Want to learn more about Kenya and your safari holiday? You have come to the right place!
On this page, we introduce you to the most important safari and travel tips for Kenya. We even included a crash course in the local language Swahili!
Make sure to also check out our additional information on your safari in Kenya:
Your first Swahili class!
It is always nice to speak a few words in the local language. Therefore, we have also included a crash course in Swahili in our safari and travel tips for Kenya. We hope you will find it helpful!
Ndiyo – Yes
Hapana – No
Asante! – Thank you!
Tafadhali – Please
Karibu – Welcome!
Sawa – OK
Habari zako/zenu? – Lit. Your (sing/plural) news? – How are you?
Nzuri sana! – Very good!
Rafiki – Friend
Pole sana! – I’m very sorry!
Tutaonana (baadaye) – See you (later)!
Nafurahi kukuona! – Nice to meet you!
Samahani! – Excuse me!
Lala salama! – Goodnight!
Starehe – You are welcome
Tafadhali, naomba msaada – Can you help me?
Jina lako ni nani? – What is your name?
Jina langu ni… – My name is…
Unatoka wapi? – Where are you from?
Natoka… – I am from…
Naomba kupiga picha – May I take a picture?
Unasema kiingereza? – Do you speak English?
Unasema Kiswahili? – Do you speak Swahili?
Kidogo tu! – Just a little bit!
Sielewi! – I don’t understand!
Shikamoo! – Respectful greeting from a younger person to an older person (usually much older). They in turn reply Marahaba.
Mzee – Elder, older person (not necessarily gender specific but in Kenya inland more commonly used for men, whereas older women might be called mama (mother) or mama mzee).
Hakuna shida! – No problem! (Hakuna matata! made famous by Disney’s Lion King is technically accurate but is used less frequently).
Chai – Depending on usage can mean ‘tea’, ‘breakfast’ or ‘bribe’.
Kahawa – coffee.
Chakula – food.
Maji – water.
Pombe – alcohol.
Pesa – money.
Kwa Heri/Kwa Herini – goodbye (sing/plural).
Mwanamke/Wanawake – woman/women (more informal bibi/mabibi).
Mwanaume/Wanaume – man/men (more informal bwana/mabwana).
And a few beautiful Swahili proverbs…
Heri kufa macho kuliko kufa moyo. – It is better to lose your eyes than to lose your heart.
Kamba hukatika pabovu. – A rope parts where it is thinnest.
Hapana marefu yasio na mwisho. – There is no distance that has no end.
Ihsani haiozi. – Kindness does not go rotten.
Bendera hufuata upepo. – A flag follows the direction of the wind.
Afadhali kuaibika kuliko kufa. – Better ashamed than dead.
Afadhali kufa kuliko kuaibika. – Better dead than ashamed.
Safari and Travel Tips for Kenya
Do credit cards work in Kenya? Which kind of photographic equipment should I bring? How do I apply for a visa? If you are about to travel to Kenya for the first time, you might have already thought about some of these questions. Look no further, we have compiled the most important information for you here in our Safari and Travel Tips for Kenya!
KENYA VISA REQUIREMENTS
Tourists must have a valid visa to visit Kenya. Your passport must also be valid for at least six months after the date of your arrival in the country.
In 2017 Kenya introduced ‘eVisa’, the electronic tourist visa, although you can still apply for a visa manually on arrival at the Nairobi or Mombasa airport in Kenya.
Manual application for a visa on arrival in Kenya:
On arrival at the airport in Kenya, you will need to complete an application form and pay a fee of USD 50. The process is usually smooth and fast. It’s best to carry your own pen!
In the field where you are requested to state your Kenyan address, please enter the name of the hotel/lodge where you are proceeding to spend your first night.
Electronic visa application for Kenya:
Please use the website www.evisa.go.ke to apply for an electronic eVisa. You may pay by credit card. The visa processing fee is USD 50, and there is a service charge of USD 1.
