Kenya Travel Guide

Travel & Tourism

Kenya has a reputation for being a remarkable breeding ground. Anthropologists recognize it as one of the birthplaces of humankind; in the West, it’s also known as the country where Barack Obama’s father and numerous marathon winners were born. But Kenya is also growing as a center of commerce in East Africa. For both business trips and leisure travel, Kenya has much to offer its visitors.

In addition to the famed Masai Mara Game Reserve, in southwestern Kenya, where safari aficionados can view lions, giraffes, and zebras from the comfort of a jeep, the country allows its guests the chance to explore amazing beaches and city life. We recommend taking a few weeks to explore Kenya: from the bustling streets of Nairobi to the coastal peacefulness of Mombasa and the intriguing and eye-opening landscapes of safari reserves, Kenya is one of Africa’s jewels.

What to Do in Kenya

1. Masai Mara Game Reserve: Photographs and film cannot begin to be equivalent to seeing the amazing Big Five game—lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards, and black rhinoceros—right in front of you during a safari. “Big Five” is a traditional hunting term that refers to the five animals most difficult to hunt, given their aggressive nature (game hunting is largely illegal in Kenya). Check with your hotel about booking a multiday safari. Take it from us: it is worth the time and the money to invest in an experience that will supply you with memories (and pictures!) for a lifetime.

2. Wildebeest Migration at Masai Mara: From July to September, one of the most magnificent of events takes place throughout the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The wildebeest migration comprises hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other animals in a stampede for grazing land. While one can observe the move from a safari vehicle, we highly recommend the renting of a hot air balloon for viewing the wildebeest migration or even just to see the beauty of the Mara.

3. Nairobi: As Kenya’s capital and its most populated city, Nairobi is teeming with activities, foods, and naturally beautiful phenomena. Whether you are looking to go shopping in a mall or an outdoor market, eat traditional Kenyan cuisine or game meat, hike in a game reserve, or roam the busy streets of East Africa’s largest city, Nairobi is worth a few days of your time. For more information, check out our dedicated page on Nairobi.

4. David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Center: These two animal centers stand out as offering some of the best daytime activities in Nairobi. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust specializes in raising orphaned elephants and black rhinos and reintroducing them to the wild. Every morning, visitors can watch the elephants be fed and bathed. Few sights are more charming than that of these young creatures interacting with the center’s staff, and the daily program provides you with insight into the techniques and rationale for the center’s goals. (+254 (0) 202 301 396; rc-h@africaonline.co.ke)

Ever kissed a giraffe? It might serve you well. Giraffes have foot-long tongues that get plenty of sunlight during feeding times, and the animals have eaten acacia tree thorns for generations. Thus, giraffe saliva has antiseptic, sunproofing properties, so don’t be afraid of a smooch here or there! The center is home to the endangered Rothschild giraffe, and in addition to getting close to the animals, visitors can spend some time learning about the center’s history and mission. We guarantee that the Giraffe Center will provide you with one of the best photo opportunities of your trip.

5. Nairobi National Park: With giraffes in one direction and skyscrapers in the other, this park is the only protected area in the world in close proximity to a capital city (it’s seven kilometers from Nairobi). More than 400 species of birds having been observed—as well as leopards, lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, black rhinos, and more—the Nairobi National Park is worth a day’s visit. We recommend that you ask your hotel for the names of reputable touring companies that can take you through the park. You will need to take a valid passport to the park’s entrance in order to be granted entry. (+254-20-600800; reservations@kws.go.ke)

6. Fort Jesus and Old Town in Mombasa: Mombasa’s (LINK TK) Fort Jesus stands at the crossroads of the city’s tangled history with Europe and the Middle East. The Portuguese built this stronghold in 1593 and spent the next hundred years fighting with the Arabs to maintain control. When the British ruled Mombasa, the fort was turned into a prison, and in 1958 the area was made a national park. The architecture is worth gazing at, the museum has centuries-old artifacts, and the fort is a great jumping-off point for a trip into Old Town.

The beauty of the ancient buildings of Old Town makes this neighborhood a must-see during your visit to Mombasa. Ornate carved doors and balconies, built in the 1600s, reflect a Portuguese influence, while the street design and architecture display touches of the Middle East.

