Just 140km south of the equator between the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, 494 km to the east, and Lake Victoria, 338 km to the west at an altitude of 1670 m, lies Nairobi - a popular Kenya holiday destination. It was not until the turn of the century when the Uganda railway reached half way across East Africa at “Enkare Nyarobe” (the place of the cold water), in 1896 that the area become a permanent settlement. In 1907 the British moved the colonial administration from Mombasa to Nairobi and since them, what was once a small group of huts has grown spectacularly into East Africa’s most modern city. Nairobi’s moderate climate, rich history, modern facilities and central location makes it an obvious start to any Kenya safari.
Mombasa and the Coastline
The Kenya Coastline is truly a distinctive part of the country with a rich romantic history dating back over a 1000 years. It is home of the Miji Kenda civilization (the nine tribes who inhabited the area) from whose dialects the Swahili language, Kenya’s Lingua Franca, evolved to be spoken across half of Africa. The island town of Mombasa, besides being the headquarters of the province, is the main sea gate on the Eastern African coastline and is Kenya’s oldest and second major metropolis. Along the palm fringed coastline lies a spectacular coral reef running almost uninterrupted for 480 km, teeming with wonders of marine life, lagoons, creeks and overwhelming bird life in mangrove forests or overhanging cliffs. These, together with a variety of entertainment, make a Kenya holiday at the coast a truly memorable experience.
The 16th century fort Jesus in the old town is important for it’s historical significance. The Fort is the oldest in Africa built by the Portuguese explorers. It is now a national museum and houses well preserved artefacts and relics, some dating 300 years ago. A visit to the fort during your Kenya holiday is a journey back in time. At the end of your visit you may enjoy a refreshing chilled class of lime juice atop the battlements, symbolic of the turbulent history of the Fort cooled by breezes from the Indian Ocean. Shimoni to the south of Mombasa is a popular fishing village. Nearby Funzi Island provides ideal bathing conditions and there is a Marine National Park. A variety of water sports are available at several Kenya hotels centred on the Diani Beach about 40km from Mombasa and the Shimba Hills National Reserve offer excursions for wildlife viewing. Jumba la Mtwana to the north offers insights to life during the 15’th and 16’th centuries when the economic and trading life of the Swahili people centred mainly on agriculture, wood carving, mangrove cutting, fishing, metal work, quarrying, boat building and construction, as well as trade in ivory and gold.
Lake Naivasha and Nakuru are a perfect day trip from Nairobi and the spotting point for hundreds and thousands of flamingos. Lake Bogoria features hot springs, the sight of fishermen in papyrus boats and the rare Greater Kudu. Nakuru boasts the rare Rothschild Giraffe and an extraordinary Rhino sanctuary. Naivasha is best seen by boat. Further west is Lake Victoria, source of the Nile, and the Afro-Alpine flora of Mt Elgon National Park, both reached through the immense pre-historic landscape of the Rift Valley. Eight kilometres south of Nakuru Town and covering an area of 200 square kilometres, Nakuru Park is unquestionably “the greatest ornithological spectacle on earth” - the congregation point of an estimated 100,000 to 2 million flamingos and over 400 other species of birds. With the park greatly enlarged since its creation in 1961, and extensive ecological cleaning up of the area, wildlife of a wide variety can now be seen in the park as part of your Kenya safari.
The classic Kenya safari from July to September, the Mara provides one of nature’s most dramatic spectacles, the annual migration of over a million wildebeest and zebras, teeming from the south to cross the Mara River into the Masai Mara National Reserve. The stunning Savannah stretches on forever. In the vast landscape you can see Cheetah, the fastest animal in the world, chasing Antelope and Gazelle. In the Mara River Hippos bathe, and on the banks, Crocodiles sun themselves. This is truly one of the world’s very special places and a must see when you travel to Kenya.