The visa application process involves uploading your passport picture along with your passport photograph. Your visa shall be issued approximately five days after you register. You shall be required to print a copy of your electronic visa, bring it with you for presentation along with your passport on arrival in Kenya.
If you have any problems or enquiries related to applying for an electronic visa, please contact the Kenyan Embassy in your country / region.
Most major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa and American Express) are widely accepted.
In addition to credit cards, it can be advisable to carry easily convertible currency in cash.
VACCINATION AND HEALTH
We advise you to contact a medical specialist before travelling to Kenya.
There are no compulsory vaccinations required for entry to Kenya unless you are arriving from an area infected with Yellow Fever, in which case a Certificate of Inoculation against Yellow Fever is required from travelers older than one year. Visitors coming from other countries in Africa where Yellow Fever may occur, including Tanzania and Zanzibar, require a Yellow Fever certificate.
Recommended vaccinations include Typhoid, Hepatitis and Polio, and anti-malarial medication is essential. Anti-malarial drugs should be taken prior to arrival and should be continued for 4 weeks after leaving Kenya. It is also advisable to try and avoid mosquito bites by using repellent and by wearing suitable cover-up clothes in the evening. There are good hospitals in the main towns of Kenya while the rural areas have small health centers where one can get basic first aid. It is absolutely essential that all visitors carry some form of medical insurance to cater for any eventualities. There is an excellent Flying Doctor service in Kenya in the event of a medical emergency, while on safari away from the urban centers. Hotels and lodges supply clean drinking water but whenever in doubt, please drink only bottled mineral water (which is available in hotels and safari camps). Drinking water from the tap is not encouraged.
ACCOMMODATION ON SAFARI
Safari hotels/logdes/tented camps are carefully chosen and are named in the safari itinerary/program. They are unique and add that extra flavor to your safari tour. They are comfortable and sufficiently luxurious. They vary from economy, comfort, superior comfort and luxury options. Luxury lodges blend nicely with the landscape and have rooms with all amenities you would expect from a good hotel. Tented camps are on permanent foundations and have en-suite bathrooms. Except the tree lodges, most other lodges and camps have swimming pools.
PACKING FOR A SAFARI
Important items and information should be carried in your hand luggage: passport, visa, airfare, insurance, credit cards, money and prescriptions if necessary.
Any expensive electrical equipment, such as a camera or computer should be well looked after.
Please note that all use, import and production of plastic bags, such as those we know from supermarkets, etc., is prohibited in Kenya.
We therefore recommend that you avoid using plastic bags when packing your luggage. Use fabric bags instead, or bags made of a waterproof material other than plastic. If, for example, you are visibly carrying hand luggage in plastic bags upon your arrival in Kenya, you will be asked to hand them in. This also includes plastic bags from “Duty Free”, etc.
Luggage and personal effects are at owner’s risk throughout the tour.
Baggage insurance is recommended.
PHOTOGRAPHY ON SAFARI
The recommended camera for a safari is a 35mm camera with automatic exposure and interchangeable lenses. For the best results in photographing wildlife (including birds), you should have a zoom lens.
Remember to bring extra batteries for every camera and flash unit.
Also recommended are a few protection bags that come in handy in protecting your camera if it gets especially dusty in some of the parks.
Photographic Equipment List for Safaris:
- Telephoto lenses (200-400mm)
- Lens cleaning equipment
- Extra batteries
- Battery charger (12V or 220A for video cameras)
- Film (double what you think you’ll need)
- Camera bag
- Lead bag for film
- Zip lock bags
- A notebook to record your days adventures while it’s still fresh!
- The best way to ensure that you take a brilliant close up is to use a long lens with aperture set at f8 focusing on the animal’s eyes to get the whole face in focus.
- When you’re not focusing on a particular shot, have your camera set to f8 with the servo mode set to aperture priority so you are always ready for the little moments.
- Make sure you bracket your shots, so you cover all possible options. Generally, this is a portrait, landscape with the environment in view and a close up with detail.
