Explore Kenya on a Budget: Essential Tips for Backpacking Adventures

Travel Kenya on a budget with the below tips and tricks! Backpacking Kenya on a budget can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never been to Africa. But don’t worry! Read on and you’ll have the tools to plan the perfect Kenyan getaway for cheap!

If you’re touring East Africa, check out my other posts about the other stunning countries in the area:

How to get a sim card to Travel Kenya

Having a SIM card in Kenya makes the whole experience easier. You can use uber, book tours and transport with whatsapp, and plan your trip on the go.

The best telecom company in Kenya is Safaricom, with the best coverage and also the option for the widely used payment system____. Unfortunately for foreigners to get a Safaricom sim, you have to go to a specially authorized Safaricom dealer. This includes the one at the Jomo Kenyatta airport (just outside baggage claim) or in WestHills in Nairobi. We tried to buy a sim at the large mall Westgate mall, but two different Safaricom stores would not sell a sim to us. We opted to buy a Telecom sim in that mall as they accepted our passport, but this network works spottily. It barely picked up Uber a few meters out front of the Telcom store haha.

Commonly asked questions about travel to Kenya:

Where are there Embassies in Kenya?

Yes, there is an embassy for many developed countries in Nairobi, Kenya

What is Kenya’s Capitol Like?

Nairobi, Kenya is the capitol city. Nairobi means cool waters, and is warmly referred to as the green city under the sun. Nairobi is the most populated city in Kenta with over 4 million people in the city and over 9 million in the greater city limits. Nairobi is split by the Nairobi River, which was utilized by the Maasai people for grazing cattle before development pushed them out. The city sometimes cools down to as low as 9 degrees celcius in June and July, and stands at 1,795 metres above sea level. But usually Nairobi is very hot. Nairobi is the only capitol city in the world bordering a national park, which is home to Giraffes, Rhinos, Zebras, Lions and Buffaloes.

Where is Kenya in Africa?

Kenya is one of the East African countries, meaning you can use your east Africa visa to travel to and from Kenya and the other East African countries. *NOTE Tanzania, though it is part of east Africa, has currently opted out of the east Africa visa.

East African Community (EAC) countries list:

  • Tanzania
  • Kenya
  • Uganda
  • Rwanda
  • Burundi
  • South Sudan

East African Tourist Visa Countries:

  • Kenya
  • Uganda
  • Rwanda

What is the climate in Kenya?

The climate in Kenya is typically warm, through there are seasons and altitude differenced to consider. Even the capitol city, Nairobi, can vary from 9-45 degrees celcius.

Best 2 week itinerary for travelling Kenya

If you have 2 weeks in Kenya, the below itinerary is a great way to see the highlights and diversity Kenya has to offer!

  • 1 day – Train Nairobi to Mombasa
  • 5 day – Diani Beach
  • 6 day – Kenya Highlights Safari
  • 2 day – Nairobi City

Transportation in Kenya

We entered the country from Tanzania, and opted to take a shuttle instead of flying because this allowed us to be more flexible and leave Arusha on a whim.

Getting from Arusha to Nairobi

We booked a shuttle with Marangu for $20 per person. This includes pick up from our hotel to the shuttle station, and then drop off at a hotel in Nairobi. We opted to be dropped off near the Nairobi Terminus train station before Nairobi.


Getting around Nairobi

The easiest budget way to get around Nairobi is by Uber. Just as in other east Africa countries, the Uber driver accepts your ride then calls you. You must answer and give the details of where you want pick up and where you are going. Commonly they will say no if it is far. You can tell them to cancell then try a few drivers, and if you have no luck offer 50-100 shillings more or so (about $0.50- $1). Ten minute rides usually cost about $3.

How to Train from Nairobi to Mombasa

There is a new railway station outside of Nairobi, Nairobi Terminus, which offers an express train at 3pm and 10pm and takes 5 hours, or a inter-county train at 8am which takes 6 hours. We opted for the inter-county because 1 hour more isn’t too bad and we prefer to arrive in the daylight so we can continue to Diani Beach in the same day.

The train ride is comfortable and smooth. The train travels along the edge of ___ national park, and If you watch out your window you can easily see elephants, zebras, antelope, giraffes, and more! You can also see the lifestyle of rural Kenyans with their farms, crops, and houses made from brick, sticks, and mud.

