Kenya

Karibu Kenya, Discover the Magic of Africa

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

History of Kenya

Archaeological excavations in northern Kenya suggest that the region was home to ape-like creatures from whom Homo sapiens descended at least six million years ago.

Over the past few millennia, Kenya has been settled by a large number of migrants from all over Africa, among the most recent arrivals being the Maasai, who crossed from present-day South Sudan in the 17th century.

The mediaeval Kenyan coast was a prosperous maritime trade centre serving ships from Arabia and Asia. Many modern ports, including Lamu and Mombasa, date from this era. The Portuguese arrived on the coast in the early 16th century, followed by Omani Arabs in the 18th century, and the British in the mid-19th century.

It was only in the 1890s that outsiders penetrated far into the interior, resulting in the British construction of the ‘lunatic line’ from Mombasa to Kampala (Uganda). Nairobi, founded as a staging point along this railway line, became the headquarters of the British colonial administration.

In the early 20th century, the fertile highlands around Nairobi attracted an influx of European settlers. This resulted in a liberation movement demanding greater territorial, economic and political rights for locals. Led by Jomo Kenyatta, the fight for independence gathered pace after World War II, culminating in the 1950s with a bloody three-year guerrilla war between the Mau Mau and the British colonial authorities.

Kenya was granted independence in 1963, and the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), led by Kenyatta, took power. Kenyatta died in 1978, and was succeeded by Daniel Arap Moi, an autocrat who banned opposition parties outright in 1982. A multi-party system was restored in the early 1990s, but Moi remained in power until the 2002 election, which was won by the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (NARC), led by Mwai Kibaki, who became the country’s third president.

Disputed 2007 elections resulted in widespread violence in which hundreds were killed. Following this violence, international mediators negotiated an agreement retaining Kibaki as president, but installing his main rival Raila Odinga as prime minister. The more peaceful 2013 elections saw Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Jomo), leader of the National Alliance party, elected president.

Did you know?
• In 2004 Wangari Mutu Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to her for her contribution towards sustainable development, peace and democracy. She died in 2011.
• The world’s 20 fastest marathon runners in 2011 were all from Kenya.
• Some 2,500 railway workers were killed, many by lions, while building the Lunatic Line in the late 1800s.

Kenya Culture

Religion:

About 80% of Kenya’s population is Christian (mostly Catholic and Protestant) and the majority of people living along the coast are Muslim. A small number follow traditional religions and there are some Sikhs and Hindus.

Language in Kenya

Kiswahili is the national language and English is the official language. The terms Swahili and Kiswahili are used interchangeably, though the term Swahili normally refers to the people while Kiswahili refers to the language. There are over 42 ethnic languages spoken, including Kikuyu and Luo.

Kenya Weather, climate and geography

Weather & climate

Best time to visit:

Throughout the country, the hottest months are December to March. The coastal areas are tropical, with particularly high humidity in April and May, but tempered by monsoon winds. The lowlands are hot but mainly dry, while the highlands are more temperate with four seasons. Nairobi has a very pleasant climate throughout the year due to its altitude. Near Lake Victoria, the temperatures are much higher and rainfall can be heavy.

Required clothing:

Lightweight cottons and linens with rainwear are advised for the coast and lakeside. Warmer clothing is needed in June and July and for the cooler mornings on the coast. Lightweight layers are needed for much of the year in the highlands. Rainwear is advisable between March and June, and October and December.

Geography

Kenya covers 580,367 sq km (224,000 sq miles) and sits astride the equator. It shares borders with Ethiopia in the north, Sudan in the northwest, Uganda in the west, Tanzania in the south and Somalia in the northeast. To the east lies the 480 km (300 mile) Indian Ocean coastline. The country is divided into four regions: the arid deserts of the north; the savannah lands of the south; the fertile lowlands along the coast; and highlands in the west, where the capital Nairobi is situated.

