There are many things to do in this beautiful country and adventure seekers will not be disappointed.
People visit Kenya for many reasons – breathtaking landscapes, incredible wildlife and pristine beaches are just a few.
There are many things to do in this beautiful country and adventure seekers will not be disappointed. Kenya is home to some of Africa’s best national parks and its lakes abound with flamingos and pelicans. Its natural beauty is complemented by a rich cultural heritage. There are different tribes that live traditional lifestyles including the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana. On your next family vacation, visit Kenya and experience some of the things that make the country truly unique. Here are a few:
Camp at a National Park
Sleep under the stars and wake up to fresh crisp air every morning in one of Kenya’s national parks. The great thing about camping is that you’re always in charge of your meal times, sleeping times and even bath times. Many tour operators in Kenya offer camping trips to different parks and reserves. They provide food, cooks, guides, vehicles, tents and equipment.
Camping is one of Kenya’s great adventures. It allows you to experience life in the wild. Most parks have clear tent space, benches and pit latrines. Some even provide water and basic shelters. Campsites can be found in:
- Amboseli National Park (218 kilometres from Nairobi)
- Hell’s Gate National Park (120 kilometres from Nairobi)
- Mt. Kenya National Park (222 kilometres from Nairobi)
- Tsavo West National Park (239 kilometres from Mombasa)
- Tsavo East National Park (216 kilometres from Mombasa)
Learn Swahili in Mombasa, Kenya’s Coastal Town
Mombasa has an enchanting history and plenty of charm. Its coast is lined with glorious beaches bordered by palms. The beaches are known for their calm and inviting waters, which draw people from near and far. If you’re visiting Mombasa and looking for an extraordinary experience, try learning Swahili from the locals. Swahili is a national language and one of the two official languages of Kenya. It derives some words from Arabic and others from Bantu dialects.
Swahili is also referred to as Kiswahili and was invented by the coastal tribes and Arabs who used it as a trade language. As the locals began marrying Arabs, they adopted Swahili as their mother tongue.
Jambo is a word you’ll hear time and again while you are in Kenya. It is a simple Swahili greeting and the first word you’ll probably learn when you visit the country. Most people in Kenya speak a tribal language but use Swahili to communicate with other Kenyans.
Place to learn Swahili in Mombasa: Old Town (30 kilometres from Mombasa Airport)
Eat Nyama Choma and Ugali, Kenya’s Main Delicacies
Nyama choma literally means roasted meat. It is the ultimate Kenyan delicacy and is usually accompanied by Ugali, the country’s staple food. There are many restaurants that serve nyama choma in Kenya but perhaps the most famous is Nairobi’s Carnivore Restaurant.
Nyama choma is usually slow roasted over an open fire or charcoals and may be accompanied by kachumbari, a local salad. The salad is comprised of onions, tomatoes, salt, and a little lemon juice.
Ugali, sometimes called sima, is a mixture of maize flour and water cooked to a dough-like consistency. The locals eat it by cutting small pieces with their hands, rolling them into balls, and dipping them into sauces or stews. When eating ugali with nyama choma, Kenyans make small depressions on the balls with their thumbs and use that part to pick up pieces of meat. This is similar to the way flat bread is used in some countries.
Place to eat nyama choma and ugali: Carnivore Restaurant (7.5 kilometres from Nairobi)
Learn to Jump Like a Maasai Moran
The Maasai are undeniably Kenya’s most famous tribe. They have strong traditions, colourful jewellery and bright clothing. They live in the savannah close to dangerous wildlife and have mastered the art of hunting. They derive their name from their language Maa, which is part of the Nilo-Saharan language.
Of all the traditions in the Maasai culture, their dance stands out. Dances are performed during circumcision, child naming, and weddings. One of the most common Maasai dances is known as Engilakinoto. It is performed by morans after they have killed a lion. Morans are Maasai men who have gone through traditional rites of passage. During the dance, they make deep rhythmic chants and thrust their chests. They show off their strength with powerful vertical leaps. Engilakinoto is unforgettable, as gifted morans are known to jump up to four feet. You can join the morans as they dance and learn how to jump as high.
Place to learn Maasai jump: Kajiado (75 kilometres from Nairobi)
Make Maasai Twist at a Maasai Village
When you visit a Maasai village, you’ll be taught how to make a Maasai braid, commonly known as Maasai twist. Surprisingly, Maasai women shave their heads and only the men braid theirs. They grow their hair and braid it in very intricate patterns. The braids are long and are dyed with a type of red clay called ochre.
