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There are many 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.
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.
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.
Kenya consists of eight provinces (mkoa) which are subdivided into 71 districts (wilaya'at).
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.
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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.
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.
Lake Turkana National Parks is a group of three national parks located in Kenya. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and expanded in 2001. Reasons for the park's importance include its use as a stopping point for migratory birds, as a breeding ground for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, and snakes. It also contains fossils in the Koobi Fora deposits which are unique in the world. Lake Turkana National Parks consist of Sibiloi National Park and two islands on Lake Turkana (Central Island and South Island).
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.
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Mount Kenya National Park, established in 1949, protects the region surrounding Mount Kenya. Initially it was a forest reserve before being announced as a national park. Currently the national park is within the forest reserve which encircles it. In April 1978 the area was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The national park and the forest reserve, combined, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The Government of Kenya had four reasons for creating a national park on and around Mount Kenya. These were the importance of tourism for the local and national economies, to preserve an area of great scenic beauty, to conserve the biodiversity within the park, and to preserve the water catchment for the surrounding area.
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.
In March each year, Nairobi hosts the East African Art Festival, the biggest of its kind in the region, which attracts competitors and spectators from around the world. The three-day event showcases art, music, theater, music, fashion, literature, architecture, sculpture and traditional crafts. It is hosted by the Kenyan National Museum.
In Kenya, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays, marking the long weekend commemorating Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Good Friday often sees processions through the streets with dramatic recreations of the Stations of the Cross, culminating in church services. Saturday often involves a bonfire outside the church and the lighting of candles and prayers inside, with Sunday being a feast marked by singing, bell-ringing, church services, and family togetherness.
Eid Al Fitr is an Islamic celebration that usually takes place in September, when the sighting of the moon marks the end of the Muslim holy month of fasting during Ramadan. Eid celebrations usually involve personal cleansing, communal prayers, charity donations, and three full days of feasting and spending time with friends and family. The celebrations are biggest along the coastal areas where most of the Muslim population of Kenya lives.
The annual International Camel Derby and Festival has been held on the outskirts of Maralal town in northern Kenya since 1990. The main feature is the camel racing which takes place over several days through semi-desert regions and is open to amateurs and novices. Visitors come from all over the world to take part or watch, and there are also cycle races, donkey rides, children’s entertainment, and the opportunity to rent a camel for the day. The derby usually takes place in August.
November is when the city of Mombasa celebrates Kenyan culture with a carnival by the Indian Ocean. Artists, dancers, musicians and tribal people flock to take part in the concerts that make up one of Kenya’s largest annual events. One of the major features is the main street parade with floats that showcase the different tribal identities across the nation. There are street stalls and opportunities for eating, drinking and dancing.
Jamhuri means “republic” in Swahili and December 12 is set aside as a public holiday to celebrate Kenya’s becoming a republic in 1964. The date is doubly important as the country also gained independence from Britain on December 12, 1963. The occasion is marked by dancing, parades and a speech from each of the eight Provincial Presidents. Many towns also host cultural performances, while families will often get together for meals. Fireworks are often a highlight and air shows have become popular in modern times.
Kenya’s many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, which is a public holiday. The events are largely religious in nature, featuring church services, caroling and nativity performances. Houses and churches are decorated with balloons, flowers and green leaves and storefronts in the larger towns are bathed in fake snow. If parents can afford gifts for the children, it will often be books, practical items or a new outfit for attending church. Families get together to attend services then enjoy a feast, usually of roasted goat.
New Year celebrations begin the evening of December 31 with parties, music and church services, leading up to the midnight countdown which sees fireworks, music and cheering to welcome in the New Year. Church services and non-religious parties take place all across the nation, many of which continue after dawn. Nairobi has the biggest event, with musical performances and fireworks displays. Mombasa is known for its New Year beach parties, often hosted by local radio stations with live music and DJs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Visas are not required for the following nationalities: the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cyprus, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, the Gambia, Grenada, Grenadines, Ghana, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia*, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa*, Solomon Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe. (Countries marked with a '*' are limited to 30 day visa-free stays; longer visits will require a visa.)
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.
