Kenya //

Travel essentials

Bargaining and receipts

Bargaining is an important skill to acquire, and you’ll need to get into it quickly; once you do, you’ll rarely end up paying more than the going rate for food, transport or accommodation. If you do pay an unreasonable price for goods or services, you contribute to local inflation, so be cautious over your purchases until you’ve established the value of things.

It’s surprising how little is sold at a fixed price: even hotel rooms are often negotiable and it’s always worth making an offer. You’re expected to knock down most negotiable prices by anything from ten percent to a half. Souvenirs are sometimes offered at first prices ten times what the vendor is actually prepared to accept. You can avoid the silly asking prices by having a chat and establishing your streetwise credentials. The bluffing on both sides is part of the fun; don’t be shy of making a big fuss and turning on the comedy. Where prices are marked, they are generally fixed, which you’ll quickly discover if you walk away and aren’t called back.

Petty bureaucracy is deeply ingrained in Kenya and you will often be given a handwritten receipt after making the most elementary payment. If you doubt whether the sum you’re being asked to pay is officially sanctioned, however – for example, an obscure entrance fee, a fee for a guide, or on occasions when police try to impose an on-the-spot fine – just asking for a receipt before you pay will often clarify matters.

Costs

Kenya can be expensive for budget travellers if you want to rent a car or go on organized safaris, especially in high season. By staying in B&Ls, eating in local places and using public transport, you can get by okay on $25–40 a day, though $50 would be more comfortable. It’s always cheaper per person if you’re travelling with others. Getting around by bus and matatu is inexpensive, but you can’t use public transport to visit the game parks. Renting a vehicle, and paying for fuel, will add at least $100 a day to your costs. If you’re in a group of three or more, it starts to become more reasonable. Don’t be tempted, however, to use the very cheap camping safari companies touted on the street.

If you’re travelling on a more comfortable budget then once you’ve forked out for your accommodation and transport (bearing in mind all-inclusive safari prices of around $300–1000 per person per day) you’re likely to find daily expenses refreshingly modest. Drinks in most hotels, tented camps and lodges run from around Ksh200–400 ($2.50–5) for a beer or a glass of house wine, and a main course in a restaurant generally costs around Ksh800–2000 ($8–25). Taxis are reasonably priced, but you need to establish the fare in advance.

Customs and duty-free

Duty-free allowances on entering Kenya are one bottle of spirits or wine and one carton of 200 cigarettes (or 50 cigars or 225g of tobacco). If you’re stopped at customs, you may be asked if you have any cameras, camcorders or the like. Unless you’re a professional with mountains of specialist gear, there should not be any question of paying duty on personal equipment, though some officials like to note it down in your passport to ensure it is re-exported. If you are taking presents for friends in Kenya, however, you are likely to have to pay duty if you declare the items.

Electricity

The mains electricity supply (220–240V) from Kenya Power and Lighting is inconsistent and unreliable, and all but the most basic establishments have backup generators and/or solar panels. Most hotels have electric-shaver sockets in the bathrooms. Wall sockets are the square, three-pin variety used in Britain. Appliances using other plug fittings will need an adaptor to fit Kenyan sockets (available in major supermarkets), while North American appliances that work only on 110V (most work on 110–240V) will also need a transformer.

Emergencies

For police, fire and ambulance dial t999. They often take ages to arrive. There’s also a national disaster line t911.

Entry requirements

Most nationals, including British, Irish, US, Canadian, Australian and EU passport-holders, need visas to visit Kenya, either obtained in advance or at the immigration counter on arrival. A number of Commonwealth nationals are exempt (New Zealand and South African passport-holders should be allowed a visa-free stay of up to thirty days, though the rules on this do not seem to be well established), while citizens of certain African and Middle Eastern nations must apply in advance. Children of the relevant nationalities also require visas and pay exactly the same. It’s a good idea, however, to check with a Kenyan embassy website to confirm the current situation. Also ensure that your passport will remain valid for at least six months beyond the end of your projected stay and that you have at least a couple of pages clear for the stamps.