The train has a food trolly offering small lunches, snacks, and drinks for a reasonable price. We opted to bring our own lunch from the grocery store, but it’s nice to have the option! Here is the menu. *COMING SOON*

How to get from Mombasa Terminus to Diani Beach

Shared Shuttle: When you arrive at Mombasa terminus, there are dozens of 15-person shuttles waiting outside to drive passengers to town or to Diani Beach. They charge 500 shillings, and the journey is about an hour long, including a short ferry crossing. The shuttle should drop you at your hotel in Diani, so confirm this before. but if they will not it’s only 100 shillings to get almost anywhere in Diani beach by tuk-tuk.

As always, you must first tell the Tuk-Tuk where you’re going and confirm the price, often insisting the 100price a couple times before they agree for foreigners. Don’t feel bad about this price, you’re still paying a tourist premium as locals only fork over about 25-50 shillings for a ride. Sometimes you’ll share a Tuk-Tuk with a local as they fit 3-4 people, and this ensures even better odds at quickly negotiating a cheap ride.

Make sure you get the phone number or WhatsApp for your shuttle, so you can contact them for a ride back to Mombasa at the same fair rate.

Private Transfer: Another option is book a private transfer. This costs $12 usd per person, 2 people total $24 usd. They can fit 4 people and I’m sure you can negotiate a similar rate for all 4. We booked this with Francis at +254 750 260057

*Private Transport UPDATE: on our transfer home, we booked again with Francis and he took our $12 and put us on the public Shared Shuttle! If you do choose this mode of transport, ensure you specify the vehicle is a private car with A/C, and includes all fees.

NOTE: Mombasa terminus has many small restaurants, so if you wish you can have breakfast or lunch there before catching your train, or order something to go to take with you.

Where to stay near Nairobi Terminus

We stayed at Joy Airport Hostel and she was a very lovely woman with a nice apartment in a gated community. Our room was private with a hot shower and there was excelled wifi in the common area, a fridge, and a kitchen. It felt very private and clean. There were two issues: there was no mosquito net and we were bit in the night, and her location is much further down the dirt road than indicated on Google maps. We were dropped off by the shuttle on the highway and it was a steamy walk in the scorching sun, trying to figure out where on earth her place was without a phone. We asked a few people but they didn’t know where it was as it’s a small b&b in a complex.

Vacationing in Diani Beach, Kenya

Diani beach is a gorgeous white sand beach stretching for miles along the turquoise Indian ocean. A reef half a mile away from shore gives the area great scuba diving, and breaks the swell of the waves, making the inner waters calm for swimming. This is also a celebrated kite surfing destination with perfect winds and flat ocean.

Accommodations in Diani Beach

Luxury Accommodations in Diani Beach, Kenya

Backing directly onto the white sand beach, countless boutique beachfront hotels stand side to side, sporting cabanas, pools, and beach bars. These are on the high-end side, mostly ranging from $150-$350 per night, depending on the resort and if you choose b&b, half-board, or full-board.

Budget Accommodations Diani Beach, Kenya

We chose a middle ground and found an air bnb 15 minutes walk to the beach. This was a great home base for us, allowing us to cook with fresh tropical ingredients from local fruit stands and the nearby carrefour market. This airBnb apartment is on the top floor of a gated complex. It had wall-mounted fans and large windows, and we were mostly comfortable temperature even in the hottest season. Our only complaint is that every afternoon people burn their yard waste (and sometimes garbage) and this smoke often drifts into the apartment. An easy solution to this is spend time at the beach during the day!

Is Diani Beach Safe?

Our experience at Diani Beach was mostly positive. As COVID-19 greatly reduced the number of tourists, the beach was almost empty and very scenic. The sea is calm inside the reef, and as long as you stay on the white sandy bottom areas there’s no urchins or other potentially harmful critters. Take caution when walking on the rocks or sea grass as there are many black urchins. If you walk to the sand bar, plan to take a boat back or take heed of where the urchin-free path is. The tide comes in quickly and it makes it harder to avoid urchins on your walk back

The only real danger is confrontation with aggressive beach hawkers. Each section of beach has a coconut seller, a souvenir seller, a maasai man selling beadwork, a snorkel tour guide, a dugout fishing boat captain trying to sell tours, and sometimes a safari tour salesman.

