Kenya Safari - A Complete Guide

by Kshaunish Jaini

A Kenya Safari requires planning, which is based on not just the amount of time or money at your disposal, but also knowledge about the national parks, seasons, wildlife and a myriad of other factors. This article aims to give a comprehensive overview of planning a Kenya Safari, and the index below points to the subsections so you can quickly get to a particular topic. 

Index

1. The Ivory Pyre
2. Kenya Safari
3. Kenya Safari Parks
3.1 The Northern Frontiers
3.1.1  Mount Kenya National Park
3.1.2 Samburu National Reserve
3.2 The Western Region
3.2.1 Masai Mara National Park
3.2.2 Lake Naivasha
3.2.3 Lake Victoria
3.2.4 Lake Nakuru
3.3 The Southern Parks & Beaches
3.3.1 Amboseli National Park
3.3.2 Tsavo East National Park
3.3.3 Tsavo West National Park
4. Kenya Safari Holidays
4.1 Kenya Weather
4.1.1 The Best Time to Visit Kenya
4.1.2 Best Time to Visit Masai Mara
4.1.3 Kenya Temperature
4.1.4 Monthwise Weather in Kenya
4.2 Kenya Safari Lodges
4.2.1 Masai Mara Safari Lodge
4.2.2 Amboseli Safari Lodge
5. Kenya Safari Cost
5.1 Tipping
6. Kenya Safari Packing List
7. Kenya Travel Advice
7.1 Getting Around in Kenya
7.2 Kenya Flights
7.2.1 Flights from UK to Kenya
7.2.2 Flights from USA to Kenya
7.2.3 Flights from Europe to Kenya
7.2.4 Flights from Australia to Kenya
7.3 Kenya Visa
7.4 Kenya Currency
7.4.1 Plastic Money
7.4.2 Forex Exchanges
7.4.3 M-Pesa in Kenya
7.5 Kenya Language
8.Kenya Capital
9. Kenya Vaccinations
9.1 Malaria
9.1.1 Precautions

9.2 Inoculations for Kenya
9.2.1 Yellow Fever
9.2.2 Other Vaccinations for Kenya Safaris
9.2.3 Zika virus Kenya
9.2.4 Ebola in Kenya
10. Is it safe to travel to Kenya
10.1 Dangers from People
10.2 Dangers from Wildlife in Kenya
10.3 Kenya Travel Insurance
11. Kenya Wildlife
11.1 Big Cats in Kenya: Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs
11.2 Elephants
11.3 Rhinos
11.4 Hippos
11.5 Zebras
11.6 Dogs, Hyenas, Jackals and Foxes
11.7 Giraffes
11.8 Wildebeest, other Hartebeest, Gazelles and Antelopes
11.9 The African Buffalo
11.10 Other Animals
12. Kenya Safaris
12.1 Wildebeest Migration Safari
12.2 The Big Five Safari
12.3 Masai Mara Flying Safari
12.4 Masai Mara Balloon Safari
12.5 Masai Mara and Serengeti Safari Tours
12.6 Masai Mara Horseback Safari
13. Kenya National Parks
13.1 Masai Mara National Park
13.1.1 How to see the Masai Mara
13.2 Amboseli national park
13.2.1 How to see Amboseli
13.3 The Tsavo National Parks
13.3.1 Tsavo East National Park
13.3.2 Tsavo West National Park
13.4 Lake Nakuru National Park
13.5 Aberdare National Park
13.6 Hell's Gate National Park
13.7 Samburu National Reserve
13.8 Meru National Park
13.9 Mount Elgon National Park
14 A Final Word

Elephants family, photo taken on a Kenya safari

Elephants in Kenya were heavily targeted by poachers. Photo by Joseph

The Ivory Pyre

When your aim is to go on a Kenya Safari and see the wondrous wildlife in their natural habitat, you are bound to come across poaching and its devastating effects. Whether it is from trophy hunting by the europeans, that decimated the lion population in the Masai Mara, when in 1961 there were only 9 lions left in the area, or by poachers, who used machine guns and annihilated entire herds of elephants in a murderous frenzy over their tusks for ivory, the wildlife in Africa has always been under attack by various human factions. Even establishing homes and populated areas around the boundaries of the protected regions, blocks animal corridors and limits them to a very small area, thus increasing conflict and ultimately animal deaths. The most disastrous effects, by far, come from poaching these animals, right in the sanctuaries established for them.

To take an exceeding strong stance, in 1989, when the combined elephant population of the Tsavo National Parks fell from over 30,000 to 5,300 in barely 20 years, Kenya’s second President Daniel Moi, along with the Director of Kenya Wildlife Services, Richard Leakey, came up with a plan. Most countries used to stockpile the confiscated ivory, as it was valuable. The response formulated by President Moi and Richard Leakey involved burning Kenya’s entire stockpile of ivory, making it commercially worthless. This was such a drastic step that it immediately caught the attention of media worldwide and directly triggered a global ivory trade ban (which still remains in force today). The ban stopped most of the illegal ivory trading and poaching in its tracks. The ivory pyre also signalled a drastic change in the way the KWS worked, becoming a much more aggressive organization. Under Leakey’s leadership, the KWS created well-armed anti-poaching special units that were authorised and directed to shoot poachers on sight. These special units aggressively defended the wildlife in the parks, creating huge barriers for poachers and dramatically reducing the animal deaths due to poaching.

Ivory pyre Kenya

Tons of ivory being set ablaze in a strong stance against poaching by the Kenyan government. Photo by Beverly

As with any developing country, Kenya still has problems, especially with corruption. In 2016, it was ranked 145 out of 176 on the Corruption Perceptions Index , which is not a good score. However, with increasing emphasis on developing the country, things are slowly improving.

As a tourist, who comes to Kenya to see the incredible wildlife in one of the last remaining bastions of wildlife on this scale, you are already contributing by giving a monetary value to preservation and conservation. It also helps to be well informed about a typical Kenya Safari, and what to do and see, how to prepare , packing lists, how to get to Kenya , how to travel around, various kinds of safaris, and some details about the National Parks and Kenyan wildlife you can expect to see.

Kenya Safari

Kenya, one of the most recognizable African countries, is famous both for its bountiful natural resources and its peoples. Barack Obama, a former, very popular president of the United States of America, is of direct Kenyan descent. Amongst travelers to Africa, Kenya occupies a rarefied position and along with South Africa and Tanzania, Kenya Safaris are considered to be the best in the world.

Animals seen on Kenya Safari

Wildlife is plentiful and often seen on a Kenya Safari Photo by King

A large portion of the country’s foreign exchange comes from exporting coffee and from travelers booking Kenya Safaris. Located on the equator, and bordering the Indian ocean, Kenya’s excellent image as a tourist destination is enhanced by its National Parks, the tribal people, and the fantastic beaches lining the Indian Ocean. The country itself buzzes with activity, from farms and small tea shops to the open lands accentuated by cattle grazing in the abundant savanna and moorlands.

The prominent National Parks and Game Reserves in Kenya are located in the savanna and around the highlands in the southwestern part of Kenya. The great rift valley, responsible for most of the natural wonders of Africa (including the majestic Lake Victoria), passes through the Kenyan highlands.

Kenya Safari Parks

Kenya is known for it’s lush national parks and the abundant wildlife within them. Nairobi, probably the most famous city in Kenya, is the gateway to all these parks and lies at the southern edge of the Kenyan highlands.  Given below are brief descriptions of the Kenyan Safari Parks and you can read more about them in the subsequent sections:

The Northern Frontiers

Entrance to the Mt Kenya National Park.

Entrance to the Mt Kenya National Park. Photo by Charles

Mount Kenya National Park

The highest peak in Kenya and second only to Mt Kilimanjaro, the country of Kenya derives its name from the mountain. You can summit Mount Kenya from one of the four routes and the area around Mount Kenya, demarcated as a National Park is rich in both forest cover and wildlife.

Samburu National Reserve

The Samburu National Reserve is home to some interesting and rare species. The Ewaso Nyiro river provides the perfect relaxed setting to encounter wildlife in the Samburu National Reserve.

