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Kenya Travel Guide
Kenya is the 'Land of the Lion King' and sits at the centre of the African safari experience, with an outstanding variety of wild animals and Big Five viewing opportunities. Although safaris are its greatest attraction, it is a country of great diversity with much more to offer than splendid wildlife. Essentially it is a place for outdoor living - the coast offers beaches and water-based activities, the mountains present a challenge to hikers and climbers, and the rolling savannahs are a game-viewers paradise.
The country sits astride the equator and offers fabulous scenery and a variety of tribal cultures. From its central location, the sacred peaks of Mt Kenya reign over a landscape primarily covered by grasslands and thorn trees, much of it enclosed within its many parks and reserves. To the west the spectacular Great Rift Valley is sprinkled with lakes teeming with a variety of birdlife, whose shores and surrounds are traversed by agricultural farmlands. To the east lies the promise of an idyllic beach holiday with the requisite white palm-fringed beaches and pristine coral reefs. Inhabiting the highlands and Rift Valley are two of the most well known of the numerous tribal cultures, the Kikuyu farmers and the tall, red-clad Masai cattle herders. The coast is home to ancient Swahili civilisations and old port towns that are rich in a history of exotic spice trading and fighting.
Kenya has a sophisticated tourism infrastructure, with two major cities controlling the majority of the tourism trade. Nairobi, the capital, is the safari and hiking hub, situated in the cool Central Highlands, while on the east coast the hot and humid trading port of Mombasa functions as the gateway to the resorts and pristine beaches of the area. Sadly the heavy influence of tourism has meant excessive prices for safaris, souvenirs and most activities of interest to foreigners, as well as the constant hassle by touts, guides and sellers to part with as much money as they can dupe the guilty traveller into spending.
Despite this, the people are friendly and interesting and the combination of wildlife, beaches and mountains make Kenya a fantastic holiday destination.
240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style square three-pin plugs are used.
The unit of currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KES), divided into 100 cents. It is not advisable to take Kenyan Shillings out of the country, as they are difficult to exchange elsewhere. Travellers cheques in Sterling or US Dollars are recommended for your trip to Kenya. US Dollars in particular have become commonly used in many of the country's main hotels and safari lodges. Foreign currency can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and hotels; easiest to exchange are US dollars, pounds sterling or Euros. Street exchange merchants should be avoided as they are operating illegally. Banks open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and on the first and last Saturday of the month. Banks and bureaux de change at the international airport stay open 24 hours. Credit Cards (American Express, Visa and MasterCard) are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, and some camps and lodges. ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and the major towns.
English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with 42 ethnic languages spoken.
Tipping is not customary in Kenya, however a 10 percent service charge may be added to the bill in more upmarket restaurants. Otherwise, small change in local currency may be offered to taxi drivers, porters and waiters. Note that on safari drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips to get by, but these are discretionary.
Travellers should get the latest medical advice on inoculations and malaria prevention at least three weeks prior to departure. A malaria risk exists all year round in Kenya, but more around Mombasa and the lower coastal areas than in Nairobi and on the high central plateau. Immunisation against yellow fever, polio and typhoid are usually recommended. A yellow fever certificate is required by anyone arriving from an infected area. Other risks include diarrheal diseases. Protection against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes and tsetse flies is the best prevention against malaria and dengue fever, as well as other insect-borne diseases, including Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chikungunya fever. Two cases of African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) were reported in early 2012 in travelers who had visited the Masai Mara National Reserve. AIDS is a serious problem in Kenya and the necessary precautions should be taken. Water is of variable quality and visitors are advised to drink bottled water. Cholera outbreaks occur frequently, and travellers should take care not to drink contaminated water and be cautious of food prepared by unlicensed roadside vendors. There are good medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa but health insurance is essential.
Nairobi is notorious for robberies and muggings and visitors should be alert at all times, but particularly at night. Visitors should also be vigilant in Mombasa as there have been a number of recent knife attacks on tourists in the main south coast tourist areas of Diani and Ukunda.
There is a high threat from Somali terrorist groups in Kenya and visitors should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites; several bombings took place in early 2012 by the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group.
There is a serious threat of banditry in the northern areas and travel is only advisable with an armed escort; recent armed attacks in resort areas of northern Kenya near the border of Somalia (especially Lamu Island) have occurred, including the kidnapping of foreign tourists, and several governments have advised against all but essential travel to coastal areas within 150km of the Somalian border, and inland areas within 60km of the border.
Piracy is also a concern off the coast of Kenya. As late as early 2012 there were incidents of attacks and hijackings of private vessels, though there have been no recent reports. Visitors should also take sensible precautions when driving; in particular, landmines have been used in attacks around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the border at this point should stay on the A2.
All foreign passengers to Kenya must hold proof of sufficient funds (at least USD 500) to cover their stay in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Most foreign nationals require a visa, which can be obtained on arrival in Kenya, provided that (i) their passport is in good condition, and (ii) they have at least one blank page in their passport for the visa endorsement. The visa fee is USD 50, which is also payable in GBP or EUR. On-arrival visas are valid for three months. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Kenya, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The taking of photographs of official buildings and embassies is not advised and could lead to detention. It is illegal to destroy Kenyan currency. The coastal towns are predominantly Muslim and religious customs and sensitivities should be respected, particularly during Ramadan; dress should be conservative away from the beaches and resorts, particularly for women. Homosexuality is against the law. Smoking in public places is illegal, other than in designated smoking areas, and violators will be fined or imprisoned.
Kenyan Tourist Board: +254 (0)20 271 1262 or
Kenyan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 387 6101.
Kenyan High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7636 2371.
Kenyan High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 563 1773.
Kenyan High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6247 4788.
Kenyan High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 362 2249.
United States Embassy, Nairobi: +254 (0)20 363 6000.
British High Commission, Nairobi: +254 (0)20 284 4000.
Canadian High Commission, Nairobi: +254 (0)20 366 3000.
Australian High Commission, Nairobi: +254 (0)20 427 7100.
South African High Commission, Nairobi: +254 (0)20 282 7100.
Honorary Consul of Ireland, Nairobi: +254 (0)20 235 7242.
New Zealand Consulate, Nairobi: +254 (20) 6001 0746.