Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean. It encompasses savannah, lakelands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. It’s also home to wildlife like lions, elephants and rhinos. From Nairobi, the capital, safaris visit the Maasai Mara Reserve, known for its annual wildebeest migrations, and Amboseli National Park, offering views of Tanzania’s 5,895m Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Population: 44.35 million (2013) World Bank
Currency: Kenyan shilling
Official languages: Swahili, English
Time zone: EAT (UTC+3)
Drives on the: left
Calling code: +254
Destination Kenya, East Africa
Kenya is an East African country that rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean to mountains and plateaus at its center. The country size is 582,650 and is bordered by Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan Tanzania, Uganda.
Most Kenyans live in the highlands including, main cities and towns. Nairobi, is the Capital City and stands at an altitude of 1,700 meters (5,500 feet). Even though Nairobi is near the Equator, its high elevation brings cooler air. To the west of Nairobi the land descends to the north-south running through the Great Rift Valley — the valley floor is at its lowest near Lake Turkana further in the deserts of northern Kenya.
Around Lake Turkana, scientists have discovered some of humankind’s earliest ancestors—a fossil known as Kenya Man (Kenyanthropus), that was dated at 3.5 to 3.2 million years old.
Kenya is host to over forty ethnic groups, including Kikuyu farmers and Masai cattle herders, three-quarters of Kenya’s people is also located in the country side. The total population stands at 33,830,000 with 2,818,000 staying in the Capital City Nairobi.
Kenya enjoys a tropical climate. It is hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the North and Northeast parts of the country. The Country receives a great deal of sunshine all the year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning. The long rain season occurs from April to June. The short rain season occurs from October to December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is from February to March and coldest in July to August.
The terrain is low plains rising to the central highlands bisected by Great Rift Valley; fertile plateau in west. The Kenyan Highlands comprise one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa; glaciers on Mt. Kenya; unique physiography supports abundant and varied wildlife of scientific and economic value.
Kenya has considerable land area of wildlife habitat, including much of the Serengeti plains, where Wildebeest and other bovids participate in a large scale annual migration. Up to 250,000 Wildebeest perish each year in the long and arduous movement to find forage in the dry season. The annual migration occurs between June and September with millions of wildlife taking part. It has been a popular event for filmmakers to capture. The “Big Five” animals of Africa can also be found in Kenya and these include the Lion, the Leopard, the Buffalo, the Rhino and the biggest of them all – the Elephant. A significant population of other wild animals, reptiles and birds can be found in the national parks and game reserves in the country.
Best Kenya Safari Lodges
Kenya delivers the classic East African safari experience: dramatic game viewing from the comfort of amazing tented camps and lodges plus indulgent beach retreats and modern hotels to escape to after your safari. Head for top destinations like the Masai Mara, Amboseli National Park and Lamu Island and enjoy some of the most luxurious accommodation Kenya has to offer.
While Kenya accommodation includes some of the finest private villas and boutique hotels in the region, it’s Kenya’s safari lodges and tented camps that capture the essence of a bygone era. Romantic honeymoon suites, mobile tented camps that follow the wildebeest migration and colonial-style ranches all add to the ambience of one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations.
Experience a safari vacation in Kenya, the place where safari travel originated. The best Kenya tours and safaris include Big 5 game viewing, incredible natural beauty and cultural encounters, often combining Kenya’s top attractions with Tanzania and the tropical beaches of the Kenyan coast.
The safari bucket list for Kenya includes seeing the Great Migration in the legendary Masai Mara, Amboseli’s unforgettable views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Samburu’s leopards. Encounter fascinating cultures in authentic Masai villages and taste the flavours of Africa, India and Europe in the melting pot that is Swahili culture.
Kenya’s biggest attraction is the natural movement of mega-herds – wildebeest, zebra and gazelle – following the summer rains and sweet grasses in an annual pilgrimage called the Great Migration. Depending on when your Kenya safari takes place, you may witness the life-and-death struggles of the Mara River crossings or dramatic encounters with Africa’s top predators on the open plains.
