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My 3 Week Backpacking Itinerary Around Kenya

Updated: Jun 10


In this travel guide for backpacking around Kenya, I will tell you how to get around using public transport in Kenya and the most exciting places to visit and things to do in there, all packed into a 3-week budget itinerary. I absolutely loved Kenya, it's up there with Malawi as one of my favourite countries in Africa. Read on to find out how to make your adventure in Kenya as memorable as mine was!



CONTENTS




Two men and a motorbike in Kenya
Colourful Kenya

 


Why Go to Kenya?


Kenya is a great place to start if you want to go travelling in Africa.


The continent of Africa isn't the most straightforward place for tourists, the infrastructure is not on the level of the well-travelled paths of southeast Asia and Latin America for example, and a backpacker can expect lots of challenges along the way.

The reason Kenya is often dubbed 'Africa for beginners' is because English is one of the two national languages (the other is Kiswahili) and is spoken by almost everyone, so communication is easier. The country is also relatively safe for tourists if you exclude the border with Somalia, and many parts of Kenya are well connected with good public transport links.

Kenya can offer a really wide variety of landscapes and activities, perhaps most famously the Maasai Mara, a semi-arid savannah that shares the Great Migration with the plains of the Serengeti. You also have beautiful lakes, forests, 42 distinct tribal cultures, the metropolis of Nairobi and the dazzling coastline of Mombasa.

For this 3-week backpacking itinerary around Kenya, I have kept to the southern half of the country, but I have heard many great things about the less-visited north, so if you have more time and are keen to venture way off the beaten path, consider heading up towards Lake Turkana, perhaps even crossing the border into southern Ethiopia.



A hand drawn map of Kenya
Our route around Kenya

Our visit to Kenya is part of an 80-day overland trip through Africa, you can read more about that in my previous post: A packing list for backpacking the African continent.



 
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.


How to Get to Kenya

If you're flying in, you'll likely land in Nairobi, at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. We found that flights from Italy were much cheaper than from London, so we tagged on a 3-day Mini Road Trip through Northern Italy before coming to Kenya.

I always compare prices on Skyscanner - and then make sure to book directly with the airline, not a third party. We flew from Milan with Egypt Air - with a short layover in Cairo.


I have heard awful stories of corruption by border officials at Jomo Kenyatta, but my personal experience was smooth. I would suggest trying to avoid paying a bribe at all costs, by having your documents in order and 'having more time than them' – wait it out, and eventually they should get bored and let you continue on your way.



 

Visas for Kenya


Great news friends! As of January 2024, Kenya is 'the first visa-free country in the world! '


Oh. Instead of a visa, you just need to apply for an electronic travel authorisation - which is $30 USD. For this you will need to provide:


  • Valid passport for at least six (6) months after your planned date of arrival in Kenya with at least one blank page 

  • Selfie or passport-type photo

  • Contact information, email address and phone number

  • Details of your arrival and departure itinerary 

  • Accommodation booking confirmation(s)

  • Credit card, debit card, Apple Pay or other means of payment


You can apply between 3 months and 3 days before your intended arrival date.


"But this sounds like a visa application?" I hear you ask... I was thinking the same thing.


If you ask me, the Kenyan government removing the visa obligation is a smart move to attract tourism, but unfortunately, once you read the small print and learn it has coincided with them also hiking up all of the National Park fees - not so great.



 



Important Things to Know Before Travelling to Kenya



Currency


In Kenya, the currency is KES, Kenyan Shillings, and at the time of writing 100KES is 60p. However, American dollars are widely accepted, and preferred in most cases, as long as the notes are new, crisp and clean.


If you get yourself a Kenyan SIM card, it's also worth downloading Mpesa - a mobile money app that locals use to pay for everything. Kenya is quickly becoming a cashless society - and now something like 60% of Kenya's GDP moves through Mpesa – even little veggies stands and boda-bodas (motorbike taxis) accept it as a form of payment.



