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Basic Swahili Phrases For Travel

Swahili (or Kiswahili), a melodic blend of African and Arabic influences, is the key to unlocking East Africa’s diverse cultures.

Whether it’s exchanging stories with Maasai warriors or sharing a smile with a local vendor, knowing a few Swahili words can deeply enrich your travels across Kenya, Tanzania, and beyond.

This post aims to guide you through some basic Swahili phrases, helping you not only to communicate but also to connect more authentically with the soul of East Africa.

From traversing the sweeping savannahs of Tsavo and the Serengeti to basking on the pristine beaches of Zanzibar, Swahili’s musicality reflects the beauty of East Africa, its landscapes and people.

I always make sure to learn a few basic phrases whenever I visit a new country. The joy and appreciation shown by locals when you say something, however simple, in their native tongue makes it more than worth the effort.

Basic Words in Swahili

There are more than 200 million Swahili speakers worldwide, the majority of whom live in East and Central Africa.

Begin your Swahili language adventure with these foundational words. Perfect for everyday use, they’re a great way of opening doors to engaging conversations.

  • Jambo / Habari – Hello
  • Kwaheri – Goodbye
  • Asante – Thank you
  • Karibu – You’re welcome
  • Tafadhali – Please
  • Ndiyo – Yes
  • Hapana – No
  • Habari za asubuhi – Good morning
  • Habari za jioni – Good evening
  • Habari za mchana – Good afternoon
  • Samahani – Excuse me
  • Chakula – Food
  • Maji – Water
  • Choo – Bathroom
  • Kwa afya! – Cheers (literally, For health)
Road passing through rural Tanzania with green forested mountains beyond

Common Swahili Phrases

Dive into the heart of East African life with these common Swahili phrases. Ideal for daily interactions, they bring you closer to the vibrant cultures of this beautiful region.

  • Hakuna matata – No problem
  • Habari yako? – How are you?
  • Nimefurahi kukutana nawe – Nice to meet you
  • Jina langu ni… – My name is…
  • Samahani – I’m sorry
  • Samahani – Excuse me
  • Je, unaweza kunisaidia? – Can you help me?
  • Jinsi gani nzuri! – How beautiful!
  • Tutaonana – See you
  • Tutaonana baadaye – See you later
  • Kila la heri! – Good luck!

Basic Swahili Phrases for Travellers

Navigate your East African journey with these essential travel phrases. From backpacking through Kenya to staying in a luxury safari lodge, they’ll enrich almost every experience.

  • Nina uhifadhi – I have a reservation
  • Vyoo viko wapi, tafadhali? – Where are the bathrooms, please?
  • _Nawezaje kufika __? – How do I get to ___?
  • Hii inagharimu kiasi gani? – How much is this?
  • Unazungumza Kiingereza? – Do you speak English?
  • Nimepotea. Je, unaweza kunisaidia? – I’m lost. Can you help me?
Pink flamingoes and pelicans on a lake in Kenya

Useful Swahili Phrases for Information

When visiting Swahili-speaking countries or interacting with Swahili-speaking people, it helps to have a few basic phrases for gathering information.

Straightforward and effective, the following phrases will help you get the answers you need.

  • Hii inaitwaje kwa Kiswahili? – What is this called in Swahili?
  • Unaweza kuzungumza polepole, tafadhali? – Can you speak slower, please?
  • Sizungumzi Kiswahili vizuri – I do not speak Swahili very well
  • Sielewi – I do not understand
  • Unaweza kurudia hiyo tafadhali? – Can you repeat that please?
  • Nahitaji maelezo – I need information
  • Ofisi ya maelezo iko wapi? – Where is the information office?
  • Hii ina maana gani? – What does this mean?
  • Saa ngapi sasa? – What time is it?
  • Anwani yako ya barua pepe ni nini? – What’s your email address?
  • … unasemaje kwa Kiswahili? – How do you say ____ in Swahili?
  • Hii ni nini/ile ni nini? – What is this/that?
  • Unaweza kunisaidia? – Can you help me?
  • Naweza kutumia simu yako? – Can I use your phone?

Useful Phrases for Directions in Swahili

Find your way around East Africa’s jaw-dropping landscapes with ease. These direction-specific phrases are your guide to exploring this stunning place.

  • … iko wapi? – Where is the…?
  • Nawezaje kufika …? – How do I get to…?
  • Unaweza kunionyesha kwenye ramani? – Can you show me on the map?
  • Nenda moja kwa moja – Go straight ahead
  • Geuka kulia/kushoto – Turn right/left
  • Iko karibu/mbali – It’s near/far
  • Iko kona ya jirani – It’s around the corner
  • Hii ni kona – This is the corner
  • … iko upande gani? – Which way is it to…?
  • Je, naweza kutembea huko au nahitaji teksi? – Can I walk there or do I need a taxi?
Child running down a sandy dirt road in arid northern Kenya

Basic Swahili Phrases for Transportation

Navigating the transport system in an unfamiliar region can be a daunting task, especially when you can’t speak the local language.

