Help! Leaving in a week for Kenya

Old Oct 20th, 2005, 03:42 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 8
Help! Leaving in a week for Kenya

After much planning and dreaming for several years, my family and I will be spending 3 weeks in Kenya. I have several questions-What is the best way to call back to the US? Several of you have talked about having lots of small US bills on hand. A money belt can't hold much, where do you safely keep all your cash, etc. I am getting a bit nervous about safety issues. Tipping-I have read several posts that recommend tipping drivers/guides $10-$15 per person per day and giving a dollar for general tips. However, the Kenyan's I know disagree and say, "When in Kenya, do as the Kenyans do..."
Any comments? I am confused. I know I can expect to find mosquitoes on the coast, but can I expect to find mosquitoes in the Mara as well as the Kericho and Kisumu areas?
Thank you for your thoughts. I certainly have learned so much from this website.
lexus is offline  
Old Oct 20th, 2005, 04:30 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I purchased a Safaricom SIM card when I arrived in Nairobi and used it to call home. You need to have a unlocked cell phone that works on 900 MHz frequency though. The SIM card cost 300 KES with no minutes included. You can buy top up cards with various values as needed. I bought a 1000 KES one and could use it for about 10 minutes of international calling.

Coverage is spotty though, mostly just around cities and towns and along highways. You won't get any service generally in the game parks though we did have service at Sweetwaters because of it's proximity to the town of Nanyuki.

I also could have just used Cingular's roaming service but at a much higher per minute rate versus purchasing a local SIM card. Cingular uses the networks of Safaricom and Celtel and you can find the coverage maps here -



Looking at the above maps, it's possible that I would have had access to more coverage areas by sticking with Cingular roaming as my phone would have just picked up whichever network was available in the area.

As a matter of fact, I may try a Celtel SIM next time for comparison.

I don't know about calling cards for land lines and access to phones. There were no phones inside the rooms or tents where we stayed but you could probably make calls at reception (though I imagine call rates would be expensive). It's also possible that some remote camps have no phone lines only emergency radios.

If you absolutely need to be in contact at all time, then a satellite phone may be the only option.

What do your Kenyan friends say about tipping?

What's your itinerary like?
Patty is offline  
Old Oct 20th, 2005, 04:31 PM
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Sorry I forgot to indicate that you need GSM 900 Mhz.
Patty is offline  
Old Oct 20th, 2005, 04:38 PM
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Also forgot to mention that we didn't start out with a large amount of small USD bills but rather used ATM's to retrieve KES and tipped in KES. Whenever we checked in at a lodge or camp, we would ask reception to break a larger bill into smaller notes for us for tipping. Except for the tip to our driver/guide and paying for our visas, we almost never used USD, never converted any, and came home with the rest of what we took. It just seemed easier to us to do it this way.
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Old Oct 20th, 2005, 08:20 PM
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Thanks, Patty, for the "calling" and money information. The sim card may be a possibility if my phone meets the criteria. My husband also thinks his work may provide him with a blackberry. The main areas we are visiting are Aberdares National Park, Lake Nakuru, Kericho, Kakamega Forest,Masi Mara,Malindi/Watamu and Mombassa with side trips from some of these and in and out of Nairobi several times. We are going to Kenya is to visit several friends and take in the animals and sights.
lexus is offline  
Old Oct 20th, 2005, 09:00 PM
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Hope you have a great trip! I'd be interested to hear what you thought of the Kakamega Forest and Watamu when you return. We leave Nov 14 and will be spending 2 weeks in Kenya and a few days in Tanzania. We'll be in Laikipia, Aberdare NP, Lake Nakuru, Baringo, Naivasha, and the Masai Mara this time.

I'm still curious as to what "the Kenyans do"?
Patty is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2005, 06:39 AM
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lexus -

I can't comment on cellphones - don't own, don't want, don't need. When on vacation I don't care to hear from anyone, nor be bothered about what's doing at home... it can wait. If absolutely needed, there is email access at most lodges (some camps) and that works fine even at the small charge. But for visitors to East Africa, most have the best success with a satellite phone.

As to USD - we never converted any USD for our Tanzania visits, as USD are accepted and preferred.

In Kenya, we changed a small amount of USD to local Kenya Shilling (KSh) as they prefer local currency for entry fees if visiting sites in Nairobi. Otherwise, USD are accepted everywhere.

Guides in both countries have no issue accepting (and gladly) USD, but $15/day per person($30/couple) is a bit high. Recommend somewhere between $5-10/day/person.

Staff (porters, maids, kitchen, waiters, etc.) are shared and this tip can be put into a lockbox often found at the Reception Desk. USD$6-$8/day/couple works. Though if someone has gone the extra mile, you can always tip this person directly. And don't forget porters, houskeeping and restaurant tips when in Nairobi, Arusha, Zanzibar, Dar.

Even with over $150 in USD$1s and who knows how many $5s, $10s, $20s - between the two of us we divided these each to have in our backpack which was always with us. In the evenings, if safe provided (usually at lodges at reception) we left important papers (tickets, money, etc.) here; or locked in our suitcases. So far, no problems.

Over many safaris in Eastern and Southern African countries, never had a problem with too many USD or local currency being safely secured.

