Kenya

In some ways, visiting Kenya is like coming home. Described as the “cradle of mankind,” it is here that some of the earliest humans were born. Our long-lost ancestors traipsed the arid, desert scrubland of northern Kenya doing what our species does best: adventuring far and wide. It’s that same adventurous spirit this vast and varied country inspires in its modern-day visitors. Wild and fiercely beautiful in places, vibrant and fast developing in others, Kenya is filled with experiences to delight every traveler: arguably the best safaris in Africa; terra-cotta sunsets astonishing enough to make you weep; white-water rafting and quad biking for adrenaline addicts; hot-air balloon riding and dhow boat sailing for more peaceful pioneers. Through the golden grasslands of the Masai Mara, past the towering peaks of Mount Kenya, to the soft, sugary sands of the Kenyan coast, this is a country that demands to be explored.

A hot air balloon above a savannah of buffalo in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, with five trees.

Courtesy of Alexander + Roberts

Overview

When’s the best time to go to Kenya?

There’s not really a bad time to come to Kenya, as even in the rainy seasons (April, May, and November) the days are still predominantly sunny, with rain showers only in the evenings or early mornings. The rains also encourage lots of wildlife to come out and munch on the luscious grasslands, so if safari is your main agenda then coming at a wetter time of year is not a bad idea. If the thought of rain sends shivers down your spine, aim for the dry season: July to October and January to February. Although temperatures vary significantly across the country—hot and humid at the coast, hot and windy in the north, cooler in Nairobi and the highlands, and drier and hotter as you head toward the Tanzanian border—these temperatures stay roughly the same all year.

How to get around Kenya

International flights arrive at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, about 20 minutes drive from central Nairobi. It’s now possible to purchase your visa in advance online for most nationalities, but you can also buy it on arrival if necessary. Check out the eVisa portal for more information. Do note, however, that getting the visa on arrival takes a whole page of your passport, whereas getting online in advance it’s just a small stamp at the border.

There’s a number of ways to get around Kenya. If you’d like to self-drive, you can organise a rental car from Jomo Kenyatta Airport with Europcar. For taxis in and around Nairobi, download the Uber app to your smartphone, or try the Little Cab app, a Kenyan-only Uber competitor. You can fly around the country using small charter flights with Safarilink and Air Kenya, which take off from Nairobi Wilson airport. If you’re booking a safari or tour your booking operator will often be able to arrange flights for you. Another great airline for getting around the country is Fly540, especially if you’re heading to the Kenyan coast.

Food and drink to try in Kenya

Kenya has a colorful and varied food scene, with influences from across the globe—including spicy dishes brought over by the Indian community, pineapples and chilis from Brazil brought by the Portuguese, and European vegetables and fruits. That’s without mentioning traditional Kenyan foods: staples such as ugali (like rice, but made from maize flour), sukuma wiki (a leafy green vegetable that’s a little tougher than spinach), and beans are the most commonly eaten foods in Kenya. Nairobi has a surprising array of excellent restaurants offering everything from Thai food, to gourmet burgers, to stone-baked pizzas.

Culture in Kenya

Kenya’s cultural heritage is particularly vibrant. There are a huge range of tribes here: from the colorful, beautifully adorned Maasai warriors in the south to the bejeweled Samburu tribesmen and women in the north, to name just two. Village visits can be arranged to meet the tribes and see traditional ways of life. In the Marsabit region, take a trip to the Singing Wells. Locals take their cattle there everyday and sing as they form a human chain to scoop water from the well to the trough. In Nairobi, visit the Nairobi National Museum to see the early human fossils, and check out the Maasai Market to pick up some local Kenyan handicrafts (although beware, some of the goods on sale are knock-offs made in China).

In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, there’s always a huge range of festivals and events going on, from live music to thrift markets. For the most up-to-date information about what’s happening there, try Kenya Buzz (a local events website) or EatOut for the latest information on restaurants and bars. Further afield, Kenya has a number of annual events worth attending. The Lake Turkana Festival, held on the shores of the lake in Loiyangalani each year, is a colorful celebration that brings together local tribes, while the Lamu Yoga Festival is a chance to find your bliss on the beach. Athletes should check out the annual Lewa Marathon, with the chance to jog past zebra and antelope on a nature conservancy, while petrol heads should explore Rhino Charge, an off-road motorsport competition that raises money for conservation each year.

