Backpacking Kenya Travel Tips

Arriving to go Backpacking in Kenya

I must admit the very first time I arrived in Nairobi to go Backpacking in Kenya, I was afraid to leave the hotel room. In fact, the first time I worked up the courage to do so I ended up running back from the shops and thinking it was a very brave act. My second day here was even worse, as I ended up being a little intimate with another backpacker who turned out to be a right lunatic and then a few days later, I would find out that we would be on the same tour. It would last 54 days.

Backpacking Kenya is not really all that difficult thanks to the reasonably good English many locals speak but then I do need to remember, for reasons I mentioned above, that you might be just a little bit terrified of the prospect yourself. Anyway, there is so much to see and so many things to do in Kenya but I don’t want you to miss out on the best bits and I certainly want you do be safe because the first thing most people ask me is exactly that; “Is backpacking safe in Kenya?”. Stick the kettle on, sit back and relax – I’m about to make it all too easy for you with this micro guide to backpacking Kenya.

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About Kenya

East Africa is my favourite part of the continent and Kenya is a good example as for the reason why. Located to the south of Ethiopia and bordered by Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania, this country has a lot of variety from the sandy beaches in Mombassa to the wilds of the Masaai Mara, the highlands next to Mount Kenya and the Great Lakes not far from Nairobi.

Currency: Kenyan Shilling (Ksh.)

Time Zone: GMT +3

Language: English, Swahili and tribal languages.

Most popular places to visit in Kenya

Lake Naivasha – Beautiful lakes, amazing campsites, lots of hippos and bird life. And easy to do on the cheap. Also the starting point for Hells Gate NP and Crater Lake.

Mount Longonot – You can also camp here, hike to the crater rim and all the way round – majestic.

Maasai Mara – Most visited park in Kenya, great for wildlife spotting but less scenic of “African” than the Serengeti next door.

Mombassa – White sandy beaches, rich tourists, townships and nice places to stay.

Mount Keya – Many say it’s more enjoyable than climbing Kili because less people and better views. I don’t know it this is true but it looks awesome.

Nairobi  – Fun for a day out at the elephant orphanage of Karen Blixens but otherwise, not much to see here folks.

Lake Nakura  – You know, the flamingos are gone to nearby Lake Bogoria but it’s still a lovely park with lots of wildlife.

Getting around while Backpacking Kenya

Try to avoid taxi’s when you can because they really are expensive but if it’s the case that you are not on a prepaid safari then you might feel more comfortable in one rather than on a Matatu. These are small minibuses that you will find all over East Africa. The drivers are crazy, they squeeze as many people in as possible and it can take a while for them to fill up so they can depart. That said, I love them, you can meet lots of locals and they are super cheap.

Other than the small buses you have the large one’s which I do not like at all. They just feel like a death trap any time you see the drive past and you’ll know what I mean when you see one.

Typical costs of Backpacking in Kenya

Africa is not cheap. I have travelled all around the world and it can be more expensive here than anywhere else although this tends to be down to the accommodation and activities/park fees. You can find ways to make backpacking in Africa cheap but my friends, don’t be expecting to save any money here.

Accommodation

Hotels can be upward of $60 per person or one of the best Nairobi guesthouses not much less at $40. If you pay well below this figure it will be a very local guesthouse which by the way, I am fine with but you may not be so happy with the same. A dorm bed is around $10 if you find a hostel and campsites are usually priced between $6 – $10 per head.

Transport

Taxis are not cheap and a short fare will be $5 – $10 but the above mentioned matatus are closer to 50 cents. As long as you are not on a safari, this will not be an expensive cost on your trip while backpacking Kenya.

Food and shopping

Do you want western food? You’ll end up paying for it. Supermarkets are not too bad and there is good street food at times which is often “Nyama choma” (meat) but as a rule, you can find meals for $5 or less and maybe a meat pie for $1.50. A bottle of water should set you back 50 cents.

I always eat in traditional restaurant and the local food is a fraction of the cost if you can find them but honestly, this is not easy unless you are in the middle of town.

Food is either expensive or cheap depending on whether you eat in the western restaurant

Drinking Tusker

Tusker is the local beer and while it cost around $2 a bottle in the bar, it’s half this price in the supermarket.

National parks and reserve entry fees

Unfortunately these are extortionately high in Kenya and there is no way around them. The Kenya Wildlife Service puts a set fee on each park and there is no bundle or package so that you can buy entry to more than one. Most last for 24 hours and as I said, you are wasting time trying to figure out how not to pay them. A free alternative is staying in a campsite in Lake Naivasha where you will at least encounter monkeys, hippo and many birds.

Is it safe to go Backpacking in Kenya?

