Kenya – The Ultimate Guide

Whether you are looking to head on Safari, chill on the coast or eat & party in Nairobi – This blog has you covered.

“Safiri Salama” – Safe Journey

Swahili

Jambo! Welcome to Kenya

Nestled on the East coast of the African Continent and split in two by the equator, Kenya is wedged between Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia – This beautiful country has so much to offer. The capital city of Nairobi is jam packed with (dis)organised chaos. Boda Boda’s (motorbike) swerving in and out of traffic, constant beeping of the horn, cattle crossing the streets and people running after moving buses that have been “pimped” out with famous celebrities or soccer team logos professionally painted on the side. There is no such concept as a right of way at an intersection and there will definitely be moments that make your palms sweat, but this is what adds to the amazement of the country/continent. 

Image from https://unsplash.com/photos/vYGR3b_naPA

Travel

Once you land into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, E-Visa, Covid Certs, Yellow Fever Vaccine and QR Codes will be checked more than once, so it is best to have all these documents organised and at the ready. Digital is accepted but for ease on the ground it is advised to have print outs, as a copy may be taken at passport control for records. At passport control you may be asked how long you will be staying, please look up your national entitlements for the amount of time accepted to stay in Kenya but I was able to say two months without any hinderance. The allocated time is written by the officer into the passport on top of the stamp. I’ve heard if your plans change it can be relatively easy to extend. The cost of my single entry E-Visa was $50 USD and it must be obtained before arrival. $1 USD = 113 ks

My expensive meter is gauged by local beer prices.
Beer is 250ks – 500ks (~$2.20 – $4.40 US)

Once through security, you collect your bags and all baggage (check in and carry on) will be scanned in the x-ray before exiting customs. Some checked in luggage may arrive from the luggage belt with a red X drawn on which is washable. This is customs discreetly signing that the bag needs to be checked and opened by airport security FYI! One item for definite that the Xray is looking for is drones. Other than that, the usual suspects copious amounts of duty – free alcohol, cigarettes, organic materials, etc. will be searched for.

List of available airlines – Kenya Airways, British Airways, Emirates, Turkish, China Southern, Lufthansa, Qatar, Etihad. For more, please click the link. https://www.kaa.go.ke/corporate/partnerships/airlines/

As expected, once you exit the airport and you’re hit with the beautiful Kenyan heat, you will be surrounded by local cab drivers looking for their next customer. I highly recommend organising a local driver that will be waiting for you prior to arrival, with an already agreed on price and ensuring a vehicle that can fit your group size and provide smooth sailing to your accommodation.

(Please get in touch with me at saltynutsadventures@gmail.com for a local driver)

Nairobi is a sprawling city, full of complex traffic scenarios which could result in your drive time varying depending your arrival time and the part of town which you are heading towards. Like any city the traditional area to stay would be in the city centre. Nairobi City centre is about 30/40 minutes from the airport, neighbouring the Westland’s district, where you can have your pick of hotels, restaurants and nightlife. For a very classic stay you can book the oldest hotel in the city, The Stanley Hotel (Sarova Stanley).

My personal favourite area in Nairobi is a district in the southwest known as Karen. Named after Karen Blixen, a Danish author famous for the book “Out of Africa“, this district is quite an affluent area and home to high income locals and expats. My reason for staying here is due to the district bordering the Ngong Road making travel to Jomo Kenyatta airport quite easy. It is also very close to Wilson airport, a smaller and providing flights to small domestic airports around the country. Karen is also relatively close to some of Nairobi’s most famous tourist destinations – Nairobi National Park, the Sheldrick trust, the Giraffe sanctuary. Also close by are a host of fantastic restaurants, Ngong horse racecourse which contains a golf course and rugby field inside the track and Ngong road famous for its roadside marketplace containing fantastic artwork, homemade furniture, plants and much more.

Recommended Hotel – Acacia Tree lodge- Great value, location and very accommodating.

Other areas to note – Lavington & Westlands

Nairobi Food & Drink 

Tapas in Westgate — Good for happy hour and tapas.

