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10 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Kenya

kenya safari

Kenya is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries we’ve visited. It’s diverse landscapes, incredible wildlife and friendly people truly make it a special place. However planning the perfect trip to Kenya can be quite the task. With very few Indian travelers visiting Kenya, the information out there is limited and can be confusing. We spent close to 3 months planning our trip and understanding the must knows or must haves. Hence, this post is aimed to make venturing there a little less daunting than it may initially appear. Just like any other destination, Kenya is a safe African destination (provided you travel with a tour operator). But that also calls for plenty of things you should know before taking a trip there. So here it is – a complete guide of 10 things you need to know before visiting Kenya for the first time!

1. Visa & Insurance

This is a tricky one, as you’ll come across a lot of websites that tell you Kenya offers visa-on-arrival for Indian passport holders. While this is true, we’ve also read about instances where Indian travellers were denied visa on arrival. So our recommendation is:

a) Apply for a tourist e-visa online

b) Apply through a visa consultant

We chose option B as it’s less cumbersome and can be done from the comfort of your home. We applied through BTW Visa Services (India) Pvt. Ltd. and all we had to do was submit scanned copies of the following via email:

  • Original valid passport for 6 months from date of arrival with at least 1 blank page in passport
  • 1 recent photo : 35 X 45mm, white background and matte finish, 80% face size
  • Hotel Bookings/Invitation letter 
  • Air ticket

Visa Fees: INR 4,100/- per person (can be subject to change)
Time taken: 3 – 5 days

Note: You are eligible to apply only 30 days before departure date.

It’s also highly recommended that you purchase travel insurance for evacuation and medical emergencies. Many, if not most, tour operators require it. We were lucky that our tour operator – Hemingways Expeditions offered us an itinerary that included the cost of this insurance and membership of the Flying Doctor Society. This offers you with emergency treatment and an air ambulance to a hospital in Nairobi in the event of a serious accident or illness whilst on safari.

Kenya E-Visa

Kenya E-Visa

2. Vaccinations & Health requirements

There are compulsory vaccinations required for entry to Kenya, in which case a Certificate of Inoculation against Yellow Fever is required from travelers older than one year. Most doctors recommend vaccinating against Polio, Tetanus, Hepatitis and Yellow Fever. Anti-malarial prophylactics are strongly recommended, and should be taken two weeks prior to your arrival. Please consult your own doctor regarding any personal health requirements.

Post our personal consultation we were asked to take oral polio vaccine and yellow fever vaccine.

If you’re based in Bangalore you can get the yellow fever vaccine at Public Health Institute. The vaccine is given only on Wednesdays on first come first served basis. As a result, it’s best to be present at the Institute by 10 am. You must register your name for the vaccination at least 24-48 hours in advance. One must carry essential documents such as original passport, air ticket and hotel booking as proof of travel.

Vaccination Fees: INR 400/- per person (can be subject to change)

Note: This vaccination will last you for 10 years. Therefore, ensure your doctor correctly enters your passport details on the yellow fever booklet.

When it comes to insects, be prepared. If you are one of those people who frantically runs away from the dinner table at the slightest buzz; covering yourself with an insect or mosquito repellent is extremely advisable.

yellow fever certificate

The yellow fever certificate is mandatory for exit and entry to Kenya

3. Money Matters

Most safaris are all-inclusive when it comes to food and drink, but you’ll still need money for certain activities, local purchases and tipping.

Kenya’s currency is the Shilling (KSH) and it’s a good idea to carry some along with your major credit card(s). The US dollar is widely accepted by international hotels and safari camps and in fact, may even be required for certain activities. Due to a problem with counterfeit dollars, some places may not accept US bills older than 2003.

ATMs are available in some larger towns and the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, but they only dispense Kenya shillings and not all cards are accepted. Visa cards are usually a safe bet no matter where you go. We recommend that you change some money at the airport as the banks there typically give a better exchange rate than at the hotels. There is a bank at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (open until midnight every day) as well as an ATM so that you can obtain local currency on arrival.

If you are booked on an all-inclusive safari, then a good rule of thumb is to bring between $250 – $300  in cash per person per week for extras, in addition to any known cash expenses which you are likely to incur after arrival (like a hot air balloon ride or shopping, for example).

Note: Remember to call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you’re travelling in Africa. That way, your card won’t be accidentally suspended for unexpected activity away from your home!

