Kenya Travel Guide
With stunning wildlife in its many national parks, Kenya remains the world’s most popular safari destination. Aside from the wild animals, Kenya has a rich cultural heritage and some great beaches. And explaining that you are travelling in swahili is easy – just say ‘safari’!
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Stunning wildlife including the ‘Big Five’ in dozens of national parks, the sleepy island of Lamu, Mombassa and the east coast beaches, the annual migration, Massai cultural dancing, pink flamingos on Lake Nakuru, Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi, Mount Kenya, friendly people, tea, haggling for wooden carvings and long distance runners. Bouncing Masai warriors.
What’s Not: Dirty packed and noisy buses, traffic in Nairobi, con artists, heat and humidity, boring food, dodgy roads, over zealous sales techniques, upset stomachs, corrupt officials.
When to Go
The period from June to August is a popular time to visit Kenya, with low rainfall and slightly cooler temperatures.
Kenya has a typically tropical climate, with different regions enjoying different conditions. The coast is hot and humid, inland and western Kenya is temperate and the north very dry. It’s sunny all year, but it can get cool at night.
The long rainy season runs from April to June, with a shorter rainy season from October to December.
February to March is the hottest time of year, and July to August the coolest. The annual migration takes place between June and September.
Getting There & Away
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi is the main gateway to the country. The airport has recently been renovated to a decent international standard. There are plenty of public buses, shuttle buses and taxis to take you into the city. Domestic flights to Mombassa, Malindi and Lamu are popular. The train from Nairobi to Mombassa is slow, but there can be some good sights to see. Roads in Kenya are pretty bumpy, so long distance bus travel can be uncomfortable. If you do go by bus, make sure you chose a reputable company. Taxis are relatively cheap and a good way to get around, and it should be easy to negotiate a rate for a longer journey.
Health & Safety
Malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and AIDS are present in Kenya, and not at all fun to contract, so take precautions; anti-malarial drugs, cover up at dusk and copious amounts of mosquito repellent. Tap water is best avoided, as is the midday sun, and if you do have a medical problem, hospitals are only good in Nairobi and Mombassa. Nairobi’s a dodgy place at the best of times; don’t walk around at night and keep your belongings close. If something does get snatched, it’s worth considering that shouting for help might get the perpetrator beaten to death for the sake of a lost camera (which should be insured) - worth thinking about. Stay clear of the Northern borders, unless you want a chat with armed bandits.
Food & Hospitality
Kenya has the full range of accommodation with some top class five-star hotels, decent mid-range options and a lot of cheap places that can include both the cheap and bearable to dirty, one-night-only dumps. Kenya isn’t famed for its cuisine; most tourists will find the Kenyan staple ugali dull beyond belief. If it tastes like eating flour and water, well that’s because that’s exactly what it is. However, on the east coast there’s some good seafood, and the Muslim influence means some tasty curries too.
Two weeks is a good length of time to visit Kenya, giving you the opportunity to go on safari but to also chill out on the beach.
Two days to explore the capital, Nairobi.
Four to five days on safari, with the Masai Mara National Reserve being the most popular national park.
Two to three days in the east coast town of Mombassa.
Four to five days relaxing on an east coast beach, or on the island of Lamu.
Four days to climb Mount Kenya and enjoy the stunning scenery.
One day to brave the walk in Hell’s Gate National Park, the only park that allows walkers.
Two to three days to explore the Cherangani Hills in Kenya’s western highlands.
Mara National Reserve: lions, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeests, zebra, and more, all viewed from the safety of a four-wheel drive of course.
Lamu: fine mosques and Arab houses, narrow streets and the museum in Lamu town, or simply soak up the rays on a beautiful beach.
Mombasa: explore the city’s old town with its Arab flavour, street markets and Old Harbour, with some great people watching opportunities.
Lake Nakuru National Park: the flamingos go wild for this shallow alkaline lake, which provides a stunning sight with millions of the pink long-legged creatures.
Amboseli National Park: brilliant views of Mount Kilimanjaro, great wildlife and the best place to see lots of massive African elephants.
Safari: the number one reason for visiting Kenya, take in the stunning wildlife and before long you’ll be getting blasé about seeing giraffes strolling by.
Cultural sightseeing: don’t miss the chance to see Maasai warriors dancing; lots of very entertaining jumping and noise.
Water sports: scuba-diving, snorkeling, sailing and waterskiing are all popular on Kenya’s east coast, with Diani Beach, south of Mombassa, being one of the best spots.
Eat at Carnivores: not one for vegetarians, the menu here includes things like impala, kudu and crocodile. Think meat, meat and a bit more meat.
Trekking: with Mount Kenya and the hills of western Kenya, the centre of Kenyan running prowess, there is some great trekking here.
Festivals & Events
Kenya is not an obvious paradise for festival lovers, but there are a few events that might be worth popping along to, with a mix of the fun, interesting and a little wacky too.
March: East Africa|Africa’s biggest arts festival takes place over 10 days in Nairobi. The festival incorporates comedy, dance, food, literature, fashion and film.
June: an exciting off road rally, Rhino Charge is a time trial with dozens of four-wheel drives competing at breakneck speeds. Money is raised to protect Aberdare National Park.
August: the Kenyan Music Festival showcases of range of traditional music and is usually entertaining.
August: the town of Maralal hosts an International Camel Derby and Festival, it sounds barmy, and is a bit barmy, but its also great fun with plenty of entertainment for kids too.