Kenya is a top wildlife destination, recommended especially for those booking a first-time safari. The Maasai Mara offers excellent big cat encounters and is the setting for the yearly wildebeest migration. Palm-lined beaches offer a perfect place to relax after an action packed safari.
PARKS AND RESERVES
Some of the parks and reserves include;
- Aberdare National Park – Classic safari, Big 5 present (lion difficult to spot)
- Amboseli National Park – Classic safari, Big 5 present, famous for its views of Mount Kilimanjaro
- Buffalo Springs NR – Classic safari, 4 of the Big 5 (no rhino), adjoining Samburu NR without fences
- Maasai Mara NR- Classic safari, Big 5 present (rhino rare), many big cats, wildebeest migration
- Lake Nakuru National Park – Classic safari, black and white rhino, family-friendly park
- Lake Bogoria National Reserve – Classic safari, mainly antelope species, no Big 5, famous for its flamingos
- Hell’s Gate National Park – Cycling, walking and classic safari, mainly antelope species, lion very rare
WILDLIFE & ANIMALS IN KENYA
Kenya offers excellent wildlife viewing. All of the Big Five are regularly seen on a standard safari. The Maasai Mara is one of the best places in Africa to see big cats, and white rhino is easily seen at Lake Nakuru. The Rift Valley lakes, especially Lake Bogoria, attract thousands of flamingos, which feed in the shallow waters.
Except for lions, big cats generally aren’t as common as other sizeable wildlife in Kenya, such as the giraffe, hippo and elephant. Of course, it’s the wildebeest and zebra that really put on a show here, with the incredible annual migration.
- Wildlife Highlights
Samburu and Meru in the north are home to some interesting localized dry-country species. The odd-looking gerenuk is often seen standing on its hind legs feeding on dry bushes. The Grevy’s zebra and Reticulated giraffe are beautiful variants to the more common species found throughout the region. Tsavo is home to the rare fringe-eared Oryx.
- Wildebeest Migration
The wildebeest migration is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles. At least two million ungulates – mainly wildebeest, but also zebra and gazelle – move throughout the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. The crossing of the Mara River is the absolute highlight of the migration.
· Best Time for Wildlife Viewing
Kenya offers quality wildlife viewing throughout the year, but the ultimate times are in the Dry season from June to October. This corresponds with the wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara. The exact timing depends on rainfall, but it’s typically in August when the wildebeest migration reaches the northern Serengeti, and they begin to cross into the Masai Mara. In October they make their move back into the Serengeti. These months are high season for tourism. The parks are much quieter in the low season, and prices are more competitive as well.
With over 1,100-recorded species, Kenya is one of Africa’s best birding destinations. In Africa, this number of species is only exceeded by the much larger and inaccessible Democratic Republic of Congo. A fair number of endemic and near-endemic species can easily be seen on any birding trip. The European migrants are present from September to April.
· Best Time for Bird Watching
The bird-life in Kenya is good year-round, but at its prime from September to April when the migratory birds from Europe and northern Africa are present. At this time, many resident bird species are nesting and are in breeding plumage. For wildlife viewing, however, the Dry season is better.
· Best Parks for Birding
The best wildlife viewing parks, such as the Maasai Mara and Amboseli, offer a solid introduction to East Africa’s common birds. The Rift Valley Lakes including Lake Nakuru and Bogoria are the places to go to mark off many water birds, while the arid north, such as Samburu, offers many dry-country specials. Arabuko-Sokoke and Kakamega Forest are birding hotspots as well.
BEST TIME TO VISIT KENYA
The best wildlife viewing months in Kenya are during the Dry season from late June to October. The wildebeest migration usually reaches the Maasai Mara in July and remains until October when they move back to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing is good year-round, but this can differ for some parks.
