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20 Phrases & Words You Need to Know When Traveling to Kenya

Swahili is a Bantu language spoken in many countries in East Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and more. It is the official language of Tanzania and Kenya. Swahili has a rich history and cultural importance in East Africa.

Map of Swahili-speaking countries
Map of Swahili-speaking countries.

Image credit – https://www.jw.org/

It borrows heavily from Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, and English languages. With more than 200 million speakers, Swahili ranks among the top ten most widely used languages in the world. The 7th of July has been designated as World Kiswahili Language Day by the UN.

Hakuna Matata is the most well-known Swahili phrase thanks to the many people who watched The Lion King as children on repeat. But there’s more to it than just having no worries. Even though the majority of Kenyans are native English speakers, there are many words and sentences that will prove useful when traveling to Kenya.

Here is a list of some basic Swahili words to assist you on your journey. Looking for the best beach hotels in Mombasa Kenya or villas in Diani or near? Let’s find out more about the cities of Kenya, where is Msambweni in Kenya, and the best 5-star hotel in Kenya.

Visit Msambweni When Traveling to Kenya

beach hotels in mombasa Kenya

Searching for resorts in Mombasa? Instead, Msambweni is a hidden gem offering visitors an authentic African experience and is a must-visit when traveling to Kenya. It is a small coastal town located in Kwale county in the south of Kenya, about 25 km from Diani beach (Mombasa south coast). The town is known for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and tranquil atmosphere. It is one of the ideal coastal cities of Kenya for travelers who are looking for a more secluded and relaxed beach vacation.

activities in diani

Msambweni is also home to several luxury resorts and villas like Msambweni Beach Resort. What to do in Diani beach? Visitors to Msambweni can enjoy a range of outdoor activities in Diani such as snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking, or can go on unique excursions. Want more adventures in Kenya? The town is also great for exploring Shimba Hills National Reserve and Kisite Marine Park.

tourist places in Kenya

Guests can also enjoy the luxurious spa at one of the best hotels in Msambweni or get a message on the beach from our trained experts. Hit refresh and explore indoor activities like ping pong, beach tennis, volleyball, and more. Why visit tourist places in Kenya? If you are fond of shopping, discover unique souvenirs at our Curio Shop.

private beach in Mombasa

Msambweni Beach House is the ideal beach getaway for honeymoons, weddings, parties, private events, and family time. Searching for a private beach in Mombasa or near? Isolated from the hustle-bustle of life, this Kenya luxury hotel is looking out over a remote and pristine beach, lapped by azure blue waters for the perfect beach getaway. Msambweni weather is perfect to hit the beach.

south coast beach hotels

Being one of the top south coast beach hotels in Ukunda Kenya, it offers both the privacy of one’s own home and the perfect vantage point to the Msambweni white sand beach. It boasts a bar and lounge area that is entirely decorated to resemble the ancient Arab traders’ homes along the coast. The main pool is 24 m long and has stunning views of the Indian Ocean. Searching for places to visit in south coast Mombasa or Msambweni? Click below.

[Suggested Read: Top 7 Historical Sites of Kenya & Take a Trip to Msambweni]

resorts in Mombasa

Bored of beach resorts in Mombasa? Have you checked out Msambweni beach house accommodation? The main house has 3 opulent suites and 1 grand ocean suite. Not far from the main house are the 3 private villas with their own jacuzzis and swimming pools in Mombasa and Msambweni. These suites and villas feature top-of-the-line amenities like flat-screen TVs, AC, free WiFi, and dedicated service.

romantic restaurants in Mombasa

Are you looking for romantic restaurants in Mombasa? What could be better than recipes from a Michelin-starred Belgian celebrity chef? Or a setting of your choice? During your visit, you can enjoy distinct dining experiences like a romantic dinner by the pool or a family breakfast by the beach. Revel in delicious seafood and French, Belgian, and Swahili cuisines at one of the best places in Kenya.

Want to stay at the best resorts in Mombasa or Msambweni? Do you want to know more about affordable places to visit in Mombasa or Msambweni? Keep reading.

A List of Beautiful Swahili Words You Will Fall in Love with When Traveling to Kenya

Johann Krapf’s
Johann Krapf’s 1847 translation of Genesis 1:1-3 into Swahili.

