Category Archives: guest post

Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan

Getting There: Qatar Air was the best, and the only real option picked by our travel agent. We booked tickets early and they cost about $1,000 for a round trip. The flights are Nairobi-Doha and Doha-Baku and total time and the total journey time was about eight hours. Our layover in Doha was short and we had to sprint through the airport to get our connecting flight. Fortunately, we had received boarding passes for the Baku-leg in Nairobi, but in the rush, we lost some documents.

In the weeks prior to departure, there was some confusion about how to obtain a visa to enter Azerbaijan. The country has an e-visa page, but the pull-down menu of country choices does not list Kenya. Some other travellers going for the race chose South Africa as the nearest country to complete the e-visa application but we chose to wing it.

The Formula One race is a big business deal in Baku, and there was a Presidential directive on the internet that the Government of Azerbaijan would offer visas on arrival for F1 fans coming to attend the race. We had arrived early for check-in for our flight in Nairobi which was a good thing as we had to haggle with the Qatar Air staff and make some calls as they checked a book register of passengers. Eventually, they allowed us to proceed and board. There was no issue in Doha, other than the sprint across to catch the connecting flight.

On arrival at Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD) in Baku, there was a special desk section for F1 fans with special ushers around, dressed in F1 garb, ready to assist. You showed your ticket, paid a $26 fee and were issued with a 30-day single-entry visa. Note: We had bought our tickets through the official F1.com site and they arrived two weeks before the race, delivered from the UK by DHL to Nairobi.  

For other fans who already had applied for and got e-visas online, they could walk up to airport machines and get served.

After getting an e-visa, you then proceed to the immigration area.  There, they ask a few questions about the purpose of your trip and you also have to provide an email and phone number (we gave Kenyan ones).

if you intend to stay for more days in the country, you have to register online within 10 days of arrival and even the hotel you are staying at can process this

Getting Around: Baku is a small city and we walked end-to-end across it on different days. There was no need for taxis as it’s a very walkable city with lots of sights. We took a taxi from the airport that cost 50 Manat for a distance of about 40 kilometers using an unofficial cab (the official airport ones charge 70 Manat) and that was the only ride we hailed. All cabs are old Mercedes cars. As you walk around, note that weather changes were quite abrupt from sunny to cloudy. days were ok, but the nights were chilly.

Where to Stay: We had made a reservation at the Viva Boutique using Booking.com which we had made a while back and the rate was about $120 (200 Manat). They cost much more if you have booked late. Hotels tend to block off and charge higher fees for Grand Prix weekends. This room which would now be about  400 Manat on race day while other hotels would charge about 800 Manat. 

The hotel is not far from the track and we walked to different events of the race weekend.

We had arrived a few days before the race and had made an Airbnb reservation for the first few days. The homeowner had offered to pick us from the airport, and we had even negotiated an amount for this. But after clearing immigration, the Airbnb host was not answering his phone and we got worried. So we went to the hotel and negotiated for extra nights.

What to Eat: Restaurants are many, from local ones to others serving common international cuisines such as London Pub, McDonald’s and Starbucks.  Local restaurants had many dishes which we did not try. They have chicken served in many different styles and we ate a lot of chips and bacon.

Staying in Touch: It’s usually advisable, when visiting a new country, to get a local phone SIM card, in order to avoid roaming rates that are very expensive. We got Azercell lines from a booth at the airport that cost about $20, and which came with lots of minutes, SMS and 10GB data bundle that lasted the whole trip. This enabled lots of phone chats, browsing, and sharing of images and videos from the Baku trip with friends. However, like in a few other countries, you can’t make phone calls on WhatsApp – a VPN is advisable for that.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: The local currency is called the Manat. It’s quite strong $1 = 1.70 Manat (so a Manat is ~$0.6 or ~EUR 0.5). Credit cards work well here for most purchases, but it is always a good idea to call your bank before you travel to any country.

Sights to see on the streets of Baku are the full-grown trees, especially in the old city section. The buildings also have interesting architectural designs, walling and engineering of tiles on newer buildings.