Kenyan Shilling

The colours and shapes of Kenyan Shilling

4. Transportation & Safety

Some folks prefer renting vans or jeeps and driving across Kenya. While this sounds like a lot of fun and can sometimes work out cheaper, we don’t recommend it. We love our freedom, but we also care about our safety. Especially driving around National parks in no joke! So the best way to get around is to hire a car and driver for the entire journey. As for your mode of transportation, most tour operators will offer you two options – safari minivan or a 4×4 Land cruiser. Definitely opt for the land cruiser as it comes with an elevated sunroof which is perfect for photography and most importantly, it makes the ride a a lot less bumpy.

Your driver will also play the role of a guide and naturalist, which is ideal for first timers. You can be rest assured that your guide will be a trained mechanic himself. Towards the end of your trip he will no longer be a stranger, but a new found friend.

Note: Keep in mind that Kenya’s national parks are home to some of the wildest animals. Therefore, whilst on safari, don’t step your foot out of the vehicle (unless it’s approved by your guide).

4x4 land cruiser safari kenya

The one time our all-in-one driver, guide and naturalist – Mr. Jackson, allowed us to set foot in a National Park

 

5. Meals & Water

Dining is an integral part of the safari experience. High standards of cuisine and a large choice of mouthwatering dishes will usually greet the hungry guests just back from safari. We do not recommend eating any food purchased from road side cafes (unless recommended or approved by your guide). For us, all meals were provided during our Hemingways Expeditions safari – except in Nairobi, where the charges include bed and breakfast only.

Regardless of what you may hear, we do not recommend that you drink the local tap water. Sterilized drinking water is provided at all lodges, and bottled mineral water is always readily available in your safari jeep. Travelers should also exercise care when requesting ice in their drinks.

kenyan food ugali

Kenyan delicacy – Ugali with Chicken Stew and Sukuma Wiki (wild greens)

 

6. Power & Connectivity

The voltage in Kenya is the same as in the UK, using square two- or three-pin plugs. However, as outlets often vary, we would recommend you to carry a set of international adaptor plugs if you plan to operate any electrical appliances. Although larger hotels have reliable electricity supplies, lodges in the game parks are usually powered by solar power or diesel generators, which are switched off during the day. Plan ahead and charge your cameras and mobiles at appropriate times of the day.

Connectivity (as in most remote destinations) is less accessible the further away your are from urban areas. Mobile services are usually available in the southern part of Kenya around Nairobi and Mombasa. The northern part of Kenya, however, has limited network access. Wi-Fi comes free if you’ve opted for an all-inclusive plan, if not it can be quite expensive.

 

7. People & Language

There is extreme poverty in the country. You have to bear in mind that you will be incredibly wealthy in comparison to some of the Kenyan population that you may meet along the way, so be wary of that and be sure to minimise the risk to your personal safety by abiding by the rules laid down by your guide. You will come across many beggars or tribes men/women trying to sell you souvenirs. Be considerate and polite to them as they are just trying to make a living by selling some beautiful artefacts. Remember, bargaining is key!

Note: Keep your vehicle windows rolled up for most parts of your trip, except when you are on a safari. 

Kenya is a multilingual country with Swahili and English being spoken as the two official languages. Here are a couple of Swahili words to get you started:

Swahili – English

Jambo! – Hello!
How are you? – Habari?
Good, fine – Mzuri
Thank you (very much) – Asante (sana)
Welcome – Karibu
No problem – Hakuna Matata
Sorry – Pole
Yes – Ndio
No – Hapana

Maasai tribe kenya

Interacting with the Maasai folks

 

8. Tipping

Tipping guides, drivers or support staff as a way of showing your appreciation for great service is customary in Kenya, and is done in US$ or Kenyan Shillings (KSH).

General Tipping Guidelines

  • Ranger or Guide – $10 to $20 per couple per day
  • Butler – $5 to $15 per couple per day
  • Transfer Drivers – $5 per transfer
  • Porters – $1 per bag
  • Restaurants – 10% of the bill

9. What to Pack

The following is a brief practical checklist of items other than clothing that you are likely to need on your safari:

  • Camera and lenses
  • Binoculars
  • Adaptor, 3-hole, for electrical items
  • Extra batteries and SD cards for your camera
  • Toiletries/personal cosmetics
  • Malaria pills and other medicines
  • Hat, cap or visor
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant
  • Passport, insurance, driver’s license
  • Credit cards, small amount of cash preferably in low denominations
  • Reading material
  • Flashlight
  • Penknife
  • Extra pair of socks and shoes/sandals

For more details on packing tips and wears click here.

