Kenya is an amazing country to travel to. It has so much more to offer than just going on a safari. Nevertheless, many travelers have the idea that Kenya just consists of vast savannah plains with amazing wildlife that you are only going to visit if you want to do a safari. And safaris in Kenya are not cheap so many people don’t even consider it as an option.
In this article I will show you that traveling to Kenya on a budget is possible and that this country has way more to offer than safaris only. I will help you planning your Kenya trip, give insights in the transportation options and most amazing places to stay for less than 100 USD.
How best to spend time in Nairobi
Nairobi is not like Paris where a guide book and a good pair of walking shoes are sufficient to have a great experience of the city. In Nairobi you need a bit more guidance what to see and do. Of course, you can check TripAdvisor for the best things to do in Nairobi, but in my opinion you will only scratch the surface and don’t get a true feel of the city or the Kenyan culture.
Best budget hotels in Nairobi
Nairobi might surprise you in terms of accommodation pricing, it is not cheap. Below some truly nice suggestions for best budget hotels in Nairobi.
This little house in the woods is the place of Tobin who has a two bedroom apartment, full of character and surrounded by a lush garden, close to Westlands and within easy driving distance to many of Nairobi’s best spots.
Another great place in the heart of Westlands is the house of Eleni. It is a two bedroom house, surrounded by a leafy garden, you will get the feeling you are in your own secluded suburb. Price is 37 EUR per night.
A very cozy house close to Westlands is the house of John and Rhonda. A lovely couple who bake your bread fresh daily. They have a small cottage next to their house and a nice garden to just relax. Price is 46 EUR per night.
Built in 1919, Rosslyn is one of Nairobi’s oldest and most special surviving homes. Set in 2 acres of private gardens they are close to UN, Village Market and Westlands. They offer bed and breakfast in a cozy single bedroom. Price is 41 EUR per night.
In the lush green suburb of Karen, you will find the stunning house of Catharine. The house has a large veranda overlooking a river and is very quiet. It is close to Karen Blixen museum. Price is 41 EUR per night.
In the same area you can find the Brandy Bus. The Brandy Bus is an old-school bus that has been revamped into a cozy and distinct home. It is a perfect place to escape. Price is 66 EUR per night.
The River Cottage next to Hemmingway’s hotel is one of a kind. It is set next to a little stream only surrounded by greenery. You are 5 minutes’ walk from Purdy’s arms and 5 minutes’ drive from Karen Blixen museum. A very unique place. Price is 41 EUR per night.
Things to do in Nairobi
Do a Nairobi street walk
A great way to explore Nairobi is by meeting a local who will give you a deeper insight into Kenyan culture. Not only does this give you a unique experience, it is also great to know that you support this person in this way. You can for example do a walk with three street kids who once survived on the streets of Nairobi’s city center or meet Lemmy and stroll through his neighborhood Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.
Learn to cook Kenyan food
There is no better way than experiencing a country than through its food. You will get insight in Kenya’s main staple food, connect with a local person and even taste your self-prepared dishes. Either take a cooking class or visit one of the best Kenyan restaurants in town.
Get a feel of Kenya’s history
Kenya has a rich history. The National Museum is a great place to get a better understanding of Kenya’s rich heritage. Another interesting museum to visit is Karen Blixen, about the Danish author Karen Blixen. The farm house gained international fame with the release of the movie ‘Out of Africa’ an Oscar winning film based on Karen’s autobiography by the same title.
To get more tips on amazing places to see or eat you can read one of my previous blogs Hidden gems of Nairobi that few travelers know about.
How to take transport in Nairobi
The main mode of transportation in Nairobi is by foot, matatu (VW bus) or boda boda (motorbike taxi). If you are adventurous I would recommend taking a reliable boda boda as this is a great and easy way to travel around this busy city.
There is a Dutch company called Savvy Riders. They train their riders how to ride a bike properly. Each rider is equipped with certified and clean safety gear and all the motorcycles are checked every month to ensure your ride is safe. You can just give them a call and order a rider. This is their phone number +254 (0) 79 139 81 20.
If you don’t want to take any risks I would recommend taking an Uber. Just download the app and order a ride.
How to travel through Kenya
Transportation in Kenya for foreign travelers is a bit of a hassle if you are traveling on a budget. Kenya doesn’t have a good website that exactly tells you about the various transportation options, prices, time schedules etc. There is a website that is quite useful called Rome2Rio. Below I will give you some insight into the most reliable Kenyan bus companies, prices, locations and time schedules.
Travel by train
Since 2017 the renovated Madaraka Express and County train are running again, which results in the fact that you can go from Nairobi to Mombasa in 5 hours. The train is very punctual and comfortable. First class costs 3000 KES and second class 700 KES. You can buy your tickets at the desk of the train station in advance or online via this website.
