| Kenya is also a country of many cultures. Its population is made out of some 40 tribes,
each one with its own traditions, dress, language, ways of subsistence and looks.
The choice of a tour to Kenya is not necessarily a safari tour only. And a safari tour
is not necessarily a tour to see the animals only. Touring Kenya, you may see a lot
of landscapes, tribes, cultures, countryside and cities, too.
Visiting Kenya is not very complicated or adventurous. The tourist industry is well
developed, and as tourism is a major source of income to the country, you will find
yourself a welcome guest.
The infrastructure and tourist industry is most developed in the main cities and in
those areas that receive most visitors, i.e. in the safari regions in southern Kenya
and along the coast.
The main roads in these areas are dependable, and scheduled domestic flights, coaches
and trains make travelling fairly uncomplicated. Technical development during the last
few years has brought mobile phones, internet cafés and ATM's to the major cities.
Things may work slower and less dependable than you are used to from home, though.
Local tour operators
Most safari-goers don't travel Kenya on their own, but on an arrangement managed by
a local tour
operator, either as a private party or as part of a larger group. Travelling
this way is easy, as all practical matters are handled by the tour operator's representatives
A network of tarmac roads connects most of the points of interest to safari-goers, including
cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa, and the main parks. The quality of these roads ranges
from fairly good to poor.
The main road between the Nairobi area and Masai
Mara is surprisingly poor, considering the amount of tourism and money this
park generates, and considering that road construction work has been going on for years
and years. The road is poor enough to be avoided by those who can't, or don't want to,
travel bumpy or corrugated roads.
Another poor stretch of road travelled by many safari-goers is the last hour on the
route (road A2) to Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs national
reserves. That last stretch, once north of Isiolo Town, is heavily corrugated bush road.
However, an ambitious road construction project has started (2008) to upgrade this road
(all the way north to the Ethiopian border) to tarmac. The new road will also eventually
allow better access to for example Losai National
Reserve and Marsabit National Park even
More about safaris by road
Kenya's international airports are Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO/HKJK) in
Nairobi and Moi International Airport (MBA/HKMO). Other towns and cities have airports
accessible by domestic flights.
Most main parks can be accessed by safari flights, usually in smaller aircraft. In Nairobi,
these operate from Wilson Airport (WIL/HKNW), which is a 20+ minute (highly variable
depending on road traffic) transfer from Jomo Kenyatta International.
More about flying to Africa
More about safaris by air
Going off the beaten track
Kenya is a developing country, which you will notice if travelling off the beaten track.
The infrastructure in less visited or less populated parts of the country can be very
poor. Roads may be just passable, or non-passable during heavy rains. Fuel stations
marked on your map may not have any fuel for sale. Staff at remote and sparsely visited
and tourist attractions may speak nothing but Swahili. Few areas are impossible to visit,
but off the beaten track you'll need more own initiatives, patience and time.
The northern half of Kenya is considered less safe to visit than the southern, because
of bandits. It is also harder to access, as the road infrastructure is poor.
The safari tourism is focused on the best wildlife areas, found in the southern and
central parts of the country. Virtually all safari tours sold locally and abroad visit
parks in these parts, such as Masai Mara, Lake
Nakuru, Samburu, Mount Kenya,
Amboseli and Tsavo. These parks,
together with Tanzanian parks such as Serengeti and Ngorongoro
on the far side of the southern border, are the homes to the East African wildlife that
you have probably seen on television many times. This is where the concept of safaris
The equator divides Kenya in one southern and one northern half. With few exceptions
(mainly Samburu/Shaba), the best wildlife areas are found
in the southern half.
Less visited parks
Parks of interest are found also in other and less visited parts of Kenya, but have
the disadvantage of long distances to transport hubs such as Nairobi and Mombasa.
Solitary parks far away are difficult to combine with other parks, and may not fit into
most tour itineraries.
Some visitors have special interests, though, and may be willing to travel far to enjoy
the specialities of distant parks. Birders, for example, may have a very good time travelling
from Arabuko-Sokoke on the coast to
Lake Baringo and on to Kakamega
Forest in the far west, a route by far too far for most normal wildlife safaris.