 

10. Photography

The best camera for a safari (especially for beginners) is a crop sensor or full frame DSLR with manual/automatic exposure and interchangeable lenses. For photographing wildlife, the best advice is to cover the whole range from 28 to 300 mm in as few lenses as possible: remember that wild animals move fast, and you will often not have much time to change lenses! Consider using a 100 to 300 mm zoom lens for those detailed shots.

We recommend you carry with you one or two additional memory cards plus spare batteries. Cameras can be charged at all lodges and tented camps. A few properties can burn photographs onto a CD but we recommend taking additional precautions just in case.

wildlife photography kenya

There are no rules for good photographs; there are only good photographs.

 

If there’s anything more you’d like to know, feel free to drop a comment below or write us an email. Our expertise on wildlife based trips and safaris will sort you out. Go on, book those plan tickets now 🙂

7 In Destinations

39 Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Kenya

Lion Maasai Mara Safari

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa, for he has so much to look forward to” – Rich Mullins.

It was this very quote and Prashanth’s passion for wildlife photography that inspired us to visit Kenya. I don’t think we’ve ever experienced such a successful wildlife safari. Spotting the Big 5 was a huge cross off our bucket list. Not to forget, witnessing all the different animals in their various habitats, kept us on edge of our seats. By the end of January 2018, we returned home with a repository full of captures that took us months of shortlisting and editing. So here it is – discover the wild surprises of Kenya, one image at a time with our giant photo story.

 

Majestic Elephants

You might already be overwhelmed with their enormous presence. But the extent of their size and intelligence may surprise you. African elephants are the only largest living land animanls with trunks. On average they are over 10 feet tall and can weigh upto 18,000 pounds. To sustain their enormous size they consume close to 50 gallons of water and 220 pounds of food a day.  Throughout their lives migrating from place to place, they remember the location of water sources along their migration routes. African elephants aren’t endangered like their Asian cousins. But did you know that elephants can’t jump? Or that baby elephants lose their first set of teeth and tusks, just like humans?

Elephants amboseli safari kenya

Elephants eating their way through the open grasslands in Amboseli.

 

elephants amboseli safari kenya

It’s time to go home! Moving back to base at sunset, closer to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

 

elephant maasai mara safari kenya

A baby elephant abandoned by it’s mother, looking for food.

 

elephants maasai mara safari kenya

They use their trunks to fight and also show affection. What do you think is the case here?

 

Shaggy Waterbucks

These sub-Saharan gregarious antelopes are grazers that are highly dependent on water. They cannot tolerate dehydration; hence they inhabit grasslands or scrub areas that are close to rivers or other sources of water. The rump has a characteristic white ring, while their large rounded ears are a prominent feature.  The male waterbuck has a unique ability to secrete an oily liquid that makes its coat waterproof while it enters a waterbody. It also puts off predators with its noxious odour, while making itself attractive to the female of the species. Now that’s a perfume a man should invest in!

waterbuck amboseli safari kenya

What you looking at, mate?

 

waterbuck lake nakuru safari kenya

Well rounded ears = great listeners

 

Conspicuous Grey Crowned Cranes

The Endangered Grey Crowned Crane is a monogamous species that mates for life.  These pedantically walking birds put up quite a show, making them a photographer’s delight. Did you know –  that these cranes are the the national bird of Uganda and over the past four decades, it’s population has plummeted by 80%! So now is your best chance to see them in the wild.

grey crowned crane amboseli safari kenya

That’s one cool looking mohawk!

 

grey crowned crane amboseli safari kenya

Nobody likes a show off; but with the grey crowned crane it’s different.

 

Cunning Hyenas

Hyenas are crafty killers, especially when they are hungry. They have a reputation as scavengers; but as we know it they can hunt and bring down prey far bigger than themselves, by using the strategy of the pack. And when they’re not hunting they indulge in another favourite past time – taking a dust bath.

hyena amboseli safari kenya

Never trust that smug face!

 

Mighty Rhinoceroses

There are five different species of rhinoceros, of which two are distinctly seen in Kenya. We were lucky to spot the black and white rhinos. Both are actually gray, so they are different not in color but in lip shape. Black rhinoceroses have a sort of attack-first-and-ask-questions-later attitude. When a rhino catches the scent of a human or anything else unfamiliar, it is likely to charge. White rhinoceroses graze on grasses, walking with their enormous heads and squared lips lowered to the ground.

black rhino safari lake nakuru kenya

A female black rhino looking after her young one. Despite their fierce reputation they make attentive mothers.

