Traveling to Kenya involves finding out about visas, health, safety, weather, the best time to go, currency and getting to and around Kenya.
US passport holders need a visa to enter Kenya, but they can get it at the airport or border crossing when they arrive in Kenya. If you want to plan ahead then you can apply for a visa in the US. Details and forms can be found on the Kenyan Embassy website. Nationals from Commonwealth countries (including Canada and the UK) do not need a visa. Tourist visas are valid for 30 days. For up to date information see the Kenyan Embassy website.
A single-entry visa costs USD50 and a multiple entry visa USD100. If you are planning on visiting just Kenya, then a single-entry is all you need. If your plans include crossing over to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or visit the Serengeti, then you’ll need a multiple-entry visa if you wish to re-enter Kenya again.
Health and Immunizations
No immunizations are required by law to enter Kenya if you are traveling directly from Europe or the US. If you are traveling from a country where Yellow Fever is present you will need to prove you have had the inoculation.
Several vaccinations are highly recommended, they include:
- Yellow Fever
- Hepatitis A
It is also recommended that you are up to date with your polio and tetanus vaccinations. Contact a travel clinic at least 3 months before you plan to travel. Here’s a list of travel clinics for US residents.
There’s a risk of catching malaria pretty much everywhere you travel in Kenya. The highlands used to be a low-risk area, but even there you have to be careful and take precautions. Kenya is home to the chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria as well as several others. Make sure your doctor or travel clinic knows you are traveling to Kenya (don’t just say Africa) so s/he can prescribe the right anti-malarial medication. Tips on how to avoid malaria will also help.
In general, people are extremely friendly in Kenya and you will be humbled by their hospitality. But, there is real poverty in Kenya and you will soon realize that you are far richer and more fortunate than most local people you meet. You will probably attract your fair share of souvenir hawkers and beggars, but try and take the time to meet ordinary people going about their day to day business too. The experience will be worth it. Don’t be afraid to step out of that tour bus, just take some precautions.
Basic Safety Rules for Travelers to Kenya
- Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage.
- Don’t walk on your own at night in the major cities or on empty beaches.
- Don’t wear jewelry.
- Don’t carry too much cash with you.
- Wear a money belt that fits under your clothes.
- Don’t carry a lot of camera equipment especially in the major cities.
- Beware of thieves posing as police officers.
Roads in Kenya aren’t very good. Potholes, roadblocks, goats, and people tend to get in the way of vehicles. When looking into a safari in Kenya, your choices of flying versus driving is a key factor in deciding on what places to visit. Here are some driving distances in Kenya, to help you plan your trip.
Avoid driving a car or riding a bus at night because potholes are difficult to see and so are other vehicles especially when they are missing their headlights, a fairly common occurrence. If you are renting a car, keep the doors and windows locked while driving in the major cities. Car-jackings occur fairly regularly but may not end in violence as long as you comply with demands made.
In 1998 an attack on the US Embassy in Nairobi left 243 people dead and over 1000 injured. In November 2002 a car bomb exploded, killing 15 people outside of a hotel near Mombasa. Both attacks are thought to have been caused by Al-Qaeda. While these are scary statistics you can still go and enjoy your safari or the beach in Mombasa. After all, tourists haven’t stopped going to New York city and security has improved in Kenya since 2002. For more information on terrorism check with your Foreign Office or Department of State for the latest warnings and developments.
When to Go
There are two rainy seasons in Kenya. A short rainy season in November and a longer one that usually lasts from the end of March into May. It doesn’t necessarily get cold, but the roads can become impassable. Here are the average weather conditions for Kenya including daily forecasts for Nairobi and Mombasa.
If you are on safari you can usually see more animals during the dry season as they congregate around the waterholes. If you wish to plan your trip around the annual migration of the wildebeest you should go between the end of July – September.
The value of the Kenyan Shilling fluctuates so it’s best to check in with a currency converter just before you go. Traveler’s checks are probably the best and safest way to take money with you. Don’t change too much money at one time and use the banks, not the money changers. Major credit cards are only accepted at the more expensive shops and hotels.