See below to learn when to visit which park;
- Best Time – June to October, January to February (All parks)
- High Season – July to November, January and February (Some of the parks get very crowded especially the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Lake Nakuru)
- Low Season – March to May (Some lodges and camps in high rainfall areas close down)
- Best Weather – June to October (Little to no rainfall)
- Worst Weather – March, April and May (Peak of Wet season)
June to October –Dry Season
- Wildlife is easier to spot because the bush is less dense and animals gather around waterholes and rivers
- It’s unlikely to rain, the days are sunny with clear skies, and there are fewer mosquitoes
- July to October are the best months to see the wildebeest migration
- It gets very busy and crowded in the most popular parks
November to May –Wet Season
- The scenery is beautiful and green
- Rates drop because it’s the low season
- Newborn animals can be seen, and in general, you will still see plenty of wildlife
- Migratory birds are present from September to April
- Except for March, April and May, rains are short showers in the afternoon or evening and will rarely compromise your safari
- During March to May the rains can be continuous – some lodges and camps close down during part of the Wet season
Best Time to Go to Kenya by Major Park
The Maasai Mara offers great wildlife viewing throughout the year. In the peak of the rainy season, most other parks, especially in the highlands and along the coast, can be problematic with regards to heat, humidity and continuous rain. Some of the lodges close as a result. The dry months offer quality wildlife viewing throughout Kenya.
WEATHER & CLIMATE – KENYA
Kenya lies on the equator and has a pleasant, tropical climate, but there are large regional climatic variations influenced by several factors, including altitude. Temperatures drop by about 6°C for every 1,000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft). Kenya’s daytime temperatures average between 20°C/68°F and 28°C/82°F, but it is warmer on the coast. The coast is hot and humid all year round, but the heat is tempered by the monsoon winds. Kenya is too close to the equator to experience a real winter and summer. There is, however, both a Dry and Wet season.
· Nakuru’s climate compared to Kenya’s parks
Nakuru town lies right next to Nakuru National Park in the Rift Valley, one of Kenya’s most popular parks. Many of Kenya’s parks have a climate comparable to this, including the Maasai Mara. Amboseli, Meru, Samburu and Tsavo are at a lower altitude and, therefore, warmer. The Aberdares and Laikipia Plateau are in the highlands, and a bit colder. The highlands receive a great deal of rain and are very cold in the evening and morning.
Dry season –June to October
- June, July, August, September & October – These are the coldest months. Temperatures vary significantly per region and because of their difference in altitude. Daytime temperatures are usually around 23°C/73°F at higher altitudes, such as the Maasai Mara, and 28°C/82°F at lower altitudes, such as the coastal areas. During the Dry season, the sky is clear and days are sunny. Early morning temperatures at higher altitude are typically 10°C/50°F. It is advisable to pack warm clothing, as morning game drives in open vehicles will be cold. There is very little rain in most of the country, so these are the least humid months, making it the best time to stay at one of Kenya’s beautiful beaches.
Dry season –June to October
- June, July, August, September & October – These are the coldest months. Temperatures vary significantly per region and because of their difference in altitude. Daytime temperatures are usually around 23°C/73°F at higher altitudes, such as the Masai Mara, and 28°C/82°F at lower altitudes, such as the coastal areas. During the Dry season, the sky is clear and days are sunny. Early morning temperatures at higher altitude are typically 10°C/50°F. It is advisable to pack warm clothing, as morning game drives in open vehicles will be cold. There is very little rain in most of the country, so these are the least humid months, making it the best time to stay at one of Kenya’s beautiful beaches.
POPULAR ROUTES IN KENYA
- Popular Routes Where Wildlife Viewing Is a Major Part of the Tour
Kenya has no obvious safari routes, but there are clusters of parks that can easily be visited together. The country is relatively compact, so one can ‘mix and match’ to take in some of the highlights that don’t make an official circuit. Most people fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and make connections from there (out of Wilson Airport). Whichever circuit is chosen, one can always add a return flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, which should definitely be on every itinerary.
Southwest Safari Circuit (1 to 1.5 weeks) – Maasai Mara NR, Lake Nakuru NP
The southwest offers some of Kenya’s premium and most popular wildlife viewing. The country’s main attraction is the Maasai Mara, whose already incredible resident wildlife population is boosted every year by the wildebeest migration coming from the neighboring Serengeti in Tanzania. Most people fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and travel on to The Maasai Mara by small aircraft from Wilson Airport. The next stop can be Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley, known for its healthy population of Black and White rhino.