 

white rhinoceros safari lake nakuru kenya

Do not disturb!

 

Tempestuous Cape Buffaloes

Like a tank it’s heavy and massive, measuring 7 feet from nose to tail. As herbivores, they can usually be found grazing in the open grasslands of the African savannas. A Cape buffalo is a deadly opponent – one sweep from it’s defense mechanism (black horns mounted squarely at the top of it’s head) could kill a lion. Like the elephant, the cape buffalo isn’t a predator. But when raged it becomes a terrifying force.

cape buffalo maasai mara safari kenya

Buffalo Soldiers

 

Towering Giraffes

No other creature on the planet is quite like the giraffe. Their high and long necks, powerful hearts and staccato sleeping style easily make them unique. A reticulated giraffe and a Rothschild’s giraffe are the two giraffe sub species widely seen in Kenya. Noted as the tallest land animals in the world, they can grow upto 18 feet tall. This exceptional height allows giraffes to eat leaves and buds from trees tops, unreachable by other animals. This also helps them to look out for predators and other oncoming dangers. Their strong muscular heart allows the body to defy gravity by pushing blood up it’s long neck and into it’s brain. Did you know that giraffes have the same number of neck bones as humans? And that number is only 7?

giraffe amboseli safari kenya

Aim high and get spotted.

 

giraffe lake nakuru safari kenya

Why fit in when you are born to stand out?

 

Striking Zebras

Zebras are born to run. It is a necessary ability for survival of the fittest. A healthy adult zebra can gallop at 40 miles per hour; just fast enough to out pace a lion or a leopard. For better protection they’ll often congregate in large herds, sometimes mixing with other grazing animals like wildebeest and other antelopes. Predators can get easily get confused by their sheer numbers running in tandem. It’s suggested that their stripes camouflage them to distract predators and also provide a way to identify individual herd members. No two sets of stripes are alike.

zebra amboseli safari kenya

Striking a pose!

 

zebra lake nakuru safari kenya

Celebrate those beautiful stripes as they’re uniquely you.

 

Deadly Lions

Lions are some of the most formidable creatures on the planet. Their impressive size and appetite, strong social cohesion and regal appearance make it clear, why they are considered king of the jungle. They have significant roars and can be heard upto 5 miles away. This allows them to claim their territories by communicating their presence to potential intruders. Known as they only cats that lives in prides; family units that can go upto 40 lions with usually one dominant male and sometimes 1-2 leading males. The rest of the pride’s adult members are females and are often related to each other. They give birth around the same time, which allows their cubs to nurse from multiple females. This may come to you as a surprise but lions are not the most successful hunters, but they do consume a lot of meat. Lionesses who are the primary hunters of a pride, only succeed in making a kill less than 30% of the time.

lioness lake nakuru safari kenya

If looks could kill!

 

lioness lake nakuru safari kneya

The lioness is not submissive. She merely lets you be king for as long as it pleases her.

 

lioness maasai mara safari kenya

What doesn’t kill me… better run!

 

lioness maasai mara safari kenya

Do not announce your every move.

 

lion hunt safari maasai mara kenya

Lions don’t dream of hunting. They just hunt.

 

Racy Cheetahs

You may already know that cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal. They can go from 0 – 60 mph in 3 secs. But did you know their tails play a crucial role in hunting? The tail acts like a rudder, allowing cheetahs to quickly change direction while running. It provides counter balance as they zig zag across grasslands during a chase. Relying on their exceptionally keen eyesight they primarily hunt by day. But they are also one of the few big cats that can’t roar. Instead they purr and chirp much like a house cat.

cheetahs maasai mara kenya safari

Basking in the sun before they set out on their next chase.

 

cheetahs maasai mara kenya safari

Take 5

 

cheetahs maasai mara kenya safari

Target established…

 

cheetahs maasai mara kenya safari

And missed! So close yet so far.

Stealthy Leopards

They’re fierce, fast and fur-ocious. Leopards are very solitary and spend most of their time alone. They each have their own territory, and leave scratches on trees, urine scent marks and poop to warn other leopards to stay away. These big cats have a varied diet and enjoy different kinds of grub. They eat bugs, fish, antelope, monkeys, rodents, deer…in fact, pretty much any prey that is available. These nocturnal beasts are skilled climbers too.

leopard maasai mara safari kenya

Even a leopard needs a break.

 

leopard maasai mara safari kenya

Camouflage at it’s best!

