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Kenya

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Travel Guide Africa Kenya

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Introduction

2012 Kenya 1159

2012 Kenya 1159

© All Rights Reserved jancassoe

Though it's probably best to leave your valuables at home before travelling to Kenya (the country's crime rate is shocking), the risk of getting mugged is well outweighed by the fabulous attractions Kenya has to offer. Straddling the coast are cities like Mombasa and Lamu: cities with a long and sometimes tumultuous history, but whose heritage is proudly preserved by architecture which has survived centuries. Also boasting a spot along the coast (known widely as the Coral Coast) is Malindi, where visitors can enjoy some of the nation's finest beaches and diving opportunities.

But the undeniable highlight of any trip to Kenya has to be the safari. Well-organized tours provide an ideal way of getting up close to the wildlife, for a truly ethereal experience. Images of elephant herds passing before the mighty backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro (at Amboseli National Park) will undoubtedly be ingrained on your memory forever.

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Brief History

Recent finds near Kenya's Lake Turkana indicate that hominids such as Homo habilis (1.8 and 2.5 million years ago) and Homo erectus (1.8 million to 350 000 years ago) are possible direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens and lived in Kenya during the Pleistocene epoch. In 1984 one particular discovery made at Lake Turkana by famous palaeoanthropologist Richard Leakey and Kamoya Kimeu was the skeleton of a Turkana boy belonging to Homo erectus from 1.6 million years ago.

Cushitic language-speaking people from northern Africa moved into the area that is now Kenya beginning around 2000 BC. Arab traders began frequenting the Kenya coast around the 1st century AD. Kenya's proximity to the Arabian Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian settlements sprouted along the coast by the 8th century. During the first millennium AD, Nilotic and Bantu peoples moved into the region, and the latter now comprise three-quarters of Kenya's population.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the region of current-day Kenya, Vasco da Gama having visited Mombasa in 1498. Portuguese rule in East Africa focused mainly on a coastal strip centred in Mombasa. The Portuguese presence in East Africa officially began after 1505.

The colonial history of Kenya dates from the establishment of Imperial Germany's protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal possessions in 1885, followed by the arrival of Sir William Mackinnon's British East Africa Company (BEAC) in 1888, after the company had received a royal charter and concessionary rights to the Kenya coast from the Sultan of Zanzibar for a 50-year period. Key to the conquest of Kenya's interior was the construction, started in 1895, of a railroad from Mombasa to Kisumu, on Lake Victoria, completed in 1901. This was to be the first piece of the Uganda Railway

It was the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the large Kikuyu tribe and former prisoner under the emergency, which formed a government shortly before Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963. A year later, Kenyatta became Kenya's first president on the establishment of a republic.
A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People's Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice President and Luo elder. The KPU was banned shortly after and its leader detained.
In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state, and parliamentary elections were held in September 1983. The 1988 elections reinforced the one-party system. However, in December 1991, Parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution. By early 1992, several new parties had formed, and multiparty elections were held in December 1992.

In October 2002, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was formed, emerging from a unification of opposition parties together with a faction, which broke away from KANU. Mwai Kibaki, the NARC candidate, was elected as the country’s third President in December 2002. Kibaki's reelection in December 2007 brought charges of vote rigging from ODM candidate Raila ODINGA and unleashed two months of violence in which as many as 1,500 people died.

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Geography

Kenya is located in East Africa and border Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and the Indian Ocean.
At 580,367 km2, Kenya is the world's forty-seventh largest country is lying between latitudes 5°N and 5°S, and longitudes 34° and 42°E.
From the coastline on the Indian Ocean, which contains swamps of East African mangroves, moving inland there are broad plains and numerous hills. Central and Western Kenya are characterized by the Great Rift Valley home to three of Africa's highest mountains: Mount Kenya (5,199 metres), Mount Elgon and Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres, highest in Africa). The Kakamega Forest in western Kenya is relic of an East African rainforest. Much larger is Mau Forest, the largest forest complex in East Africa.

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Regions

Kenya consists of eight provinces (mkoa) which are subdivided into 71 districts (wilaya'at).