As East Africa’s plains fade yellow after the summer’s rains, an ancient signal is sent to millions of beast as one, the horizon blurring with the bodies of 1.4 million wildebeest and 200 000 zebra, eland and gazelle, relentlessly tracked by Africa’s great predators. This is the migration - one of the most awe-inspiring sights on earth. The migration has its origin on Tanzania’s southern Serengeti plains, where great herds of wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle gather to graze on the rain-ripened grass in January. But by the end of May the depleted plains are unable to sustain them - and an ancient impulse commands them to move. Like iron filings being drawn by a magnet, the great herds sweep north towards the Masai-Mara plains. By July the herds have amassed along the swollen Mara River - their final barrier from the short, sweet grasses ahead. With wild eyes, they plunge in to face the crocodiles which await them. Many who struggle through the deadly flotilla are drowned, or else weakened, falling prey to ambushing lions. This is the dramatic life-and-death struggle that travellers have come to see. Between June and October the herds total 1.4 million beasts in the Masai Mara and a dust cloud of movement and noise pervades the air. Here the green grass of the Mara-plains nourishes them - until the arrival of the November rains, calling them back south again. Back on the rain-sweetened Serengeti grasslands, the pregnant females give birth in spontaneous profusion. The circle of life is completed. It is this profusion of wildlife that is one of the main drawing cards of Kenya safaris.
Mount Kenya & The Abedares
Snow-capped Mount Kenya is Africa’s second highest mountain, a stunning and challenging destination for climbers and trekkers. Below the mountain’s alpine meadows roam Mountain Elephant, Black Rhino, Cape buffalo and Antelope. On its lower slopes is Ol Pejeta, a private range and Rhino sanctuary and nearby is the famous Mount Kenya Safari Club founded by William Holden. The Aberdares sport high alpine moorland and primeval aloe forest. Here you can visit Treetops where leopard can regularly be seen refreshing themselves. The Aberdare Ranges are a mountain group that are also known as the Nyandarua Ranges in Kikuyu. They were explored in 1883. The mountains were named by Joseph Thomson in 1883 after Lord Aberdare who was the then president of the Royal Geographical Society. Lying in these mountains, this park covers an area of 770 square kilometres. A mixture of mountain rain forest, moorland, thick bamboo forests and sub alpine plants make up the vegetation in this park. Giant Heath and Tussock grass cover the moorlands, which are crossed by wandering trout filled streams that cascade into beautiful waterfalls. Vast numbers of wildlife are found on the eastern side of the Aberdares as compared to the Western side which is surrounded by the steep eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley. This area is a fantastic accompaniment to any Kenya holiday.
Amboseli National Park
Ever present is the remarkable view of Kilimanjaro, under which the park boasts one of Kenya’s best displays of wildlife. Hemingway wrote of it as the essence of Africa. Elephants rummage in the lower forests, Leopards prowl the salt flats and Antelope graze - all against the backdrop of Kilimanjaro’s majestic peak. These classic images of Africa are why people travel to Kenya. Apart from a few patches of acacia forest, Amboseli parklands comprise of only scrub and very fragile saline grass-the dry volcanic ash would host little more. The melting snows of Kilimanjaro feed rivers and springs that supply water to the swamps unlike Amboseli, which is usually completely dry flooding only in the rainy seasons. Attracted to the swamps are a large variety of wildlife comprising of Antelope, Wildebeeste, Giraffe, Zebra, large herds of Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo, and the predators, the Lion, Cheetah and occasionally the Leopard. Much a part of the Amboseli scenery is the Maasai tribesmen who graze their cattle here, for this is also the home of the Maasai.
Samburu & Buffalo Springs
The semi-arid country of northern Kenya, framed by volcanic mountain ranges and dotted with lakes, each unique. Throughout the region, rare animals abound; the Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, and long-necked Gerenuk. Adjacent to this area is the beautiful Meru National park home of Elsa the Lioness, befriended by Joy and George Adamson and featured in Joy’s Book and the film, Born Free. Similar in flora and fauna, the three reserves of Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs are situated around the Uaso Nyiro River. The park lies in a semi arid, open savannah plain broken occasionally by small rugged hills.
