Kenya Safari & Travel Guide
Kenya is an ideal safari destination for families and honeymooners
Kenya is an ideal safari destination for families and honeymooners
A guide to the safaris and attractions in Kenya. There is so much to choose from in this friendly, exciting country
Kenya has a total of 59 national parks and reserves occupying a total area around 7.5% of the total area of the republic. They range from marine-, mountain-, arid-, and semi-arid parks to lake ecosystem parks. Every park and reserve are unique in its diversity of attractions, and none resemble another.
What is the Best Time of the Year to Visit Kenya?
The best months to visit Kenya are June to October. This is the dry period the wildlife is easier to spot as the bush is less dense. The peak months for the annual wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara are August and September, but July and October are also good. Kenya has a short rainy season (October to November/December) and a long rainy season (March to May). During the period of November to May, the country is green and beautiful. It is the season when the migratory birds are present, and the veld is full of young animals.
While Kenya is good for game viewing year-round, March to May are the worst months due to the heavy rains.
Which Places Should I Include in my visit to Kenya?
On arrival, you may have to overnight in Nairobi. Giraffe Manor is one of the most unique experiences here.
For a short stay:
For all safari enthusiasts, a visit must include the Maasai Mara, particularly during the annual wildebeest migration. Combine this with the Amboseli National Park with its great views of Mount Kilimanjaro and its reputation of being the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants.
For a longer visit to Kenya:
We suggest that you choose from the following options. What you choose will depend on what you are looking for during your stay in Kenya. Your choices are: Tsavo East and West National Parks, Samburu/Shaba National Reserve/Buffalo Springs, Mount Kenya and Aberdare National Park, Lake Victoria and its islands, Lake Nakuru/Naivasha, and the Rift Valley or Laikipia. End your trip off with a relaxing visit to Mombasa, Malindi, Watamu, or Lamu situated on the coast of the warm Indian Ocean.
What is the Weather Like in Kenya?
Kenya enjoys a warm, tropical climate. There is very little variation in temperature through the year, as it is situated on the equator. As there is a temperature drop of approximately 6°C for every 1 km change in elevation, there is a distinct climate variation that can be ascribed to change in altitude.
Daytime temperatures average between 20°C and 28°C, but the coast is warmer. The coast is hot and humid all-year-round, but is cooled down by the monsoon winds.
Kenya’s weather is dominated by the long (late April to early June) and short rains (November and December). The north-east monsoon, also called the kaskazi, blows dry air from the Persian Gulf from November to March/April and kusi monsoon from the south-east that results in the long rains of April/May. The usual pattern is for rain to fall as a heavy downpour, lasting around half an hour to an hour, with the sun coming out and drying the wet ground quickly afterwards.
The dry period between the rains provides the best time to visit the country, especially for a safari.
What are the Health Requirements for Travel to Kenya?
Malaria is a risk in Kenya. There is, however, less of a risk in the highlands, Nairobi, and its surrounds. We suggest that you consult your doctor as to what anti-malaria medication to take, as we strongly recommend that you do so. To minimise the risk of contracting malaria, wear long trousers, cover your arms in the evening, and apply mosquito repellent.
A Yellow Fever vaccination is required if coming from an endemic country. The World Health Organisation recommends the following vaccinations for Botswana: hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, chickenpox, pneumonia, and influenza.
How Can I Travel Around Kenya?
Ways of getting around in Kenya include flying, car hire, trains, taxis, or the public transport system.
Traveling by air is the most practical way to get around long distances in Kenya.
If you want flexibility in your Kenya travels, car hire will allow you the freedom to travel and explore your surroundings. Renting a car in Kenya is a good way to travel around this wonderful country.
For long-distance travel, getting around Kenya by train is limited to specific routes. You can travel between Nairobi and Mombasa by train.
Buses and matatus offer convenient and express services between the major cities, suburbs, and towns across Kenya.
National Parks and Reserves
This is not an exhaustive list but covers the most popular National Parks and wildlife areas.
Aberdares and Mount Kenya National Parks
The Mount Kenya and the Aberdares mountain ranges are both kept safe within a national park. They share quite a few ecological affinities. Together, they support most of the Kenya’s surviving Afro-montane forests and Afro-alpine moorland.
