Kenya Holiday Planning Guide
The savannahs of Kenya contain some of the most iconic sights in Africa, stirred in the minds of many when they think of the continent. Big cats, elephants, and rhinos remain major inhabitants of this vast country, with a number of safari centers running trips across the region's World Heritage-listed national parks. Trips to rural villages, where many travelers choose to join up various volunteer projects, represent some of the most inspiring and enriching things to do in Kenya.
Places to Visit in Kenya
Regions of KenyaCoast Province
: A Kenya vacation focused on Coast Province usually involves basking on powdery white beaches, exploring the historic trading hub of Mombasa, and a safari through the mesmerizing savannah.Rift Valley Province
: Kenya tours that start in Rift Valley Province allow visitors to come in contact with Maasai tribes, visit tea farms, national parks, and nature reserves, and go on exciting wildlife-viewing adventures.
Destinations in KenyaNairobi
: Dubbed the "Green City in the Sun," the country's capital remains the jump-off point for many tours and safaris.Watamu
: Surrounded by a verdant forest and pristine beaches, this village attracts tourists who enjoy snorkeling and diving among colorful reefs, exploring forest trails, and trying out different water sports.Mombasa
: Thanks to its classy hotels and relaxed atmosphere, Mombasa draws crowds of international tourists in the mood for conservation volunteering, bird-watching, mountain biking, water sports, and deep sea fishing.Malindi
: Notable for its Swahili architecture, pristine, palm-lined beaches, and all-inclusive resorts, this port town rightly established itself as a prime place to visit in Kenya.Diani Beach
: This bustling resort town on the country's eastern coast attracts a variety of travelers with various opportunities ranging from snorkeling and kitesurfing, to day tours of Mombasa.Maasai Mara National Reserve
: Take to the skies in a hot air balloon and witness the rolling escarpments, the lush oasis of the Mara River, verdant grasslands, and acacia woodlands of the reserve from above.
Popular Kenya Tourist AttractionsDavid Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
: This rescue center within a national park allows you to get up close to some of Africa's most beloved residents, including baby elephants and majestic rhinos.African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (Kenya) Ltd. - Giraffe Centre
: Home to the region's most endangered giraffes, the center offers you a chance to meet, feed, and even touch these towering creatures from a raised observation platform.Nairobi National Park
: Touring the plains of one of the country's most accessible nature reserves with a diverse range of wildlife is among the most popular things to do in Kenya.Amboseli National Park
: Safari tours of the scenic national park sited at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro provide an opportunity to see roaming elephants, vast herds of wildebeest and zebra, over 400 species of birds, and quite possibly a lion pride.Karen Blixen Museum
: Delve into life and times of the author of the classic memoir "Out of Africa" with a guided tour of the house where she lived from 1913 to 1931, running the property as a vast coffee plantation.
Mara River: Head to the river to witness a breathtaking flurry of life on the African plains.Lake Nakuru
: Home to pink flamingos, tree-climbing lions, Rothschild giraffes, and endangered black rhinos, the reserve provides numerous viewpoints for some spectacular photographs by which to remember your Kenya vacation.Tsavo East
: The eastern side of one of the country's oldest national parks ensures a chance to see red-dusted elephants playing on the water's edge and the world's longest lava flow.Diani Beach
: Nestled within a popular coastal resort area, the beach provides an ideal respite between busier activities, such as biking along the coast, kitesurfing, and snorkeling in the coral-filled waters.
Planning a Kenya Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Kenya with Kids
The country's spectacular natural sites, World Heritage-listed national parks, and rural villages will give you an endless list of things to do on your family vacation in Kenya.
Obviously, you will want to take your kids on a safari trip in one of the many wildlife reserves--there's no better place for this than Maasai Mara National Reserve
A tour of Rift Valley Province
includes not only visits to national parks and nature reserves, but also tea farms and rural villages of Maasai tribal people. Child-friendly parks, better roads, and shorter distances make this region perfect for traveling with kids.