Image credit – https://www.jw.org/

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili belongs to the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language. The name is derived from the plural form of the Arabic word sawāhil ‘coast’. The prefix “Ki-” is added to nouns in the class of nouns that includes languages. Now, let’s take a look at some of the most beautiful and popular Swahili words and phrases below that are useful when traveling to Kenya.

1. Polite Greetings in Kenya

In Kenya, there are many ways to greet someone. Just think about who is being welcomed. The basics are a great way to blend in when traveling to Kenya.

  • Hujambo – Hello
  • Habari Gani – Good morning/How are you?
  • Habari Yako – Greeting an elderly person
  • Nzuri – I’m fine

2. Coasti Slang in Mombasa

‘Coasti Slang’ is a Swahili-based genderized style that was adopted by people who began to alter this language and broaden their vocabulary. This turned the new style into a business tongue used along the waterfront.

By using terms from acquired tourist languages (such as German, French, and Italian), it allows “beach boys,” beach vendors, hotel staff, and fishermen to conceal certain aspects of their messages for business purposes. How amazing it would be if you could understand it when traveling to Kenya!

The vocabulary of the language has also been expanded by words borrowed from coastal Bantu languages. As a result of today’s globalized society, this language practice draws on speakers’ indexical linguistic biographies.

3. Take a Matatu or local transport

The local mode of transport, the matatu, can be a crazy experience. Money is scarce and time is valuable. Drivers of matatus often shout duende, duende! or go, go! This way, you will always be able to catch a Matatu on time when traveling to Kenya.

4. Order a cold beer

Tusker Beer in Kenya
A tourist enjoying Tusker Beer in Kenya.

Image credit – https://www.pond5.com/

When ordering a cold beer in Kenya, one must specify it because it costs a few more shillings. Cold beer is pombe baridi. Order a White Cap or a Tusker baridi. (Tusker and White Cap are Kenya’s most common beer brands).

5. Unable to find your way

Signs are almost absent in the streets of rural Kenya. However, the locals are very helpful in guiding visitors to their location. A reminder that wapi stands for “where is”.

  • Wapi supermarket? – Where is the supermarket?
  • Wapi Maasai Mara? – Where is Maasai Mara?
  • Wapi choo – Where is the toilet?

6. Ask for food

Chef Zipporah Nyambura roasts Nyama Choma
Chef Zipporah Nyambura roasts Nyama Choma for customers.

Image credit – https://nairobinews.nation.africa/10-ways-to-get-through-december/

The following list includes some of the most popular Kenyan dishes that visitors can order almost anywhere. It is most helpful to know when traveling to Kenya.

  • Chakula – Food
  • Choma – BBQ
  • Nyama choma – Goat/beef BBQ
  • Kuku choma – Chicken BBQ
  • Chapati – imported from Indian cuisine, a thick hearty pancake
  • Pili Pili – red peppers
  • Schumawiki – stir-fried kale

7. Make friends

A friend is a Rafiki. That is always a good way to start a conversation.

8. Be thoughtful

Don’t just rush in and start snapping pictures. Before taking someone’s picture, always get their consent. For example, Naomba kupiga picha – May I take your picture?

9. Slow down or take it easy

Visitors are likely to hear pole pole (take it easy) a lot because Kenyans don’t like to rush.

  • Endesha pole pole – Drive slowly
  • Just pole or pole sana – Sorry

Other Interesting Words & Phrases When Traveling to Kenya

Besides knowing basic words and phrases like Unaitwa nani? (What’s your name?), Jina langu ni (My name is), Safari njema (Safe journey), Hapana asante sana (No, thank you very much), Lala salama (Good night) and more, there are other interesting ones that you can use when traveling to Kenya. Still, looking for beach hotels in Diani or a beach resort in Mombasa? Read till the end.

[Suggested Read: 10 Things to Remember While Travelling to Mombasa or Msambweni]

1. Furaha or Happiness

Joy and happiness are emotions that Furaha describes. The word changes to furahi or furahia when used to motivate someone else. During joyful events, it is often used to inspire the crowd to have fun.