Local travel tips for Kenya

Kenyans are a friendly people with an excellent sense of humor. Tourism is a huge part of the country’s income—as such, tourists are made to feel very welcome here. Local languages spoken are English and Swahili. Phrases you’ll hear include jambo (hello), habari? (how are you?), asante sana (thank you very much), and karibu (welcome). Learning a few Swahili words is highly recommended—even though English is widely spoken, it always delights locals to hear visitors having a go. The local currency is the Kenyan shilling. It’s usually easiest to get cash on arrival in Kenya as there are plenty of cash machines in Nairobi and a couple at Jomo Kenyatta airport. Credit cards are widely accepted in Nairobi, but if you’re heading out of town, take some cash.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
Kenya’s lodgings offer something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a boutique hotel in Nairobi, an eco-friendly lodge with stunning views, or a safari camp in the Maasai Mara with luxurious tents, delicious food, and a swimming pool.
There’s a really good selection of vegetarian options on most menus at Nairobi restaurants due to the large population of Indian vegetarians living in Kenya. While the only completely vegetarian restaurant is Chowpaty—which serves utterly delicious Indian food—each of the other restaurants on this list offers some of the best veggie fare in town. Expect freshly filled wraps, inventive salads, and tasty pizzas, often served in a fun and funky rooftop location.
There’s loads to do if you have 48 hours in Nairobi. With boutique shops, atmospheric restaurants, and plenty of live music, it’s not hard to see why Nairobi is developing a reputation as one of the coolest cities in the world. There are new skyscrapers, bars, and apartments sprouting up constantly, and no, it’s not the prettiest city ever. But Nairobi’s residents are friendly, motivated, and enthusiastic about their home town, and there’s far more to Nairobi than first impressions might reveal.
One week in Kenya will no doubt leave you wanting lots more time to explore this wildly beautiful country, but if seven days is all you’ve got, there’s still a great range of sights you can pack in. A good place to start is with a couple of nights in one of Kenya’s national parks, followed by a visit to the Kenyan coast for a little relaxation. Don’t miss a final night or two in Nairobi to pick up some handcrafted gifts and explore Kenya’s capital.
Few travel specialists know Kenya as well as Katie Cadar of the TravelStore. Here she shares some of her favorite destinations, from shopping in the Karen neighborhood of Nairobi to the country’s many safari options. Katie can create a Kenya itinerary suited to your particular interests. Contact her to arrange a bespoke trip at katie.cadar@afar.com
If stargazing from an outdoor shower or luxurious rooftop bed is your idea of heaven, look no further. Kenya’s close proximity to the equator means that, if you stay up long enough, you’ll get to see both the northern and southern constellations in one night’s sky. Now that’s one for the bucket list! Here are the most romantic and downright mesmerizing places to spend the night in Kenya and enjoy the stars.
Adrenaline addicts need look no further than Kenya for activities to get the heart pumping. Whether it’s quad biking across the dusty dunes of northern Kenya, racing 4x4s down dirt tracks in a secret location, or camping in surroundings that make you feel like you’ve set foot on another planet, this beautiful and diverse country has something for everyone.
You can cover a lot of ground if you have two weeks in Kenya—not only enjoying a few of Nairobi’s best restaurants and shops, but also two or three of the spectacular national parks, a visit to the coast, and even, if you’re energetic, a trip to the hippo-filled Lake Naivasha for its epic views of the Rift Valley. Here’s just a handful of the options available to you if you have two weeks in Kenya.
With 24 national parks, 15 national reserves, 6 marine parks, and private conservancies on top of that, the choice can be overwhelming when it comes to visiting Kenya’s national parks. To help you decide between north, south, east, and west, between hot and dry or luscious and green, and between mountainous or flat, here’s a quick hit list of some of the best national parks in Kenya.
If a child constructed a world of wonders, it may look like Kenya: lions, elephants, sleeping in big beds under starry skies, white-sand beaches, sailing in hot-air balloons, and friendly people everywhere. Come experience the world of wonders.
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