Kenya combines easily with Tanzania and Rwanda, which means you can add gorilla trekking to your Kenyan safari. You’ll also find a wide range of safari and beach combination tours to make the most of Kenya’s Out of Africa scenic beauty and wildlife, rounded off with R&R on a tropical island.
Kenya offers a holiday for every traveller. From unforgettable Kenya family safaris that offer child-friendly activities and services, to exclusive hideaways for romantics, from adventurous honeymoons to small groups of friends and family celebrating a milestone anniversary. Whatever type of traveller you are, there’s not much that beats a Kenya holiday – the standards of service are high and Kenya’s top destanations offer luxury accommodation ranging from lavish, colonial-style lodges to funky boutique hotels and amenity-packed resorts.
Kenya Travel Advice
There’s nothing like up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts – get Savannah Explore’s essential Kenya travel advice before you go.
Safety & Security
‘Can I travel to Kenya?’ is a question asked by many travellers, especially first-timers wanting travel advice for this wildlife-rich East African country that is home to the Great Wildebeest Migration over the plains of the Masai Mara.
Although Kenya has been a victim of tragic terrorist attacks, it is important to remember that these are very far from the main tourism hubs. Security has been stepped up at all airports – especially Jomo Kenyatta and Wilson – and at hotels across Nairobi. We will never send a client to any place that we would not visit ourselves; Savannah Explore safari experts Ashley Gerrand, Mary Keet and Anja Naude all visited in early 2015 and reported feeling very secure especially since, as travel experts, we created a seamless itinerary that ensured private drivers, trusted suppliers and experienced lodge staff all the way. In addition to knowing where each and every one of our clients is every step of their way, all Savannah Explore travellers also have exclusive access to a 24/7 hotline manned by senior staff in the event of any emergency, no matter how small.
For more Kenya travel advice, please read our expert blog on ‘Is it Safe to Travel to Kenya?’ that is packed with important information and insiders’ takes on the current situation.
Money & Spending
Kenya’s national currency is the Kenyan Shilling and although foreign currencies such as US Dollars are widely accepted (and indeed the currency required for activities like hot-air balloon safaris) we’d recommend using local currency to pay for bar bills, souvenirs and meals not included in your itinerary.
Please note that due to the number of fake notes in circulation, no US Dollar bills printed before 2003 are accepted in Kenya and, in fact, your safest bet is to carry notes printed after 2006.
Banking facilities and ATMs are found throughout Kenya’s major travel destinations and all major credit cards are widely accepted, in particular MasterCard, Visa and American Express.
Banking hours are from 9am to 3pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 11am on the first and last Saturday of the month for most banks.
Tipping for good service is customary in Kenya although it is of course at your discretion – bear in mind that some of the larger hotels will add a service charge onto your bill. A 10% tip is customary in city restaurants and bars when a service charge is not included.
For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Average summer temperatures: 20°C / 68°F to 34°C / 93°F
Average winter temperatures: 18°C / 64°F to 29°C / 84°F
Rainy season: mid-March to June (‘long rains’) and October to December (‘short rains’)
Refer to best time to visit Kenya for climate charts, details on the best wildlife-viewing times and when to witness the Masai Mara migration.
What to Pack
For your Kenya safari, pack light casual wear in neutral colours (try to avoid white, black and blue) and a warm jacket for evening game drives. For more on what to pack for a safari, refer to our Africa Safari Guide travel advice section.
In Kenya’s major cities the dress code is conservative but not overly formal – jeans and modest tops for women are fine. Swimsuits are acceptable on the beach but you’ll need to cover up in public places.
