ENJOY The Magical Kenya
Kenya, the old Grand Dame of safari style, remains a popular safari destination for its elegant accommodation options, and for the wealth of activities that may be enjoyed against the backdrop of glorious African landscapes
Kenya has long been a mecca for those wanting to see the Great Plains featured in BBC documentaries. Kenya is at the fore front of the safari industry and still holds its head up as far as abundance of game and accommodation are concerned. Featuring a wide range of activities, running from the traditional safari to helicopter safaris, private home stays, golfing and deep sea fishing, a Kenya safari experience offers more than many of the other countries in Africa.
The best spectrum of Kenya wildlife is crammed into the relatively small Masai Mara, which remains a thriving wildlife hotspot, though the wildlife experience is shared with many others. The Mara is world famous and home of the BBC’s Big Cat Diary
One area that Kenya excels at is the wonderful homesteads and smaller game ranches through Laikipia and the North, which allows clients to fish, ride, paint, relax and soak up the east African panorama. The Homestead experience is unique to Kenya and although the game is not as good as neighboring Tanzania or the Mara, the freedom to enjoy varied activities and total privacy is a must …
Kenya Travel Guide
Lions and leopards are just part of the landscape in Kenya, East Africa’s favourite safari destination. More than 40 national parks and nature reserves are scattered between Lake Victoria and the India Ocean, covering every imaginable landscape and featuring just about every animal in Africa: from aardvarks to zebras.
As you might expect, wildlife safaris are the lifeblood of Kenyan tourism, and the infrastructure for travellers is impressive. Jeeps, buses and light aircraft fan out daily across the country to safari lodges and tented camps, some simple and rustic, others lavish and opulent. Refreshingly, you can enjoy close encounters with nature even on a budget, with walking safaris run by tribal guides and economic tented camps that scrimp on creature comforts, but not on creatures.
Most people start the journey in Nairobi, but few linger when there are more attractive cities strung out along the sun-kissed Kenyan coast and dotted around the Great Rift Valley. Whether you pick the interior or the coast, with its beach resorts and Islamic ruins, you can be sure to find a national park or reserve close at hand – Nairobi even has a national park within the city limits, with zebras and giraffes just a stone’s throw from the suburbs.
Kenya is also a great place for cultural encounters, with more than 40 different tribal groups, each following its own unique way of life. The semi-nomadic Maasai, with their rainbow-coloured, bead-covered adornments, are perhaps the most obvious group, but visiting any tribal village is a fascinating experience.
On appearances, Kenya would seem like the perfect holiday destination, but tourism has had its ups and downs in recent years, with political upheaval during elections and a string of high-profile militant attacks in Nairobi and along the coast.
These set-backs have made a noticeable dent in Kenya’s tourist industry, yet travellers still flock to the teeming plains of the Maasai Mara and trek the slopes of Mount Kenya, and the biggest decision for most is not whether to go to Kenya, but instead, which wild animal to search for first.
Kenya History, Language and Culture
Kenya Visa and Passport Requirements
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To enter Kenya, a passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry, and with at least two blank pages, is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.
Visas for Kenya are required by the nationals referred to in the chart above, except (1) nationals of Cyprus, who do not need a visa.
You can obtain your visa on entry; passport photos are not required. However, to save time at the airport, it’s a good idea to obtain one in advance, either online or from the embassy/high commission. If you require a multiple-entry visa, you’re advised to obtain this in advance.
Travellers who are also visiting Rwanda and Uganda may find it more useful to apply for an East Africa cross-border joint visa which allows entry into all three countries on a single visa.
Nationals not referred to in the chart are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements for Kenya.
Kenya has an agreement with Tanzania and Uganda to waiver visa re-entry fees if travelling between the three countries as long as single-entry visas remain valid for each country. This means multiple-entry visas are not required if going from Kenya to Tanzania or Uganda and back to Kenya. The same applies for travel from Uganda and Tanzania.
Transit eVisa/visa on arrival: US$21; single-entry eVisa/visa on arrival: US$51.
East Africa tourist visa: US$100.
Transit visa: £10; single-entry visa: £30; multiple-entry visa: £60; East Africa visa: £65. These fees are for visas obtained in advance from the embassy/high commission.
Transit: valid for a short stopover or overnight only; single-entry visa: three months; multiple-entry visa: one year; East Africa tourist visa: multiple entries within 90 days.
Transit visas are available to air passengers with connections in Kenya and for those travelling through Kenya to other destinations within a three-day period; an onward ticket or tour itinerary/confirmation is required.
On arrival, online (evisa.go.ke) or at the consulate (or consular section at embassy or high commission).
Allow two days for eVisa processing and three days if applying via the embassy/high commission.
You may be required to show proof of funds, such as a credit card.
You can extend your stay by up to 90 days at the immigration headquarters in Nairobi. The maximum time you can stay in Kenya is six months.
If bringing a pet into Kenya, you must obtain an import licence from the embassy/high commission.
