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:
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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
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
- 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
- Insect repellant
- Passport, insurance, driver’s license
- Credit cards, small amount of cash preferably in low denominations
- Reading material
- Extra pair of socks and shoes/sandals
For more details on packing tips and wears click here.
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.
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 🙂