These hawkers, especially the coconut guys, seem friendly at first but can turn aggressive or even violent if they realize they have no hope to sell to you. They start by making small talk, asking your name or where you’re from, then they start selling their wares, but if you’re not interested they’ll continue following you far down the beach, make begging pleas. Most tell you that they or their family haven’t eaten and a tiny donation will get them a chapati.

Sometimes stories get vibrant and the terrifying, talking about how a friend was hungry and stole food and was violently killed by a local gang of men with gasoline for doing so. They’ll curse at you and tell you you’re not welcome in Kenya because you didn’t buy their coconut.

We’ve sat at the local beach bar and seen these same men make $10 or more in an hour, which is a great income in Kenya. We try not to let this kind of thing tarnish our view of Diani Beach too much, but I do worry about the these men. I would urge you not to go to any secluded parts of the beach alone, including the public access walkways.

Best Beach Bar in Diani Beach

Copa Cabana Beach Bar is the best, cheapest, locally run bar in Diani Beach, with 300 shilling ($3) 500ml large beers and ciders! The view is perfect, the seating is comfortable, there’s great music and vibes, and the drinks are decently cold. They also serve reasonably priced food (though give it up to an hour to be prepared), and we’ve heard great things about the calamari.

Where to get Groceries in Diani Beach

Support local and buy eggs, fruit, and vegetables from the local fruit stands near the Carrefor Market!

Theres also a stall selling cheap bottled water outside the Carrefor Market. If you can, buy the largest water container and fill your reusable water bottle. This one is the best for travel!

For everything else, the Carrefor Market, which is a modern and clean grocery store, is pretty reasonably priced. Our favorite finds are:

  • 0.30-0.60 ice cream bars
  • $1-$2 large yogurts
  • fresh breads
  • reasonably priced fresh meats

Best Day Tours to Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve

A good price for a day tour to Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park

is $50 for a snorkel tour or $90 for a dive/snorkel tour. It takes about 1 hour to take a mini shuttle to Shimoni town on the coast. There’s a little washroom at the entrance, and then you take a motor boat (either a large wooden ship or a smaller covered fiberglass boat) to the park. You pass Waisini island, peering out into the ocean looking for dolphins.

There is a shallow, beautifully inviting area near the island for swimming, and snorkelling is further out towards the reef.

After the marine park, the boat sails you over to Waisini Island to a restaurant overlooking the ocean serving fish and crab, or you can opt for chicken or vegetarian (or pay more for options like prawns or lobster). They serve drinks (non alcoholic as it is a Muslim island) and charge for them, but you are welcome to bring your own water.

After the lunch feast you are given a boat ride back to the dock and shuttled home to your Diani Beach Hotel.

Best Cheap Eats in Diani Beach

  • Local fruit stalls for a healthy snack! Mangoes are only $0.20 or less! They also sell local avocados, bananas, oranges, and more.
  • The Swahili Pot – Local foods hot and cheap! Fresh fruit juices for 100 shillings (try the tangy tamarind), slow roasted bean dishes for 300 shillings, and meat dishes for 400-600 shillings. I personally found the food a little bland, but it’s cheap hot and fresh! Plus the service is great, and they even bring a hot water hand-washing basin to your table.
  • Qua Bruce Bar and Restaurant is a comfortable lounge that serves 250 shilling 500ml beers and cider, and meals for as low as 500 shillings. our favourites here are:
    • 1/4 Beef Choma (char-grilled steak cubes) with Masala Fries – 600 shillings
    • Chicken Biriyani 650 shillings
    • Chicken Curry with rice 700 shillings
  • Ristorante Pizzeria Da Aniello at this Italian-owned restaurant, for 700 shillings you can have an authentic margarita pizza fresh from the wood oven.
  • Copa Cabana Beach Bar for 600 shillings you can get some excellent freshly grilled and tender squid, and for 800 shillings a fresh grilled tifi (white fish, like a snapper) with subtle spices. Both meals come with lots of fries and a salad. They have a few other reasonably priced lunch options as well. The wait can take from 30 mins to an hour, but it’s great fresh food!