Knowing a handful of Swahili phrases related to transport should make this process smoother and easier. Coupled with gestures and a friendly smile, these phrases will bridge the language gap and help you get from point A to point B.

  • Ninaweza kupata wapi teksi? – Where can I get a taxi?
  • Gharama ya kwenda … ni kiasi gani? – How much does it cost to go to…?
  • Nataka kwenda … – I want to go to…
  • Kituo cha basi kiko wapi? – Where is the bus stop?
  • Kituo cha mabasi kiko wapi? – Where is the bus station?
  • Treni inayofuata inaondoka saa ngapi? – What time does the next train leave?
  • Inachukua muda gani kufika …? – How long does it take to get to…?
  • Nawezaje kufika uwanja wa ndege? – How do I get to the airport?
  • Je, basi hili linaenda …? – Does this bus go to…?
  • Nahitaji tiketi ya kwenda na kurudi – I need a round trip ticket
  • Ninanunua wapi tiketi? – Where do I buy tickets?
  • Nimepotea. Unaweza kunisaidia? – I’m lost. Can you help me?
Portrait photo of a lion looking straight at the camera from the undergrowth in Tanzania

Basic Swahili Phrases About Accommodation

It’s equally important to be able to communicate your accommodation needs and understand the information provided by your hosts.

The following Swahili accommodation phrases will help you find a place to call home, whether for a night or for an extended stay.

  • Mna vyumba vya wazi? – Do you have any rooms available?
  • Gharama kwa usiku ni kiasi gani? – How much does it cost per night?
  • Je, kifungua kinywa kimejumuishwa kwenye bei? – Is breakfast included in the price?
  • Nahitaji chumba cha watu wawili – I need a double room
  • Kuna chumba chenye vitanda viwili? – Is there a room with two beds?
  • Kuna Wi-Fi ya bure? – Is there free Wi-Fi?
  • Kuna kiyoyozi? – Is there air conditioning?
  • Lifti iko wapi? – Where is the elevator?
  • Chumba cha mazoezi kiko wapi? – Where is the gym?
  • Ningependa kuhifadhi chumba – I would like to book a room
  • Mna huduma ya chumba? – Is there room service?
  • Chumba ni kichafu – The room is dirty
  • Najisikia salama katika hoteli hii – I feel safe in this hotel
  • Mna adapta ya plagi? – Do you have a plug adaptor?
  • Nataka chumba chenye mandhari nzuri – I want a room with a nice view
  • Kuna sefu kwenye chumba? – Is there a safe in the room?
  • Je, unaweza kuniamsha saa moja asubuhi? – Can you wake me up at 7 a.m.?
  • Nahitaji kitanda cha mtoto – I need a crib for the baby
  • Muda wa kutoka ni saa ngapi? – What’s the check-out time?
Portrait photo taken of a zebra on safari in Africa

Helpful Swahili Phrases for Shopping

I love exploring the vibrant markets and bustling shops of Swahili-speaking regions. They tend to be full of delicious local food and hand-made goods from local artisans and merchants.

These handy phrases will help make shopping easier and more enjoyable. Engage with local vendors, find unique souvenirs, and agree on a good deal.

  • Ninatafuta … – I am looking for…
  • Hii inagharimu kiasi gani? – How much does it cost?
  • Kuna punguzo lolote? – Is there any discount?
  • Punguzo ni kiasi gani? – How much is the discount?
  • Hii ni ghali mno – That’s too expensive
  • Unaweza kupunguza bei? – Can you lower the price?
  • Je, naweza kulipa kwa kadi ya mkopo? – Can I pay with a credit card?
  • Pesa taslimu tu – Cash only
  • Mna hii kwa ukubwa mkubwa zaidi? – Do you have this in a larger size?
  • Mna hii kwa rangi nyingine? – Do you have this in another colour?
  • Nataka kuirudisha hii – I want to return this
  • Vyumba vya kubadilishia viko wapi? – Where are the fitting rooms?
  • Samahani, duka la vyakula liko wapi? – Excuse me, where’s the supermarket?
  • Duka la nguo liko wapi? – Where’s the clothing store?
  • Nahitaji mfuko – I need a bag
  • Ninaweza kupata wapi bidhaa za kienyeji? – Where can I find local products?

Helpful Phrases for Dining Out in Swahili-Speaking Countries

Delve into Africa’s diverse culinary scene with these dining phrases. Explore local eateries, understand menus, and savour the region’s rich flavours.