Almost anywhere along Kenya's coast you can find your own slice of paradise. The leisurely atmosphere of Lamu Island
is especially appealing to families. While there, don't miss the opportunity to pack a picnic lunch and sail out on a dhow (a traditional boat).Diani Beach
, a bustling resort town on the south coast, has a long list of activities to offer young travelers, including water sports and day tours of Mombasa
Things to Do in Kenya with Kids
Whether spotting endangered wildlife at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
or feeding giraffes at Giraffe Centre
, your child will surely gain some memorable experiences during your family tour of Kenya.
A safari ride at Olare Orok Conservancy
will give the little ones the opportunity to spot all the iconic African animals, including the Big Five.
At Watamu Turtle Watch
, they can learn about the rehabilitation of these endangered creatures.
The diverse wildlife and flourishing environments of Haller Park
feature a reptile park, game sanctuary, giraffe observation deck, and fish farm.
For some of Kenya's best snorkeling and diving, take your kids to Watamu Beach
. If they are too small to engage in these activities, they can still observe the reef from a glass-bottomed boat.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Kenya
Kenya, like the rest of Africa, may seem like an intimidating destination to take your kids to, but if you take the time to properly prepare for your vacation, you will have nothing to worry about.
First of all, consult your physician about vaccinations or medications you need to take before the trip. Pack all you might need--formula, disposable nappies, and child-friendly insect repellent.
If you plan to rent a car, bring a child seat from home.
Once you have the essentials, don't forget binoculars for wildlife viewing.
Remember not to swim in lakes and rivers--they may not only contain crocodiles, but also parasites like bilharzia.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Kenya
Cuisine of Kenya
Staple foods vary from region to region and tribe to tribe, but generally include some cereals (maize, millet, or sorghum), tubers, legumes, various meats (usually goat or sheep), and vegetables.
One of the simplest and cheapest dishes Kenyans eat to "get through the week" is "sukuma wiki," made with cassava, sweet potato, or pumpkin leaves. "Irio," boiled and mashed peas and potatoes mixed with corn, is another favorite.
Popular dishes you must try on your Kenya tour include "nyama choma" (meat grilled over hot coals so tender that it melts in the mouth), "kachumbari" (an uncooked salad dish made from fresh tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers), and chicken "biriyani" (spiced rice popular on the coast).
Roasted "makai" (maize roasted over hot coals) is a simple, affordable, and delicious snack you can buy from street vendors. "Baijai" is another popular snack food typical for coastal areas--it's basically balls of sliced potato, seasoned and deep-fried.
Zebra crisps are Kenyan version of chips, but instead of potatoes, these crispy slices are cut from local arrowroot.
If you have a sweet tooth, you will certainly enjoy "mandazi," a sugar-coated doughnut filled with cardamom and sweet coconut milk.
And finally, if you're brave enough to try something really exotic, Luo people from around Lake Victoria
can offer you some "dede" (grasshoppers), "onyoso" (ants), and "ng'wen" (termites).
Shopping in Kenya
Your favorite African animal carved in soapstone or ebony, Maasai beadwork, and Maasai "shuka" (colorful textiles that can be used as scarves, table cloths, or picnic blankets) all make for ideal presents and souvenirs to bring home from a Kenya holiday.
Other authentic Kenya products include "kiondo" baskets, woven by the Kikuyu and Kamba tribes, tsavorite gemstone, and silver and gold jewelry.
One of the best places to browse through a variety of these and similar goods is Utamaduni Craft Centre
, a fixed-price mini-shopping center in Nairobi.
At Anselm Kitengela Hot Glass
, you can shop for handmade glassware--sleek sea glass vases and murals made of broken colored glass--directly from the artisans blowing and coloring the glass in front of you.
