Prices in formal shops are fixed but they aren’t in markets or street-side stalls, and generally vendors will attempt to ask tourists for more than an item’s real value. Bargaining is an important skill to acquire, not just when buying curios and souvenirs but also when negotiating fees for services such as taxi rides and guides, and even for hotel rooms and excursions (though for these last it will usually only work when things are quiet). Remember that if you pay an unreasonable price for goods or services, you’ll make it harder for the next person and contribute to local inflation, so always be cautious over your purchases.
You’re expected to knock down most negotiable prices by anything from ten percent to a half. Souvenirs are sometimes offered, at first, at 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.
There are no fast rules, but don’t begin if you’re in a hurry; don’t show interest if you’re not thinking of buying; and never offer a price you are not prepared to pay. Equally, as you’ll quickly discover if you walk away and aren’t called back, if you don’t offer enough the vendor simply won’t sell it to you.
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 $30–50 a day. It’s always cheaper per person if you can share accommodation – it’s not uncommon for hotels in Kenya to have three or four beds in some rooms, and you could ask to stay in a family room even at safari lodges and beach resorts. 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 and vehicle entry fees to the parks and reserves, will add at the very least $120 a day to your costs. However, if you’re in a group of three or more, it starts to become more reasonable. You could also visit the parks on a cheap camping safari, though check what you’re getting for the price – the cheapest companies don’t necessarily offer the best value for money, and if you’re only ever going once it’s definitely worth considering spending more. On the coast, there are few cheap hotels away from the expensive all-inclusive beach resorts, but there’s the option of negotiating accommodation on a room-only basis or renting a self-catering cottage.
For those on a more comfortable budget, an all-inclusive safari with road transport plus accommodation in a lodge or tented camp will cost from around $300 per person per day, and a night in an all-inclusive beach resort from around $120 per person per day; both can rise to well over $1000 per day depending on the level of luxury. Then you need to add the cost of flights, if you prefer to fly between destinations. That said, once you’ve forked out for those costs, 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 ($8–20). Taxis are reasonably priced, but you need to establish the fare in advance (see p.56).
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. If you are taking presents for friends in Kenya, however, you are likely to have to pay duty if you declare the items.
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. Some of the more remote safari lodges and tented camps are not on the national grid, and therefore rely solely on generators. They will advise when these are switched on – usually for a few hours in the evening and the early morning. 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.
For police, fire and ambulance dial t999. They often take ages to arrive. Another option in Nairobi if you are on the Safaricom phone network, is to call the Security 911 line (911), which sends out an alert for a security vehicle, of which there are more than fifty around the city.
Entry requirements and visas
Most nationals, including British, Irish, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and EU passport-holders, need visas to visit Kenya. Nationals from a number of African countries are exempt, including South African passport-holders, who are allowed a visa-free stay of up to thirty days. 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 it has at least two blank pages for stamps – this is a requirement, not just a recommendation.
Visas can be obtained in advance from Kenyan embassies or high commissions, either in person or by post. A single-entry visa (valid for ninety days) costs $50 or equivalent. A transit visa (allowing you to enter Kenya for a maximum of 72 hours before flying to a neighbouring country) costs $20 or equivalent. If you’re not leaving the airport, a transit visa is not required. A multiple-entry visa costs $100 and is valid for a year.
In September 2015 a new eVisa service was introduced allowing you to upload your passport details and photo, pay for the visa in advance by credit card, and print out an approval form to take with you. The system generally works and in theory should make arrival faster. However, although the plan was to make the eVisa system mandatory, it currently operates alongside the other methods of obtaining a visa, and there is no dedicated queue system at the airport to give those with eVisas any advantage.
It is still usually easier to get your visa on arrival. No photos are required and you pay in cash (new notes) only. Download the application form, and have it filled in ready on arrival. Once you have your visa, your passport will be date-stamped with a visitor’s pass along with a (sometimes barely legible) hand-written endorsement. The standard shorthand for showing the length of stay you have been granted is as follows: “KVP2W/H”, meaning “Kenya Visitor’s Pass 2-Week Holiday”, or however long you have been given.
Surprisingly, a single-entry visa allows re-entry to Kenya after a visit to Uganda or Tanzania. For other trips beyond Kenya’s borders, unless you have a multiple-entry visa for Kenya (obtainable only at an embassy or on arrival), you will need another visa to get back in.
