35 Phrases and Words to Know When Travelling to Kenya

Nairobi | © Marieke Lensvelt
Nairobi | © Marieke Lensvelt
Hakuna matata, without a doubt the best known Swahili word thanks to the many people who watched The Lion King on repeat as a child; however, there’s more to it than no worries. Even though most Kenyans speak perfect English, there are a few phrases and sentences which will prove extremely useful when travelling to Kenya.

Every conversation starts with a polite greeting in East Africa

There are various ways to greet someone in Kenya. Just consider who’s being greeted.


Habari Gani—Good morning/How are you?

Habari Yako—Greeting an elderly person

Nzuri—I’m fine

Nairobi Sheng

In Nairobi, they speak a special kind of Swahili dialect: Sheng. A mix between Swahili and English, it originated within the urban youth and is seen as a slang. Want to fit right in Nairobi? Make sure to greet somebody with sasa.

Nairobi © Marieke Lensvelt

Taking a matatu

Taking a matatu, the local means of transport, can be a crazy business. Time is money, and money is scarce. Matatu drivers constantly yell duende, duende!, or go, go!

Ordering a beer

In Kenya, people must specify if they want a cold beer, which usually cost a few extra shillings.

Pombe baridi—Cold beer

Order a Tusker baridi or a White Cap baridi (Tusker and White Cap are the most common beer brands in Kenya).

Lost your way?

Down into remote Kenya streets, signs are as good as absent. However, the locals are extremely friendly in helping tourists find their way. Remember wapi, which means where is?

Wapi supermarket?—Where is the supermarket?

Wapi Maasai Mara?—Where is Maasai Mara?

Wapi choo—Where is the toilet?


Here are some of the most common Kenyan dishes tourists can order almost anywhere:



Njama choma—Goat/beef BBQ

Kuku choma—Chicken BBQ

Chapati—imported from the Indian cuisine, a thick hearty pancake

Pili Pili—red peppers

Schumawiki—stir-fried kale

Kachumbari—the closet the local Kenyan cuisine comes to a salad: cut up tomato with onion, sometimes coriander and pili pili

Chips—a remnant of the British rule, this is what Kenyan call French fries

Making friends

Rafiki means friend. Always good to start a conversation that way.

Daily life in Kenya © Marieke Lensvelt

Being considerate

Don’t just barge in and take pictures. Always ask someone before taking their picture.

Naomba kupiga picha—May I take your picture?

Take it easy!

Kenyans don’t like to hurry, so visitors will probably hear pole pole (take it easy) a lot.

Endesha pole pole—Drive slowly

Just pole or pole sana—Sorry

Other useful or interesting words and phrases:


Asante sana—Thank you

Unaitwa nani?—What’s your name?

Jina langu ni—My name is

Safari njema—Safe journey

Hapana asante sana—No, thank you very much

Jambo, habari?—Hello, how are you?

Lala salama—Good night

Mpishi mbishi kapika mchicha mbichi—A chef has cooked spinach that turned out undercooked.

Mjomba mjomba kamchapa mkia wa komba—Uncle beats someone with a tail of a bush baby.

Nairobi kids © Marieke Lensvelt