Furusato – Japanese/sushi

About Thyme – Intimate spot with delicious food. Don’t leave without trying dessert!

Chez Sonia – Pricey wine bar but great wine menu and decent food. A vibe on Friday nights when there’s a live band make sure to reserve a table.

Cultiva – Probably one of the best restaurants in Nairobi. Located in Karen

Alchemist – Great party and atmosphere that lasts deep into the night. Upstairs the bar is called Sinner Man, great cocktails.

Beitesalam – Food can be hit or miss (corn ribs are amazing though) but a really nice atmosphere for a drink and Alchemist is across the road if you want more of a party scene.

Shamba – Set in a big barn, really great food and lots of open space with a local garden and kids area.

Wasp & Sprout – Relaxed café with great coffee, food and chill vibes.

The Talisman – One of the must visit restaurants in Nairobi.

Winning Post – Down at the horse races for the afternoon, enjoy food and drinks here.

K1 Klub House – Really cool brunch spot, great place to have some food, drinks and fun.

Thanks to the power of social media I made a connection with Soni Adriance. Soni runs a very successful travel magazine “Nomad” and is a radio presenter and big time food enthusiast. She sent me 90% of these recommendations which makes up an incredible list of must try restaurants for every occasion. You can find her Instagram link here. https://www.instagram.com/soni.side.up/ https://www.instagram.com/nomadafrica_/?hl=en

Nairobi Tourist Experiences

Sheldrick trust – Arguably the most famous elephant sanctuary in the world. Experience orphaned baby elephants run around the facility as they are excited for feeding time by their much-loved keepers. Must email for a reservation, 11-12pm, only 100 places per day – 1,500 KS https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Giraffe Centre – Only a 15 minute drive from the Sheldricks Trust and Next door to the World-Famous Giraffe Manor, this fantastic experience will only take up an hour of your time. Enjoy a very different experience as you feed Giraffes of all age’s small treats. P.S Watch out for headbutting giraffes!!  Admittance 1,500 Ks, Open 9-5pm https://www.giraffecentre.org

Nairobi National Park – Safari in the city. This National Park is on the outskirts of the city (think of Phoenix park in Dublin) and is home to all sorts of wildlife such as Lions, Zebra, Giraffe, Rhinos, except for elephants. Due to Covid booking are necessary – 4,900 Ks ($43 USD) http://www.kws.go.ke/parks/nairobi-national-park

I highly recommend booking tickets through the official website and not a tour operator. Unfortunately, during busy periods tour operators “guarantee” they have tickets and rely on no shows to bring you in. I know from experience, and it is really disappointing.

Harry feeding a Giraffe at the Giraffe Centre, Nairobi

Safari

You’ve settled into the chaos that is Nairobi and you are keen to hit the road and experience nature at its finest. 

First things first – No safari is the same and no National Park is the same. Every park offers different prices, landscapes, animal populations, weather and accessibility. All very important factors to take into consideration when deciding your dream trip.

During my time in Kenya we went on Safari to Amboseli National Park as well as the Maasai Mara. Before we get into the fun stuff, note there are some must haves when travelling to Africa. Yellow fever vaccine, malaria medication, sunscreen, bug spray, headlamp, warm (Long) clothes, hydration tablets and anything that may help with an upset stomach.

No matter how brilliant of a driver you may be, entering into true wilderness is not to be taken lightly. Although some National Parks around the world have paved roads, Kenya does not. Unless you are in Nairobi National Park of course. Many dangerous circumstances can arise at any moment if not handled correctly. So to make the most of your experience, you need a brilliant guide and driver. Please reach out to me at saltynutsadventures@gmail.com for recommendations.