Kenya is a fairly conservative society, especially where Islam holds sway, and much emphasis is placed on courtesy and manners. Care needs to be taken when photographing local people – always ask permission and prepare to be asked for reward in Kenya’s most popular destinations – but by and large the people of Kenya are easy-going, amiable, humorous and helpful, making travelling and interacting with them a real pleasure.
Flights & Getting Around
Did you know you can book your flights through Savannah Explore? For more information and frequently asked questions, please see our Flights section.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: East Africa’s major flight hub is located 13km / 8mi outside Nairobi and is the gateway to the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Mombasa and Kenya’s beaches as well as Zanzibar and Tanzania. There are also good connections from here to Uganda, Rwanda and the Seychelles.
Wilson Airport: a regional airport about 90 minutes by road from Jomo Kenyatta, Wilson is the hub for almost all of Kenya’s internal flights and serves its fly-in safari locations. Ensure you have time between your international flight and domestic flight to make the transfer between the two airports.
Moi Mombasa International Airport: located about 10km / 6.2mi northwest of the town itself, Mombasa’s airport is the gateway to the Kenyan coast.
Chartered flights are a great way to get around Kenya and avoid the country’s often dirt roads; transfers from airstrips to lodges are conducted in 4X4 vehicles.
Road transfers from airports and between major destinations tend to use mini buses as do scheduled safaris to popular destinations such as the Masai Mara. Sliding windows and a pop-up roof provide passengers on mini buses with ample viewing opportunities on game drives whereas safaris to more remote destinations and private conservancies use open-sided 4X4s.
Visa & Passport Requirements
Visas are required by most visitors to Kenya including British, American, Canadian, European, Australian and New Zealand passport holders. Citizens from some smaller Commonwealth countries are exempt.
Visas are valid for three months from the date of entry and can be purchased upon arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Visitors can pay for their visas in local currency and they must possess a passport that is valid until six months after the initial date of travel.
If you plan on travelling onwards from Kenya, visas for other East African countries such as Tanzania and Uganda can generally be obtained in Nairobi for around US$50 each.
History & Economy
Independence from Britain in 1963 may have been the beginning of a new chapter for Kenya but this East African country has a human history that stretches back to prehistoric times.
Lying at the heart of a region from which modern humans emerged some 150 000 years ago, Kenya’s history has been shaped not only by indigenous and migrating African ethnic groups but by European and Arabian traders, missionaries and colonisers as well. Jomo Kenyatta was the first leader of independent, post-colonial Kenya and his conciliatory rallying cry harambee – all pull together – became the national motto.
Today, Kenya boasts the largest and most advanced economy in East Africa. Agriculture accounts for 75% of the work force but it is the service industry, dominated by tourism, which contributes nearly two thirds of Kenya’s GDP.
People & Culture
Kenya’s predominantly young population (nearly 75% of Kenyans are under 30) is made up of many ethnic groups that include the famous Maasai. English and Swahili are the official languages (any attempts to speak Swahili will be warmly received by locals!) and the vast majority of Kenyans consider themselves Christian. About 10% of the population are Muslim, the majority living on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast.
Landscape & Wildlife
Straddling the equator, Kenya is dominated by the Rift Valley, a raised region of lakes, hills and mountains that is the result of a 6 000km crack in the earth’s crust. Dividing the flat coastal plains from the fertile shores of Lake Victoria, the rolling temperate grasslands of the central Rift Valley are home to huge numbers of animals and consequently Kenya’s most famous parks and reserves.
Northern Kenya’s hot and arid scrublands are home to wilder, more remote parks and a different set of animals while the Indian Ocean coast is a place of long sandy beaches, coral reefs and tropical islands.
Most famous for the wildebeest migration that moves through the Masai Mara and Serengeti ecosystem, Kenya’s ban on hunting plus private and local community conservation initiatives have helped to safeguard one of Africa’s most important populations of large animals. There are healthy numbers of the Big 5, abundant predators and plains game, and a long list of bird species. No wonder then that several Kenyan parks deliver the easiest game viewing in Africa!