On this page you can read more about Kenya to prepare yourself for your holiday. General information about the country, travel tips, the best travel time with regards to the climate, the time difference, safety tips and other useful information which might come in handy during your trip to Kenya.
Facts and Numbers
|Official languages||English and Swahili|
|Currency||Keniaanse Shilling (KES)|
|Time Difference||3 hours (2 hours during summertime)|
|Travel time||8 to 11 hours|
|Electricity||240 Volt, 50 Hz|
|Plugs||Type G (travel plug is required)|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Visa||Kenya visa is mandatory|
History of Kenya
Kenya has been inhabited for at least 2.000.000 years. Originally, this was by hunters that migrated across the country in small groups. About two thousand years ago trade routes with the Arab countries were established, as well as India and Indonesia. Arab traders founded several cities some fifteen hundred years ago. This allowed Islam to quickly become the most important religion in the country. About five hundred years ago the Portuguese landed in Mombasa. However, they were quickly driven off by the Arabs from Oman that controlled that region. In 1887, the British succeeded in colonising the the coastal region of Kenya. A decade later, this was expanded to the entirety of Kenya.
The importance of the railroad in Kenya
In 1895, railroads were laid between from Mombasa to Nairobi. This made it possible to cross the country in 12 hours. As the years passed, this track was neglected to such an extent that the same trip now took 24 hours in 2016. An investment from the Chinese state of some 3.6 billion dollars made it so the railroads could be fully replaced in 2017. This shortened the travel time to five hours. This track is an important lifeline for the country. This connections will, in the coming years, be expanded to a network that will connect the entirety of East-Africa (in part financed by the Chinese). The port of Mombasa plays a major role in this; this is the starting point of the train connection, which will open up trade between East-Africa and the rest of the world.
Independence of Kenya
In the Second World War, many Kenyans were forced to fight by the British. This helped foster a growing sense of aversion against the colonisers. During the four year uprising of the native Kenyan population, starting in 1952, the British killed over four thousand people. Nevertheless, as a result of continuous effort by the independence movement, Kenya managed to become an independent country in 1960. Jomo Kenyatta, the leader of the uprising, became the first president. Currently his son, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the president of Kenya. Uhuru has been frequently connected with corruption and election fraud.
Recent developments in Kenya
Kenya is a country experiencing large developments. The country is hard at work creating better infrastructure and more jobs. In 2005 the average gross income in Kenya was 520 dollars a year, in 2017 this had jumped to 1440 dollars. The number of Kenyans with access to electricity has doubled in the last six years, from 30% to 60%. This progress can also be found in the life expectancy. In 2005 this was 51 years, in 2018 it had grown to 67 years. This is mainly due to the reduce in child deaths of children up to five years; from 10% in 2000 to 5% in 2018. The number of children with HIV has also halved in the last ten years. However, that Kenya is progressing does not mean it is doing well. For instance, the capital of Nairobi has the largest slum in the whole of Africa. Many Kenyans still live in abject poverty.
Many tourists go looking for the Big Five, of which all the members can be found in Kenya
Highlights of Kenya
Most tourist going on a trip to Kenya visit the Masai Mara. This is the most popular natural reserve in the country, and also the only place where the ‘Big Five’ can be found. The leopard and the rhinoceros in particular are often hard to find. An ideal place to observe rhinos is Lake Nakuru. Both the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru can be reached in a few hours by car from Nairobi.
Aside from the flora and fauna, the beach is also a popular destination in Kenya. The most popular place for this is Diani Beach. The resorts are known for their white palm beaches. Aside from a nice place to relax, this beach is also a great base camp for scuba diving or kitesurfing. Those that really want to discover Kenya would do well to rent a car and explore the country on their own or with a guide. Read more about this on the page on what to do in Kenya.
Hell’s Gate is the only national park in Kenya that can be crossed by bike. Watch out for the lions!
Map of Kenya
Viewing a map of Kenya, the first thing you notice is that Kenya lies right on top of the equator. The majority of the inhabitants of the country live in the southern part, mostly south of the equator. This is because the north is too dry to grow crops. Of the 29 million inhabitants roughly 6.5 million live in and around Nairobi and 3 million live in and around Mombasa.
Climate and best travel time
Looking at the climate of Kenya, you can discern three different zones. The coast is warm and humid. The south-west has a temperate climate. And the north and east of Kenya (except for the coast) has a warm and dry climate. The topographical map above shows exactly where the climate borders are. The yellow area is the warm, dry zone, which splits the humid zone along the coast from the temperate zone in the southwest.
Optimal travel period for a holiday to the coast of Kenya
For the best travel time to the coast, for instance for a great beach vacation, the temperatures throughout the year don’t need to be looked at. These are very constant. Maximum temperatures lie between 27 degrees Celsius in July and 31 degrees in January. The minimum temperatures are also quite constant, between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius. However, rainfall can vary greatly in this area. The rainy season is from April to June. At its highpoint, May, one centimeter of rain falls each day. August to March are the driest months, it rarely rains more than four or five days a month, and almost never throughout the day.
Best travel time for the southwest of Kenya (and the national parks)
Most toerists visit Kenya in the summer. However, this is the cold period in the southwest. With an average day-maximum of 21 degrees Celsius it's still a great temperature for, say, a safari. In February/March the national park are at their warmest, on average 26 degrees. The difference between summer and winter thus remains limited in this part of Kenya as well.
Best travel time for the north of Kenya
The north (and a part of the east) of Kenya, yellow on the topographical map, is very warm and dry. It rains very little here, a little bit from March to May. The temperature in this part of the country is constant throughout the year and has a minimum of 22 degrees Celsius (at night) and a maximum of 36 years (in the day). The sun shines throughout the year, so a best travel period can’t really be given. Do keep in mind that the part of Kenya to the north of the equator can be unsafe. In particular, the border with Somalia is best avoided. The roads here are also of very poor quality, although there are plans for large-scale renovations in the coming years.