The Indian Ocean coast and beaches also attract many visitors. Mombasa and Malindi are
classic coastal destinations, and Lamu
Island on the northern part of the coast is an interesting option, where fewer visitors
Packaged tours to Kenya
Most packaged tours to Kenya are focused on safaris. Most such tours sold by established
travel companies are well arranged, and offer a good safari experience. You don't need
special skills or an adventurous mind to join such a tour. The local guides mainly speak
English, which is the main language of the tourist industry, but tours guided in your
own language may also be offered.
Looking around, you may find not only safari tours, but also tours to the coast or even
in Tanzania, climbing tours to Mount Kenya, or tours
focusing on other activities.
Tailored tours to Kenya
If you prefer not to join a group, or if you can't find the itinerary you want among
the packaged tours on offer, you can have an itinerary tailored for you. Travel companies
specialized in doing this are found in most countries. Local tour
operators in Kenya can also tailor tours, and may be found on the web.
A tailored safari doesn't necessarily cost more than a packaged tour. If you, on the
other hand, want to spend more, tailoring may be the best way to ensure that you get
the level of comfort, service and quality you desire.
Unrest in Kenya 2008
Kenya was hit by unrest early 2008, when political-ethnical conflicts following an election
led to the death of more than a thousand people. The violence was not aimed at tourism
or tourists. The unrest ceased in a few months, and now (end of 2008) business is back
The country Kenya
Kenya is situated on the equator in East Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean in the east,
Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan in the north, Uganda in the west
and Tanzania in the south.
Most parts of Kenya are found on an inland plateau, where the best safari areas and
the vast savannas are found. Lowlands are found along the coast, scattered mountains
and mountain ranges throughout the country. Africa's second highest mountain, Mount
Kenya (5,199 m/17,057 ft), and the Aberdares rise
in central Kenya, some two hours' drive north of Nairobi, and Mount
Elgon borders Uganda in the west. The largest lake of Africa, Lake
Victoria, borders western Kenya and is shared with Tanzania and Uganda.
The Great Rift Valley, cutting through the country from north to south, is a result
from the same plate tectonics that have created many of Kenya's mountains and soda lakes
such as Lake Nakuru, Lake
Bogoria, Lake Turkana and Lake
The landscape is heterogeneous, varying from deserts and semi-deserts in the north to
forested mountains, open undulating savannas and grass plains, farmlands, shrub- and
woodlands, and coastal beaches and mangroves. There are both freshwater lakes and soda
lakes, and rivers intersect the country, many of them, if not all, drying out in dry
seasons. Each such biotope has its own type of wildlife, birdlife and flora.
In comparison to Europe, America and other developed parts of the world, Kenya is poor.
A majority of the population is self-supporting farmers.
Kenya has some 40 tribes, which vary in size from a few hundred up to some million members.
There is a degree of antagonism between some tribes, although it has rarely been expressed
through violence. The December elections in 2007 triggered political/ethnical violence,
though, resulting in the loss of more than a thousand lives.
Most people see themselves as Kenyans, but in remote areas, and especially where education
is poor or non-existing, you may find many who consider themselves tribe members rather
than citizens of a state.
Most tribes have their own tribal language, but close to all Kenyans also speak Swahili,
a language originating from Bantu and Arabic, and today the lingua franca of Kenya,
Tanzania and Uganda. Many urban Kenyans, and virtually the whole tourist industry, also
More about languages in Kenya
| The largest tribes of Kenya:
| · Kikuyo
|| Central highlands.
| · Luhya
|| North of Lake Victoria.
||Great Rift Valley. (These are a number of tribes speaking the same
||East of Nairobi.
Upon arrival in Kenya, most safari-goers have already heard of the Maasai tribe, as
it is featured or at least mentioned in most travel brochures and safari itineraries.
The Maasai are not dominating the population, though, but make up a 1 % minority.
They live in the popular safari regions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, where
the vast areas of grasslands and savannas are favoured by both the Maasai cattle and
the herds of grazing wildlife.
The Maasai, formerly known as a war-faring tribe, originally came from areas along the
Nile River north of Kenya, and settled in the Masai Mara and other parts of southern
Kenya some 200 years ago.
Many safari-goers meet the Maasai when staying in tented
camps and lodges,
or when visiting Maasai villages in the Masai Mara region.
Such visits are usually done to villages used to receiving foreign tourists, and the
arrangements and presentations may be quite touristy, but they do give you some understanding
of Maasai life. Visiting a village is also the best opportunity you will get to take
pictures of the Maasai.
