Kenya shares borders with Ethiopia in the north, Sudan in the north-west, Uganda in the west, Tanzania in the south, and Somalia in the northeast. To the east lies the Indian Ocean. The country is divided into 4 regions: the arid deserts of the north, the Savannah lands of the south, the fertile low-lands along the coast and around the shores of Lake Victoria, and high-lands in the west, where the capital Nairobi is situated. Northwest of Nairobi runs the Rift Valley, containing the town of Nakuru and Aberdare National Park, overlooked by Mount Kenya (5200m/17,000ft), which also has a national park. In the far northwest is Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolph).
The Kenyan coast had hosted communities of subsistence-farmers, hunters and fishers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with foreign powers. These communities formed the earliest cities. The Romans knew the area as Azania.
Later during the 15th century the Portuguese establish new trade routes along the coast on their way to India becoming the first Europeans to explore the region of current-day Kenya.
After Arab and Omani influence and rule the British government took over in 1895 and claimed the interior as far west as Lake Naivasha. They established the East Africa Protectorate which later became a Crown Colony.
More recently, founding president and liberation struggle icon Jomo Kenyatta led Kenya from independence (1964) until his death in 1978, when President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi took power in a constitutional succession. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982 when the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) made itself the sole legal party in Kenya. Moi acceded to internal and external pressure for political liberalization in late 1991. The ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud, but are viewed as having generally reflected the will of the Kenyan people. President Moi stepped down in December of 2002 following fair and peaceful elections.
Currently there are more than 40 different ethnic groups in Kenya.
The main groups of tribes are the Bantu who migrated from western Africa, the Nilotic people who originated from Sudan and the Hamitic group, who were mainly pastoral tribes from Ethiopia and Somalia. The main tribes are Kikuyu, Luo, Meru, Kalenjin, Luyha, Kisii, Kamba, Swahili, Masai, and Turkana.
Western European habits prevail throughout much of Kenya as a result of British influences in the country. Kenyans are generally very friendly. The standard greeting of ‘hello’ when addressing an individual is Jambo, to which the reply is also Jambo. The greeting for a group is Hamjambo to which the reply is Hatujambo. People are delighted if visitors can greet them in Kiswahili.
Kiswahili is the national language and English is the official language. The terms Swahili and Kiswahili are used interchangeably, though the term Swahili normally refers to the people while Kiswahili refers to the language. There are over 42 ethnic languages spoken, including Kikuyu and Luo. It is extremely useful for the traveler to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country.
The Kenya Government has been formed after a long period of colonization. The Republic of Kenya was a one-party state between 1969 and 1982. In 1991 it became a multi-party state. The Constitution was formed on 12th Dec 1963. Individual rights are protected under the Constitution. The Kenya Government has different offices for different responsibilities such as the Office of the President; the Office of the Vice President; the Office of the Attorney General; the National Assembly; the Electoral Commission; the Public Service; Ministries; Auditing; and Judiciary.
Kenya Standard Time is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3). Kenya does not operate Daylight-Saving Time. Kenya is eight hours ahead of the eastern United States in winter and seven hours during summer.
The local electricity supply is 220/240 volts AC, 50HZ and plugs are 3 point square. Plug type G (British plug). Please bring along voltage and plug adaptors if you intend bringing electrical devices. Major hotels usually provide hairdryers, irons and other electrical equipment on request.
The variations in altitude and terrain create contrasts in climate. The coast is hot and often humid, mornings in the central highlands can be cool, whilst north and northeast the days are dry and very hot. In the areas most frequented by visitors the weather is almost perfect, neither too hot nor too cool with long sun-filled days. Day and night in Kenya are almost equal all year round with sunrise between 6 and 6.30 am and sunset between 6.30 and 7.00 PM. For most of the country two rainy seasons exist. The short rains normally occur from late October through December and the long rains from late March through May. Rain usually falls in the late afternoon preceded by bright, sunny and fresh days.
Clothes to Wear:
Kenya has a tropical climate, with sunshine in all seasons, and summer clothes can be worn throughout the year. Generally, the hottest periods are January to March and the coolest are July to August, though the difference is small. Furthermore, on the coast it’s hotter and wetter than inlands, which is more moderate and dryer. Also take into account the two rainy seasons (see above).
Kenyans themselves tend to dress rather conservatively. However, especially among the younger people Western and Asian fashion influences can be observed these days. In places frequented by tourists, locals are used to ‘tourist dress’, and in tourist resorts shorts and T-shirts are very acceptable. It is always correct to dress conservatively, when visiting religious sites.
Entry and Exit Requirements:
Passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the completion of your journey at departure from Kenya.
Visas are required by US & Canadian passport holders for entry into Kenya.
To obtain visas, please use the following links:
If you prefer a commercial visa provider to assist you (at cost), please see the following link:
Plastic Carrier Bags are not permitted in Kenya. Attempting to enter with such bags may result in fines.
