Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, it’s diverse landscapes, incredible animals and friendly people make it a truly special place. This post is aimed to make venturing there a little less daunting than it may initially appear. Kenya is a comparatively safe African destination but like any destination there’s still plenty you should know before taking a trip there. So here you have it, a complete guide of 6 things you need to know before visiting Kenya for the first time!
1. Personal Safety
Whilst Kenyan’s are incredibly friendly there is considerable poverty in Kenya and as a tourist you will draw more attention to yourself especially if you’re carrying around fancy cameras and wearing obviously expensive jewellery. Like much petty crime, it’s entirely opportunistic. If you minimise yourself as a target and be vigilant then you’ll most likely be absolutely fine.
The following tips are pretty obvious ones, but are important none the less:
- Dress respectively, whilst it’s not as imperative as when you’re visiting many Asian and Arabian countries, if you dress modestly to not draw attention to yourself, this minimises risk. Ladies this tip especially applies to you!
- Make a copy of your passport to keep in your luggage
- Wear a money belt under all your clothes if you’re travelling through a city with valuables (money, passport etc)
- DO NOT wear expensive jewellery, carry flashy cameras (in towns and cities, obviously on safari it’s fine!) or carry too much cash.
There’s a number of mandatory injections and medication needed when you travel to Kenya. So here’s a list of them for you!
The strongly advised jabs and boosters recommended are:
- Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Poliomyelitis, Tetanus and Typhoid
I know that in England you can either get these injections from your doctor or from private travel clinics – the clinics are likely to be more expensive.
The other injections you should strongly consider:
- Yellow Fever, Cholera, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal Meningitis and Rabies.
Yellow Fever is mandatory, especially if you’re travelling around Africa, you often need to present a Yellow Fever certificate on entry to be allowed in to each country, so be sure to get this one if you haven’t already.
It’s fairly pricey as injections go, for example, at a travel clinic my Yellow Fever jab was £80 – however it does last 10 years and prevent you from getting Yellow Fever so I’m sure you’ll be getting value for money!
- Malaria – There’s no injection for Malaria but it’s likely you’ll be told to purchase malaria tablets.
Whist Nairobi and some highland areas have relatively low risk it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to malaria!
WARNING: Malaria tablets have pretty much every side-effect possible listed on the box however fortunately the most common are not too serious.
Upset tummies and light-sensitivity are two of these. I’m of the olive skin type that usually tans once instantly exposed to sun however for the first time in my life I found myself turning beetroot in a matter of minutes, even smothered in sun lotion! So be super careful and keep an eye out for this.
3. Insects and Animals
If you’re on safari in Kenya it’s likely your guides will tell you about the dangers and precautions to take around wild animals or the course of action if you were to stumble upon a leopard in your bath tub.
When it comes to insects, be prepared. I’m definitely not the best judge of how bad insects and bugs are in Kenya, given that I’m one of those annoying people who is frantically swatting whilst running away from the dinner table at the slightest buzz. However, definitely cover yourself in insect repellent, not only will this further prevent any mosquito related diseases but then you won’t be itching and scratching your way round safari the next day.
You will need a visa when travelling into Kenya. These are around £30 / $50 and you can either purchase one on arrival or from the Kenyan High Commission. It is relatively easy to acquire one on arrival so I personally wouldn’t stress too much about having one beforehand just make sure you have US dollars with you to pay for it.
5. Food and Drink
There is no staple Kenyan dish as such however you can expect amazing steak and most meals are served with a grain of some sort (couscous, rice etc) with a portion of meat or fish. Everything is deliciously seasoned and makes use of the fresh produce available in the area.
WARNING: Like in most countries, be cautious of ‘street food’, ensure that if you are eating from them you’re eating food cooked at very high temperatures that is still hot when you buy it. The large majority of the time it will be fine. However, especially if you have a sensitive stomach or you’re not acclimatised to the cuisine yet, it’s best to be cautious and steer clear of street vendors.
In terms of the water in Kenya, we were told it was fine to drink if your stomach has acclimatised to it however if you’re coming from abroad they advise bottled water. For things like brushing your teeth the water is fine to use.
6. Culture, Language and People
The culture and traditions in the country completely depend upon where you’re staying. The country is predominantly Christian with a smaller percentage of Muslims.
The largest difference in cultures will be found in the different tribes within the country. The most well known to tourists being the Massai and the Samburu tribe.
If you’re interested ask your guide or a local to tell you about the different traditions within the different tribes, they’re incredibly interesting, you’ll soon realise how complicated your modern technological life seems in comparison!
There is extreme poverty in the country, with Nairobi being home to Kibera – the largest urban slum in Africa. You have to bear in mind that you will be incredibly wealthy in comparison to some of the Kenyan population that you may meet along the way, so be wary of that and be sure to minimise the risk to your personal safety by abiding by the tips I listed above.
Kenya is a multilingual country with English and Swahili being the two official languages. So here’s a couple of Swahili words to help you along your way:
“Jambo!” – this is the most common greeting, it’s sort of like an all inclusive “Hello how are you?”
“Asante” / “Asante Sana” – this means thank you / thank you very much.
“Pole Pole” – You’ll probably hear this being said a lot, it translates to ‘slowly slowly’, everything is “pole pole” here so get used to it!