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Kenya Travel Guide

INTRODUCTION:

With abundance of wildlife and natural landmarks, Kenya lies in the east of the African continent enjoying large eastern border with the Indian Ocean. Towards other sides within the continent, Kenya shares its borders with Somalia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan. Kenya is known to be one of the most powerful economies of Africa and is highly dependant on tourism industry. Along with exotic wildlife species and mind blowing landscapes, the country is home to a number of archeological sites and entertainment venues.

Since Kenya gained its independence from the British in 1963, all the ethnic groups in the country have decided to live together peacefully in one land. This mix of cultures provides Kenya with much of vibrancy. Owing to these characteristics, tourists are commonly seen in almost every part of the country, all year round. To complete the demand of Kenya flights, a number of Middle Easter, African and European carriers fly to Kenya to connect her cities with other cities around the globe.  

MAJOR CITIES:

Nairobi: is the capital city as well as the business hub of Kenya. The country’s major international airport is also situated here.

Mombasa: is the second largest city of Kenya and the major Kenyan tourist destination. It is home to a number of historical sites but primarily popular for its beaches.

Kisumu: is the capital and largest city of Nyanza Province and Kenya’s third largest city. It is one of the country’s major cites, a port and a beautiful spot on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Garissa: is home to mainly Muslim population and offers a life and culture, meant to be explored. Wildlife and scenic beauty can be enjoyed along with the nightlife and a stay in any of the up-scale hotels,   

Kabarnet: is a town in the Northern Rift Valley and the gateway to Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo.

Lamu: is a part of the Lamu Archipelago and the main city of Lamu Island. This scenic and serene spot is the perfect sport for indulging completely in tranquility and peace, away from city life, hectic routines and tensions.   

GET IN:

Visa:

It is comparatively less demanding and painful to acquire a visa to Kenya, than most other countries. Amazingly, Kenyan visas are not very detailed and are just 1 page long. It is a point, worth mentioning, that visas to Kenya need no more than 10 days for processing and verification and are returned within 10 days. During the peak holiday seasons (May to August), it may take 12-16 days at the most.

Kenyan government has released a long list of countries whose nationals do not require a visa to enter Kenya. Prior to the visit, this list must be checked. For those, who would need a visa, Kenyan embassy can be consulted. These visas remain valid up to 6 months after the date of issue and range in prices as per type; transit visa, single entry and double entry.  

Flying:

Kenya has three international airports that are; Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the capital Nairobi, Moi International Airport in Mombasa and Eldoret International Airport in Eldoret. The latter one is used for passengers on domestic flights and cargo flights to Kenya.

To Mombassa and Nairobi, a number of airlines fly from Africa, Middle East and Europe while the airport at Nairobi is the highest served in Kenya and the major point of entry. Emirates, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Egypt Air, Delta Airlines, Qatar Airways and a number of other airlines serve this country. Tourists can select a cheap flight to Kenya from a long list of airlines and prices. Kenya Airways, the national carrier of the country, connects major Kenyan airports with around 43 international airports around the globe.

GET AROUND:

Flying:

In addition to the three international airports, Kenya has 49 domestic airports. The capital city of Nairobi is home to two airports of which one is the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the other is Wilson Airport. Wilson Airport is the main gateway to most of the national parks of Kenya. It is due to the popularity of Kenyan safaris that at one time, Wilson Airport was ranked as Africa’s busiest airport excluding South African airports. Kenya Airways, along with the domestic carriers such as Fly540 JetLink Express and East African Safari Air fly all around Kenya serving its different airports. Thus making flying between different parts of Kenya easy and affordable.

Car:

Almost all international car hiring companies operate widely in Kenya. Their offices can be found in Nairobi and Kenya from where 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive cars are available. Most of the world renowned companies are expensive but they offer full back-up systems, thus ensuring complete safety. Most of the local companies are also however reliable and efferent.

Although these cars are often well maintained and in a very good conditions but the problem arises with the roads. Kenya has a beautiful countryside which would only be done justice with, if traveled by car and explored but road conditions often do not allow for this. A 4x4 or a heavy duty car would thus work best on Kenyan roads. As the roads are not only in an overlooked condition but also badly signposted, keeping a good map in hand is a necessity to avoid loosing way. While driving, beware of thugs and robbers!      

Matatu:

Matatus are privately owned bus services servicing most of the urban centers and many rural areas of Kenya. The word Matatu has been derived from a Kiswahili word “tatu” which means “three”. Until some time ago, the fare for these buses was ‘three coins of 10-cent’.

Traveling through a Matatu is cheap and fast but at times, a little bit uncomfortable and dangerous. For European travelers, it is not advisable to travel on this form of transport until they are adventurous enough and really looking for some thrill. Matatus are done in vibrant colors and a lot of décor which is attractive for foreigners. The problem arises with the way Matatus are driven. The drivers ply at very high speeds cutting down the traffic and stop at a very short notice. Also, these buses are, at times, filled up to more than their full capacity.

However, lately the country has seen implementation of laws under which Matatu drivers have to maintain a decent speed limit while the passengers have to wear seat belts or else, face the law. Matatus are either 14-seaters or 25-seaters and now, especially in larger cities, they are not filled up to a capacity more than sit can hold. These buses run from short to medium distances but can be hired to ply along a desired route.   

Bus:

The buses are a far better option for rather sophisticated travelers as they provide cleaner and more comfortable journeys than Matatus. Also, according to law, no more than the typical capacity of 20-35 passengers can be filled and standing passengers are strictly forbidden. The only discomfort in journey arises with bumpiness and dust but that is due to Kenyan roads and highways.