Visas and visitor’s passes

Visas can be obtained in advance from Kenyan embassies, consulates or high commissions. Applications take up to three weeks to process, and require two passport-size photos. A single-entry tourist visa costs $50 or equivalent, multiple-entry visas $100 (valid for a year) and transit visas, if you’re simply changing planes or making a brief connection, $20. Remember that Kenyan diplomatic missions are closed on Kenyan public holidays. Visas are variously valid for entry to Kenya within three months or six months of the date of issue, depending on which embassy you use.

It’s usually easier and cheaper to get your visa on arrival (no postage or delays and no photos required), If you’re doing this, it’s a good idea to download the application form from an embassy website, and have it filled in and ready on arrival, in order to reduce your waiting time.

Once you have your visa, your passport will be stamped with a visitor’s pass. Various factors may influence the length of time actually granted, including your appearance, how much money you have and, fortunately, how long a stay you ask for. The maximum length of a visitor’s pass is three months.

A valid visitor’s pass issued on a single-entry visa allows re-entry to Kenya after a visit to Uganda or Tanzania. For other trips outside Kenya, unless you have a multiple-entry visa, you’ll need another visa to get back in.

If you intend to stay beyond the visitor’s pass date stamped in your passport, you should renew it before it expires, assuming your visa is still valid. Confusion over expiry dates can arise if, for example, you can’t decipher KVP5W/H (“Kenya Visitor’s Pass 5-Week Holiday”) – if you’re in any doubt, ask. If your visa is also about to expire, you’ll need to get a new one. You can stay in Kenya for a maximum of six months as a tourist, after which time you’ll have to leave East Africa. Visitor’s pass and visa renewals can be done at the immigration offices in Nairobi, Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and Kisumu.

Kenyan embassies

The Kenyan diplomatic missions that readers are likely to find most useful are listed here. There’s a full, official list at wbit.ly/KenyaEmbassies.

Australia

33–35 Ainslie Ave, Canberra t02 6247 4788, wkenya.asn.au.

Canada

415 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa, K1N 6R4 t613 563 1773, wkenyahighcommission.ca.

Ethiopia

Fikre Mariam Rd High 16, Kebelle 01, Addis Ababa t011 661 0033, e[email protected].

Ireland

11 Elgin Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 t01 613 6380, wkenyaembassyireland.net.

NewZealand

Closest representation: Australia.

South Africa

302 Brooks St, Menlo Park, Pretoria 0081 t012 362 2249, wkenya.org.za.

South Sudan

Hai-Neem, Juba t0811 823 664.

Sudan

Plot 516 Block 1, West Giraif, Street 60, Khartoum t0155 772 800, wkenembsud.org.

Tanzania

127 Mafinga St, Kinondoni, Dar-es-Salaam t022 266 8285, wkenyahighcomtz.org.

Uganda

Plot 41, Nakasero Rd, Kampala t041 258 232.

UK

45 Portland Place, London W1B 4AS t020 7636 2371, wkenyahighcommission.net.

US

2247 R St NW, Washington DC 20008 t202 387 6101, wkenyaembassy.com; Los Angeles consulate, Park Mile Plaza, 4801 Wilshire Boulevard, CA 90010 t0323 939 2408.

Kenyan embassies

The Kenyan diplomatic missions that readers are likely to find most useful are listed here. There’s a full, official list at wbit.ly/KenyaEmbassies.

Australia

33–35 Ainslie Ave, Canberra t02 6247 4788, wkenya.asn.au.

Canada

415 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa, K1N 6R4 t613 563 1773, wkenyahighcommission.ca.

Ethiopia

Fikre Mariam Rd High 16, Kebelle 01, Addis Ababa t011 661 0033, e [email protected].

Ireland

11 Elgin Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 t01 613 6380, wkenyaembassyireland.net.

NewZealand

Closest representation: Australia.

South Africa

302 Brooks St, Menlo Park, Pretoria 0081 t012 362 2249, wkenya.org.za.

South Sudan

Hai-Neem, Juba t0811 823 664.

Sudan

Plot 516 Block 1, West Giraif, Street 60, Khartoum t0155 772 800, wkenembsud.org.

Tanzania

127 Mafinga St, Kinondoni, Dar-es-Salaam t022 266 8285, wkenyahighcomtz.org.

Uganda

Plot 41, Nakasero Rd, Kampala t041 258 232.

UK

45 Portland Place, London W1B 4AS t020 7636 2371, wkenyahighcommission.net.

US

2247 R St NW, Washington DC 20008 t202 387 6101, wkenyaembassy.com; Los Angeles consulate, Park Mile Plaza, 4801 Wilshire Boulevard, CA 90010 t0323 939 2408.

