Kenya is one of those countries that offer an unique shopping experience. It’s small markets that you can see in every town, the big ones in Nairobi and Mombasa, the large shopping malls and the duty free shops at the airports stock a wide range of locally made items that make ideal souvenirs or gifts. These include a number of traditional artifacts, precious stones and jewelry, wooden carvings, masks, animal carvings, Maasai beads and blankets, kikoys (fabrics) and other textiles, baskets, batiks and paintings, and soapstone figurines and chess boards.
In addition, one can find ethnic artifacts and traditional and tribal items. The Maasai and the northern tribes such as the Gabbra. Turkana, Rendille, Oromo and Samburu are all famous for their beautiful artifacts. Kenyan tea and coffee also make great buys.
Since tourism is one of Kenya’s main bread winners, you can see gift/souvenir/curio shops almost in every town or even at rest stops on the highway. Every hotel or wildlife lodge also has them. The tribal villages also have one of their own small markets catering to the tourist crowd. Then in large cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, the options are huge as they vary from small road side ones to big ones such as Nakumatt, one of Kenya’s largest supermarket brands.
What I have bought from Kenya
Tea – I absolutely loved the tea that is grown in Western Kenya.
Coffee – The coffee was so good that all coffee drinkers in my house want me to buy Kenyan coffee for them when I go to Africa again.
Batiks – These can be used as cushions, table cloths or wall hangings. I have a super wide one that I have framed and put on the wall. And the ones that are made from banana leaves, I have put up on the wall too.
Carved Animals – The giraffe ones looked the best, but I bought other animals as I was not sure if the giraffe would come in one piece to India.
Wooden Masks and Statues of Maasai Warriors – Personally, I think they make the best buys in Kenya, but that is just my opinion or may be I am a big collector of masks.
Special Shopping Places
The Sunday Maasai market at Yaya center, Nairobi is one that you should not miss. Sarit center and Nakumatt in Nairobi are also ideal places if you want to do daily shopping. For specialist shops, look up Collectors Den, Zanzibar Curio Shop, African Art Shoppe, Spinner’s Web, Kamili Designs, Kazuri Beads, Kitengala Glass, Matbronze and House of Treasures for everything from Kenyan curio to jewelry to hand-painted beads to glass and bronze work.
Wherever you go in Kenya and whichever shop you enter, you can always engage in some good-humored bargaining as bargaining is very much a part of the Kenyan culture. The entire bargaining process is also very interesting as the shop owner writes down a cost figure on paper and asks you to write down your price. He then strikes off your price and writes something between your price and his. This keeps going on till both parties like the price. This is the process followed with foreign tourists owing to language problem. The most interesting part about this bargain is the expressions they create when you write down your price. Those expressions are truly priceless.
The bargaining power reduces as the shop gets bigger, but it should still allow you some haggling room. In small shops especially, the locals who either manufacture these gift items or buy them from the community, start off quite high. Sometimes, they quote prices that are 3 to 4 times of the actual cost. So there is a lot of room to haggle.
If you are good at bargaining, you can explore the umpteen markets all over the country. If you are not, then you can look up the gift stores located in small hotels or wildlife lodges. They can give you some great deals if you make decent purchases.
How to pay
Always try and pay in Kenyan Shillings, the local currency. That way, you will not have to pay a bad exchange rate. If you have no option, then USD is the next best currency as more or less everyone in Kenya accepts US Dollars. Credit Cards are available only in large establishments.