Planning your Kenya trip
With Kenya's long history of safari tourism it is no surprise to find a big choice of safari parks to choose from and abundant wildlife. The world famous Masai Mara in the south is definitely the most popular safari destination in Kenya and offers some of the best game viewing in Africa, as well as a chance to see the Great Migration at certain times of the year. Amboseli Park in the east of Kenya is famous for its large elephant herds as well as spectacular views of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro. In the centre of Kenya the high plains of the Lakipia region have established a reputation as one of the more exclusive and upmarket safari areas in Africa. Most first-time visitors to Kenya, and those on shorter trips, will probably choose a safari in a combination of these three areas. But repeat visitors and clients wanting to do longer trips may want to consider the following other areas as well. In the far east of Kenya, near the Indian Ocean beaches, are the huge national parks of Tsavo East and Tsavo West. In the far north, Samburu Reserve offers a vastly different experience to the other safari parks with its semi desert landscapes, cultural interactions with the local Samburu tribes, as well as more unusual activities like camel rides! Meru Park, near the Lakipia region, was made famous by the book and film ‘Born Free’ by Joy Adamson, but for a long time was rarely visited. Now Maru Park is starting to make a comeback and is increasingly being included in itineraries. Then to the north of Nairobi the Rift Valley Lakes of Naivasha and Nakuru offer some big game viewing as well as excellent birding options.
In addition to safaris perhaps the other major attraction that Kenya offers is its glorious beaches on the east coast. These wonderful white sand beaches and the warm Indian Ocean offer the perfect complement to a safari and are easily accessible by flight from the main safari areas. This easy combination of world class safaris and beach breaks is another major reason for Kenya’s enduring popularity. Diani Beach is perhaps the most famous, but there are other idyllic options along the coast including Watamu, Malindi, Msambweni and the Lamu archipelago.
When to Travel to Kenya
Several factors will probably determine when you choose to travel to Kenya. Weather, budget, whether you want to see the spectacular Great Migration - which is only in the Masai Mara for a few months of the year, or whether you want to avoid the huge crowds that descend on Kenya’s safari parks in peak season, will all be factors that you should want to consider. The good news is that Kenya is pretty much an all year-round destination except for a few months when weather makes it inadvisable. We feel that barring those few months you are sure to have a fantastic time whenever you go!
Weather in Kenya
The main rainy season is from about late March to late May. It can be very wet indeed then. We would recommend avoiding this time of the year even though prices are at their lowest. There is also another shorter rainy season from November to December but rain during this time is less certain. Some years it can rain a lot, but other years there is very little rain at this time. Lower prices and lack of crowds can actually November to December a very good time to travel, especially on longer trips. January to mid-March is the hot dry summer season. This is perhaps one of the best times to travel in Kenya with lower prices than peak season, reliably dry weather, and less crowds in the main safari parks.
The main peak season is July to October which is wintertime in Kenya. There is little risk of rain, although temperatures can be quite chilly in the Masai Mara and Lakipia. But it is still very warm on the coast, so ideal for beach breaks. It is also during this time that the famous Great Migration is occurring in the Masai Mara, plus this time coincides with the western summer holidays. So, July to October is the most popular time to visit Kenya! But this is also the time when prices are at their highest and parks like the Masa iMara and Amboseli will be very crowded.
The Great Migration
The annual migration of millions of animals from the Southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and back to the Serengeti is perhaps the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth. For most of the year the migration herds are in the Serengeti but from about July to early October some of the herds will be in the Masai Mara. It is here that many of the famous river crossings take place as the herds cross the Mara River full of hungry crocodiles. This timing is not exact though as the movement of the herds depends on how early or late the rains are. If you are desperate to see the Great Migration in Kenya, then August/September is probably the most reliable time to see it in the Masai Mara. If you go in July, then it is a good idea to combine the northern Serengeti (Tanzania) with the Masai Mara to maximise your chances.
Some clients only wish to visit Kenya during the Great Migration, but it is important to remember it is certainly not the only time to visit Kenya for a safari. At any time of the year safari areas like the Masai Mara, Lakipia and Amboseli offer superb all-round game viewing which will be as good as other premier safari areas in their peak season! Plus avoiding peak season will reward you with lower prices and less crowds.
As mentioned above July to September is the most expensive time in Kenya. During mid-December to early January peak season prices will often be charged too. At these times prices at safari camps can be double the cost of low season so the difference in price is significant. The cheapest prices are in November generally and some lodges will also offer low season prices up to mid-December, as well as in June. For clients looking for a bargain these low season months' can be great times to go. October and January to March are mid-season. Trips at this time can also be exceptionally good value.
How to get to Kenya and moving around in Kenya
Nairobi is the main international gateway airport in Kenya and from there all the main tourist destinations are accessible by internal flight or by road. Nairobi is well served by flights from all over the world with direct flights from many countries. The shorter flying time from Europe and the UK to Kenya compared to destinations in Southern Africa is one of the reasons why Kenya is such a popular safari destination.
Within Kenya the main way to get around is by internal flights or road transfers. Distances between places in Kenya are long, so flying is the preferred option for many clients who are short on time and offers the quickest and most comfortable way to get around. Fortunately, there are several airlines offering scheduled flights at competitive prices to most tourist destinations - and for one or two people flying may not be much more expensive than road transfers. So we normally recommend flying when possible. For larger groups road transfers can help to reduce costs but it will take much longer to travel between areas.
What to Bring on your Safari
The elements of bush and beach epitomise a Kenyan safari, with time spent in game reserves on 4x4’s or walking with a Maasai guide, then some down time on golden sandy beaches to round off your African vacation. Here are some ideas of what most people need:
• Safari clothes – cotton garments are best with khaki colours from beige to muted greens
• Sandals and walking shoes
• Camera with extra batteries and a square pin plug with adaptor
• Head torch – you never know when it will come in handy
• Swimwear and sarong/kikoi (or buy one there)
• Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
• Anti-mosquito spray and after-bite cream
• Personal medication and basic medical kit e.g. something for an upset stomach, diarrhoea, headache, plasters, eye drops, etc.
Your Health in Kenya
There are currently no compulsory vaccinations for Kenya but there are several that are recommended, so you should check with your doctor or specialist travel clinic for up to date advice.
Kenya’s main safari parks are all malarial areas, and you should take precautions. The best way to avoid malaria is not to get bitten, so tuck in the mosquito net and have your long sleeves and long pants ready to put on around sunrise and sunset when malarial mosquitoes are active . Also have mosquito repellent with you.
Drink bottled water and be cautious about having ice in your drinks if you are not confident of the water source.
You should also consult your doctor regarding anti-malaria prophylactics.
Kenya is also considered to have some Yellow Fever areas. A certificate of vaccination is not actually required for entry to Kenya but it is advisable to have a yellow fever vaccination. What is more, if you are travelling from Kenya to other countries in Africa then you will usually be required to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate on arrival.