Tip: Bartering for souvenirs is an enjoyable and accepted practice. T-shirts, jeans, a cheap (working) watch can all be exchanged for a nice carving or two, so take some spares along with you. On that note, a decent inexpensive watch makes for a nice gift if someone has gone out of their way to help you. We usually bring along a few when we travel to these parts.
Getting to and From Kenya
Many international airlines fly into Kenya including KLM, Swissair, Ethiopian, BA, SAA, Emirates, Brussels etc. There are two international airports; Kenyatta International Airport (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport (Mombasa).
Ethiopian Airlines from Nairobi is a good option if you plan to continue on to West Africa. Nairobi is also a good place to get cheap flights to India if you are lucky enough to be traveling around the world.
The average airfare to Kenya from the US is around USD1000 – USD1200. About half that for flights from Europe. Book at least a few months in advance because flights fill up quickly.
The main border crossing into Tanzania from Kenya is at Namanga. It is open for 24 hours and is the best way to get to Mount Kilimanjaro (other than flying of course). There are buses that run frequently between Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, the trip takes about 24 hours. Nairobi to Arusha is a comfortable 5-hour bus ride with several companies vying for your custom.
The main border crossing from Kenya into Uganda is at Malaba. There are buses available from Nairobi to Kampala as well as a weekly train service which connects with the train to Mombasa.
Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia
Border crossings between Kenya and Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia are often too risky to attempt. Check the latest government travel warnings before you go and chat with people who have gone before you to get the most reliable information.
Getting Around Kenya
There are several small airline companies that offer domestic flights as well as the national airline, Kenya Airways. Destinations include Amboseli, Kisumu, Lamu, Malindi, Masai Mara, Mombasa, Nanyuki, Nyeri, and Samburu. The smaller domestic airlines (Eagle Aviation, Air Kenya, African Express Airways) operate out of Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. Some routes get booked up quickly, especially to the coast, so book at least a few weeks in advance.
The most popular train route is from Nairobi to Mombasa. When we took this train, we were impressed with the real silver service and fantastic views of the Tsavo while eating breakfast.
Buses are numerous and often very full. Most of the buses are privately owned and there are some good express buses between the major cities and towns. Nairobi is the main hub.
By Taxi, Matatu, Tuk-Tuk and Boda Boda
Taxi’s are numerous in the main cities and towns. Agree on the price before you get in since the meters are unlikely to work (if they have a meter, to begin with). Matatus are mini-buses that operate on set routes and passengers embark and disembark at whatever point they choose. Often colorful to look at but overcrowded and a little dangerous due to the drivers’ love for speed. Tuk-Tuks are also popular in Nairobi and are cheaper than taxies. Tuk-Tuks are small three-wheeler vehicles, very popular in South and Southeast Asia.
Try one, they’re fun. And finally, you can also hit the streets of many towns and villages on a [link urlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boda-boda]Boda-boda, a bicycle taxi.
Renting a car in Kenya gives you a little more independence and flexibility than joining a tour group. There are several car rental agencies in the major cities including Avis, Hertz, and many safari companies also rent 4WD vehicles. Rates vary from around USD50 to USD100 per day, there are also several car rental websites offering discounts.
Driving is on the left side of the road and you’ll most likely need an international driving license as well as a major credit card to rent a car. Driving at night is not advised. Here are some Kenya driving distances so you get an idea of how long it takes to get from A to B.
Ferries regularly ply Lake Victoria, Africa’s biggest lake. You can head to some picturesque bays south of Kisumu, Kenya’s biggest town on the lake. Travel between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania which also border the lake, is no longer possible at the time of writing. Ferries are comfortable and cheap.
Dhows are beautiful traditional sailing boats that the Arabs introduced to Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast more than 500 years ago. You can rent a dhow for an evening or several days from various companies in Lamu, Malindi, and Mombasa.