  • Je, naweza kupata meza ya watu wawili? – Can I get a table for two?
  • Tafadhali, unaweza kunionesha menyu? – Can you please show me the menu?
  • Chakula cha siku ni nini? – What is the dish of the day?
  • Ningependa… – I would like…
  • Je, unaweza kunipendekezea kitu? – Could you suggest something for me?
  • Unapendekeza nile nini? – What do you recommend to eat?
  • Mimi ni mzio wa… – I’m allergic to…
  • Je, hii sahani ina…? – Does this dish contain…?
  • Je, mna chaguo la mboga/mbogamboga? – Do you have vegetarian/vegan options?
  • Sili nyama/samaki/bidhaa za maziwa – I don’t eat meat/fish/dairy
  • Je, hii ni sahihi kwa mboga? – Is this suitable for vegetarians?
  • Hii ni nini? – What is this?
  • Nimeipenda – I like it
  • Je, naweza kupata bili tafadhali? – Can I have the bill, please?
  • Ilikuwa tamu sana! Asante – It was delicious! Thank you
Two giraffes on the vast plains of Tanzania

Swahili Question Words

Enhance your understanding of the local culture with these Swahili question words.

Whether you’re immersing yourself in the hustle and bustle of Nairobi or the incredible landscapes of the Rift Valley, these words will come in handy in many situations.

They’ll help you dive into deeper conversations, unlock greater insights, and show you the world from a different perspective.

  • Nini? – What?
  • Wapi? – Where?
  • Lini? – When?
  • Nani? – Who?
  • Kwa nini? – Why?
  • Vipi? – How?
  • Ipi? – Which?
  • Kiasi gani? – How much?
  • Ngapi? – How many?
  • Ya nani? – Whose?
  • Kiasi gani/Ngapi? – How much/How many?
  • Je, ni…? – Is it…?
  • Je, naweza? – Can
  • Je, uta? – Will
  • Hii ni nini? – What is this?
  • Yule ni nani? – Who is that?
  • Iko vipi? – How is it?
  • Kwa nini hivyo? – Why is it?
  • Kwa nini hii? – Why this?
  • Kuna nini ndani ya …? – What is in …?
  • … iko wapi? – Where is …?
  • Je, kuna …? – Is there a …?
Bird flying over a lake in Kenya with flamingoes and pelicans beyond

Numbers in Swahili

Understanding the Swahili numbering system is useful in a wide range of scenarios, especially when it comes to transactions, discussing times, and navigating transportation.

Below is a list of simple numbers along with some larger ones:

  • Sifuri – 0
  • Moja – 1
  • Mbili – 2
  • Tatu – 3
  • Nne – 4
  • Tano – 5
  • Sita – 6
  • Saba – 7
  • Nane – 8
  • Tisa – 9
  • Kumi – 10
  • Kumi na moja – 11
  • Kumi na mbili – 12
  • Kumi na tatu – 13
  • Kumi na nne – 14
  • Kumi na tano – 15
  • Kumi na sita – 16
  • Kumi na saba – 17
  • Kumi na nane – 18
  • Kumi na tisa – 19
  • Ishirini – 20
  • Thelathini – 30
  • Arobaini – 40
  • Hamsini – 50
  • Sitini – 60
  • Sabini – 70
  • Themanini – 80
  • Tisini – 90
  • Mia moja – 100
  • Elfu moja – 1,000
  • Elfu kumi – 10,000
  • Laki moja – 100,000
  • Milioni moja – 1,000,000

To create numbers in between these, you typically combine the tens and units. For example:

  • “Twenty-one” is Ishirini na moja (20 + 1)
  • “Thirty-two” is Thelathini na mbili (30 + 2)

For numbers in the hundreds and thousands, you combine the hundreds or thousands with the tens and units. For example:

  • “One hundred and twenty-three” is Mia moja ishirini na tatu
  • “Two thousand and nineteen” is Elfu mbili kumi na tisa

Practice Makes Perfect: Tips for Remembering Swahili Phrases

Learning Swahili doesn’t happen overnight. Just like with any other language, it requires patience, practice, and repetition.

Many people (including myself) find flashcards very helpful when it comes to remembering words and phrases in a new language. You can jot down Swahili phrases on one side and their English translations on the other.

This encourages active recall, which helps strengthen your neural pathways and makes learning more effective.

Also, associating certain phrases with particular circumstances or visual cues can speed up the learning process considerably.

For example, say you’re trying to learn a phrase regarding eating out. Try visualizing the scenario in your head, picture the restaurant, imagine you can smell and taste the food. You’ll find that the phrase comes to you more naturally over time.

Try to use these phrases in your daily routine too. The more you speak and hear them, the quicker they’ll stick inside your mind.

See Also

Check out some of my other posts on learning languages for travel:

Final Thoughts

One of my favourite things about travelling is learning about and engaging with the local culture. And communicating in the local language is often the best way to do this.

Learning a few Swahili words and phrases will make your next trip to East or Central Africa an even more meaningful and memorable experience.

Don’t feel overwhelmed – with a little bit of patience and practice, you’ll be chatting away with the locals in no time!

Finally, if you want to take your Swahili learning to the next level, take a look at the excellent free Swahili course by Duolingo.

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  • I’m Alex Tiffany.  Former corporate city robot; lifelong travel addict.


  • I’m on a mission to make adventurous travel accessible to all.


  • I created this site to inspire, encourage and enable as many people to get outside and explore as much of our beautiful world as possible.