A map of Kenya’s National Parks. See Amboseli and the Maasai Mara
on the south/south west parts of the map.
Image sourced from https://africawildbeats.com/lake-manyara

Amboseli National Park

Roughly a 4 hour drive south east of Nairobi, nestled below Mt. Kilimanjaro, you will find a haven for elephants. Amboseli National Park is home to some of the last remaining Big Tuskers (elephants) in the world. Here you can bear witness to hundreds of elephants gliding across the open plains at any one time. Amboseli translated from the Maasai language means “salty dust”. This description is fitting due to the dried up lake bed of Lake Amboseli, which during the dry season creates an astonishing, unearthly looking landscape. Amboseli is not the biggest of National Parks but it facilitates a large variation of landscapes. Wetlands, woodlands, forest & savannah with Kilimanjaro in the background produces a photographer’s paradise. Kilimanjaro, although being the largest mountain on the continent of Africa, is very, very shy and is often hiding behind a thick layer of cloud.

Three days in this park is recommended. You can leave Nairobi in the morning, check in to your hotel just after noon and proceed to finish the day with an evening game drive. Day two, enjoy a morning and evening game drive with lunch served back at the hotel to break up the day and escape the midday heat with a swim! 

Recommended stay – Kibo Hotel – Just on the outskirts of the park, a really beautiful lodge where you can hear Hyena’s whooping through the night and if you are lucky, you can see Kilimanjaro.

Other parks to note – Tsavo East & West, Chyulu Hill, Kimana Sanctuary.

Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara, quite possibly the most famous National Park for African Safari, is notorious for its high concentration of big cats. Leopard, Cheetah & Lion can be found all over the never-ending savannah. If you are on the lookout for the “Big Five” you are also in luck. By no means are sightings of Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Water Buffalo and Rhino guaranteed, but as our driver repeated all trip, “As long as you are in the Park, anything is possible”. The Mara is famous for a reason and around every corner you will find a new surprise!

Boarding Tanzania, the Mara River acts as the dividing line between Tanzania & Kenya as well as the two National Parks, the Serengeti & Maasai Mara. This dividing line is where the largest migration of wildlife in the world must risk their lives crossing the river to follow the rains. This mass movement of two million animals is known as the Great Migration: usually taking place from September to October. The mixture of constantly migrating wildlife and big cats is the perfect storm for epic encounters, usually resulting in the cats coming up trumps. The Mara is host to some famous characters such as the five brothers (Cheetah), Split Nose (Leopard), The Blackrock Pride (Lion) and black rhino. 

Seasonal Map of the Great Migration. The crossing at the Tanzania/Kenya boarder across
the Mara River is the World Famous Sight as seen on National Geographic Etc.

Location, Location, Location – This is always key when you are on safari. Unlike Amboseli where a large number of lodges are situated at the entrance gate, in the Mara I highly recommend you stay inside the National Park grounds. Like any destination, there is a large variety of accommodation to fit every budget.

We stayed at the Matira Bush Camp – right in the heart of the Maasai Mara, situated on a stream, surrounded by dense forest. All through the night you can hear a variation of wildlife, such as Lions roaring and Hyenas whooping. During our stay, the night staff caught a glimpse of a shy leopard making its way through the forest. The entire lodge is built with the environment in mind. All energy is solar powered and there is a generator as a backup. All the lodges are stilted and placed on top of the earth, no extra foundation or construction was used in order to minimise disrupting the environment. The staff couldn’t have been friendlier and were always ready to help. We had brilliant food during our entire stay and as we usually left the camp ground before 6 am, breakfast was packed and ready for us so we could enjoy it during our game drive. After a long day of game drives, it was so incredibly relaxing to sit by the fire and listen to all the wildlife and watch the stars shine so bright.

Safari is what you make of it. Do you want to wake up at 5 am every day and be on game drive as the sun rises or do you want to take your mornings easy and see what the day brings. Either way, anything is possible and trips can be catered to your desire. Below I have laid out a mock schedule of my safari.