7. Lamu: This one-vehicle island is a world away from mainland Kenya, with its 1700s-era architecture and predominantly Muslim population. If you’re on the water, take a ride in a dhow, a traditional Arab sailing vessel; if you’re on land, walking is the best method to explore places like Lamu Town, where you can eat fresh seafood and explore winding streets and colorful markets. The best way to get to the island is by plane, a short trip from Nairobi; check with your hotel or a local travel agent about your trip to Lamu.

8. Amboseli National Park: For a safari that’s off the beaten path, we recommend Amboseli National Park, with its view of Mount Kilimanjaro as a gorgeous backdrop. Because it is one of the smaller parks in Kenya, visitors are more likely to spot the endangered black rhinoceros, as well as the other four members of the Big Five.

9. Mount Kenya: The second-highest mountain on the entire continent of Africa, Mount Kenya is located in the central region of the country. While reaching its summit requires some prior mountaineering experience, many lesser peaks and beautiful glaciers are accessible by hiking paths. We recommend that you plan your visit to Mount Kenya during peak weather periods (January and February, and late August until September). The mountain trails are perfect for viewing wildlife and flora. Any trip into Mount Kenya National Park should be organized with a registered guide; that is the only way to ensure your safety, for the paths throughout the park can be confusing.

10. Great Rift Valley: Commonly referred to as “the cradle of humanity,” the Great Rift Valley has been a central location for excavations of early human skeletons and artifacts. Worth checking out is Lake Nakuru, which attracts thousands of vibrant pink flamingos. We also recommend seeing Lake Naivasha, a freshwater body that is frequented by groups of hippos, water buffalo, and an amazing variety of birds. You can take a single-day or a multiday safari through the Great Rift Valley; just check with your hotel staff for their recommendations for trustworthy touring companies.

11. The Karen Blixen Museum :

Karen Blixen Museum was once the centre piece of a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills owned by Danish Author Karen and her Swedish Husband, Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke. Located 10km from the city centre, the Museum belongs to a different time period in the history of Kenya. The farm house gained international fame with the release of the movie ‘Out of Africa’ an Oscar winning film based on Karen’s an autobiography by the same title.

Set in expansive gardens, the museum is an interesting place to wander around. The Museum is open to the Public every day (9.30 am to 6pm) including weekends and public holidays. Visitors are encouraged to be at the Museum by 5.30. Guided tours are offered continuously.

12. Wasini Island :Wasini Island is a very sparsely populated area and it’s only 10 kilometers from Kisite Mpunguti Marine national Park. Wasini is a coral island that is traditionally inhabited by the Vumba people, an indigenous group of coastal bantu speaking community with a very rich culture and history. Known by many people as “paradise on earth”. At first, this might sound like another inane slogan but Lamu’s little sister truly is a unique haven of peace and tranquility.

13. The Ruins of Gedi :

The ruins of Gedi are a historical and archaeological site near the Indian Ocean coast of eastern Kenya. The site is adjacent to the town of Gedi (also known as Gede) in the Kilifi District and within the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.

Set in an idyllic location on the Indian Ocean, and buried deep in a lush forest, the town was thought to have been founded in the early 13th-century. It is one of many medieval Swahili-Arab coastal settlements that stretch from Mogadishu, Somalia to the Zambezi River in Mozambique.

14. Thomson Falls : Thomson’s Falls is a 74 metres scenic waterfall on the Ewaso Ng’iro river, a few Kilometres from Lake Ol Bolossat, which drains from the Aberdare Mountain Range. It was discovered in 1883 by Joseph Thomson, a Scottish geologist and naturalist. Located in Nyahururu, it is a relatively easy stop on an itinerary dominated by wildlife viewing.

15. Diani Beach : Diani Beach is a resort area on the Indian Ocean, 30 km south of Mombasa. It’s the most tourist-oriented beach of South Coast. It is separated from the Tiwi Beach to the north by the Kongo River. Diani beach has been voted Africa’s leading beach destination for the third time running since 2015.

