Kenya is the ultimate safari destination, hosting a variety of wild and untamed landscapes that range from the open savannah of the Masai Mara to the glistening, snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya.
National parks and reserves cover one-tenth of Kenya’s surface area, spanning desert, grassland, mountain forest and acacia-studded plains. The country’s finest reserves – Amboseli, Masai Mara, Samburu and Tsavo – abound with wildlife, including lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, hippos and crocodiles. Then there’s the birdlife – more than 1,000 bird species have been recorded here, ranging from colorful parrots to the world largest bird, the flightless ostrich.
Kenya’s human population is equally fascinating: around 40 different ethnic groups live in the country, including the Kikuyu of the central highlands, the Luo of the Lake Victoria Basin, and the iconic Maasai, who lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle of cattle-herding along the southern border.
The country’s ethnic variety is most striking in the north, where the Maasai-affiliated Samburu people live alongside the Turkana, Borena and El-Molo groups. Yet as a counterpoint to all this traditional variety, the city of Nairobi stands as the archetypal modern African capital – a cosmopolitan buffet of contemporary influences bustling with all manner of commercial activity.
By contrast to the wildlife-rich interior, the main attraction of Kenya’s long and balmy Indian Ocean coastline is its magnificent beaches – long palm-lined arcs of white sand that still retain a relatively untrammelled character, certainly by comparison to their counterparts in Southeast Asia or Caribbean. Offshore, a succession of pristine coral reefs reliably treat snorkelers and scuba divers to swirling schools of multicoloured reef fish, and frequent encounters with submarine giants such as turtles, dolphins, rays and sharks.
Steeped in maritime trade history, the key ports of the Swahili Coast – Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu – were founded in Medieval times and today support a unique blend of Arabic, African and Asian culture and architecture. Even today, romantic dhows (sailing boats) built to a design unchanged in centuries still ply these waters, while magnificent ruins such as Gedi and Manda provide a glimpse of what the Swahili Coast looked like in its Mediaeval pomp.
To enter Kenya, a passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry, and with at least one blank page, is required by all nationals from USA, Canada, EU, UK, and Australia.
Visas for Kenya are required by the nationals from USA, Canada, EU, UK, and Australia, with the exception of nationals of Cyprus, who do not need a visa.
You can obtain your visa on entry; passport photos are not required. However, multiple-entry visas cannot be issued at the point of entry, and must be obtained in advance through Kenya’s embassies.
Travelers who are also visiting Rwanda and Uganda may find it more useful to apply for an East African cross-border joint visa which allows entry into all three countries on a single visa. The cost of this visa is $100 USD.
Visa note: Kenya has an agreement with Tanzania and Uganda to waiver visa re-entry fees if travelling between the three countries as long as single-entry visas remain valid for each country. This means multiple-entry visas are not required if going from Kenya to Tanzania or Uganda and back to Kenya. The same applies for travel from Uganda and Tanzania.
Types and cost: Transit visa on arrival: US$20; single-entry visa on arrival: US$50, payable in US Dollars, Euros, Pounds Sterling or Swiss Francs.
East African tourist visa (does not include Ethiopia): US$100.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
Best time to visit: Throughout the country, the warmest months are December to March. The coastal areas are tropical, with particularly high humidity in April and May, but tempered by monsoon winds. The lowlands are hot but mainly dry, while the highlands are more temperate with four seasons. Nairobi has a very pleasant climate throughout the year due to its altitude. Near Lake Victoria, the temperatures are much higher and rainfall can be heavy.
Lightweight cottons and linens with rainwear are advised for the coast and lakeside. Warmer clothing is needed in June and July and for the cooler mornings on the coast. Lightweight layers are needed for much of the year in the highlands. Rainwear is advisable between March and June, and October and December.
Kenya covers 580,367 sq km (224,000 sq miles) and sits astride the equator. It shares borders with Ethiopia in the north, Sudan in the northwest, Uganda in the west, Tanzania in the south and Somalia in the northeast. To the east lies the 480 km (300 mile) Indian Ocean coastline. The country is divided into four regions: the arid deserts of the north; the savannah lands of the south; the fertile lowlands along the coast; and highlands in the west, where the capital Nairobi is situated.
Northwest of Nairobi runs the Rift Valley, dotted with lakes and containing the town of Nakuru, while further west the Aberdare National Park is overlooked by Kenya’s highest peak, and Africa’s second tallest mountain after Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya (5,200m/17,000ft), which also is a national park. In the far northwest is Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolph), and in the southwest is Kenya’s share of Lake Victoria.