Apart from the three of the Big 5, namely elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo and rhino, wildlife in the park includes the Olive Baboon, the spotted hyena, and both black and white Colobus monkeys. Of the less common sightings would be those of Harvey’s red and the blue duiker, the bongo, the golden serval, African wild cat, as well as the civet.
Besides staying at one of the luxurious lodges, visitors can make use of the camp sites. Trout fishing and birding are just some of the activities that can be enjoyed. With over 250 species of bird, it is every birding enthusiast’s paradise.
Amboseli National Park
Just over 200 km to the south of Nairobi lies the Amboseli National Park. The park is 392 km² and forms the core of the 8,000 km2 ecosystem that spreads across the border between Kenya and Tanzania.
Nature lovers can explore five different habitats here, ranging between the dried bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, the savannah, and the woodlands. They can also visit the local Maasai community who live around the park and experience their authentic culture. Also on offer are the spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is known as the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
Wildlife includes cheetah, leopard, wild dogs, buffalo, elephant, zebra, lion, crocodile, mongoose, dik-dik, and the porcupine.
Amboseli boasts over 600 species of birds.
Laikipia is north of the Great Rift Valley to the east and Mount Kenya to the west. The plains of Laikipia are remarkable to view in Kenya and are starting to rival the Maasai Mara for the title of best overall safari experience. A natural haven made up of ranches and conservancies, over time, conservationists have tried to create a place for communities and wildlife to exist hand in hand to maintain and protect biodiversity in the region.
Laikipia was a conglomeration of huge cattle ranches, which industry still remains an important source of wealth for the area. It has since changed focus and has become an unfolding story of successful wildlife conservation. Management of the area has been adapted to protect the wildlife, foster small-scale tourism initiatives, and provide an income for the Samburu, Mukogodo Maasai, and Ilaikipiak communities. This is a significant natural area from a safari and conservation perspective.
Laikipia is home to several endangered species, including 300 black rhinos, several packs of wild dogs (second most important range in Africa) and Grevy’s zebra (one quarter of the world’s population). Over 2000 elephants traverse the slopes of Mount Kenya, Laikipia’s conservancies, and the Samburu/Buffalo Plains areas.
As the largest freshwater lake in Africa and second largest in the world, Lake Victoria is famous for being one of two sources for the Nile River. This mighty body of water is rich in fish life, including the colourful cichlids and large Nile Perch. Fishing brings many visitors to this lake, mainly in search of the Nile Perch, considered a world-class game fish.
Trading between the countries that surround Lake Victoria is often done by the locals using the traditional dhows. This has been a way of life for hundreds of years.
If you want to relax between safaris, which can be tiring while being exhilarating, the islands on Lake Victoria provide an ideal opportunity to do so. Rusinga and Mfangano Islands are just two of the options available within a 30-minute flight from the Maasai Mara.
For many, the chance to fish for the Giant Nile Perch presents a challenge not to be missed, but for the less adventurous, fishing for Tilapia may be just their pace. The lake is dotted at night with the lanterns of the local fishing boats. The lanterns serve to attract the Kapenta sardines, which when caught, are dried on the shores with the heat of the sun.
For birdwatchers, Lake Victoria is a paradise. It houses huge colonies of egrets, gannets, and cormorants
Maasai Mara National Park
The Mara, home to the Big 5, may be one of the best wildlife destinations in the World. Wildlife tends to be most concentrated on the reserve’s western escarpment. The annual wildebeest’s migration involves over 1.5 million animals arriving in July and departing in November, but the Maasai Mara is an all-year-round destination with the big cats, and all the big game still in the Maasai Mara Ecosystem.
Maasai Mara (Masai Mara) is situated in south-west Kenya. It is the northern extension of the Serengeti eco-system. Together with the Serengeti National Park, it forms the world’s top safari big game viewing eco-system.
It is about 270 km from the capital, Nairobi, and takes about four to five hours by road or 40-45 minutes by light aircraft transfer. The road is good for the most part. However, there is a section from Narok town to Sekenani Gate that is a dirt road, but fairly good. The other road through Lemek and Aitong town is not good at all and very bumpy.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve stretches 1510 km² and is situated between 1500 m and 2170 m above sea level. There are a number of conservancies adjacent to the National Park, making this greater Mara area double the size of the National Park. The greater Mara hosts over 95 species of mammals and over 570 recorded species of birds.
