In this guide, we list exact prices in the local currency only where it is actually quoted; the vast majority of safari destinations and upmarket resorts and hotels in Kenya and Tanzania quote their prices in dollars (and, in some instances, euros or sterling). Visitors generally pay a higher rate for accommodations and game park entrance fees than East African residents; in such instances, you can always expect to be charged in one of the three major Western currencies. You will always have the option of paying in local currency, but the exchange rate will work against you. The currency conversions quoted above were correct at press time. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing, consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic or www.xe.com to check up-to-the-minute rates.
The official currency in Kenya is the Kenyan shilling, not to be confused with the Tanzania and Ugandan shillings, which are different currencies. The written abbreviation of the Kenyan shilling is either Ksh or /= (which you will see on handwritten receipts). Notes are 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000, whereas coins are 5, 10, and 20. Kenyan shillings can be used to pay for most things, though dollars are accepted by airlines and some large hotels, and can be used to pay national park entry fees.
Generally, you will have paid all lodging and transport costs in advance in order to secure your reservation at safari lodges, camps, and resorts; you'll also usually need to pay for any tours or operator costs in advance. That will take much of the burden off you when it comes to thinking about money. However, you will need to carry some Kenyan and Tanzanian shillings with you for tipping, shopping, restaurant and bar visits, and incidental expenses that might occur.
Plan your safari so you are left with as little local currency as possible before your departure home, since neither country allows you to export currency.
Currency and traveler's checks can be exchanged at the major banks, exchange bureaus, and some hotels. Airports in Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar have 24-hour exchange services. The easiest currencies to exchange are U.S. dollars, British pounds, and euros. Try to carry bills that are relatively new, as banks in Kenya have been known not to accept older U.S. bills. Do not change money on the black market; it is illegal and you risk going to a jail or being swindled. The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine). Most banks in Kenya and Tanzania have ATMs, and they are increasingly being installed in petrol stations in Nairobi and Mombasa. They take four-digit PINs. However, remember that in remote regions, they are few and far between. Note: Overseas withdrawals may charge an additional fee by your home bank. Credit cards are a safe alternative to cash and are widely accepted in hotels, upscale souvenir stores, and restaurants, and can be used to pay for safaris. However, some small camps do not have credit card facilities and you will be asked to settle your outstanding account in cash, so it's always wise to make inquires first. If you are carrying plastic, make sure one of your cards is a Visa or MasterCard, as these are most commonly accepted. Diners Club is unheard of, and American Express is accepted at only a few establishments. Upmarket restaurants in Arusha or Moshi have been known to refuse credit card payments under $50 (or even $80). Note that there will also be a 5% to 7.5% surcharge on the bill (and for any other credit card purchases in either Kenya or Tanzania, for that matter).
In Kenya, dollars are largely used in business with airlines and large hotels, while everyone in Tanzania accepts them as payment rather than local currency (parks in both countries will, in fact, only accept U.S. dollars in cash or traveler's checks), so it's worth bringing a certain amount of dollars in cash and/or traveler's checks. Note that if you bring euros or sterling, you will have to convert them to shillings and then to dollars (a big hassle), and most street vendors and even some hotels take a very relaxed attitude to actual conversation rates and will simply knock off three zeros (Tsh 1,000 = $1).
What Things Cost in Kenya & Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania are relatively affordable, which does not mean to imply that they are cheap. Safaris are big business, and maintaining a business (of any kind) in the wilderness is implicitly costly and those expenses will obviously filter down to you, the paying customer. Additionally, park entry fees add to the cost. Although everyone is going to have a similar game-viewing experience, a safari holiday could set you back anywhere between $150 and $2,000 per person per day, depending on the level of comfort you want. At the top end of the spectrum, you can expect luxury accommodations and service in sublime locations, while at the lower end, you'll be looking at a camping safari in basic camp sites, with a cook to prepare simple meals.
Away from the parks and reserves, upmarket hotels and coastal resorts cost about $250 to $300 per night, although a number of exclusive luxury spots on the coast aimed at honeymooners cost more. Budget travelers utilizing midrange hotels and using public transport can get by on $60 to $100 a day.
The cost of eating varies from a $3 portion of chicken and chips or fries from a local canteen to a $60 meal for two with wine in a good restaurant. Often on safaris and in the coastal resorts, meals are inclusive of the rates. A bottle of beer is about $2. Wine is expensive (as it's imported), but is readily available. Bottles of water and sodas are less than $1.
Allow for additional funds if you think you may want to do extra activities in Kenya -- watersports on the coast or the balloon ride over the Masai Mara, for example.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.