We had a lot of ups and downs during the three weeks we traveled like maniacs through Kenya.
Here are the “ups.”
These are our recommendations for the absolute top things to do in Kenya for adventurous and off-the-beaten-path travelers.
Awesome Food & Unusual Restaurants
Bofa Beach BBQ in Kalifi
While walking along the scorching soft sands of Bofa Beach hopelessly looking for octopus in the tidal flats, a local named Charlie seduced Kim up to his shack for a bottle of cool water. I warily followed.
Once we got to his shack, he successfully pitched us on a fresh BBQ seafood lunch. We were hungry, the price was right, and the location was perfect.
As soon as we caved in and agreed, he ran down to the fishermen who were just returning from their morning foray, picked out a couple fish (a red snapper and another called tafi), showed them to us, and barbecued them to perfection. We ate it under the cover of his beachfront shack along with some chapati, coconut rice, boiled greens, kachumbari salad, and a beer. Even better, it only cost $10 for the both of us.
You won’t find Charlie’s shack on Google maps, but you can call him at 07 12 363 492 to arrange a similar budget beachfront feast for yourself.
Nyama Mama Restaurant in Nairobi
Nyama Mama, which gives a modern twist to Kenyan dishes, was a much-needed respite from the monotony of the traditional dishes we normally ate. In fact, it was such a treat we returned for a second visit. You’ve gotta try the ugali fries, even if you don’t like ugali.
Crave Kitchen in Kikuyu
Smack dab in the middle of an otherwise ramshackle town not far outside of Nairobi on the way to Lake Naivasha, Crave Kitchen was a complete surprise. Clean, spacious, delicious, and with a well-designed interior, it was a hipster café/restaurant at local Kenyan prices. It’s a definite must-visit if you’re passing by.
Those who are adventurous and looking for something local might want to try the gikuyu pudding, a fermented porridge of some sort with some spices. One spoonful was enough for Kim, but I polished off the enormous bowl with pleasure.
Seafood Pizza from Olympic Restaurant in Lamu
Previously located on Lamu Town’s seafront, now Olympic Restaurant is only a humble table inside their house around their corner. Don’t judge this place by its cover though, Olympic Restaurant is worth seeking out (call Areef, the owner, if you need directions: 07 17 296 441). The pizza isn’t super cheap ($10), but it’s worth it. The delicious homemade, chapati-like crust is loaded with freshly cooked fish and cheese, served with some delicious sauces.
Plus, who’d have thunk the owners, multi-generational Kenyans of Indian descent were, for eighteen months, our neighbors in Vancouver? Small world!
Kenyan Drinks You Won’t Find Anywhere Else
Balozi is one beer we found regularly that both comes in a big bottle (like Tusker and White Cap) but also is sugar-free (like Tusker Light). Plus it’s the cheapest. Since all the super light Kenyan beers taste the same, that’s a win-win-win.
Maasai Wine (finding it more so than drinking it)
The bright-side of an otherwise lost day trying to get off the beaten path but getting beaten instead was finding maasai wine.
Amos, a local guy we befriended in Narosura, asked a farmer on our behalf where we could find some. Instead of giving us directions, he gave us his son. The 12-year-old got in our Jeep and showed us the way to a tiny Maasai village, all the while in complete amazement to be in such a fancy a new car sitting beside a pretty mzungu (white person), Kim.
Once at the village, another young man led us into a hut the size of a backyard greenhouse. We heard sloshing in the back room, and then a big glass of Maasai wine materialized from the darkness. We tasted the strange concoction of fermented roots, poured the rest in my water bottle for later, paid 60 cents for the liter, and walked outside.
To our surprise, the entrance to world’s cheapest microbrewery was now surrounded by over 15 villagers curious to see what was going on!
Camel Milk from Alma Restaurant in Kilifi
I ordered camel milk out of pure curiosity… and because it only cost a dollar. When the waiter brought out an enormous glass, I got worried. Assuming it would have a strong taste like goat milk, but weirder, I feared I wouldn’t finish it (a faux pas in my silly mind). I needn’t have worried though. The camel milk was the best milk I’d ever tasted in my life.
You won’t find Alma Restaurant online, but you will find it if you look right across the street from Kilifi’s main matatu/bus terminal.
Spiced Coffee in Lamu
Each of the five evenings we spent in Lamu, we never missed enjoying a 10-to-30-cent (depending on the size) ginger-spiced coffee from our favorite vendor right on the seaside. Paradoxically, it was a great way to cool down and relax in the early evening.
