As an experienced tour leader in Africa, I know that backpacking around Kenya is often intimidating for first timers. Whether the negative media reports or wildlife encounters do the trick, these fears are pretty common. I wanted to de-myth some of the false truths that go around about Africa. Also, I wanted to show just how easy backpacking around Kenya can be for first timers.
Sure, you are likely to feel nervous on arrival but trust me, travel in this part of the world is just the same as anywhere else – almost!
Everything You Need to Know About Backpacking Around Kenya
Backpackers are not as common in Kenya or Africa as they are in Southeast Asia etc. For this reason, visitors can feel a little out of place. At the same time, this is one of the best things about backpacking around Kenya – it truly feels as though you are off the beaten path!
Anyway, I hope that you can find some value in the following advice and encouragement to go out there and enjoy backpacking around Kenya.
Currency: Kenya Shilling
Language: English, Swahili, Tribal languages
Kenya is location in East Africa. Many travellers arrive in Kenya to start their journey to neighbouring countries which include Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. Nairobi is the capital city and the home to Jomo Kenyatta Airport.
While there are many attractions in Kenya, one of the most common reasons to visit this beautiful country is to embark on a Masai Mara safari and witness the Great Migration.
In my own experience, backpacking around Kenya is a lot easier than almost anywhere else in Africa. Kenya has excellent infrastructure compared to elsewhere and most of the locals speak English. Tourism is also a lot more prominent which means the service industry is used to catering for visitors.
How Much Does Backpacking Around Kenya Cost?
Make no mistake, Africa is not cheap. Most passengers on my tours were shocked to find that prices were a lot more than Southeast Asia etc. In fact, I have stayed in the most dirty guest houses in Nairobi and paid US$50 for the privilege – something that just would not happen in Thailand, Peru or wherever else you have in mind.
As a rule, I think a budget of $70 per day will allow you to travel comfortably in Kenya.
Where to Eat and Drink
Food is cheap when you venture into a very local restaurant. Such places are often guised as hotels and serve traditional meals only. You will pay anywhere between $1 and $2 for these meals but you will also share the space with many locals.
As for the more “Western” restaurants, you can expect to pay upward of $5 per meal. Food in Kenya is pretty good in these places and there are also many Chinese, Japanese and Indian restaurants to be found in most towns.
As for having a night out, try to steer clear of the “local” bars. These places are usually inside a rather run down shack and frequented by drunk locals which can be a nuisance. Nairobi is full of clubs but be careful in terms of going into these places without a local friend.
Getting Around Kenya
Backpacking around Kenya is made easy by the variety of transport. You can take a “matatu” almost anywhere which is effectively a cheap shuttle with hordes of people squashed inside. Stay well clear of taxi services who tend to take advantage of tourists.
In most cases, organizing a taxi with your accommodation provider is the best way to avoid getting ripped off. Uber also exists and if you need to travel to nearby Tanzania, there is a reliable shuttle that runs daily from Nairobi to Arusha.
As for longer distances, there are many flights out of Nairobi. You can travel to Zanzibar, Kampala or even Kigali for a reasonable price. I have also written a post about cheap flights in East Africa.
Where to Stay in Kenya
You should find that hostels are starting to crop up in popular destinations. I have put together some information on the best hostel in Nairobi but outside of the capital, there are few options. That is to say, guesthouses account for most accommodation options. You will pay between $15 and $20 for one night in a decent hostel.
That being said, if you have enough spending money, hotels and guest houses are a much more comfortable option. Here is a quick snapshot of my suggestions for the best places to stay in Kenya:
Best Hotel in Nairobi – The Heron Portico
Best Lodge in Masai Mara – Sarova Lodge
Guesthouse in Nairobi – Millimani Backpackers (Karen)
Hostel in Nairobi – Wildebeest Camp (Near Karen)
Guesthouse in Lake Naivasha – Jasmine House
Campsite in Lake Naivasha – Fishermans Camp
Guesthouse Naivasha Town – Twinspot
Guesthouse in Eldoret – Naiberi Camp
Hostel in Mombasa – Tuliahouse Backpackers
Hotel in Mombasa – Serena Beach Resort
Hotel in Nakuru – Eagle Palace Hotel
Campsite in Nakuru – Punda Milias
Hostel in Nakuru – Pundas Milias
Booking a Safari to the Masai Mara
I have written an entire post on the right way to plan your Masai Mara Safari. However, there is no information in that post for those of you who might be on location already. You need a vehicle and a qualified guide to enter the park. Hence, you need to book a tour and cannot self drive.