 

Insurance

You’d do well to take out a travel insurance policy prior to travelling to cover against theft, loss, illness and injury. It’s worth checking, however, that you won’t duplicate the coverage of any existing plans you may have. For example, many private medical schemes include cover when abroad.

A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for loss of baggage, tickets and cash up to a certain limit, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid: in Kenya such sports could mean scuba-diving, windsurfing and climbing, though not vehicle safaris. If you take medical coverage, check there’s a 24-hour medical emergency number. When securing baggage cover, make sure that the limit per article, which is typically less than $1000, will cover your most valuable possessions, like a camera. If you need to make a claim, you should keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must obtain an official statement from the police validating the circumstances as explained by you to them.

Internet access

Internet cafés are increasingly widespread in Kenya, but they can still be thin on the ground in rural areas and connections can be painfully slow. Mornings are the best time to get a fast connection. If you can’t find a cybercafé, many post offices have internet facilities where you buy credit on a prepaid card. The browsing charge in most cyber cafés is Ksh1 per minute, though you’ll pay much more (up to Ksh25 per min) in hotel “business centres”. Wi-fi hot spots have yet to take off in a big way, but some hotels offer them, either as an extra, or increasingly as one of the benefits of staying with them.

With a 3G mobile phone, you can get online either roaming with your home service provider (which may prove extremely expensive) or using a local SIM card. Alternatively, if you have your laptop with you, you can buy a local internet service provider’s modem and SIM card to give you mobile broadband access. The set-up cost, currently around $20, is coming down all the time. Connectivity and speeds are improving, but be prepared for some frustration if you’re aiming to do more than email and browse. Whatever you select, ensure everything is working before you leave the shop: fortunately most mobile shops are very professional and the staff will ensure you are fully set up.

Laundry

There are virtually no launderettes in Kenya, but all hotels, lodges and tented camps run a laundry service for guests. Female underwear is normally excluded except where they have a washing machine (soap powder is provided for guests to do their own). In cheap hotels, you’ll easily find people offering the same service (dobi in Swahili), but again they often won’t accept female, and sometimes male, underwear. If you’re camping, you’ll find small packets of washing powder widely available, and clothes dry fast in the sun. Beware of tumbu flies, however, which lay their eggs on wet clothes where the larvae subsequently hatch and burrow into your skin. As the larva grows, it’s painful but harmless, reaching the size of a grain of rice after a few days until it breaks out, leaving a small, round scar. Not quite Alien, but still very unpleasant, and most people don’t wait to find out, but burst the early swelling and clean it with antiseptic. A good, hot iron should kill the eggs, which is why every item of your clothing will be returned neatly pressed. Don’t leave swimming costumes drying outside, but hang them in your shower.

Mail

There are main post offices in all the towns and, except in the far north, sub-post offices throughout the rural areas. Post offices are usually open Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat 9am–noon. Letters and airmailed parcels take a few days to reach Europe and around ten days to North America, Australia and New Zealand. If you want speedy delivery, pay a little extra for express. Times from these places to Kenya are slightly longer, and things go missing fairly frequently. The internal service, like the international one, is not particularly reliable.

There is no mail delivery service in Kenya: recipients have to collect their mail and all postal addresses comprise a post office box number and the name of a town or city. Some post offices now have five-number postal codes (the Nairobi GPO is 00100).

If you want to receive a letter, the Poste Restante (general delivery) service is free, and fairly reliable in Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu. Have your family name marked clearly, followed by “Poste Restante, GPO” and the name of the town. You’ll need to show your passport. Packages can be received, too, but many go missing, and expect to haggle over import duty when they’re opened in your presence. Ask the sender to mark the package “Contents To Be Re-exported From Kenya”. For large or valuable items, always use a courier. FedEx, DHL and UPS have branches or agents in all large towns.

Maps

There are very few good road maps of Kenya. The best available, without flattering ourselves, is the Rough Guide Map: Kenya & Northern Tanzania (1:950,000; 2004) printed on rip-proof, waterproof plastic paper, which is designed to work alongside this guide. If you can’t find the Rough Guide Map, the Reise Know-How Map: Kenia (1:950,000) is for the most part identical, although the 2012 update had some strange errors, including showing the whole of the Nairobi-Mombasa highway as a “route under construction”.