Best Beaches for Sunrise in Diani

Diani Beach is on the East coast of Kenya, meaning the sunrises are spectacular! Check out these two free and perfect spots for enjoying sunrise:

  1. Beach at Golden Sand Resort – the best public entrance to Diani Beach, where the beach is whitest and has the widest plot of sand, is the public entrance just to the north of Golden Sand Resort (turn in before you reach the gate of southern palms beach resort). This is also the closest entrance to get to the best budget beach bar, Copa Cabana Beach Bar
  2. Beach at Leopard Beach Resort – This area has white sand, and also has some interesting and picturesque rock formations. There is also a sandbar out front at low tide that you can likely get a boat ride to for $20 for 2+ people, or you can just walk or swim to it.

How to Dodge Aggressive Beach Hawkers

  • “Jambo, I’m just walking/enjoying the beach,I didn’t bring any money”
  • “I’m on my way to meet a friend, can’t shop now. Don’t worry I’m here for many days. I shop at the last day of my trip”

The best way to dodge is to be friendly, tell them you’ll be there a few extra days more than reality, so you can slip away from Diani quietly without harassment.

Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant in Diani Beach

There are two parts to the cave: closest to the entrance is a darker cave with a bar and cozy cushioned lounges. You can go here for drinks without reservations. They’re open 6-11pm daily.

The second area is for dining, with many tables topped with white linen, flowers and cancels. The roof of this area opens up to the sky, letting in some natural light and then start. If it rains, they have a canvas cover installed that can be quickly slid into place over the opening. There’s also lots of wall mounted fans, but it’s still a hot area in the warmer months of February and March, so dress light.

Menu at Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant

Drink menu: with a selection of while bottles for around 3000-4000 shillings.

Two dinner menus: the regular one, with mains averaging 1800-2500 shillings, and a vegetarian menu with ample options for an average of 1200 for a main. As we are budget travellers and the veggie menu looked enticing, we ordered off it a paneer curry with grilled veggies and a mozzarella risotto. All the food was great, but paneer curry was extra flavourful and filling!

*Meals also come with fresh bead starter, and still water is 300 shillings for 700ml glass bottle.

If you are out at night in Diani, it’s best you don’t walk around to avoid problems or robbery.its about 15 minutes walk down an unlit alley to get to the street from the restaurant to flag a taxi, and to me it’s not worth the risk. There is Uber in Diani! It took a few minutes, but soon we had a ride and it was only 300 shillings for our 15 minute ride home.

Nairobi Budget Accommodations:

There are two area in the heart of Nairobi you can stay:

Downtown Nairobi: This area is very congested and lively and noisy. It’s cheaper to stay here, this hotel is $18 per night including a small breakfast, and their restaurant serves great cheap meals like fresh fried chicken with salad (250 shilling) and tilapia fish with fried onions and spices and rice (500 shilling)

Uptown Nairbi: This is only ten minutes walk from downtown and is much quieter as the streets don’t allow public transit like Matatu shuttles. The cheapest accommodation in this area is ___.

3 day Masai Mara tour

Note that when booking a safari, there’s a few things to consider:

-Destinations and length of tour: consider which animals you would like to see – some parks are easier to see certain animals. For example, Masai Mara is much more likely to have a big cat viewing that Nkuru or Amboseli. Also consider driving time between parks, and the type of landscapes you hope to see. A little research can make your experience more diverse and exciting!

-Accommodations: Tours offer a wide range of accommodations, from tenting (in Mara they are fancy large permanent tents) to high-end lodges.

-Vehicle: There are basically two types of vehicle:

  1. Toyota Land Cruiser: these are the typical safari-style looking vehicles. They seat 6-7 people in the back and have wide windows and a pop-up roof. Note they can very in height – my partner and I are about 5’6 and in one Land Cruiser the pop-top opening was at our chest, and in another Land Cruiser it was to our chin and we could barely see! If you are short, you should check this. Land Cruisers typically cost a little more, but are a much better choice if your destination might be rainy. These vehicles are 4×4 and lifted, and powerful to get though very muddy terrain.
  2. Safari Vans: these vans also have pop-tops, with slightly smaller windows. I’ve seen vans that can seat 9 people in the back, and that would be a VERY packed safari. Also note that only some of these vans are 4×4, and even still they are lower to the ground and must go slowly on rough terrain and can’t go through muddy terrain. Choose this option carefully for dry terrain, and consider a private tour if it’s in your budget.

