It was always a dream of mine to go to Africa. I dappled a bit in the Sinai region of Egypt, but I wanted to experience the real African culture. The options I had that were reasonably safe were Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Somehow I narrowed down my choices to Ethiopia or Kenya. As this was my first solo trip, I finally came to the conclusion that Kenya was the best option. I know, picking a country in Africa as my first solo trip was probably a crazy idea, but that’s what I chose to do!
I had so many questions before going to Kenya. Seriously SO MANY QUESTIONS. I’ve traveled to a lot of places before, but Kenya is a whole new world, a whole new culture, and it was going to be a whole new experience as a solo traveler.
I’ve since visited the country a second time and have in total spent more than three months traveling around Kenya.
After researching and debating long and hard, I finally decided upon Kenya as my first solo trip. From what I researched, it was one of the safest countries in Africa. During my first trip I was also planning on doing a volunteer program for most of my stay. Using workaway.info I found a plethora of options to volunteer in Kenya at well established and safe places with lots of good reviews.
A close second for me was Ethiopia and it is still a dream for me! The landscapes and the history have been fascinating me for many years. However, as I heard from many travelers, Ethiopia is a difficult country to travel to. They are not particularly established in the tourism sector, most of the people do not speak English, stable electricity and running water are hard to come by, and it’s highly recommended that you go with a guide.
So despite the extremely tempting landscapes and an amazing volunteer experience I came across, I figured that Kenya was a bit safer of an option for a first time solo traveler.
Everything I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Kenya
I had MILLIONS of questions before traveling to Kenya. I asked so many friends, had friends ask friends, posted in Facebook group, spent so much time researching. And I figured I couldn’t be the only one! So here is a detailed list of some of the many questions and concerns I had before embarking on my trip.
I think we all know that in general Africa is not the safest or most secure continent. However, compared to most other places in the region, Kenya is among the safest. The government relies heavily on tourism and wants to make sure that the tourists coming to the country are well treated. Most of the big malls, shopping centers, and tourist attractions are well secured and they do thorough checks for each visitor.
On a whole, I felt very safe in Kenya, particularly on my first trip. I was traveling solo, but still took long inter city busses and traveled to many places. The people are usually very friendly and helpful. That being said, it is a developing country and there are always risks.
Definitely be careful in the big cities, especially if you are by yourself. In Nairobi, there are many areas that are not safe for tourists and many slums. If you go with a guided tour you will probably be ok, but theft and pickpocketing are common so be very careful. In regards to transportation, see the section below for more details on what is the safest.
On my first trip to Kenya I honestly raved about how safe I felt. Unfortunately, on my second visit I had a very disturbing incident that made me rethink my enthusiasm. I won’t go into great detail, but be aware that many Kenyans see tourists as extremly weathy and a way to get quick money. Bribery is quite common in Kenya, often among the police. Generally they will not bother tourists, but on occasion they do.
I was forcibly arrested by fake police officers who told me they were taking me to spend the night in jail. Understanding they most likely were trying to get a bribe out of me, I was very aggressive with them and threatened to contact the US embassy. PLEASE have the contact information of your embassy easily available just in case!
After my first visit to Kenya I would have said that I think Kenya is a great place for solo travelers. After a very unfortunate incident I would have to reconsider that advice. It is unfortunately a risk to travel alone in Kenya as many see tourists as easy to take advantage of and to get money out of. That being said, I did travel solo for over a month and had a wonderful experience. Out of my three months in Kenya, the only time I felt unsafe was with the fake police incident (definitely a big deal) but also not necessarily representative of my entire time there.
In general there are a few extra health concerns when traveling to an African country, the most infamous being malaria, yellow fever, and hepatitis. Different doctors will recommend many different things so if you’re concerned consult your doctor before you travel. The only vaccine that is required to enter Kenya is the yellow fever vaccine, however if you are coming from a western country (with little to no yellow fever concerns) they usually don’t check if you have it.
Travel to any African country, Kenya included, usually comes with a recommendation to take malaria pills. As the pills are infamous for some crazy side effects, I would suggest avoiding them unless you are planning on going to Western Kenya where there is the largest malaria concern. Within Nairobi, there is not as much reason to be concerned. Do bring quality insect repellant as there are many mosquitos and other biting flies especially on safaris.
A visa is required to enter Kenya. It costs about $50 and is valid for three months. If you are traveling to Uganda and Rwanda as well I would suggest getting the East Africa visa to save some money. You can obtain your visa online through the E-Visa website. From my experience, however, it’s far easier to just apply for the visa in person after you land. There are usually very short and fast moving lines and the process is a bit simper. It takes maximum 10 minutes to receive your visa at the airport and you can pay with cash or credit card.
Getting around Kenya is not too challenging. Within the city Uber is widely used and very reliable. It is also very inexpensive with a 20 minute drive costing about $5. If you want an even cheaper option, there are countless boda boda (motorbike) options for about half the price. In the countryside it is a great, and sometimes only, option. However 9/10 times they don’t provide helmets so be extremely careful. I wouldn’t suggest taking a boda boda in Nairobi due to the craziness of the roads and the drivers.
If you book a safari, the tour company will provide transportation to the parks. If you want to do some traveling alone there are a few options, one of them being a bus. Long distance busses in Kenya are generally safe and reliable. I took an 8 hour bus to Rusinga Island from Nairobi and had a decent (and very bumpy) experience. They do not run very often however so be sure to check the options beforehand. These are the three biggest lines for intercity busses: Modern Coach, Tahmeed, and Easy Coach. The busses leave from CBD (Be careful with your belongings in this area as theft is common and if you’re female maybe ask for the taxi driver to escort you).