A local company (w touristmapskenya.com) has also licensed some of the Survey of Kenya material and published a number of maps of parks and reserves, which are available in bookshops and at park gates. Nairobi and Mombasa A-Z street atlases, available in bookshops, are being superseded by the all-enveloping Google Maps, which has already covered most of Kenya in impressive detail.

Money

Kenya’s currency, the Kenyan shilling (Ksh), is a colonial legacy based on the old British currency (as in pre-decimal Britain, Kenyans occasionally refer to shillings as “bob’’). There are notes of Ksh1000, 500, 200, 100 and 50, and coins of Ksh20, 10, 5, 1 and 50 cents (half a shilling). Some foreign banks stock shillings should you wish to buy some before you leave, but you’ll get rates about five percent less than what you might find in Kenya. You can import or export up to Ksh100,000 (you need the exchange receipts if exporting).

Because the Kenya shilling is a weak currency, prices for anything connected to the tourist industry tend to be quoted in US dollars. Cash dollars, together with British pounds and euros, are invariably acceptable, and often preferred, as payment. People often have calculators and know the latest exchange rates. At the time of writing, the rates of exchange were approximately Ksh135 to £1, Ksh85 to $1 and Ksh110 to €1. If you take $100 bills to Kenya, be sure they are less than five years old as they won’t be exchangeable in many places otherwise.

While most prices in this book are given in Kenyan shillings or US dollars, the occasional use of euros or pounds sterling reflects the way hotels and tour operators price their services.

Credit and debit cards, and ATMs

The best way to carry your money is in the form of plastic. This is not so much because you can use credit or debit cards to buy things (though increasingly you can), but because they’re more secure than cash, and you can use them at ATMs. Most bank branches have ATMs inside a secure booth and guards on the street outside. There’s often a line of local people waiting to withdraw cash, though you rarely have to wait long.

Many banks have 24-hour ATMs, including most branches of Barclays (w bit.ly/BarclaysKenyaATMs), Standard Chartered (w bit.ly/SCBKenyaATMs), Kenya Commercial (w bit.ly/KCB-ATMs) and Equity (w equitybank.co.ke) banks. The machines variously accept cards with Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard, Plus or Cirrus symbols. You’ll have to ask your own bank what charge they make per withdrawal: the cost varies. Many banks also give cash advances in Kenya shillings (and, if you’re in Nairobi or parts of the coast, in US dollars or pounds) on Visa and MasterCard credit cards. The maximum amount you can withdraw per day is usually Ksh40,000 from an ATM, or Ksh50,000 over the counter.

Visa credit cards are widely accepted for tourist services such as upmarket hotels and restaurants, flights, safaris, and car rental; MasterCard and others are more limited. There’s usually a two- to five-percent mark-up on top of the price for the cost of the transaction to the company. Chip-and-pin transactions have barely arrived in Kenya, and credit card fraud is not uncommon, so if you’re paying a sum in shillings, make sure you’ve filled in the leading digits with zeros and the voucher specifies the currency before you sign. If it doesn’t, it’s all too easy for the vendor to fill in a $, € or £ sign in front of the total after you’ve left.

Exchanging money

You can exchange hard currency in cash at banks and foreign exchange (“forex”) bureaux all over the country, and also at most large hotels, though for a substantially poorer rate. US dollars, British pounds and euros are always the most easily changed. Always check the commission and any charges, as they may vary mysteriously, even within branches of the same bank.

Cash invariably attracts better rates than travellers’ cheques which, in the age of the ATM, are rarely worth the trouble, especially as you need to have the original receipts as well as your passport and the patience of a saint when waiting in the bank to cash them.

Banks are usually open Mon–Fri 9am–3pm, Sat 9–11am (some branches are not open every Sat). In out-of-the-way places, you may have to wait until the rates arrive from Nairobi.

Foreign exchange (forex) bureaux usually offer better rates of exchange than banks. The Central Bank of Kenya publishes a list of licensed independent forex dealers: w bit.ly/KenyaForexBureaux.