The Western Region

Filming the lions in Masai Mara

Filming the lions in Masai Mara. Photo by Esin

Masai Mara National Park

Probably the most famous and popular National Park in Kenya, the Masai Mara is known for the Great Wildebeest Migration, it’s population of lions and guaranteed wildlife for a true Kenyan Safari.  

Lake Naivasha

Located close to Nairobi, Lake Naivasha is excellent for day-trips from the city. With mountains in the background, and patches of forest and savanna, the picturesque region has plenty of local wildlife

Lake Victoria in Kenya

Lake Victoria in Kenya. Photo by Richard

Lake Victoria

Dominating the Kenyan landscape in the west, and known for the exceedingly friendly people that live in the islands, Lake Victoria is a must-visit natural feature of Kenya. Covering an area of about 70,000 square km, Lake Victoria is Africa's largest lake (by area) and the largest tropical lake in the world. It straddles the countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and is considered to be one of the main sources of the river Nile.

Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru is famous for being the home to millions of flamingos. This rift valley alkaline lake has a very particular kind of algae, which thrives in the soda-lake environment. Recent water levels have drastically changed the size and shape of the lake, leading to bird migrations. Both Black and White Rhinos and leopards can be found in the area surrounding the lake.

The Southern Parks & Beaches

Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo by Al

Amboseli National Park

With spectacular views of the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro rising in the background, Amboseli has huge herds of elephants and fantastic game drives. It is also a popular national park to visit for a safari, amongst those planning to climb Mt Kilimanjaro .

Tsavo East National Park

Kenya’s biggest national park, Tsavo East is known for it’s differently coloured elephants, and fantastic wildlife viewing. Some of the animals that can be seen here range from elephants, cheetahs, lions, hippos and crocodiles as well as some spectacular birds.

Tsavo West National Park

Tsavo West, though smaller than Tsavo East, is more developed and better connected. It is most famous for its landscapes, rolling lava-formed rocks, and the Mzima Springs, which has an underwater viewing chamber.

Wildebeest and Topi in Kenya

A safari holiday in Kenya is an excellent chance to see wildlife in their natural habitat. Photo by King

Kenya Safari Holidays

Most tourists and travelers to Kenya come here to experience the magical allure of the Safari Holidays in Kenya. According to the world bank report , approximately 12.5% of the terrestrial area in Kenya is protected under various rules as National Parks, Reserves and different types of conservation areas. This protects the habitats of the Kenyan wildlife and is an extremely important source of revenue for the Kenyan government.

Some of the interesting Kenya Safari Holidays are mentioned below, the details of which will be covered later here:

As most visitors head here for a taste of the famous Kenya Safari Holidays, here are some important things you need to know before heading over for a Kenya Safari:

Wildlife in Kenya

Clouds gathering. It may rain at any time in the National Parks in Kenya. Photo by Credit

Kenya Weather

The weather system of Kenya is such that most of the National Parks and areas here have two rainfall seasons.The short rains in November and December and the long rains in April and May. However, in contrast to Tanzania, along with which Kenya shares a large border and of which the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo West form a larger ecosystem with their Tanzanian counterparts, the rainfall is Kenya is much more consistent than that of Tanzania. Which means that during the dry season, huge herds of animals migrate to the smaller Reserves and National parks of Kenya, thus resulting in better wildlife spotting opportunities in the dry season.

Kenya is known for its unpredictable weather. This same weather pattern is also responsible for the largest land animal migration in the world - The Great Wildebeest Migration, where well over a million animals migrate between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya. This is also what makes safaris in Tanzania and in Kenya, exceptional. The complicated weather pattern leads generally to alternating wet and dry seasons:

Tourists on a Kenya Safari in the minibus.

On safari in the minibus. The pop-up roof allows a 360 degree view to take photos in all weather. Photo by John

These weather patterns are not fixed and the seasons may arrive early or late. Climate change has significantly disturbed the weather patterns and at higher altitudes, it may rain at any time. The rainfall pattern in Masai Mara is influenced by the huge Lake Victoria, as are most of the western regions of Kenya. The Indian Ocean forms the eastern border of the country and also heavily influences the weather with its monsoon winds.

The trade winds also form interesting cycles and their interaction influences the weather in the country. The moisture laden monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean, the southeast monsoon winds, known as the kusi, interact with the dry winds from the northeast, which travel over the arid regions of Africa, the kaskazi. The kusi is responsible for the heavy rainfall in the southeast and the coastal regions and the period known as the “Long rains”, while the kaskazi  is responsible for the drier northern regions of Kenya.

The rainfall in Kenya usually occurs in the form of a torrential downpour which lasts about an hour. The clouds then disperse and the sun dries out the wet ground in minutes. Camps and lodges always keep a stock of sturdy umbrellas for their guests.

The Best Time to Visit Kenya

Gazelles seen on a Kenya Safari

The best time to see wildlife on a Kenya Safari is during the dry season. Photo by Giorgio

The rainfall patterns play a huge role in deciding when you want to visit Kenya, as does your budget. The main tourist seasons are during the dry seasons from December end to January and from July to September and these are the best months for a Kenya Safari. The wildlife tends to congregate around and near water sources and tracking them is much easier. July to September is the best time for a Kenya Safari as the game viewing is superb. End August and early September usually coincide with the Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara. During the long rains, the muddy pathways are often an obstacle for vehicles, including those 4WDs on their Safari. But this is also the best time to take advantage of the cheap prices. The rains are usually restricted to the evenings and late afternoons, leaving clear mornings with fresh verdant landscapes all around. Fewer tourists also mean that Safaris are much more enjoyable and uncrowded.

As climate change increasingly affects the region, predicting the weather for specific dates has become extremely difficult. Flash floods and droughts are becoming more frequent, as is unseasonal hot and cold weather. Flash foods were responsible for the collapse of the Samburu-Buffalo Springs bridge, both in 2010 and in 2011, as well as inflicting damage to many camps and lodges.The bridge was only reopened in 2015.

Elephants in Masai Mara.

Elephants in Masai Mara. Photo by Roberto

Best Time to Visit Masai Mara

The best time to visit Masai Mara depends on what you are interested in seeing. If watching the millions of wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti is what you are most interested in, then July and August are the best time to visit Masai Mara, when they arrive from the Serengeti; or in October and November, when they begin their return journey.

The Masai Mara is also known for it’s wild cats, especially Lions. In the 1950s, trophy hunting was so popular in the region, that the Masai Mara had only nine lions left in 1961, when it was declared as a game sanctuary.

Cheetahs too, have adapted to close human presence, and have developed interesting behaviours, like climbing on-top of the vehicles to use them as a lookout vantage point.

The best time to catch these predators in action is during the calving period from January to March and during the river crossings in July and August. Unlike the wildebeest, predators are highly territorial and will not move very far from their territories, especially when they have cubs.

The dry seasons are a good time to have sustained and regular sightings, though clear periods during the rainy seasons are not uncommon, and visitors usually end up having a great time.

Zebra herd seen on a Kenya Safari.

Zebra herd seen on a Kenya Safari. Photo by Andrew

Kenya Temperature

The main factor in determining the temperature is the altitude above sea level.  Depending on the place the temperature can vary from 5°C to 32°C. Mombasa, which is roughly located at sea level is quite hot and humid, with temperatures rarely falling below 22°C , and going upto 32°C  on average during the hotter months. On the other hand, Nairobi, which is located at 1661m above sea level, is much cooler with temperatures dropping to single digits during the night and going upto 25°C during the hot months. The elevation to temperature drop ratio is approximately a 6°C drop for every 1000 meters of elevation.

Regarding the National Parks - The Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara National Parks have temperatures that ranges between 10 and 25°C. The National Parks and reserves of Amboseli, Tsavo (both East and West) Mt Meru, and Samburu lie at lower altitudes and are warmer (from 15 to 30°C). The highlands, being at higher elevations are colder with temperatures ranging from 5 to 15°C. It also rains much more in the highlands and temperatures drop sharply in the mornings and evenings.