Health


Kenya, excluding Nairobi, is in the Malaria zone, so precautions should be taken. I do not take Malaria tablets but I do use DEET spray and wear long sleeves and trousers in the evenings.


There is a risk of Yellow Fever transmission in Kenya, so it's advised to get immunised before you go. You may need to show your Yellow Book at Jomo Kenyatta, and if you are travelling further into Africa you will be asked to present it at border crossings.


I strongly suggest using a filtered water bottle like Lifestraw so that you can drink table water and rainwater, meaning you use less single-use plastic in this precious habitat.



Carrier Bags


It is ILLEGAL to use, import, or manufacture plastic carrier bags in Kenya. If you are caught with one, you may be fined $40,000 or spend 4 years in prison.



Stay Flexible


I should note that while this is a structured 3-week itinerary for Kenya... don't forget T.I.A – 'This is Africa'.


Things often take way longer than you expect, so having some flexibility in dates is really going to take the pressure off. All of the things I did in Kenya were very loosely arranged or not at all, to allow for interruptions and delays.



 


Not sure what to pack for an adventure in Kenya? Check out my article:




Two baby giraffes in the Maasai Mara
Two baby giraffes in the Maasai Mara

 



Getting Around Kenya


Lots of people travelling in Kenya take private transfers, which are very expensive. This is a 3-week backpacking itinerary for Kenya, so I am going to assume you are travelling on a budget, and I am here to let you know that Kenya is very well connected by shared minibus!


These are called Matatus - and they are normally fantastically decorated and a real experience. I won't lie to you, the journeys are often long, hot, and uncomfortable - and there's a chance your bum may not have a real seat!


The matatu drivers stuff in as many people as they can, and they do not leave until they are full to the brim! This is THE BEST WAY to get around Kenya, it's fun and cheap!


As a mzungu (white people, get used to your new name) - drivers will try to inflate the prices, so it's best to ask for the real price before you get to the matatu stand. Once they know you're in the know, you'll quickly get the Rafiki (friend) price.



 


My 3-Week Backpacking Itinerary for Kenya



DAY 1

NAIROBI

Unless you are travelling into Kenya overland, Nairobi is likely to be your first stop on your 3-week Kenya itinerary.


I had heard terrible things about Nairobi, or 'Nairobbery' as it is known, but we actually really liked the city.


I stayed at Teresita's place on Booking.com - it was a beautiful house only 10 minutes driving from the airport, perfect for a day or RnR after a long journey. Teresita was a fantastic host, she collected us from the airport and also ferried us to the main Matatu station the next day.



 


DAY 2 – 4

MAJI MOTO

Staying with the Maasai people at Maji Moto Cultural Camp is one of the most special experiences I have ever had, and I almost want to keep it to myself. You can read all of the details in my post: My time with the Maasai.


There are lots of fake Maasai experiences in Kenya, but Narok County (down near The Mara) is where they are actually from. If you see a 'Maasai warrior' at Diani Beach near Mombasa, they are likely male prostitutes dressed up.

Maji Moto is the real deal, run by a well-respected Maasai Chief called Salaton. They have done a great job of sharing their culture, without anything feeling tacky.


A lot of people come to this part of Kenya just to see the animals, but we found Maasai culture is just as unique and interesting as a wildlife safari. We loved our time here, and sleeping on a bed of Leleshwa under the stars at the Olpul Bush Camp was the experience of a lifetime.


To get to Maji Moto I took a Matatu to Narok, about 3 hours drive from Nairobi. I paid 300 KES for this journey, but I have been told that the price has gone up in 2024 due to fuel price hikes.


To find the Matatu Terminal to grab a minibus to Narok, find 'Narok Line Services Ltd' on Google Maps. For reference, it is an 8-minute walk from 'Kenya National Archives'.

Once in Narok you can grab another Matatu to Maji Moto, or arrange a private transfer with them for $40, for the last one-hour leg to the Maasai Village. There's a bunch of activities there you can join, and I assure you, you will leave feeling like family.