 

Graceful Gazelles

Gazelles are nimble and beautiful animals, with a variety of stripes and markings that accentuate their tan buff coats and white rumps. They also boast a impressive, ringed horns. These attributes make many gazelles attractive as game animals. Open plains make them visible to predators like cheetahs or wild dogs, but gazelles are fleet of foot.

gazelle amboseli kenya safari

Thomson’s Gazelles – do you sense something in the bushes?

 

gazelle amboseli kenya safari

What has four legs and flies? Answer – Grant’s Gazelle

 

gazelle maasai mara kenya safari

Too afraid to face the humans.

Slow & Steady Leopard Tortoise

Our maiden journey to Kenya allowed us discover and learn about the ‘the small five’. The Leopard Tortoise is certainly a fashionable creature that’s part of this group. They are named for their unique gold-and-black markings, which roughly resemble the rosette spots of a leopard. Often found grazing in solitary, they are exceptionally resilient, with incredibly hard shells and can climb, swim, and live as long as 100 years. 

leopard tortoise amboseli kenya safari

We’ve never seen a leopard print we did’nt like.

Wading Herons

Herons are large, striking birds often spotted standing motionless at the water’s edge. Having found a suitable location, herons stand and wait patiently for the right moment to stab passing prey with their dagger-like beaks. They also wade through shallow water searching for small fish and amphibians.

heron amboseli kenya safari

Trying to fish, but no luck.

Radiant Lilac Breasted Rollers

One of the most gorgeous birds also makes Kenya’s national bird. These non-migratory birds are found widely in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Arabian Peninsula. It perches visibly at the top of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can easily catch sight of insects, lizards, rodents, scorpions etc. It is said that even their nests are as colourful and vibrant as them.

lilac breasted roller kenya safari

People will stare. Make it worth their while!

Loony Warthogs

With two tusks and large shovel-shaped heads, warthogs look fierce, but they often avoid fighting predators such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, or hyenas by running away or dodging into a burrow. Upon asking our guide and naturalist (Mr. Jackson) why Warthogs are called Pumba, his outright answer was pumba in Swahili means ‘stupid’ and they have been named that because of their silly, careless and foolish nature. Not sure if they are proud of it though. What do you think?

warthog amboseli safari kenya

Keep calm and hakuna matata!

 

Animated Baboons

There are five different species of baboons. All of them live in Africa or Asia. Like other old world monkeys, baboons do not have gripping tails. They spend much of their time on the ground, but they can climb trees to sleep, eat, or look out for trouble. Baboons are opportunistic eaters, fond of crops, and become destructive pests to many African farmers. They eat fruits, grasses, seeds, bark, and roots, but also have a taste for meat.

baboon lake nakuru kenya safari

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

Sneaky Jackal

The black-backed jackal, a mammal about the size of a fox, eats a variety of prey including meerkats. It can cover tens of miles a day and has a sense of smell that’s 10,000 times more powerful than a human’s. Often known as ‘meal stealers’ jackals are sometimes far more cunning that hyenas.

jackal masai mara safari kenya

When the hyena kills, the jackal profits.

 

Lustrous Topis

The topi is a medium-sized antelope with a striking reddish-brown to purplish-red coat that is glossy, even iridescent in bright sunlight. To complete its singular appearance, the topi’s yellowish-tan legs look like they are encased in stockings. Their favorite habitat are flood plains, but they are sometimes found in dry areas of open savanna and park woodland, taking to the shade during the heat of the day. Topis are exceptionally gregarious and live in herds of 15 to 20. What’s unique about them is that both male and female topis like to rub their heads on the ground (to spread scent from facial glands), roll in earth and stir up mud with their horns. They smear mud on their bodies with their hooves. These herbivorous beings spend much of their life with other antelopes such as wildebeest, and with zebra and ostrich.

topi maasai mara safari kenya

Blue jeans and brown coat – now isn’t that a cool ensemble?

Migratory Wildebeests

The ungainly Gnu earned the Afrikaans name wildebeest for the menacing appearance presented by its large head, shaggy mane, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns. The migration of wildebeests across the plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara is one of the oldest and last great land migrations on the planet. It is considered one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth, involving up to 1.5 million wildebeests as well as hundreds of thousands of other animals, including zebra and gazelle.

wildebeest maasai mara kenya safari

I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and wasn’t happy – Ernest Hemingway

 

So what about you? Has any country ever captured your imagination as much as Kenya ours? Drop us a comment and let us know if you’re planning to go – we can surely help.