Cape buffalo grazing with the sunrise in the background seen on a Kenya Safari

Cape Buffalo grazing in the early morning. Temperatures drop sharply, so be prepared with warm clothes for the Morning Safari. Photo by Joe

Monthwise Weather in Kenya

Kenya safari lodge viewing terrace

Views of the watering hole and the mountains beyond, from the viewing terrace. Kilanguni Serena Safari Lodge, Tsavo West National Park. Photo by John

Kenya Safari Lodges

Safari Lodges in Kenya are diverse. Visitors on a Kenya Safari can sleep in accommodation that ranges from basic campsites to luxury lodges and camps that bring new meaning to the word Glamping. Some of the smaller camps and lodges close for a few months, during the low tourist season, from March to May.

The Lodges are usually more expensive, usually falling in the category of Mid-tier and Luxury accommodation, and the popular ones get sold out quite early. Better lodges usually have decks where guests can gather for some splendid game viewing.

Tented camps are also great options, where large canvas tents are usually erected over a hard floor and have comfortable beds and furniture in it. Camps and lodges also have dining areas/tents and bars where you can socialize with the other guests on Safari.

Wifi is usually available, unless the park is located in an extremely remote area

Safari Lodge viewing terrace in the Masai Mara, Kenya

Safari Lodge viewing terrace in the Mara Serena Lodge, Masai Mara, Kenya

Masai Mara Safari Lodge

There are over a hundred different lodges and camps that are spread across the Masai Mara and it’s outskirts. When choosing a Masai Mara Safari Lodge, most visitors tend to choose a lodge or camp that is inside the reserve; however this offers no particular advantage as the conservancies and ranches outside have excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, sometimes offering superior experiences, and have the advantage of being less crowded. During the Great Migration, it might be a good idea to choose a lodge on the western side of the park.

Reservations in the area, especially during the tourist seasons, are essential, and you are sure to find one that is suitable for your budget.

Amboseli Safari Lodge

Within the National Park, there are two main safari lodges, one is a luxury tent camp and a budget accommodation. The rest of the lodges are outside the Amboseli National Park and hence limit the number of game drives you can take per day.

A rare black Rhinoceros seen on a safari in Africa.

A rare black Rhinoceros seen on a safari in Africa. Photo by Lew

Kenya Safari Cost

Prices for a Kenya Safari are generally lower during the rainy season because of a few reasons. The first is that during the dry season, the wildlife tends to concentrate around the watering holes and rivers thus making them easier to spot. During the rains, however, they tend to disperse in the bush and you have a harder time spotting them.

The second reason is that the safari vehicles tend to get stuck in the mud, which leads to delays, missed game viewing opportunities and frustrated drives. To counter these problems and reduced tourist traffic, lodges and accommodations drop prices, even upto 50% during the rainy season from March to June. This is a great time to plan for a longer safari, and extend your stay. You do get frequent good weather in the middle of the rains and this leads to incredible wildlife viewing opportunities on your Kenya Safari.

The Three main seasonal price brackets for a Kenya Safari are the low season, the high season and the peak season, which are further subdivided into the accommodation types - budget, mid-tier and luxury. Average price ranges per day for accommodation which houses two people can be found in the table below:

(Prices in USD)

Low Season    

High Season    

Peak Season    

Budget

$100 to 180    

$150 to 250    

$200 to 300    

Mid-Tier

$120 to 300    

$200 to 400    

$270 to 500    

Luxury

$230 to 350    

$250 to 400    

$400 to 600    

Renting a vehicle, like a van or a land cruiser, also costs around US $150 to $250 a day.  

Safari jeep ready for a game drive in the Masai Mara, early in the morning.

Safari jeep ready for a game drive in the Masai Mara, early in the morning. Photo by Ralf

Tipping

You should ensure that the prices you are quoted from a Kenya safari operator include the vehicle hire, fuel, pay for your driver-cum-guide, lodge accommodation and meals. They should also include the Government mandated Camping fees and Park Entry fees.

The one thing that it usually does not include, are the tips for staff.

Side Note: Tipping here is viewed very similar to the American Service Industry ( restaurants ). It forms the major part of the porters / guides / driver’s salaries. Be generous if you can, especially if they have done a good job.

A good rule of thumb on a Kenya safari is to tip your guide US $10 and trackers (if any) US $5 per person per day. The tips are given at the end of the safari and can be paid based on the number of people on the safari, on a group or on a ‘per car’ basis, which is a better way to distribute tips for families and large groups.

The staff at your Kenya safari camp or lodge includes chefs, waiters, housekeepers etc. who should also be tipped (depending on the level of luxury). Most often, there is a communal tip jar where you can leave your tips and they are shared amongst the staff. Don’t hesitate to ask your hotel or staff about expected tips. A reasonable rate is about  US $10 to 20 per day.

Note: Guides in Kenya have to go through exams that certify them in various categories. If you are going on a safari with a Bronze, Silver or Gold certified guide, you can expect a far superior safari experience, with insights and knowledge that cannot be found otherwise, so tip accordingly.

Kenya Safari Packing List

Your packing list is essentially dependent on the kind of safari, the duration of your Kenya Safari and the kind of traveller you are. If you are a frequent traveller, you might want to pack light and without too many constraints, you can do so with just a few clothes, your toiletries, your medical kit and a couple of essentials required for your Safari. However, if you want to be sure that you will have everything that you might need at any given time, you will, of course, want to bring everything along.

A game drive guide uses his binoculars to search for cats at sunrise.

A game drive guide in Kenya uses his binoculars to search for big cats at sunrise in the Masai Mara. Photo by Alaina

Do take into account the duration of your stay, the weight limits on your flight, and other constraints like how you will travel in Kenya. The country caters to a huge population of tourists who are specifically want to experience a wildlife safari in Kenya, and it is unlikely that you wouldn’t find something that you have forgotten, in a major city or the gift shop of a Safari Lodge.

Kenya Travel Advice

Ostrich seen on a Kenya Safari, with Safari jeeps in the background.

Ostrich seen on a Kenya Safari, with Safari jeeps in the background. Photo by Stephanie

Getting Around in Kenya

How well you travel around in Kenya is dependent on your budget. There are quite a few ways to get around in Kenya. The easiest way is to let your Safari company handle everything, this saves you a lot of hassle in coordinating between different people and ensuring things are ready on time. This, of course, is more expensive than arranging it yourself. If you are on a budget, there are still many options available to you, including public transport like buses, minibuses, matatus and other private forms of transport like taxis, shared rides, self drives etc.

When traveling between different parts of the country, you can charter a plane that takes you directly to the different National Parks and game reserves in Kenya. This is especially beneficial if you are traveling in a large group or with family and children and you are short on time. Be aware that this is an expensive option.

Domestic flights are frequent and are well connected to the main cities, main parks and the coastal regions. The frequency is liable to drop during the low season, but you are likely to find something that suits your dates if you book a Kenya Safari well in time.

This is a much more detailed post on travel options for Kenya , written for both travelers traveling to Kenya and traveling within Kenya.

Kenya Flights

A Cessna preparing for takeoff to Masai Mara in Kenya

A Cessna preparing for takeoff to Masai Mara in Kenya. Photo Credit

The easiest, most direct and convenient way of getting to Kenya is to fly in. Overland routes do exist, of course, but unless you are already in one of the neighbouring countries, like Tanzania or Zambia, where routes already exist and tensions aren’t high.

Flights to Kenya are expensive during the main tourist seasons and if you find yourself booking a flight for the months from December to January or form July to October, be prepared to pay extra for these “tourist-season” months. A great rule of thumb while booking flights for Kenya Safaris is to book far in advance and to take advantage of discounts and air-miles.

The good news is that Nairobi is a major hub for all flights going to east Africa, and is therefore served by many airlines. This keeps competition high and prices low. Most good Kenya Safari operators will include a pickup from the airport and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of booking transportation, haggling or changing money as soon as you land.

The most obvious places to do your research are via flight aggregators. Here are some sites that I recommend:

Given below are approximate prices to Kenya from certain destinations.

Flights from UK to Kenya

Direct flights from UK to Kenya take approximately 9 hours. The main airlines are  Kenya Airways and British Airways and all flights usually start from the London Heathrow airport.

If you are flying from Ireland, do account for about £1000 for your flight tickets. You can also book a flight from Heathrow and save some money.