Street moneychangers in Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi may offer slightly better than official rates, but this black market is illegal, and many of them are chancers aiming to rip you off or even muggers looking to lure you into an alley. An exception is when entering Kenya by land from Uganda or Tanzania, where moneychangers in the border towns will give Kenyan shillings for Ugandan or Tanzanian shillings or cash US dollars. Local authorities turn a blind eye, but always count the shillings very carefully before handing over your hard currency.

Wiring money

Having money wired from home is not cheap, but it is relatively easy. You can have it sent with Western Union (w westernunion.com) to branches of PostBank and KCB, or with MoneyGram (w moneygram.com) to branches of the Co-op Bank and some forex bureaux. The transfer is instantaneous, and fees depend on the amount being transferred. Wiring $1000, for example, will cost around $65.

At the time of writing, M-Pesa, the much more affordable mobile-to-mobile money transfer system that has transformed Kenya’s rural economy, was planning to go international. Operated by Safaricom, M-Pesa could allow Kenyans to make payments overseas and, potentially, enable overseas mobile-phone users to make payments to people with mobiles in Kenya.

Museums and historical monuments

Kenya’s museums are always worth visiting if you’re in the neighbourhood, although perhaps only the National Museum in Nairobi, Fort Jesus in Mombasa and Lamu Museum deserve a special visit. They’re run by the National Museums of Kenya (w museums.or.ke), which also coordinates archeological digs and looks after various sites and monuments – several of which, such as the ruins of Gedi on the coast, and Thimlich Ohinga near Lake Victoria, are impressive and highly recommended. If you’re visiting Nairobi, it’s worth getting the special-rate pass that entitles you to free entry to all the sites and museums for a month (see Museums in Kenya).

Opening hours

Opening hours tend to follow patterns you’re likely to be familiar with. In larger towns, major stores are open Mon–Sat 8am–5pm or 9am–6pm, often with a break for lunch. Large supermarkets are increasingly open late in the evenings and big towns often have at least one 24-hour Nakumatt hypermarket. Tourism businesses such as travel agents, car rental firms and airline offices are usually open Mon–Fri 8am–5pm or 9am–6pm, plus Sat 9am–noon. Banks are usually open Mon–Fri 9am–3pm, and Sat 9–11am. Museums are usually open seven days a week. Post offices are usually open Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat 9am–noon. Most other offices are closed all weekend. In rural areas, small shops can be open at almost any hour. Some petrol stations stay open late, but very few are open all night.

Phones and mobiles

Kenya’s conventional landline telephone system, run by Telkom (operator t 900), appears to be in terminal decline. Where it works, people use it because it can be the cheapest way to make a call, but in many towns, the local phones, including the call boxes, are all but defunct. If you borrow someone’s phone, or you can find a working payphone (some large post offices have working boxes), then you should be able to call internationally (see International codes when calling from Kenya) as well as in Kenya. The easiest way is with a Telkom Kenya scratch card, available in various values and durations. The cards can be used for local and international calls from any landline phone with tone dialling, including call boxes.

Kenya’s area codes are all three figures, comprising 0 plus two digits. The subscriber numbers are five, six or seven digits, with all numbers moving (in theory) to seven digits.

Kenya also has CDMA wireless lines, which are vastly more reliable than land lines. Like Nairobi land lines, wireless lines always have the code t 020, followed by a seven-digit number.

Mobile phones

Mobile (cell) phones outnumber landlines in Kenya, and most of the country has coverage. The main exception is the far north, but reception can also be patchy in thinly populated rural areas.

Mobile phone services are provided by Safaricom (the biggest operator), and its rivals Airtel and Orange. All Safaricom and Airtel numbers begin with a four-digit code starting 07, followed by a six-digit number.

Unless your mobile is very old, it is almost certain to work in Kenya, but very high charges make using it on roaming unattractive for anything but emergencies.

There are two easy options: either buy a cheap handset from any mobile phone shop, which will cost around $20, or buy a Kenyan pay-as-you-go SIM card (around Ksh100) and temporarily replace the SIM card in your mobile. As well as standard mini-SIMs, the cut-down micro-SIMs for iPhones and other smart phones are widely available. Check with your home service provider that your phone is not locked to their network (unlocking, if necessary, can be done anywhere).