If you want the cheapest possible option, you could travel to Narok and search for a safari operator in town. This will save you money but maybe not as much as you would like for the hassle it takes to organize the trip this way. Either way, you will pay entry fees for the park, rental fees for the vehicle and guide fees, for the guide. Don’t forget to tip.
Staying Safe While Backpacking Around Kenya
Take precaution in built up areas and most especially at night. Nairobi has a reputation for crime but this is mostly in townships or certain parts of the city.
As for health, there are many hospitals and clinics throughout Kenya. If you have malaria or any kind of illness, you can get treated very quickly. With this in mind, you might want to have cholera, polio, typhoid and malaria immunizations.
Do you have travel insurance? You should have it – I wrote about the best travel insurance here.
About Anti Malaria Tablets
Well, every individual responds differently to each type and I am not a doctor. You should check with your local GP who is likely to prescribe you with wither larium, malarone or doxy. You will hear all sorts of stories from travellers about the side effects of these tablets.
My advice is to ignore every last one of them. These tablets are no big deal and even malaria is treated as a common illness in this part of the world.
Keep in mind, while you may not be required to have a yellow fever certificate to enter Kenya, things change and nearby countries insist upon them.
Do You Need a Visa for Kenya?
I also wrote about this recently. It changes all the time. In the past you will have paid a $50 fee on arrival but they are talking about introducing an electronic visa. Until recently, you could also acquire an East African visa at the airport. The officials don’t seem to like being asked for this though – maybe it’s too much work for them!
Check the Kenya Embassy website for more information.
What Should You Go See While Backpacking Around Kenya?
Take a Safari into the Masai Mara
Simply put, the Masai Mara is the most fascinating place to see in Kenya. In terms of cost, even with the high park fees, this is also such a value-for-money experience. Home to the Big Five, the Great Migration and immensely beautiful landscapes; this is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
You can take a safari from Nairobi to the Masai Mara or organize this from the town of Narok. Either way, take a 3-day tour and don’t even think about anything less.
My main piece of advice on this one is to avoid budget tours and look out for a small group tour operator with a reputation for taking care of their guests.
Whatever you do, visit Lake Naivasha. In all of my time backpacking Africa, this was my most favourite place. Whether you venture into Crate Lake or Hells Gate National Park, the scenery is stunning. Meanwhile, Elsamere offers a nice insight into the story of Elsa the lion and you can fall asleep to the sound of hippo at Fishermans Camp.
Beaches in Kenya
Backpacking Kenya is not really the best idea for those looking for a beach vacation. That being said, the beaches in Mombassa are incredible. Diani beach is the most popular of these and where you will find some of the best places to stay. Getting to Mombasa is also very easy – you can fly or take a bus direct from Nairobi.
Lamu Island is another popular destination and this can feel like stepping back in time. That is to say, there are no cars in Lamu, only people and bicycles. In fact, this is possibly the most impressive place to see a part of Africa that seems to be disappearing fast.
Mt Longonot & Mt Suswa
Both of these volcanic regions offer the perfect place to take an adventure. At Mt Longonot, you can hike right up to the crater rim and then all the way around the outside. Meanwhile, Mt Suswa is owned by the Masai who invite tourists to explore their conservation area and even stay over for the night.
As already mentioned, backpacking around Kenya is perfectly safe. You will find friendly locals at every turn and amazing attractions around every corner. If you take an overland tour, you may be a little rushed but if you have time, this is one of the most memorable places you could every choose to visit while backpacking Africa.
Are you planning a trip to Africa? Did you find the above helpful in any way? Please let me know in the comments!