Flight to Kenya flying over the Samburu Game Reserve

Flight to Kenya flying over the Samburu Game Reserve. Photo Credit

Flights from USA to Kenya

Currently, there are no direct flights from USA to Kenya, nor from Canada. Airlines usually have a stopover in Europe (usually Amsterdam or London). You may have two stops, depending on where you live. Travel time is usually around 18 hours, unless you have multiple stopovers.

Flights from Europe to Kenya

Direct flights to Kenya usually fly from Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris. With a flight time of around 8 hours, Europe is well connected to East Africa by airlines like Lufthansa, KLM, Air France and Turkish Airlines. Indirect flights of Emirates , Etihad or Qatar Airways usually fly to Kenya via Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha.

Flights from Australia to Kenya

Like the USA and Canada, there are no direct flights from Australia (or New Zealand) to Kenya. The most popular way to fly from Australia is flying via Emirates , or Qantas . You can also fly in with a stopover in South Africa via Kenya Airways or South African Airways .

Kenya Visa

British Passport for a Kenya holiday

Make sure you have all you documents in order. Photo by Osrin

Most people traveling for a safari here will require a Kenya Visa. Some African countries are exempt and can stay for a period of 30 days, visa-free. Visas are necessary and should be obtained in advance from Kenyan Embassies or online.

Requirements for

Passport:

Kenya Visa Costs:

Most people apply for a visa directly at the Kenyan embassy, but Kenya also has an e-visa system, where you can apply for an electronic visa, pay online and never have to visit the embassy. It is quite convenient and the e-visa is usually issued within two business days, but be aware that only single-entry visas, transit visas and diplomatic courtesy visas are issued via this method and it costs US $51.

You can check if you are eligible for an e-visa or if you even require one at the Kenyan e-visa website , as some countries are exempt. Alternatively you could use a passport and visa service , which handles everything for you for a service fee. The service fee is variable but expect to pay around US $100 apart from the embassy and delivery charges.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have an agreement that waives the visa re-entry fees if you are  travelling between the three countries as long as single-entry visas are valid for each country. This means that you do not require multiple-entry visa if you are travelling between Kenya and Uganda or Kenya and Tanzania, and want to return back to Kenya; a single-entry visa will do.

There is also a T12 East Africa Tourist Visa , which is a single visa that allows visitors to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda multiple entries within these regions. This costs around US $100 and is valid for a period of 90 days.

Kenya Currency

Kenya's currency shows the Big 5 game animals.

Kenya's currency shows the Big 5 game animals. Photo by Percy

The official currency of Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling. The name comes from the colonial era of British subjugation of Kenya and Kenyans often call the shilling “bob”. The Kenyan Shilling is a weak currency and most prices quoted are in US Dollars, especially to tourists. Most places accept US Dollars and sometimes Euros and Pounds are also accepted. If you do take currency from the US to Kenya, do ensure that the notes are new. Most US Dollars issued after 2006 are accepted, though if you want to be absolutely safe, only take the fiat currency notes which are less than five years old. Also remember that higher denomination bills are preferred and may command better exchange rates.

Plastic Money

Credit and Debit Cards are common and can be used to withdraw money from ATMs that are widespread throughout Kenya. Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted here. Prepaid cards from Visa and MasterCard also work seamlessly. You may have a daily upper limit on withdrawal of money on your card, depending on the Bank and there might be associated fees on withdrawing cash from an ATM outside your home country.

Forex Exchanges

You can also change money at Forex bureaus and hotels throughout the country, though these offer poorer exchange rates and may charge a commission as well. I also recommend that you assiduously avoid changing money on the street. Not only are you likely to be ripped off by the lure of better exchange rates, it is also illegal.

The current exchange rates for Kenyan Shilling hovers around:

1 USD = 105 KSH

1 GBP = 135 KSH

1 EUR = 118 KSH

The exchange rates were lower in 2012-2013 but have been stable during the last two years.

M-Pesa in Kenya

An M-Pesa agent in Kenya.

An M-Pesa agent in Kenya. Photo Credit

M-Pesa is a mobile based banking service that was started by Vodafone for Safaricom and Vodacom (the largest mobile networks in Kenya). It was initially based on a system of providing “recharges” or “prepaid talktime” which could be transferred from one person to another and changed to cash at the end of the day. Ordinary citizens started using this as currency, paying for their vegetables, vendors, bus fare and other items using m-pesa. It is now the default way of sending and receiving payments for millions of Kenyans. The m-pesa story is an incredible success story for technology, which has positively affected the lives of over 30 million people . This was a custom solutions for Kenya and works surprisingly well in other countries.

This article , written by Michael Joseph, Vodafone Group’s Director of Mobile Money who was the CEO of Safaricom during this period is an excellent read on m-pesa.

Kenya Language

Just like Tanzania, Swahili is widely spoken throughout the country. Though speaking English will serve you well, any effort to speak Swahili is met with enthusiastic approval from the locals. Swahili is a common language across east africa and has incorporated many foreign words, especially from Hindi (India), English, Arabic and Portuguese.

The word Safari means “going on a journey” in Swahili, which is derived from the Arabic word ‘Safara’ (to travel), which itself has Indian roots, in the word ‘Safar’ meaning journey. On your Safari trip, there are many phrases that you will hear, or require, and this guide should help you get the basics right.

Common Phrases:

Common Greetings:

Regular Conversations:

The below phrases in Maa (the language of the Masai) will also be useful:

Women in colourful dresses from one of the local tribes in Kenya.

Women in colourful dresses from one of the local tribes in Kenya. Photo by Davida

You will find yourself requiring a few of these:

Here are a few others you just may need:

Places

Transport

Accommodation

Food

Numbers

1 - moja

........

10 - kumi60 - sitini
2 - mbili11 - kumi na moja70 - sabini
3 - tatu12 - kumi na mbili80 - themanini
4 - nne20 - ishirini90 - tisini
5 -  tano21 - ishirini na moja100 - mia
6 - sita22 - ishirini na mbili200 - mia mbili
7 - saba30 - thelathini1000 - elfu
8 - nane40 - arobaini2000 - elfu mbili
9 - tisa50 - hamsini100,000 - laki

Along with English, Swahili, is the official languages in Kenya as well as Tanzania. Swahili is the most widely spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa.

Kenya Capital

Zebras in the Nairobi National Park, with Kenya's Capital Nairobi in the background.

Taken in the Nairobi National Park, with Kenya's Capital Nairobi in the background. Photo Credit

The Capital city of Kenya is Nairobi, which is also the largest city in East Africa. It serves as a hub for most  air-travel to Africa, and you will invariably end up spending some time here. Nairobi is named after the Nairobi river, which is called ‘cool water’ and translates in Swahili as ‘Enkare Nairobi’.

Traveling to Kenya for a Safari, will take you through Nairobi, and it lives up to it’s moniker as the Safari Capital of the world. Nairobi is located at an altitude of 1661m above sea level and is consequently a lot cooler than other low lying cities like Mombasa. Nairobi National park lies right outside the city limits and is an excellent place to make short day trips from the city.

Kenya Vaccinations

Kenya is still a developing country, and therefore its healthcare isn’t yet on par with those of developed nations. Disease prevention and management need to kept in mind before traveling to Kenya. There are several problems in Kenya regarding healthcare and diseases and healthcare are a major issue that most Kenyans have to deal with. This makes it crucial that travelers and visitors should take sensible precautions before traveling to Africa for their Kenya Safari. I will discuss some of the Kenya vaccinations that you should consider before your trip. Getting vaccinated helps your body recognize the microscopic threats prevalent in Kenya and adds defences to your body’s natural immunity arsenal.

Malaria

Malaria is an endemic disease in Eastern Africa and if you are going for a Safari, you will surely encounter these mosquitoes in the evening. Malaria is caused by a parasite that piggybacks in the saliva of the female Anopheles mosquito, which prefers to bite in the evening. These mosquitoes are mostly restricted to altitudes below 1500m, so areas like Nairobi and central Kenya, the highlands are naturally protected against Malaria. The southern coast, the plains and areas around Lake Victoria are particularly susceptible to malaria. However, since humans are “vectors” for malaria, you can get it anywhere as the mosquitoes that bite infected humans can then pass on the disease to another person.

