Kenya Travel: Visas, Health, Transport, & More

Maasai warrior stands beside a vintage safari vehicle in Kenya

Philip Lee Harvey/Getty Images

There are a multitude of reasons to visit Kenya. One of the twin jewels in East Africa's safari crown, it is home to world-famous game reserves including the Masai Mara National Reserve and Amboseli National Park. Rural villages provide a valuable insight into the age-old traditions of Maasai and Samburu tribespeople; while the capital, Nairobi, is a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures from across the continent and beyond. On the Indian Ocean coastline, world-class fishing and diving await. Before you can discover all that Kenya has to offer, however, it's important to consider the practical details outlined below.

Visa Requirements

Although citizens of some African, Caribbean, and South East Asian countries are permitted to enter Kenya without a visa, most first-world visitors will need one. This includes citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and all European countries except Cyprus. Fortunately, the vast majority of nationalities can apply for an e-visa which allows you to fill in an application form and pay online before your departure. E-visas are valid for 90 days (and can be extended for an additional 90 days), take two days to process, and cost $51 per person. If you are not eligible for an e-visa, you must apply in person at your nearest Kenyan embassy.

Note: All e-visas are single entry visas. If you require a multiple entry visa, you can apply for one at your nearest embassy or (in most cases) upon arrival at major ports of entry. These visas cost $101 each and are ideal for anyone planning on traveling back and forth into Tanzania's Northern Circuit game reserves.

Health & Safety

Vaccinations

If you're traveling to Kenya from a country with yellow fever, you will need to provide proof that you have been vaccinated against the disease before being allowed through immigration. The only exception to this rule is children aged 1 or younger. There are no other compulsory vaccinations; however, there are several that are highly recommended. The CDC advises that all travelers are immunized against hepatitis A and typhoid. Depending on which area of Kenya you plan on visiting and the activities that you will be taking part in, cholera, hepatitis B, meningitis, rabies, and yellow fever vaccinations may also be recommended.

Note: The yellow fever vaccine currently has limited availability in the United States. Make sure to schedule your appointment well in advance to ensure getting it on time.

Malaria

Malaria is a risk in all areas of Kenya lower than 8,200 feet. This includes most of the country's game parks, the coast, and the capital city. Prophylactics are strongly recommended. When you talk to your doctor about the different options available, make sure to let him or her know that you will be visiting Kenya specifically, as malaria parasites in this region of East Africa have built up a resistance to choloroquine. Although children can take anti-malaria medication as soon as they weigh 26.5 pounds or more, the difficulty of getting toddlers to take the pills effectively means that you should carefully consider traveling to a malaria area with children under 5.

Staying Safe

The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for Kenya, encouraging all visitors to "exercise increased caution due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping". Although terrorist attacks have occurred in the past and the high level of poverty in Kenya leads to increased incidences of petty crime, few foreign visitors experience violent crime while on vacation there. Staying safe is a matter of avoiding the poorest inner city and township areas, and making a conscious effort not to flash your wealth by leaving expensive jewelry at home and concealing your wallet and camera. Game parks are generally safe.

Note: Check the latest government travel advisories before planning your trip, and read this article for more detailed advice on staying safe in Kenya.

Currency

Kenya's currency is the Kenyan shilling, often abbreviated to KSh. One shilling is made up of 100 cents. Coins are available in denominations of one, five, 10, 20, and 40 shillings; notes are available in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 shillings. You can exchange US dollars, euros, and pounds sterling at any Kenyan bank and this is the safest way to do so. Avoid black market money changers, as many of them are also scam artists.

If you don't want to carry around large amounts of cash, you can draw money as needed using your regular credit or debit card. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted, and you'll find ATMs in all large and medium-sized towns. Point-of-sale card machines are common in urban areas, but don't expect rural restaurants, markets, or budget hotels to have them. Bartering is expected at street stalls, and goods including clothes and shoes are sometimes accepted in lieu of cash.

Getting There

By Air

The majority of foreign visitors fly into Kenya via Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), located 10 miles southeast of Nairobi city center. This is the busiest airport in East Africa and also one of the most scenic, with wildlife sometimes visible in neighboring Nairobi National Park during take-off and landing. Jomo Kenyatta is the hub for the national carrier, Kenya Airways, and also accommodates many other international airlines including Emirates, British Airways, South African Airways, and Air France. Kenya Airways launched the country's first non-stop flight to and from the United States in 2018, with a 15-hour daily service to New York.

By Land

If you're joining an overland safari or planning an epic self-drive adventure through East Africa, there are land borders between Kenya and its neighboring countries. The main port of entry for those traveling to and from Tanzania is Namanga, located close to Amboseli National Park on the Kenyan side and approximately two hours' drive from Arusha on the Tanzanian side. The border stays open 24 hours a day. Long-distance buses also operate between Nairobi and Arusha, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, and Nairobi and Kampala (in Uganda). Check out Modern Coast buses for schedules and rates.

Note: Land borders between Kenya and Somalia, South Sudan, and Ethiopia are generally considered unsafe and air travel is preferred.

Getting Around

By Air

Long distances and poor road conditions make flying the most efficient (although not the most economic) way to travel around Kenya. Kenya Airways offers a comprehensive range of domestic routes, as do smaller airlines like Safarilink, AirKenya, and Mombasa Air Safari. Seats tend to book up quickly and booking several months in advance is recommended.

By Train

In 2017, a new high-speed railway service called the Madaraka Express was opened between Nairobi and Mombasa. You can use the train to reach the coast in just 4.5 hours, with seven stops along the way including Mtito Andei and Voi. There are plans to extend the line to Naivasha and eventually to Kampala in Uganda.

By Bus

Short and long-distances buses abound in Kenya, with particularly good route coverage around Nairobi, along the coast, and in the west of the country. Most buses are privately owned and many are comfortable with toilets and reclining seats. They are safer than most of the other forms of transport listed below, and cheaper than flying or taking the train.

By Public Transport

You have several options when using public transport to navigate Kenya's larger towns and cities. These include taxis (most of which have no meter, so be sure to agree on a price before accepting a ride), tuk-tuks, and boda-bodas (bicycle or motorcycle taxis). Shared mini-buses known as matatus are the most popular choice for local Kenyans, offering set routes and fares.

By Car

Those that want the freedom of their own vehicle can hire a car from international agencies in any of Kenya's major cities. Be aware that rates are often high, and Kenyan roads are not for the faint of heart. Many companies offer the option of hiring a driver for a minimal extra fee. For safety reasons, try to avoid driving at night and keep your doors locked in urban areas.

More Information

Continue planning your Kenyan adventure with our articles on the weather, the best time to go, an overview of the top game reserves, and a list of the best things to do.

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