kenya

KENYA: THE FOOD

Overall, the food during our trip to Kenya was mediocre.  We are from New Orleans, so we have a high standard when it comes to good food, but this didn't even come close to reaching that bar.  First off, everyone in Kenya kept telling us that none of the local Kenyan food was worth trying.  Many of the places we went to served American food anyway.

OSTERIA

Osteria was an Italian restaurant that was in the mall we were staying right next door to.  The food was just ok.  We tried fish, pizza, and bruschetta, but nothing had much flavor.  It was weird looking at the prices on the menu and the receipt, but 1,450 shillings was just $14.50 in American money.

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ARTCAFFE

I'm ashamed to admit that we ending up going back to that mall next to our hotel to eat several times.  Artcaffe had a beautiful balcony and offered a variety of food options.

KENYA TEA

The food was nothing to rave about, but Kenya tea is amazing. I was drinking 3 or 4 cups a day by the end of the trip- black with honey.  I am a tea lover and this is now officially one of my favorites.

CHICKEN BIRYANI

One of the best meals I had in Kenya was in Mombasa. It's a dish called biryani with meat and rice with seasonings that make it different colors. I loved it.

HABESHA

My mentee was in love with Ethiopian food by the time I arrived in Kenya, so we went out one night for some at a place called Habesha.  It wasn't bad, but I also did not love it as much as she did.  I just love experimenting with new foods.  I did order some chicken though, just to make sure I'd have something to eat.

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CARNIVORE RESTAURANT

Meat!!

Meat!!

This place came up on several travel websites I looked at before we got to Kenya.  When I booked our Safari, there was an option to book it as a package deal with lunch included at Carnivore and since I had been reading good things about it we went.  True to it's name, there is a pit of meat when you walk in the door.  There is a card on your table and they keep bringing you meat until you flip.  There's normal stuff like beef and lamb and then the wildcards- ostrich meatballs and bull testicles! I tried both. Ostrich meatballs- nothing to rave about. The testicles tasted like I would have expected testicles to taste. I couldn't even get it down.  The creme brulee for dessert made up for the testicle.

TRIBE HOTEL SUSHI

Here's a surprise- I had some of the best sushi of my life in Kenya! Our hotel, Tribe, had an impressive sushi menu. It was delicious!

KENYA: THINGS TO KNOW

SURPRISINGLY COOL WEATHER

We visited Kenya (Nairobi & Mombasa) at the end of March. I glanced at the forecast and saw 80s and figured it would be hot for most of our trip.  In the mornings and at night, it was in the 60s and we didn't bring much clothing with sleeves or jackets...big mistake.

TRAFFIC IS INSANE

We arrived in Nairobi at 6am on a Monday morning.  We did not reach the hotel until 8:30am even though it was only 20 minutes away.  Turns out, traffic was like that at all times of the day and night. 

DOWNTOWN NAIROBI 

Traffic was really bad in downtown Nairobi. I had read that this was the case ahead of time, which is why I booked us a hotel about 20 minutes north of downtown.  And when we got there, I was glad we had not stayed downtown. It was super busy and packed.


TRANSPORTATION REQUIRES PLANNING

There was Uber in Kenya, BUT the WI-Fi was not reliable at all.  One night we used it to get to a restaurant but had trouble connecting to Wi-Fi to get a ride back.  I tried to arrange transportation ahead of time to make things easier. Our hotel did have a few drivers, but they were expensive and not always available.   Luckily, we ended up meeting a man through a tour we took who offered to drive us around for the rest of our trip at very reasonable prices.

FOR ANIMAL LOVERS

There are animals everywhere in Kenya. We passed cows and goats along the road.  There's also a lot of animal conservation efforts in Nairobi. We visited a giraffe center and an elephant orphanage.  We also took a safari.  And in Mombasa, we rode a camel.  A great portion of our activities in Kenya were focused on animals.

TONS OF SECURITY CHECKS

To get in our hotel, the car we were in would be searched. And then we had to go through a metal detector and open our bags each time we entered.  The same thing happened when we went to the mall.  There was even a point as we drove up to the airport where all the passengers had to get out of the car, go through a security check, and then get back in.

ENGLISH IS EVERYWHERE

Kenya has two official languages- English & Swahili.  English is very prevalent.  The newspapers, restaurant menus...really everything was in English.  The currency is shillings, but many times people would give us the price in US dollars (they could probably tell we were Americans).