Embassy & High Commission Locations:
Embassy of the United States of America
United Nations Ave
Tel: (011 254-20) 363-6000
Canadian High Commission
Limuru Road, Gigiri
Tel: (011 254-20) 366-3000
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
You are also encouraged to consult with your own doctor and health network, some of which operate travel clinics as part of their services.
BANKING & CURRENCY EXCHANGE
The unit of currency is the Kenya shilling (Ksh).
Foreign currency must be declared on a declaration form when entering the country. You are not allowed to take out more foreign currency than you bring in. Money can be exchanged at the airport, major banks and the numerous Foreign Exchange Bureaus.
Most ATM’s serve a majority of the international credit cards such as Visa, Master Card and others. Please consult with your Credit Card Company and bank before departure. There are no restrictions on the foreign exchange you may bring to the country. You will need to get a letter of authorization if you wish to take more than Kshs 500,000 out of the country.
Banks are open 09:00am-03:00pm Monday to Friday; and 09:00am-11:00am on the first and last Saturday of each month. Some banks and bureau de change at the international airports are open after hours.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Most of the lodges, resorts and hotels will have internet access. However, the speed and reliability may not always resemble the standards you are used to. Remoter areas may not offer cell phone or Internet access.
Kenya’s country code is 254.
Food and Drink:
Kenya’s national dishes appear on most hotel menus. The country’s beef, chicken, lamb and pork are very good, as are the wide variety of tropical fruits. Local trout, Nile perch and lobster, shrimps and Mombasa oysters are included on menus in season. Indian and Middle Eastern food is available in most areas. Some game-park lodges serve game, including buffalo steaks marinated in local liqueurs and berries, often garnished with wild honey and cream.
Most Kenyans eat maize, beans and maize meal. At the small ‘hotelis’, chai (tea boiled with milk and sugar) and mandazi (doughnuts) are popular. There is a wide range of restaurants in Nairobi and Mombasa; otherwise hotels in smaller towns offer restaurant service. Locally brewed beer (Tusker and White Cap) and bottled sodas may be found throughout the country. Kenya Cane (spirit distilled from sugar cane) and Kenya Gold (a coffee liqueur) are produced in Kenya. Traditional beer made with honey (uki) and locally made spirit distilled from maize (changaa) may sometimes be found.
Most of the major hotels in Nairobi and the tourist resorts have dancing with live bands or discotheques each evening. There are also a few nightclubs. There is a large selection of cinemas in Nairobi which show mainly American, British and European films.
Shopping in Kenya is dominated by souvenir sellers. Handmade items may be purchased at market stalls, roadside stands, and from street peddlers. Tourists are easily identified, and a walk down the street can bring the attention of groups of salesmen. Be prepared for a strong sales pitch, offering bargain prices on handcrafts. Prices are initially determined based on what these sellers believe you will pay, but can generally be bargained down to a low price. Chances are you will get a fair price, and the vendor will still walk away with a good profit. Don’t be intimidated by the number of peddlers offering similar goods, or you may end up with more souvenirs than you can easily carry home. If quality is an issue you may want to make your purchases at some of the more established shops in the larger cities, but be prepared to pay higher prices.
Nairobi has an endless variety of places to shop. The City Market, on Muindi Mbingu Street is a good source of inexpensive souvenirs. Bargains may be found at street stalls on many of the major thoroughfares, with local traders offering an assortment of goods. Major streets in Mombasa have numerous souvenir shops and galleries, and trader stalls are abundant on Moi Avenue and Nyerere Street. A good selection of native products is available for purchase there. Baskets made from sisal are durable and generally well made. Batiks and wax paintings may be found in the larger shops and stalls. With some searching it is possible to find some of very good quality.
Tribal beads and bracelets are predominant, and will be presented to you for purchase almost anywhere you go. Check the quality closely and be prepared to bargain before you make a sale. Soapstone from Western Kenya has been carved into an infinite variety of souvenirs, and can be acquired at very affordable prices. Wood carvings are economical and are widely found in every animal shape as well as salad servers and napkin rings.
Makonde statues are wood carvings traditionally made from ebony. Watch for fakes made from lighter woods and shoe polish, which can be identified by the lighter weight and scratches showing the true color of the wood.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Plastic Carrier Bags are not permitted in Kenya. Attempting to enter with such bags may result in fines.
Most Kenyans in the travel industry are paid very low wages and rely heavily on tips. Tipping is down to individuals as you tip according to the service you get but a rough guide is as follows:
- Baggage Porters: kshs 50- 100
- Airport Transfer Driver: Kshs 100
- Bar Staff: kshs 20-30 per round of drinks
- Food Waiter: kshs 50 – 100
- Safari Guide: $8-$10 per person per day
- Room Staff: kshs 50 per day
Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers, and at the luxury lodges and camps. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
The great diversity of landscapes, people, wildlife and history make for unparalleled photo opportunities in Kenya. Come prepared and equipped to take full advantage of the ideal photographic environment. In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.