If you followed our Featured Traveler, Heather Costello, on her amazing journey to Kenya and the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar you might wish you could go on an adventure like this. You might also think it looks like it would be super complicated to plan this trip and figure out what to do in Kenya.
Well, TravelHive is here to help with What to do in Kenya: a traveler’s guide.
Here is what this trip looks like in TravelHive –
Plus, here are some recommendations for what to do in Kenya to have an incredible adventure –
Getting around Africa you’ll learn rules of the road need not apply, everyone runs on ‘African Time’ (don’t expect punctuality), some roads have more potholes than road which adds entertainment, a little whiplash and a lot of time to your journey. As they like to say, “you’ll get a massage on the drive.”
Luckily for us, we had a local who could show us how things worked and what to do in Kenya! Here are some local tips we learned to help you along in your adventure:
A little about Kenya
You will need a passport and a visa. You can apply for an e-visa online prior to arrival to help speed up the process but be very careful and make sure you go to the correct e-visa website.
In Kenya the people speak English and Swahili – And while they speak English, they definitely have some phrases and words we didn’t quite understand! You’ll also quickly learn a few Swahili basics like, jambo (hello), asante (thank you), karibu (you’re welcome) and of course hakuna matata (no problem / no worries).
In Kenya, they use the Kenyan Shilling and cash is king – You’ll want to keep some on hand to pay for rides, food and grocery delivery, and to tip.
If you want to use your phone in Kenya, it is best to get a Kenyan SIM card – your international plan will work but it will prove challenging to use for everyday activities.
Kenya is huge on mobile money – it seems like everyone uses this, but we had a local with us and never actually figured it out for ourselves. M-Pesa is like a digital wallet and you will need a Kenyan SIM card to use it.
- Ride sharing apps: Uber or Bolt – you’ll want to change your payment method to cash because drivers don’t like to accept rides paying with credit card – they want that cash!
- Bolt allows you to pick a larger vehicle, but it didn’t work with my international phone plan. They would text a confirmation code but it wouldn’t come through for over 24 hours. I ended up using Uber for short rides.
Food and grocery delivery
Yum and Glovo are the way to go but remember, it takes quite a while to get anywhere in Nairobi. Most food options close by 9pm, so you need to order well before that in order to ensure your driver can pick it up. A few more tips:
- Drivers wanted to call to confirm the order, hence the SIM card
- You’ll often be expected to pay in cash, cash is king
What to do in Kenya: Nairobi
If you are traveling to Kenya, Nairobi will probably be your first stop. When planning what to do in Kenya, keep in mind everything in Nairobi is very close in proximity but may take hours to get to due to this plethora of tidbits and the large population and traffic of this city!
- Nairobi National Park
- Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphanage
- Giraffe Center
- Kenyatta International Convention Centre
- Maasai Market
- Visit Java House and Mugg & Bean
Nairobi National Park
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) should be your go to for learning about all the great wildlife resources Kenya has to offer, like Nairobi National Park. This park sits right on the edge of Nairobi with the cities skyscrapers as a backdrop, it is quite breath-taking. It is the perfect place to get your first taste of what a safari is all about and experience the quintessential safari activity, the game drive! I recommend hiring a guide from the KWS with a safari vehicle for the drive. They will know the park and be able to actually find the animals and point them out!
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphanage
If you’ve heard of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust it is probably because of their Orphan Project – rescuing and rehabilitating orphan elephants and rhinos and protecting these threatened populations. A visit to the orphanage is definitely a must when planning what to do in Kenya. It is only open to the public for ONE hour each day, from 11am to noon. Be sure to show up early so you get a good spot!
If you adopt an orphan you could get special time with that elephant at 5pm, but you have to schedule an appointment in advance. The earlier, the better!
I got so confused trying to figure out the difference between Giraffe Center and Giraffe Manor. I was worried that if I didn’t stay in the expensive Manor I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see the giraffes up close. Don’t worry, this is not the case! For a minimal entrance fee, you can get so close to these majestic animals, feed them, and even get giraffe kisses! And they are the same giraffes that visit the Manor.
Kenyatta International Convention Centre
From the roof of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre there are incredible 360-degree views of Nairobi. It is a fun stop in Nairobi and only takes about an hour.
The Maasai Market is a bustling market that can be rather overwhelming. It is a great place to find unique pieces from Kenya, but know how much you are willing to spend, set it aside, and be prepared to haggle. It is best to go later in the day as the sellers will be more willing to bargain. The market moves around depending on the day of the week, so make sure you have that day’s location.
Visit Java House and Mugg & Bean
After running around Nairobi you will probably be exhausted. Here are two great places to stop and relax, whether you are just getting stop and taking a break:
Java House is a Kenya coffee shop and diner – you can grab coffee, food, and even do a little work. We grabbed coffee here several times before heading out for the day.
