Kenya Travel Information
Background and History of
Kenya is the ’Land of the Lion King’ and features at the centre of the African safari experience! With an outstanding variety of wild animals and Big Five opportunities awaiting the guest of this gorgeous location. Although safaris are the greatest attraction, it is a country of great diversity, with much more to offer than splendid wildlife experiences.
Essentially it is a place for outdoor living - the coast offers magnificent beaches and water-based activities, while the mountains present a challenge to hikers and climbers, and with the rolling savannahs, a game-viewers paradise awaits.
The central location of Kenya offers the sacred peaks of Mt Kenya, reigning over a landscape primarily covered by vast grasslands and picturesque African thorn trees, most of these vistas enclosed within the country`s many parks and game or nature reserves. To the west the spectacular Great Rift Valley is sprinkled with certain lakes teeming with a variety of birdlife, whose shores and surrounds are occupied by agricultural farmlands. To the east lies the promise of an idyllic beach holiday, with the white palm-fringed beaches and pristine coral reefs adding certain diversity to an already adundant adventure.
Inhabiting the highlands and Rift Valley are two of the most well known of the numerous tribal cultures, the Kikuyu farmers and the tall, red-clad Masai cattle herders. The coast is home to ancient Swahili civilisations and old port towns that are rich in a history of exotic spice trading and battle.
Climate of Kenya
The rainy seasons are April to June and October to early December. The coast is hot and humid all year round but tempered by strong onshore breezes remaining ideal in terms of beach vacations, while the lowland areas are hot and dry and the highlands (including Nairobi) are more temperate and cooler at night.
People and Cultures of
Currently there are more than 40 different ethnic groups inhabiting Kenya. The main groups of tribes are the Bantu who migrated from western Africa, the Nilotic people who originated from Sudan and the Hamitic group, who were mainly pastoral tribes from Ethiopia and Somalia. The main tribes are Kikuyu, Meru , Kalenjin, Luyha, Luo ,Kisii, Kamba, Swahili, Masai, and the Turkana.
The other large ethnic groups include the Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kalenjin. There are also some groups of people who form a very small portion of the Kenyan population. This includes the tribe of Kikuya peoples.
The Masai Mara peoples are found mainly in Southern Kenya, the Massai believed that their rain God: Ngai granted all cattle to them for safe keeping when the earth and sky split. Since cattle was given to the Massai, they believe it okay to "steal" from the other tribes.
The Masai worship cattle because it is their main source of economic survival as opposed to education. Massai people have not strayed from the traditional basic ways of life, farming for the trading of crops such as corn and vegetable is still prominent by certain of the Massai. But by rejecting the cash economy and refusing to settle or become farmers has made life difficult and harsh. The Masai prefer to remain nomadic herdsmen, moving as their needs necessitate and as they have over many years. This way of life is however becoming more difficult in modern times as their open plains slowly disappear.
The Samburu are somewhat related to the Masai although they live just above the equator, here the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists whose lives revolve around their cows, sheep, goats, and camels. Milk is their main constituent; sometimes it is mixed with blood, where meat is only eaten on special occasions. Generally they make soups from roots and barks and eat vegetables if occupying an area where these products can be grown. Most Samburu dress in very traditional clothing, consisting of bright red materials used like a skirt or dress and multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings, especially when living away from the big cities.
The Turkana tribe are the second largest group of nomadic pastoralists in Kenya who live in the nothern areas of Kenya - numbering over 200,000 individuals they occupy a rectangular area bordered by Lake Turkana in northern Kenya and Ethiopia on the east, Uganda on the west, and lastly Sudan to the north. Traditional dress and ornaments is of vital importance, with emphasis being placed on adornment of both women and young Moranis (warriors). Their necks are hidden by brightly coloured beads, or any object of even the most simple and ordinary by the western eye, is greatly sought after as an ornament to increase there charm.
English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with an additional 42 ethnic languages also spoken throughout the country of Kenya. There is also another national language, Kiswahili. These languanges are taught throughout the country. It is extremely useful for travellers to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country.