Though malaria isn’t infectious, it can be extremely dangerous. Every year about 6.7 million new clinical cases are registered and the disease is responsible for at least 4,000 deaths each year Source .

Precautions

Mosquito net in a safari lodge in East Africa

Mosquito Nets are an excellent precaution against disease in the African bush. Photo by Kevin

When you travel to East Africa for a Kenya Safari, you are almost certainly going to encounter mosquitoes and being bitten is almost guaranteed. The simplest precaution you should take is to keep your exposed skin covered as much as possible, especially your arms, your legs and your neck, especially during the evenings. Then cover all of your remaining exposed skin with a strong DEET based mosquito repellent. Sleep under a mosquito net along with some other method of keeping mosquitoes away, whether it is by burning mosquito coils, liquid based electric mosquito repellents. Apart from this, it is strongly suggested that you should take a course of anti-malarials. The most commonly recommended ones are malarone and doxycycline, as these have the least side effects. It, of course, is essential that you consult your doctor before starting on your journey and get their advice on what you should and shouldn’t take for your upcoming Kenya safari.

Inoculations for Kenya

Yellow Fever

If you are traveling from areas where yellow fever is endemic, you will need to show a certificate showing that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever. Though travelers to Kenya from Europe and North America aren’t required to have any specific vaccinations, you may still want to get the vaccination, as traveling back from East Africa to your home country might require the certificate. Do plan for it in time as it requires ten days from the date of the vaccination, before the certificate is valid. The good news is that once you have been vaccinated for yellow fever, the certificate is valid for your lifetime. This was recently upgraded from 10 years validity to lifetime validity as studies showed that the vaccination is effective for far longer than previously thought.

Other Vaccinations for Kenya Safaris

This is an article detailing the different vaccines needed for a Kenya Safari and a Tanzania Safari.

Zika virus Kenya

The CDC classifies the Zika virus as a risk in Kenya.The Zika virus spreads, like malaria, through mosquitoes (particularly the Aedes mosquito) and can cause serious birth defects, so pregnant women are advised not travel to Kenya. All travelers should take the utmost precautions and avoid mosquito bites as much as they can.

Vaccinations in progress in Kenya.

Vaccinations in progress in Kenya. Photo Credit

Ebola in Kenya

Kenya recently (as of May 2017) issued an Ebola alert after an outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though Kenya doesn’t share a border with DRC, the response is an excellent move aimed at monitoring any incidences and being ready in case there are any cases and potential threats to public health.

The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with body fluids, such as blood, of an infected human or other animal.

It is also important to remember that Africa is a huge continent, not a country, and distances account for some safety buffer. The main reason Kenya has issued an alert is because it’s airport is a hub airport that has direct flights to and from West Africa.

There are a total of seven countries who have implemented screening at airports and ports of entry. These include Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The main takeaway is to avoid travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo and any other areas that there have been breakouts.

As of the date of publishing, there have been no reported cases of Ebola outbreak in Kenya and you can go ahead and plan your travel. I do recommend that you keep an eye on the CDC website and healthmap , as they aggregate and give information on the current state of diseases and outbreaks around the world.

Is it safe to travel to Kenya

Dangers from People

Petty crime is admittedly a problem in Kenya, though it is mostly restricted to cities with high Tourist traffic. The most that you usually hear about are crimes like pickpocketing, cons and scams. Physical, or bodily harm is not the intention, but don’t take unnecessary risks if you are confronted. Kenya derives a huge portion of its revenues from tourism and by and large it is safe to travel in Kenya. Do see the travel advisories issued by your country.

Most people who travel to the country to experience a Kenya Safari, experience no problems. Usually, when you book your safari trip, you can get your agency to handle all transport and accommodation arrangements. Here are a few tips for safety:

Wild Buffalo in Kenya Masai Mara

Buffalos are easily aggravated and can be extremely dangerous. Photo Credit

Dangers from Wildlife in Kenya

Wild animals are found throughout Kenya, and it is extremely rare that you will be attacked unprovoked. Hyenas are sometimes found curiously sniffing near campfires, but melt away when they hear noise or sense people approaching. Elephants and buffaloes are more dangerous and one should maintain a healthy distance from them and back away if they display any signs of agitation. Always be careful about hippos and crocodiles near water. Hippos will attack if they perceive you as a threat blocking them access to the safety of water. Do not leave food in your tent or in your car as it is bound to draw baboons and monkeys, who can and will wreak havoc.

Kenya Travel Insurance

When traveling to Kenya, I would highly recommend taking out a travel insurance that covers the theft, loss, injuries, illness and travel delays. Most travel policies cover baggage loss, delays over a certain level, and even provide cash upto a certain limit. Extreme sports are usually excluded from most insurance policies, though safaris in Kenya are usually not considered as an ‘extreme sport’.

Here are a few places you can get travel insurance:

Kenya Wildlife

Elephant herd seen near Lake Nakuru in Kenya

Elephant herd seen near Lake Nakuru in Kenya. Photo Credit

Kenya is home to the world’s largest surviving community of megafauna, the large animals usually characterized as mammals roughly larger than a human or weighing over 40 kilograms. The Big Five animals, which formed the core of attention for the hunters of yesteryears as sizable trophies - Elephants, Black Rhinos, Leopards, Buffalos and Lions, are now the most sought after animals to be viewed on a typical Kenya Safari. Unfortunately their popularity also fuels a loathsome black market in animal products like ivory and skins. Despite massive losses to hunting in the early 20th century, the wildlife reserves and national parks in Kenya still provide sanctuary to a huge number of animals.  Some of the animals that call these areas home have been classified below:

Cheetah in Kenya

Cheetah on the lookout in the Masai Mara. Photo by Martha

Big Cats in Kenya: Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs

Lions are the pride (and joy) of any respected National Park in Kenya (apologies for the pun). They are easy to spot and can be found lazing around in prides with around six to twelve members. The most memorable part of a Kenya Safari is if you can see a pride in action and the best time to see this is in the calving season, when predator activities peak.

Contrary to the lions, leopards are solitary, secretive and extremely alert. Spotting them is hard. Black Panthers, are what is known as “melanistic colour variants” of the leopard, which means that though they are the same species, their colour differs.Source

Cheetahs are, on the surface, similar to leopards, but in reality are very different. Being dependent on their speed for hunting, Cheetahs are sprightly, and of a far more light build, with smaller heads and distinct facial markings. Cheetahs also rarely climb trees and are a popular attraction in most of Kenya’s National Parks.

Servals and Caracals are rarer species of wild cats that constitute Kenya’s wildlife and a sighting of one of these smaller feline predators is always special.

Elephant in Kenya acacia tree in background

Seeing elephants in their natural habitat, is one of the best reasons to visit Kenya. Photo Credit

Elephants

Found in every National Park in Kenya, the elephants form an important part of Kenyan Wildlife and shape the environment of the areas they occupy. They are also some of the most interesting animals to watch with each individual member displaying unique personalities. Elephants, especially the ones found in Kenya, are huge. They like to be left alone and their social structure is centered around the female herd, protecting the calves, with a matriarch responsible for leading them. The male bulls are usually solitary. Unfortunately, their tusks are highly prized amongst trophy hunters, witch-doctors and “medicine” dealers which has led to a lot of poachers employing terrible methods to maim and kill them.

White Rhino grazing. Rare photo taken on a Kenya safari

The White Rhino is an endangered species, and only a handful remain. Photo Credit

Rhinos

Highly endangered, there are two variant of Rhinos that are found in Africa - the Black Rhino and the White Rhino. With very slow reproductive cycles and hence slower population growth rates, the Rhino Population in Kenya is tottering on the brink of extinction. For their protection against poaching, the exact number and location of each rhino is a closely guarded secret.

The Black Rhinos are more common and slightly smaller than the White Rhinos. With barely 600 Black Rhinos remaining, their population has sharply declined over the years.

