Kenya

Kenya is a land with amazing landscapes: sand beaches, emerald water, and coral reefs in the coast; desert areas in the north, memorable mountainscapes such as the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kenya (the second highest peak in Africa). There are also many brilliant lakes, including Lake Victoria and Lake Naivasha.

In Kenya you will enjoy a wide range of activities such as safaris, bird watching, mountaineering, climbing and many more. A safari in its more than 40 national parks and reserves is a unique opportunity to explore the most magnificent wildlife in Africa.

Kenya also has a fascinating cultural diversity with around 40 different ethnic groups, the major tribes include the Kikuyu farmers, the Turkana fishermen and the Samburu warriors, of them all, however, the most famous are the red-clad Maasai.

Major Airports in Kenya

There are two main airports in Kenya; Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi
Moi International Airprot (MBA) in Mombasa.

Visa and Passport Requirements for Kenya Travel

Most visitors to Kenya require visas with exception of citizens of certain countries of the Commonwealth or otherwise. The regulations also vary depending on the nationality of the traveler. Some requirements may also change from time to time. It is advised to contact the nearest Kenyan Embassy for advise.

Your passport must be valid until 3 months after your anticipated travel in Kenya. You must have a blank page for each country you will visit. It is advisable to obtain visas in advance, from Embassies and High Commissions as several airlines insist on them prior to departure. However, visa can also be obtained at the point of entry into Kenya.

Customs and Excise Duty Regulations in Kenya

Most personal effects, perfumes, cameras, films, laptops etc may be brought temporarily into Kenya by travelers duty free. However, professional filming and video equipment, tape recorders, musical instruments tec. may require a customs bond to ensure they are re-exported at the end of the visit.

Entry of fire arms into Kenya requires a special permit which should be obtained in advance. Kenyan custom officials stationed at the entry points – airports, border posts and sea-ports will normally inspect baggage.

Health in Kenya

Kenya is generally a healthy destination. However, general concerns that a traveler would take while traveling anywhere should be taken. Malaria remains endemic in most of the lower altitude areas, therefore anti-malaria precautions should be followed according to a GPs advise.

Protection against the hot African sun is advisable through use of hats and sunscreen cream. Use insect repellants in the evenings especially if undertaking a safari.

Most good hotels and safari lodges in Kenya will have a doctor on call. It is however advisable to pack sufficient supplies of your special medication as some medications or same generics may not be available.

Medical Facilities in Kenya

Medical services are fairly good in Nairobi and other major centers in Kenya. Some of the major hospitals and medical centers in Nairobi are Nairobi Hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi Women’s Hospitál, etc.

Travelers who may need specialized personal medication should bring it along. Hospitals charge fees of any treatment, therefore a travel insurance is highly recommended. Most good hotels in Kenya have a list of doctors.

You may take out a temporary tourist membership of The Flying Doctors’ Society of Africa, if you are not already covered by your international insurance. In case of serious illness or injury, the Flying Doctors’ Society will provide emergency treatment and air transportation to the nearest hospital. Please note that enrolment does not include the cost of medical expenses incurred.

Safety and Security for Travel to Kenya

Kenya is generally safe for travel. Normal precautions as in any other destination worldwide should be taken. Due to increased danger of international terrorism, keep a watch on any travel alerts that may be issued on Kenya.

While in Kenya, keep a close watch on handbags, wallets and cameras when walking in crowded places and avoid walking in narrow alleys or isolated streets especially at night.

If traveling around Kenya on a self-drive option, avoid picking any hitch-hikers and do not stop on isolated areas of the road that you are not familiar with. Before leaving for the next destination that is unknown to you, talk to the hotel personnel to get the general feel of the road conditions and the security and safety situation of your next destination.

Place your valuables in safety deposit boxes at hotels and lodges. Only carry reasonable amount of hard cash at any time.

Do not wear jewellery or valuables that bring attention to yourself. Never leave valuables on show in an unattended car or tour bus. Do not leave your vehicle unlocked.

Shopping in Kenya

Most shops in major towns and cities are open from 08:30 hours to 18:00 hours, Monday to Saturday and some are even open on Sunday morning. Major supermarket chains are open from 08:30 hours to 20:30 hours Monday to Friday and on Sunday mornings. Some supermarkets have few of their stores that operate on a 24 hour basis.

For sourvenirs and gift, visit an open Market in Nairobi. These are operated at different venues depending on the day of the week. Ask your receptionist or guide for information.