-Book your Seat: you can pick your seat in the vehicle! Arrange this and reconfirm with the tour operator ahead of time so it’s set in stone. These vehicles usually fill up, no matter what the operator tells you, and if you don’t confirm that you have a window seat, you may get thrown in the back middle seat with no view, scrambling to see over the other guests shoulders! The best seats are the very front passenger seat, and the two first row seats in the back. They have the most leg room, windows, and a view in fort of the vehicle out the top when standing. The only downfall to these seats is that you have to get up to let other passengers in and out, but it’s worth it.

For our 3 day tour of the Masai Mara, we opted to go on a shared tour in a Land Cruiser with budget tenting accommodations.

They picked us up from out hotel and went circling around town, leaving about 1 hour later than planned. The drive to Maasai Mara leads you up to a lookout over the great rift valley, where we stopped for pictures and a quick history. You then drive through the valley and then over through farmland and pastures. We stopped for lunch at a buffet complex serving hot fresh food (rice, beans and maize, noodles, fried potatoes, and goat stew).

Surprises on Group Tour of Masai Mara:

As we were driving along suddenly a commotion struck as though a bomb had gone off. Arms and legs of the passengers were flailing everywhere and in the shrieks and screams the only coherent word I heard was SPIDER!, even at the vehicle was careening down the bumpy dirt road.

The vehicle screeched to a halt and I unbelted my seatbelt and stood, squishing myself in the corner. The back seat passengers flew to the front, and the Nigerian girl was perched on the narrow windowsill like spider-man. Once the dust settled I was able to discern more of the story- apparently a large, yellow spider lowered itself on its silk from the roof of the car and down into the window. The Nigerian girl was rambling almost incoherently, saying we must fasten all the windows closed, then demanding to know when we get to the hotel as she was too tired and needed rest and the forest had made her too scared.

Shandon and the German girl got out, and she was waving around their clothes and backpack trying to dislodged a hidden spider while Shand tried to pry more info out of her. The Frenchman and I locked eyes and gave each other a knowing smile- apparently we had both overcome the natural human fear of spiders.

The Frenchman looked at the Nigerian man with distain, and in his best English and sign language informed him that in his panic, the Nigerian man had kicked him in the throat. The Nigerian was confused at first, then half-heartedly apologized, his emotions still busy oscillating between fear and fury that there was a spider still in the car.

Our guide hastily swept the car searching for the offending bug, then announced it was probably gone and we headed back into the road. Within minutes commotion arose again, and by the time I assessed the situation I realized the Nigerian man was stomping his bright white shoe repeatedly on the ground. He lifted it for inspection, and I saw there was a crumpled up yellow smear on his sole, the size of a dime! Shandon says he saw the spider in its prime before its death, and it was, in fact, a large spider before curling up in its demise.

Masai Mara First Impressions

Once we got to the park I saw that it was bright green with healthy short grass. We quickly ticked all the common animals off the list, seeing Impala, gazelle, topi, hat beast, wildebeest, water buffalo, giraffes, and zebras. There were elephants in the far distance, and the clear air let the layered mountains shine in the distance. We saw a few crested cranes, and then the guide spotted a serval.

Then we got a call on the radio and rushed at full speed toward a mystery animal, which turned out to be a beautiful cheetah. We followed it through the field, and the sun set as the leopard marked and rested under a large sausage tree.

The guide told us he was doing us a great favour staying in the park so late because it closes at 6 and he let us stay till 7, but we think this is one of the white lies guides tell to get more tips. On the way out we saw an elephant up close, and one small dik-dik.

Common Scam in Masai Mara – Reducing Safari Time

Upon returning to the German couples lodge, our guide pulled out all the tricks to swindle the tour group. He told us we had two options: follow the “agreed itinerary” and go on a short game drive the next day, and then a 1 hour morning game drive the next day.

Or we could do his “special” package and do a full day safari in the Maasai mara with a packed lunch and go deep into the part to the Tanzania border, but to do this we would have to cancel our morning safari, and instead we would just go to a paid Maasai village tour.

