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Introduction to Kenya

Revered by anthropologists as the 'cradle of humanity', Kenya is wild and a little dangerous. If you're adventurous - and sensible - it promises the globe's most magnificent wildlife parks, unsullied beaches, thriving coral reefs, memorable mountainscapes and ancient Swahili cities.

The Swahili word safari (literally, journey) wouldn't mean much to most people if it wasn't for this East African adventure land. No matter how many Tarzan movies you've seen, nothing will prepare you for the annual mass migration of wildebeests in the Maasai Mara.

If you've ever fantasised about Africa - sleeping in the bush surrounded by wildlife beneath the broad African sky or walking with tribespeople through places the first humans called home - then Kenya is for you. Kenya's incredible natural environment and cultural heritage is almost unmatched in Africa, and travel is mostly straightforward and inexpensive.


Political rallies such as those held in Nairobi and Kisumu in July, 2004 can become violent. Travel advisories recommend that visitors exercise caution, avoid rallies or demonstrations and stay aware of the situation as the details and dates of rallies may change.

Nairobi isn't referred to as 'Nairobbery' for nothing, so carry as little cash as possible and nothing of value. The areas around River Rd and Uhuru Park are particularly notorious for muggings, day or night, as are the beaches near Mombasa, and most encounters with the police are likely to end with money changing hands.

Bandits have been known to operate near Lamu, between Isiolo in Kenya and the Ethiopian border, and in Kenya's northwest and northeast. Ask for advice locally about these areas. Readers have reported travel along the Kitale-Lodwar road, as dangerous.

Full country name: Republic of Kenya

Area: 583,000 sq km

Population: 31.63 million

Capital City: Nairobi

People: 22% Kikuyu, 14% Luhya, 13% Luo, 12% Kalenjin, 11% Kamba, 6% Kisii, 6% Meru, 16% other

Language: Swahili, English

Religion: 35% Protestant, 30% Roman Catholic, 30% Muslim, 5% Animist

Government: republic (multiparty state)

GDP: US$23.9 billion

GDP per capita: US$360

Annual Growth: 1.6%

Inflation: 4.5%

Major Industries: small-scale consumer goods (plastic, furniture, beer, batteries, textiles, flour), agricultural processing, oil refining, chemicals, cement, tourism

Major Trading Partners: Uganda, Tanzania, UK, Germany, UAE, South Africa

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are now required by almost all visitors to Kenya, including Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, Americans and Canadians, although citizens from a few smaller Commonwealth countries are exempt. Visas are valid for three months from the date of entry and can be obtained upon arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for 50.00 for a single-entry visa, double for multiple entries. Tourist visas can be extended for a further three month period, but not seven-day transit visas. It’s also possible to get visas from Kenyan diplomatic missions overseas, but you should apply well in advance, especially if you’re doing it by mail.

Health risks: malaria (This occurs in Nairobi and other moderately high-altitude areas. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects.), cholera (This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It’s transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure. The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It’s characteristically described as ‘ricewater’ diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario – only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. It’s a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don’t succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment. You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), meningococcal meningitis (Not every headache is likely to be meningitis. There is an effective vaccine available which is often recommended for travel to epidemic areas. Generally, you're at pretty low risk of getting meningococcal meningitis, unless an epidemic is ongoing, but the disease is important because it can be very serious and rapidly fatal. You get infected by breathing in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by sufferers or, more likely, by healthy carriers of the bacteria. You're more at risk in crowded, poorly ventilated places, including public transport and eating places. The symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness that prevents you from bending your head forward, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, which makes you prefer the darkness. With meningococcal meningitis, you may get a widespread, blotchy purple rash before any other symptoms appear. Meningococcal meningitis is an extremely serious disease that can cause death within a few hours of you first feeling unwell. Seek medical help without delay if you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, especially if you are in a risk area. If you've been in close contact with a sufferer it's best to seek medical advice), typhoid (Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38?C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment), schistosomiasis (bilharzia) (Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs is irreversible. Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure), yellow fever (Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes – hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever), HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organisations and services for HIV-positive folk and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +3

Dialling Code: 254

Electricity: 240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Kenya's most spectacular annual event is organised by an unlikely group - wildebeests. Literally millions of these ungainly antelopes move en masse in July and August from the Serengeti in search of lush grass. They head south again around October. The best place to see this phenomenon is at the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Kenya's more orthodox annual events include public holidays such as Kenyatta Day (20 October) and Independence Day (12 December).