FLIGHT FROM NEW ORLEANS

There were no direct flights from New Orleans to Nairobi.  We flew to Atlanta, then Amsterdam (about 8 hours), and then to Nairobi (about another 8 hours).

KENYA: DAY TRIP TO MOMBASA

I traveled to Kenya to visit a friend in Nairobi, but I decided to take a day trip to Mombasa.  Mombasa is only a one hour flight away from Nairobi. I was able to find a round trip flight with Kenya Airways for just $100. Mombasa is a city in Kenya that lies on the Indian Ocean.

BEACH RESORT ON THE INDIAN OCEAN

We stayed at the Voyager Beach Resort which was literally steps away from the Indian Ocean. It was massive with three pools and several different options for food.  I made sure to wake up to enjoy sunrise on our balcony.  

CAMEL RIDE ON RIDE ON THE BEACH

One of the first things I saw when we got to the beach resort was a camel resting on the beach! We went down for a ride.  It was only $30 USD for one of the most beautiful views i have ever experienced.  EPIC!

 

FORT JESUS MUSEUM

We took a quick tour of Fort Jesus and learned some very interesting history about Mombasa. Fort Jesus was built by the Portuguese between 1593-1596.  It is a reminder of the first successful attempt by a Western power to establish influence over the Indian Ocean trade.  It was captured and recaptured at least nine times between 1631, when the Portuguese lost it to the Sultan of Mombasa, and 1895 when the British took over and it was converted into a prison.  It is a beautiful structure architecturally and provides some gorgeous views of Mombasa.

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View of Mombasa from inside Fort Jesus

View of Mombasa from inside Fort Jesus

View of Mombasa from inside Fort Jesus

View of Mombasa from inside Fort Jesus

View of Mombasa from inside Fort Jesus

View of Mombasa from inside Fort Jesus

OLD TOWN

Old Town is the first settled area in Mombasa.  Walking through its narrow streets, definitely feels like a blast to the past.  It has African, Arabic and European influences from the various groups that lived there.  

Walking through Mombasa's Old Town

Walking through Mombasa's Old Town

Walking through Mombasa's Old Town

Walking through Mombasa's Old Town

Shark meat drying out with salt at the Mombasa port. Our tour guide ate a raw piece as we passed by.   

Shark meat drying out with salt at the Mombasa port. Our tour guide ate a raw piece as we passed by.

 

Having lunch in Mombasa 

Having lunch in Mombasa 

 

MOMBASA TUSKS

I didn't understand the significance of the tusks, but our driver told us they were a huge tourist attraction and insisted we jump out for a picture.  They sit on Moi Avenue, which is the main street in Mombasa.  I later read that the tusks were put up to commemorate Princess Margaret's (Queen Elizabeth's daughter) visit to Mombasa in 1956.

KENYA: THE MAGIC OF A SAFARI

WHERE: NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK

My boyfriend and I knew we wanted to take a safari when we visited Nairobi in March.  We went with Nairobi National Park for our safari because of location and price. It's not far from downtown Nairobi, as opposed to many other safari locations, which were two or more hours away from where we were staying in Nairobi.  We could see the city scape from inside the park.  Safaris are expensive but this one was considerably less expensive than many other places.  I booked it through a tour company as part of a package that also included a safari walk (which is basically a zoo) and lunch.

WHEN: 6AM-9AM

There were morning and evening options for the Safari. Some other parks offer multiple day long safaris.  We drove around looking for animals for about three hours which was the perfect amount of time for me. I chose morning because my friend had done the evening version and said many of the animals were not out during her trip.

HOW: SAFARI VAN

SOMETHING WE WISH WE HAD: A JACKET!

At the end of March, we expected it to be really hot in Nairobi. Instead it was cold, like in the 60s, in the morning and at night.  With the wind blowing in our faces in the safari van, we were so cold that I was begging for a heater in the car. 

MOST USEFUL THING WE BROUGHT: CAMERA

Yes, we have great cameras on our iPhones and honestly that was all I planned on using for the trip. Luckily, a friend was asking about our trip before we left and found out we didn't plan on taking a camera, so he let us borrow his.  I thought I would never take the time to pull it out, but then we got on the safari, parked in the sight of a lion- a real life lion- we pulled out our iPhones and tried to zoom the pictures were terrible. So for the first time that trip, I whipped out that camera and got a great picture of the lions...WHEW! He saved us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

AND OF COURSE: THE ANIMALS!