This is BS because our itinerary (and basically everyone’s itinerary doing a 3-day Masai Mara tour) said we were entitled to a full day tour to the river with packed lunch, AND a morning tour on the third day, with the option to also do the Maasai village tour afterwards. He (and many other tour operators) do this trick because that way he’s able to pay for only one $80 per person Masaai mara permit (by checking us in late the first day, and then making the check out time recorded be within 24 hours. So the 8 passengers paid total $1920, but he only pays the park fees of $640) PLUS he lures us all to pay the fees to see the Maasai village. I’m not saying the Maasai Village isn’t worth a visit or financial support; I’m just saying you can do your full planned safaris, then also do the 1 hour village tour if you want.

But the rest of our car has English as a second language and also seemed unaware of the trick (or maybe they just weren’t as keen to do all the planned safari, or maybe they didn’t know what they booked?). Later that evening we met a dutch family that realized the trick and successfully negotiated around it. But they were on a private tour and didn’t have other passengers agreeing to the trick.

Masai Mara Safari Day 2

The next morning we headed out bright and early on our full day safari. The majority of the time was spend bumping along the rough dirt road through tall green grass without an animal in sight. But we did see a cheetah munching on a gazelle near the entrance, and we also saw a huge herd of buffalo parading along like a colony of ants in the sunny hillside distance.

Once we reached the mara river dividing Kenya from Tanzania, we exited the safari vehicle to take a hike along the riverside with an armed Tanzanian ranger. He pointed out hippos in the water, and.a couple of small crocodile. It was midday and scorching hot, so most animals were submerged in the water or hiding in holes. We came to a bridge leading to a Kenyan border check. Later we had lunch on the Serengeti side of the park, confirming this by looking at our point on Google maps.

Tree-climbing Lions in Masai Mara

We were treated to a great finally when we saw a feline tail waving around high in a sausage tree. We approached and were astonished to find it was a large female lion! She snoozed in the tree, occasionally standing and readjusting.

Masai Village Tour – Masai Mara

At the Maasai village there was a herd of about 100 cows and 30 men with bright red checkered cloths draped over their bodies they did a kind of chicken head bobbing dance, with deep throat singing, and invited us to join in. Afterwards there was a friendly jumping competition mixed in with the throat singing.

Then we headed over to the mud houses, where the Maasai put on a show of starting a fire with a piece of hardwood stick twirled over a softwood. It took about 15 minutes and 8 men, and I have my doubts about how often this fire starting method is really employed.

Finally, a man named Ahmaasai, shoed us his traditional home. It was made of sticks mud and cow dung, with a plastic and palm leaf roof. He told us that his mom built it 5 years earlier, but she was killed by a hippo a year prior so he and his wife moved in. The houses last about 9 years before termites take over and a new home must be built elsewhere in the area.

Inside the 10*10 foot dwelling was a small entry, 2 bedrooms, and a central area with a bench and a hot mud ground stove burning wood and dung, with a pot of beans steaming away on top. In the small dwelling the heat and fumes was soon uncomforting, and I wondered why the stove wasn’t outside in a covered area, or even better if the village shared a large pot for beans. Because the Maasai live a polygamous lifestyle, all who live in this village have a family member who is a child or grandchild of the chief.

They also told us that at age 15, the Maasai boys leave the village in a group to live in the wild for 5 years, in that time being guided by a revolving team of elders to learn traditional Maasai ways. Afterwards the boys get together and kill a male lion, thus becoming men. They go out in a group of 50 boys, and a few don’t return. It makes me wonder if all 50 boys kill 1 lion together, or if they kill many? Either way, the practice is banned by law. But the tour leader insisted that the practice continues. We didn’t see any lions until we drove 5 hours into the park, and that may explain why.

Its strange to learn about this lion-hunting ritual, because in Tanzania we were told the Maasai were allowed to live within Ngorogoro park because they don’t hunt any of the wild animals. This may still be the case. Apparently the Maasai in Tanzania have entirely different customs, clothing, and even speak a different dialect that Kenyan Maasai don’t understand.