  • Central: Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Maragua, Muranga, Thika, Kiambu
  • Coast: Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Taita-Taveta, Tana River
  • Eastern: Embu, Isiolo, Kitui, Machakos, Makueni, Marsabit, Mbeere, Central Meru, Northern Meru, Southern Meru, Moyale, Mwingi, Tharaka
  • Nairobi: It's both a province and a district and forms the total urban area of the capital Nairobi.
  • Northeastern: Garissa, Ijara, Wajir, Mandera
  • Nyanza: Bondo, Gucha, Homa Bay, Kisii, Kisumu, Kuria, Migori, Nyamira, Nyando, Rachuonyo, Siaya, Suba
  • Rift Valley: Baringo, Bomet, Buret, Kajiado, Keiyo, Kericho, Koibatek, Laikipia, Marakwet, Nakuru, Nandi, Narok, Samburu, Trans Mara, Trans Nzoia, Turkana, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot
  • Western: Bungoma, Busia, Butere, Kakamega, Lugari, Mount Elgon, Teso, Vihiga

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Sights and Activities

Kenya, along with Tanzania, is East Africa's prime country to enjoy a real African safari. There are many national parks to enjoy, all with their own characteristics and some parks have animals you won't see anywhere else, like certain types of zebra or giraffe.

Masai Mara Game Reserve

Although it does not enjoy the privilege to be called a national park, that doesn't change anything to the experience of this most famous park in Kenya, the Masai Mara. The park is actually a continuation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the yearly migration of hundreds of thousands of animals, manly gazelles, zebras and wildebeests, is something you can enjoy in this game reserve as well. The Masai Mara is also known for its relative easy to see large quantities of predators, like lion, cheetah, leopard and several smaller ones like the caracal, serval and jackall. Other animals include the giraffe and all other large animals of the big five, like elephant, buffalo and rhino. Hippos and crocs are mostly seen in or near the Mara river and prey of the latter one include many sorts of antelopes. Birds are equally impressive though, albeit way smaller, but more colourful.

Amboseli National Park

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If you have seen photos of elephants or giraffes in front of a snowcapped cone of the Kilimanjaro, chances are almost 100% they were taken in the Amboseli National Park, on the southern border of Kenya with Tanzania. You will see elephants for sure and very close as well, just roaming freely along the roads in this park, which mainly protects swampy areas and savanna grasslands. The park is relatively small though and a few days here is probably enough before moving on to other impressive safari places in Kenya.

Tsavo National Park

Tsavo National Park is the largest of all national parks in Kenya, and actually consists of two national parks, aptly named Tsavo West and Tsavo East with the main Mombasa-Nairobi road dividing the two. While Tsavo East is the biggest, Tsavo West is the one which enjoys the most scenic landscapes, higher animal densities and a beautiful black rhino sanctuary. As a consequence Tsave West is more visited, but Tsavo East is equally good and you won't see many travellers here, which only adds to the experience. The park is also known for its lions which killed many people working on the railway across the park in the early twentieth century.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park is located in the central southern parts of Kenya, close to the city of Nakuru. The park is famous for its tens of thousands of flamingos nesting along the shores and the lake sometimes looks like one big pink mass. The park has been enlarged mainly to protect other animals as well, like the Rothschild giraffes and black rhinos who roam here since several years. Other animals include predators like lion and leopard as well as several of antelope species and numerous birds.

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Events and Festivals

  • Kenya International Camel Derby Maralal (17 Aug 2013 - 20 Aug 2013) - The International Camel Derby and Festival in Maralal, Kenya. “Hit them up, move them out, raw hide” is the theme of this International Camel Derby held in the month of August every year. It is located in the northern regions of Kenya in Samburu County and includes a blend of culture, colour, action, adventure and the finest camels of the north. The derby has been running since 1990 with visitors and entries from around the world competing against the reigning Kenyan champions.
  • If you have a passion for the written word then you won't be disappointed in Nairobi. Kwani? are a literary group dedicated to the publication and semination of Kenyan literature. They meet for a regular poetry slam on the first tuesday of the month in downtown Nairobi - Club Soundd on Kaunda street. Their shows feature examples of Kenyan poetry at its very best, comparable to anything anywhere in the world with an edge all of its own. Kwani also produce volumes of Kenyan short stories and news of upcoming artistic ventures.

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Weather

While most of Kenya lies in the hot and humid tropical zone, there are huge differences regarding temperatures and rainfall that mainly coincide with either altitude or latitude. The coastal zone is hot and humid year round with temperatures above or around 30 °C during the day and still above 20 °C at night. Like the rest of the country, the hottest months are from December to March while June to September is the coolest time of the year. Also like most of Kenya, the area has two rainy seasons, a longer and heavier one from March to early June and a shorter one from late October to early December, with some downpours at the end of the day instead of days of rain on end in April and May. This climate applies to the southwest of the country as well, albeit with cooler nights.

South central parts of Kenya are mainly somewhat cooler and less humid because of its elevation. Nairobi rarely sees temperatures of more than 28 °C during the day while nights can drop below 10 °C in July and August.

The centre and the north of the country are much hotter and drier with temperatures even in the cooler months of June to September rarely below 32 °C during the day and even hitting 40 °C (or more!) up north in January and February. Rain is becoming less reliable here and even the wetter months of April or November can see days without a single drop.