Meru National Park
Meru National Park sits directly over the equator, sports 13 rivers, and is one of the most beautiful and wild parts of Kenya. Ranging from woodlands on the slopes of the Nyambeni mountain range, to wide open plains dotted, the scenery is diverse and interesting.
The wildlife that can be seen includes: Grevy’s zebra, elephants, eland, bush pig, waterbuck, cheetah, leopard, reticulated giraffe, hippopotamus, bohor reedbuck, hartebeest, python, puff adder, cobra, buffalo, the oryx zebra, and several species of antelope. Of the rarer antelope that live in the park are the lesser kudu, dik-dik (Africa’s smallest), and duiker.
Some of Kenya’s largest herds of buffalo and large prides of lion can be seen. In Africa, where there are rivers, there are invariably hippos and crocodiles. When staying at the campsites along the Tana river, fishing for Barbus and catfish is allowed.
With over 427 species of birds being recorded, this is one of the prime birding destinations in Kenya. Species of interest include the red-necked falcon, Pel’s fishing owl, the Heuglin’s courser, brown-backed woodpecker, and the African finfoot.
Most famous as the setting for Joy Adamson’s book “Born Free”, Meru National Park has, amongst celebrities, Joy Adamson herself and the grave of its most famous lioness Elsa.
Nairobi National Park
With over 400 species of birds, home to both the critically endangered black rhino and white rhino, and a wide variety of other animals, Nairobi National Park is worth a visit. The 117 km² National Park is very close to the city itself, has a perennial river flowing through it, and boasts with the beautiful grasslands, acacia and riverine forests, gorges, and man-made dams.
The Rhino Sanctuary, which has resulted in guaranteed sights of the black rhino in their natural habitat, and other initiatives have made Nairobi National Park and important feeder park for other areas. Animals are rehabilitated and returned to their natural environments.
The Rift Valley
Owing to its unique geography, the rift Valley region of Kenya is home to more than half the lakes in Africa. The Great Rift valley boasts beautiful lakes and escarpments, and provides a haven for plentiful wildlife. Birdlife is prolific and of note are the huge flocks of flamingos. These flocks are attracted to the large numbers of small crustaceans that feed on the abundant algae, which in turn, owes its abundance to the alkaline nature of the lakes.
Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Lake Elementaita are the three most well-known of the lakes of the Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru has huge pelican colony, and Lake Naivasha has the distinction of being the highest of the lakes in the Rift Valley.
Lake Nakuru National Park, a combination of lake, grassland and wooded areas is ideal for birding, game viewing, hiking, and picnics. Leopard, the endangered white rhino and Rothschild’s giraffe can be seen on a game drive along with other antelope species.
In ancient times, Africa’s tectonic plates shifted and moved apart, creating the space for the lakes of the area. This region is now home to quite a few endemic species and well-preserved hominid fossils. Due to the number of hominid fossils found around the area of Lake Turkana, it is referred to as the Cradle of Humankind.
Samburu/Shaba and Buffalo Springs
The Samburu ecosystem is made up of three adjoining national reserves – Samburu, Shaba, and Buffalo Springs. They are ecologically similar, unfenced, and share common borders. Located in the northern part of Kenya, it is a fairly remote area, which means the three reserves here are not as busy as other safari destinations in Kenya. Shaba, the largest, however, has the least wildlife. Most of the lodges and safari camps are in the Buffalo Springs and Samburu National Reserves.
The Ewaso Ng’iro River is a permanent water supply for the wildlife in the area, and it acts as a magnet, making this a great safari destination for people who want to get away from the crowds.
Sightings of lion, cheetah, elephant, hippo, buffalo, and leopard are common on game drives. Of interest are the Gerenuks, a type of antelope with a very long neck. They often stand on their hind legs to access the newer leaves high in the branches. Nile crocodiles can be found in the rivers.
The Samburu Special Five can only be seen in this area. They comprise the Somali ostrich, the reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, and the Beisa oryx.
Mount Shaba, an extinct volcano located on the edge of the reserve also gives the reserve its name. The reserve is also where Joy Adamson’s dead body was found.