If you intend to stay beyond the period written in your passport, you should renew the visitor’s pass before it expires, assuming your visa is still valid, which should be free. If your visa is also about to expire, you’ll need to buy 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; addresses for these are given in the relevant sections in the Guide..
The Kenyan diplomatic missions that readers are likely to find most useful are listed here. There’s a full list at embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/kenya.
33–35 Ainslie Ave, Canberra t02 6247 4788, wkenya.asn.au.
415 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa, K1N 6R4 t613 563 1773, wkenyahighcommission.ca.
High 16, Kebelle 01, Addis Ababa 011 661 0033.
11 Elgin Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 t01 613 6380, wkenyaembassyireland.net.
Closest representation: Australia.
302 Brooks St, Menlo Park, Pretoria 0081 t012 362 2249, wkenya.org.za.
Hai-Neem, Juba 0959 099 900.
Plot 516 Block 1, West Giraif, Street 60, Khartoum t0155 772 800.
Cnr Ali Hassan Mwinyi Rd/Kaunda Drive, Oysterbay, Dar-es-Salaam t022 266 8285, wkenyahighcomtz.org.
Cnr Acacia Ave/Lower Kololo Terrace, Kampala 041 258 232.
45 Portland Place, London W1B 4AS t020 7636 2371, kenyahighcom.org.uk.
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.
Wi-fi is widely available in urban areas, with free or low-cost access in the airports at Nairobi and Mombasa, some of the modern shopping malls, most hotels and beach resorts, many city coffee shops and an increasing number of public places (especially in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu). However, don’t expect it in rural areas, small, out-of-the-way towns and villages, or at remote tented camps.
While wi-fi in cafés is usually free, at hotels it can either be offered free as part of the service (more often than not in the more expensive places) or is charged for, with access requiring a voucher and password. Charges vary but you shouldn’t have to pay more than Ksh100–200 per hour.
If you are using a 3G or 4G mobile phone or device, bear in mind that data charges will be a lot cheaper with a local Kenyan SIM card than using your home service provider’s roaming service. If you have a laptop, you can buy a Kenyan internet service provider’s USB 3G or 4G stick (modem/router) and SIM card (and equally swap the SIM card into your iPad or tablet) and use pay-as-you-go data bundles. These can be purchased at any phone shop (Safaricom, Airtel and Orange), all widely found in urban areas, and the set-up cost, currently around $20, is coming down all the time. Ensure everything is fully set up before you leave the shop: fortunately staff at most stores are very professional and helpful.
Despite the decreasing need for them, internet cafés can be found in many towns, particularly those with a college or university, and larger conference-style hotels have “business centres” where you can get online. Expect to pay around Ksh1/minute for access.
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 inflamed bump. Not quite Alien, but still very unpleasant, and most people don’t wait to find out, but burst the 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.
There are main post offices in all the towns and, except in the far north, sub-post offices throughout the rural areas. Run by Posta Kenya, post offices are usually open Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat 9am–noon. Letters and airmailed parcels take about a week to reach Europe and around ten days to North America, Australia and New Zealand. Parcels need to be wrapped in brown paper and string. This needs to be done at the post office as contents are checked to see if export duty must be paid. For all mail costs, there’s usefully a cost calculator on Posta Kenya’s website. For large or valuable items, always use a courier. FedEx and DHL have branches or agents in all large towns, and Posta Kenya runs its own courier/tracking service from post offices known as EMS (Expedited Mail Service).
If you want to receive a letter, the Poste Restante (general delivery) service is free, and fairly reliable in Nairobi and Mombasa. 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”.
There are very few good road maps of Kenya. The best available is the Reise Know-How’s Kenia map (1:950,000; 2012)), printed on rip-proof, waterproof plastic paper, followed by ITMB International Travel Maps’ Kenya (1:920,000; 2014).
A local company, touristmapskenya.com, publishes a number of maps including of the major parks and reserves highlighting interior roads and junction numbers, plus maps of greater Nairobi and of the Kenyan coast. These are available in bookshops, some large supermarkets like Nakumatt and at park gates.
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). In Kenya, prices are indicated either by Ksh or by the /= notation after the amount (500/= for example). 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. If you take US dollar 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 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.