Baku is a small town. Malls are modest in size. There are kiosks that are rather expensive, compared to the supermarkets.  By Monday, after the race, malls were quite empty.

One popular tourism attraction is Yanar Dağ, (“burning mountain”), a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku. Tourist charges to visit are 2 Manat each.

Race Day:  The race is at 4:10 PM, which is late compared to other F1 races, and Baku is an hour ahead of Nairobi. 

We had great seats across the pit lane that cost about $500 and it was a fun vantage point. The race itself was kind of anti-climatic given the dominance of the Mercedes team who recorded their fourth consecutive 1-2 finish in 2019, and pre-race favourites Ferrari again seemed lost. The stage was set on Friday, during practice, when one of the cars from team Williams ran over a manhole cover which had come loose. This cause extensive damage to the car and the session had to be stopped. Other teams, including Ferrari, had their practice time limited as a result and this may have contributed to their Sunday pace.

During the weekend, we did the pit-walk to view cars up close in the garages. Many F1 races now put on huge musical concerts to entertain fans from across the world who have come to attend, and this year Baku had American rap star Cardi B performing on Sunday night, after the race.

Odd Points: You can exchange foreign currency with no questions asked and no need to show any identification (ID) in Baku.

A guest post by @asemutwa who travelled to watch the Formula 1 Socar Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2019 race in Baku.

Also see this other race trip report.- Guide to Abu Dhabi.

Guide to Kinshasa

A guest post by @Cathkemi on a visit to Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Getting There: I used Kenya Airways for Entebbe – Nairobi – Kinshasa; The cost was about $900-1,000 but booked at the last minute.

On arrival: Clearing was very easy at the new efficient airport. But leaving is a hassle. You have to pay $55 worth of taxes to leave, and there are endless checks.

Getting around: Public minibus taxis are popular in the city centre. Luckily I got around with the office car, rides from colleagues, and taxis. Walking around is generally secure depending on where you are. But at night need to be extra careful. You can’t just stroll around, and you need to be extra careful about which taxis you get into.

Staying in touch: I used my Ugandan line and it was very expensive. Both local and international calls are all expensive.

Where to stay: Not sure, as I haven’t stayed in a hotel. Most tourists stay in the up class neighbourhood of Gombe. Or near the UN mission HQ. It has nice restaurants and bars etc. though is expensive. Electricity is not very reliable; our office is in an upper-class neighbourhood but power can cut out several times a week. You need a generator there.

Out & About: The main dishes are fufu with meat, fish, vegetables etc. It’s basic but can be tasty depending on who makes it. Beers are easy to get. Not sure how much but should be around $3-5 and Tembo is the most popular one.

You need some level of French to get around. Not a lot of people speak English. Politics are a major discussion point as the  DRC is in a political crisis, with the President not stepping down after his two terms in office running out.

Shopping & Sightseeing: The nightlife would be the main sightseeing. Lol. Also going to restaurants, hotels etc. by the Congo River. Most people will tell you Goma in the East is the main tourist destination, and many people buy African print material as gifts to take back.

Dollars are the easiest currency to use. They are accepted everywhere – even for phone credit.

Biggest surprise in the country: Houses are very small – housing is cramped my guess is because the city is overcrowded. There is not a lot of outdoor space.

But in richer neighbourhoods, the opulence is astounding. Also, national buildings are extremely big, as are their avenues. Bigger than anything else I’ve seen on the continent. My friends tell me it’s because DRC is a big country so it’s translated into national buildings – which makes sense, and this gives you an idea of how big the country is even if you don’t travel out of Kinshasa.

Also, see a guide to Bukavu, which is on the other end of the vast DRC. 

Guide to Lome, Togo

A guest post about a visit to Lome, the capital of Togo in West Africa. 

Getting There: Took Virgin/Ethiopian, San Francisco to Newark, then a direct flight from Newark to Lome (it then goes on to Addis). The cost was between $950-$1,000.