2. Mahaba or Love

Mahaba, which means “love,” and its derivative mapenzi are both common names for newborn girls. The Arabic word for love, haba, is the root of the word mahaba. The word can be changed to mean “overflowing with love” by adding the prefix ma-.

3. Jabali or Strong as a rock

Jabali literally translates as “rock.” The phrase is used to describe someone who is sturdy and strong. It can also refer to a reliable family or community member who speaks with logic. Male babies are often given the name Jabali.

4. Tembea or Travel

Kenya Tourist Board
Kenya Tourist Board and Jovago.com partner to increase Tourism Bookings to Kenya.

 Image credit – https://innov8tiv.com/

Are you traveling to Kenya? Did you know? Tembea Kenya is the slogan used by the Kenya Tourism Board to entice both locals and global visitors to visit the entire nation and take benefit of everything it has to offer. On matembezi, which means “travels,” one is said to be when traveling or away from home. Tembea translates as “to wander.” Travel to Kenya to stay in luxurious hotels on the south coast of Mombasa.

5. Upepo or Breeze

The wind is a prized weather condition along the coast because it provides relief from the heat and humidity. The Swahili phrase for wanting to take in the cooling summer breeze is kupunga upepo, not to be confused with the word for cold, which is baridi.

6. Dua or Prayer

The Swahili word for prayer is this. It was first used in Arabic, and the Quran makes much use of it. When speaking of a petition or plea to a more senior or powerful person, dua is not only used in a religious context. As an alternative, you could use the word ombi for dua.

7. Kumbatia or Embrace

Kumbatia is the term for tightly holding someone in your arms. It applies to both platonic hugs and embraces between lovers. It is a typical word, mostly used by coastal people, who embrace and kiss their loved ones more freely than people from other Kenyan ethnic groups.

8. Amani or Peace

In Kenya, the Swahili word for peace is widely used in everyday speech. Amani, which is the Arabic word for calm and reason, denotes not only the absence of chaos but also peace of mind, and serenity. It is sung as part of the Kenya National Anthem, which urges Kenyans to live in harmony, freedom, and peace.

9. Pwani or Beach

private beach in Mombasa
Msambweni beach in Kenya.

This is the Swahili word for beach and is the best way to ask about the lovely beaches in Mombasa or Msambweni. “Pwani ya Ushelisheli” would be the phrase to use when talking about the Seychelles coast, for example.

10. Jameela or Beautiful

In Swahili, the word jameela means “beautiful.” The word has the same meaning as Arabic and is a loanword. Beautiful women are known as jamila or jameela, while handsome men are known as jamil or jameel. Mrembo is another word for beautiful that is more common than jameela. This is because mrembo or urembo are used as catchy words for people, clothes, cosmetics, homes, and other items, whereas jameela relates to a specific person and is actually used more as a name.

11. Shanga or A string of beads

Beads play a vital part in Kenyan culture in all of its communities. After being made into a necklace, bracelet, anklet, or more, the beads are known as shanga. Because they are thought to improve a woman’s beauty and give her stride more jingle, shanga are an essential part of Swahili culture. They tend to be given as gifts to lovers or brides.

Now that you have learned about some basic and useful Swahili words and the best Msambweni beach hotel, read till the end to book your stay with exciting offers.

Swahili Words Are Useful When Traveling to Kenya

The African language that is currently most widely known outside of Africa is Swahili. There is no other language spoken in sub-Saharan Africa that has the global reach that Swahili does in radio broadcasting and online. There are more than 100 universities, colleges, and schools in the US alone that offer Swahili as a course.

Swahili words and speech have been used in hundreds of films and TV shows like Star Trek, Out of Africa, Disney’s The Lion King, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Trader Horn (1931).

There are many requirements for traveling to Kenya. But knowing basic Swahili words like Jambo (Hello), Asante sana (Thank you), Karibu (Welcome), and more can be very helpful when traveling to Kenya. It’s also a good idea to learn some basic words related to travel, such as direction, transport, food, and hotel. This will help you talk more effectively with locals and make your trip more enjoyable.

Unable to find hotels in south coast Mombasa or private villas in Msambweni? Want to visit the best tourist sites in Kenya? Get in touch with Msambweni Beach House, one of the best Kenya beach houses to make the most of your authentic Kenyan holiday.

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