Is Kenya Expensive Or Cheap?
Is Kenya expensive or cheap? That depends. The big picture is: if you can travel within the USA or Europe, you can also travel to Kenya.
One of the nice things of Africa is that your dollar stretches a whole lot further than home… And with air fares dropping the way they’ve been doing the last years, exotic travel comes within the reach of people like you and me. However, price levels vary enormously with the level of luxury and comfort you want.
Kenya expensive? Well, this comes close...
Let me throw some numbers at you...
Accomodation: You can already stay in a Nairobi hotel for 10 dollars a night. Not in the Hilton, but in a modest, clean hotel with a friendly staff and a guard at the entrance. A nice big white beach cottage with a view on the Indian Ocean can be rented for 50 dollars a night in the high season, depending on the exact place. (The small resorts and the less-crowded beaches are cheapest, on the whole.)
Food: For 1 dollar you can already have lunch in a real Kenyan diner. (Just don’t take meat there :-) Main dishes in mid-price restaurants geared towards tourists will cost between 6-8 dollars.
Going out:Admission to the hottest night clubs of Nairobi is around 3 dollars, and beers are around 2 dollars.
Transportation: For some 30 dollars, you can hire a driver with his car to drive you around the area for a whole day. If you feel like shopping for 3 hours, he’ll simply do a nap. But you can also take a matatu – the famous African minibuses who take you wherever you want to go for 50 cents. Loud benga music and some healthy tension while the driver zig-zaggs all around the place come along for free.
Having your private driver is convenient, of course. But a matatu is transport the African way... You pick what suits you best, and you’ll have fun either way.
Prices Levels Vary Enormously
However... Within Kenya, the price levels vary enormously. When you eat, sleep and move together with the Kenyans, it’s very cheap. When you stay in the most luxurious hotels and eat in the top end restaurants, prices will approach those of their counterparts in the West.
And if you take the real luxurious safari tours, flying in and staying in private lodges in the most popular places, then the prices hit the sky. But the whole range is available…
You can either fly in for a safari, but you can also go with a group in a minivan and camp in the bush starting from $110 per day per person, including meals, tent hire and park entry fees. The first is more glamorous but the second is more adventurous. There are plenty of companies available for both options. So is Kenya expensive or cheap? Take your pick...
Be aware that bargaining is almost a must. Not so much in restaurants or hotels, but taxi fares, safari trips, souvenirs, personal services - everything is negotiated. It’s pretty common for vendors to open the bargaining process with 3 times the price they can settle for.
Don’t worry too much about paying too less. Business people know exactly what they have to make in order to have a healthy profit, and they’ll simply not sell for less. On the other hand, also keep in mind that that one dollar means a whole lot more to Kenyans than to you.
Keep It Cool
Keep the bargaining friendly and relaxed – while bargaining is often associated with fooling and pressuring clients in North America and Europe, bargaining is normal and can even be humorous in Africa. See it as a game and aim for a win-win situation. But don't accept tricks or rude behaviour.
Just ask around what the price levels are, so you’ll not be fooled. You’ll also get more reasonable prices if you take a good guide with you. He’ll know the shops where they do honest business. In the coast region, Indian shops are often a good choice.
If you're e.g. looking for a driver, you’ll get better prices if you hire somebody for a longer time. If you encounter a reliable driver with reasonable prices, ask his cell phone number (they all have one) and make a deal for more days in a row.
Expensive Products, Cheap Labor
One interesting rule of thumb is... (physical) products tend to be expensive, while labour (services) tends to be cheap. (In the West, it’s the other way around!)
A cleaning lady in a Nairobi hotel makes only 2 dollars a day. Now I’m not in favour of taking advantage of that. It’s actually too little to live from, and since it's the same to you, so why not pay something more, especially if they do a decent job?
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