Public Holidays

1 Jan - New Year's Day

Mar/Apr - Easter (Good Friday & Easter Monday)

1 May - Labour Day

1 Jun - Madaraka Day

10 Oct - Moi Day

20 Oct - Kenyatta Day

12 Dec - Independence Day

25 Dec - Christmas Day

26 Dec - Boxing Day

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Best time to Visit

The main tourist season is in January and February, since the hot, dry weather at this time of year is generally considered to be the most pleasant. It's also when Kenya's birdlife flocks to the Rift Valley lakes in the greatest numbers. June to September could be called the 'shoulder season' as the weather is still dry. The rains hit from March to May (and to a lesser extent from October to December). During these months things are much quieter - places tend to have rooms available and prices drop. The rains generally don't affect travellers' ability to get around.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Kenyan Shilling


Budget: KSh80-550

Mid-range: KSh550-880

High: KSh880-2400

Deluxe: KSh2400+


Budget: KSh300-700

Mid-range: KSh700-2700

High: KSh2700-32,000

Deluxe: KSh32,000+

The cost of budget accommodation in Kenya is very reasonable as long as you're happy with communal showers and toilets. At the lower end of the Kenya experience, you could get by on about USD4-7 a day. Double this for comfortable travel and expect to pay anything from USD65-130 or more a day for a safari. Daily national park fees range from USD5-30 for the more popular parks. Every town has small cafés catering to local people where you can get a traditional meal for under USD1.00. For just a little bit more, Kenya's Indian restaurants are great value.

With the deregulation of the money supply, foreign-exchange bureaus are the best places to change money. Their rates are competitive and they don't charge commission. Banks will change money, but their commission can be steep. The place to carry your money is in a pouch against your skin. Anything more obvious will only make a thief's job easier.

With such an active tourist industry, Kenya is a country where tipping is expected. In anything more than a basic eatery, 5-10% of the bill is the usual amount expected. On safari, drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips to get by. Around US$3 per employee per day is about the right amount.

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Kenya's capital is cosmopolitan, lively, interesting and pleasantly landscaped. Its central business district is handily compact and it's a great place to tune into modern urban African life. Unfortunately, it's also a great place to get mugged. Security, especially at night, is a definite concern.

Often touted as the birthplace of humanity Nairobi has artefacts galore in some very classy museums. If you'd prefer to look at exhibits that aren't stuffed there are plenty of rhinos, snakes and giraffes roaming in parks around the city - some you can even feed!

Amboseli National Park

At 392 sq km, Amboseli has huge herds of elephants, and to see a herd of them making their way sedately across the grassy plains, with Tanzania's Mt Kilimanjaro in the background, may be a real African cliche but it's an experience that certainly leaves a lasting impression.


Lamu is a place of fantasy and other-worldliness wrapped in a cloak of medieval romance. With an almost exclusively Muslim population, Kenya's remote and self-contained oldest living town has changed little in appearance or character over many centuries.

This once thriving port town is now a gloriously relaxed and relaxing destination. No other Swahili town, other than Zanzibar, can offer you such a cultural feast and uncorrupted traditional style of architecture - if you can ignore the TV aerials.

Masai Mara National Reserve

The Mara is the most popular wildlife park in Kenya. Abounding with wildlife and joined to the Serengeti, this 320-sq-km reserve is anything but plain.Few visitors miss roaming at least part of its vast open savanna grasslands - or leaping out of the way of the annual wildebeest stampede.

The western border of the park is the spectacular Esoit Olooloo (Siria) Escarpment where the concentrations of wildlife are the highest. Lions are found in large prides everywhere and it's not unusual to see them hunt. Elephants, buffaloes, zebras, antelopes and hippos also exist in large numbers.


The largest port on the coast of East Africa, Mombasa is hot, steamy and historical. Its earliest history dates back to the 12th century. Mombasa proper sprawls over Mombasa Island which is connected to the mainland both north and south of the city.

A Muslim haven for centuries, it was attacked by the Portuguese in 1505 and burnt to the ground. It was quickly rebuilt only to be reduced to rubble again by an embattled Mombasan ruler during the long fight against the Portuguese. Mombasa's Old Town is testament to this tumultuous era.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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