Mugg & Bean started in South Africa but has made its way to Kenya. They also offer both coffee and food, and after one long day we even stopped here for dinner.
What to do in Kenya: Nairobi Day Trips
We made Nairobi our home while we stayed in Kenya because there are so many incredible day trips you can make from this destination. Here are just a few:
- Lake Magadi
- Mount Longonot
- Hell’s Gate National Park
If you are trying to decide what to do in Kenya, Lake Magadi is a good start. From Nairobi, it is a long and bumpy ride, but the journey is beautiful! The drive will take you through the Great Rift Valley, which you will become familiar with because you pretty much go through it anytime you leave Nairobi. Lake Magadi turns pink due to algae bloom and is covered in a mineral called trona which is manufactured into soda. It is home to an incredible variety of wildlife including flamingos and pelicans. The lake has natural hot springs – the perfect place for a quick dip. When deciding what to do in Kenya, Lake Magadi is worth a visit!
If your journey to Kenya was as long as ours, you’ll want to add some activities that allow you to get out and about to your list of what to do in Kenya. Mount Longonot is the perfect outing. This old volcano located in the Great Rift Valley has some great hiking but it is definitely a workout, plus you need to account for the elevation if that affects you. The trail from the park entrance to the crater rim is just shy of 2 miles one way. The gate elevation is around 7000 ft and the peak is around 8400 ft. This climb is so worth it for the absolutely stunning views from the top in all directions. If you are up for a bigger challenge, you can hike the rim of the volcano!
Hell’s Gate National Park
When deciding what to do in Kenya, Hell’s Gate National Park should be on your list. Afterall, it helped inspire Disney’s the Lion King! The Park is beautiful with its spectacular scenery including towering cliffs, gorges, rock towers, geothermal springs and abundant wildlife including zebra, buffalo, warthogs, impalas, monkeys, and baboons. From the ranger station, a Maasai guide can take you on a short hike to the Pride Rock viewpoint overlooking the stunning gorge.
While these are great options for things to do outside of Nairobi, when you are planning what to do in Kenya, a safari is probably on your list.
What to do in Kenya: Planning your Safari in the Maasai Mara
When deciding what to do in Kenya, a safari is sure to be top of mind! Our safari in Kenya’s Maasai Mara was incredible. We saw elephants (thank goodness because these are my absolute favorite!) lions, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, all sorts of antelope, buffalo, cheetahs, jackals, warthogs, baboons, vultures, hippos, impalas, and brachiosaurus! Okay, no dinosaurs but the landscape and vastness of the Mara almost makes you think you could see a dinosaur at any moment! The sky, the sunsets, the open space, I’ve never experienced anything quite like the African Bush and a safari in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
Game Drives are what safaris are all about – this is what you picture when you hear the word “safari” – driving around the park in those cool safari vehicles, looking to spot that elusive leopard or a lioness with her cubs.
We only stayed two nights in Kenya on our Maasai Mara safari; when planning your trip and what to do in Kenya, I recommend staying at least three nights if you do a safari so you don’t feel rushed or robbed of seeing different areas. Honestly, you could spend a lifetime exploring, but three nights would allow for two evening drives and two morning drives when the animals are more active plus one longer day drive where you can take your time and patiently wait for animal behaviors. Don’t expect to see it all, it’s all just luck, but patience goes a long way. I’m still learning the art of patience.
The tour company we used for our Safari in Kenya’s Maasai Mara was Inclusive Holidays Africa. They handled everything including our camp reservations. Our driver and guide Jeremy was absolutely fantastic – he really went above and beyond to ensure we saw everything we wanted – including the ellies!
We stayed at the Sarova Mara Game Camp and it was incredible. We only stayed at one camp, but when you plan what to do in Kenya, you may want to check out a couple so you can experience a safari in different parts of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. You can find less expensive options outside of the Reserve, but it seemed worth it to pay a little more for the location. Also, we had our hearts set on staying in those super cool safari tents; it really is an incredible experience.
Our game camp was an unforgettable experience – the tents – did I mention how cool they are yet, the food, the spa – if this is your thing, definitely sign up early for a massage! The entire experience was so great – there were Mongoose running around and you could spend the early afternoon taking in the sun by the pool before heading out on your game drive.
Booking a safari from around the world is definitely an intimidating and stressful task, you can use a site like https://www.safaribookings.com/ to research tour operators like Inclusive Holidays Africa.
Packing for Safari
Check out our A Guide to Packing for a Safari in Kenya to make sure you are prepped to make the most out of your adventure!
Visiting Zanzibar, the spice islands
Kenya is such an incredible place and there is so much to do. On Heather’s journey she didn’t just explore Kenya though, she ventured to the Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar. If you are planning an adventure to East Africa and looking to explore more check out What to do in Zanzibar, the spice islands and 14 things to do in Stone Town.