Once you have your Kenyan SIM installed (any phone shop, from the airport onwards, will sell you one and put it in your phone), you can buy airtime cards literally anywhere, rubbing a scratch number, which you use to key in the top-up. Most Kenyans top up with Ksh50 or Ksh100, a deeply resented pricing structure that gives them poor rates per minute. Ksh1000 will give you very low-price calls (as low as Ksh3 per minute and Ksh2 per text on the same network) and should last you for a short holiday.

For most short-term visitors to Kenya, it’s fairly immaterial whether you choose an Airtel, Orange or Safaricom SIM card. They continually outbid each other for value and flexibility. If, however, you’re travelling more widely in East Africa, you’ll find Airtel’s One Network service handy. It allows you to use the same SIM card throughout Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and several other countries, while topping up in the local currency.

International calls

To call Kenya from abroad, dial your country’s international access code followed by 254 for Kenya, then the Kenyan area code or mobile-phone code (omitting the initial 0), and then the number itself.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have a special telephone code agreement, used just between them, which replaces their international access and country codes with a single three-digit code, t 005 for Kenya, t 006 for Uganda and t 007 for Tanzania. So, if you’re calling Kenya from Uganda or Tanzania, you dial t 005, then the Kenya area code (omitting the initial zero), then the number. Note, however, that on mobiles, no matter where you’re dialling from, the codes for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are the usual, international +254, +255 and +256.

To call out of Kenya, the international access code is 000, followed by the country code followed by the number, omitting any initial 0 (this includes calls to mobiles being used with foreign-registered SIM cards in Kenya).

Photography

Kenya is immensely photogenic, and with any kind of camera you’ll get beautiful pictures. But if you want good wildlife shots, you’ll need a camera with an optical magnification of at least 10x on a point-and-shoot camera or 400mm-equivalent on a DSLR. Such telephoto capabilities are essential if you want pictures of animals rather than savanna. Wildlife photography is largely about timing and patience. Keep your camera always to hand and, in a vehicle, always turn off the engine.

Keep your camera in a dust-proof bag. If it uses a rechargeable battery, take a spare – you will always run out of power at the critical moment if you don’t. If you intend to email digital pictures home or store them online, note that cybercafés don’t always have computers with USB ports, and that uploading can take a very long time. The lack of USB also means you may have difficulty archiving your photos to CD (at least you can buy CDs and DVDs widely), so it pays to take plenty of memory cards with you, or a separate storage device.

When photographing local people you need to be sensitive and always ask permission first. If you don’t accept that some kind of interaction and exchange are warranted, you won’t get many pictures. Though most people are tolerant of cameras, the superstition that photos capture part of the soul is still prevalent in some areas, and there can be a special objection to photography of children or animals, whose souls may be considered especially vulnerable. The idea that your photos may show Kenya in a poor light is also common. The Maasai and Samburu, Kenya’s most colourful and photographed people, are usually prepared to do a deal (bargain over the price, as you would for any payment), and in some places you’ll even find professional posers making a living at the roadside. Other people may be happy to let you take their picture for free, but will certainly appreciate it if you take their name and address, and send a print when you get home, or email the shot to them.

Note that it’s always a bad idea to take pictures of anything that could be construed as strategic, including any military or police building, prisons, airports, harbours, bridges and the president or his entourage.

Place names

Place names in Kenya can be confusing to outsiders. In some parts, every town or village seems to have a name starting with the same syllable. In the Kenya highlands, you’ll find Kiambu, Kikuyu, Kiganjo, Kinangop and so on. Further west you confront Kaptagat, Kapsabet, Kapenguria and Kapsowar. If you find this problematic, just get into the habit of “de-stressing” the first syllable and remembering the second.

A more practical problem all over rural Kenya is the vague use of names to denote a whole district and, at the same time, its nucleus, be it a small town, a village, or just a cluster of corrugated-iron shops and bars. Sometimes there’ll be two such focuses. They often move in a matter of a few years, so what looks like a junction town on the map turns out to be away from the road, or in a different place altogether. Ask for the “shopping centre” and you’ll usually find the local hive of activity and the place with the name you were looking for. Note that Makutano, a very common name, just means “junction” in Swahili.

Time

Kenya’s time zone is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (UTC) all year round (thus two hours ahead of British Summer Time). It’s eight hours ahead of North American Eastern Standard Time, and eleven hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. Take off an hour from these (ie seven hours and ten hours respectively) during summer daylight saving time. Kenya is seven hours behind Sydney and nine hours behind New Zealand; add an hour to these during summer daylight saving time.