Dangers in Downtown Nairobi

Downtown Nairobi is one of the worst areas for petty crime in Nairobi, and is also very crowded and noisy. Unless you’re a super budget backpacker, I’d recommend avoiding this area. A great alternative is the neighborhoods near Junction Mall and Prestige Mall, and Yaya Center.

Pickpocketing and Opportunistic Theft

Pickpocketing and theft happens in Nairobi, so secure your valuables and don’t wear over-the-shoulder purses (or you’ll be dragged down the street when a motorcyclist grabs your bag!).

Our tour guide set us up with his friend who owns a wholesale shop for jewelry, and we met them early one morning to go to the shop. We followed the two men down the downtown streets in Nairobi away from our hotel towards uptown, where the man’s shop was. It was a Sunday, and the sunny, dusty streets were bustling with Kenyans, all seeming to be on a mission to get somewhere quickly. I was walking along, carefully following our guides and stepping over crumbling curbs, bottle caps, and crumpled up chip bags, when suddenly a large man grabbed at my throat, making a fist around my necklace and part of my shirt, ripping it off my neck and running down the street.

I was stunned, then relieved it was just a cheap piece of costume jewelry, and then angry at myself for wearing a necklace in the first place and making myself a target in this dumpy part of Nairobi. Lesson learned with no harm done.

Police Extortion in Nairobi

There are definitely corrupt police in Nairobi, and tourists and locals alike pay the price.

On our 20 foot journey from our hotel entry to the the Uber, we ran into the small hick-up of three police officers with machine guns trying to extort us. A female officer kept repeating to me, “you want to be arrested, I will arrest you” and tried to insist we pay her 20000 shillings ($200 usd)

I looked at her in confusion, pretending not to speak English, and in stunted words Shandon tried to give her the 350 shillings ($3) that he had on hand prepared for the Uber driver, but she didn’t like that. Eventually he pulled out his decoy wallet and forked over about $10. The officers looked pleased, harassed the Uber driver a bit for his registration, and then we were on our way, wondering if we made a mistake leaving the hotel at all.

Travel safety hack! Always keep your real money and cards in a money belt tucked under your clothes, and even a second spare bit in your shoe or somewhere hidden and secure. Keep a decoy wallet with petty cash and an expired credit card or two. Always have a copy of your passport and visa with you. Possibly the real passport depending on a country’s laws).

Masai Market at Yaya Center (Sundays)

But upon reaching the Maasai market, we were pleasantly surprised by what awaited us. Reading review online we heard that the market was crawling with Kenyan men who would follow you around relentlessly, acting as a “tour guide” for the market and taking a cut of your spendings from the seller, driving up the prices. We were approached by one of these, but easily shrugged him off and continued along toward the vibrant stalls crammed with beadwork jewelry, paintings, carvings, and fabrics. We walked around, did a but of haggling, and explained we were buying wholesale. Word got around, and once we set on a fair price with one seller for a certain item, other Maasai women brought us more of the same item from their own booth. The prices were very fair- we were glad to buy them, and you could tell the women were glad to sell.

We chose a good time to visit the Maasai market, which I think helped make the experience more pleasant. On Sundays the market has fewer seller and also fewer buyers. And we arrived at the market near closing time, shopping until the sellers started tearing down their booths to pack up for the day. This was a great time to go as the sellers had less crowds to deal with and could focus on bargaining a wholesale price with us, and it being the end of the day on the last day of the market definitely helped us with bargaining a fair price quickly. We went home happy with lots of beautiful handmade pieces to sell at our shop Okanagan Valley Collective!

Amboseli National Park 2-day Tour

The next morning we met with our new guide, Micheal, and his large white 4×4 safari van. We drove 4 hours to Amboseli national park, the last hour along a dirt road with construction underway. Kilimanjaro loomed in the horizon, but you could only see its hazy base, the summit covered with angry grey clouds. We arrived at our camp, a boutique 3-tent lodge called Manjaro tented camp. We were greeted like royalty with fruit juice and enthusiastic welcomed, and settled into our ‘tent’, which was a huge 50 foot canvas building with a very newly constructed bathroom attached with a hot shower.

We headed out on safari at 3pm (the guide tried to urge us to go later, but we wanted max time out on safari). It was admittedly hot, but good to be on the road with a breeze instead of boiling in our tent. Kilimanjaro was hazy and hidden behind clouds, but this is normal for evenings.

