Tips for Your Trip to Kenya

By Cynthia Alwizer

We are truly humbled by your investment in this trip. Thank you for so generously sharing your time, treasure and talent!

As you prepare for your visit, there a few facts that might be helpful to know. We may not be able to be there as your official culture translator while you are visiting and volunteering, so here is your quick safari lesson to study on the plane.

We encourage you to contact us with questions and keep adding to this list as you think of things we should add to the list. We hope that on your trip you’ll learn a lot, make a difference and have fun!


CAPITAL

Nairobi

TIME DIFFERENCE

GMT +3

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Culture here is a mix of the modern and the traditional, with European habits prevailing throughout the country. Kenyans are a very friendly nation and you can dress informally for most occasions. But bring some nicer casual clothes for occasions like church, family get-togethers you are invited to or church.

ELECTRICITY

220/240 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are 3-pin square. You will definitely need a converter if you are using electronics from the USA.

CLIMATE

Four climatic zones exist: tropical, equatorial, semi-desert and desert. Only two main seasons: dry and rainy. Due to altitude and topographical differences of the various regions, these seasons and temperatures are not uniform and vary greatly. However, in general the climate is warm and humid at the coast, cooler in the central highlands, and hot and dry in the north and east. You can get by most days with a T-shirt and Jeans in Nairobi although you will need a light jacket or sweater in the evenings.

CURRENCY

The official currency is the Kenya Shilling. Traveler’s cheques are widely accepted and many hotels, travel agencies, safari companies and restaurants accept credit cards. Foreign currency such as US dollars, British pounds and Deutschmarks can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and authorized hotels. There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that can be brought into Kenya, but taking out more than 500,000 Kenya Shillings requires written authorization from the Central Bank. Before departure, travelers are advised to convert any excess Kenya Shillings into foreign currency at a bank or bureau de change. Departure taxes can be paid in local or foreign currency.

HEALTH

Visitors are advised to take pre-arrival precautions against typhoid, hepatitis A, polio, malaria and meningitis, although these depend on the area visited and time of year. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended you are coming from an infected country or area. Other health concerns include cholera, rabies, the Nairobi beetle (don’t touch, threaten or kill), dysentery and diarrhea.

Here are some tips for your health while you are there:

● Protect yourself from insects:

Malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever are transmitted by bug bites. Cover up with clothes, use insect repellent, and sleep under a mosquito net.

● Think before you take a dip:

Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is a parasitic-carried disease that you can catch by swimming, bathing, or paddling in fresh water lakes in East Africa.

● Respect the heat:

Take time to acclimatize, drink plenty of bottled water, and take it easy in the heat of the day.

● Bring sturdy footwear:

Sore feet can ruin a trip, and blisters, chafing and other injuries are common causes of major foot infections.

● Be prepared:

A well-stocked, sterile medical kit, including painkillers, blister ointment, and adhesive tape is vital.

BE SAFE

Be aware of your surroundings: Remember that you’re a visitor from one of the world’s wealthiest countries traveling in one of the poorest places on earth, Travel as lightly and as modestly as possible, without flashy expensive jewelry, gadgets and lots of luggage and bags.

● Don’t dangle camera bags or purses on the back of a restaurant chair: You’ll invite snatching. Carry only small bags that can be stowed on your lap during dinner or tucked away in your front pants pocket

● Use a waistband pouch: In pouches you can safely stash money, credit cards, a passport, and airline tickets close to your body, where it’s less likely to be snatched. If you lose everything else, you can still eat, get home, and fly without difficulty.

● Watch your belongings: Most thieves can snatch in seconds. Store equipment on your lap or in a bag with the strap wrapped around your wrist or ankle. Count your bags as they are loaded onto airport vans.

● Avoid political gatherings or protests: Be smart – even if you’re curious, stay away. Both can turn violent quickly.

