Kenya is an incredible travel destination known for its diverse landscapes, dazzling light, spectacular variety of animals and friendly people. The safari regions in Kenya are considered safe destinations but nevertheless, here is a guide that will help answer your questions, especially if you are visiting Kenya for the first time.
Visas - You will need a visa when visiting Kenya if you are a citizen of the USA. As with most travel destinations, your passport needs to be valid for at least six months beyond your return date and must have at least two consecutive (unstamped) blank visa pages in your passport. The visa costs around $50 and can be bought on arrival in Nairobi (just ensure that you have the exact US dollars with you and that your US$ bills were issued after 2006) or you can get the Visa in advance before leaving the US.
Medical - There are several mandatory medications and vaccinations for Kenya. You will want to check with your doctor who may send you to a specialist at a travel clinic. Here’s an idea of what you may need: Malaria - While Nairobi is a relatively low-risk malaria zone, malaria in Kenya (as well as many areas of East Africa) is widespread so it will probably be recommended that you obtain anti-malaria medication. The most commonly prescribed malaria tablet is currently Malarone. As with all medications, be sure to talk to the doctor about side-effects as there may be a light-sensitivity and you would want to apply a high SFP sunscreen. Vaccinations - If you are traveling around Africa you will need to be vaccinated against Yellow Fever and you may even be required to show your Yellow Fever certificate on entry in Kenya. Again, check with your doctor. The Yellow Fever shot needs to be administered at least 10 days before departure.
Water – it is advised that you drink bottled water at all times in Kenya, especially if you have traveled from abroad. For things like brushing your teeth, you will want to check with your camp manager/tour guide to find out if the tap water is safe to use.
Medications - It’s always a good idea to pack your own small medical kit to have on hand for any minor travel-related ailments such as headaches or allergies. If you take prescription medication, you will want to pack enough to last your entire trip (plus a few extra days’ worth in case of travel delays), as it may be difficult to get hold of specialized medication in these remote areas.
Language - Kenya is a multilingual country with Swahili and English being spoken as the two official languages.
Weather - Kenya is situated close to the equator so does not experience a real winter or summer season. The country has a pleasant tropical climate but can vary greatly depending on the altitude. Daytime temperatures on average reach between 68°F and 82°F, with hotter and more humid temperatures on the coast often rising above 86°F. The coastal areas are humid and hot all year round but tempered by the monsoon winds. Temperatures inland are relatively mild, with a hotter and drier climate in Kenya’s northern parts. The hottest time of the year is from mid-December through to March, with the coolest period from late June until October. The long rains fall from late April throughout May to early June, with the short rains falling from November until mid-December.
Money - Kenya’s currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KSh). Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, whilst American Express and Diners Club cards are usually not. As always, make your card has no foreign transaction fees.
Power - Since most Kenyan camps and lodges are in remote areas, electricity is generated by solar power or via a diesel generator. Most lodges or camps will have a central charging station (in your room or common area) which may be used to charge your electrical equipment and they usually provide adapters. If you would prefer your own adapters and converters, you will need to buy a ‘G’ socket type which uses the universal plug adapter WA-7. Most game lodges will provide conversion socket adapters for their overseas guests
Connectivity - as in most remote destinations, connectivity is less accessible the further away you are from urban areas. Mobile services are usually available in the southern part of Kenya around Nairobi, the entire coastal region, popular safari parks, as well as on the long road between Nairobi and Mombasa. The northern part of Kenya, however, has no network access. Some remote game lodges and hotels offer Wi-Fi, but it can be quite expensive.
Tipping - Tipping guides, drivers or support staff as a way of showing your appreciation for great service is customary in Kenya. It can be done in US$ or Kenyan Shillings (KSh).
General Tipping Guidelines
Ranger or Guide – $20 per couple per day
Camp Staff – $15 per couple per day
Transfer Drivers – $5 per transfer
Porters – $1 per bag
Restaurants – 10% of the bill
What to Pack - the key thing to remember while packing for Kenya is to pack comfortable clothes with neutral colors that will blend into the African bush. You don’t’ have to run out and buy expensive safari gear - jeans, a neutral t-shirt, and a baseball cap are completely acceptable! Some essentials would be: a wide-brimmed, sturdy sun hat to keep your face out of the harsh African sun; a bandana to tie around your face for the dry, dusty regions; comfortable sneakers, tennis or boat shoes (you don’t need specialized hiking boots to go on a bush walk); sandals or flip-flops for around the camp; long-sleeved cotton shirts to protect you from the sun and mosquito bites at dusk; shorts; jeans or trousers for cooler days and evenings; a light sweater; a sports bra for game drives as the roads may be bumpy; a lightweight waterproof zippered jacket for the rainy summer months; a swimsuit; a warm, wind-proof jacket or fleece, scarf, gloves and hat for the winter months and higher altitudes; high SPF sun block, moisturizer, after-sun gel, and lip balm; strong insect repellent; sunglasses; binoculars and camera equipment; a money belt to carry your valuables (money and passport) under your clothes when traveling; and of course all the necessities like underwear and bathroom stuff.
Luggage Restrictions - for light aircraft travel within Kenya, there are strict luggage restrictions in place that vary depending on your destination. Travelers to East Africa may only be allowed to take a total luggage weight of 33lbs which includes the carry-on hand luggage. Your bags must also be soft sided with no wheels or rigid frames so that these may easily fit into the hold of a small aircraft. Should you need additional luggage you will have the option of buying an extra seat which will allow for an additional 154 lbs.
Photography - visitors to Kenya should be aware that they are not allowed to take photographs or film the President of Kenya nor his residence, airports, railway stations, the military or the police and their barracks, any government buildings or the Kenyan flag. If you want to take a picture of a Masai warrior you will need to ask his consent, as he may only be willing to do so for a fee.
Information obtained for this article complements of African Safari Consultants blog article “Kenya: What You Need To Know Before You Go” By Stefanie Black on 9 November 2016 in Kenya at https://www.africansafaris.com/kenya-need-know-go/