Safari schedule

5:00 am – Wake

5:30 am – Leave the lodge & begin game drive

9 – 10 am – Stop for breakfast in the bush

10-1 pm – Continue game drive

1-3 pm – Arrive back to the lodge for lunch and relax

3:30 – 6:30 pm- Evening game drive

7:00 pm – Arrive back to the lodge for dinner 

Repeat

Kenya Coast

Worldwide, Kenya is famous for its safaris. After spending a month moving around the country, I can assure you that it won’t be long before Kenya becomes famous for its coastline.

White sandy beaches, crystal clear blue-water, relaxed and welcoming locals as well as a brilliant nightlife scene, you will have to visit to understand how amazing this part of the world is. Sharing the same coastline as neighbouring Tanzania, home to the world-famous island Zanzibar, this may give you a better indication of how serene the coastline is. 

Diani 

My first stop on the coast was one hour south of Mombasa to Diani. I took a one hour flight from Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi to Mombasa although it is possible to fly straight to Diani landing at Ukunda airport. I was flying on the 23rd of December so it was cheaper to fly to Mombasa due to it being a bigger airport and more frequent flights.

Diani Beach is recognised as one of the top beaches in the world. There is a large change in water levels between high and low tide which allows for the reveal of a famous sandbar where you can take a small boat with one of the locals or tour operators to spend part of your day. Most of the tours offer a full day excursion where you will visit the sandbar, snorkel and then make your way further down the coast to some more islands and search for a pod of dolphins.

I did not do any of these water excursions as I was on the coast to relax and celebrate Christmas and personally wanted to hang out at the beach or at the resort pool for the day.

During my time in Diani, I stayed in an Airbnb roughly a 15-minute walk from the beach, as there was not much choice due to it being the festive season. For places to stay, I would definitely look at the resorts along Diani Beach or even further south on Galu beach. The resorts are quite big with swimming pools, lounge chairs, great food and beautiful views of the ocean and depending on the time of visit, hotels can be quite reasonably priced as well. The hotels allow for a really relaxing atmosphere and minimises interactions with the flock of people trying to sell you every tour available. 

Galu Beach

Recommend Hotels

Diani Beach – Diani Reef hotel (Kid Friendly), Leopard Beach Resort, Maji Beach Boutique Hotel and many more.

Galu Beach – Kenyaways, Almanara Luxury Villa, Mzui Beach House, Blue Marlin and many more.

Please note I have not stayed in any of these locations, I passed them while walkPlease note I have not stayed in any of these locations, I passed them while walking the beaches. I did have lunch at Leopard beach and Christmas lunch at Diani reef. Both properties were very nice, the food was lovely and all the staff were extremely welcoming.

Unfortunately, due to the mass reduction in tourists since the pandemic, it is very plain to see that the locals who rely on the tourist industry are very forward and will try and offer any service that they can possibly try and sell to you. Understandably this is an incredibly hard time but it can become quite annoying, very fast. If you are just trying to go for a stroll on the beach it helps to pick up a few Swahili words to help decrease the conversation time and to enjoy your time relaxing. If you are in the mood to try out some of the great tours that are on offer than you don’t have to walk far!

Diani locals are very friendly & I believe they have a firm understanding how annoying it can be for tourists to be approached constantly. At the end of the day they are trying to provide for themselves and their family and you cannot fault them. Once they have a strong indication that you are not interested, they are happy to leave you to enjoy your day and offer their best wishes.

Most of my time spent in Diana was consuming food! The entire coastline is dotted with different resorts, restaurants, bars and beach shacks. My three favourite places were all quite different and provided great variation.

Chillspot – Picture in your mind a beach shack made from driftwood covered by towering palm trees with a view looking out over the crystal blue water and white sandy beach. The perfect spot to dig your toes into the sand while you sip on an ice-cold Tusker (beer) and a local band with questionable singing capabilities cover your favourite reggae song. That my friend is the Chill Spot. Kenyan time and island time are both a very real phenomena and in this part of the world you are at the grasp of a synergistic relationship, so when you visit, it is probably best not to be in a hurry! I had the grilled Octopus with ugali and I was in heaven. Seemed as though the octopus was grilled in a beautiful garlic butter/oil and I was salivating the entire way through. Ugali is a local Kenyan “carb” which is basically maize cooked like porridge until most of the water is removed and creates a very dense end product. Cocktails are available but, on the night, the cocktails ordered (gin Fizz) took quite some time. If you are looking to quench your thirst, order a cold tusker and cocktail at the same time. By the time you finish the tusker the cocktail will be ready!! Chillspot was my favourite place for sunset, although it is looking east and you don’t actually see the sun set, the view is beautiful and you will pick up beautiful colours in the sky from the sun setting in the west – highly recommend.