● Don’t walk around at night with your hands full: Heavy bags slow you down and make you unable to react quickly. Check with our staff or a trusted local on the safest way to travel at night.

● Avoid drugs, alcohol, and unprotected sex: Drugs and alcohol hinder your judgment. What’s more, unprotected sex – always a serious risk – is a game of Russian roulette in a continent where the AIDS epidemic is at its worst.

● Don’t hitchhike: Contrary to advise in some backpacker guidebooks, hitchhiking is a dangerous risk. Only rely on transport recommended or provided by your tour operator or hotel

● Avoid traveling at night at all costs.

LANGUAGE

English is the official language, but Kiswahili is the national language. Most people in Nairobi speak Swahili and English. Most of the words in Swahili sound just like they look.

Some Swahili Basics

▪ Hello – Jambo! (Think Jamba Juice then Oh! and say it real quick JambOH! )

▪ How are you? – Habari! also can be used as hello or Habari? for ‘What’s the news?’)

▪ Where is the bathroom? – Iko wapi choo? (where = wapi)

▪ OK/fine – Sawa sawa (Say it loud and proud! Its as simple as it sounds:-)

▪ Yes – Ndiyo

▪ No – Hapana (use this often)

▪ Good – Mzuri (To say ‘very good’ you add ‘sana’ and get ‘mzuri sana’)

▪ Bad – Mbaya – (again, ‘very bad’ would be ‘mbaya sana’)

▪ Please – Tafadali (Although you will hear this very rarely by locals)

▪ Thank you (very much) – Asante (sana) (the ‘e’ is the stressed and sounds like ‘eh?’

▪ Not Yet – Bado (what you will hear when your room is not ready or your ride out is delayed)

▪ Iko wapi? – Where is it?

More

▪ Big / Small – Kubwa / Kidogo

▪ Water – Maji

▪ Ice – Barafu (very useful and sometimes hard to find)

▪ Hot – Moto (this is physical heat not chemical. ‘Kali’ is for hot food)

▪ Cold – Baridi (‘Nataka beera baridi sana’ – ‘ I want a cold beer’)

Food

▪ Tea – Chai (served everyday at 4pm. ‘Chai’ also means a bribe but don’t bribe anyone with tea.)

▪ Coffee – Kahawa

▪ Milk – Maziwa

▪ Meat – Nyama (‘Nyama choma’ is cooked meat, a BBQ if you will and goat meat at that.)

▪ Beer – Bia (beera) or pombe (Try the local beer, Tusker)

Animals

▪ Lion – Simba

▪ Buffalo – Nyati

▪ Elephant – Tembo

▪ Rhino – Kifaro (or just ‘faro’)

▪ Leopard – Chui (pronounced ‘chew-ee’)

▪ Giraffe – Twiga

▪ Hippo – Kiboko

▪ Antelope – Swala

▪ Bird – Ndegi – Bird (also airplane)

▪ Cheetah – Ndoa Ndoa, Duma

▪ Bug – Dudu (“dudu kufa” would be “dead bug”)

SHOPPING

Traditional artifacts, beaded jewelry and decorative items, animal wood and soapstone carvings, furniture, coffee, precious stones, furniture, Khanga and Kikoy cloths, musical instruments, modern art, basket work e.g. Kiondoo/Chondo sisal baskets, Maasai Shukka blankets, ‘Thousand Miler’ sandals, ‘elephant hair’ bracelets.

TOP ATTRACTIONS

Kenya is the land that gave birth to the Safari, the most popular African activity for tourists and travelers. Its easy to see why. Blessed with tremendous topographical diversity stretching over four climatic zones and featuring coral reefs, desert landscapes, volcanoes and snow-capped mountains, Kenya has it all in one.

Inhabiting these diverse landscapes and wilderness areas are Kenya’s world-famous wildlife, which can be viewed from horseback, 4×4 vehicle, verandah or on foot. There are over 1000 species of birds and huge colonies of colorful butterflies. Also attractive is the rich history, which dates back to the Stone Age, and the various cultures expressed through the sought-after arts and crafts.

