it’s where you’ll find any tourists in town.
Traveller scene: Pretty quiet. Kisumu acts more as a gateway between Kenya & Uganda than anything else. There are a few people around in transit but most foreigners you’ll come across have been working around here and are involved in volunteer projects, which means if you want to get involved – here’s a great place to start asking questions.
The jewel in Kenya’s crown, fastly becoming one of the most sought after tourist destinations on the East African circut.
Getting there: It was all aboard what is known as one of Africa’s best train rides. We splashed the cash and went for a 2 person sleeper ($51) to make this overnight journey. The real draw of the train was the fact that it goes through a National Park where you can hope to catch some wildlife as the sun comes up. We didn’t but we did see the smiles of locals along the way. If you take this train – please don’t do what some others did on the trip and just throw lollies at the children. It is one of the more disappointing things you come across, as it is unsustainable for local communities and dis-empowers these communities by undermining social structures.
Where did we stay: We spent one night beachside just north of Mombasa where you can go fishing amongst the picturesque mangroves of the area. The Beach (Mtwapa Beach) is a nice relaxed place but is a bit far from everything. Although the guys will get you on a moto to the main road for 50Ks (80cents). Our second night we moved into Mombasa itself and came across Mombasa Backpackers. Now this is a cool backpackers in a massive building and run by a great bunch of guys (It’s not a pub joke – a Swede, a South African and a Peruvian). We paid 600Ks a night here ($9) and its definitely worth it, these guys will go the extra mile for you and it really fosters a great relaxed atmosphere amongst the guests.
Getting a feed: Cheap Samoosa came up trumps for us again here in Mombasa. At The Beach Lodge we also tried some traditional masala chips and challenged the locals to spice them up – they failed. We’d mention Palm wine here as well, yes we know it’s a liquid, but sheer volume of bugs and body parts constitutes at least for us, a mention in the food category.
On the town: We were hanging with some Dutch girls who had managed to woo a local, who was obviously a big spender and enjoyed a bit of a party. It may have been midweek but a few of the places we came across here were absolutely massive and you could tell draw a crowd every time the weekend rolled in. Mombasa Backpackers also sold beers so you wouldn’t go without.
Traveller scene: It’s Kenya’s busiest tourist city. Mombasa’s city life and its accessibility to nearby beach are the big draw cards here. There were a lot of people around, again many who had been doing volunteer work in the vicinity and were putting their feet up for a while and would could blame them – the water is crystal clear and the weather is amazing.
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Highlight: For a genuine experience it has to be our time spent out with one of our good friends in western Kenya in a small village. Spending just a few days in this small village was a great chance to get an insight into life in a small African community and also see first hand some of the work that NGOs do in conjunction with locals. Out here we saw the start of a school building happen, watched a local soccer tournament, found a pub with no beer, ate seven thousand samoosas and hung out with our African brothers enjoying every moment on the local taxis down the local laneways.
Biggest Surprise: Kenya has a reputation for being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa, and for good reason. The majority of these though still come through on organized tours. So Kenya, despite it’s place as one of the most visited destinations is still a surprisingly big challenge for independent travelers wanting to travel on a budget. So be prepared, it won’t be easier than other places in Africa as you might expect, but that of course for us is part of it’s charm and we invite you to do the same and take up the real challenge.
One thing you can do to break down a barrier: Our visit out to Kisumu and beyond was all about seeing the great work an old mate was doing with the local community near the Ugandan border. We’re in the process of putting together a video to show what a difference you can make to the lives of some of the most impoverished communities filled with the most amazing people. There’s no greater reward you can ask for then the smiles that accompany you on a daily basis wherever you go. We also met the crew from World Youth International who had organised a football day to bring communities together whilst also beginning a discussion about the risks of HIV/AIDs.