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Getting There

By Plane

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (IATA: NBO, ICAO: HKJK) is the main gateway to the country. Located 15 kilometres from the city centre of Nairobi, it is the base of Kenya Airways, the national airline of the country and also one of the biggest airports in Africa. Taxis and car hire facilities are conveniently situated at the arrival areas. A scheduled bus service to and from the town center is available as well.

International destinations include Abidjan, Accra, Addis Ababa, Amsterdam, Bamako, Bangkok, Bujumbura, Cairo, Moroni (Comoros), Dar Es Salaam, Dakar, Djibouti, Douala, Dubai, Entebbe, Freetown, Guangzhou, Harare, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Kigali, Kinshasa, Lagos, Lilongwe, London-Heathrow, Lubumbashi, Maputo, Mayotte, Monrovia, Mumbai, Port Louis (Mauritius), Seychelles, Yaoundé and Zanzibar. Several dozens of other airlines serve Nairobi, mainly from other African and European cities. For International flights coming from all over Europe you can fly KLM

Moi International Airport (IATA: MBA, ICAO: HKMO) near Mombasa receives international flights as well, mainly catering to package holidays from Europe. There are direct flights from Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Manchester, Paris and Zürich.

By Car

With your own car (4wd preferably) you can cross borders with Ethiopia and Tanzania along the routes mentioned below (by bus) and there are quite a few more with your own transport, among which those between the Masai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzanaia) national parks. Be sure to have documentation and insurance in order.

By Bus

Bus services to international destinations include those from Nairobi to Kampala in Uganda (crossing at Malaba), and Arusha and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The main land borders between Kenya and Tanzania are at Namanga, Taveta, Isebania and Lunga Lunga, and crossing by public transport is quite easy. Numerous buses also run along the coast road from Mombasa to Tanga and Dar es Salaam, and they cross the border at Lunga Lunga/Horohoro.
Buses also go from Mombasa to Moshi and Arusha in central northern Tanzania, gateways for Kilimanjaro and several national parks. It's also possible to get here directly from Nairobi.
From Nairobi you can also go via Kisumu to Mwanza in Tanzania, offering a convenient route to the Tanzanian shore of Lake Victoria. Roads are generally good except the last part to Mwanza.
To Ethiopia, the main border crossing is near Moyale and you can do the trip in stages. The safety conditions have been improving over the last couple of years, but check before you make it here. For now and probably the near future as well due to ungoing problems in Sudan and Somalia, those borders are closed.

By Boat

Although it has a long coastline, there are no other ways to get to and from the country other than cargo ships or a yacht.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Domestic flights in the country are served by Kenya Airways, Air Kenya, Safari Link, Mombasa Air Safaris. Apart from those, there are many smaller private airlines serving no less than 150 airstrips throughout the country.

By Train

There are trains that connect the coastal city of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. They are usually overnight trains and the journey takes between 12 and 15 hours. There are three classes ranging from comfortable double cabins to basic seats. The train from Nairobi to Mombasa is very busy during the tourism seasons and advance booking is usually advised
Unfortunately, trains don't travel further to Kampala in Uganda anymore.

By Car

Roads in Kenya are not very good except some major roads linking the bigger cities like Nairobi with Mombasa. Gravel roads are of course worse although there are good stretches. It is best to rent 4-wheel drive vehicles only as road conditions can be bad and you are most likely to visit some national parks where these kind of vehicles really are recommended. Also, use the main international companies like Hertz and Avis, which offer good deals, although they certainly are not cheap. You may use your national driving licence but it has to be in English, so an additional international driving permit is recommended. Most car rental companies are located in Nairobi, Malindi and Mombasa and although possible, most people choose for a car with driver or a package deal including car and lodging/camping and most meals.

By Bus

Buses link most major cities and towns while smaller minibuses (matatus) often travel along the same routes but stop in every town and village, so they are much slower but a great way to travel with the locals. Long distance bus services are comfortable and reliable.

By Boat

The only notable ferries you are likely to take are ferries going to Lamu and the ferry link from Mombasa south which offers access to the beaches and resorts south of Mombasa, like Diani Beach. Dhow trips are generally of the tourist type and passenger dhows don't carry foreigners most of the times.

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Red Tape

There is no visa requirement for citizens of the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth countries with exception to citizens of the following countries who do require visas: Antigua, Bermuda, Guyana, India, South Africa (for visitors staying more than 30 days), Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, San Marino, Turkey, Eritrea, Uruguay,

Citizens of the following countries need to have a visa prior to arriving in Kenya: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Cameroon, Pakistan, North Korea, Azerbaijan.

All other citizens can usually get a visa upon arrival at the airports or border crossings by land.