Tsavo East & Tsava West
This is possibly the world’s biggest game sanctuary. On the east side roam ‘red’ Elephants, named from the colour of rich earth of the area they throw over themselves. On the west are the Mzima springs where Hippo and Crocodile bathe. A model national park in geographic, animal and plant diversity situated half way between Nairobi and Mombasa - making it ideal for those wanting to include both Kenya safari and coast on their itinerary. In the evening Tsavo Sunsets span the sky filling the horizons with incredible colour. One of the great geological spectacles of Tsavo East National Park is the Mudunda Rock 24 kilometres north of Voi Safari Lodge between the Voi and Manyani Gates. This stratified rock is a water catchment area supplying a dam at its base-a congregation point during dry seasons for hundreds of Elephant, Buffalo and other game, which can be viewed from a vantage point halfway up the rock. More popular of the two is the wilderness north of Tsavo West with its fine extensive plains, lava flows, steep rocky hills and the famous Mzima Springs. A natural wonder this oasis is in an arid lava plain, which daily pours out 2,250 litres of water that has travelled 48 kilometres under the ground from the Chyullu Hills. Hippos, Crocodiles and a wide variety of fish can be seen in the crystal clear water from a sunken observation tank. Numbering over 20,000 the world’s greatest concentration of elephants are the dominant animals of this park, for decades devastating vegetation to its present scrub grassland.
Some 583 000 kilometres square, bisected by the equator, inhabited by over 40 different tribes, and populated by the most numerous and varied wildlife in the world, Kenya is the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ and a land of spectacular contrast. From the pre-historic splendour of the Rift Valley to the beautiful beaches of the Indian Ocean, from the cultural hub of Nairobi to the game-parks of Tsavo and the Masai Mara, this vast country is a traveller’s heaven. In Hemingway’s words Kenya is unknowable, unimaginable, unbelievable.” We’d like to add completely unforgettable. A Kenya safari is one of the best ways to explore this beautiful region.
Before the turn of the twentieth century, Kenya was mainly inhabited by the African peoples and its economy was almost entirely at a subsistence level. Trade with the outside world was almost non-existent except for some Asian and Arab traders along the coast. The construction of the Uganda Railway and the coming to Kenya of the white settlers at the beginning of the 20th century marked a major development in the Kenyan economy. The settlers introduced plantation agriculture, the main crops including, coffee, tea, sisal, wheat and pyrethrum. The settlers also introduced livestock ranching. However, towards the end of the colonial era some economic development had started. Africans were gradually allowed to grow cash crops such as coffee and tea, although to a limited extent. Nevertheless, participation of Africans in the modern economy remained limited. In addition almost the entire African labour force was unskilled. The coming of independence in 1963, therefore, generally involved accelerating trends which had already started to emerge, and altering the emphasis given to different objectives. Now Kenya safaris and tourism is a major contributor to the Kenyan economy.
Whilst African Travel Gateway does not arrange visas, the following information has been provided to assist you in finding out the visa requirements for the passport that you are holding. While every effort is made to keep this information updated, it is subject to change.
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
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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.
Regulations regarding health may change from time to time; therefore a check with any airline flying scheduled flights to Kenya is advised. There is high malaria prevalence in some parts of Kenya and visitors are advised to take anti-malarial drugs two weeks before they travel to Kenya. A yellow fever certificate will be needed if coming from an endemic area. The following points travelers must be aware of:
There are reasobably good medical facilities in major towns that form part of Kenya safaris. Nairobi is the main centre and has most medical specialists.
The best time to go on a Kenya holiday is traditionally July to February. The classic Kenya safari from July to September, as this is when the Mara provides one of nature’s most dramatic spectacles - the annual migration of over a million wildebeest and zebras, teeming from the south to cross the Mara River into the Masai Mara National Reserve.
The vegetation that covers the rocks and the wildlife that live there and the overall attractiveness of a climate essentially depend on three major factors: temperature, rainfall and humidity. In Kenya these three factors are controlled by altitude. In general the low areas are very hot and the temperature falls as the land rises. The low areas also tend to have poor rainfall and a dry atmosphere with low humidity. The main exceptions are the coastal strip and the area along the shore of Lake Victoria in the west. Both are hot with high rainfall and high humidity.
All major currencies can be changed in East Africa; there is in principle no restriction in dealing with foreign currencies. Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank, which have a substantial network of branches in Kenya (also in resorts), provide local currency at ATMs against Visa or Master card. Banks are open from 9:00am to 3:00pm, Monday to Friday. Some branches open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 11:00am. Many banks are now equipped with 24 hour ATM machines. The Bank branches at Jomo Kenyatta International airport (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport both run 24 hour forex services. Enquire with your local financial advisor if you have any further questions before you travel to Kenya.