To learn about the Maasai way of life, hire an experienced Maasai guide to take you on an organized safari or a foot trek. You’ll get to know the area and spend time with this unique tribe. You’ll also see the bush and wildlife from a whole new perspective.
Place to learn how to make Maasai twist: Kajiado (75 kilometres from Nairobi)
Make a Simple Kenyan Bracelet
Kenyan jewellery is made from different materials like shells, clay, and bones. Both the Maasai and Samburu tribes are known for their exceptional jewellery. Bracelets are generally the simplest to make. The locals string beads in symmetrical designs and close the bracelets with clasps.
Bracelets, necklaces and headdresses are worn by both men and women in these two tribes. The pieces always have significance. For example, there is special jewellery worn by women when they get married. Places you can learn to make a Kenyan bracelet include:
Kajiado (75 kilometres from Nairobi)
Samburu (429 kilometres from Nairobi)
Dance Isukuti at a Luhyia Village
Isukuti is a popular dance performed by the Luhyia tribe of Western Kenya. It was established by the Isukha and Idakho sub- Luhyia ethnic groups and quickly spread to the rest of the Luhyia community. It is performed by both men and women at weddings, funerals, important occasions and after successful harvests.
The energetic dance is usually accompanied by the isukuti, mutiti and shididi drums as well as the bisiri metal gong, which creates a lively tempo. You will enjoy breaking a sweat as you dance Isukuti.
Place to dance Isukuti: Kakamega (359 kilometres from Nairobi)
Play Nyatiti at a Luo Village
Nyatiti is a musical instrument with 8 strings that looks like a lyre. It is played by the Luo tribe of Western Kenya. The player sits on a low stool, holds the instrument close and plays it with his fingers. The stool is usually three-legged and reaches the player’s shin.
A nyatiti player also wears a traditional instrument on his leg known as Gara. He shakes it throughout the playing period. Dancers tie a cloth called Owalo around their waists as they dance to the beautiful tune. You will enjoy playing Nyatiti while in Kenya.
Place to learn playing nyatiti : Kisumu (337 kilometres from Mombasa)
Wear Hando (Women’s Skirt) or Shuka (Men’s Loin Cloth) and Dance To A Giriama Folk Song
The Giriama are a Bantu-speaking sub-tribe of the bigger Mijikenda ethnic group. They live in the coastal areas of Kenya like Kilifi and Malindi. They are most famous for their warfare tactics and fearless nature. Kenyan heroine Mekatilili wa Menza was from this tribe. She is known for staging an uprising against the British colonial powers in 1913-1914.
The Giriama women wear hando and the men wear shuka around their waist. In the olden days, the women would walk topless but globalization changed that. The tribe has many dances for funerals, weddings and special events. During dances, the women shake their waists as the men shake their shoulders and jingle their feet (usually adorned with metallic pieces). Giriama dances are fun and easy to learn.
Place to dance to Giriama folk songs: Kilifi (55 kilometres from Mombasa)
Learn To Shoot an Arrow at a Kamba Village
The Kamba tribe resides in eastern Kenya. It is known for its craftsmanship and deadly arsenal. The tribe’s primary weapon was bows and arrows. Arrow tips were dipped in lethal poison and kept moist by small leather covers. The covers also helped prevent accidental injury. Long fighting swords and throwing clubs completed the Kamba’s arsenal.
You can learn to shoot an arrow at one of the Kamba villages near Nairobi city. It is an exciting experience you won’t forget in a while.
Place to learn arrow shooting: Machakos (63 kilometres from Nairobi)
Visit Bomas of Kenya
If you don’t have time to go to all the places, simply visit Bomas of Kenya. It has an excellent display of different Kenyan villages and gives you an insight into the country’s diverse cultures. It is near the busy capital and is easily accessible by car.
While at Bomas, you’ll see the lifestyles of different Kenyan tribes, their crafts and music. You’ll also see exciting acrobatic shows and traditional dances.
Distance from Nairobi: 10 kilometres
Safety and Etiquette in kenya
Kenya is a rewarding place to visit. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean and is home to Mt. Kenya, Africa’s second-highest mountain. Its dramatic landscapes harbor a huge variety of wildlife and its rich history has brought about an intriguing social scene, which includes the Maasai of the Rift Valley and the Swahili of the coast.