Four Young Maasai Warriors
Four Young Maasai Warriors

 

DAY 4 – 6

MAASAI MARA

The next stop on my 3-week itinerary backpacking around Kenya is the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve. This swathe of land adjoins the Serengeti in Tanzania and is the place where you can see the Great Wildebeest Migration, otherwise known as The Greatest Show on Earth.

For more details, read my article: How to visit the Maasai Mara on a budget.

Once again, I was floored by this experience. We managed to pull together a 1-day, 2-night safari whilst camping a stone's throw from the gate to the park, at a budget place called Greenwood Safari Camp.

We caught a dramatic river crossing (mid-September) and had so many more animal encounters. I must admit that I shed a few tears driving into the reserve, as a pack of Hyenas ran alongside our vehicle, to the backdrop of a deep red sunrise.

To get to Talek Gate from Maji Moto it is another 1.5 hours south by road. You can get a private transfer for $40, or a matatu or boda-boda (for much cheaper).



Hot air balloon and zebras in the Maasai Mara
Zebras in The Mara

 

DAY 6 – 8

NAIVASHA

Naivasha is a town in Nakuru county, home to its famous namesake; Lake Naivasha, which boasts huge populations of Hippos and Flamingos, and 400 other bird species. It's also neighbour to both Hell's Gate - Kenya's only cycling safari, and the Aberdare mountain range - which holds some really fantastic hiking trails.

Our main reason for visiting Naivasha was to stay with our Couchsurfing host, Eric. Couchsurfing is a fantastic app that allows you to connect with local hosts for a cultural exchange. Whilst there is no financial obligation to stay with a Couchsurfing host, it is expected that the guests prepare a meal to share, or treat their hosts to simple things like a coffee or a gasoline fill-up.

We chose to stay with Eric because his profile said he loved hiking, and together along with some other Couchsurfers, we tackled the 20km Elephant Hills Trek in the Aberdares, which was stunning.

The normal price for tourists to enter this reserve and trek is $52, like all places of natural beauty in Kenya, the entry fee for foreigners is extortionate. As a group of 8 people, we were able to haggle this down to $35 each.


Negotiating prices is 'the Kenyan Way' so don't be afraid to ask, but always do so with respect and good humour.

The hike itself took 9 hours, it was tough going, but very much worth it. The terrain changed all of the time, through bamboo forests, rocky climbs, and even past the remains of a plane crash!

A super nice hike, super nice people, lots of avocado and chapatti, a meal that will set you back around 30p.

A matatu from Narok to Naivasha takes 2.5 hours, the price should be around 300-400KES.


The track on the Elephant Hills Hike
The track on the Elephant Hills Hike


 


DAY 8 – 16

NAIROBI

Next on our 3-week Kenya itinerary, we circled back to Nairobi to spend a week volunteering at Soweto Youth Initiative, an organisation based in the Soweto slum of Kahawa - about a 45-minute drive from Nairobi central.

We took a matatu from Naivasha to Nairobi for 300 KES, and then a taxi to Kahawa for 1500 KES.

We actually found this volunteering opportunity on Workaway, a programme that facilitates work placements in exchange for food and board. You can read more about how I have used Workaway all over the world in my post: How to travel for longer.

We stayed with our host family on the outskirts of the slum and every day walked to the Soweto Youth Initiative (SYI) – a non-profit providing vital services to the 18,000 people that live in this tin-hut catchment.


The kids who are not in school come to SYI daily to get taught basic Maths, English, Art, and Typing by volunteers like me. They also receive a free lunch and can then spend the afternoon playing games and having dance parties.

I can't imagine what this slum would be like without SYI, a safe space for all of the children here who are living in deep poverty. They are always looking for volunteers, and you can contact them directly if you do not have a Workaway account!

All I will say is that one week was certainly not enough, and if I were to do it all again I would stay with the kids for a month or more.



