Souvenir sellers are the most common types of vendors that tourists are likely to come across when in Kenya. They sell all manner of handmade items, including beaded jewellery, wood carvings and statues. Bargaining is an essential part of transactions in Kenya, and with a bit of practice can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
This Kenya Shopping Guide lists a number of the items that you may wish to purchase on a trip to Kenya. Mostly these will be handmade items sold at various stalls, stands and street peddlers. More detailed information about shopping locally, including shops or markets that we recommend as interesting places to browse, can be found in our Nairobi Shopping Guide and Mombasa Shopping Guide. And don't forget to take some time to stop for some of the delicious local food, as mentioned in our Kenya Restaurants Guide.
As mentioned above, you will be confronted with a plethora of souvenir sellers on any shopping excursion in Kenya. Whether at the roadside stands, market stalls or street peddlers, you will find a range of differing handmade items. You will not have to go far to find these items, as tourists are easily identified, and walking down any of the shopping streets will bring groups of salesmen intent on you purchasing from them. If you're unsure about the quality of the goods being sold, you can instead go to specific souvenir shops, although you will pay much more for the items and won't have the experience of bargaining for the item!
Bargaining is an essential part of any purchase from souvenir sellers. The initial price offered to you will normally be the maximum you are deemed likely to pay. From here it is a negotiation process, with you offering a low price and working your way upwards with the vendor slowly (sometimes agonisingly slowly) working their way downwards. Either you will reach a price that is acceptable to both of you, or else you will reach a point where neither will budge further. At this point, if you are determined not to pay any more for the item, it is best to politely thank the vendor and walk away. You may always be able to find the same item cheaper elsewhere!
Many native products will normally be on offer. These include sisal baskets, which are quite hardy and normally offer a high level of craftsmanship and quality. Larger stalls and shops offer things such as wax paintings and batiks - browse around if this is what you are looking for, as some can be of a very high quality. Very common are tribal beads and bracelets, and they are offered by almost every souvenir seller and souvenir shop. Quality can vary greatly on these, so check them closely before you make a purchase.
Wood and stone carvings are also common, and you will find a great variety of shapes and sizes on offer. One type of wood carving to look out for are the Makonde statues, which are traditionally made from ebony. If you wish to purchase one of these, look carefully, as there are a number of fakes. Fakes are normally made from lighter woods and blackened with shoe polish. Fakes are normally quite a bit lighter, and looking closely at any scratches should show the true colour of the wood.