A-Z Travel Information
When traveling through Kenya, you will come across a great variety of accommodation, differing in price and character. The following descriptions should help you understand their differences.
Lodge: This is essentially a luxury hotel found in a national park or game reserve. Most lodges are built in places with wonderful views, and are well integrated into the landscape as they are partly built with local building materials like natural stone and wood. Their capacity can vary significantly from 12 to 100 beds.
Safari camp: Most safari camps are smaller in size and don't have permanent buildings but they are also located within conservation areas. The experience of the bush and African wildlife they offer is even more intense, as guests sleep in luxury tents or traditional-style huts commonly called bandas. Tents and huts they may be, but comfort is not compromised at all; the accommodations are exclusive and offer a lot of personal service.
Luxury hotel: Luxury hotels are big hotels built to international standards. They come in two types:
- The classic business hotel, which is mostly found in Nairobi and major towns. These offer you service and quality you could expect anywhere else on the globe.
- The beach hotels along the Indian Ocean. These usually feature big gardens, creatively shaped swimming pools, and a range of water sporting activities.
Boarding & lodging: Guesthouses and local hotels are found all over Kenya; they can be recognized by the phrases “boarding & lodging”, “guesthouse” or “inn” in their names. They are rather simple and cheap and offer limited comfort. But in most cases you can expect mosquito nets and your own bathroom, and in some a fan, TV and an attendant restaurant and bar.
Campsite: Kenya offers a huge number of campsites, in or near the bigger cities as well as within national parks and reserves or in the country side. Campsites in conservation areas are mostly rustic, offering just a long drop toilet and possibly water and firewood. There are some very well managed private campsites in Kenya with restaurants, bars, and plenty of space for you to pitch your own tent. Some of these campsites also have cottages and bandas, which you can opt for instead of setting up a tent.
Resident and nonresident rates: Many big hotels have different rates for residents and nonresidents. Resident rates for Kenyans and people living in Kenya are stated in KES and are normally a bit more favorable while nonresident rates are stated in US Dollar.
High season and low season: Rates change with the season; during the off season, this normally being between April and July at the Coast and April to June elsewhere, the rates are cheaper. Prices peak during the high season, especially if your stay coincides with holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Eve.
Air travel to Kenya
There are two major international airports in the country: Moi International Airport in Mombasa as the coastal hub and Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
JKIA is a regional hub that is a destination for many international airlines including British Airways, Air France, KLM, Swiss, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airways, Egypt Air, Emirates, and Qatar Airways. The national carrier, Kenya Airways, is headquartered there and offers connections to many African, European and Asian destinations. However, currently there are no direct flight connections from Kenya to Oceania and the Americas.
Mombasa is connected through major European charter airlines, including Air Berlin, Condor, Edelweiss Air and Monarch, as well as Qatar and Emirates.
Flying time from Europe to Kenya is around eight hours.
Best travel time
In Kenya, contrary to the Northern Hemisphere, April to September are the cool months while high temperatures prevail from November to March. However, because of Kenya's diverse geographical features, the best travel times differ greatly between the various parts of the country.
At the Coast, warm temperatures prevail all year round, but due to the Kusi, the southeast monsoon, weather can be rather windy, grey and uncomfortable during April and May. Divers should avoid the months between May and August because of the churning sea and poor visibility under water.
The central highlands and the mountainous regions of Western Kenya are usually cloudy and surprisingly chilly for most of the European summer. Temperatures can drop below 10°C at night, while at high altitudes even frost may occur. The dry and warm months of January and February are best for hiking and mountain climbing, when there is less cloud cover and weather is relatively dry.
The best months for game viewing are the dry seasons from January to March and between July and September when the animals congregate around the few permanent water sources and the grass is not so tall.
The world famous great migration in the Maasai Mara can be witnessed in regular years between July and October.
Standard postcards and letters from Kenya to central Europe by air mail cost about KES 50.
There are internet cafes to be found in all major towns and even many minor settlements. The average cost of surfing the internet is about KES 1 per minute. In some internet cafes you can also use VOIP services to call home, and this is by far cheaper than using a foreign mobile line or hotel service.