Some fun places worth checking out:

The Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi

The Carnivore is a unique experience. This open-air meat specialty restaurant has become a standard stop on the safari trail. Every type of meat imaginable, including four choices of wild game, is roasted on traditional Maasai swords (skewers) over a huge, visually spectacular charcoal pit that dominates the entrance of the restaurant.

The waiters then carry these swords around the restaurant, carving unlimited amounts of the prime meats onto sizzling, cast iron plates in front of you. A wide selection of salads, vegetable side dishes, and a variety of exotic sauces accompany the meat feast. Dessert and coffee follow this. The full meal including a soup course, is a flat price.

The famous Carnivore Dawa cocktail was introduced to Kenya at the Carnivore. Dawa in Kiswahili means medicine or a health revival potion. The Carnivore “Dawa” is the drink chosen to hydrate, refresh and sharpen the taste buds.

Maasai Mara

National Reserve The world’s most famous Game Reserve due to the annual wildebeest, zebra and gazelle migration over this vast plain offering breathtaking views; home to a profusion of wildlife and birds; activities include excellent game viewing year round, balloon rides and bird watching.

Tsavo East and West

The twin national parks of Tsavo, totalling 10 million acres of wilderness, form Kenya’s largest National Park, which make it ideal for those who enjoy solitude; of the two Tsavo West is visited more; apart from the wildlife and birds, visit Lugard Falls, the volcanic Mzima springs and a unique underwater observatory.

Mombasa

One of the world’s most exotic tropical ports with a turbulent history. Visit the magnificent Fort Jesus and harbour, see the Arab architecture in Old Town and smell the scent of spices. Many fine temples and mosques can be explored such as the Shiva Temple, the Baluchi mosque and the Dawoodi Bohra Mosque. Also don’t miss the Mombasa Marine National Park, the Moi Avenue gateway arch, dhow cruises and the beaches.

Amboseli National Park

One of the most popular national parks in Kenya with a wide range of accommodation; the landscape is dominated by Mount Kilimanjaro and the park is famous for its big game and scenic beauty; bird life is abundant.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Famous for its flamingoes and so popular with bird watchers and other nature lovers. Make full use of the view point and visit the Euphobia forest.

Mount Kenya National Park

The country is named after Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa. For mountain climbers and hikers, it offers easy and challenging ascents with superb scenic beauty. The local tribes believe it is the home of Ngai (God). A number of unique, rare and endangered species can be found here and there is abundant bird life.

Lamu

A peaceful tropical island with a fascinating history, which can be explored in the winding streets of its medieval stone town, a World Heritage Site partly due to it being the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa.

Lake Turkana National Parks

The three national parks serve as a stopover for migrant waterfowl and are major breeding grounds for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and a variety of venomous snakes. Turkana is outstanding for the study of plant and animal communities and the Koobi Fora fossil deposits have contributed more to the understanding of paleo-environments than any other site in Africa, it is also the most saline of Africa’s large lakes and a World Heritage Site.

Aberdare National Park

A must for landscape lovers, where one can view spectacular mountains, waterfalls, rainforest, trout streams, moorlands, thickets of giant heath, caves, abundant bird life, duikers, the black rhino and the elusive, rare Bongo – a forest antelope. This area is ideal for walks, picnics, trout fishing, camping and night game viewing.

Mount Elgon National Park

One of Kenya’s most beautiful and pristine areas where you can find giant trees, about 400 animals, over 240 bird species and ‘cave elephants’ that venture deep into the four caves at night to feed on the salt rich deposits. Mount Elgon is also a famous botanical locality with a great wealth of Afro alpine flowers. Hot springs occur and sport fishing is popular on the Suam river.

Got more tips for Maji Mazuri volunteers and people traveling to Kenya? Let us know. Post below:)