Sunrise comes between 6am and 6.40am and sunset between 6.10pm and 6.50pm throughout the year. Dawn arrives earliest on the coast and the sun sets latest on Lake Victoria. Because of its equatorial location, there are no short days or long evenings in Kenya.

If you’re learning Swahili, remember that “Swahili time” runs from dawn to dusk to dawn rather than midnight to midday to midnight: 7am and 7pm are both called saa moja (one o’clock) while midnight and midday are saa sita (six o’clock). It’s not as confusing as it first sounds – just add or subtract six hours to work out Swahili time (or read the opposite side of your watch).

Tipping and gifts

If you’re staying in tourist-class establishments, tipping is expected, though ironically, in the cheapest establishments, where employees are likely to be on very low wages, it is not the custom. In expensive hotels, Ksh100 wouldn’t be out of place for seeing you to your room with your bags (and £1, $1 or €1 would also be very acceptable, though the employee has to change the money, which can be difficult; shillings are always better). It isn’t necessary to tip waiting staff constantly while staying in a hotel. Fortunately, many hotels have a gratuities box in reception, where you can leave a single tip for all the staff – including room staff and backroom staff – when you leave, in which case Ksh500 or Ksh1000 per room per day is about right. In tourist-class restaurants, tips aren’t essential, but leaving a tip equivalent to ten percent of the bill for your waiter would be generous. Note that on safaris, tips are considered very much part of the pay and you’re expected to shell out at the end of the trip.

As for gifts, ballpoint pens and pencils are always worth taking and will be appreciated by children as well as adults. Many visitors take more clothes with them than they intend to return with, leaving T-shirts and other items with hotel staff and others along the way: there’s even a website devoted to this concept where your philanthropic instincts can be more precisely honed (w stuffyourrucksack.com). Bear in mind, however, that all this largesse deprives local shops and businesses of your surplus wealth and perpetuates a dependency culture. Assuming you can spare a little, it’s always better to make a positive gift of cash to a recognized institution which can go into the local economy while providing local needs in a school, clinic or other organization.

Tourist information

The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB w magicalkenya.com) doesn’t run any walk-in offices abroad, but has franchised its operations to local PR companies, who are often very helpful. In addition to the UK and US offices, there are KTB representative offices in Düsseldorf, Dubai, Hong Kong, Madrid, Milan, Netherlands, New Delhi, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto (addresses at w magicalkenya.com).

There are several good arts and culture blogs and websites and you can always ask practical questions and expect a useful reply – often from the author of this Rough Guide – at the very good online Kenya forums at w safaritalk.net, w bit.ly/FodorsKenya, w bit.ly/ThorntreeKenya, w bit.ly/TA-Africaforums or the Rough Guide to Kenya blog itself at w bit.ly/ExpertKenya.

Once you’re in Kenya, the only official tourist offices are in Eldoret, Mombasa and Malindi.

Kenya tourist board offices

UK

c/o Hills Balfour, Colechurch House, 1, London Bridge Walk, London SEI 2SX t020 7367 0900, whillsbalfour.com.

US

c/o Myriad Marketing, 1334 Parkview Avenue Suite, 300 Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, t310 545 3047, wmyriadmarketing.com.

US

c/o Myriad Marketing, 1334 Parkview Avenue Suite, 300 Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, t 310 545 3047, w myriadmarketing.com.

Travelling with children

Wherever you go, local people will be welcoming to your children, and only in exceptional cases are under-7s barred from certain lodges (the tree-hotels, for example). Babies, if they’re easy-going, can be relatively straightforward, but taking toddlers and young children to Kenya can be quite a hassle in terms of supervision and organization. It obviously helps if they are huge animal fans: if they’re not enchanted by the wildlife and environment, you may find the overall adventure isn’t enough reward for journeys that can be long and tiring.

Health issues figure most prominently in most people’s minds, but you can largely discount fears about your children getting a tropical disease in Kenya (remember how many healthy expat children have been brought up there: the biggest health problem for Kenyan children is poverty). It can, however, be very difficult to persuade small children to take malaria pills. Be sure to cover children carefully with a Deet-based mosquito repellent early each evening and ensure they sleep under secure nets. Every morning, smother them in factor forty sunscreen, insist they wear hats, and make sure they get plenty of fluids.