On arrival: This was an easy experience, that took about 10-15 minutes. I paid for a 7-day Togo tourist visa on arrival. They take your passport and do the visas one by one – you can go collect your luggage then come back for your passport or just wait around if you carried on. It was about $8 to take one of the airport taxis to my destination, but I was staying very close to the airport, not in downtown.

Getting Around: I didn’t do much moving around town, but motorbikes are definitely the most popular form of transport. They were everywhere. Buses are not very plentiful, though they do have a fleet of donated buses that are used as city buses. No mini-buses that I saw. People also walk a lot and there are taxis around, but most people use motorbike taxis.

I didn’t walk around, but Lome is pretty safe. Not sure that it is recommended to walk around at night though. I wasn’t able to use a credit card anywhere I went, but I bet fancier hotels would accept them. Togo uses the CFA Franc, same as other French-speaking countries in West Africa.

Staying in Touch: Local phone calls were reasonably priced, though I only made a few. International calls are very expensive, though. Also, 3G data is available in Lome but quite slow at times because bandwidth is very limited. I bought a local SIM, some airtime and 1 GB of data for $9. Wi-Fi is not very prevalent, but it’s available in some places.

Where to Stay: I was hosted by the organization I was visiting in Togo, so I didn’t spend time in a hotel or b&b. Electricity was pretty reliable. We had a generator where I was saying and it definitely kicked in at least once in the few days I was there.

Eating Out: There is a variety of different foods. Starches like fufu, one made of very fine maize flour, and rice. Also peanut sauce, a cow cheese similar to paneer, lots of spicy/fishy flavors. Common proteins were fish, chicken and guinea hen. A beer was easy to get, but I didn’t go to any bars. French and local languages are spoken, though French is most commonly used and I don’t speak French so I missed a lot of what happened around us.

More business travel tales at  This is Africa.

Britain Exits the EU: What Does this mean for Kenya?

Britain’s decision to exit the European Union (EU), as announced from the results of Thursday’s landmark “Brexit” referendum has been a hot topic around the world. 33.6 Million Britons flocked to the polling booths on Thursday with the ‘leave’ campaign marginally taking the victory with a 52%-48% vote. There is however a general consensus of uncertainty with what the UK’s (United Kingdom) decision holds for the future, with particular relevance to what it means for Kenya. Britain bus

Britain is a key ally, as well as Kenya’s third largest export market with the value of exports at Sh40 Billion in 2015. The Central Bank of Kenya has already stated that it is ready to intervene and minimize disruption in money markets. Kunal Ajmera, COO of Grant Thornton Kenya provides an insight into how Britain’s decision to leave affects trade decisions and tourism in Kenya:

  1. Britain was not just any member of the EU but also one of the largest contributors and it’s most prosperous. Depending on how things unfold in the coming years other members may also demand for a referendum and this would ultimately weaken the EU substantially.
  2. The EU spends about 100 million euros per year on development co-operation in Kenya. With uncertainties over Europe due to Brexit we may see a reduced funding in coming years. We could see funding in key projects start to be cut.
  3. Investors anywhere in the world hate uncertainty and anxiety. Brexit leaves many questions unanswered and it will can take more than a year to get some clarity. Until that happens global economy, money markets and stock exchange may go through volatility and general negativity as we are currently seeing happen.Britain sign
  4. It is highly likely that US Dollar($) will gain strength against major currencies in the world and GBP(£) will lose its value, the initial figures show that on the day of the results alone, the GBP slumped to a thirty year low, falling as much as 11% in the hours after the result. This therefore means that the Kenyan Shilling will be under increased pressure. It would be wise for businesses in Kenya to hedge against a future raise in dollar value.
  5. The UK is Kenya’s largest tourist source market. At its peak Kenya received 198,000 tourists from UK in 2013. The tourist arrival numbers from the UK have only just started to increase in last few months after years of travel advisory and terror threats. However with GBP weakening due to Brexit, it will cost the British tourists more to travel to Kenya and we may see reduced number of arrivals from UK in near future.
  6. Kenya exports a substantial number of products to the UK every year. The UK is the second largest export market for Kenya after Uganda. So far these exports were governed by EU trade laws. With UK exiting the EU, Kenya may need to re-negotiate the terms for export and this may take even a year resulting in to disruption and uncertainty.
  7. In the immediate short term, the UK is bound to have slower economic growth or even recession due to the Brexit referendum. This will also affect how it trades with other countries in the world. Since the UK is one of Kenya’s biggest trading partner, businesses in Kenya that export to the UK are bound to be nervous and must prepare for slump in business.