Designed to resemble an open-air African bazaar, The Village Market
hosts over 150 stores selling designer fashion and accessories by international and domestic brands.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Kenya
Interesting Facts About Kenya
* Kenya owes its name to its tallest mountain
* You will have to drive on the left side of the road on your Kenya tours, which comes as no surprise since the country was a British colony until 1963
* Even though coffee is the country's biggest income generator, the locals rather drink tea and beer
* Kenyan men still have to buy out their brides from the future in-laws--the dowry starts at 10 cows
* The first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Professor Maathai, an environmentalist from Kenya
Things You Should NOT Do in Kenya
Kenyans are quite conservative when it comes to dress code. Wearing unrevealing clothes on your Kenya tour will not only show respect, but also keep your skin safe from sunburns.
Beachwear is reserved for the beach only, even in the well-populated tourist areas. Also, public displays of affection between same-sex couples are generally not tolerated.
Maintaining direct eye contact and offering your left hand when meeting someone is considered disrespectful.
Always ask for consent before taking pictures of the local people. Also, if you need to point at someone or something, do it with the whole hand instead of just using your finger, which is deemed quite rude.
Holidays & Festivals in Kenya
Many of Kenya's national holidays commemorate the important dates in the country's struggle for independence from the United Kingdom.
These include Madaraka Day (June 1), Mashujaa Day or Heroes' Day (October 20), and Jamhuri Day (December 12), celebrated with military parades, massive singing and dancing performances, and commemorative speeches.
Since the majority of Kenyans are Christians, Christmas and Easter are public holidays. The Muslim population, which mostly lives along the coastal areas, observes Ramadan.
The biggest festivities with fireworks, musical performances, and parties begin on New Year's Eve. If you enjoy spectacular New Year's beach parties, include Mombasa
on your Kenya itinerary.
Useful Kenya Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Kenya
Try learning a few words and expressions in Swahili and your Kenya holiday might get even more interesting.
Don't be surprised if a stranger hisses at you ("Tsss!") on the street--it just means he wants your attention. It's also a common way to call a waiter in a restaurant.
A phrase you will often hear from small children while passing by is "Shikamo." This literally means "I hold your feet" and is a usual way to greet the elders.
The polite way to reply would be with "Marahaba," which translates to "I am delighted."
Other useful phrases include "Asante-sana" (Thank you very much), "Hodi" (Excuse me), "Hujambo" (Hello! How are you?), and "Habari" (also "Hello," but when greeting older people).
Climate of Kenya
Kenya enjoys a tropical climate, which is more temperate in the interior, hotter and more humid along the coast, and very dry in the north parts of the country.
There are two rainy seasons, from April to June and from October to December. The rain typically comes down as a heavy shower, with the ground drying quickly as soon as the sun comes out.
The hottest time of the year is between February and March, and the coldest between July and August. In the highland towns, such as Nairobi
, mean temperatures range from 12 C (54 F) during the night, to 27 C (80 F) during the day.
Between June and August in the higher altitudes day, temperatures may drop below 10 C (50 F), so make sure to bring some layered clothes if you're going there for your Kenya vacation.
Transportation in Kenya
Getting around in Kenya can prove to be quite a challenge. The roads are often badly maintained and not marked, and you have to watch out not only for frantic drivers, but also for road bandits.
Think of your safety first and travel only during the day. The usual transport options include long distance buses, "matatus" (private minibuses that cover short distances), and 4WD vehicles you can rent in internationally renowned car rental agencies in the big cities.
If you're up for an adventure, board the famous "Lunatic Express," a slow train that goes from Mombasa to Nairobi.
Flying is yet another option. Planes fly on a daily basis from Nairobi to Mombasa, and link other destinations like Malindi, Lamu Island, and Kisumu
Tipping in Kenya
Tips are much appreciated by Kenyans working in the service industries. Don't feel pressured to leave a tip if you receive a bad service, but if you're satisfied with it, remember that most Kenyans don't earn much.
Try to leave tips in Kenyan shillings, since the local staff will otherwise have difficulty exchanging a foreign currency.