The White Rhinos were reintroduced to Kenya, but are dangerously low in number. The last Northern White Rhinos were brought here from an European zoo in 2009 and a few Southern White Rhinos from South Africa

Hippos in Kenya

Submerged Hippos seen on a Kenya Wildlife Safari Photo by Ray

Hippos

Commonly found in the many lakes, rivers and different water bodies in Kenya, hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, and are responsible for the most human deaths in the region (by a large animal). The Hippopotamus spends most of it’s time in the water and any significant amount of time out of the water can cause extreme dehydration. At night, hippos graze in the areas surrounding the water and often spend the entire night grazing. Hippos panic and attack if they perceive anything as an obstacle between themselves and the safety of the water. The Tsavo West National Park has an excellent underwater observatory where you can observe them in their natural habitat.

Zebras seen in the grasslands in Kenya.

Zebras seen in the grasslands in Kenya. Photo Credit

Zebras

There are two main variants of Zebras that we find here - the Grant’s Zebra, or the plains Zebra, and the Grevy’s Zebra.

The Grant’s Zebra is more commonly found throughout Kenya and has small ears and thick stripes. These are also the Zebra species that constitute the two hundred thousand strong herd that is a part of the great Migration, along with the wildebeest, between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

The Grevy’s Zebra is the rarer species. These Zebras are larger, and have large and distinctly unique rounded ears. The Grevy’s Zebras are found mainly in the Laikipia Conservation area and the Tsavo East National Park.

A spotted Hyena, with it's classic smile, seen on a Kenya Safari

A spotted Hyena, with it's classic smile, seen on a Kenya Safari. Photo Credit

Dogs, Hyenas, Jackals and Foxes

Many varieties of Dogs, Hyenas, Jackals and Foxes are found in Kenya. The now-rare African Hunting Dog is spotted in Maasai Mara, Tsavo West and Lake Nakuru National Park. After the Lion, the Spotted Hyena is the most common carnivore in Kenya and have distinctive whooping cries. The Striped Hyenas look more distinctive with their mane of hair along their backs. These creatures are shy and prefer to remain silent and pass unnoticed. The Aardwolf is a smaller variant of a Hyena and also has stripes along it’s body. It forages for insects and termites, which form the major part of it’s diet. The Black Backed Jackal and the Striped Jackal are widespread throughout the protected areas in Kenya and are keen hunters and scavengers.

Bat eared foxes are common and forage for termites at night, which constitute a major part of their diet.

Reticulated Giraffe in Samburu

A classic reticulated Giraffe, seen in Samburu on a Kenya Safari Photo by Donna

Giraffes

Common throughout Kenya, the tallest mammal on earth roams the savanna and the countryside, browsing for leaves on the tall acacia trees that are conveniently beyond the reach of other herbivores. Kenya has three types of Giraffes - the Maasai Giraffe, seen mostly in the Masai Mara, Tsavo West and Amboseli National Park; the Reticulated Giraffe , with three to five horns seen usually in the Samburu Reserve and Mount Meru National Park; and the rare Rothschild’s Giraffe, which is usually spotted in Lake Nakuru National Park.

Oryx in Kenya

The Oryx, with it's iconic horns, is frequently spotted on a Kenya Safari Photo by Tim

Wildebeest, other Hartebeest, Gazelles and Antelopes

The Blue Wildebeest is probably the most iconic member of the hartebeest family. With it’s distinctive head, mane and beard the blue wildebeest lives in large herds that form a “mega-herd” of over a million animals during the migration season. Most herds are found near water sources. Other animals in the hartebeest family include the Topi, Coke’s Hartebeest, Thomson’s Gazelle, the Gerenuk, Impalas, Grant’s Gazelle, the Oryx, and Sable and Roan Antelopes.

African buffalo resting, taken during a safari in Kenya

The African buffalo is probably the most dangerous animal in the Big 5. Photo Credit

The African Buffalo

One of the Big 5, the buffalo is commonly found in the National Parks and is a prominent member of the Kenyan wildlife. They are almost always found near water and live in large lazy herds. Buffalos are often dangerous, though they usually ignore humans.  

Other Animals

The Aardvark is a strange looking creature that has evolved to feed on termites. It rests in its burrows during the day and digs up termite mounds at night to feast.  

A pangolin seen in one of the National Parks.

A pangolin seen in one of the National Parks. They are small, scaly anteaters. Photo by David

The Pangolin is an armadillo-like creature that rolls into a ball when frightened and secretes a foul smelling liquid from it’s rear.

The Dugong is a rare mermaid like creature that has almost been hunted to extinction in Kenya, but some rare individuals may still be found.

Various kinds of monkeys, baboons and primates are found throughout Kenya, and some of the more recognizable species are the Vervet monkeys, the Colobus monkeys, yellow Baboons, Blue monkeys and chimpanzees (only in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy)

Spiral horned Antelopes like the lesser and greater Kudu, Bushbucks, Bongos and the common Eland are also exciting and majestic sights.

The Gerenuk are species of gazelle that have an elongated neck and, like Giraffes, they browse for leaves that are difficult to reach. They usually stand on their hind legs to reach them and any sighting of this unique gazelle is always a treat.

Kenya Safaris

There are many different ways to experience the wildlife safaris in Kenya and listed below are a few of the interesting ones.

Wildebeest Migration Safari

Tourists on the Great Wildebeest Migration safari in Kenya.

On the Great Wildebeest Migration safari in Kenya. Photo by Jonathan

The Great Wildebeest Migration Safari is frequently dubbed as the ‘greatest show on earth’, where millions of animals, mostly comprising of Wildebeest, but also many zebras, and much smaller herds of other animals, move in a giant mega-herd from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya, and then back, in search of good pasture, due to the onset of the dry season, and lack of good grazing. There is no other place in the world, that there is a movement of animals as immense or as dramatic as the Great Wildebeest Migration; these, almost two million strong animals, move fast from place to place, following a natural instinct to the green pastures of the Masai Mara, constantly being hunted and chased, fighting their natural fear of water and the predators that lurk there. With starvation, disease, injuries and predators at every turn, hundreds of thousands of these animals die every year on the migration. The migration is also the most sought after Safari experience in Kenya and in Tanzania, and forms the peak season for tourist activity.  

The Big Five Safari

Spotting the rare black rhinos on a Big 5 safari in Kenya.

Spotting the rare black rhinos on a Big 5 safari in Kenya. Photo by Meghan

The Big Five are the animals that were traditionally the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. The Lion, The Buffalo, The Elephant, The Rhino and The Leopard comprise this exclusive club and occupied a place of pride in the hunter’s trophies. However, excessive hunting and poaching have reduced the numbers of these animals to dangerously low levels and have, at times, gone to single digits eg the Maasai Lions in the 1960s and the Rhinos. Many of the national parks in Kenya have opportunities to spot the Big Five, but the Masai Mara takes the top spot for the Big Five Safari. Other parks, like Amboseli also have a good chance to see these majestic animals, but the population of the Rhinos are dangerously low.  Lake Nakuru, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Lewa Wilderness Conservancy are some of the few places in northern Kenya where the Rhino can still be found.

Masai Mara Flying Safari

The flying safari is the most efficient way to travel for your safari as it saves a ton of time that you would otherwise spend traveling between different reserves. In a Masai Mara flying safari, you usually take a small aircraft (mostly a twin engine like Cessna) and fly directly from the airport to the Masai Mara, where you are whisked off in a land cruiser for a game drive enroute your camp. After you have spent some time here, which may range from a day to a week, depending on your schedule, you then take another plane that takes you to your next reserve, or your departure flight, in a couple of hours.

Sunrise from a hot air balloon in Masai Mara

Sunrise from a hot air balloon in Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo by Ferdi

Masai Mara Balloon Safari

A balloon safari in Masai Mara is an ultimate safari experience. As you fly above the trees along the Mara River, the scale of the Masai Mara and the highly dependent ecosystem hits you. The panoramas are incredibly photogenic and since the Balloon Safaris usually take place at dawn, there is a good chance to see some interesting Kenyan wildlife.

A balloon safari is usually a one hour flight, followed by breakfast and sparkling wine. The balloon safari takes place at dawn, when wind conditions are suitable, and cost around US $500 per person. After you are driven to the launch site, at 4 am or so, the balloon is inflated and readied for lift off. An hour over the Masai Mara gives excellent opportunities for panoramic photographs, which is followed by a field breakfast after your landing. A game drive is usually arranged on the way back to your lodge, which you reach at around 10 am.