Still today, many regard the Maasai culture as proud and dignified, and the Maasai themselves
as awe-inspiring and good-looking, adorned and handsomely dressed, mainly in reds. It
is a men's culture, though, and much of its ideals are remains from the past, when wars
were fought and lions could be killed freely. Today's Maasai live as pastoralists in
dry and often over-grazed areas, lagging behind in education and development, and harassed
by diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The tribe is still practicing polygamy and female circumcision,
and girls are married in their early teens, or even earlier. Maasai women lead hard
lives with few or no options, much work and a life expectancy of around 45 years.
Should you visit the area of Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs
National Reserves in the northern part of central Kenya, you may see or meet Kenyans
that by the look seem to be Maasai. They are not, but belong to the local Samburu tribe.
The Samburu and the Maasai have a similar origin, and thus also have similar looks,
language and traditions.
Cities and towns
The Kenyan cities aren't known as tourist destinations in themselves. Mombasa has some
remains from its former Portuguese rule, while Nairobi is little more than 100 years
old and lacks historical sights altogether. Some historical sites are found outside
the cities, for example Gede on the coast.
You're likely to drive through Nairobi or Mombasa on your way from or to airports, and
will get a brief look at the busy urban atmosphere of these cities. You may also pass
through towns or villages when travelling to and between parks on a safari.
Accommodation, ranging from hostels to quality hotels, can be found in cities and larger
towns, and lodges may be found in more natural environments around these. For information
on accommodation, see Lodges in Kenya.
The Kenyan capital Nairobi is populated by two to three million people, and has a compact
city centre with restaurants, shops, hotels, offices, markets etc. Even if it's not
a great tourist attraction, you may enjoy seeing Nairobi's busy urban activity. Away
from the city centre, there are less attractive areas, including slums.
Kenya's largest airport, Jomo Kenyatta International (NBO/HKJK), is situated just outside
Nairobi, and is the point of entry for most foreign visitors to the country. If you're
going on an airborne safari, you don't start from there, but from Wilson Airport (WIL/HKNW),
a 30-minute drive from Jomo Kenyatta.
Safari-goers rarely spend much time in Nairobi, more than the odd night in connection
with flights. Should you have some time to spare in town, you may visit Karen Blixen
Museum outside Nairobi, or the Giraffe Centre, where you can get to know the giraffes.
Nairobi National Park, just a half-hour drive from the city
centre, is home to many of the African safari species (although not elephants). The
Carnivore restaurant, included in many safari tour itineraries, serves zebra, impala
and giraffe for dinner.
Nairobi is known for crime, and you should be careful when moving about in town, especially
when doing so on your own. Don't explore Nairobi by night on foot, but take a taxi.
Some hotels used by many travel companies are Hilton, Landmark, Fairview, Norfolk, Mayfair,
Stanley, Intercontinental, Safari Park and Windsor Golf and Country Club, which all
offer high to very high standard. A cheaper option in central Nairobi is Hotel 680,
which isn't very classy, but will do if you only want a place to stay. There is also
YMCA and other budget options.
Parts of Nairobi are modern, offering shopping, entertainment and a pleasant stay. There
are huge contrasts, though. Shantytowns and poverty is another part of Nairobi, if not
seen as often by safari-goers.
The traffic density is an increasing problem in Nairobi, and travelling in or through
the city during rush hours can be very slow.
Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya. It is situated on the Kenyan coast, and
has the largest harbour in East Africa. You don't see much of the city if travelling
from Moi International Airport (MBA/HKMO) to some beach resort north or south of Mombasa,
but excursions to town are easy to arrange.
Mombasa's main attractions are its Old Town and Fort Jesus from the late 1600th century.
There are also mosques, markets and many small shops where you may go shopping for spices,
fabrics, carpets etc. There are boat tours around Mombasa, which lies on an island.
More about the Kenyan coast
Namanga is a small town on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, on the main road from
Nairobi to Arusha. Apart from the international airports (Nairobi and Mombasa), Namanga
is the only point of entry into Kenya where you can obtain a visa.
Apart from that, Namanga offers nothing of interest to most tourists.
For more information about Kenya, we suggest that you get one of the many extensive
guidebooks that have been written about the country. Much general information about
Kenya can also be found on the web.
More about guidebooks