Britain look rightHowever, Kunal offers consolation by highlighting the potential in this decision. He states, “It’s not all doom and gloom. Brexit also presents new set of opportunities. EU laws on import and export are some of the most stringent in the world especially with agriculture, dairy, and meat items. The UK can now decide its own rules for import and export, new products may become eligible. It is worth noting that Kenya’s largest export to UK is agriculture/horticulture products.”

For further insight into the Brexit developments and its implications keep following Grant Thornton Kenya on twitter and Facebook.

Guide to Brazzaville

A guest post

Getting There: Kenya Airways was my choice. I could have done Ethiopian or RwandAir, but there were no connections on KQ; it was the only direct flight. There was a stopover in Kinshasa on the way back. The flight cost is $ 2,099 in business class (and approx. $1,000 in economy).

Visa: I had obtained a business visa in Nairobi before I departed. A 3 month multi-entry visa costs Kshs 11,000 and that included an extra Kshs 1,000 for same day processing. The embassy is located in Gigiri on Whispers Avenue.

Great airport! (Built by the Chinese)

Great airport! (Built by the Chinese)

On arrival: They requested to see my letter of invitation, which I hadn’t printed but I now had to boot up my laptop to show them the letter. You would think this was unnecessary seeing as how I had the visa already. Also my bag was opened prior to my receiving it and they had taken some inconsequential stuff (even though I had a TSA lock on it.) I discovered this when I got to the hotel.

Getting Around: I didn’t get to move around much as this was for business. This was personal, and the people were great. They’re a millions of green taxis there. Locals and visitors alike use them. They must be cheap as they are used more than their “matatus.”

Brazzaville green taxisWhere to Stay: I stayed at the Pefaco. It cost $130, and is right next to the airport. There is also the Radisson Blu ($250 a night), which I had booked this prior to getting guidance to switch hotels…for convenience and proximity reasons. Electricity is not reliable at all, and there were multiple outtages (about 4 – 5 a day.)

Staying In Touch: I used VOIP to make my calls. They have Airtel there though, I didn’t use my cell while I was there. There’s no wi-fi hotspots, but the hotel (Pefaco) had good wireless internet. There’s poor internet infrastructure in general. (I was told the government shut down the Internet for a week during the elections earlier this year.)

Out & About: There are traditional african foods like “matoke,” cassava, etc.,. but there is also a French influence in terms of thing like bread and pastries. There are four 4 major beers – Primus, Star, Ngok (Crocodile) and Nzoko (elephant).

The people speak French and talk a lot about politics. It’s in season, whether it’s on Congo-Brazzaville, DRC, or US. I could not find a local English newspaper.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: The main sightseeing is along the river. The Congo river separates Kinshasa from Brazzaville. There is a downtown shopping area called Poto Poto. It has African clothing, and everything else. It felt like there was a lot more Chinese construction there than there is in most other African cities.

Tallest building in Brazzaville with interesting history

Tallest building in Brazzaville with interesting history

Budget: The Congo Franc is the currency used there, and it costs (equivalent of about $100) per day to get around. You can use your visa card almost exclusively. There was a Russian mafia scheme a few years ago. Visa lost millions of dollars, and then replaced all the PDU machines. Mastercard use is extremely limited, but I was able to get cash from select ATMs.

Odd Points: The Lingala language and music. The music is played everywhere, and they love it even more than we do. I was also surprised at how strong the connections are to Europe.. France, Belgium, Switzerland.

Another was that they import a lot of their food…even meat and milk. Meat is imported from Chad, and onions from Cameroon, while milk is from different countries in Europe, with powdered milk from the Netherlands.