Within the city there is the option of a minibus, called a Matatu. Besides walking, this is how most locals get around. The rides only cost a few cents, but they do not really have routes or stops. The drivers will be riding down the road, hanging halfway out the door and honking to get the attention of those interested in a ride. I would NOT suggest taking a matatu alone as a foreigner as you will almost definitely be the only tourist aboard and theft is a large risk. NEVER take a bus or matatu at night, it’s not worth the risk!
Rent a Car/Private Driver
There is also the option to rent a car in Kenya for about $30 per day. Just as a warning, many of the roads in Kenya are not in the best shape. I would certainly recommend something with 4-wheel drive, even if you are not planning to go off the road. Entrance to most parks will almost definitely require a small portion of the path being on dirt or rocky routes.
As the street names and road signs are also usually not very clear, I would recommend hiring a private driver (usually about $10 per day) so that you don’t have to worry about getting lost. If you want an AMAZING and extremely reliable driver I would 100% recommend Elias Mulekwa (his phone number is +254-725-606-946). He is a safe driver and extremely kind person who would never overcharge.
There is a train between Kenya’s two largest cities- Nairobi and Mombasa (~5 hours). If you are interested in visiting the coastal area, the train is a very safe and reliable option. Built in 2017, it is a very smooth and beautiful ride. You will even get to pass through Tsavo National Park and have a train safari. I saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, camels, and more on our ride from Mombassa! You can book online before at this link here.
What to Wear in Kenya
Although as a tourist you can get away with wearing just about everything, as a female I would recommend wearing things that reach below or just above the knee if you want to avoid causing attention. Exposed upper chest and tight clothing are acceptable and common, but you will rarely see an exposed thigh on a lady. If you are in the coastal region and other major touristy areas (like safaris), shorts, bikinis, and normal resort wear are common and acceptable, but in Nairobi and small villages it may be better to cover the knees.
Weather in Kenya
The weather in Kenya can be quite unpredictable especially in recent years. Normally the rainy seasons are from mid-October to December and from March to end-May. The rest of the seasons are supposed to be dry, but in recent years the rains have seemed to mix into all seasons so bring a raincot with you just in case! In Nairobi it is always a bit chilly at night. Kenya is a big country so if you are planning to travel around, check the weather before as it can go from extremely hot to extremely cold depending on the region. It can even snow occasionally on Mount Kenya!
Because of the colonial times (Kenya was controlled by the British until the 1960s) just about everyone speaks amazing English. English is even the main teaching language in most Kenyan schools so even the children are practically fluent! Swahili (also known as Kiswahili) is the native and common language besides English. Of course there are 42 tribal languages in Kenyan as well, but English and Swahili are known by most. If you want to learn some useful Swahili words like “Karibu”, “Rafiki”, “Hakuna Matata” and “Asante” check out this link.
Despite what many expect, Kenya is actually a quite expensive country for tourists. Just about everything has a fee. Park entrance fees are usually around $25-$80 per day depending on the park. Masai Mara, the most famous national park for safaris is $80 per day, so if you do a multiple day safari, it can really add up quickly.
Accommodations in general are also quite pricey especially if you are looking for something private (private bathroom). There are not many hostels in Kenya, but there are a decent amount of options for shared tents (with actual beds) at various lodges that are quite nice. Food at a decent restaurant in Nairobi is pretty on par with average European or American food prices. If you go to small, local places to eat in the countryside you can get a filling meal for a few dollars (as long as you don’t let them give you the “mzungu” or foreigner price which will be much higher).
Prices for tourists are FAR more expensive than for citizens or residents, sometimes even up to 10 times more expensive!! For example, entrance to Hell’s Gate National Park is around $2 for a Kenyan citizen and around $25 for a tourist. In short, be prepared for a decently expensive trip!
Tips and Tricks for Traveling to Kenya
- Internet/SIM – If you are traveling for a longer time, I would definitely recommend getting a local SIM. If you want to contact your Uber driver or call local house guards, you will need a local number. Safaricom is the most common (they almost have a monopoly in Kenya) and the most reliable. You can purchase a SIM at the airport right after baggage claim.
- Corruption – Unfortunately corruption is quite common in Kenya. Corruption, bribery, and the like. From the highest levels of government officials to your everyday local. Police officers are infamous for demanding unjust bribes and creating fake charges in order to get bribes. Although it is uncommon for tourists to encounter this, it is good to be aware.
- Mzungu. This is a very useful word as you will probably hear it very often, especially from children. It technically means foreigner or wanderer, but is used for anyone who looks blatantly unlike the native Kenyans. It is not usually a derogatory term (unless they tell you they’ll give you the mzungu price which is much higher), but be prepared to hear it VERY often.
- Cash. Ever since the Covid pandemic, Kenya has tried to become cashless. This can be a bit of an issue with tourists as most places only accept cards or mpesa (an app for cashless payments used across East Africa). Be prepared and don’t bother to carry a lot of cash around as it’s near to useless and easier to be pickpocketed.
- Corona. Kenya is allowing in tourists from most countries without the need to quarantine as long as you provide a negative PCR test. Here is a list of quarantine exempt countries (a negative test is still required). For all travelers, this health form is also required before entry!
If you have any other questions in regards to travel in Kenya, let us know in the comments below! Check out some of our posts on Kenya and stayed tuned for many, many more from my incredible travels throughout the country.
Looking for inspiration of amazing things to do in Kenya? Check out our full list of adventures here: 11 AMAZING THINGS TO DO ON YOUR TRIP TO KENYA – NOT JUST A SAFARI
And don’t forget the long list of incredible things just in Nairobi: TOP 15 THINGS TO DO IN NAIROBI, KENYA | HUB OF EAST AFRICA
Lots of love and safe travels,
Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters