Kenya Travel Guide: Essential Facts and Information

Elephants walk in front of Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park

Diana Robinson Photography/ Getty Images 

Kenya is the original safari destination and remains one of the best places in Africa to see wild animals. Its bevy of iconic game reserves include the Maasai Mara, Amboseli National Park and both East and West Tsavo. Every year, millions of wildebeest and zebra migrate across the Tanzanian border into southern Kenya on the annual Great Migration – one of nature's most spectacular events. On the coast, historic Swahili settlements and white-sand beaches await.

Location

Kenya is located in East Africa, in between Somalia (to the north) and Tanzania (to the south). It shares borders with the Indian Ocean and three other countries: South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Area

Kenya has a total area of 224,080 square miles/580,367 square kilometers, making it five times the size of Ohio and roughly twice the size of Nevada.

Capital City

The capital of Kenya is Nairobi, one of East Africa's economic and cultural centers. It is located in the south-central region of the country.

Population

According to July 2018 estimates by the CIA World Factbook, Kenya has a population of almost 48.4 million people. The Kikuyu are the most populous ethnic group, and the average life expectancy is 64 years.

Language

Kenya has two official languages: English and Swahili. Of the two, Swahili is the most widely spoken although many Kenyans speak another indigenous language as their mother tongue.

Religion

Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in Kenya, accounting for 83% of the population. Protestant is the most popular denomination. 11% of Kenyans identify as Muslim.

Currency

The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan shilling. For accurate exchange rates, use this online converter.

Climate

Kenya is located on the equator and as such, doesn't have spring, summer, fall and winter. Instead, temperatures are generally consistent all year around (although the climate and humidity vary greatly depending on elevation and proximity to the coast). As a rule, the coastal regions are hotter and wetter, while the interior is cooler and drier. Kenya has two rainy seasons: from late March to May and from late October to the end of November.

When to Go

The best time to visit Kenya depends on what you want to do while you're there. For safari-goers, the long dry season (June to early October) offers the best wildlife sightings. August is generally the month to travel if you want to watch the herds of the Great Migration cross the Mara River. The dry seasons are also best for visits to the coast or hikes up Mount Kenya, while the short rains (late October to November) are great for birding as they bring exciting migrant species from Europe and Asia.

Top Attractions

Maasai Mara Game Reserve

The Maasai Mara is undoubtedly the most famous of Kenya's many game reserves. Its vast plains are home to all of the Big Five, as well as record numbers of predators – including lions, leopards and cheetahs. In fact, this is one of the best places in Africa to see lions. The Mara also hosts the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra from August to November.

Mount Kenya

Kenya takes its name from Mount Kenya, the second-tallest mountain in Africa. It is part of a UNESCO-recognized national park in the center of the country and has three peaks. Two of them can only be climbed with technical training and equipment; but the third, Point Lenana, is suitable for amateur climbers and is one of the continent's most rewarding treks.

Lamu Island

Lamu Island is located off Kenya's northern coast and is a laid-back destination for history buffs and beach-lovers alike. Lamu Old Town has been continually inhabited for over 700 years and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the quality of its colonial and Swahili architecture. Watersports include fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming with dolphins.

Nairobi

Although most visitors simply transit through Nairobi, there's more to Kenya's capital than its airport. You can spot lions and rhinos in Nairobi National Park, or watch orphaned elephants being bottle-fed at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage. Other top attractions include the Giraffe Centre, the Karen Blixen Museum and several authentic craft markets.

Getting There

Most overseas visitors enter Kenya through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) in Nairobi. Kenya Airways offers a direct flight to Nairobi from New York, while other major airlines that serve the airport include British Airways, Emirates, KLM, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airways, Lufthansa and Air France. In fact, Nairobi is one of the continent's biggest air travel hubs. Kenya Airways offers a full range of domestic flights as well.

Most nationalities will need a visa to enter Kenya, including visitors from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe. However, you can now apply for your visa online. The process is relatively quick and easy, and successful visas are valid for up to 90 days.

Medical Requirements

In addition to making sure that your routine vaccinatons (including measles) are up-to-date, the CDC recommends that visitors to Kenya consider immunizations for hepatitis A and typhoid. Depending on where you're going, when you're going and what you plan on doing while you're there, other vaccinations may also be required. These include cholera, hepatitis B, rabies, polio, meningitis and yellow fever. If you are traveling to Kenya from a country with yellow fever, you will need to provide proof of vaccination at immigration.

Malaria is a risk in all areas of Kenya under 8,200 feet/2,500 meters. Talk to your doctor about options for prophylaxis, remembering that malaria parasites in Kenya have developed a resistance to chloroquine.

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