Masai Mara and Serengeti Safari Tours

The Masai Mara and the Serengeti are part of the same ecosystem and play an integral part of the Great Wildebeest Migration. The Kenyan side is called the Masai Mara, and the Tanzanian side of the national park is called the Serengeti. Be aware that if you want to see both the national parks, they lie in different countries and you will need different visas for them.

Cheetahs in an African National Park

Cheetahs getting ready for some action. Photo by Pim

Safari operators have tie ups on both sides of the border and you will usually not face any issues when you are booking your safari trip. However, the great migration takes place during different times in different regions and you will want to account for this time difference. Also note that this will lead to increased prices across the board.

Another way to do this is to book your tours directly with the lodges, but this also means that you may have to arrange all the other aspects of your trip, including transport, booking the next leg of your journey, and other details, which not only leads to much more hassles and coordination problems, but also, surprisingly, turns out to be more expensive.

Guides and tour operators are present across the major pricing categories of budget operators, mid-tier and luxury operators. If you are interested in, eg, climbing Mt Kenya or climbing Mt Meru, visiting areas like the Olduvai Gorge, or engage in a myriad of other activities, they are in a much better position to arrange it for you. Do have a look at booking options and tour operators , their prices and your booking preferences .

Masai Mara Horseback Safari

Horseriding safari in Kenya with Elephants in the background

Horseriding Safaris are a very interesting way to experience the wildlife. Photo Credit

The Horseback Safari is an interesting throwback to the days of explorers, who saw the great herds of migrating wildebeest on horseback and explored the dense forests of central Africa in the same way. This concept of horseback safaris took hold in the 1970's in Kenya and some operations still offer the best opportunity to see wildlife on horseback in Kenya. If the conditions are suitable, you can even canter and gallop with the migrating herds of zebra and wildebeest.

The horseback safaris in Kenya are basically divided into two types - The traditional luxury mobile tent and camp which is most popular around the Maasai Mara; and the lodge-based rides, where each day ends with the horseback safari party coming back to the lodge. Both offer great riding and game viewing and superb accommodation.

Kenya National Parks

In Kenya, the land reserved as national parks or reserves accounts for about 8% of the entire land area of the country. To ensure these areas are protected and maintained, each National Park and reserve charges a fee from every visitor. The key difference between National Parks and National Reserves, is that the national parks are administered by the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) as sanctuaries. In these areas, apart from tourist lodges, human habitation is prohibited. National Reserves, on the other hand, are run by local councils and are more flexible on human settlement in the region. These are formally demarcated areas and tend to be under scrutiny. A third kind of protected area exists, which are usually private sanctuaries or conservancies. These are usually owned and run by private landowners or communities, but contribute significantly to the conservation effort by extending the areas for wildlife in Kenya, as well as bringing in income from tourists. They may also allow activities which cannot be experienced in the reserves proper, like hiking safaris or night drives, thus enhancing the Kenya safari experience for tourists.  

Masai Mara National Park

Wildebeest in the Masai Mara National Park, Kenya.

Wildebeest in the Masai Mara National Park, Kenya. Photo Credit

The Masai Mara National Park is undoubtedly the best game reserve in Kenya. Named after the croton plants that dot the grassland, ( Mara means “spotted” ), the Masai Mara National Park is most famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration, where about two million animals, forming a mega-herd, migrate from the Serengeti National park to the Masai Mara. This is because the climate in Masai Mara is less variable than the Serengeti, and the relatively much higher rainfall during the dry season, results in abundant grass and greenery, that attracts and supports the millions of animals that migrate here.

The Masai Mara National Park is situated at about 2000m above sea level in the southwestern end of Kenya. It is a part of the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem, that is home to a huge number of wild game. The abundant wildlife can be seen here throughout the year, not just during the Great Wildebeest Migration, that is in full swing during August and September. To catch this awe inspiring natural wonder, most people traveling here, book far in advance as rates increase and availability drops.

With the size and wildlife population of the Masai Mara being huge, it seems hard to think that the area is in need of protection. But the increasing population in the region, and burgeoning number of tourists deeply affect the animals that live here. Off-road driving creates tracts, that affect the protective cover of natural vegetation and thus wildlife movement. An increase in the humans inhabiting the surrounding areas also deeply affects the animals here, from simple ranging to blocking of Elephant corridors. These have already reduced the wildlife numbers in the region. Illegal activities like poaching and construction have further put this area, deeply at risk, which is also why the Kenyan Government is taking strong steps to counter these effects.

Lioness in the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara is famous for it's population of Lions. Photo by Martha

The Masai Mara is divided into three main parts - The Mara triangle, which lies on the western side of the National Park and the Narok sector , which itself is divided into the Musiara sector and the Sekenani sector. To the north of the reserve, there are many conservancies and private game reserves, that work closely with the local Maasai communities and offer an excellent safari experience.

How to see the Masai Mara

Most of the travelers visiting for a Kenya Safari come here to see the Masai Mara, and usually pre-book a safari package. Surprisingly, pre-booking a Kenya safari package can turn out to be cheaper than making all the arrangements independently.

A Safari in Kenya is not a cheap holiday, and even the budget Kenya safaris are relatively expensive. Mostly this is because of the National Park entry fees and taxes, as well as the fact that these National Parks only have many visitors for a few months in the year.

This is also why AlienAdv offers a wide range of options to people who want options for various Safari packages that are available in Kenya and Tanzania.

Amboseli national park

Elephants in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

Elephants in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo by Joseph

The Amboseli National Park is a small park located between the Masai Mara and the Tsavo National Parks. Located on the Kenyan side of the border, Amboseli is famed for its magnificent view of Mount Kilimanjaro and those looking to combine a trip to Mt Kilimanjaro , usually visit Amboseli in Kenya. Located at some distance from the park, the best time to get the iconic view of Mt Kilimanjaro is in the mornings and the evenings. Clear days, especially during the rainy season, make for excellent photographs, as during most other times the mountain is covered by clouds.

Amboseli is most famous for its elephants and during a normal game drive, you are likely to see large herds and solitary bulls. Predators used to roam freely in this area, but socio-political tensions in the 1970s and 80s led to the Maasai killing large numbers of lions and almost killed the long horned black rhinos to extinction.

During the dry season, animals are usually found near water holes and the marshy land, and are easier to spot except where the wooded areas near the marshes becomes impenetrable. The rainy season brings out the wildlife, which disperses throughout the region. Lake Amboseli, which is a seasonal lake, hosts large numbers of pelicans, flamingoes and other birds in the surrounding areas.

Apart from Elephants, Amboseli hosts a large population of hippos and buffalo. Cheetahs, Giraffes and Zebras are spotted frequently. Other grazers, like the gerenuk, a few wildebeest and gazelles are also seen.

Elephant calf with flamingoes in the background.

Amboseli National Park in Kenya is famous for its population of elephants. Photo by Dave

How to see Amboseli

If you’re traveling during the busier tourist seasons, you should pre-book a tour at this popular National Park. Most visitors here spend two or three days here on game drives. Amboseli’s  small size makes it easier to visit on a small trip and the open country makes spotting wild game easier.

The quintessential photo of Amboseli, which shows a herd of Elephants walking here, with Mt Kilimanjaro towering behind, is best taken in the early morning, as clouds cover the mountain later in the day.

The Tsavo National Parks

The combined area of the Tsavo National Parks is over twenty thousand square kilometers, making it two and a half times larger than the Yellowstone National Park, and the largest National Park in Kenya.

The Tsavo National Parks had a population of over nine thousand black rhinos in the 1960s, which were then hunted down to about a 100 individuals in twenty years.

Wildlife in the Tsavo East National Park.

Wildlife in the Tsavo East National Park. Photo by Tim

Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East is separated from Tsavo West by the Galana river, which is fed by the Athi and the Tsavo rivers and forms a natural boundary between the two National Parks. Tsavo East is comprised of a flat landscape and thin shrubbery. The sparser vegetation thus makes spotting wildlife easier. A huge protected region with an area of almost 13,750 square km, Tsavo East, along with its western counterpart, is one of the biggest wildlife parks in the world. It’s scale is quite unimaginable, and visitors to the park are usually able to visit only a tiny area of the park. Its large size also means that visitors to the park are usually alone, and there isn’t another safari vehicle in sight.