Kenya has a sophisticated tourism infrastructure, with two major cities controlling the majority of the tourism trade. Nairobi, the capital, is the safari and hiking hub, situated in the cool Central Highlands, while on the east coast the hot and humid trading port of Mombasa functions as the gateway to the resorts and pristine beaches of the area. Sadly the heavy influence of tourism has meant excessive prices for safaris, souvenirs and most activities of interest to foreigners, as well as the constant hassle by touts, guides and sellers to part with as much money as they can dupe the traveller into spending. Despite these acts of desperation, the people are friendly and visitors can choose to do as little or as much as they like.
Economy and Banks
Today Kenya`s economy relies mainly on the export of coffee, tea, flowers and vegetables. These industries earn more than 60% of Kenya`s foreign exchange, and employ 80% of its workforce. Where tourism plays another major contribution to the economy, with its superb wildlife attractions also a contributor is mining, however still a minor role in Kenya`s economy. The history of Kenya`s economy since independence has not been plain sailing but rather troubled, possibly due to a 400% growth in its population. Other problems which the country has faced is extreme floods and droughts, political set backs and lack of international investment.
- Monday to Friday: 09h00 - 14h00
- First Saturday of the month: 09h00 - 11h00
Banks in Mombasa and the coastal areas open and close half an hour earlier, while banks and bureaux de change at international airports are open 24 hours a day. National and international banks have branches in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu, Thika, Eldoret, Kericho and Nyeri and in most other major towns. All major credit cards (Mastercard, Visa, Diners Club and American Express) are widely accepted.
Foreign currency can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and hotels; and easiest to exchange are US dollars, pounds sterling or Euro. Street exchange merchants are operating illegally so please be aware of this should you opt toward exchanging outside of banking hours.
ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and the major towns.
Kenyan Shilling (Ksh) is divided into 100 cents. It is not advisable to take Kenyan Shillings out of the country as they are difficult to exchange elsewhere. Travellers cheques in Sterling or US Dollars are recommended for travel in Kenya. US Dollars in particular have become commonly used in many of the country’s main hotels and safari lodges.
The Kenyan Director of Medical Services confirmed on 9 June 2005 an outbreak of cholera in the densely populated Eastleigh area of Nairobi, following five deaths. Although the Provincial Commissioner has banned the sale of food from road-side outlets in the city, it is still widely available. Food prepared by unlicensed vendors should be avoided.
Travellers should get the latest medical advice on inoculations and malaria prevention at least three weeks prior to departure. Immunisation against yellow fever, Hepatitis A, polio and typhoid are usually recommended. Also a malaria risk exists all year round, but more around Mombasa and the lower coastal areas than in Nairobi and on the high central plateau. Other risks include diarrhoeal diseases, hepatitis A, B and E and dengue fever. Protection against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes and tsetse flies is the best prevention against dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases. AIDS is a serious problem in Kenya and the necessary precautions should be taken.
Water is of variable quality and visitors are advised to drink bottled water wherever possible. There are good medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa but health insurance is essential.
A yellow fever certificate is required by all travellers to Kenya.
The following nationals intending on visiting Kenya on holiday, business or transit require visas: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and USA.
Below is the issuing authority in South Africa. One should first however, check if there is a Kenya Consulate in your country of residence. This will make the process of applying for a visa a lot simpler:
High Commission of the Republic of Kenya
302 Brooks Street, Menlo Park, 0081
Tel: (+27 12) 362 - 2249 / 50 / 51
Fax: (+27 12) 362 - 2252
Visa enquiries: Mon-Fri 08h30 to 13h00
This office is closed on all South African public holidays as well as 1 Jan, 13 and 16 April, 1 May, 1 June, 10 and 20 October, 12, 25 and 26 December. Eidul Fitr is announced by the Chief Kadhi of Kenya.
Proof of ability to return to countries of residence is a MUST for all travelers.
Kenya has a relatively well-developed transport system compared to neighbouring countries in Africa.
- Road - Kenya has one of the best paved highway networks and some of the busiest roads south of the Sahara, but maintenance is often neglected. There are approximately25 000 minibuses, contributing to 78% of the country’s public transport system.
Two routes in the Trans-African Highway network pass through Kenya and the capital, Nairobi.
- Airport - Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, located in Nairobi, is one of Kenya`s large aviation facilities and the airport that serves the country with the most international flights. Some international flights go to Moi International Airport in Mombasa Kisumu Airport will be upgraded to an international airport during the course of this year. Many airports with unpaved runways serve private purposes, such as private game parks and safari lodges, but are still serviced by airlines like Air Kenya.
