Tara is the absolute dynamo behind the blog Mama Mgeni where she talks about all sorts of things including raising children in her adopted city of Nairobi, Kenya. What I adore about the blog is that she talks about the everyday stuff going on too including school plays, sleep issues, recipes and craft projects. It just gives me that little glimpse of a life SO far away and I love it.
I was so excited when Tara agreed to tell us a little bit more about Kenya. I think for a lot of people, it’s a bit of a dream destination and with her insider advice travellers can really take their trip to the next level.
My husband Jesse and I have always known we wanted to settle down in Kenya. We met 11 years ago, while we were working. During those early days, he told me he eventually wanted to move back home to Kenya. I told him I wanted to live abroad long-term. Luckily for us, settling down and raising our family in Nairobi fit both of our plans! We both truly love living in Nairobi, and we think it is a wonderful place to raise a family. We’ve got all the trappings of a cosmopolitan life in a big city – excellent schools, urban parks and forests, convenient shopping, cinemas, and excellent outdoor cafes and playgrounds. We love city life, but we also adore that the mountains, beaches, camping, and safaris are all an easy drive from home. We get the best of both worlds!
Most people who visit Kenya as tourists come here for two things: safari and the beach. With that in mind, most visitors won’t spend more than a night or two in Nairobi itself. If you do spend some time in Nairobi, consider your itinerary when deciding where to stay. Nairobi is infamous for its traffic, so be sure to choose accommodation close to the activities and destinations you’ve got planned in and around the city. It’s a good idea to travel with a pack n’ play or travel cot – you won’t always find them available in hotels and lodges. Here are some tried and tested hotels and B&Bs in Nairobi:
When you leave Nairobi, there are loads of amazing luxury lodges, self-catering cottages, and resorts available to choose from. If you are booking your trip with a tour company, they will most likely book all of your accommodation for you. If you’re arranging for your own trip, here are some of my favorite child-friendly, off-the-beaten path hideaways:
One of the things I love about Kenya is that children are welcome EVERYWHERE, which makes it easy to take your kids with you when you’re going out to eat. There are lots of restaurants that have kids’ menus, and ones that don’t will almost certainly have something your kids will love. Our favorite standby when taking our kids out to eat is sausages and fries. They are on nearly every menu, and our kids always gobble them down! Some of our favorite family-friendly restaurants in Nairobi:
When you get outside Nairobi, it can be hard to find places to eat, so make sure you bring snacks on long rides. Here are a few of our favorite eateries outside the city:
One of my favorite things about raising our family in Kenya is that our everyday life includes going on safari and appreciating the spectacular wildlife in Kenya. We have a national park right here in Nairobi, so we can go on a game drive and have a picnic in the park whenever we like! Giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos and lions are all typical animals for our kids, not exotic animals they can only see in zoos! If you’d like to try some other activities beyond game drives, here are some of our favorite day trips in and around Nairobi:
The only real public transportation in Nairobi is the network of matatu minibuses that circulate throughout the city. Only very brave (or very budget-minded) tourists use matatus as their main mode of transport. They are not for the feint of heart, and most visitors opt for taxis. When traveling in Kenya, the easiest thing is to take the name and phone number of the first taxi driver you use (if he or she is honest and a good driver, of course) – that way you can call them whenever you need a lift. They will be delighted for the repeat business, and you get the convenience of having your own personal driver. Insider tip – most taxis in Kenya are older cars that will almost certainly not have the LATCH system, and may not have properly functioning safety belts. Always check the belts before you get in the car and try to fit your child’s car seat!
My biggest tip for travel in Kenya is to consider camping and self-catering accommodation. Luxury safaris cost a pretty penny, which makes most international (and domestic) tourists think that going on a safari is out of their reach. This couldn’t be further from the truth! If you’ve got a sense of adventure and some basic camping gear, or even just a willingness to cook your own meals, you can travel throughout Kenya – including the major parks and reserves – without breaking the bank. This is a great way to travel with your whole family – kids LOVE the adventure! Here are a few of our favorite family-friendly campsites and self-catering spots:
THE BEST TIME TO GO
You’ll find most guidebooks listing a ‘high’ and ‘low’ season for travel in Kenya. I assure you, ANY time of year you visit Kenya will be magical. During the rainy season, the grass is green and wildlife is teeming. During the dry season you will enjoy beautiful sunny weather, day in and day out. Rest assured, Kenya is spectacular all year round!
A big challenge for many tourists is navigating the complicated bargaining system that plays out with Kenyan vendors. With the exception of the big stores in the fancy shopping malls, pretty much every price you’re quoted in Kenya is negotiable. Haggling over prices doesn’t come naturally to many foreigners, and the vendors know this. Be prepared to negotiate the price for any item you might want. First, ask the vendor what their price is. Now, divide that price by two in your mind – this should be your maximum price. That means offering something WAY lower than 50% of their quoted price. This can feel stingy, but it’s how it works, and they’ll slowly inch the price back up to something acceptable for both of you. If they say no, be prepared to walk away. In most cases, they will pursue you and continue the bargaining dance.
If you do come to Kenya, try to break out of your comfort zone experience Kenya as Kenyans do. Grab a beer at a local bar or try the traditional dishes at a Kenyan restaurant. Ask your Kenyan host or taxi driver to tell you about their home village. Spend some time outside Nairobi (and the tourist hotspots) and see what life is like in the village. Learn a bit of Swahili! It’s the best way to tear down walls and make some friends for life.
I also asked Tara about safety and security and the different accommodation options. Here is what she replied:
The featured image at the top with all family members is courtesy of Natasha Sweeney.