- If the sun is bright, use a low contrast film. If it’s dull or cloudy use a high contrast.
- Keep your shots varied of both portrait and horizontal.
- Unless you are using a panning technique, moving animals will require a shutter speed of at least 1/125 and birds in flight 1/500.
- Take time to position your shots. Look at the surroundings for any potential distractions and the best shots.
- The minimum focal length lens for mammal photography is 300mm and for birds 500mm.
- To give the appearance of the animal moving, don’t centre your shots. Leave space left, right, above or below for the animal to move into.
- To create dramatic photos, vary where you take your shots. Take some from the roof hatch, some from the windows and, where safe, get out of the vehicle to get on eye level.
WEATHER & SAFARI SEASONS IN KENYA
The good news is you can enjoy a safari in Kenya throughout the year! There are however some differences to observe when it comes to the weather in Kenya throughout the year. This is why we decided to include a section about the Kenya’s weather in our safari and travel tips for Kenya. Please note that the following information is only a first guideline, the weather does not always stick to rules :–).
Kenya’s climate varies across the country, from the tropical humidity of the coast, the dry heat of the savannah or semi-arid areas and the cool air of the highlands. Temperatures in these areas are fairly constant year round with an average of 27°C (80°F) at the coast, 21°C to 27°C (70°F to 80°F) in the hinterland, while in Nairobi and the highlands over 5,000 ft, the daytime temperatures normally range between 19°C and 24°C (66°F to 75°F).
Most parts of Kenya experience two rainy seasons: the ‘long rains’ falling over a ten-week period between April and June, and the ‘short rains’ over a five-week period between November and December. The rain tends to fall mainly at night and is usually a short and heavy tropical downpour.
Rain may occasionally fall outside of the normal rainy seasons. In the highland areas north of Nairobi it may get chilly at night or in the early mornings – especially in June, July, and August when temperatures are cooler – so it is recommended that visitors pack some warm clothing.
January, February and March (High Season)
Theese three months are good for safari, the period is just after the short rain season, you may catch some bird species that are winter visitors from Europe. The grass is not high enough to hinder your view of the animals.
April and May (Low Season)
This is the long rainy season; but you can still enjoy your safari during this period. Tropical rain comes in bursts and lasts a few hours, mostly in the mornings and afternoons. The rains freshen up the nature and often enhances the safari experience.
The month of June is a good time to experience safari after the long rainy season. The large zebra herds cross from Tanzania to the Maasai Mara game reserve ahead of the migration which happens from July.
July to October (Peak Season)
Huge herds of wildebeest enter the Maasai Mara from the Serengeti in Tanzania. Due to evolving climatic situations it may be a little difficult to give specific times for the start of the migration. It is however safe to state that the great wildebeest migration is active in the Maasai Mara by mid-July. Wildebeest start their return journey to Tanzania around September / October.
November and December (Shoulder Season)
This is the short rainy season in Kenya. The short rain freshens the pastures and the grass start to grow. The national parks and game reserves regain their vegetation.
We recommend that you bring casual summer clothes that are easy to launder and quick to dry. Go for neutral colors that do not reflect the heat and do not show the inevitable safari dust.
With cool mornings and evenings, layering is suggested. Laundry service is available in most safari lodges and tented camps which can help you replenish your supply of clean clothing, as you need it. Much of the time on safari is spent in the vehicle so lightweight and comfortable walking shoes are appropriate. Pack a swimsuit and cover-up, as most of the safari accommodations have swimming pools.
Kenya’s currency is the Kenyan shilling (KSH). Check online for the current rate. You can exchange your convertible foreign currency into shillings in a forex bureau and shall find the best rates at the airport. Small cash denominations are handy for tipping and minor expenses. You can also withdraw Kenya shillings at the ATM (VISA & MasterCard etc.). Cash USD, Euro, British pounds are readily accepted in many outlets.
You will find it easiest to make small purchases in local currencies and will usually receive a better price.