These coaches are cheap and run to many places in and out of Nairobi. Journeying during daylight hours is recommended over night as night traveling in Kenya is often related to robbers and accidents.

Train:

Kenya has a railway service that runs all the way from Mombasa to Kampala via Kisumu. The train is Luantic Express which gained its popularity through the Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer film, The Ghost and the Darkness.

Kenya has not been able to upgrade its locomotive system including the tracks. Thus the country is still using obsolete equipment, installed y the British 50 years ago, which often leads to trains loosing the track and delayed journeys. Also it travels extremely slowly. Kenyan trains are just not a recommendation for foreigners.   

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS:

Masai Mara National Park:

More of a nature reserve, Masai Mara is not exactly a national park. The reserve is owned by the Masai people of the region but is administered by local councils. In addition to flora and fauna, Masai Mara is home to 2000 year old arrowheads and pottery as well as endless natural landmarks. Thus it is visited by thousands of tourists each year.

Sandy soil, bushes, plateau, grasslands and woodlands; all combine to make this place, a heavenly sport for tourists. The African Big Five are commonly seen here which include the lion, elephants, black rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo. Along with the large wildebeest migration, cheetahs, hyenas and jackals are some of the worth spotting animals in the place. Crocodiles, zebra, giraffe, impala and Thomson’s gazelle can also be found freely roaming around. There are many species of birds, of which 50 are birds of prey. These include; eagles, storks, vultures and ostriches.      

Nairobi National Park:

Located at a half hour drive outside the Kenyan capital, this national park overlooks the spectacular skyline of Nairobi. It is the world’s only natural game reserve situated in such close proximity to a developed human settlement. Due to its rough terrain and natural ambiance, using a jeep or a 4x4 is the best choice to explore Nairobi National Park.

Along with many species of native plants, many species of wildlife can be spotted at the site. The highlight however remain; the Masai giraffe, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, Burchell’s Zebra and African buffalo. Big cats, hippos, rhinos, birds of prey, apes and impalas can also be spotted there.    

Fort Jesus:

This fine example of 16th century Portuguese military architecture adorns the city of Mombasa to attract thousands of tourists to it. The fort was built in 1593 and used for slave trade. However, it got its name in the year 1837 when Sheikh Isa bin Tarif bin Ali Al Ubti conquered it. “Isa” is the Arabic for “Jesus” thus the fort was named “Fort Jesus”.

Today, the museum houses a museum that portrays the slave trade and exhibits artifacts and other displays from the olden times. The fort’s torture rooms and cells are a pert of the museum and can be explored.  

Diani Beach:

Since Mombasa is a popular beach destination, the city is home to many beautiful beaches that tourists love to visit. Diani Beach is one of the most popular beaches of the city of Mombasa encompassing a long white sand area. There is a beach bar named ’40 thieves’ which is worth visiting. With a beer in hand, Mombassa’s hippest nightlife can be enjoyed at this spot.   

Nairobi National Museum:

Having undergone major renovations, Nairobi National Museum has come out in its finest form to teach tourist about Kenyan history and culture. The well manicured garden at the museum, that houses many indigenous plants, has caught the sight of many tourists.  

LANGUAGES:

Kenya has two official languages; English and Swahili. However English is a language limited to educated upper classes in urban centers and tourism related people. Swahili is more widely spoken and is the lingua francs outside the major cities.

Further into the remote areas, English completely disappears to give way to tribal languages such as Maa, the language of Maasai people. Therefore, whenever traveling outside the major town and cities, it is a guide must for tourists to take a guide along. A blend of English, Kiswahili and other local languages is popular amongst youth in the urban areas which might be only slightly understandable for foreigners.   

WEATHER:

1ST Quarter:

Minimum temperature of January and February is maintained at 11oC while in March it sees a 2oC rise to reach 13oC. Maximum temperatures of January and March are however similar at 25oC while that of February can reach up to 26oC. For all the three months, a good amount of sunlight is available daily for 9-10 hours while humidity levels are highly comforting. In January, humidity level is the highest in the first quarter at 24% while in February, it reduces to 23% and maintains as such until March. Rainfall is scanty throughout the quarter which in January is less than 5mm and increases slowly to 10mm in March. Keeping in mind the tourist friendly weather conditions, it would be the best option to grab a Kenya flight for the first quarter of year.

2nd Quarter:

For the months of April, May and June, the temperatures range from 14oC-24oC, 13oC-23oC and 11oC-22oC respectively. April sees the highest amount of rainfall in a year at 21mm which reduces to 16mm in May and finally to 8mm in June. Humidity however heads in an ascending order with 25% in April and 26% in May and June. Sunshine hours also reduce during the 2nd quarter as in the first month of this quarter only 7 hours of daily sunshine are available. In the following two months, no sunshine for more than 6 hours per day is available.

3rd Quarter:

The third quarter of the year is the driest in Kenya in terms of rainfall. July sees no more than 2mm of rain while August and September experience just 3mm of it. An average of 4 hours daily sunshine is followed throughout the three months while humidity is the highest in July in the whole year at 26%. It then sharply descends to 25% in August and 23% in September. The minimum temperature follows a similar trend for all the three months and remains 10oC while maximum temperatures are 21oC for July and August and 24oC for September.

4th Quarter:

The final quarter of the year shares some similarities with the 2nd quarter but does not wholly compare with it. The minimum temperature maintains at 13oCs for October, November and December while the maximum temperatures are 25oC for October and 23oC for the last two months of the year. 7 hours of daily sunshine are seen by October and November while December sees 8 hours of it. Rainfall is scarce in this quarter with 5mm in the first month, 11mm in the second and 8mm in the last month of the quarter.  Humidity is not very discomforting at this time and takes a 21% share in October, 24% in November and 25% in December.