Mossies - definitely on the coast; never saw or were bitten when inland... ever. Surprisingly, though you may look out on open plains the altitute is often over 4,000' and higher; at that altitude you won't find mossies (it's too cold for them). But, always be prepared with repellent for exposed skin during biting time - dusk to dawn.

... and during the day if flying things are naturally attracted to you.

Happy travels.
Old Oct 21st, 2005, 09:14 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 391
"Any comments? I am confused. I know I can expect to find mosquitoes on the coast, but can I expect to find mosquitoes in the Mara as well as the Kericho and Kisumu areas?"

You will find Mosquitoes everywhere... even at altitude. The difference is that at altitude they are less likely to carry Malaria, so take precautions everywhere. One thing you can do is start eating toast with Marmite! Aparently you get bitten less... something to do with Vitamin B12. Make sure you take your Malaria tablets (get advice from your doctor for the latest anti malaria drugs).

Pumbavu is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2005, 02:37 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
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On tipping -

This is a really hard one. My girlfriend is Kenyan so I spend a lot of time there. Money goes really fast if you tip everyone. But 50 shillings is a reasonable tip for good service. I'm English so I have a real problem with people carrying bags for me etc. Be careful at Airports etc when people offer to carry bags... they are sometimes looking at a cash incentive! But always with a smile!

If you buy from hotel shops you will pay hotel prices. But buy the same things outside the hotel you may pay 10x the hotel prices.. if you fail to negotiate! as a rule of thumb, pay 25% of the hotel price but start your negotiations much lower.

Don't be too nervous about security. Your driver will be security conscious... and you can lock things away at hotel/lodge receptions.

One tip is to have a hard sided suitcase. Less easy to get into for a mwizi.

Best way to call USA? Yes, get a sim card (You can get them at JKIA airport gift shops or there's a Safaricom stand on the way out towards Immigration) and buy some credit. It will go fast though! Better to text/sms home. I'm not sure if US phones are compatable with Kenyan Networks. You will probably need a sim free tri-band phone.

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Old Oct 23rd, 2005, 05:48 AM
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Hi Pumbavu,
You make me smile with that screen name.
I hope your Kenyan girlfriend didn't give it to you ;-)
Queenie is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2005, 05:57 AM
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Please do report on your trip when you return, especially the less frequented areas of Kericho and Kakamega Forest.

The $10-$15 tipping per day would be more appropriate for a private vehicle with just a few people.

I have not had Patty's luck with breaking larger bills in camp. I have found small bills are often unavailable in camp or are promised for the next day but never materialize. That might just be an incdication of the types of places I stay.

If it is a wad of ones you need to store, then money belt security may not be needed. As has been mentioned, the extra ones can go in your take along gear, with the money belt reserved for the big bills, credit cards, etc.

Have a great trip!
atravelynn is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2005, 07:52 AM
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Quennie, no she is too much of a lady. However the first things you seem to learn in any language seem to be how to insult people.

Lakini, nina sema ki-swahilli kidogo.
Pumbavu is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2005, 09:33 AM
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Hi- Here are my two-cents (or Shillings). My husband and I just got back from Kenya and Tanzania last month. We went exclusivly with American dollars and wished we had gotten some local currency for buying small things on the streets and tipping porters etc. The "exchange rate" offered by camps and hotels is, not surprisingly, awful. If you are using dollars it seems like everyone rounds way up when converting prices.

At some camps we were able to put the tip on our credit cards and divide it up the way we wanted between the staff. Check with your credit card before you go though to see if they are going to be charging a "foreign currency transaction" fee. Mine didn't have fees and my husband's did. An unpleasant surprise when we got home!

Karmagal is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2005, 02:33 PM
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Good point about not always being able to break larger bills at camp. We stayed in medium size camps and a larger lodge last time so perhaps they're better equipped to hand such transactions.

We're staying in much smaller camps this time, so I might need to re-think my strategy too

I found that the ATM's in Kenya do dispense notes of various denominations, not just one particular bill, so that helps. If I recall correctly the Barclays ATM's would let you withdraw in increments of 1000 KES (up to 40,000 KES per withdrawal), so when I say break 'larger' bills, I actually meant breaking 1000 KES notes into smaller notes and coins (50, 100, 200, 500) - not exactly high finance

And I agree with Karmagal, if you're exchanging USD, the camps and lodges give horrible exchange rates. Probably better to use one of the exchange bureaus at the airport or elsewhere.
Patty is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2005, 05:50 PM
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Thanks to all of you for your information and advice. We leave in 3 days and already our friends in Kenya are saying we should stay longer. The 50 shillings for a general tip that Pambavu mentioned is what my Kenyan friend said she gives. She only gives a driver $3 a day when on safari. Thanks for the heads up on the extra credit card charges. I was going to call them and alert them to me being out of the country, so I will also ask about charges. I was able to get some KSH from the Bank of America; they ordered them, but the exchange rate was only 64KSH/US, which I thought was low. I have plenty of insect repellant and anything you could think of for a general medical emergency. Maybe I will trade some of it in the market. Our daughter is already in Kenya on a medical mission and loving every minute. We expect the same.
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