Kenya is well known as the home of the Safari and indeed this is one of the best countries for seeing all of Africa’s indigenous wildlife. Amongst the favourite faces are animals like lions, elephants, giraffes and rhino which can all be found in abundance on any number of well organised safari tours. As well as the wildlife the scenery is absolutely breath taking and nothing can quite match the sight on sun setting across the vast savannah plains or indigo sea lapping leisurely against the white sand beaches of Africa’s east coast.
Crime is quite prevalent in Kenya, especially in Nairobi especially muggings which can occur even in broad daylight. The police are generally corrupt so it falls to the individual traveller to ensure they are not at risk. Obvious common sense is prevalent here, concealing valuable, not carrying large sums of cash and generally remaining vigilant can ensure that you are at minimal risk. It is also worth noting that the route into Ethiopia is under constant threat from banditry and those planning to take such a route should travel in an armed convoy.
- Currency: Kenyan Shilling (Ksh) = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 3
- Language: English and Kiswahili
- Telephone Services: Country Code +254, International access code 000
- Emergency Numbers: All services 336886 / 501280
The coastal areas are typically tropical and the lowlands are mainly hot and dry. The highlands have a much more attractive climate with four distinct seasons. Nairobi falls within this pleasant region which is warm even in winter but not as stiflingly hot as the lowland areas.
Things to see and do
Unlike most countries Kenya’s main attraction isn’t its cities but its great outdoors. No one coming to this country should pass up the opportunity to go on safari in one of Kenya’s game parks. The most popular is the Masai Mara National Reserve which is famous for its lions. It is common to see large prides and patient visitors should even be able to spot the lionesses hunting. The park also boasts such exotic animals as elephants, zebras and even hippos. Within the reserve there is also a traditional Maasai village which is open to tourists. The other main safari area is Amboseli national park which is famous for its large elephant herds. Recently companies have started offering aerial tours of the area in light aircraft but you can still find plenty of companies offering more traditional safaris here. Other popular locations to see the wildlife are the Marsabit National Park & Reserve, the Aberdare National Park and the Kakamega Forest Reserve.
Nairobi is unfortunately becoming increasingly prone to theft and muggings so much so that many travellers opt to visit the slightly safer Mombasa instead. The city encompasses Mombasa Island and boasts some very good beaches just outside town. The city has been demolished several times in fighting between the African population and the Portuguese during the colonial era but the city has been rebuilt with fantastic character. Chief amongst its attractions is Fort Jesus, which is situated in the Old Town and was built in 1593 by the Portuguese in one of numerous occupations. The Fort now houses a museum which charts the history of this fortification which has changed hands over nine times since its construction.
Kenya Airways runs the main domestic air service in the country but you will also find numerous small private companies operating domestic service. In general the flights are pretty cheap so they can be a good way to cover large distances quickly.
Kenya Railways Corporation runs a rail service between Mombasa, Nairobi, Taveta and Kisumu. The journeys are normally long and the standards have slipped in recent years but fares are cheap so if you are on a budget this will save you a lot compared with flying. There are three classes ranging from first class where you have your own berth right down to third class which is very basic. Sleeping compartments are available but must normally be booked in advance for a surcharge. Children under 3 travel for free and children between 3 and 11 pay only half fares.
Intercity buses generally come in two flavours, coaches or mini-buses. The mini buses have a poor reputation for safety and aren’t much cheaper so where possible you should try to take the coach. All bus companies are privately run and on popular routes you will find several competing companies, this has the added bonus of making this an extremely economic, if not a very comfortable way of travelling.
Most safaris and tours will arrange their own transport which is included in the price of the package, these normally leave from Nairobi or Mombasa but other towns may offer a restricted set of tours. Always check in advance what your package includes and what it does not especially as many of the smaller, less reputable companies will try to rip you off if they can get away with it.
In Nairobi and Mombasa the best hotels reach the highest of international standards, most are colonial in style and will offer a huge range of facilities. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding hotels to suit whatever your budget in either of these two urban areas. Throughout Kenya hotels are grouped as either town hotels, vacation hotels, lodges or country hotels. Within each group there is a rating system which ties in with the range of facilities and of course the price. During the peak tourist season it is advisable to book in advance has hotels can fill up.
There are youth hostels in most major towns which are regulated by the Kenya Youth Hostel Association. The KYHA used to be contactable via their website or email address but these links seem to have gone down recently. They are listed here in the hope that connectivity with the KYHA will be at some point restored.
The standard of healthcare in Mombasa and Nairobi is good but health insurance is essential. Elsewhere in the country medical facilities are limited. If you intend to be on safari for any length of time you should consider paying for the East African Flying Doctors tourist membership which will allow you to call for free air evacuation should you fall ill whilst on safari.
Immunisation against yellow fever, cholera, polio and typhoid is recommended when visiting Kenya especially when planning to travel outside of urban areas. Malaria is present throughout Kenya and the local strains have been reported as highly resistant to chloroquine so mefloquine is the recommended treatment to use. You should consult your local GP about all of these factors before travelling to Kenya.
Tap water in urban areas is considered safe, although in other areas it is recommended that you boil or otherwise sterilise any water before use. Food including dairy products and drink are also considered safe to drink. Normal everyday precautions should be used when purchasing food from street vendors.
The Kenya Tourist Board offers advice for all visitors to the country
Kenya airways runs the main domestic air service
Kenya Youth Hostels Association. information about Kenya youth hostels online.
African Home Adventure provides information on African safaris, excursions, holidays and accommodation.
International Humanity Foundation is a non-political, non-religious, non-profit organisation whose goal is to educate the poor and educate the world about the poor. They have many opportunities for volunteers.