Kim also delighted in the little sweet cookies he sold to go with the bitter coffee. He had a collection of sesame, peanut, or chocolate, priced at just 10 cents each.
Awesome Adventures and Fun Things to Do in Kenya
Hanging Out with Captain Jawad in Lamu
Jawad is the most everything of any Kenyan I met:
- The coolest. The ultimate rasta Kenyan, he’s always got a smile on his face and is friends with everybody everywhere.
- The most athletic. The guy works out every day and can do advanced gymnastic moves like a press to handstand, or the splits with ease. All self-taught. Amazing.
- The hardest working. He’ll sometimes work until 3 am, then wake up again at 5 to get the morning rush. Amazingly, this doesn’t affect his previous two qualities.
He’s the best. Look out for Jawad and his boat, Maqoub, when you’re in Lamu or Shela, or just give him a call at 07 97 937 411. And if you’re a recreational swimmer, definitely call him because he and his cousin Awham, who is a yoga instructor and activity manager at his dad’s hotel, the Msafini, sometimes organize group activities, like swims to Manda Island, with their friends.
Cashew Factory Tour in Kilifi
This, like most of the other adventurous things to do in Kenya we recomend, is one you won’t find anywhere else. You may not even be able to do it, but it’s worth checking.
Looking for things to do in Kilifi other than hang out at Distant Relatives, which many people seem content to do for months on end, we started asking around about how different products from the area were made. We missed out on the possibility of visiting a moringa farm (if you’re in Watamu, definitely look into this), but we got super lucky with cashews.
Our motorcycle driver managed to find us a new factory that had just started up a month ago. Abdul, the young manager, graciously gave us the full run-through of the facility. He treated us as if we were visiting dignitaries and not grungy backpackers, happily answering every one of my incessant questions.
We were fascinated to learn how difficult it is to prepare each and every individual cashew nut. The warehouse was packed with 150 women (and two men) working away, cashew-by-cashew, at the ten different steps it takes to make each nut fit to sell.
I’ll never look at a cashew the same way again.
Seeing Wildlife Outside of the National Parks
Yes, seeing all the wildlife in the national parks is incredible—even better than we had expected—but the real thrill was seeing wildlife outside of the parks. Nothing beat spotting a giraffe (our favorite of the African fauna) or ostrich from our car while driving down some muddy back road in the middle of nowhere.
A Rush Hour Boda Boda Ride and Visiting The West African Market in Nairobi
Not many of our favorite things to do in Kenya were in Nairobi, a.k.a. Nai-boring, but these two can’t be missed.
The boda boda (motorcycle taxi) ride is like being in a real-life Grand Theft Auto video game. The only difference is you only have one life. Do it once, and never again.
And the West African Market is an unexpectedly unusual shopping experience.
Find out more about both in our action-packed 24-hour itinerary of things to do in Nairobi.
Places to Stay
Jambo House in Lamu
We didn’t think much of Jambo House at first and Arnold, the quirky owner, was slow to warm up on us (and vice versa), but by the end we were sad to say goodbye. Arnold turned out to be a amazing host who did everything he could to ensure we enjoyed our stay in Lamu.
The beds aren’t super comfortable, and it can get hot even with the fan on, but the price, about 2000 KSh a night for a private room and private bathroom, made it a steal. The breakfast of coffee and tea, fresh pressed juice, fruit, and your choice of omelet, french toast, and a couple other things, was an added bonus.
We4Kenya in Amboseli
Evelyn, who’s Dutch and her husband, Wilson, who’s Maasai, have a real good thing going at We4Kenya, their camp nearby Amboseli.
It’s a quiet, comfortable, and well-maintained place. Our cabin was perfect for the three of us, including a huge bed for Kim and I, we enjoyed dinner by the fireplace, and the staff is particularly fantastic.
And it’s location provides an authentic rural Kenyan experience. We’ll never forget hearing at night the distant cries of farmers yelling at elephants trying to break into their crops.
Prices are high (i.e. overpriced) compared to the rest of Kenya, but compared to other safari camps it’s a very good value. Plus they’re consistently busy—so busy they haven’t needed to translate their Dutch website into English to get more guests—so you’ve got a high chance of hooking up with others to share on the extravagant cost of hiring a guide and truck to take you through Amboseli.
I also owe them big time for shipping my jacket and Kindle back to me in Nairobi after I stupidly left them behind. What a miracle that they made it to me!
More Tips on Adventurous Things to Do in Kenya
Also, I highly recommend you read through our post on the good news and bad news of backpacking on Kenya before you set off.