The Salty Squid – Further south on the coastline residing on Galu beach you will find a very cool trendy beach restaurant with a relaxed vibe and beautiful food. Connected to Kenyaways Beach Hotel, The Salty Squid is a hidden gem on the coast, home to avid kite surfers and chic interior the staff are incredibly friendly and accommodating. The beach is pristine and out of the tourist bubble. Home to many more private dwellings with some small resorts dotted in between, you can enjoy this unspoiled part of the world to your heart’s desire. The food was absolutely fantastic I must say! I had the seared yellow tuna to start, catch of the day cooked on top of a bed of beautiful vegetables served in the parchment it was cooked in, simply divine. 

Ali Barbour’s Cave – This is a real treat. As the name suggests, this restaurant is situated in a stunning cave, there is no roof, so on a clear night you can enjoy your dinner under the stars. My words cannot do this beautiful spot justice, all I can say is that you are best to make a booking in advance and come down 20 minutes early to enjoy a drink in the bar! As I went during the festive season, the restaurant was fully booked pre-and post-Christmas but due to my persistence in leaving my name just in case there was any no-shows the very kind staff advised that I should just show up at 7:30 and they will see what they can do. Fortunately after a 30 minute wait and a cold Tusker I was shown to a table in the corner and I had a fantastic evening and enjoyed the food thoroughly. I do not recommend this strategy as the way to go about dining here but this type of service really shows the kindness and accommodating nature of the locals.

Activities

Water activities – As I mentioned previously this coastline is full of water based activities and there is no shortage of half day and full day adventures which you can easily book. My goal was to enjoy Christmas and soak up the Kenyan sun, so I did not partake in any water-sports.

Kite Surf – Diani and Galu beach are a haven for kite surfing and there is no shortage of places to give it a crack. A quick google search will bring up a host of Kite surf schools. There is a great water sports team at Kenyaways Hotel. http://www.thekenyaway.com/dianikitesurf

Boat tours – Half and full day tours are available to head out the sandbar, Funzi Island where you can snorkel and search for dolphins and enjoy the pristine waters.

Kaya Kinondo Sacred Forest – The only activity I participated in while in Diani was the sacred forest tour. I must say that I really enjoyed this tour, it is run by the locals in the area who are trying to bring the public awareness to the importance and history of this forest. The tour is not widely publicised and I discovered the Forest while I was examining Google Maps. It is really well run, doesn’t feel like a tourist trap. I, learned a lot about the people of the area, the fauna, the flora and the history that is associated with the forest. The tour is off the beaten track and the road to the visitor centre is unpaved and a bit rough which I personally think is a slight downfall to the success of the tour as not many tourists would venture that far down a dirt track. 

My personal recommendation would be to head down to Galu beach, enjoy an early lunch at The Salty Squid go for a swim and once you are finished hire a Tuk Tuk to bring you slightly further south and enjoy an afternoon tour in the Sacred Forest. There were no bookings online or set times to do the tour, the locals just take tours when customers arrive. Allocate about an hour of your day for the tour itself. As you’re in a forest you’re pretty well protected from the sun, hats and head coverings must be removed and you are also given a Kikoi which you must wear on entering the forest. The cost is 1500 KS and any tips are up to your discretion.