Flamingoes leave Naturu and Migrate to Amboseli Since 2018

We were surprised and delighted to find out that the flamingoes that once lived at Nakuru National park are now living at Amboseli lake, and we had a great time admiring the crowding pink birds grazing in the shallow salty shores. Because of climate change and excessive flooding in Kenya, all the lakes are much higher than they used to be only 30 years ago. In the last three years Nakuru flooded dramatically, forcing the flamingoes to leave as the algae they feed on no longer could survive in the deep water. Even shallower lake Amboseli is deeper now, and the resort that was once on its shores is now rotting and abandoned, slightly submerged in water.

The Best Time to See Mt. Kilimanjaro

The next morning we woke up in darkness, only a small tinge of red in the horizon. We found a picnic table set up beside a roaring campfire, with two mugs of spiced tea and a huge spread of fried toast and eggs and fruits. In the morning chill it was the perfect wake-up. Once the sky was light enough, we found the snowy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro crisp and clear, and excitedly took photos with the landmark, pleasantly surprised that it made an appearance after a week of clouds.

We drove into the park under the pastel sky and found all the animals were lined up in the field, as though waiting to be photographed in front of the towering icy peak of Kilimanjaro. We even found a large group of vultures and jackel on a kill, and then the jackel scampered off across the path to sassily fight with a hyena for the wildebeest it was munching on!

As the sun rose in the sky, clouds flocked to the mountain lime a magnet, and it was soon hidden again. If you want to see the magnificent view of the mountain from Amboseli, I strongly urge you go to the park 30 minutes before sunrise, and try a few mornings if possible. The mountain is cloudy year-round, and there is no optimal time to go.

Best Budget Accommodations in Nairobi

The cheapest, safest, and most convenient area to stay in Nairobi is near the Junction Mall.

Once back in Nairobi we decided to try a new area for accommodations, as downtown was noisy and a bit dangerous. We chose an apartment style hotel near the junction mall, as we hoped to visit the Masai market held there on Thursdays.

Kariokor Market – The Cheapest Place for Handmade Masai Souvenirs in Nairobi

On Wednesday we Watsapped one of the Maasai market crafters from the Yaya market and found out she would be at her stall and workshop at the Kariokor masai market, which is a large collection of stalls make of wood with metal roofs alongside a few brick-and-mortar shops selling wholesale beads. These market stalls are stocked fill of beadwork jewelry, Masai shaka cloths, miscellaneous Kenyan souvenirs, and countless stalls manufacturing the leather and beadwork sandals you see all over Kenya.

These amazingly talented craftsmen take old tires and break them down into flat pads that are then glued to tanned leather and shaped into sandals, topped with handcrafted Masai beadwork. On a roundabout across from the market is a large grassy center circle covered in tanned hides, pegged flat on the ground to dry. The stalls in this section is heavy with the fumes of glue and leather, but the workers are cheerful and amiable, chatting amongst each other and listening to music through loudspeakers.

The people here were friendly and welcoming, and glad to see shoppers. I would definitely recommend checking this out and directly supporting local craftspeople! But as it is a bit of a dark and winding path through the market, I would recommend taking the following safety precautions:
– Don’t wear flashy jewelry and don’t bring valuables. Keep anything of value zipped in a front pocket and be away of it.
– Carry a hidden away money belt tucked into your clothes and only have a bit of cash handy in a zipped pocket so you’re not flashing money around.
– Don’t go alone. Go to the market with a friend, especially if you’re a woman.
– Come and go to the market by Uber! It’s a super easy and cheap way to get around Nairobi. The stretch of road between the train station and the market may not be a safe area for walking as a tourist.

On Tuesdays the Maasai market is at the prestige mall. This is an awesome, modern mall with a grocery store and a few excellent little restaurants in the food court. Meals large enough to be share by two are $10-$15.

The Junction mall has a Maasai market on Thursdays. This market features live music and dancing, and many vendors. The amrket is on the 3rd floor parking lot- just go into the main doors of the mall, navigate to the elevator past the food court, and go up to the 3rd floor. It runs 9am-6pm.

If you want to make a wholesale order for Masai jewelry or crafts, these are some of the vendors we loved working with: *coming soon*

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