Yes, it is completely safe, I even took a solo Africa bicycle tour across the continent for one year with not a single issue. Use common sense wherever you go but honestly, I feel safer in Kenya than almost anywhere I have travelled with the one exception being parts of Nairobi. But don’t worry too much, this is usually after dark in sketchy parts of the city you should never see.

Is there Malaria in Kenya?

Yep there is and you should buy tablets before you arrive but don’t ask me which ones – consult your GP. Just so you know, locals in Kenya treat Malaria just like the flu – yes it is dangerous but once you treat it, everything will be fine.

Do you need a yellow fever certificate to travel to Kenya?

No but you do for Tanzania and the rules are always changing so just get one anyway.

How to get a visa for Kenya

It is $50 for a single entry visa to Kenya and you should go to the Kenya Embassy website to apply for one. I have gotten mind on arrival many times but again, things keep changing so it is best to check the website either way.

Things to do in Kenya

Derek Cullen

Climb Mount Longonot

Situated close to Lake Naivasha and less than two hours drive from Nairobi, you can pay an entrance fee to Mt Longonot National Park and hike to the rim of the caldera in approximately 3 hours. Once there, the views of the surroundings and caldera are some of the most spectacular things to see in Kenya and should you feel energetic, you can walk the entire way around the rim in another couple of hours. Entry is paid at the food of the mountain, you can camp inside the park for an extra fee and there was this one time I went camping at Mount Longonot but actually, we camped overnight inside the volcano and I don’t really advise anyone doing the same.

Climb Mount Kenya

An alternative to Longonot, and sometimes Kilimanjaro, is to climb Mount Kenya. Located to the north of the country near Nanyuki, the views are incredible and apparently the climb is most enjoyable for the fact that there are less people. I have cycled all around this area and so have a good amount of information about where to stay before a Mt Kenya climb or organizing the climb itself with a tour operator.

Africa travel blogger

Boat tour on Lake Naivasha

I recommend even just camping next to this beautiful lake where hippos come up to graze every now and again. You can take a boat tour on Lake Naiavasha for as little as $30 per person and get up close to these hippos along with many bird species. There is also sometimes a fish eagle demonstration but as mentioned, even with the boat trip aside, you should at least go camping in Lake Naiavasha.

How to get from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha

Visit Elsamere

Home to George and Joy Adamson, Elsamere was named after a lion called Elsa whom the Adamson’s raised on their property in the 1960’s. It was the subjext of a best selling book and documentary, Joy was invited to meet the Queen of England as a result and today you can enjoy high tea in their garden. Beautiful setting, nice tea coffee and cakes. Cost is only $10 and you can get there by boat or road.

Africa tour leader

Africa tour leader, Gabriel Kahinga

Walking Safari Crater Lake National Park

Only a few hours long in duration, you can take a guided walk through Crater Lake NP and get up close to many animals including giraffe, warthog, zebra and more. It is a safe walking tour but keep in mind the animals are wild. Excellent value on this Lake Naivasha day tour which costs approx $50 and includes an amazing lunch.

Beach time in Mombassa

Where else in the world will you find sands as fine as Mombassa? Okay maybe on Zanzibar but still, this is a great place to unwind and break up your work if you happen to be volunteering in Kenya. Many beaches in Kenya are unsafe due to the fact that they are too close to Somalia and potentially dangerous areas but Mombassa is fine.

Africa

Photo of Josh Klein from @Gettinginthemap

Volunteering in Kenya

That said, you can even go volunteering in Kenya and there are no end to organisations with who you can do this. However, I recommend you don’t pay big money to do this and instead go to a genuine charity who will take your offer of assistance and use whatever money you want when you arrive. Contact me and I will help organize an incredible experience with an orphanage in the rural parts of Kenya – honestly, if I was going to Volunteer in Kenya then this is exactly what I would be looking to do.

giraffe tanzania

Bicycle ride through Hells Gate National Park

The canyon at the end of the park was the scene for a Tomb Raider movie and Pride Rock in the Lion King was also based on these landscapes. An Africa bicycle tour is the best way to see the area and means you can often get up close to the animals. Bike rental and tours can cost as little as $40 per person.

Safari in Maasai Mara National Park

Yes, this is a must see if you are not visiting the neighboring Serengeti in Tanzania. Maasai Mara is one of the best chances to see lions in the wild as well as everything else. Landscapes are more green than down south but an overnight stay in a campsite is unforgettable. Do it. Cost of a two night safari can cost around $500 per person if you look in the right places. Ask me on Facebook and I will help you out.

As mentioned in the middle of this post somewhere, if you are not sure of anything or want help organizing part of your trip just send me a message on Facebook or even better, post an inquiry to the page itself.