Northwest of Nairobi runs the Rift Valley, dotted with lakes and containing the town of Nakuru, while further west the Aberdare National Park is overlooked by Kenya’s highest peak, and Africa’s second tallest mountain after Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya (5,200m/17,000ft), which also is a national park. In the far northwest is Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolph), and in the southwest is Kenya’s share of Lake Victoria.

Area

580,367 sq km (224,000 sq miles).

Population

45.9 million (2015).

Population density

79.1 per sq km.

Capital

Nairobi.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013.

Head of government

President Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013.

Electricity

220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are standard.

Kenya Visa and Passport Requirements

Passport required Return ticket required Visa required
Australian Yes Yes Yes
British Yes Yes Yes
Canadian Yes Yes Yes
Other EU Yes Yes Yes/1
USA Yes Yes Yes

Passports: 

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: 

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.

Visa note: 

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.

Types and Cost: 

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.

Validity: 

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: 

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.

Application to: 

On arrival, online (evisa.go.ke) or at the consulate (or consular section at embassy or high commission).

Working days: 

Allow two days for eVisa processing and three days if applying via the embassy/high commission.

Sufficient funds: 

You may be required to show proof of funds, such as a credit card.

Extension of stay: 

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.

Entry with pets: 

If bringing a pet into Kenya, you must obtain an import licence from the embassy/high commission.

Embassies and tourist offices

Kenya Embassy in the USA

Telephone: (202) 387 6101. Website: http://www.kenyaembassy.com

Kenya High Commission in the UK

Telephone: (020) 7636 2371/5. Website: http://www.kenyahighcommission.net Opening times: Mon-Fri: applications 0930-1200, collections 1400-1530.

British High Commission in Kenya

Telephone: (20) 2844 000. Website: http://www.ukinkenya.fco.gov.uk Opening times: Mon-Thurs: 0700-1600; Fri: 0700-1300.

Kenya Health Care and Vaccinations

Title Special precautions
Diphtheria Yes
Hepatitis A Yes
Malaria Yes
Rabies Sometimes
Tetanus Yes
Typhoid Yes
Yellow Fever Yes*

* A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over one year of age arriving from infected areas; those countries formerly classified as endemic zones are considered to be still infected by the Kenyan authorities. Travellers arriving from non-endemic zones should note that vaccination is strongly recommended for travel outside the urban areas, even if an outbreak of the disease has not been reported and they would normally not require a vaccination certificate to enter the country.

Health insurance is essential, and should include medical repatriation. Part of the African Medical and Research Foundation, the Flying Doctor Service have introduced a special Tourist Membership, which guarantees that any member injured or ill while on safari can call on a flying doctor for free air transport (www.amref.org). There are excellent medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa, but they are of a varying standard in the rest of the country.

Food and drink: 

Bottled water is available and is advised for the first few weeks of the stay. When buying bottled water, check the seal of the bottle is intact. Avoid ice and washed salads and fruit except in top hotels and restaurants. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Food prepared by unlicensed vendors should be avoided at all times.

Other risks: 

Diarrhoeal diseases are common. Hepatitis B is hyperendemic; hepatitis E is widespread. Meningococcal meningitis is a risk, particularly during the dry season. Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is present; avoid swimming and paddling in fresh water. Avoid insect fly bites and wear shoes to protect against hookworm. Dengue fever and rabies are present. There is a high incidence of HIV/AIDS.

Things to see and do

Climb Mount Kenya

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.

Climb Mount Longonot

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.

Day trip to Nairobi National Park

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).

Experience the magic of the Masai Mara

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.

Explore Kenya’s coral coast

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.

Explore Lamu Town

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.

Go twitching in Kakamega Forest

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.

Go wild at Lake Nakuru National Park

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.

Help save the elephants at Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

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.

Jump aboard a dhow

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.

Marvel at Mombasa

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.

Pay a visit to Laikipia Plateau

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.

Quaff high tea at Elsamere

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.

Shop until you drop in Mombasa

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.

Stay a night at Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

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.

Step into the land of giants at Amboseli National Park

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.

Take the road less travelled to Lake Turkana

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.

Take to the skies in a hot air balloon

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.

Tour Nairobi’s museums

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.