We got lucky and saw every type of animal that lives in Nairobi National Park on our trip- lions, giraffes, buffaloes, rhinos, zebra, lots of impalas, and hippos. We even pulled up right after lion had killed a zebra and just dragged the body to her den.

KENYA: THE 7 DAY ITINERARY

Tribe Hotel- Nairobi, Kenya

Tribe Hotel- Nairobi, Kenya

I took my first international trip to Kenya at the end of March. I was there to visit the young girl I mentor while she was studying abroad.

DAY 1: 

We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya at about 6am it took us two hours to get to the hotel.  We stayed at Tribe

DAY 2: 

Me & my mentee, Tassion at Osteria

Me & my mentee, Tassion at Osteria

We relaxed at the hotel most of the day and then ventured over to the mall next door to our hotel, The Village Market, for dinner.  It was a typical mall with shops and restaurants.  We ate at an Italian place called Osteria.

 

 

DAY 3:

We really got into adventure mode on the third day.  I booked a package through a tour company that took us to three locations:

The Elephant Orphanage at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The elephant orphanage allows visitors for an hour a day to watch handlers feed baby elephants.  They play in the mud and you are warned that they may splash it on you if you stand close enough. Of course I stood close enough because I wanted to touch them, which is allowed if they come near you. You are separated from them by a rope. They give a presentation explaining how the elephants ended up at the orphanage.  Many of their parents were killed by poachers. The elephants spent around 10 years in the orphanage before they are released back into the wild.

 The Giraffe Center

Then, it was onto the giraffes.  The giraffe center is a really cool place to interact with giraffes because they are so close.  I was able to feed them and of course pose for photos.

Kazuri Bead Factory

The Kazuri bead factory employs single mothers.  They hand make beads and pottery.  We were taken on a quick (maybe 10 minute tour) to see the ladies at work and find out more about their creative process. It was so impressive.  Every bead and piece of pottery they make looks the same even though they are hand making them without any molds.  I took home a beautiful necklace and some animals made from clay.

Necklace from the Kazuri Bead Factory in Nairobi

Necklace from the Kazuri Bead Factory in Nairobi

Day 4:

We took a Kenya Airways flight to Mombasa, which lies right on the Indian ocean.  It was only an hour away and we stayed at an epic beach resort with three pools. We played in the ocean for a bit and took a  camel ride on the beach. It lasted about 15 minutes and was $30 USD. I’m sure it’s cheesy and touristy like riding a horse and carriage in the French Quarter but I didn’t care. The sweet camel was named Suzuki and she was adorable. 

Day 5:

Fort Jesus- Mombasa, Kenya

Fort Jesus- Mombasa, Kenya

We checked out of our Mombasa resort at around 11am.  Our flight back to Nairobi was for 6pm so we had time to explore.  We took a quick tour of Mombasa. We checked out Fort Jesus and got a little history lesson. The Fort was built by the Portuguese in the 1500s to protect the port of Mombasa. We also took a walk through Old Town, soaking up some culture as a tour guide told us about the original Mombasa city.  Then, we headed back to Nairobi. For more on our tour of Mombasa, click here.

Day 6:

We woke up at 5am for a safari at Nairobi National park.  Then, we headed over to the safari walk which is basically a zoo.  Ignorant American alert: I didn't know there were caged animals in Africa. Most of them were orphans and being protected. Check out all of our Safari pics here. We wrapped up the day with lunch at Carnivore restaurant.

Day 7: 

We wanted some cool stuff to take home, so we spent a good two hours bargaining at the Maasai Market.  It's an open air market where vendors sell their handmade goods.  The sellers are very aggressive and followed us around shoving things at us to buy.  The bargaining process was intense.  We ended up in the mall later in the day and found some of the same items they were trying to sell us for $60 USD for only $10.  We ended up with some good deals, but if we would have fallen for their initial prices, it would have been a huge rip off.  That afternoon, my mentee took us to visit the United States International University campus (USIU) where she was studying abroad.

Maasai Market- Nairobi, Kenya

Maasai Market- Nairobi, Kenya

KENYA: LESSONS FROM MY 1ST INTERNATIONAL TRIP

An outlet converter I bought on Amazon

An outlet converter I bought on Amazon

I took my first international trip to Kenya with my boyfriend at the end of March.  I did a lot of research before we left to make sure our first time out of the country was a success.  I picked up tips from scouring the internet and talking to friends, but also learned a lot on my own.  Disclaimer: All of these tips are based on my trip to Kenya.  Maybe after my next trip out of the country I will need to revise them. 