Kenya’s legendary national parks, pristine beaches and local tribes give it an exotic image with unique appeal. The most stimulating way to discover the country is by exploring it as a local - not as a tourist. Avoid the tourist hotspots and enter the world inhabited by most Kenyans: an active scene of tea shops, corrugated-iron huts, muddy farm tracks and crammed buses and streets. You’ll find openness and warmth both on and off tourist routes. If you are planning to visit Kenya with your family, here are some things to keep in mind.
There are many travel options in Kenya. If you want to explore the country at your own pace, rent a vehicle with a driver or drive yourself. You can also charter a light plane or take an air safari through scheduled domestic airlines. The planes for air safaris are small, but offer great visibility. If you are on a budget, there is a wide selection of public transport to choose from.
Nissan minibuses are the main means of transportation and are referred to as matatus. There are also air-conditioned buses, which cover long distances. Kenya’s railway network is in terminal decline, but the Mombasa-Nairobi line operates several times a week. When using public transport, safety should be your main concern. Some matatus and buses have a bad safety record as they are driven very fast. Don’t hesitate to tell the driver to slow down if he’s driving too fast.
Culture and Etiquette
Understanding the subtle rituals and traditions that support everyday life can help you to appreciate Kenyan culture. If you are staying for a long period, you may need to make adjustments.
Kenyans always greet each other upon contact. When they enter a shop, they shake hands with the shopkeeper and make small talk. The youth have different greeting styles from the older generation. Greeting exchanges usually last one to two minutes and include questions like “How are you”? “How is your family”? It is considered polite to grunt in the affirmative or to say “thank you” while someone is speaking to you.
Kenyans make a hissing sound when they want to attract a stranger’s attention (“tsss!”). However, this is more common in the rural areas. When in a local restaurant, you can hiss at the waiter to get his attention.
Gestures and Dress Code
Kenyans like physical contact, especially those at the coast. A local may hold your hand as he guides you down the street or points out something.
Kenyans use their left hands for unhygienic acts. They reserve their right hands for touching, eating or passing things to others. Giving a Kenyan something with your left hand can be seen as offensive.
Unless you want a confrontation, never point at someone with your finger. This is similar to an obscene gesture and can get you in trouble. When beckoning, turn your palm down as turning it up can convey a dismissive gesture.
In coastal towns, t-shirts and shorts won’t get you in trouble but it is better to wear long trousers, skirts and loose-fitting tops. Kenyans are far too polite to admonish strangers. In Lamu however, both sexes are required to wear kangas and kikoys (colourful, loose-fitting garments). The town is very small hence consideration for the locals is important.
Safety and Crime
Petty crime is a problem in Kenya, but visitors have higher chances of being robbed in tourist areas. However, it is important to note that most tourists who visit the country each year do not experience any difficulties. To keep your belongings safe, never leave them unattended for even five seconds. Don’t take out cameras and other valuables unless you must and always be aware of your surroundings.
While it’s hard to look like a local, clothes can help. Wear slacks, skirts or short-sleeved shirts to blend in easily. Put on sunglasses to decrease your vulnerability and to prevent pickpockets from reading your inexperience.
In Nairobi, dusk is most likely the worst time for pickpockets. However, it is also good to be alert when alighting from a night bus early in the morning. As you explore the country, avoid carrying a day-pack over your shoulder as it will identify you as a tourist. Also avoid wearing fancy jewellery and leave it in your hotel room.
If you are driving, don’t leave anything valuable in the car or leave the car unguarded. There are locals who will offer to guard it for you for a small tip. Place cash and valuables in a money belt or pouch and tuck it into your skirt or trousers. Avoid hanging a pouch around your neck or carrying a voluminous bum bag.
When visiting Kenyan villages or going on a safari, you will need an experienced guide. Guides can transform your visit and enhance your holiday experience. The Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association trains guides and examines them. You can easily choose a guide from their website. Gold-level guides are the most highly rated and can offer brilliant insights into different cultures and animal behaviour. They have a wealth of knowledge about Kenya’s natural history. Additionally, you can hire a driver/guide from a Kenyan tour company.
What to Carry For the Locals
When carrying gifts for Kenyan tribes, it is important to know the dos and don’ts. Discuss with your guide or tour operator on how to give out presents so that you do it properly and do not create a cycle of dependency.
Choose practical gifts that will be of use to the receivers. You can carry pens, pencils, and notebooks for the young ones in school, inexpensive jewellery for the women, t-shirts for the men and blankets for the older people.