Top 5 'must-do's' while volunteering in Kenya!
Volunteering in Kenya is a great way to see an absolutely amazing country! Throughout your volunteer experience you will become part of the local community and see so much more than the average tourist. Depending on your choice of volunteer program you could be spending your days visiting families in slums, HIV testing, teaching kids in underfunded schools, planning activities for orphaned children or running medical clinics in remote hospitals. With so many volunteering opportunities available in Kenya, there will certainly be an option that is perfect for everyone.
But what about your free time? What can you do when you are not volunteering? Well, in addition to the amazing volunteering experience you will have, there will also be plenty of opportunities to explore the beauty that is Kenya; a country rich with culture, big game animals, and awe-inspiring scenery. Personally, my list of top things to do while volunteering in Kenya could be huge, as there is so much to see and do, but here is just my top five!
3. Safari in the Massai Mara
A safari on the Mara is an amazing once in a life time experience for most people. Getting seriously up close and personal with wild animals is an awesome experience. With great guides you can end up in amongst a herd of elephants, within meters of a pride of lions just finishing a meal or watching gazelle leaping across the plains.
The photos will be amazing but the actual experience is breath-taking! Trucking along in a bouncy safari van for 12-14 hours per day, sleeping in the tented camps, falling asleep to the sounds of hyena’s on the Mara is an experience you shouldn’t leave Kenya without.
There are a lot of different safari companies in Kenya so shop around for a good deal and one that looks reputable. If you are volunteering in Kenya the local teams and host families will be able to help you to book.
2. Hells Gate
No volunteering in Kenya is complete without a trip to Hells Gate. Hells Gate is located in the rift valley and is one of the only places where you can go on a cycle safari. At the gates of the national park you can hire a bike and head off through the park. There are no predators but you will see giraffe, gazelle, wart hogs, chimps and buffalo - all from your bicycle!
You will also see some amazing scenery and landscapes, as well as passing by the rock that inspired Pride rock from the Lion King! Once in the middle of the national park you can hike around the ravines left by the rivers, up to the top of hills for the view and for the brave ones some rock climbing. Hells Gate is best accessed from Nairobi or Naivasha. The prices for entrance to the national park do change so best to check when you start planning your trip.
For those not keen on the bicycle it is also possible to drive through the national park in a car.
3. Visit the coast!
Kenyan’s coast is beautiful! And you have lots of choices. Mombasa is the biggest town on the coast but I would definitely recommend heading further north to Malindi or Lamu for a less touristy experience.
Here you can snorkel, dive, sail, fish, enjoy the delicious coastal cuisine or relax on the beautiful beaches. Meet the friendly locals to find out about their way of life and recuperate after time spent volunteering in the bigger cities (unless you chose to volunteering on the coast already!)
Buses run from Nairobi to Mombasa daily, although this is an 8 hour journey. For those short on time, flights also run daily and are relatively cheap. Once in Mombasa buses or Matatu’s (taxis) will take you up or down the coast wherever you choose.
This is a part of Kenya that you should not miss out on!
4. Go Shopping at the Massai Markets
Be prepared to haggle! The Massai Markets in Nairobi are an eye opening experience. The stalls often have the same or similar items, its busy, overwhelming at times, and the stall owners will try to rip off tourists but if you have the right attitude it’s a great experience.
You need to have fun, chat with people and be prepared to walk away from some ridiculous prices. But you can also come away with some beautiful souvenirs from your trip - printed clothing, necklaces, artworks, bags, carvings, Massai swords and blankets. Watch out for the men who offer to ‘help’ you. They are often getting a cut so everything will be slightly more expensive. The markets run from Tuesday to Sunday in different areas of Nairobi. The Sunday market is outdoors in the centre of town, the other days the markets are held in parking lots of the big malls.
5. Learn to cook like a Kenyan Mama
Kenyan food is awesome. While you are volunteering in Kenya and staying with your host family, you definitely won’t go hungry!
Some of the most enjoyable evenings I spent in Kenya were in a hut kitchen learning to cook on two little fires. I’d say I’m a pretty good cook at home but this is a completely different skill! Hours are spent each day to prepare delicious dishes from simple ingredients and the ‘Mama’s’ are only too happy to show you how it’s done.
Chapati was a favourite of mine and since being home I’ve made them quite a few times, not quite as well as Mama Mary though, but I’m getting there. It’s also a great opportunity to cook some of your favourites from home so your host family can try new cuisines.
Kenya is such a diverse country with a huge amount of things to do, I’m sure anyone else who has been volunteering in Kenya would have a different list to mine. The Kenyan people are extremely friendly and open to showing you around so make sure you take the time to get off the beaten track, explore the less touristy spots and come up with your own top 5!