If your mobile phone is not SIM-locked, you can insert a Kenyan SIM card for easier communication. The two major phone companies in the country are Safaricom and Airtel. Prepaid credits are available all over Kenya in denominations of KES 10, 20, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000. The tariffs for all calls, local as well as international, are usually found in the guidebook that is provided along with the SIM card. SIM cards are required by law to be registered to their owners at most phone company agents.
Roaming charges are prohibitively expensive, and will be incurred even if you are the one receiving a call or text.
If you want to call home from Kenya, remember that you will have to put the proper country code before the normal phone number. For calls from abroad to Kenya, the country code is +254.
Coral reefs and islands, mangrove forests and sandy beaches, bush and savannah, rivers and lakes, deserts and jungles, volcanoes and snow-capped summits - the diversity of Kenya's protected ecosystems is truly impressive!
About sixty national parks and reserves, covering approximately 50,000 km² are under protection; this is almost ten percent of Kenya's surface. While the national parks are managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service, national reserves fall under the county governments. The past decade has witnessed the creation of numerous private sanctuaries which further enhance Kenya's protected area. As diverse as the ecosystems are the entry fees charged. Ticket prices are noted in the respective descriptions of the conservation areas, which you find on the 50 Treasures of Kenya subpages.
Inside the protected areas, rules are in place in order to minimize negative impact of tourism on animals and ecosystems. Please help to safeguard the country's natural legacy by respecting the rules and reporting any violations to the rangers in charge.
Safari code of conduct
- A speed limit of 40 km/h applies in all national parks and game reserves. Animals always have the right of way!
- Night drives between 7pm and 6am are prohibited in most national parks. Most private sanctuaries allow night game drives if you are accompanied by a ranger.
- Disturbing or harassing animals is strictly prohibited! Allow animals their privacy and keep a distance of at least 15 meters.
- Driving off-road in national parks and national reserves is strictly forbidden. Wild tracks destroy vulnerable vegetation and promote soil erosion.
- A number of game can severely injure or even kill man in a split second, including crocodiles, buffaloes, elephants, hippos, rhinos, lions, leopards, hyenas, and even ostriches and giraffes! For your own safety, only leave the car where signs specifically allow you to do so. Walking in the wild at night when the predators are out to hunt is extremely dangerous, so make sure you are accompanied by an experienced armed guard if you have to do so.
- Take all your litter with you. Animals can be injured by broken glass and tin cans. To avoid the risk of triggering a devastating bush fire, do not throw cigarette butts and light fires only at designated areas!
- Camping is permitted only at designated sites.
- Pets are prohibited in conservation areas.
- It is strictly forbidden to remove any plants, animals and bones from the parks.
Any amount of foreign currency may be legally imported to Kenya, but strict limits apply for consumer goods: A maximum of 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes and perfumes up to 0.5 liters can be imported duty free. For pets, you need a veterinary health certificate or an import permit. Cameras, laptop computers and other technical equipment for your personal use can be brought along without any custom duties.
Please beware that specific custom regulations will apply when you return to your home country.
Dos and Don'ts
Values in many rural areas of Kenya and especially at the Kenyan Coast may differ significantly from your own cultural perceptions.
Greetings play a major role in maintaining social contacts and expressing respect for each other. So even if you only want to ask for directions, you are expected to greet properly first.
Polepole is a Swahili expression meaning 'slowly', which you may get to hear quite often when traveling through Kenya. Kenyans regard it as rude to address any pending issues directly and this is often misread by impatient tourists as slowness.
In general, conflicts are solved by consensus, in order to enable all parties to save face. Accordingly, it is seen as a colossal affront to embarrass or criticize other people in public. If you know how to solve disagreements and problems discretely you are likely to get further much faster.
Elderly people are given a lot more of respect than in the West. They are asked for advice and are always greeted first.
Your reputation can be seriously hampered through inappropriate clothing. African people give tidiness and a well-groomed appearance a lot of attention. Dressing in scanty clothing, a la micro-mini skirts and clothes made from diaphanous materials is heavily frowned upon. In the Coast, you can freely walk around in bikinis and other skimpy clothing but only within the beach area; doing the same around towns will greatly offend the predominantly Muslim population in the region. Always have a lesso or khanga close by to cover yourself up when the need arises.