- Rail - The former Uganda Railway, was run by the company East African Railways (E.A.R) jointly for the countries of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya after World War I. Since the dissolution of the E.A.R corporation in 1977 the national company Kenya Railways Corporation runs the former Uganda Railway and its branches in Kenya. The most important line in the country runs between the port of Mombasa and Nairobi, where sleeping car accommodation is offered for tourists
- Marine - Part of the Lake Victoria system is within the boundaries of Kenya. Kenya has a major international port at Mombasa, serving both Kenya and Uganda.
and Attractions Major Cities
Kenya is one of Africa`s most popular destinations . It is the land of original safaris with its vast wilderness, savannah rich with big game, equatorial forests, searing deserts and cool highland retreats, coral reefs and perfect beaches. Kenya is home to over 50 National Parks and reserves, including 6 maine parks in the Indian Ocean.
• The top attraction is the Maasai Mara, located about 225 km west of Nairobi in southwestern Kenya, the Masai Mara is one of finest national park on the African continent. Nestled amidst the Great African Rift Valley, and adjoining to the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania covering an area of approximately 1, 500 sq km, mostly comprising of open rolling savannah grasslands. Named after the world-famous Masai Tribes and the Mara River, the national park is known for its rich density of game, promising a wonderful experience for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers. Besides `Big Five`- Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhinoceros and Cape Buffalo - Masai Mara is home to millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. Other major wildlife species found in the park include Cheetah, Hyena, Jackal, Eland, Impala, Hartebeest, white-bearded Gnu, Oribi, Thomson`s and Grant`s gazelle, and Roan Antelope. The Masai Mara also shelters over 450 species of birds, including migratory birds.
• Located on Kenya-Tanzania border, approx. 220 km (140 miles) from Nairobi, Amboseli National Park is another major wildlife park in Kenya. Though a relatively small park by Kenyan standards, covering an area of just 330 sq km, the Park is known for its rich varieties of flora and fauna and breathtaking views of snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Though Amboseli is an important habitat for African Elephants, you can also find Black Rhino, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Lions and Leopards as a start. Amboseli also attracts and shelters over 400 species of birds.
• Tsavo National Park stretching over an area of approx. 21, 000 sq km and the largestpark in Kenya. The park is known for its spectacular landscapes and rich and diverse flora and fauna with its interesting variety of ecosystems ranging from semi-desert, savannah and open plains, to acacia woodland, palm thickets, mountain forest and riverine vegetation. On tours to Tsavo, you`ll find a number of picturesque volcanic hills, rocky ridges, lava flows, rivers, water spring, and more than 1, 000 plant species and 60 wildlife species. The Tsavo National Park offers breathtaking rolling volcanic landscape and amazing varieties of wildlife including the Big Five, and also shelters over 450 species of birds. The park is however primarily known for its great elephant and buffalo herds. Herds of up to 1, 000 elephants and buffalo are common sight in the park. Other major tourist attractions in the park include the picturesque Mzima Springs, known for its rich population of Crocodiles and Hippos. Large shoals of fish can also be seen here. Other major attractions in the park include the Mudanda Rock, Kanderi Swamp and the Aruba Dam two watering holes, which offer fabulous game viewing opportunities.
Aberdare National Park, Mount Kenya National Park, and Samburu Game Reserve, also offer their own unique wilderness adventure - should you be interested in the less commercialised experiences please do not hesitate to ask your consultant at African Chapter.
Kenyan Beaches with their vast sandy beaches and bounty deep blue waters, incredible aquarian fauna and peculiar coral reefs are also available and waiting to be explored.
South Coast Beaches - the coastline south of Mombasa is a tropical paradise of palm fringed white sand beaches and protective reefs. Days are filled with sunshine and nights are balmy and warm with gentle sea breezes. The beaches are bordered by lush green coastal rainforests with prolific birdlife and variety of wildlife including baboons, rare colobus monkeys and leopard. A wide range of World Class resorts, centred around Diani Beach allow visitors to relax and enjoy this natural paradise with the best standards of accommodation, service and cuisine.
