Kenya is a traveler’s paradise – a land of astonishing landscapes, incredible wildlife, and warm-hearted people. Expats, tourists, and visitors in general who’ve had the pleasure of visiting this mesmerizing East African gem are always captivated by the quirks and peculiarities that define Kenyan culture.
In this quick and lighthearted read, article, we’ll explore ten Kenyan culture traps that always leave one wishing to go back for more.
The Warmth of Jambo
The moment you set foot in Kenya, you’ll be greeted with the most radiant smiles and a resounding “Jambo!” which means “hello” in Swahili. Almost certain is that legendary Kenyan hospitality that keeps folks going back to this second home of sorts.
Kenyans embrace you with open arms wherever you go. Urban areas such as Nairobi and Mombasa are hugely cosmopolitan, and you’ll find folks from all over the world here, and a bustling expat community. So, you’ll never feel like you are lonely especially when you go for outings or even to places like the mall. Kenyans genuinely love travelers because the psyche of being a tourist gem has been planted in them even through their education system.
A visit to Kenya isn’t complete without a safari adventure, and no, don’t be fooled, this isn’t overrated or cliche. Witnessing the breathtaking wildlife in its natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. From the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara to the stunning landscapes of Amboseli National Park, the thrill of the safari will keep you coming back for more.
Beyond the traditional wildlife safari that tourists usually prefer (especially first-time visitors), there are lots of options that have broadened the scope of safari. You can hop onto the SGR train from Nairobi to Mombasa and still experience crazy views of the savannah. Or, you can opt for one of the lush, green nature trails nestled right within the heart of Nairobi like the Giraffe Manor.
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Hakuna Matata, the Kenyan Way
The phrase “Hakuna Matata” is not just a cliche from “The Lion King”; it’s a way of life in Kenya. This Swahili phrase means “no worries,” and Kenyans truly embrace it.
Kenyans are notorious for being on good vibes even when faced with tough circumstances. A fun-loving people, they are always willing to go out of their way to show you the best parts of their country. Whether it’s club or restaurant-hopping, or just going out for a random afternoon snack, you’ll quickly learn the Hakuna Matata way and embrace a more carefree attitude.
Time Runs on “Kenyan Time”
In Kenya, time flows at its own rhythm. “Kenyan time” might not adhere strictly to the clock, but this laid-back approach to life is infectious. If you’re one of those uptight types, you’ll soon find yourself savoring the present moment, and letting go of the usual rush.
As a rule of thumb, always try to slide in at least half an hour buffer into your schedule to avoid disappointments from traffic jams, especially in Nairobi. Bring along a book or even a podcast that you can listen to as you wait for your friends. But don’t worry about taxis and other folks in service industries being late or delaying. Their timing is always impeccable and if any delays, it was probably unavoidable.
Utterly Delicious Chapati and Nyama Choma
You know you’ve finally made it into the Kenyan Republic when you get your hands on some tasty nyama choma (BBQ ribs and grill) with a side dish of ugali (cornbread), local soup, and salad dressing. You’ll meet this local delicacy in almost every corner of Nairobi and the other major cities.
To even out the experience, you’ll need to try some chapati (fluffy, flat cakes pan-baked like pizza bread). These fluffy, doughy, unleavened bread rounds are served as a side dish or a snack. Spread a little Sukuma Wiki (collard greens) and stew on it, and you’ll be in foodie heaven. It’s a simple dish that you’ll crave long after you’ve left the country.
Kenya’s public transportation system is approaching near-mythical status. Matatus, which are colorful mini-buses, are an integral part of the Kenyan urban experience. Tourists travel from across the globe travel to Kenya for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Decked out with vibrant art, music blaring from speakers, huge flatscreens, and an almost ‘rowdy’ appeal to it, matatus should be on your bucket list.
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The Swahili Rhythm
Kenyans are known to be some of the best communicators in the English language on the African continent, so you won’t have a problem interacting with the locals in any area. However, Swahili, the official language of Kenya, has a musical quality that’s a pleasure to the ears. There are also local variations of the language such as Sheng which is a composite Swahili mixture that’s mostly spoken by millennials and younger folk.
Whether you’re listening to locals converse or enjoying traditional Swahili songs, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the lyrical beauty of the language.
Dancing to a Different Drum
Kenyans like Nigerians and South Africans love to dance, and boy, they can do it the whole night, provided there’s good entertainment. Cities such as Nairobi, Kisumu, and Mombasa are packed with entertainment joints that play all types of music; smooth RnB, Reggae and Calypso, the old faithful Blues, and EDM and House Music.
There are also different types of joints around; bars, clubs, restaurants, and every kind of hybrid in between. There’s something for everyone here.
The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their vibrant culture and distinctive clothing. Visiting a Maasai village offers a unique opportunity to learn about their customs and traditions such as the art of beadwork and moran initiation.
But the Maasai aren’t the only tribe that has unique and peculiar cultural traditions that have been passed down through the ages in Kenya. You’ll come across the Luhya, a tribe whose culture has cock and bullfighting as mainstays. Or the Luo, whose penchant for good music and fine dining will make you forget you were ever visiting in the first place.
Kenya is a magical land that great memories into the hearts of all who visit. The warmth of its people, the beauty of its landscapes, and the richness of its culture create an African experience like no other. And you’ll probably love the warm and sunny weather too.
In this land of good cheer and good vibes, “Kwaheri” (meaning goodbye) is always met with “Ya Kuonana”, meaning “till we meet again”. Open up that bucket list and add Kenya as the newest entry.