The Greater Kudu seen on a safari in Kenya

The Greater Kudu seen on a safari in Kenya. Photo by Ooki

Some of the animals found here are the majestic Greater and Lesser Kudu, servals, a few rhinos (almost hunted to extinction), and the colourful Elephants which are found throughout Tsavo.

The banks of the Galana River itself are where much of the wildlife is found during the dry season. Crocodiles and Hippos are plentiful in the pools that form below the waterfalls and the relatively quieter areas.   

Tsavo West National Park

The Tsavo West National Park is more developed, has a larger human population and a network of roads, also making it more popular amongst the two Tsavo National Parks. The park covers an area of about 9,065 square kms, of which about a 1000 square kms of land between the Tsavo river and the Mombasa highway is classified as Developed.  

Animals are abundant in Tsavo West, and a Safari here brings you incredibly close interactions with Giraffes, Zebras, herds of Buffalo, lots of Elephants and prides of Lions. The lesser Kudu is rarer, but often spotted on a safari here.

Tsavo West is also famous for the Mzima Springs, a stream of clear cool water, that sees regular animal visitors. It is also an interesting place, since visitors are allowed to walk freely and can have an unforgettable experience in the underwater viewing chamber, where many times, hippos and crocodiles can be seen swimming in the crystal clear waters of the spring.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Flamingoes in Lake Nakuru Kenya

Flamingoes in Lake Nakuru. They feed off the algae that grows in the soda lake. Photo by Michiel

Lake Nakuru National Park is a small and extremely beautiful protected area, covering 188 square kilometers, that is one of the most popular parks in Kenya. With over 300,000 visitors to the area every year, Lake Nakuru is one of the two Premier parks in the country, along with Amboseli. Lake Nakuru offers both game drives and walking safaris, and there are many signposts and markers in the area that ensure a better safari experience.

In 2013, not for the first time, Lake Nakuru experienced a significant increase in its volume due to flooding, heavy rainfall and underground streams which has not only led to a significant increase in the size and shape of the lake itself, but also drove away the vast numbers of flamingos. These millions of flamingos used to feed on the algae, growing in the alkaline waters of the lake, but an increase in the water content means that it is no longer a suitable environment for algae to flourish, thus leading the flamingos to seek better pasture in Lake Bogoria.

Lake Nakuru National Park is also known for its wildlife, and in Swahili ‘Nakuru’ means ‘Place of the Waterbuck’. Both the black rhino and the white rhino are found here in the southern side of the National Park, after successful reintroduction efforts. Waterbucks, Impalas, Elands, Hippos and Buffalo are easily seen here, as are Zebras, Gazelles, Ostriches, Warthogs and Baboons. The park also has a herd of Rothschild’s Giraffe, which were introduced here and have taken well to the natural environment. The area also has lions and leopards, and Nakuru is a popular place for relocating animals.

Aberdare National Park

Cape Buffalo in the Aberdare National Park in Kenya

Cape Buffalo in the Aberdare National Park in Kenya. Photo Credit

The Aberdare National Park is a strangely shaped area, with the park divided into two main areas - the high moorlands, which comprises of the major area of the park and runs from North to South; and the Salient, which branches off eastward from the middle of the high moorlands, and is covered by dense rainforest and consequently has a much higher wildlife population. This is also one of Kenya’s untouched natural forests that provide a fantastic natural habitat to the wildlife here.

An interesting feature of the Aberdare National Park is the electric fence built around the park, mainly to prevent clashes between the elephant and human population, but also to protect one of the largest population of black rhinos in Kenya. Aberdare is one of the best areas to go on a walking safari in Kenya, but requires the an explicit approval from the warden. Fishing and camping are other activities that you can indulge in.

Hell's Gate National Park

Tectonic cliffs at Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya.

Tectonic cliffs at Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya. Photo by Pablo

The Hell’s Gate National Park is a very small national park (approximately 70 square km) located south of Lake Naivasha. The park area is known for the intense geothermal activity, where underground water becomes superheated and reaches incredibly high water-pressure and temperatures over 300°C; Africa’s first Geothermal Power Station was established here. The park is named after a deep but narrow break in the cliffs, which was the outlet for a huge prehistoric lake, that encompassed the region upto Lake Nakuru.

Hell’s Gate is an excellent place for adventure activity and is one of the only two National Parks where camping is allowed. You can also hike, bicycle, and go rock climbing inside the National Park.

Plenty of animals can be seen here, from the Buffalo, to Zebras, Hartebeest and Gazelles to Servals and Eland. Interesting species found here are the Cliffjumper or Klipspringer Antelope, the Reedbuck and the Hyrax, which look like large brown guinea pigs.

Samburu National Reserve

Warthog faces off against an Oryx in Samburu, Kenya

Warthog faces off against an Oryx in Samburu, Kenya Photo by Gregg

The Samburu National Reserve is a popular game reserve located on the northern side of the Ewaso Ng'iro river in Kenya. The Samburu Reserve when referred to usually includes the Buffalo Springs National Reserve, which is basically a continuation of Samburu to the south of the river, and even the Shaba reserve located to the east. As mentioned earlier, the Samburu-Buffalo Springs bridge connecting the two reserves was washed away by floods multiple times and has only been rebuilt recently.

The protection offered by the vegetation, and the water supply of the Ewaso Ngiro makes this a haven for wildlife, though the dry seasons can be a little disappointing in terms of animal sightings. Lions, Cheetahs, Crocodiles and Elephants are plentiful, as are reticulated Giraffes, Grevy’s Zebras, Gerenuks, Hippos and of course Buffalos. Rhinos were once plentiful here, but poaching has resulted in no rhinos being present in these national reserves.

Meru National Park

Picture of Mount Meru taken from Olpopongo Massai Vilage

Mount Meru is not as high as neighboring Kilimanjaro, but with its 4562m it is still impressive. Photo Credit

Visiting the Meru National Park is an interesting experience, as it is almost guaranteed to be an exclusive safari experience. With an area of 870 square km, it is one of the best known National Parks in Kenya, deriving a lot of attention from Mt Meru. The turn of the century was not a good time for this National Park, as poaching had all but eradicated the wildlife from the park, but thankfully, the situation has much improved lately. The park’s popularity also comes from increasingly frequent sightings of all the Big 5 game animals. It’s wildlife thrives on the lush greenery and swampy areas courtesy the large rainfall in the area. The park, especially the western end, has a lot of vegetation, which leads to wildlife not being easily seen. Predators are well known to take advantage of this, which makes for a very interesting safari.

Meru is also the site where George and Joy Adamson released Elsa, the lioness, back into the wild, which was the subject and the story of ‘Born Free’, which was also made into a film.  Elsa attained worldwide fame as the first lioness successfully released back into the wild, as well as the first one to have contact after her release, and also the first known lion released in the wild, to have a litter of cubs.

Mount Elgon National Park

Visitors to the Mt Elgon National Park on the border of Kenya.

Visitors to the Mt Elgon National Park on the border of Kenya. Photo Credit

Mount Elgon National Park is a foot shaped area that is named after Mount Elgon, which comes from the Maasai name Ol Doinyo Ilgoon, which roughly translates to “Breast Mountain”. Other sources place the name after the Elkony people, who used to inhabit the spectacular caves on the slopes of the mountain.

Mount Elgon is an extinct volcano located on the border of Kenya and Uganda and is covered by clouds most of the time. The park has forested areas, caves and visitors here can experience game drives, hiking, hot spring baths and some good rock-climbing. Animals here are fewer, but growing. While you won’t spot lions here, a few elephants, buffaloes, and monkeys call the area home.  

A Final Word

I hope this guide has been useful in helping you plan for your Kenya Safari. In case you have further questions, my email address is [email protected] . You can also visit the AlienAdv blog , browse our website for various trips and generally feel free to reach out to me regarding your adventures. The best way to support our work would be to book a trip  via AlienAdv. If you would like to see more guides like this, you can buy this guide on Amazon as well. I would be glad to receive suggestions on how to improve the guide and some of your experiences on your African Safari.

Cheers!

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