The Kenya shilling is freely exchangeable, and most major facilities accept major credit cards. The official currency is the Kenya Shilling. The written abbreviation is either KSh or using /= after the amount (ie 500/=). Available Notes are 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 shillings. Available coins are 5, 10 and 20 shillings. Visitors to Kenya should change foreign currency at banks, bureaux de change or authorized hotels. The easiest currencies to exchange are US Dollars, Pounds sterling and Deutschmarks. Traveller’s Cheques are widely accepted, and many hotels, travel agencies, safari companies and restaurants accept Credit Cards. Most Banks in Kenya are equipped to advance cash on credit cards. There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that can be brought into Kenya. Before departure, travellers are advised to convert any excess Kenya shillings into foreign currency at a bank or bureau de change before departure. Departure taxes can be paid in local or foreign currency. Anyone wishing to take more than 500,000 Kenya Shillings out of the country will require written authorization from the Central Bank.
On the coast it is recommended that your wear light clothing due to high humidity. Cotton and loose fitting garments are comfortable. In other towns knee length shorts or skirts and T-shirts are acceptable. If you visit a place of worship during your Kenya holiday, men should wear long trousers and ladies skirts below the knee.
Kenya hotels and lodges have a generally high standard cuisine is good, usually buffet style, offering a wide variety. Most Kenya hotels have a specialty. These are very popular and some require table reservations especially on Fridays and weekends. Fish and meat are widely eaten and are of excellent quality. Fresh vegetables and fruits are readily available as well as tasty vegetarian dishes. Plenty of spices and chillies are used in local dishes. Kenya produces good wines and beers of various brands. Fresh fruit juice is plentiful and available in most restaurants and bars. Prices vary with Kenya hotel bars being the most expensive.
If you’d like to take home more than just memories of your African holiday, you’ll find a wide range of local products that make ideal souvenirs or gifts. Kenyan products are as diverse and unique as the country itself. There are traditional artefacts, fantastic jewellery, beautiful carvings, the world’s best coffee, precious stones, furniture, beautiful cloth, excellent local music, wonderful modern art and so much more to be found. Excellent, well stocked gift shops can be found in many hotels, lodges and camps throughout the country.
Often real finds can be found a little further off the beaten track. For the dedicated bargain hunter, Kenya’s markets are the place to be and should most certainly be included in your Kenya holiday itinerary. Markets selling all kinds of local arts and crafts can be found all over the country. In Nairobi, large open air markets are held each week. Bargaining is the expected norm in markets and even in some shops throughout Kenya. The art of bargaining has deep roots in Kenyan culture, and is regarded as an essential business skill. Visitors to Kenya should never be afraid to bargain; it is expected and rarely considered offensive. Opening prices are always an exaggerated gambit, and considered the first step in a long process of bargaining. The real price is usually somewhere in the lower vicinity of half the initial price. How close you come to the real price is up to you. Bargaining can be a long and convoluted process, involving protracted negotiations. Some westerners can find this frustrating, but it is an essential and usually amicable custom. If you are in a hurry and need to move on, it is the usual practice to finalize proceedings by declaring your ‘absolute final price’ (the Bei ya Mwisho) and asking for theirs. If you can both agree a figure between the two then the deal is done. The basic rule of bargaining is this: Bargain hard but don’t be unreasonable. Don’t forget that some work, especially good quality carvings and beaded jewellery, takes a long time to make and involves a lot of hard work. Prices need to be fair from both sides. Some tourists barter goods like old t-shirts, pens and other items for local handicrafts. This practice can be culturally questionable, and it is usually much preferred to use money. Giving sweets and candy to children should definitely be avoided. The following are samples of some of the best buys you will get on your Kenya safari:
220 / 240 volts AC. Plugs are the UK-type, round 2-pin or flat 3 pin. If you are planning to bring a video camera charger or any other electrical advice on your Kenya holiday, please bring voltage and plug adaptors where appropriate.