In terms of what to bring, disposable nappies/diapers are available from supermarkets, as are baby foods, and hotel kitchens usually have a good variety of fresh food and, given some warning, staff will happily prepare it to infants’ tastes. If you have a light, easily collapsible buggy, bring it. Many hotels and lodges have long paths from the central public areas to the rooms or cottages. A child-carrier backpack is another very useful accessory. Unless you‘re exclusively staying on the coast, bring some warm clothing for upcountry mornings and evenings, when temperatures can drop quite low. If the children are old enough to enjoy spotting animals, make sure they have their own binoculars.

For a young family, going on a group safari with other travellers is probably inadvisable. Renting a vehicle and driving yourself, or taking a driver, is quite feasible, however, and gives you the flexibility and privacy you need for toilet stops and other interruptions. For babies and young children you’ll need a car seat, which, if you have the right model, also works as an all-purpose carrier, poolside recliner and picnic throne.

Some parks are more child-friendly than others. At Nairobi and Lake Nakuru distances are small and the animals close, and Amboseli is usually a hit, too, for its manageable size and large numbers of elephants.

Given a few hours’ notice, most tourist hotels and lodges can organize a babysitter from the housekeeping staff, who should cost around Ksh500–1000 for an evening, though few hotels will have anyone with a childcare qualification. In safari camps and lodges, you can speak to the restaurant manager and arrange for an askari (night watchman) to sit outside to keep an ear open for the little ones at your room or tent while you’re having dinner.

Travellers with disabilities

Although by no means easy, Kenya does not pose insurmountable problems for people with disabilities. While there is little government support for improving access, travel industry staff and passers-by are usually prepared to help whenever necessary. For wheelchair-users and those who find stairs hard to manage, many hotels have ground-floor rooms, a number on the coast have ramped access, and larger hotels in Nairobi have elevators. While the vast majority of hotels, lodges and tented camps have at least some rooms that are ramped or with only one or two steps, most only have showers, not bathtubs, and few have any properly adapted facilities.

The majority of safari vehicles, too, are not ideal for people with impaired mobility. Off-road trips can be very arduous and you should take a pressure cushion for game drives.

If you’re flying from the UK, you can avoid a change of plane by going with BA or Kenya Airways direct from London to Nairobi. All charter flights are direct (if they’re not always non-stop, at least you won’t need to change), but they only go to Mombasa.

If you’re looking for a tour, contact the disabled and special needs travel specialists Go Africa in Diani Beach (w go-africa-safaris.com) and the highly recommended Mombasa-based Southern Cross (w southerncrosssafaris.com), who are one of the few mainstream companies to offer special safaris for people with mobility impairments.

Work and volunteering

Unless you have lined up a job or voluntary work before arriving in Kenya, you have little chance of getting employment. Wages are extremely low – for school teachers, for example, they start at the equivalent of less than $200 per month, while hotel staff wages can be less than half that – and there is serious unemployment in the towns. Particular skills are sometimes in demand but the employer will need to arrange the necessary papers. It’s illegal to obtain income in Kenya while staying on a visitor’s pass.

An international work camp is no holiday, and conditions are usually primitive, but it can be a lot of fun, too, and is undoubtedly worthwhile. One group to contact is the Kenya Voluntary Development Association (w kvda.or.ke), a locally inspired organization bringing Kenyans and foreigners together in a number of locations across the country – digging irrigation trenches, making roads, building schools, or just producing as many mud bricks as possible. The minimum age is 18 and there’s no formal upper age limit, but volunteers older than 25 are unusual. The groups are very mixed in terms of nationality. The programmes, which include basic accommodation, meals and transport in Kenya, start at around €250 for two weeks – not including flights.

Other groups employing volunteers in community projects are Volunteer Kenya (w volunteerkenya.org), whose main focus is on AIDS awareness, education and women’s income generation, and Kenya Voluntary Community Development Project (w kvcdp.org), which works in a variety of fields and in Kenya is known as Inter-Community Development Involvement (ICODEI). Both organizations have bases in western Kenya and the fees for a month are around $1200.

An alternative would be to compromise and take a working holiday with a commercial “voluntourism” organization. One of the better companies is Camp Kenya.