Tsavo East and West National Parks
Tsavo is made up of two separate parks, Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park. Tsavo is nearly 22 000 km2, being the largest national park in Kenya and one of the largest in the world. The park was split into two because of the railway going from Mombasa to the interior of Kenya.
Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West National Park is more mountainous and wetter than its counterpart, with swamps, Lake Jipe, and the Mzima Springs. Over fifty million gallons of water per day flows out from Mzima Springs.
Mainly composed of savannah, Tsavo West offers superb game watching. The Big 5 can be seen, as well as cheetah and hippo. It is known for bird life (over 600 species) and for its large mammals.
Tsavo East National Park
The slightly larger Tsavo East is generally flat with dry plains across which the Galana River flows. Other features include the Yatta Plateau, the world’s longest lava flow, and Lugard Falls. It is the biggest protected area in Kenya, home to the Big 5, plus the gerenuk and over 500 bird species.
For your safari or beach holiday in Kenya, contact Q2 Travel, your safari experts.
Kenya is about 582 000 km² in area, and is situated on the equator. It is bordered by five countries: Ethiopia (to the north), Sudan (to the north-west), Somalia (to the north-east), Uganda (to the west), and Tanzania (to the south).
The main geographical feature is the Great Rift Valley, which is home to a number of lakes, hot springs, rugged terrain, and volcanic formations. It is a land of contrasts with the barren desert to the north, the tropical coastal areas, and the temperate highlands areas that provide fertile ground for farming. Kenya is one of the most agriculturally productive countries in Africa.
It is home to the highest and second highest peaks in Africa, namely Mount Kilimanjaro (which it shares with Tanzania) and Mount Kenya. The Maasai Mara is the northern sector of the Serengeti ecosystem, and is home to the annual Great Migration of over 1 800 000 ungulates. Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and second in the world after Lake Superior, is also among the many treasures Kenya has to offer.
One of the premier safari destinations in Africa, Kenya has a long and excellent reputation of welcoming guests with warmth and a smile. It also offers a range of adventure activities like kite surfing, camel trekking, white water rafting, horse safaris, hiking, mountain climbing, bungee jumping, deep sea fishing, and walking safaris.
Cushitic-speaking people, people from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt, and Sudan moved into the area that is now known as Kenya in around 2000 BC. Together with the small population of indigenous bush people, they became the ancestors of Kenya’s dominant communities today, namely the Bantu, Eastern Cushites, and Nilotes. Prior to the arrival of Arab settlers, Kenya was predominately populated by farmers and herders.
Arab traders began frequenting the Kenyan coast around the first century AD. for the trade in slaves, spices, ivory, and other merchandise. As Kenya was so close to the Arabian Peninsula, Arab and Persian settlements sprung up all along the Kenyan coast by the eighth century, and these small communities had developed into large cities.
Products from the interior of Kenya were traded through cities along the coast, and as a result, these coastal cities developed a mixture of the Bantu and Arab cultures. Swahili, also a mix of Bantu and Arabic, became the main language in the coastal areas. The presence of merchants and immigrants and the adoption of Islamic religious practices alongside the customary traditions contributed to the development of a unique culture along coastal areas.
Beginning with the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Mombasa in 1498, the Portuguese captured the coastal regions and remained in control until 1698 when Omani forces expelled the Portuguese invaders and most of the East African coast came under the control of the Sultan of Oman. In the 19th century, this region was progressively transferred to British rule aside from a small coastal strip that remained under the rule of the Sultan of Zanzibar. This only changed in 1963 when Kenya gained independence. The sited reason for the intervention of the British was ostensibly to combat the Arab slave trade.
Towards the end of the 19th century and until the first world war, European nations rushed to colonise Africa to secure resources and gain prestige. It was at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference that the control over much of the east African coast was given to the British. They formed the British East Africa Protectorate in 1895, and named Kenya a colony in 1905. The British moved inland from about 1890 in an effort to secure Uganda, also a British colony, and utilise the fertile soils of Kenya. To facilitate this, the railway line between Mombasa and Kisumu was built. The ethnic groups living in the central highlands, namely the Maasai, Nilotic people, the Kikuyu, and Kamba were suppressed by the British forces.