For more information, contact one of the foreign Kenyan embassies.

East Africa might get a single tourist visa in 2010 and the East African Community (EAC) is working towards a plan to implement this visa, which basically is one visa which is valid in five countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The trial phase would be available for tourists from Germany, France, the US, Italy, Japan, Canada, South Africa, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries.

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Money

See also Money Matters

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Language

There are 42 tribes in Kenya and each tribe has their own dialect. Kenyans speak Kiswahili, the national language, and majority of them understand English as well. All tribes understand each other in Swahili and they have no difficulties in communication even in Tanzania. The other foreign languages are not known at all.

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Eat

Many hotels and restaurants in Kenya offer great food and it is suggested you try out the local food as well. If you don't want to get a parasite it is suggested you don't eat any salads in restaurants. They are often not so well cleaned and they can give you a nasty stomach ache. Another food to avoid is everything which has mayonaise in it. The restaurants may not have great cooling systems and foods with mayonaise get easily spoiled. If you avoid those few foods you will generally be ok.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kenya. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Kenya) where that disease is widely prevalent. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended anyway!

Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kenya. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people. For the northwest of the country, this applies already when staying longer than 6 weeks!

Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Kenya as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Many people say Kenya is not a safe place to visit, but if you take precautions you will be just fine.

  • Firstly, avoid walking by foot in certain urban areas and centers, at least in the evening or the night.
  • Secondly, don't keep too much of your belongings with you, incase you do get robbed.
  • Thirdly, have a few hundred (or thousand) shillings ready in your pocket to give to a robber if you run into one.
  • Fourthly, don't resist any attackers, as you are in much bigger risk of getting hurt, instead of just loosing a bit of money.
  • Fiftly, if you are a tourist staying in Kenya it might be a good idea to take a taxi instead of a matatu, as they tend to get robbed form time to time. If you absolutely want to save money and have a real cultural experiance, you might want take a matatu. In this case carry a waist bag for your money and belongings, as the robbers usually search your pockets first. The robbers are often in a hurry and might get angry and hurt you if you don't give them money, so have the few hundred shillings in your pocket for a situation like that.

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Keep Connected

Internet

As far as communication technology is concerned, Kenya has gone through a tremendous modernization. Nowadays visitors to Kenya can carry their portable digital devices, ease of use is guaranteed with the advent of wireless (hot spots) environments within upmarket tourisms resorts. In some restaurants, a cup of coffee can allow you the use of the free hot spot for your laptop. However in most places the bandwidth is severely limited.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Kenya boosts a number of good mobile phone operators e.g Zain, Safaricom, Orange, Yu and Telekom. Roaming is seamless with most European contract mobile phone tariff plans.

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References

  1. 1 2008 estimate, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics

Quick Facts

Kenya flag

Map of Kenya

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Capital
Nairobi
Government
Republic
Nationality
Kenyan
Population
35 112 181 [1]
Languages
Swahili, English
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic), Indigenous beliefs, Islam
Currency
Kenyan Shilling (KES)
Calling Code
+254
Time Zone
EAT (UTC+3)

Contributors

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Kenya Travel Helpers

  • pe_africa

    Anybody out there who want to visit mount kenya,kilimanjaro or kenya in general.Iam an expert on that field, with a support of a team of proffesionals who assists me.I have a very good knowledge of the country's laws and customs and i can take you for a tour in any part of kenya and Tanzania.You can also ask me a question regarding any kind of a cultural tours or a good safari.In case of budget traveller.I can help you to find other fellow travellers with the same interest like you for you to join and travel together and lower the budget.Always committed for expert advices.You can now ask your question.welcome to Kenya!!!!

    Ask pe_africa a question about Kenya
  • zaksame

    I'm not an expert on Kenya but I've travelled quite a bit in the Eastern and Southern bush. I've visited several safari parks and if I can help just ask.

    Ask zaksame a question about Kenya
  • maasai

    Game Parks Information,Hotel Accomodation information in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

    Safari Organization and transport.Shopping information in Kenya and nice beaches to spend your honeymoon

    Ask maasai a question about Kenya
  • Jesaro

    I am Kenya and I have lived here since I was born. While in college I traveled all over Kenya because the cause I took dictates for one to travel Kenya. Moreover, I am a tour consultant and understand what travel is all about. I know what Kenya has to offer in tourism!

    Ask Jesaro a question about Kenya
  • mindfultravel

    Kenya was my dream trip, and I lerant all of this country when I went there 4 years ago. Also I made a conference about this amazing country.

    Ask mindfultravel a question about Kenya

Accommodation in Kenya

This is version 50. Last edited at 8:45 on Jun 3, 13 by Peter. 40 articles link to this page.

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