DON'T FORGET OUTLET CONVERTERS

Luckily, something I read online reminded me to buy outlet converters. A quick search told me which type I would need for the region I was traveling to. I bought a pack of 3 for under $10 on Amazon.

GET YOUR DOCUMENTS TOGETHER

The passport process was quite an adventure itself.  Only certain post offices accept the applications and only on certain days and at certain times.  We finally made it to the right post office at the right time, but I only had a wallet-sized version of my birth certificate. I had to go over to the Office of Vital Records to get a full sized copy.  We took our passport photos at Walgreens, but the post office didn’t accept them. Apparently, they were not formatted right.  We had to retake them at the post office and get a refund from Walgreens for the bad ones (the lady in the post office told us this was a common issue with Walgreens passport photos).  I was nervous to mail out all of my documents, but sure enough in a few weeks they came back in the mail with my very first passport! My advice would be to head over to the Department of State’s website to fill out the passport application and print it ahead of time.  There will also be a list of everything you need.  

And we are not done there. In all of my googling, I found out we would need visas to enter Kenya. I read that we could simply fill out the application when we arrived at the airport in Kenya, but we were set to arrive around 10pm and I knew we would just be ready to get out of there.  So I went to the Kenyan Embassy’s website filled out the application for a visa and went back to the post office to mail off all of our documents and passport. This time I was even more nervous that everything would not come back, but everything went just fine.

Costs:

Passport :Around $113

Passport photos: Around $13

Visa: $50

MAKE AN APPOINTMENT FOR SHOTS

The CDC recommends several vaccines and medications for travelers to Kenya.  I asked around and learned about a travel clinic at Children’s hospital (the clinic was for all ages) that would have everything we needed. The doctor recommended we get vaccines for Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, and Hepatitis A. I was shocked when we went to check out and the shots were $271 for each of us on top of my $25 co-pay for my appointment.   Then we still need, malaria pills which we started taking two days before we left, the seven days we were gone, and then several days when we got back to America until the prescription ran out.   The doctor also told us that 50% of travelers to the area get diarrhea, so we would need to take diarrhea medication with us just in case.

BUY AN INTERNATIONAL CELL PHONE PLAN

I asked lots of friends about their past travels, and I’m glad someone reminded me to get an international phone plan.  For $40, the package included unlimited texting and free calls through facetime as long as we were connected to Wi-fi. There were a few desperate times I made a regular phone call, which was like a $1 a minute (umm talk fast lol).   My cell phone bill came back about $75 over the normal amount.

LONG LAYOVERS MEAN 2 TRIPS IN 1!

Due to some delays in the beginning of our trip, we ended up with an 7-hour layover in Amsterdam and turned it into a mini trip. We plan to always book a long layover for international flights in the future.  We made the most of our 7 hours in Amsterdam.  For more on that mini trip, click here.

ARRANGE TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME

A friend gave me the heads up that Wi-fi wouldn’t always be reliable in Kenya, so I spent the money on a call to talk with the hotel ahead of time and arrange for a shuttle to pick us up from the airport.  As the trip went on, we ended up meeting a man through a tour company who took us around at set prices.

BOOK ADVENTURES

It is difficult enough trying to get around in a foreign place, but booking things ahead of time made it much easier.  A friend recommended booking adventures through the website Viator.  At first the prices seemed high, but once I realized that if we went on our own we would be struggling to find transportation, I knew the prices were worth it. 

FACTOR TRAVEL TIME INTO THE LENGTH OF THE TRIP

To many this would seem obvious, but remember this was my first time leaving the country. Originally, we planned on going for 4 or 5 days until a friend pointed out it took nearly 24 hours of travel just to get to Kenya and that we would be jetlagged.  We ended up leaving on a Saturday afternoon and returning on a Monday morning. That gave us 7 nights in Kenya. It was the perfect amount of time.

RESEARCH OPTIONS FOR EXCHANGING CURRENCY

I called my banks ahead of time to let them know that I would be traveling abroad, but they said that because of the new chips in the card my advance notice was unnecessary.  I did check to see if my cards had any foreign transaction fees.  There were plenty of opportunities to change our US money into shillings- the airport, local banks, and even at the beach resort we stayed at in Mombasa.

KEEP CARRY ON LUGGAGE LIGHT

I decided to carry a duffle bag with some of my clothing in case my luggage got lost, but when we ended up with the layover in Amsterdam, I checked it so that I wouldn’t be stuck carrying it. In the future, I would just take my chances with my luggage getting lost for the sake of convenience.