When to Go

Geography plays a large part in helping tourists choose the best times for visiting Kenya. Most of the country has two wet and two dry seasons. April is the wettest month, and August is the driest; on average, February is the hottest month, and July is the coolest. Because of Nairobi’s elevation, the city typically has low temperatures year-round, making it a popular destination regardless of the time of year. As for the rest of the country, the climate varies significantly from the tropical coast to the arid interior, where drought is common. The hottest and driest weather generally occurs from January through March—ideal for bird-watching and safaris. Because of the agreeable weather, that is prime tourist season, so plan accordingly.

The annual (and astonishing) wildebeest migration takes place from July until September, when thousands of wildebeest and zebras travel across the Masai Mara National Reserve. The sight of the migration is one you will never forget, and we highly recommend that you plan your trip around this outstanding event.

Getting In and Around

Visas: Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the end of your visit to Kenya. You should have available at least two blank pages in your passport for your visa and entry/exit stamps. Visas can be obtained in advance from a Kenyan embassy or consulate and can also be purchased at the airport in Kenya. As of May 2009, a single-entry visa costs $25, and a multiple-entry visa costs $50.

A yellow fever immunization card may be requested when you enter Kenya, so visit your local physician or health clinic before your departure and be sure that you have the required vaccinations.

Transportation: Most international flights will arrive in and depart from Nairobi. The city has two main airports, Jomo Kenyatta International and Wilson Airport. If you are flying in or out of Kenya, you will most likely use Jomo Kenyatta. Wilson Airport is primarily for domestic travel; a limited numbe

r of flights around the African continent fly from Wilson, though.

Public transportation is available in larger cities. The government-owned Kenya Bus Service manages many bus routes, but the most popular public transportation method is privately owned minibuses called matatus. While matatus definitely offer the cheapest way to get around, they are also the most congested, as drivers will squeeze in as many passengers as they can. Be prepared for a squished ride.

In most of the cities, especially in areas that are popular with tourists, taxis are available for hire. They can provide a more convenient and safer alternative to public transportation, but taxis are also going to be more expensive. Be sure to negotiate a price before you get into the car, to prevent being overcharged. If you are looking to take a private vehicle service between cities, you’d do well to confer with your hotel staff for advice on reputable companies

Kenya Railways and the Kenya Bus Service, as well as numerous privately owned bus lines, all operate out of Nairobi and travel throughout the country.

Mobile Phones: If your mobile phone uses the GSM 900 system (standard with European mobiles, but most American and Canadian phones run on the 850/1900 system), you will be able to use it in Kenya. Be prepared to spend large amounts of money on phone calls, however. Your best and cheapest alternative is to buy a SIM card from one of the two main companies that sell them in Kenya, Safaricom and Zain. SIM cards and reload credits are sold all over the country. A word to the wise: text messages are significantly cheaper than phone calls, and the reception of text messages is free.

Safety and Security

Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Kenya? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Kenya:

• UK Government Kenya Travel Advice Guidance

Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Kenya, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.

• U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Kenya

Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Kenya.

Local Advice

1. Kenya has eight provinces: Central, Coast, Eastern, Nairobi, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western. The largest province is Rift Valley, and the most populous is Nairobi. The second-tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kenya, is located in Eastern Province.

2. The Kenyan currency is the shilling. Informally, it is referred to as the bob.

3. The Daily Nation and The Standard are two of the better-known publications in Kenya and are the largest newspapers in East Africa. Other notable newspapers include the Kenya Times and the East African Standard.

4. The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English. There are seven different dialects of Swahili, as well as about 62 other languages spoken within the country by various African tribes and communities of Asian and Middle Eastern descent. The African languages can be traced back to three language families—the Cushitic languages (which originated in the northeast), the Bantu languages (from the center and southeastern portions of the country), and the Nilotic languages (from the west). Jambo is a familiar Swahili greeting heard in Kenya.

5. In Kenya, a smoking ban prohibits lighting up in any public area, including streets, parks, bars, markets, theaters, and restaurants. Take note: it also forbids smoking in private homes and cars. Managers of hotels and bars, however, are allowed to set up designated smoking zones; be on the lookout for those.

ADC Editor
ADC editors curate, aggregate, and produce news and information for Africa. Contribute stories by sending an email to media@africa.com.