Whenever I read about Kenya, most of the available content usually mentioned the incredible safaris and the popularized Maasai tribe. However, I came to learn that there was that and so much more!
As an African traveling in Africa, what I remember most about my time in Kenya was the vibrancy of the matatus – mainly because public transport in Johannesburg lacks this, the colourful graffiti, the red lights inside them at night, the old school Hip-Hip and R&B music blasting through their speakers, the swarm of boda bodas waiting to give you a ride to your resort, the intensity of the traffic in Nairobi and how busy the city was at early hours of the morning.
I remember the creativity and talent of the locals performing at The Alchemist Bar in Nairobi, and the hosts who upon discovering there were some “SAFA’s in the house”, played South African music and really made us feel at home. And how the meat at Road House Grill was tender and tasty enough to make a meat-lover out of me! I remember walking through the streets of Mombasa – the heat and humidity, the loud calls of the crows during the day, drinking freshly squeezed tamarind juice, and how the restaurants moved outside in the evenings.
How laid back Lamu was. And not forgetting the kindness of the people. Almost all our taxi drivers and hosts, and even friends we made, would message or call to check that we were okay and safely at our next destination. These are all the reasons I’m itching to go back! I hope you’ll enjoy reading about my experience in this blog post.
Kenya is so diverse in what it has to offer, from its world-class beaches, street food, to its rich culture and nightlife. As a South African, I wanted to travel to a different region of Africa, mostly to get a taste of the similarities and differences after feeling like I hadn’t travelled within my own continent enough. When deciding on a destination, I also considered language barriers which was no issue in Kenya because English is spoken widely. I discovered while there that Kiswahili and isiZulu, my home language, both Bantu languages are quite similar.
It’s also one of the cheaper options for South Africans, when compared to some West African countries, for example.
What I mean by this is that prices for flights were, on average, a lot cheaper in East Africa. Not having to get a visa as a South African traveling for less than 90 days was another costcutter which informed my decision. I was a little disappointed to hear that the same is not reciprocated for Kenyans wanting to travel to South Africa. You do need to get a yellow fever vaccination and malaria pills though if you’re planning to travel to Kenya.
I spent 10 days in Kenya with friends and visited three areas. Here’s some of what we got up to!
In Nairobi, we stayed in a beautiful and affordable 4-bedroom apartment in Kilimani, which we booked on AirBnB. I was really impressed by the design – the fact that all rooms were en-suite really surprised me.
We headed out to Westlands, an area where all the cool bars and clubs are. The Alchemist Bar (@alchemistbar254) hosts open mic sessions, showcasing poetry, singing, rapping and stand-up comedy on Wednesdays so we were in luck. There are some interesting shops selling books, vinyls, and various products as well as food trucks. We had an amazing night out meeting and chatting to locals, having my first taste of kachumbari, drinking Tusker Lager – a local beer, and dancing the night away – mostly to South African music!
On our 2nd day we went to Road House Grill, Upper Hill for nyama choma, which is equivalent to chisa nyama back home where you buy meat and it’s cooked for you there on a braai. We ordered goat meat, beef, pork as well as some sides which included ugali (pap), kachumbari (a tomato, onion and cilantro salsa), fried potatoes in onion and a green corn and potato starch dish. I am not a big fan of meat at home but my goodness! That meat with the sides was so delicious, perfectly seasoned, tender and well worth the long wait.
Next we went to the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), the 4th tallest building in Kenya, for sunset views over Nairobi City. It’s a great place to take it all in and for photo ops.
On our 3rd day, we drove into Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, despite being advised by locals not to go. Some parts of Kibera felt like the informal settlements in South Africa but there was certainly something unique about visiting and driving through this particular area. We also went to the Maasai Market in Lavington since we couldn’t make the Saturday market. I enjoyed shopping around with notebook in hand, comparing prices from different vendors and negotiating for the best deals!
Mombasa was really hot and humid – just as I had been warned while in Nairobi. We used the SGR to get to Mombasa from Nairobi and travelled in economy class, which was really impressive for the distance and price. It took about 7 hrs to get there but the ride was scenic!
Luckily we were staying just a short tuk tuk ride (or walk) away from Shanzu Beach.
We spent some time at the beach, where beach accessories were sold at inflated prices and where camel rides were also available. Honestly, if you plan to spend some time at the beach go prepared with hats for shade, cool clothes and sunscreen. Otherwise it can be uncomfortable.
Our next day was spent meeting up with a friend who gave us a street food tour and showed us around the Old Town. We enjoyed the most amazing chicken shawarma from a place on the side of the road called Damascus.
This was served with freshly squeezed tamarind juice, which we don’t have in South Africa. We then walked around the town and stopped at Forodhani restaurant for some authentic Swahili food.
We sat at the terrace which overlooks the ocean. On our last night in Mombasa, we visited a place called Mtwapa for some night life.
I was blown away by this small town with its narrow streets and donkeys as the main transport. Lamu is the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa and Arab, Indian and Portuguese influence is seen in the architecture of buildings all around, as well as in the food and the crafts sold in small shops.
We flew with Skyward Express and were transported by boat to Lamu Town from Manda Airport.
The house we stayed in was phenomenal. It felt like you had gone back to simpler times.
It rained for most our time there but on one clear day we went out on Hassan’s boat and visited some nearby islands. He prepared a barbeque for us on the boat and served us fresh fish, coconut rice and a potato stew.
We visited Manda Beach and explored the “abandoned” villas and mansions. The beaches were so peaceful and time almost stood completely still.
We then went to Shela, where pre-wedding celebrations were taking place. We relaxed there, walked around and visited some shops. One shop in particular stood out, African Corner Lamu (@african_corner_lamu_), which sold hand-made organic soaps and beautifully crafted products and clothing from all over Africa. We enjoyed the communal atmosphere – children playing, laughter, music which sounded Arabian, stick fighting which was more of a dance than anything. Shela beach is also where we came across a group of Maasai and were treated to some song and dance!
There really is so much to see and do in Kenya and I know I barely scratched the surface but rest assured that this South African girl will be back! What I appreciated the most was just how open the Kenyans I met were. I’m keen to come back and also hope that my experience inspires more South Africans to travel to Kenya!
About the Guest Author:
Senzelwe is a South African traveller, content creator and photography enthusiast. She loves capturing photos artistically and showcasing Africa’s beauty and diversity in an attempt to change the narrative about Africa through travel and to inspire others to travel and connect. She has grown up in the vibrant and creative Johannesburg city but loves retreating to nature. She documents her experiences with her sister on a platform called The Lived Experience, which consists of a blog as well as a YouTube channel. Together, they share their lived experience through travel, curated experiences, lifestyle and conversations.
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