We nearly skipped Kenya and considered going straight to Uganda from Tanzania due to negative reports from others and our own time pressures. But we’re sure glad we didn’t and would have gladly stayed longer if we had the time!

Kenya

Quick Summary

Time in Kenya: December 16, 2010 - January 2, 2011

Route: from Tanzania to the beaches south of Mombasa, then on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway spending a few days along the way in Tsavo East National Park and Machakos, followed by Nakuru and a trio of Great Rift Valley lakes (Naivasha, Bogoria and Baringa) as we made our way toward Uganda

People: the primary reason for negative traveler feedback on Kenya due to their reputation for excessive touting, aggression, greed, corruption, and crime; happily, we had nearly 100% favorable (not just not bad, but truly positive) interactions with Kenyans, who were congenial, good-humored, and helpful, with no one out to scam us; we did not visit Kenya’s all-star tourist hotspots, so it was really the warmhearted people that made our 2 weeks in the country so pleasant; unfortunately, we did get several glimpses into the crime and greed that gives Kenyans a bad rap and makes many of them fearful and distrustful of each other

Food: two words: “nyama choma” - the freshest, simplest, cheapest and most delicious grilled meat, straight from the butchery into your mouth - available all over Kenya and a delight; otherwise, local places serve the same simple but good food as in Tanzania (slightly more expensive and less tasty) while restaurants and lodges catering to international tourists are insipid, expensive and should be steered clear of; best beers in East Africa

Roads: the route we took was mostly paved, but enormous potholes and other lack of maintenance made Kenya’s paved roads the worst we drove; there must be corruption and contract padding during construction as even newly reconstructed highways are of obvious poor quality; easy to navigate but stressful to drive due to the aggressive big trucks and buses; we hear northern Kenya’s roads are much worse; the biggest variety of brands and by far the most luxury vehicles we saw outside South Africa

Distance covered: 1907km (1185 miles) driving in TianMa

Highlights: buying and making baskets; nyama choma gluttony; our Nakuru car-repair experience and resulting friendships; elephants elephants and more elephants plus an up-close cheetah encounter; ridiculously cheap international phone calls; lively New Year’s Eve (including Cuban cigars); kikoy shopping; Jeff the superhero

Low-lights: “Graceland” hotel in Nakuru; repeated car troubles (frustrating even if minor); “irregular couples”

Impression: Compared mellow neighboring Tanzania, Kenya is much busier and more developed (e.g. many roads were paved...or were once upon a time). It also has the most developed middle class in the region, which is nice to see. But the most famous tourist draws are overrun and overdeveloped, and with the recent increase in national parks fees (now at par with Tanzania, which has better parks for the money) it is best to stick to the backroads and “second-tier” destinations. Kenya has the “scruffiest” settlements. Nice country and people but Kenya hasn’t yet reached its potential to become a great nation and tourist destination for a variety of reasons.