From the early 20th century, land was reallocated to the European settlers in a process that allowed the expropriation of fertile land belonging to the local inhabitants. The result was that the local inhabitants were either driven from their own land, moved to reserves controlled by the British, or forced into labour for those settlers. Indigenous people were effectively transformed into an agricultural proletariat. This created deep grievances, in particular amongst the Kikuyu, which ultimately lead to the Mau Mau rebellion half a century later.
During the first world war, many of the local Kenyan population were drafted into the British army in a bid to overcome the German resistance in Tanzania. About 24 000 Kenyans died in this campaign. Of significance was the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1915, which took away the remaining native land rights, effectively declaring the indigenous people landless squatters. Similarly, 47 000 Kenyans volunteered to help the British fight the Italians in Ethiopia. The demands for land justice and representation largely fell on deaf ears.
The EAA (East Africa Association) was formed in 1921 by Harry Thuka and, among others, Jomo Kenyatta, calling for greater political recognition of the rights of Africans. Thuka was arrested in the year 1922 and the EAA banned. A similar organisation, the KAU (Kenyan African Union) was founded in 1944, and in 1947, Jomo Kenyatta was appointed its leader.
The Mau Mau, a grouping of mainly Kikuyu, began a campaign of violence against the Europeans and the locals that cooperated with them. The British response was to detain hundreds of Kikuyu, which only resulted in heightened tensions and a rise in popular support for the movement. A State of Emergency was declared, and the British troops were called in to quell the uprising resulting in even more people joining the Mau Mau who retreated to the forests and carried out guerrilla attacks against the British. The British tried to crush the threat by deporting the Kikuyu to reserves, away from their homes, and rehousing them in villages under British control and creating concentration camps to process the Kikuyu suspected of Mau Mau involvement. Abuse, torture, and killings were commonplace.
Realising that this war would not be easy to win, the fact that other tribes, such as the Luo and Maasai started to support the Mau Mau and Jomo Kenyatta’s letters from prison gaining international support, the British started to allow Kenyans to take part in Government.
In 1957, the first Africans were elected to the Legislative Council. Kenya gained independence in December 1963, with Jomo Kenyatta becoming its first president. In 1964, Kenya joined the Commonwealth.
The Kenya People’s Union (KPU), a leftist party, was formed in 1966, and was headed by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a Luo elder. The party was banned and Odinga arrested after political unrest. No new opposition parties were formed after 1969, and the ruling party became the sole political party.
In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, officially making Kenya a one-party state. In December 1991, the one-party section of the constitution was repealed, resulting in several new parties being formed in 1992. The first multiparty elections were held in December 1992.
For more information on the history of Kenya, click here.
With 40 different ethnic groups, nowhere else in Africa is there such a large number of ancient cultures, all alive and well. Each cultural/ethnic group has their unique traditional arts and crafts, architecture in homestead designs, clothing, jewellery, food, and social and economic activities. Of interest is the Elmolo, Kenya’s smallest ethnic group, who are just emerging from the stone age.
The warrior culture of the Maasai is the most well-known of the ancient cultures to the rest of the world. The Maasai land incorporates many of the National Parks like Amboseli, Mara, Tsavo, and Nairobi National Park. The Maasai make a living from conservation, and are involved in conservation projects aimed at encouraging eco-tourism. This is an important factor in the preservation of wildlife habitats outside the parks.
The Swahili culture exists along the coast, and it developed independently of the cultural development of the people inland.
The Kenyan economy is the largest in East Africa. With a reasonably well-educated workforce, fertile soil, a busy port, attractive coastline, and abundant wildlife, the Kenyan economy is well placed to continue with the economic growth experienced in recent years. While agriculture is the main contributor to the Kenyan economy, other important contributors are forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing, energy, tourism, and financial services.
Kenya functions as the economic, commercial, and logistical hub in Eastern Central Africa. Kenya has embarked on projects aiming to modernize railways, seaports, and airports, and develop geothermal power stations.
The Kenyan Shilling is the currency of Kenya. The US$ is widely accepted at tourist establishments, but for buying local goods, it is good to have the local currency. You will receive change from the locals only in the local currency.
For more information or to book your Kenyan excursion, contact our team at Q2 Travel today.