Travellers may want to consider the announced in Jan 2014 and first issued in Mar 2014 that allows travel between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda with multiple entries in a 90 day period for US$100 and without "restrictions on country of origin". You can buy this visa on arrival at Nairobi airport (or Uganda or Rwanda if that is your first port). However, since some finicky airlines may refuse to board you without the assurance of a visa, Rwanda has made the smart move of setting up an webpage on-line website to issue these, which means that some tourists may want to first land at Rwanda's capital airport of Kigali rather than Entebbe or Nairobi since this visa must be issued by the country that you first plan to visit (similar principle to Schengen visas in the EU).
See also Money Matters
The currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KES), which can be divided into 100 cents.
Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10 , 20 and 40 shillings (frequentely used) and 50 cents (rarely used).
Banknotes come in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 shillings (frequentely used) and 10 and 20 shillings (rarely used).
A high unemployment rate means work permits are required. These can be difficult to obtain unless you have specialized skills that are lacking in the workforce. You are best off being appointed abroad, as local employment opportunities are low-paying and few.
There are many international expatriates who work for non-profit agencies such as the UN and other affiliated agencies. Their pay is very high in relation to local living standards.
There are numerous opportunities for volunteering in Kenya, whatever skills you have. If you have specialised skills, there are a number of more focused volunteering programs available. These range from opportunities for medical and engineering placements, to short sabbaticals for people with generic business experience, spent mentoring local businesses.
There are a large number of colleges offering secretarial and computer courses in the CBD's of Nairobi and Mombasa. There are also a large number of universities, both public and private, and some do participate in student exchange programs with international universities.
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.
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.
Accommodation options range from backpacker hostels in the bigger cities, to luxurious hotels and lodges along the coast and in national parks. Walk-in rates of the latter ones are high, and you are better off booking a package when staying along the coast or visiting multiple national parks like the Serengeti.
Kenyan beer is excellent, having won various awards internationally, the local favourite being Tusker, a brand from the East African Breweries Company. Imported beers are available but aren't that much popular due to the high retail prices brought on by import duty and local loyalty to their own manufactured products.
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.
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.
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. Internet cafés are common throughout Kenya and usually offer decent link quality. Expect prices around 1KSh per minute. Most cyber cafes now charge 0.5KES per minute.
See also International Telephone Calls
Kenya boosts a number of good mobile phone operators like Zain, Safaricom, Orange, Yu and Telekom. Roaming is easy with most European contract mobile phone tariff plans. Prices can be high though, so try and get a local SIM card or avoid data roaming.
The National Postal Company offers services throughout the country and abroad. Prices are reasonably but services, although better than in the past, are still not very good. It is pretty slow and not always reliable. If you want to send a package, you'd better use international companies like DHL, TNT, UPS or FedEx, as they are not much more expensive yet reliable and fast.
Ask Odinnthor a question about Kenya
Jambo! I am a huge lover of Africa in general, and have visited 26 countries on the continent. As a Int'l Tour Director I did a number of safaris in Kenya, some of them included Tanzania as well. I have an extensive knowledge of the various and plenty tour and safari operators in Kenya, and am familiar with most of the Kenyan destinations. I can also help with choosing an operator, and I am not trying to tout those I know personally, but rather help with choosing one from the on line pages of any and all of the local operators, and how to recognize the not-so-good from the good ones. Knowing how to tip on a safari is an art. Holla if you are contemplating a safari or Park and tribal visits in Kenya.........d:o)
Ask Ms Ochieng a question about Kenya
Born and raised. Travel Agent for more than 10yrs of experience.
Ask homeaway a question about Kenya
i am a nature fanatic. born and rised in kenya. i have worked as a tour operator for the last 5 years.
Ask WildPeak a question about Kenya
Do you want to have an exciting vacation? Are you looking for a tour company which will quench your thirst to safaris? or perhaps you want refreshing memories of your lifetime? then i have good news for you!!!!
Wild Peak Adventures http://www.wildpeakadventures.com is run by indigenous Kenyan professionals who give excellent services to Kenya Safaris which include Masai Mara,Lake Nakuru,Lake Naivasha,Amboseli,Samburu and tsavo National Park. We also do safaris to Tanzania Uganda and Zanzibar.
Please feel free to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
Ask Mgithae a question about Kenya
Am a tours and travel specialist in Kenya and i own a Tours company -website is www.bisonsafaris.co.ke
I have been doing this for 7 years and have travelled alot in Kenya .This gives me the Thumbs up to offer the needed help when it comes to Kenya destination .
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