Travel by bus
From Nairobi to Mombasa you can take Coast Bus, Mash or Tahmeed or Modern Coast. These are all reliable companies. For a first-class ticket you pay around 2000 KES one way or half the price non first class. It is best to book your ticket in advance via phone, online (when you have Mpesa) or at one of the ticket offices at River Road in CBD. Most of them depart between 6 and 10 am in the morning or between 9 and 10 pm.
From Nairobi to Nakuru, Kisumu and Eldoret, Easy Coach is the most reliable one. The Nairobi to Kampala coaches will stop in Nakuru (500 KES). There is no need to book a ticket in advance and you can just go to Railway in CBD where their buses leave and pay the ticket fee when entering the bus. From Nairobi to Nakuru it takes around 3-4 hours. From Nairobi to Kisumu it takes around 7 hours (1400 KES) and from Nairobi to Eldoret it takes around 7,5 hours (1250 KES).
From Nairobi to Mount Kenya area/Nanyuki you can best take Mololine (small bus) and change in Nyeri to Nanyuki.
Travel with private transport
Private transport is pricy, especially when you are traveling alone. Nevertheless, you can hop on a group tour for example via Safarisharing via which you can share a van or if budget allows you can hire a private driver which cost around 130-140 USD a day.
Amazing places to stay in Kenya for a good price
Kenya has some stunning places to spend the night. Unfortunately, many of these amazing places are located inside National Parks which makes them very pricy. Below I will share some of my own findings and places we have stayed below 100 USD a night.
Stay at the Kenyan Coast
On the little island of Lamu you can find Amu House, a fully restored 16th century Swahili house with 7 comfortable, self-contained guest rooms each with its own veranda on the two upper floors. The 3-story house has a beautiful roof terrace where you can relax, play games and stargaze. Price is 21 EUR per night.
Two hours above Mombasa you will find the small town of Watamu. The best beach to stay on is Turtle Bay beach and this is exactly where the cottage of Ian is located. It is just 2 minutes’ walk to the beach and around 5-10 minutes by tuktuk to the center. Price is 49 EUR per night.
Nestled between the Giriama village of Fumbini and the beautiful emerald waters of Kilifi Creek you will find Distant Relatives Ecolodge & Backpackers. I really love this place due to its relaxed vibe and amazing people you will meet. Price is 38 EUR per night (price depends on your room type).
Another great place to stay in Kenya is Diani Beach with its long stretch of white sandy beach. Here you can find Sanu house, a beautiful self-designed house of Maria with a pool and directly to the beach. Price is 30 EUR per night.
I also really love The Kenyan Way at Galu Beach. Galu Beach is the gem of the Kenyan coast, with wide unspoilt, uncrowded beaches and a great kitesurfing spot. Rates are between 35 and 90 USD per night.
Visit Mount Kenya area
Half a year ago I discovered this small, unique and rustic glamping spot in Laikipia area. The place is so thoughtfully put together with lots of style and creative touches. Self-catering or catered options available and the cooks are great. Price is 46 EUR per night.
For a true feel of Kenya stay with Michael and Vicky at their farm where they cook delicious Kenyan food. Their farm is surrounded by nature with beautiful views and at the stream of the Nanyuki River, you will enjoy the freshness of this mountain area. They have some cows, sheep and chicken and have 2 basic double bedrooms with a double bed, private bathroom with bucket shower. Price is 50 EUR per night.
Spot wildlife in the Maasai Mara
When you are on a budget, but still want to do a safari then it is best to stay in a camp just outside the park.
Nelson is a Maasai who started his own safari camp next to the Masai Mara to support his local Maasai community and finance a conservancy so that wildlife can roam around freely. The camp is in the middle of Maasai land so that you can easily interact with them too besides doing a safari. Price is 100 USD per night.
Visit the Menengai Crater and Nakuru National Park
A spectacular camp that has amazing views of the Menengai crater. Enjoy stunning vistas from your verandah overlooking the Menengai Crater, take a swim in their infinity pool or enjoy their amazing food. 7500 KES per person per night full board (in case you are a Non-Kenyan resident 1600 KES per person per night will be added extra). Also perfect for making day trips to Nakuru National park.
Stay at this camp overlooking Lake Nakuru. It is a great camp where you can enjoy spectacular views of the entire Nakuru National Park. It is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Get in touch with the local community and the children that are supported via this camp. The revenue of the camp will go to the future education of their children. Furthermore, they create job opportunities for former street children, orphans and the local community. Price is 40 EUR per person per night.
What to arrange for your Kenya trip
You can now easily arrange your visa via Ivisa or Kenya online. It normally takes one day before you will receive your Kenya e-visa. You can also still get a Kenya visa on arrival, but finishing the visa application online saves you a lot of time.
All travelers are required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate in order to gain entry to Kenya. Furthermore, the usual recommended vaccinations for Kenya are recommended like Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Poliomyelitis as well as cover against the food and water borne diseases of Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Some good information can be found on CDC of Kenya. Please consult your doctor or travel clinic for the latest information.