Kenya is known for its warm people, pristine beaches, as well as its rich history and diverse culture! I recently went on a 10 day trip to Kenya. I’ve detailed my full itinerary in a separate blog post but in this post I give a breakdown of some of the basics elements to consider when planning a trip to Kenya, an idea of costs involved so that you can estimate, save and start looking for better deals and I share some tips!
- Decide where and why you want to go.
I wanted to explore Africa (outside of the two African countries I had been to – Lesotho and eSwatini) and Kenya was one of the cheaper options. I think East Africa in general is a good place to start as a South African wanting to venture beyond one’s borders. Kenya is so diverse in what it has to offer, from its beaches, street food, rich culture, night life, etc. and it’s absolutely beautiful! The decision was made even easier by social media accounts @NomadAfricaMagazine, Kenyan Youtubers like @wattaonthego and @briankimani, as well as other travelers who have done such a great job of depicting their experiences on the African continent. Do your research using multiple sources and then just go experience it for yourself!
- Do research on country-specific pre-requisites
As a South African you don’t need a visa to enter Kenya! This was a huge relief and motivator to visit the country. Not having this as an item in your budget makes your trip cheaper. I was quite disappointed though to learn that Kenyans need to apply for a visa for entry into South Africa. Hopefully this changes soon!
Two things are required when traveling to Kenya from South Africa: Malaria pills and a Yellow Fever vaccination, both of which you should get about a week before you travel.
- Malaria prophylaxis (Mozitec): Some people prefer not to take these but rather err on the side of caution. These will set you back about 700 ZAR but medical aid should take care of it. The side-effects of the pills aren’t very pleasant but I guess we all respond differently to medicines. You should still take extra precaution by covering up (especially at night), using a strong mosquito repellent, closing windows and using mosquito nets, which most accommodation will have.
- Yellow Fever vaccination: You can get this done at any travel clinic near you. Pharmacies won’t help you with this one. It’ll set you back about 800 ZAR and lasts you 10 years, so it’s worth it if you plan to travel in places with a high risk. We didn’t have to produce the yellow card upon entry into Kenya but upon our return we did so rather have it.
- Search for and book flights
To suite our itinerary we flew from Johannesburg to Nairobi and returned from Mombasa (via Nairobi) back home to Johannesburg. We booked the flights separately and flew on Kenya Airways for 4800 ZAR each. I recommend searching for flights using a comparison site and also checking the price directly with the airline, which is sometimes surprisingly cheaper! There’s a new comparison site called FlyingBragain (www.flyingbargain.com), which works in a similar way to Skyscanner but has many flight deals and other interesting travel resources. Check it out! I have heard people get flights for very cheap! Just look out for the travel time. Sometimes (not always) a cheap flight means uncomfortably long layovers.
- Book accommodation
We booked all our accommodation on Airbnb, which I feel is such a plug since I am not a big fan of hotels and enjoy “living like a local”! The cool thing about the platform is that you can change filters to suit your preferences and budget. Here’s a run-down of our costs. Keep in mind that this was for four people and we each needed to have our own rooms (for the most part). We wanted to spend around 250 ZAR (1750 Ksh) per person, per night – a tight budget considering that we were quite fussy about good accommodation! It’s important to ask yourself what you can afford but also, what you can’t compromise on when it comes to accommodation. If your budget is low, you can still find good accommodation but manage your expectations.
We stayed in a beautiful, 4-bedroom apartment (all en-suite) in an area called Kilimani, which is not too far from Karen where the Giraffe Centre and other tourist attractions are, and from Westlands where all the nightlife is. The apartment cost 867 ZAR (about 6000 Ksh) per night for the entire place. That’s under 220 ZAR per person, per night! Here’s a link to the listing https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/23905754?euid=116fbde8-8ad7-f8ef-dda1-36644a2ce157
Our first accommodation in Mombasa was in an area called Nyali. It was a 3 bedroom apartment and cost 984 ZAR per night (more expensive than Nairobi accommodation but still within budget). We were very disappointed and felt like the owner misrepresented the listing on Airbnb. There was no way we were staying there so we negotiated a price and booked a two-bedroom apartment at Shanzu Beach Homes, a walking distance from Shanzu Beach in Mombasa. It’s always good to prepare yourself for disappointments and have extra money just in case a contingency plan is needed!
- Lamu Town
We stayed in a beautifully renovated, three story, 4-bedroom, all en-suite bathroom, Swahili house in Lamu Town called Ttunu House. We paid 4000 ZAR (28 000 Ksh) for our entire stay there! We managed to get the house for about 2500 ZAR less (maybe because it was not peak season). That’s 330 ZAR (2300 Ksh) p/p per night and it was so worth it. We had Hassan, our host and guide who picked us up from the airport with a boat and showed us around the town and on other excursions; as well as Thomas who would go to the market to get ingredients and prepare our breakfasts during the stay.
- Factor in other expenses
- We used the SGR train to get from Nairobi to Mombasa, which cost 1000 Ksh (142 ZAR). The train ride was scenic and comfortable and it took about 7hrs to get to our destination.
- To get from Mombasa to Lamu we decided to take the Skyward Express. There is one flight per day on this small aircraft but service is amazing and it’s a one-hour flight. The flight cost about 7200 Ksh (1000 ZAR) per person for a return. It’s cheap, safe and convenient!
- Tuk tuk rides in Mombasa cost on average 300-400 Ksh (40-60 ZAR) for relatively short trips and can squeeze in up to four passengers.
- Boat ride from Manda Airport, Lamu to our accommodation in Lamu Town cost 500 Ksh (70 ZAR) for all four of us.
- Full day boat excursion with a meal cost 2000 Ksh p/p (300 ZAR).
- Maxi taxis/private taxis: These were more expensive but sometimes required for transfers to and from airports and bus terminals. These ranged between 1000-3000 Ksh (between 150-430 ZAR)
- Uber in Nairobi: Short trips were cheap at around 300 Ksh since we lived in a good area (42 ZAR)
- There is something for every budget! I cannot prescribe here but in general, eating out is cheaper in Kenya than it is in South Africa.
- For Nairobi you must have nyama choma with as many side dishes as you can sample!
- Mombasa had some really great street food and good restaurants such as Forodhani Restaurant
- Lamu has some ridiculously good and cheap food! Keep in mind that fish is of better quality than meat here.
Markets, shopping and activities:
- For shopping, it’s best to buy at markets rather than inside malls.
- The Maasai Market is well-priced but you can bargain down and get really good deals. Best to compare prices first by taking note on your phone or in a notebook and finding the person who sells at the best price. I saved hundreds of shillings doing this.
- Entrance fees to see views of Nairobi at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) cost 500 Ksh for non-local visitors.
My basic costs for flights and accommodation came up to 7750 ZAR. This went up to 8900 ZAR when internal trips to get to the other destinations were included i.e. train to Mombasa and flight to Lamu. You can then estimate based on activities you want to do how much you can afford for food and spending. Visiting one or two destinations rather than three and shortening your trip will also make it much cheaper and allow for a more in-depth experience. Please comment if you found any of this useful and share any of your own experiences. Happy planning! Asante sana (Thank you) for reading this post.