The graffiti mural at Soweto Youth Initiave in Nairobi
The graffiti mural at Soweto Youth Initiave in Nairobi

 

DAY 17 – 21

THE COAST

After a jam-packed week in the slums, I was craving a few days of staying at our own pace and chilling out. I had long heard of the backpacker's paradise of Diani Beach - so that is where Joe and I were headed for our last few days in our 3-week itinerary around Kenya.

We took a taxi for 1500 KES from Kahawa to Nairobi SGR Station. I had planned to get the 8am fast train from Nairobi to Mombasa, however, that being fully booked we had no choice but to hang around until the next train at 3pm. To reserve the train ahead of time, you need Mpesa.

Normally you are not allowed to enter the station so early, but the Chief of Police escorted us inside so that we had somewhere to rest safely. This is one of the MANY moments where the people have Kenya have been so generous and kind to us, for no reason other than to make us feel welcome in their country.

The economy train ticket from Nairobi to Mombasa costs 1500 KES per person and the train takes 6 hours to reach Mombasa. From here you can grab a matatu for around 700 KES for the last 90-minute journey to Diani Beach.

Although Diani Beach was nice, and we enjoyed the tropical vibes, it was our least favourite place in Kenya. Everything felt spread out and resorty, it wasn't the hippie backpacker's haven I had heard about. Our friends opted for Watamu Beach instead and really enjoyed it – so perhaps other parts of the Kenyan coast are better.

The only thing we did was a snorkelling excursion with Pillipippa, which was a whopping $120 per person, I can't recommend it as it felt very expensive for what it was.


Sunset at Diani Beach
Sunset at Diani Beach

 

Leaving Kenya

We left Kenya directly from Diani Beach, by bus across the Lunga Lunga border into Tanzania. You can read about the steps of that Journey in my post: A step-by-step guide to crossing by land from Kenya to Tanzania via the Lunga Lunga Border Crossing.

Thank you for reading my 3-week itinerary for backpacking around Kenya! If you are looking for more information on travelling Africa, check out my article: A packing list for backpacking the continent of Africa.

If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post every 1-2 weeks with updates of mine and Joe's current trip around the world.


Happy Travels

xx



START PLANNING YOUR NEXT TRIP




 

Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

4 Σχόλια


Πελάτης
22 Ιαν

Hi, thank you so much for posting this. I was wondering how much the overall trip cost you, so I can start planning the trip/comparing it with other 3 week trips.


Many thanks,


Jack

Μου αρέσει
Απάντηση σε

Hi Jack, so we had a budget for accommodation of £20 per night and a food budget of £10 per day, this is for 2 people and quite achievable. Our big splurge was staying with the Maasai where they took us out into the bush and we made a camp under the stars, which was $650 - and 100% worth it. We saved money by taking public transport everywhere, and our week volunteering in Nairobi we spent almost nothing. So my best guess would be £1800 for 2 people over 3 weeks. This is more than I normally spend per month in Africa but the Maasai Mara and Maji Moto were such special experiences., so no regrets.

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Πελάτης
30 Δεκ 2023

So glad you enjoyed Kenya but regarding your point about visa Vs ESTA, you are slightly incorrect. The ESTA will not be free, it's $30 USD, so you are saving only $22. Meanwhile the costs of the national parks are rising astronomically. The Masai Mara has already gone up to $200 per day, and Nairobi NP $100! Other parks are slotted to rise similarly. Citizens & residents are both shocked and there is much opposition among tourist organisations to the price hikes, so much that the government is being taken to court as tourist bodies feel the massive price rises will discourage people from coming, plus local Kenyans will not be able to afford the increased local rates.

No offence…

Μου αρέσει
Απάντηση σε

Thank you so much for your feedback on the price of the eTA, I have now edited this article with the correct price. In terms of the NP fees, you are right, we even found them to be very expensive before the 2024 price hike, especially when compared to the entry fees to the National Parks in places like Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa. Hopefully, the action taken by the tourist bodies will at the very least convince the government to reduce the local rates, so that Kenyans are not priced out of thier own natural places.

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