Kenya, the country of amazing wildlife, white-sand beaches and lively cities. Compared to other countries in Africa, Kenya’s tourism is well-developed. Traveling around independently is quite easy and therefore makes it an appealing African backpacker destination. These are some tips if you’re traveling Kenya on a budget.
Written by Andrea Liebl
I spent months in Kenya and I know that traveling in Kenya can be expensive, particularly if you are staying and eating in hotels located within park boundaries. I assume they are quite nice, and might be worth the money if you have it. Instead I chose to stay in hotels located in town, hotels often frequented by Kenyans (and to be honest, sometimes hotels which had never had a white person stay there before).
Alternatively, you can camp, with some areas providing tents set up with beds and running water. With the exception of Nairobi (pay extra here for increased safety), most towns have hotel options for as low as 15USD a night (that I considered to be both safe and comfortable). For these to be viable options, though, you must be willing to live without air conditioning (and sometimes hot water), to wear ear plugs to sleep, and be without a TV (there’s not much on anyway).
Food is generally relatively cheap in Kenya, but eating local food can make it as little as 2USD for a filling meal, and (I think) tastes quite good! That being said: only eat cooked food, avoid roadside stalls or anywhere that does not have running water (to ensure your cooks and servers are washing their hands properly), and remember busy cafes will have a higher turnover of food and will therefore serve be fresher.
Getting around Kenya can be somewhat of an adventure. If you hire through a local agency, they should provide transportation for you. Otherwise you can hire a car, although that can be somewhat pricey (and the roads are not always straight forward) and can break down (over and over again….)
Matatus are cheap, easy to use and go almost anywhere. If traveling between two major cities/towns, be sure to book at a booking office/stand. Driving in matatus can be quite dangerous as the drivers are often in a rush and sometimes even drunk. If you do use matatus, I was told to look for older drivers (they tend to be more careful), sit in the front (can be more comfortable), and do not travel on a holiday (otherwise the monopoly on matatus will force you to endure a 5 hour journey with 24 other people crammed into a 14 passenger space).
About the author
Andrea Liebl is a biologist who has had the opportunity to travel to many corners of the world to conduct and present her research on birds. For her Ph.D. dissertation work, Andrea spent a lot of time in many cities throughout Kenya studying the physiology and behavior of house sparrow (an introduced bird there). She currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter conducting research in Australia.