At 4,986m (16,358ft) above sea level, this extinct volcano is the second-highest mountain in Africa. The Mountain Club of Kenya runs mountain huts and publishes guides for climbers. Even if you don’t climb to the upper slopes, it is worth spending time on the forested lower slopes below the ice-capped peak, where interesting wildlife abounds.
This distinctive volcano, which last erupted in the 1860s, rises dramatically above the Rift Valley floor, and its slopes can be ascended in around 90 minutes. Allow another hour for the descent, and 3-4 hours if you want to walk around the rim of the perfect volcanic crater.
Nairobi National Park, only 8km (5 miles) from the city centre, is Kenya’s oldest national park. Today, it still looks much as it did in the early photographs – wild, undulating pasture – and supports most of East Africa’s best known wildlife, including lion, rhino, giraffe, buffalo and zebra (but not elephant).
Kenya’s most popular game park is named after the Maasai tribe, who migrated south from the Nile Valley in the 17th century. A northern extension to Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, it is one of the best places in Africa for seeing lion, cheetah and leopard, but is most famous for the annual wildebeest migration and dramatic crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River.
Visitors can choose between scuba-diving, snorkelling, sailing, water-skiing, swimming or surfing along Kenya’s coral coast. The most popular resorts near Mombasa include Bamburi, Kikambala, Kilifi, Malindi, Nyali and the 10km- (6-mile) long, dazzlingly white Diani Beach. Another good base for watersports is the Rift Valley lake of Naivasha, about 1.5 hours drive from Nairobi.
Set on a picturesque offshore island close to the Somali border, Lamu is a charming old Swahili city and UNESCO World Heritage Site with many historic mosques and fine old Arab houses replete with impressive carved wooden doors. Highlights of the town include the Lamu Museum, the Swahili House Museum and the Fortress.
The only rainforest in Kenya, this lovely spot near the Ugandan border is arguably the prime birdwatching site in the country, thanks to the presence of several dozen forest species found nowhere else in the country. For non-birders, the shady forest paths and plentiful monkeys still offer lots of charm.
Boasting a dramatic setting in the Rift Valley, this park is dominated by a lake whose edges are frequently home to hundreds of thousands of pink flamingos. It is also one of Kenya’s best rhino sanctuaries, supporting high concentrations of both black and white rhino, and you may spot a leopard in the giant yellowwood acacia trees.
Watch baby elephants play at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, an important sanctuary where orphaned elephants are hand-reared before being released back into the wild. Bordering Nairobi National Park, the sanctuary is also home to several orphaned rhinos, and is an important player in the fight against poaching.
Spend an evening afloat on a romantic dhow (traditional Arab sailing boat), feasting on delicious seafood and watching the moon rise over Mombasa’s old harbour. Lunchtime or dinner cruises are available on these beautiful floating restaurants, and some even have space for dancing on the deck.
Enjoy this coastal city’s Swahili flavour in the Old Town, with its narrow, crowded streets; watch the sailing dhows in the Old Harbour and catch the sound and light show at Fort Jesus, which was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and is now a museum.
Discover a recent conservation success where former farmland has been opened up as game sanctuaries and stocked with big game including the Big Five: elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard. The old farmsteads here have been converted into delightful, luxurious accommodations. This vast wilderness area remains largely underexplored by tourists.
Situated on the shores of Lake Naivasha, the former home of Joy Adamson (of Born Free fame) is now a museum and conservation research centre. Set in grounds teeming with birds – and home to a group of handsome colobus monkeys – Elsamere also serves excellent high tea.
Biashara Street is a great place to buy traditional kikoy and khanga clothing. Makupa Market, off Mwembe Tayari, is the main city market. Serious souvenir shoppers should also head for the Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Village, where disabled men and women produce high-quality leatherwork, jewellery and other crafts.
Situated a short distance from the main highway between Nairobi and Mombasa, this small private sanctuary bordering the vast Tsavo National Park doubles as a luxury hotel and well-positioned hide, overlooking a salt lick and a waterhole that frequently attracts aggregations of a hundred or more elephants.
The 392sq km (151sq mile) Amboseli National Park lies at the base of snow-capped Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. Wildlife includes lion, cheetah, wildebeest, hippo and gazelle, but the park is most famous for the large herds of elephant attracted by the perennial swamps. Bird-watching is popular, and visitors can learn about the local Maasai people through homestead visits.
In the barren northern reaches of Kenya, Lake Turkana is a strange and beautiful oasis, known to locals as the Jade Sea due to its size and striking colour. The lake provides great fishing, while its islands have healthy crocodile and hippo populations. The semi-nomadic Turkana tribe are just as interesting as the lake itself.
Float over great herds of game in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Hour-long excursions set off at dawn and end with champagne breakfasts. Almost all the lodges in the reserve offer this experience, which gives ballooners the chance to see the wildebeest migration from the air between July and September.
Browse the ethnographic and archaeological exhibits of the National Museum, which lies within walking distance of the city centre. And then head out to the suburban Karen Blixen Museum, which occupies the farmhouse made famous by the nominal author’s book, Out of Africa. The Nairobi Railway Museum also covers an important chapter of the city’s history.