The answer to the question "when is the best time of year to visit Kenya?" is best answered with another question - what do you want to do while you're there? There are optimum times to go on safari, to look for the wildebeest and zebra of the Great Migration, to relax on the beach and to climb the country's famous Mount Kenya. Often, these peak times are dictated by the weather, but sometimes there are other important factors to consider. Of course, if you're looking to explore Kenya on a budget, you may want to avoid peak season altogether, because a slight compromise on weather or wildlife sightings usually means much cheaper rates for tours and accommodation.
Because Kenya is located on the equator, there is no real summer and winter. Instead, the year is divided into rainy and dry seasons. There are two dry seasons - a short one in January and February; and a much longer one lasting from late June to October. The short rains fall in November and December, but by far the wettest season is the period from March to May. Temperatures are relatively consistent in each region of Kenya, but vary from one place to the next according to elevation. The coast, for example, is considerably hotter than the plateaus of central Kenya, while Mount Kenya is so high that it is permanently capped with snow.
Humidity also increases at lower elevations, while the arid north is both hot and dry.
Catching the Great Migration
Every year, Tanzania and Kenya provide the backdrop for one of the world's most breathtaking wildlife spectacles - the Great Migration. Millions of wildebeest and zebra start the year in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, then gradually make their way northwards to the more plentiful grazing grounds of the Maasai Mara. If you want to witness the herds cross the crocodile-filled Mara River (the holy grail of Great Migration safaris), the best time to travel is in August. In September and November, the animals that survive this treacherous crossing fill the Mara plains.
This is the most reliable time to see the herds, and the predators that follow in their wake.
The Best Time to Go on Safari
If you're not trying to catch the Great Migration, you have more choice in terms of peak safari season. Generally, the best time to travel is during the dry seasons (January to February or June to October). At these times, animals are easier to spot not only because the bush is less dense, but because the scarcity of water means that they spend much of their time around the waterholes. The short wet season also has its benefits. At this time, the parks are beautifully green and there are far fewer tourists.
The rains fall mainly in the afternoon, and migrant birds arrive to take advantage of the sudden abundance of insects. It's best to avoid the March to May wet season, however, because the rains are often relentless.
The Best Time to Climb Mount Kenya
The best (and safest) time to climb Mount Kenya is during the dry seasons. Generally, January, February and September are considered the most reliable months in terms of weather - at these times, you can expect clear, sunny days with enough warmth to counteract the chilly nights brought on by high elevation. July and August are also good months, and can provide an alternative option for those who prefer their routes less crowded. Whatever time of year you decide to attempt the summit, make sure to pack for every occasion, as temperatures and weather can both change dramatically depending on the time of day and your elevation.
The Best Time to Visit the Coast
The weather on Kenya's coast remains hot and humid throughout the year. Even in the dry season, rain can fall - but humidity and rainfall are at their worst from March to May. The short dry season (January to February) is also the hottest, but cool coastal breezes help to make the heat bearable. Generally, the best way to decide on when to visit the coast is to prioritize the other aspects of your trip first. If you're planning on combining a trip to Mombasa with a few weeks looking for wildebeest herds in the Maasai Mara, travel in August or September.
If you're planning to relax at Malindi after hiking up Mount Kenya, January or February are better months to visit.