Kenya is a rich cultural experience, since the nation is comprised of more than 70 traditional tribes and small but influential minorities of Asian, Middle Eastern and European origin. More than 90% of all Kenyans speak either Bantu or Nilotic: Bantu speakers are Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, Gusii, Mijikenda, Embu and Meru; Nilitoc speakers are Maasai, Samburu, Pokot, Turkana, Luo and Kalenjin.
Arab, Persian and Bantu Africans populate the coast of Kenya, resulting in the Swahili people. Swahili is now widely spoken throughout Kenya, as well as throughout central and eastern Africa. Though English is widely spoken in urban areas and tourist destinations, it is helpful to learn some Swahili if you'll be traveling throughout Kenya and Africa – and the locals will love it!
The de facto national dish is nyama choma, or barbecued goat meat, but rural Kenyans often survive mostly on vegetable stew and ugali, a stodgy filler prepared using maize meal and some greens. Along the coast, the Swahili influence kicks in and the cuisine revolves around seafood and rice dishes. Beer aficionados will have a good time in Kenya, as they sample several international standard lagers produced in the country. (The most popular, Tusker, is named after the country's elephants.)
In recent years, the Kenyan music scene has enjoyed a revival led by younger urban artists who sing in Swahili and Sheng, a type of Creole mix of Swahili and English. The music is a local blend of hip-hop and rap. As Kenya's millennials have brought rhythm to Kenya's streets, they have also exploded the art scene. Today's urban artists create thought-provoking, cutting-edge pieces that attract international buyers and, increasingly, aficionados from within Kenya itself.
Kenya is an international travel hub, so many airlines fly directly into the country. Additionally, many airlines land in Kenya as a connection to destinations throughout Africa, Europe and Asia.
Many African and other international airlines fly to/from Kenya. Bus travel is also possible, and the main land connections are out of Mombasa to Dar es Salaam and from Nairobi to Moshi and Arusha. Occasional ferries leave Mombasa for Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. Travel to Uganda is also available via rail.
All travellers, except citizens of certain Commonwealth countries, require a visa to enter Kenya. Visas are available through the closest Kenyan Embassy or High Commission, and may be required prior to airline travel. For most nationalities, visas may also be granted upon arrival in Kenya.
To enter Kenya, your passport must be valid for at least three (3) months after entry to Kenya. These requirements are subject to change, and should be verified with your local Kenya Mission prior to travel.
Kenya offers many high quality hotels that meet western standards. Most Kenya tours patronize these hotels, which offer a full range of amenities in comfortable accommodations, including tent camps, international chain hotels, and 5-star luxury safari lodges. Luxury lodges are most common in major tourist destinations, including Nairobi, Lamu, Malindi, Lake Naivasha, Kisumu, Mombasa, and game reserves like Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo, Aberdares, Samburu and Mount Kenya.
Local flights are available between major cities and tourist destinations, including national parks and game reserves. Regular bus service is available between cities, and train travel is also possible, though not as reliable as air and bus services.
Within a city or between nearby towns, shared taxis, called matatus, are popular. Kenya rental cars are also a reliable method of transportation; you may choose between self-drive and chauffeured service. In cities and between major urban areas, the roads are often good; in rural towns, off the main routes and in remote locations, road quality deteriorates. Traffic drives on the left side of the road.
We recommend purchasing health insurance and the usual travel insurance. Ensure your travel insurance includes emergency evacuation.
Kenya's diverse geography and altitudes produce varying climates; temperatures, rainfall and humidity vary widely. There are two rainy seasons: March to May (“long rains”) and October to December (“short rains”).
Kenya is divided into four main regions: the arid north, the southern savannah, the central highlands, and the Lake Victoria region and coastal lowlands. Each is defined by its own climate:
Arid North: This region experiences the most extreme weather, sometimes falling from 40ºC (104ºF) during the day to 20ºC (68ºF) at night.
Southern Savannah: Known as the wet-dry climate, conditions vary greatly. Temperatures average 18ºC (65ºF) to 25ºC (77ºF).
Central Highlands: A temperate climate, with average temperatures from 10ºC (50ºF) to 26ºC (79ºF).
Lake Victoria & Coastal Lowlands: Hot and humid, though tempered by sea breezes.
Temperatures hover at an average low of 22°C (72ºF) and a high of 33°C (91ºF). Rainfall is often heavy.
Anyone taking a Kenya tour should be up-to-date on all regular vaccinations: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and the yearly flu vaccine. Additionally, most travellers should also consider vaccines against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever, meningitis (if traveling December–June), and rabies, as well as cholera and malaria preventions. If applicable, protection against STIs, including HIV-AIDS, should be taken.
Malaria is present throughout Kenya, although the risk is low in certain areas, including Nairobi. Nevertheless, malaria precautions are essential: talk to your doctor about anti-malaria medications, cover up when possible, and always use mosquito repellent on exposed skin. In high-risk areas, sleep under a mosquito net.
Yellow fever is a risk in Kenya, which is why travellers should be vaccinated. Please note that any traveller over the age of 1, and who enters Kenya from a yellow-fever area, must provide an international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever. Exemptions are made for visitors arriving from non-endemic areas such as Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Some freshwater lakes and rivers carry the risk of schistosomiasis (bilharzia), and travellers are advised not to swim or paddle in such areas. If you have a significant allergy or chronic medical problem, you should wear a medical alert bracelet. Major hospitals are located in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Chemists (pharmacists) can be found in all major towns.
Kenya's local currency is the Kenya Shilling. There are no legal restrictions on the import or export of foreign currency, but you must declare the source and purpose of funds that exceed US$5,000 (or its equivalent).
Major credit cards, including Visa and MasterCard, are widely accepted throughout Kenya. American Express, Diners Club and other cards have limited acceptance. You may use your debit card or major credit card to access funds through most ATMs, 24 hours a day.