Some items of special interest that you can get from the stores and shops include tea and coffee. And the open-air markets, you can get wood carvings, traditional African woven cloths, hand-woven carpets and mats, baskets, leather goods, gems and gemstone jewelry, and batik artwork. Hotels and lodges also have gift shops that sell souvenirs, T-shirts, toiletries, etc.

Banking in Kenya

Kenya has a relatively modern banking system. Some of the major international banks that operate in Kenya include Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered, Kenya Commercial Bank, and CitiBank. Bank services are most reliable in the major towns in comparison with the countryside. It is therefore advisable to get cash from the major cities. Most banks are generally open from 09:00 hours to 15:00 hours, from Monday to Friday and from 09:00 hours to 11:00 hours on Saturdays (the first and last Saturday of the month). Kenya’s banks are closed on weekends and during Kenya’s public holidays.

Currency

The unit of currency is the Kenyan shilling (KSh), which is made up of 100 cents. Notes in circulation are KSh1000, 500, 200, 100, 50 and 20, and there are also new coins of KSh40, 20, 10, five and one in circulation. Old coins are much bigger and heavier, and come in denominations of KSh5 (seven-sided) and KSh1. The old 50¢, 10¢ and 5¢ coins are now pretty rare, as most prices are whole-shilling amounts. Note that most public telephones accept only new coins. Locally, the shilling is commonly known as a ‘bob’, after the old English term for a one-shilling coin.

The shilling has been relatively stable over the last few years, maintaining fairly constant rates against a falling US dollar and a strong British pound. Both these currencies are easy to change throughout the country, as is the euro, which is rapidly replacing the dollar as the standard currency quoted for hotel prices on the coast. Cash is easy and quick to exchange at banks and forex bureaus, but carries a higher risk of theft. On the other hand, travellers’ cheques are replaceable, but are increasingly less widely accepted, and often carry high commission charges.

ATM Machines

Most of the banks in Kenya have Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). ATM machines are available 24 hrs at all major banks, and you can use your ATM debit card on Kenya’s ATM machines. However, you will incur a small international transaction fee when you use your ATM debit/credit card.

Credits Cards are widely accepted in all major hotels and establishments, with the most recognized being Master Card, Visa and American Express. However, you will need some cash handy because smaller shops will only accept cash.

Black Market: With deregulation, the black market has almost vanished, and the handful of moneychangers who still wander the streets offering ‘good rates’ are usually involved in scams of one kind or another. There are moneychangers at land border crossings, but there are also officially recognized Forex Bureau, which you should consider using than moneychangers, regardless of how reasonable rates these moneychangers offer to you. You should be careful not to get short-changed or scammed during any transaction if you decide to use the service of moneychangers, but bear in mind that this is dangerous and illegal.

Weather and Climate

Throughout the country, the hottest 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. The capital city of 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.

Generally, Kenya has 2 wet seasons – the long rains that occur between April and June and the short rains that happen between November and December. The coldest months are July and August and the hottest January and February. For the higher, interiors regions, temperatures vary between 25 degrees C for the day and 10 for the night. For the lower, coastal regions, between 30 degrees C for the day and 15 degrees C during the night. The coastal region has higher humidity levels.

Food and drink

Bottled water is available and is advised for the first few weeks of the stay. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. If doing a Kenya safari, most hotels and lodges will provide bottled water in the rooms.Food prepared by unlicensed vendors should be avoided at all times.

Photography in Kenya

Kenya is one of the great photographer’s destinations. The great diversity of landscapes, people, wildlife and history make for unparalleled photo opportunities.

The usual camera accessories are readily available in most places throughout Kenya. However, they may be a bit expensive in some places outside the major cities. You are advised to consider bringing along extra batteries and even a back up camera in case the first one fails you. Carry a dust-proof case for camera equipment. Some safari organizations provide bean bags as camera rests.

While in Kenya, you may not take photos of the following places; airports, military or police installations, policemen and military personnel in uniform, the President or government minister and their entourage, the national flag, the State house/state lodges, prisons, prisoners etc. Please ask your guide for guidance.

Telecommunications in Kenya

Most of Kenya can be accessed by phone – either the mobile phone, conventional telephone or the satellite phone. It is possible to call in and out of Kenya from anywhere in Kenya – almost.

Cellular phone coverage is provided by several companies. These are Safaricom, Zain, Orange, and YU. Most of the major towns are covered. International roaming services on your celluar phone is also possible in Kenya. You can purchase a cheap handset in Kenya and buy local calling cards to make your international calls. Alternatively, if you own a handset that accepts SIM cards, you can buy local cards and save money, as long as you have “unlocked” your phone for international use. Before you travel to Kenya, call your carrier to ask for unlock codes or search the internet for instructions. When you convert your phone to a Kenyan phone, you do not pay for incoming calls, only the calls you originate. You can also make international phone calls from your hotel, cybercafés, phone booths and other places that offer international calling services.