Walking around topless, or bathing in the nude within public spaces are considered public indecencies, and are civil offences. Public displays of affection are confined mostly to holding hands; hugging is acceptable to varying degrees around the country.
You can get into serious trouble if you lack proper respect for the symbols of the Kenyan state, for example by burning, tearing or staining banknotes, the national flag or the portrait of the president.
The possession and/or consumption of drugs in Kenya – be it marijuana or hard drugs – will, upon success conviction, land you in prison, and Kenyan prison are not the best place to spend a holiday, and the possibility is high you will still be languishing in jail long after the holiday period has passed. The penalties are stiff, and the wheels of justice occasionally move very slowly; your period in remand could last longer than your prison term. Avoid drugs.
Many villages are not yet connected to the grid although their number is growing daily as the government undertakes huge efforts to electrify the rural areas. While staying in a safari lodge electricity will often be available only during specific times of the day once the generator is turned on, usually in the evening and early morning hours. If such are your accommodations, it is important to know these times if you have to charge your phone or camera batteries. The AC voltage in Kenya is 230 volts.
Sockets in Kenya have three square pins. If you are coming from a country with a different system, adapters are available in local hardware stores or supermarkets.
Embassies / Consulates
Contacts of foreign embassies and consulates in Kenya:
Austria: City House, 2 Floor, Wabera Street / Standard Street, Tel. 020 319 07-6 to -8.
China: Woodlands Road, Tel. 020 272 6851 and 020 272 6851.
France: Barclays Plaza, 9th Floor, Loita Street, Nairobi; Tel. 020 339 783.
Germany: Ludwig Krapf House, 113 Riverside Drive, Tel. 020 426 2100, the number for emergencies will be announced on the answering machine.
India: Jeevan Bharati, Harambee Avenue, Tel. 020 222 566.
Italy: International Life House, Mama Ngina Street, Tel. 020 337 3560 and 337 777.
Russia: Lenana Road, Tel. 020 722 462.
Switzerland: International House, 7 Floor, Mama Ngina Street, Tel. 020 228 735.
UK: Upper Hill road, Upper Hill, Nairobi, Tel. 020 284 4000.
USA: Gigiri Avenue, Tel. 020 537 800.
Austria: Ralli House, 3rd floor, Nyerere Avenue, Tel. 041 231 3386.
Germany: Bank of India Building, 2nd Floor, Nkrumah Road, Tel. 041 222 8781 and 314 732.
India: Nkrumah Road, Tel. 041 222 4433 and 231 1051.
Italy: Margroup Plaza, Sauti ya Kenya Road, Tel. 041 311 091, 041 227 235.
Switzerland: c/o Orion Hotels Limited, Bamburi, Tel. 0727 695 452.
United Kingdom: Cotts House 1st Floor, Moi Avenue, Mombasa, Tel. 041 222 0033.
Contacts of Kenyan embassies abroad
Austria: Embassy of the Republic of Kenya, Neulinggasse 29/8, 1030 Vienna, Tel. 01 712 39-19 or -20.
China: No.4, Xi Liu Street, San Li Tun, Chaoyang District, Beijing Tel. 010 653 233 81 and 653 224 73.
Germany: Embassy of the Republic of Kenya, Markgrafenstraße 63, 10969 Berlin, Tel. 030 259 2660.
France: 3 rue Freycinet 75116, Paris Tel. 01 56 62 25 25.
Russia: Lopukhinsky Pereulok 5, Moscow, Tel. 0495 637 2186.
India: 34, Pschimi Marg Vasant Vihar, New Delhi 110057, Tel. 011 261 465 37.
Italy: Viale Luca Gaurico 205, 00143 Rome, Tel. 006 808 2717, Cell: 0 3318684326.
Switzerland: Consulate General of the Republic of Kenya, Avenue de la Paix 1-3, 1202 Geneva, Tel. 022 906 4050.
UK: 45 Portland Place, London W1B 1AS, Tel. 020 763 623 71-5.