Best travel period: when the sun shines
Are you going on a safari or planning another activity in Kenya? Because Kenya is on the equator, you won’t need to worry about the time of the year. However, it is wise to consider the time of day. Another consequences of being on the equator is that the sun rises and sets very quickly. And this happens quite early. The sun in Kenya generally rises around six in the morning and sets around six-thirty in the evening. Because twilight is very brief and it is strongly advises not to go out alone at night, it is wise to keep this in mind when you plan an activity. Take note: due to its location on the equator, getting a ‘nice bit of sun’ can quickly lead to heavily burned skin within half an hour. Use sunscreen, it happens a lot faster than you might be used to at home!
Not difficult to find; the elephants in the Masai Mara.
Kenyan money: pay with the Kenyan Shilling (KES)
Kenya uses the Kenyan Shilling as currency. Sometimes, local travel bureaus (safari tour operators and resorts) ask for dollars. This mainly happens when the owner is not Kenyan, which happens regularly. By keeping this in mind, you can sometimes end up saving money. Regardless, you can almost always pay with Kenyan Shillings here as well.
The cheapest way to pay in Kenya is by withdrawing as much Kenyan Shilling as you can from an ATM in one go (the maximum is generally about €400). Use a banking pass (debit card) for this, rather than a credit card. If you are asked if you wish to perform the transaction with or without ‘conversion’, always choose ‘without conversion’. This makes it so you pay as little transaction costs as possible to the local Kenyan bank as well as you own bank back at home. Pinning is not always available in Kenya, especially outside of Nairobi. It is therefore always wise to keep sufficient cash money at hand, especially if you haven’t paid for your lodgings upfront. However, don’t keep too much money in your wallet, for safety reasons. It is best to keep a part of the money in your hand luggage, main luggage, accomodation and/or rental car.
You might need to unblock your debit card for use in Kenya. To avoid fraud, many banks have a safety measure in place for payments outside of Europe. Unblocking can be easily done through the website of your bank.
Internet and calling in Kenya
A good internet and telephone connection in Kenya is less self-evident than in Europe. Even hotels that offer wifi rarely possess fast internet. Mobile phone providers also offer mediocre services outside of densely populated areas in Kenya. The providers with the best coverage in Kenya is Safaricom. At the airports in Nairobi and Mombasa you can easily and relatively cheaply purchase a local sim card. A local Kenyan sim card with 500 minutes and 20 GB internet for use in 30 days costs about €25. Many Kenyans don’t have a bank account and use their call credit to pay in stores. Recharging call credit is therefore possible virtually everywhere. Including, and perhaps especially, in remote areas.
Crossing Kenya by rental car, plane or train
Are you only travelling between Nairobi and Mombasa? Then you can make use of the brand-new railroad connection between these cities. A car ride through this route takes about eight to eleven hours, while the train covers the same distance in just five hours. Are you travelling between Nairobi, Mombasa and/or Masai mara? Then you can also take the plane. However, renting a car might be the most beautiful way to travel through Kenya.
Renting a car in Kenya
Many tourists utilize a local guide, but others prefer to sit behind the wheel themselves. Always rent a car that is high up on its wheels, so not a sedan or hatchback. The roads are notoriously poor, especially outside of Nairobi. A four-wheel drive is not mandatory, however. Driving in and around Nairobi and Mombasa can often be frustrating, as traffic is very busy and chaotic. Trucks often go 20 to 50 kilometers an hour on the highway, and passing them can prove difficult. Do you get annoyed at traffic back home? Then it’s best to avoid renting a car in Kenya, as the conditions are likely much worse than you are used to. The further you get from Nairobi (in all directions), the better it gets; here, a rental car offers a great opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of Kenya.
Car insurance and international license
Will you be driving a car yourself in Kenya? Make sure your car has proper insurance. The easiest way to do this is to rent a car yourself with a company that is situated in your home country. Sometimes, the actual renting is then outsourced to a local car rental in Kenya, but at least you will be sure that everything is right from a legal perspective. Rental companies might ask for your regular license as well as an international license. Don’t have an international license? Then that will likely still not cause any issues.
Are you stopped along the way by the police? Always first call the rental company and have them do the talking with the police. Check before departure whether a good spare tire and a jack are present in the car. Got a flat tire along the way? Replace it right away and have the flat tire repaired at the nearest tank station (this generally doesn’t cost more than two to five euros). Don’t know how to replace a tire? In Kenya, you will almost always find someone nearby who can help. This also holds for just about anything you might need help with in Kenya; in general, the population is very friendly. They do expect a small reward, as a thank you for the help.
From a rental car you can get very close to the white rhino, but don’t leave the paths.
During European summer time (March to October) the difference between the UK and Kenya is 2 hours. During our winter, this difference is 3 hours. You won’t need to worry about any jetlag after arrival.
Safety and Health
To safely travel to Kenya, it is wise to get several things in order. This mainly concerns vaccinations, malaria prevention (pills) and avoiding high-risk parts of Kenya. Also make sure you have enough clean drinking water, you cannot drink the tap water. Are you part of the LGBTQ community? Take note; expressing your sexual orientation can be against the law in Kenya.
Travellers are only allowed into Kenya if they possess a valid visa. However, children up to and including 15 years receive a free visa at the passport check. The Kenya visa can be easily acquired online, through the online visa form on this website. Apply for the visa on time to avoid trouble; preferably at least a week before departure.
Apply for the Kenya visa right away