You may conveniently exchange money at all lodges and hotels at close to the bank rate, but the best exchange rates you get from the Forex Bureaus at the airport or in Nairobi city.
The voltage is 220; however, the plugs are different from those in Europe or North America. Due to the variations of the outlets, we suggest you travel with a variety of international adapter plugs as well as a voltage converter, which may be purchased as a set. The most commonly used adapter plug has 3 square prongs.
Important: note that lodges in the game parks may turn off their generators during the day and late at night (11pm – 10am), this means there will be no electricity at this time.
Please recharge your video camera batteries at applicable times of the day or carry extra batteries.
All hotel, lodges and porterage gratuities are included in your safari price. It is however customary to tip the driver / guide at the end of the safari tour. The amount is dependent on your evaluation of the quality of the service rendered.
Travelers should have medical insurance, as they will be responsible for all medical expenses that may occur.
Nairobi has excellent international medical facilities. Most camps and lodges have a doctor on call who is experienced with common travel-related ailments. We suggest that you make certain your health insurance has adequate coverage.
Visitors should exercise the same common sense as one would in any other part of the world. Please do not leave cash or jewelry unattended in hotel rooms. Every lodge or hotel has a safe deposit facility for your valuables safe keeping. Do not wear flashy jewelry or leave handbags and photographic equipment unattended in public places.
For your own safety, always travel by car in the evenings/nights.
SAFARI SOUVENIR SHOPPING
Affordable and attractive baskets, copper jewelry, batik cloth, beads, carvings, Kenyan coffee and tea are all for sale in the shops and markets of Nairobi and Mombasa. Boutiques sell fine art and handicrafts, gemstones and jewelry, including a locally mined semiprecious stone called tanzanite.
Most popular are items carved from wood, which range from small trinkets such as animal head salad spoons and letter openers, to world-class ebony sculpture. Carved soapstone from napkin rings and candlesticks to complete chess sets, are also attractive. Bags woven from sisal and baobab are available in different colors, sizes, styles and shapes.
East African artisans have responded to the increasing appreciation of tribal artifacts with a variety of stunning original pieces and faithful reproductions: drums, headrests, stools, shields, and beaded necklaces and belts from various parts of the region.
Some of the most prized pieces feature elaborately worked silver, malachite and amber beads.
We suggest that you take all goods you purchase with you as shipping and duty cost may easily exceed the cost of the item.
DRIVING DISTANCES & TIME ON SAFARI
We are often being asked, how long the driving distances between Kenya’s different national parks and game reserves are. This is why we decided to include this section in our safari and travel tips for Kenya. Please note that all driving times are approximate and may vary depending on weather, state of road and traffic.
- Nairobi – Amboseli: 240 km, approx. 3.5-4 hours
- Amboseli – Lake Naivasha: 350 km, approx. 6-7 hours
- Lake Naivasha – Masai Mara: 250 km, approx. 4-5 hours
- Masai Mara – Nairobi: 265 km, approx. 6 hours
- Nairobi – Samburu: 320 km, approx. 6-7 hours
- Samburu – Lake Naivasha: 340 km, approx. 6-7 hours
- Nairobi – Ol Pejeta: 220 km approx, 4 hours
- Nairobi – Lake Nakuru: 160 kms approx, 3 hours
- Nairobi – Lake Naivasha: 100 kms, approx, 2 hours
- Mombasa – Tsavo East: 120Km, approx, 3 hours
- Mombasa – Tsavo West: 240Km, approx 4 hours
- Tsavo West – Amboseli: 100Km, approx 2 hours
- Amboseli – Masai Mara: 520 Km, approx 9 hours
- Tsavo East – Amboseli: 300 Km, approx 5 hours
Kenya is 2 hours ahead of GMT.
Mosquitoes appear when the temperatures drop and the evening sets in. This is when most bites happen. We advise that you wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. It is also important to make sure any exposed parts of the body are protected with insect repellent. All safari lodges and camps are fitted with mosquito nets over the bed.