Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, the main entry point for East African safaris. But don’t hang about! Photo by Dexxe
Kenya’s extensive selection of game parks such as the Maasai Mara and comfortable lodges will almost inevitably involve flights to/from Nairobi but the city has little to offer so plan to spend as little time as possible here. Nairobi would be a pleasant, lively and walkable town if not for the criminal element, particularly after dark. It has a couple of good museums and the usual market, of course. You’ll probably have to spend some time here anyway.
Moi Avenue in Nairobi. Photo by Wing.
When to go there
Very best game viewing: October-November when there are fewer tourists, the grass is short (best for game viewing) and the migration is still on. June-September is prime migration time but August-September is a particularly busy tourist time and sightings get uncomfortably crowded.
OK: December – February (so-so with small rains and low prices)
Worst: March-May (big rains, animals disperse and long grass conceals the action)
Most nationalities including children and citizens of USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, are advised to apply for a visa before arriving in Kenya, even though some Kenya Embassies say the problem is with airlines refusing to take passengers who lack visas! Best to check.
A few nationalities don’t need a visa at all (generally African nations and a few smaller countries including Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, Cyprus).
Things to Do in Kenya
Apart from shooting wildlife – with a zoom lens. Hint: never use the digital zoom, only the optical, and it had better be long, at least 400mm equivalent.
• take an early balloon ride ending with a champagne breakfast. Sounds terrific but actually cold, noisy and expensive though the panoramic views are pretty good.
• if you’re lucky enough to be in a luxury camp or lodge there may be a wellness centre, massages, swimming pool, jacuzzi and so on.
• visit Maasai villages. This can range from pathetic, dress-up charades by village kids for budget tour groups or really fascinating excursions to meet and learn about the real thing. The difference is cost and connections.
• Walking and Hiking: Mount Kenya is a common target, as are the few walking wildlife parks. ‘ Mt Elgon and Ngong Hills are also good, less frequented hiking areas.
• Walking with Wildlife: Mount Kenya Park (alpine vegetation); Lake Bogoria (hot springs and antelope); Hell’s Gate (scenic gorge and plenty of wildlife). All are accessible by public transport from Nairobi.
• You can’t take a walk, bike ride or go jogging when out in the wilds at a tented camp. This is wild life, red in tooth and claw! At our camp in the Mara we had to walk with an armed guard at night. One guest that took a moonlit stroll a few months earlier was killed by a Cape Buffalo.
However, walking with a guide – or even without on occasion – is possible in some parks such as Hell’s Gate, obviously places where Cape buffalo and lions are not commonly found lurking on the sidelines.
Sunrise on Diani Beach, Kenya. Photo by Lukasz Ciesielski.
Malindi. A big, busy, beach resort with plenty of everything except mosquitoes (they don’t fly well in sea breezes). Good food, fishing, windsurfing and some atmospheric ruins at Gede nearby.
Watamu has beautiful bays in a marine park, good for snorkelling, bad for ethnic culture.
Diani and Tiwi south of Mombasa are palm-fringed with wide white sand and reef-protected (so no shark danger). Diani is longer and more developed than Tiwi, tho’ Tiwi sometimes has a seaweed overload situation. Both beaches have a shortage of cheap accomodation.
Lamu is a tiny, pretty little Arabic town on the island of Lamu; narrow carless streets in use by donkeys, traditional Muslim locals, neo-hippies and affluent adventurers. It’s adjacent to some great beaches and so laid back it’s almost horizontal.
• Game Fishing: Malindi and south of Mombasa.
• White Water Rafting: Athi and Galana River.