Credit and debit cards are more secure than cash, can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs and increasingly to buy things. Visa and MasterCard are the most common, but Cirrus and Plus cards are also accepted at some ATMs. Also useful are pre-paid currency cards (also known as travel money cards or cash passports) affiliated with Visa and MasterCard, which can also be used to withdraw money at ATMs. As well as at banks, ATMs can also be found at petrol stations and shopping malls. On the street, always find one inside a secure booth or with a guard on duty. ATMs usually offer the best rate of exchange, but home banks charge a fee for withdrawing cash from a foreign ATM and there may be a daily limit.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted for tourist services such as upmarket hotels, curio shops and restaurants, flights, safaris and car rental. There’s usually a five-percent mark-up on top of the price for the cost of the transaction to the company. Most transactions use chip-and-PIN, but if you’re paying by using a manual machine, 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.
You can exchange hard currency in cash at banks and foreign exchange (“forex”) bureaus 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 slightly. Many banks and forex bureaus also give over-the-counter cash advances in Kenyan shillings (and in Nairobi or along parts of the coast, in US dollars or pounds) on MasterCard and Visa cards. Travellers’ cheques are not worth the trouble.
Banks are usually open Mon–Fri 9am–3pm, Sat 9–11am (some smaller branches are not open every Sat). Forex bureaus usually offer better rates of exchange than banks and are open longer hours (often on Sunday mornings too). Changing money on the street is illegal – ignore any offers as you will most likely be ripped off and run the risk of being arrested if caught. An exception is when entering or leaving Kenya by land from Ethiopia, Uganda or Tanzania, where changing each country’s currency to or from Kenyan shillings is deemed acceptable. But be careful with any transaction – always count notes very carefully before swapping, and if at all possible wait to get cash at an ATM.
Shops are generally open Mon–Sat 8am–5pm, with the smaller ones having a break for lunch. In parts of the coast, and especially Muslim areas like Lamu, shops are more likely to close for an afternoon siesta (2–4pm) but they will stay open later in the evening. Muslim-owned shops may also close on Fridays, and correspondingly open on Sundays. Large supermarkets have extended hours until at least 7pm every day, and big towns often have at least one 24-hour Nakumatt hypermarket. Small kiosk-type shops (dukas) can be open at almost any hour.
Tourism businesses such as travel agents, car rental firms and airline offices are usually open Mon–Fri 8am–6pm, plus Sat 9am–noon. Banks are open Mon–Fri 9am–3pm and most open Sat 9–11am, too, while forex bureaus stay open later and some are open on Sunday mornings as well. Museums and historical sites are open seven days a week, usually 8.30am–5.30pm; Museums run by National Museums of Kenya, such as the National Museum in Nairobi, Fort Jesus in Mombasa and Lamu Museum, are open daily 8.30am–6pm. Post offices open Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat 9am–noon, though smaller branches will close for an hour over lunch. Most other offices are closed all weekend. Most petrol stations stay open late, and there are 24-hour ones on the major highways and in urban areas.
In national parks and reserves, gates are open from sunrise to sunset, and given that Kenya is on the equator, these times stay the same virtually all year round: 6am–7pm.
Phones and mobiles
The need for Kenya’s conventional landline telephone system, run by Telkom Kenya, is now virtually nil. The vast majority of adult Kenyans (a staggering estimated 90 percent) are mobile phone users, and while businesses still have landlines, they nearly always use an additional cell phone too. Traditional call boxes, where they still exist (even Kenyans have a giggle at the sight of these archaic contraptions), have either been decommissioned or are defunct. If you do need to find a working call box, your best bet will be a post office. Landline area codes are all three figures, comprising 0 plus two digits. The subscriber numbers are five, six or seven digits depending on area: Nairobi numbers have seven, while a small northern town may have only five.
Most of the country has mobile (cell) phone coverage. The main exception is the far north, but reception can also be patchy in thinly populated rural areas further south and in the remoter parks and reserves.
Mobile phone services are provided by Safaricom (the biggest operator), and its rivals Airtel and Orange. All mobile phone 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 and starter pack (around Ksh200) 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. A Ksh1000 card will give you very low-price calls (as low as Ksh4 per minute and Ksh1 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.
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).
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. Also take plenty of memory cards with you, or a separate storage device.
Though most people are tolerant of cameras, the superstition that photos capture part of the soul is still prevalent in some areas. When photographing local people always be sensitive and ask permission first; not to do so would be rude. If you don’t accept that some kind of interaction and exchange are warranted, you won’t get many pictures. The Maasai and Samburu, Kenya’s most colourful and photographed people, are usually prepared to do a deal (bargain over the price), 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. The idea that your photos may show Kenya in a poor light is also common. The idea that your photos may show Kenya in a poor light is also common.