USA: 866 UN Plaza Suite 4010, New York, NY 10017, USA, Tel. 212 421 4741.
Anyone traveling to the Kenyan Highlands is well advised to pack warm clothing, as it can be quite chilly when cloudy and it gets cold in the evenings. At the tropical coast, light cotton dresses to shield you from mosquitoes and the equatorial sun are sufficient. Besides carrying sandals, proper footwear is a must if you are planning to hike or do a safari.
The sun at the equator - whether in low- or highlands – can get incredibly intense. Consequently, a sun hat, a sunscreen with a high SPF and sunglasses should be included in your luggage.
A money belt holding your personal documents, credit cards and cash which you wear under your clothing has proven to be the best option to protect your valuables. Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home or your hotel.
Tetanus, diphtheria and polio vaccinations are important in East Africa and should be refreshed, if necessary. Malaria is endemic to East Africa, so please take anti-malaria medication before arrival, and see your physician about a prescription if staying for a long while. High altitude areas do not normally have malaria, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
In addition, vaccinations against yellow fever and hepatitis A and B are recommended.
Gastric problems are usually the predominant health problems tourists suffer from. By sticking to the old traveler's rule 'Cook it, peel it or forget it', you can avoid debilitating conditions like diarrhea. Ice cream, mayonnaise, salad and drinking water are potential media for germs, so be very selective when purchasing or consuming them. The risk of receiving water-borne infections is greatly reduced by purchasing sealed bottles of mineral water, available in most parts of the country.
It is highly advisable to obtain a short term international medical insurance which costs only a few dollars but will grant you free of charge repatriation in case of serious emergencies. Make sure that the insurance policy offers full coverage in the event of a prolonged illness or recovery from an accident. Moreover, the insurance should cover the extension of the previously designated time of validity if the return is not possible in case of sickness.
If you are a fluent English speaker, you will have hardly any communication problems while traveling Kenya, as a majority of Kenyans speak excellent English. The national language is Kiswahili, which is also well understood by a sizeable majority of Kenyans.
However, it is possible to get around even if you do not know English, as many tour organizations have polyglots well versed with foreign languages, including Italian, French, German and Mandarin Chinese.
If you are intent upon travelling into remote regions of Kenya, you could be required to hire the service of an interpreter, as there more than 40 local languages in the country.
Nelles Maps and Reise Know-How Publishers both produce recommendable maps in a scale of 1:950.000.
The Kenyan currency is called Shilling (KES), but colloquially often referred to as 'Bob'. It circulates in notes of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 Shillings; coins do have the denomination of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 40 Shillings. 100 Cents equal 1 KES.
Please rectify the current exchange rates. There are programs found in the internet to calculate the daily rates.
Currency exchange rates
(as of 29th July 2013)
Prices in the tourism industry are normally stated in US$. The US$ and Euro are also the commonly used medium of foreign exchange.
All major banks, forex bureaus and major hotels change foreign currencies into KES. Please be aware that you will obtain significantly better rates for the 50s and 100s bills of Dollar and Euro in comparison to the smaller notes in most forex bureaus. There is no black market for money changing in Kenya. Whoever promises you tempting rates certainly hasn't gotten any good intentions.
Major towns and cities are dotted with many ATMs that accept Visa and Mastercard- branded cards, but there are more ATMs for VISA cards than there are for Mastercard cards. You can make cash withdrawals in these ATMs and the currency will often be in KES.
EC/Maestro cards and travelers checks are not widely accepted.
Major hotels and establishments will accept payments through major credit cards.
You should store the respective emergency numbers in your phone in case you have to block your credit cards because of loss or theft.
Office and opening hours
Most shops open at 9am and close at nightfall. They usually remain closed on Sundays. Exceptions are the large supermarkets that are open daily up to 9pm. Nakumatt supermarket chain has several outlets that remain open 24hours.
Banks: Mon to Fri 9am-3pm and Sat 9am-11am.
Post Offices: Mon to Fri 8am-5pm and Sat 8am-2pm.
Authorities: Usually Mon to Fri 9am-4pm, but experience shows you will reach most in the morning hours.