The coastline north of Mombasa is completed with a world of history and natural beauty. The beaches are broken by the wide mouth of Kilifi Creek, whose azure waters are a popular port of call on the international yachting circuit. The beaches of Nyali, Vipingo, Kikambala and Shanzu are home to a wide range of World Class resorts with fine cuisine and services. The peaceful beach havens of Mtwapa and Takaungu offer an ideal escape from the outside world, with endless deserted beaches. The offshore reefs are alive with coral, myriad fish, sea turtles and dolphins. Both outer and inner reef walls offer world class diving with spectacular coral gardens and drop offs, and Kenya`s best cave diving.
Tana River Delta exists north of the famous Kenya beach town of Malindi and is an ideal destinations for swimming, game viewing and birdwatching. Internationally recognized as one of Kenya`s most important wetland area, offering a wildlife safari with a difference, the 40km wide delta, comprising of bubbling streams, pristine lakes, undulating dunes and vast stretches of Savannah grasslands is a gorgeous setting for any idealic holiday destination in Africa. The Delta is home to animals like elephant, bushbuck, buffalo and reedbuck, and not forgetting the array of bird species found in the Tana River Delta.
Preparation for your Journey in Kenya
• English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with 42 ethnic languages spoken.
• The time zone in Kenya is set at GMT +3 hrs
• Electricity - 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style square three-pin plugs are used
• Communication - The international access code for Kenya is +254. The outgoing code is 000 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00027 for South Africa), unless dialling Tanzania or Uganda when the outgoing codes are 007 or 006 respectively. International Direct Dial on networks such as MTN, along with 3 other local providers is available throughout most of the country, but the service is relatively expensive and inefficient, with MTN offering a standard R5 per minute roaming cost. Hotels usually add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills; it is less expensive to either call from one of the international phone services, which are available in larger towns or buy a pre-paid calling card for use in the public telephone booths. For international operator-assisted calls dial 0196. All major urban areas are covered by the mobile network; operators use GSM networks that have roaming agreements with most international mobile phone operators. Internet cafes are widely available in most towns and tourist areas.
• Tipping is not customary in Kenya, however a 10% service charge may be added to bill in more upmarket restaurants. Otherwise small change in local currency may be offered to taxi drivers, porters and waiters. On safari, however, drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips to get by, but these are discretionary.
• Safety - Nairobi is notorious for robberies and muggings and visitors should be alert at all times. Visitors should also be vigilant in Mombasa, as with any country main cities do attract the less savoury characters amongst our populations. There have been a number of recent knife attacks on tourists in the main south coast tourist areas of Diani and Ukunda so please be aware and avoid advertising your wealth. There is a serious threat of banditry in the northern areas and travel is only advisable with an armed escort. For security reasons visitors to Lamu Island are advised to travel by air. Visitors should take sensible precautions when driving; in particular, landmines have been used in attacks around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the border at this point should stay on the A2. There is a high threat from global terrorism in Kenya and visitors should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites. All political rallies or large gatherings should be avoided, particularly during the run up and during the public Referendum, which is scheduled to take place on 21 November 2005; demonstrations on 29 October resulted in several deaths.
• Customs - The taking of photographs of official buildings and embassies is not advised and could lead to detention. It is illegal to destroy Kenyan currency, and homosexuality is against the law.
• Visas purchased on point of entry – simple procedures and no complications are an encouragement to travellers to Kenya
• Health - An outbreak of cholera in the densely populated Eastleigh area of Nairobi, resulted in five deaths. Sale of food from road-side outlets in the city is banned, but still widely available. Food prepared by unlicensed vendors should be avoided. Malaria prevention is advised. Immunisation against yellow fever, Hepatitis A, polio and typhoid are usually recommended. Other risks include diarrhoeal diseases, hepatitis A, B and E and dengue fever. Protection against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes and tsetse flies is the best prevention against dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases. AIDS is a serious problem in Kenya and the necessary precautions should be taken. Water is of variable quality and visitors are advised to drink bottled water wherever possible. There are good medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa but health insurance is essential.
The combination of wildlife, together with its beaches and mountains, make Kenya a fantastic holiday destination. Please ensure that you have visited African Chapters packages for a list of suggested active combinations as well as options for a more relaxed vacation in one of Africas better known destinations.
Travel Safely and enjoy the Wonderful Destination of Kenya!
Please don't hesitate to contact us directly, we have visited here previously and are able to provide you with up to date information at any time.