Kenya is a destination of rich and colourful tapestry. This is a country to be explored by following in the footsteps of giants, venturing in a safari vehicle, riding the wind in a hot air balloon, relaxing on the beach or witnessing the wild wonders of the Great Migration. Kenya’s landscapes are abundant in abundance, teeming with wildlife with a backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, volcanic outcrops, natural springs and rift valley lakes. Kenya is the definition of diversity.
The best months to visit Kenya are January to March as well as July to September. The rainy season begins March until April – not an optimum time for game viewing as well as being unpleasant with humid heat and muddy conditions. There is another short rainy season where short bursts of rain occur during November and December.
The best time for wildlife is during the dry season, specifically from late June until early October. This is also the optimum season to witness the famous wildebeest migration – a bucket list safari experience and a prime reason why travellers are drawn to East Africa.
The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling (KES; symbol KSh). Notes are in denominations of KSh1,000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Coins are in denominations of KSh20, 10 and 5.
Foreign currency can be exchanged at the major banks, bureaux de change or authorised hotels. The banks at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Moi International Airport have 24-hour exchange services. The easiest currencies to exchange are US Dollars, Pounds Sterling and Euros.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding US$5,000 or equivalent must be declared.
Banking hours: Monday-Friday 09h00-16h00, Saturday 09h00-12h00. Banks in Mombasa and the coastal areas typically open and close half an hour earlier.
Credits Cards are widely accepted in all major hotels and more upmarket establishments, with the most recognized being Master Card and Visa. American Express and Diners Club cards are occasionally accepted. However, you will need some cash handy because smaller shops will only accept cash.
Almost every bank now has an ATM, and they are increasingly being installed at petrol stations in cities and large towns.
Travellers’ cheques are no longer accepted in Kenya.
Nairobi has two airports for domestic and regional flights: Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport (www.kaa.go.ke). Kenya has over 150 domestic airports and airstrips and there are daily flights to the most popular destinations. In addition to the scheduled airlines, several private charter companies operate out of Wilson Airport.
Kenya Airways (www.kenya-airways.com), Air Kenya (www.airkenya.com), Fly 540 (www.fly540.com), Mombasa Air Safari (www.mombasaairsafari.com) and Safarilink (www.flysafarilink.com) serve the most popular safari destinations, plus many others such as Lake Victoria.
On smaller, domestic planes the baggage allowance is restricted to 10-15 kg (22-33 lbs). Arrangements can be made to leave excess luggage with hotels or airlines.
Main roads between the major cities and towns are generally in good condition. Vehicles are driven on the left side of the road.
You can hire self-drive and chauffeur-driven cars from travel agents and international hire companies.
It is not possible to rent motorbikes or mopeds but some of the beach resorts hire out bicycles. Three-wheeled auto rickshaws are popular in town centres and carry up to three passengers.
Bottled water is advisable for the first few weeks of your stay. When buying bottled water, check the seal of the bottle is intact. Never drink tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (such as with iodine tablets). Never drink from streams, rivers and lakes. It’s also best to avoid drinking from pumps and wells – some do bring pure water to the surface, but the presence of animals can still contaminate supplies. Avoid ice and wash salads and fruit except in upmarket hotels and restaurants. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Food prepared by unlicensed vendors should be avoided at all times.
Nairobi has some of the finest eating establishments in Africa. Many different cuisines and types of restaurants are available, from fast food to fancy. Many five-star hotels have excellent restaurants. Restaurants are called “hotels” and there are many in Nairobi. The local cuisine is also worth trying out, particularly Pilau-a chicken and rice dish, cabbage and rice; and the staple food in Kenya-Ugali, made from maze flour.
Many restaurants can be found downtown and in the areas of Westlands and Hurlingham but these areas are filled with tourists and places like Ayani, Olympic, Kibera, and other places have more authentic food. Among the many cuisines available are Indian, Brazilian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, German and French restaurants. Fast food restaurants, mostly by South African chains (Steers, Nandos), are common in the larger urban areas.
Kenya has three types of climate: temperate subtropical climate in the west and southwest highlands (where Nairobi is located), hot and humid along the coast, and hot and dry in the north and east.
Comfortable, casual clothing that is lightweight is best while on safari. It can be quite cool in the early mornings, so you’ll want to dress warmly in layers until the sun has a chance to warm up the air. “Kenya Convertibles”, khaki pants with zip-off legs, are perfect for cool early morning game drives that turn warm before you’re back in camp. Walking shorts, long pants, cotton shirts and tees are just right. A cotton bush jacket or windbreaker will be useful along with a warm sweater or fleece jacket for cooler nights. And, a hat that ties on is a must. There is not a good deal of long walking or hiking on most safaris, so a comfortable pair of walking shoes or tennis shoes and a pair of sandals should be adequate. You will need thorn-proof soles.
In Kenya’s major cities the dress code is conservative but not overly formal – jeans and decent tops for women are fine. Swimsuits are acceptable on the beach but you’ll need to cover up in public places.
Wi-Fi is readily available in major cities and hotels, as well as in luxury game lodges.
Electric Power is 220V – 240V running at 50Hz. The Plug type used in Kenya is the 3 large flat prong (UK). If your appliances are compatible with 220V-240V electrical output, an adapter is all that you will need, if not a voltage converter will be necessary.