Most of Kenya is now networked by automatic telephone exchanges provided by Telkom Kenya, with public telephone exchanges in even the most remote places. Some rural areas, however, still have manual exchanges. To make a call in such areas, dial the exchange code and wait for the operator, then state the desired telephone number.

When making an international call into Kenya, dial +254 followed by the area code prefix (the first 0 in the area code should not be dialled) and then the local number.

When making an international call out of Kenya the international access code is 000. When calling within Kenya, dial the area code, including the 0, and then the local number. The area code for Nairobi is 020. Kenya area codes and other country codes can be found in Kenyan telephone directories.

Internet Access

Internet access is available in all major hotels, lodges and post offices in Kenya. Business centers and internet cybercafés are popular in most cities throughout the country. Simply walk into a cybercafé or business center and pay per use. However, internet access is limited in very remote towns and camping sites.

Languages in Kenya

English is the official language in Kenya while Kiswahili is the national language. There are also indigenous languages spoken throughout the country. Personal working for the travel and tourism establishments may be able to communicate in other European languages notably German, French, Italian and Spanish.

Electricity in Kenya

The electricity supply in Kenya is 240 volts, 50 Hz. and plugs with three round or square pins. Adaptors are available at some hotel receptions – but it might be advisable to carry one yourself. A small deposit may be required as security when you borrow the adaptor. This deposit is refundable upon return of the adaptor. Most safari lodges use generators for electricity. The generators are then switched off during the night.

Alcohol and Drugs

Kenya’s drinking age is 18 years. Drinking culture in Kenya is more relaxed and not as strict as in the United States and other areas of the western world. There is no law restricting a driver’s blood alcohol level. However, it is illegal to drink out of a bottle on the streets of many cities. Drugs and narcotics are illegal in Kenya – this is strictly enforced.

Dress Code and Etiquette While in Kenya

If you are going to Kenya for a vacation, holiday, safari or leisure, bring light-to-moderate casual wear such as cargo pants, jeans, cotton shirts and the like. The dress code in Kenyan culture is conservative. Also, many Kenyans adhere to different cultural, religious and customary dress styles. Jeans and decent tops/blouses for ladies are perfect. If you are going for business, you can keep it business-casual, however, business suits, tie and formal wear are preferred. Swimsuits are acceptable at the beach but not in public places.

Visitors to Kenya’s coastal towns of Mombasa, Malindi, Watamu and Lamu, which are predominantly Moslem, are advise to show respect to the locals by wearing conservative clothing. Ladies should not wear clothes that are too revealing or too tight.

Kenyans are very humble, friendly and social people. Shaking hands is a common greeting gesture and you are always welcome to strike a conversation with the person next to you. Just remember to respect Kenya’s customs and culture in whatever you do and you will enjoy a pleasant relationship with its people.

Driving and Road Travel in Kenya

If you do drive in Kenya, please drive on the left side of the road. Visitors to Kenya who want to hire vehicles on self-drive must be in possession of a valid driving license. It is easy to rent a car in Kenya.

Seat belts should be worn at all times. Traffic lights work in major towns. Sometimes drivers and pedestrians do not obey the traffic lights. Always stay alert while driving for both erratic drivers and pedestrians.

You can use your current permit/driver’s license from your country for as long as it is valid and if you have held it for a minimum of two years. International driver’s permits/licenses are also acceptable. Kenyan drivers are very rough so be cautious while driving.

Time and Business Hours

Kenya has a single time zone- which is GMT+3. Most businesses in Kenya are open from Monday to Friday, though some also trade on Saturday. Business hours are generally 9:00am to 5:00pm, closing for an hour over lunch (1:00pm – 2:00pm).

Advice on Tipping

Tipping is not common practice among Kenyans, but there’s no harm in rounding up the bill by a few shillings if you’re pleased with the service. In tourist-oriented businesses a service charge of 10% is often added to the bill along with the 16% VAT and 2% catering levy. Most tourist guides and all safari drivers and cooks will expect some kind of gratuity at the end of your tour or trip. Porters at the airports, hotels, lodge, etc. – US$ 1 per porter and Safari drivers and guides US$5 per person per day. As fares are negotiated in advance, taxi drivers do not need to be tipped unless they provide you with exceptional service.