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.
Kenya’s time zone is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) 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. South Africa Standard Time is one hour behind Kenya all year round.
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 noon 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. But never just give them away freely as this just encourages begging – rather donate them in exchange for something, like taking a photograph or having chat and look at the children’s schoolbooks. 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. 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.
The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB; 020 2711262) has reasonable information on its website. It 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 Australia, Canada, China, Dubai, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia (addresses on website).
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, Malindi and Lamu.
Kenya tourist board offices
35 Grafton St, Bondi Junction, Sydney 2022, 02 9028 3577.
c/o VoX International Inc., 2 Bloor St West, Suite 2601, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2 T416 935 1896, voxtm.ca.
c/o Hills Balfour, Colechurch House, 1, London Bridge Walk, London SEI 2SX t020 7367 0900, whillsbalfour.com.
c/o Myriad Marketing, 6033 West Century Boulevard, Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90045, 310 649 7718, wmyriadmarketing.com.
Travelling with children
Overall, Kenya is an excellent family destination and wherever you go, local people will be welcoming to your children. The coast is particularly family-friendly (it was developed as package-holiday destination after all), with good, safe beaches, lots of fun activities and attractions, and the resorts are geared up with facilities like children’s swimming pools, kids’ clubs, adjoining rooms and babysitting services (usually housekeeping staff), and they serve buffet meals at which even the fussiest of eaters will find something they like.
Safaris, on the other hand, may not suit babies and very small children and can be quite a hassle in terms of supervision and organization. It’s obviously exciting for them (and you) to see animals, but you may find the overall adventure isn’t enough reward with bored, fidgety small children in tow on long, hot and tiring journeys. With a young family, it’s probably inadvisable to go on a group safari with other travellers, who may be annoyed by having children in the vehicle. Renting a vehicle with a driver on an exclusive safari is a more feasible option, and gives you the flexibility and privacy you need for toilet stops and other interruptions. Perhaps the easiest parks to visit with small children are Nairobi and Lake Nakuru, where distances are small and you have a good chance of seeing a fair number of animals in just a few hours.
Older children, on the other hand – say above the ages of 10–12 – can be a pleasure to go on safari with: their understanding and enjoyment of the environment and landscapes is more in tune than younger children; they have a great deal more patience; and their enthusiasm for spotting animals can be very infectious. If the children are old enough to enjoy watching wildlife, make sure they have their own binoculars, cameras and checklists. Whatever the ages of your children, it’s always a good idea to pick safari lodges that are well set up for family visits. The larger mid-range ones usually have the best child-friendly facilities, and tend to be fenced – the smaller tented camps usually aren’t.
Prices and discounts
Children under the age of 11 usually get discounts for accommodation and good deals can be had, especially if they share a room with parents. However some accommodation has a minimum age limit, and some places, mostly small luxury safari camps and honeymoon retreats on the coast, may not allow children under the age of 16. For other costs, such as entry fees to museums, game parks and reserves, activities and excursions, children under 16 can expect to pay half the adult price, and kids under 3 are rarely charged anything.
Health and essentials
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 high-factor 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.
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 nonstop, 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 Safaris in Diani Beach and the highly recommended Mombasa-based Southern Cross Safaris, who are one of the few mainstream companies to offer specialist safaris for people with mobility impairments.
Work and volunteering
It is illegal for a foreigner to work in Kenya without a work permit. Extremely difficult to obtain, these are usually only associated with specific skilled professions and must be arranged by the employer before a work contract can be taken up in Kenya. However you are permitted to do voluntary work, even while on a short three-month visitor’s visa, which can be extended if necessary.
An international work camp is no holiday, with usually primitive conditions, and you will have to pay your expenses, though it can be a lot of fun, too, and is undoubtedly worthwhile. Voluntary organizations bring 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. Other groups employing volunteers in community projects may focus on HIV awareness, education and women’s income generation.
An alternative is to take the more expensive option of a work placement combined with a holiday – commonly known as “voluntourism” – on which a few weeks of volunteering might be followed by another week or two on safari or at the beach, or even an extended overland tour. Check out what opportunities are available in Kenya at globalvolunteernetwork.org, gooverseas.com, and volunteerhq.org.
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