Watamu

Two hours north of Mombasa by car, you will reach the beach town of Watamu. I drove to the coastline from Diani which took about three hours. Travelling from Nairobi you can fly to Malindi airport which is about 30 minutes’ drive from Watamu Beach. The vibe in Watamu is slightly different to Diani as it felt there was a much higher expat population who were staying in their holiday homes. Similar to Diani, the beaches are beautiful but I noticedI met less locals trying to sell different services and trips. Although it was the New Year period and I didn’t find myself on the beach as much as Diani.

On either side of the Watamu there is water. One side is the beach and the other side is the creek, the two of them work in tandem and really adds to the water-sport way of life. Off the coast there is deep sea fishing which is famous for big blue Marlin and on the creek it is fantastic for waterskiing. I stayed in an Airbnb called GK palms which had a pool, restaurant, bar and is in walking distance from the famous Watersports hotel. Definitely more of a budget place to stay then the beautiful resorts that dot the coastline but it was absolutely perfect for my stay. Some of the places that you can stay on the beach include Watersports, Hemingways, the Treehouse and Rock and Sea to name a few. On either side of Watamu there is water. One side is the beach and the other is the creek, they work in tandem and really adds to the water-sport way of life. Off the coast there is deep sea fishing which is famous for big blue marlin and the creek  is fantastic for waterskiing. I stayed in an Airbnb called GK Palms which had a pool, restaurant, bar and was within walking distance from the famous Watersports Hotel. Definitely more of a budget place to stay than the beautiful resorts along the coastbut it was absolutely perfect for my stay. Some of the places that you can stay on the beach include Watersports, Hemingways, the Treehouse and Rock and Sea to name a few.

As I was in holiday mode, I ate mostly at my hotel l but I did have some brilliant meals at local restaurants too!. There is something to suit everyone’s pallet. 

FYI the entire Kenyan coastline is full of Italians who fell in love, never left and set up businesses here.

Lichthaus – Arguably my favourite spot in Watamu! A beautiful open space hidden in the mangroves, looking out over the creek, you will find amazing food such as lobster and pineapple skewers and really great cocktails. As well, the entire perimeter of the property is fitted with hammocks you can reserve to enjoy. You’ll have access to the creek to go for a swim and cool off and towels are provided free of charge. Table and hammock reservations are in two sittings – afternoons from 12-4pm and evening from 5pm-close. t.The site is west facing so you have an unblocked view of the sunset and some evenings, the DJ will play fantastic music throughout the night as you enjoy a sundowner. There is also a shop selling really high quality local products such as body butters, bags, towels etc.

Willy’s Beach Bar – Willy’s Beach Bar down on Watamu beach is the equivalent of Chillspot in Diani. A really nice bar with dining on the beach, they have lounge chairs which you are recommended to relax on while you look over the menu and order your food and drinks.

Your drink will be brought to you on the lounge chair and when your food is ready, you will be brought to your table. This is a really lovely beach where a lot of locals come down to swim and the fishermen will park their boats for the evening. There are brilliant vibes and the food is great. I ordered the seafood platter which had a nice mixture of fresh locally caught seafood. All of the food was beautiful but my recommendation is the lobster.

Hosteria Romana – An Italian restaurant where the owner has next to no English but it seems as though he has quite good Swahili, is fond of a few cigarettes and always seems to be complaining about one thing or another. To be quite honest with you, I wouldn’t want it any other way. The restaurant was fully booked every single night but I managed to get a booking. I sat downstairs but they do have upstairs seating which seems to be a hot ticket. Basically, as authentic Italian as you can get outside of Italy and I really enjoyed the food. 

Mbuyu Lodge – This is a hotel that is run by an Italian lady and they have a restaurant which is open to walk-ins. Again, really fantastic Italian food – I had lobster pasta which was beautiful and the setting was very nice.

Lichthaus

“Asante Sana” – Thank You

Wow, if you have made it this far, I can’t thank you enough. I know there is an incredible amount of information laid out in this blog. I had such an amazing time in Kenya on this trip that I want to make sure that you can make the most of it. Hopefully this blog will help you travel smoothly and you can plan out what you would like to do in advance and have peace of mind when you arrive!

Cheers,

Harry

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