The gates of national parks and reserves are open daily from 6am or 6.30am. If you are not staying overnight, you have to leave the parks by 6pm.
It is a serious faux pas to photograph or film people without seeking their consent. Failure to do this could result in hostility or a demand for money.
There are many electronics outlets where you can replace or repair some of your equipment, and the best outlets are obviously found in Mombasa and Nairobi.
If you want to produce hard copies of your digital photos, there are many photo studios that will do that.
Local restaurants confusingly called 'hoteli' offer cheap traditional food of rather limited choice. In major towns and areas frequented by tourists, you will find a big variety of excellent restaurants serving international cuisine. Recommendable eating places are listed in the 50 Treasures of Kenya subpages. In local hotelis and cafés, a tip is hardly expected; otherwise 5-10% of the bill is a reasonable amount.
Safety and crime
Even though Kenya’s reputation as a peaceful and safe haven was shattered by the post-election violence that occurred after the 2007 elections, subsequent governments have worked tirelessly to improve security in the nation.
Security is much improved but there are certain risks that should be avoided. For instance, avoid walking in crowds as a pickpocket could make away with your valuables. You are also advised to take a taxi, one from a reputable firm or organized by your hotel, instead of walking around at night.
At the beach, walking around at night increases the risk of being mugged, and when you go swimming, do not leave your stuff, clothes, phone, etc., unattended, as they could be spirited away.
The coastal stretch close to Somalia and many parts of Northern Kenya are generally insecure, the former being due Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants and the latter being due rustlers and bandits. You should check the current security situation with the security center of the Kenya Tourism Federation.
The general security situation in Kenya is good and as long as you are aware of and avoid the few hot spots, there is absolutely nothing to fear. When in doubt about security risks, the staff of your hotel can help you with reliable information.
Rather annoying but not so much of a danger can be the numerous beach boys who try to sell anything from safaris, boat trips, shells, camel rides, souvenirs and all kind of services as you are lying on the beach and probably just want some peace and quiet. A special tourism police has been formed to tackle the problem in the major resorts of the coast and projects creating alternative income for the beach boys have been initiated.
What is commonly known as souvenir would be called 'curio' in the whole of Eastern Africa. Souvenir shops are therefore referred to as "curio shops."
In Kenya there are fantastic crafts which are often made by social institutions or women's groups and with the purchase you are supporting a good cause. Women and children sell curios such as beautiful jewelry and wood carvings at the entrance of many national parks and game reserves.
Remember that the first price you are given is normally far too high and you are expected to bargain.
Be careful not to buy shells, corals, wild animal skins and other parts of wild game, such as ivory. Besides the fact that poaching for souvenirs causes massive damage to Kenya's nature, the possession and export of wildlife products without valid documents is strictly prohibited. You can get into a lot of trouble if you are caught with banned items while leaving the country.
Sports and activities
Many tourists who visit Kenya are totally unaware that the country offers a wide range of sports and activities away from the exceptional beach and safari. In the highlands you will find the opportunity to fish for trout, while the coast invites you to deep-sea fishing or diving adventures. Mountain ranges and spectacular landscapes are a true paradise for hikers and climbers, you can traverse some national parks and conservation areas on a bicycle, on horse or by balloon. There are also many well-maintained golf courses in Kenya. Adventure sports like bungee jumping and river rafting are also part of the leisure activities on offer.
On the 50 Treasures of Kenya subpages you will find all activities which are offered in specific regions of Kenya and you can filter for these activities based on your preferences through the search function of this website.
If you have ever wondered how, if at all, camels run, you should go to the Northern Kenyan town of Maralal, where there is a yearly camel derby where these lanky creatures outpace each other, ridden by amateurs and professionals. But if you want the old and known, you can witness the Safari Rally, a grueling vehicle competition, separated into two main events, one featuring vintage cars and the other for modern cars.
Besides all these, you can attend the Concours d’Elegance, if you are all crazy about classic cars, or the Caltex Air Show.
Check our events calendar for upcoming events and fetes all over Kenya!
Apart from the 50 Treasures of Kenya website, there are some recommendable sources for information about the country.
Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) has gotten offices in some countries of their most important source markets:
Germany: Kenya Tourist Board, c/o Travel Marketing Romberg TMR GmbH, Schwarzenbach Straße 62, 40822 Mettman, Tel. 02104 832 919; www.magical-kenya.de
France: Office de Tourisme du Kenya c/o Interface Tourism, 11 bis rue Blanche, 75009 Paris; Tél. 01 532 512 07; www.magicalkenya.fr
Italy: c/o Aviareps, Via Monte Rosa 20, 20149 Milano, Tel. 02 365 611 79; www.magicalkenya.it
Website of the Kenyan wildlife and national park authority, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS): www.kws.org
The website of Kenya's most important newspaper: www.nation.com
Traveling around the country
Tour operators: A large number of safari companies offer their services to those visitors who prefer to rely on the skills of experts instead of organizing their own trip. Whether you are a bird watcher, a mountain climber, an angler or a horse rider, there is a supplier for every interest and budget in the Kenyan tourism industry. You will find details of specialized safari operators on display on the 50 Treasures of Kenya subpages.
Self driving: Although self driving is not as popular as in South Africa, it is a feasible and wonderful option to experience Kenya. However, there are a couple of things you should be aware of when planning your trip. Since most of Kenya's secondary roads and tracks in conservation areas are not sealed, you should definitely opt for a four-wheel drive vehicle. Local and international car rental companies are found in most coastal towns and in Nairobi and their contacts are found on the respective 50 Treasures of Kenya subpages.
Make sure that you have an international driver's license and countercheck that the rented car is in a proper technical condition. It should hold two spare tires, jack, wheel spanner, a jerry can and a toolbox, as well as a security vest, two life savers and a first aid kit. Cracks in the windscreen and any other existing damages should be stipulated in the leasing contract so that you are not held responsible for them when returning the car.
Cars in Kenya are right hand driven which requires some time to adjust to if you are coming from a left hand drive country. Otherwise, most regulations are similar to those in Europe. Night drives should be avoided for safety reasons, as animals and unlit vehicles may obstruct the roads.
Public transport: Traveling between the major towns of the southern part of Kenya is cheap and uncomplicated by bus and matatu taxi. Enforcement of safety standards and speed limits have made this way of moving around much safer and more comfortable in recent years.
If you use a taxi to get around Kenyan towns, make sure you negotiate the price before setting off in order to avoid discussions and overcharging. Local people will be happy to help you to learn about the proper prices. Boda Bodas – motorbike or bicycle taxis – are a fast and cheap alternative to hiring a taxi in most towns and rural areas of Kenya.
Domestic airlines: As flying within Kenya is fairly cheap, offers unforgettable impressions and helps you to bridge large distances in comfort, it is a viable alternative to land travel especially for those with a limited time budget. A number of reliable and well reputed airlines connect the main tourist areas with some of the larger cities. Recommended airlines are Kenya Airways (www.kenya-airways.com), Air Kenya (www.airkenya.com), Safarilink (www.flysafarilink.com) and Fly540.com. In addition, a number of small charter companies mostly operating from Nairobi's Wilson Airport offer their services according to your individual needs.
Railway: Rift Valley Railways (RVR), a private consortium running the rail operations of the country, currently offers only two passenger connection. Riding the overnight train between Nairobi and Mombasa or between Nairobi and Kisumu in a first class sleeper compartment offers quite some flair and is a convenient and affordable alternative to the strenuous road travel.
Kenya lies about 7,000 kilometers south and slightly east of central Europe. Therefore, time difference in winter is plus three hours, during summer time only plus two hours of GMT. The day length varies only between twelve and 13 hours throughout the year. Be careful not to be caught in the dark as there is only half an hour between sunset and darkness.
If you are holding a European or American passport which is valid for at least another six months, a three month visa is issued without any problems on arrival at the airport. If you decide to visit other member states of the East African Community during your stay, i.e. Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi, the visa remains valid for re-entry into Kenya.
If you are going to or arriving from other sub Saharan and some of South America's countries, you will have to produce a health certificate with yellow fever vaccination while entering.
Since regulations may change, we advise you to contact your nearest Kenyan embassy or a local travel agent for updated information.