- Hell’s Gate NP and Lake Naivasha for cycling among wildlife
- Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo for a birding extravaganza and flocks of flamingo in Lake Bogoria
- Amboseli NP for views of Kilimanjaro and big herds of elephant
- Lamu for a taste of Swahili culture and relaxation on the beach
Southeast Safari Circuit (0.5 to 1 week) – Amboseli NP, Tsavo NP
If on a beach holiday and wanting a safari add-on, one’s first choice is probably Tsavo East and West, and slightly further along from the coast, Amboseli NP. Tsavo East is Kenya’s biggest park and the transitional zone between the savannah and the northern semi-desert. The wide-open spaces have amazing wilderness appeal. Amboseli, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, offers excellent elephant viewing and is one of Kenya’s most popular parks. These parks are easily reached by car from any of the coastal resorts around Mombasa and Watamu or from Nairobi.
- Masai Mara for seeing the wildebeest migration and Big Cat action
- Diani Beach for some sun and surf
- Shimba Hills for seeing the rare sable antelope
Central and Northern Safari Circuit (1.5 to 2 weeks) – Meru NP, Samburu NR, Laikipia, Aberdare
This circuit comprises Meru, Laikipia and Samburu – Buffalo Springs. The area is altogether more rugged and remote than their southern counterpart and offers excellent wildlife viewing of some of the more interesting dry-country animal species. Aberdare, in the central highlands, offers a different kind of wildlife watching from tree hotels, including Treetops and the Ark. These places act as massive hides where you can sit and watch the animals come to you.
- Mount Kenya for hiking and climbing the mountain
- Masai Mara for seeing the wildebeest migration and big cat action
The common point of entry for a safari in Kenya is Nairobi. Nairobi is one of Africa’s biggest transport hubs. Many airlines fly to Kenya and competition is strong, making flights to Nairobi relatively inexpensive.
Kenya’s main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international Airport is Moi International Airport (MBA), located 9km/6mi west of Mombasa, but aside from flights to Zanzibar, this is primarily used for domestic and charter flights.
From Nairobi or Mombasa, one can fly or drive between reserves, or opt to do a bit of both. The road to the Maasai Mara is long and bumpy, and the location of the park is remote in comparison to others, which makes flying the most attractive option. Some of the private parks in Laikipia are also often traveled to by air. Other parks can easily be reached by road. Most domestic flights out of Nairobi depart from Wilson Airport (WIL), 6km/4mi south of Nairobi.
Whichever mode one chooses for travel, in most cases the local tour operator will arrange pick-up at the airport and all further transportation as part of the safari-package.
· Domestic Airlines & Flights in Kenya
Wilson Airport (WIL) is used for flights to Tanzania and domestic flights.
Domestic flights can be booked with several carriers:
- Mombasa Air Safari
- Aeronav Air Service
- Kenya Airways
PASSPORT, VISA AND OTHER ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Entry requirements can change, so please contact your local Kenya embassy to verify the information below is current.
- A passport is required for all foreign visitors and must be valid for at least six months.
- Passports must have a clean and a full visa page for endorsement.
- Citizens of most countries require a visa. A list of countries that don’t need a visa is available from the Kenya Immigration Department.
- Single entry visas are available on arrival for most nationalities.
- Visas can be obtained in advance from Kenyan embassies or high commissions. You can also apply through the online visa-application portal, the official website of the Kenyan Department of Immigration Services. Only use this site when applying for an online visa – there are some copycat websites around that overcharge. A visa can also be obtained on arrival for which you pay cash (new notes only). Tourist visas are available for Kenya only, or East Africa (which covers entry to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda).
- When arriving from a yellow-fever-infected country in Africa or the Americas, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required.
MALARIA & VACCINATIONS – KENYA
The information on this page is just a brief, general guide and should not be used in replacement of a consultation with your travel doctor. The government organizations and travel clinics below are trusted resources for complete and up-to-date info about travelers’ health in Kenya.
· Malaria Risk
High risk throughout the country except in high altitude areas over 2,000m including Nairobi, Nairobi NP, Laikipia plateau and Mt. Kenya. Most safari parks are high-risk zones. The highest risk of transition is during the rainy season from September to April.
SAFETY & SECURITY
- Travel Alert
Most countries have issued a travel warning for the Kenyan border areas with Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia, including coastal areas, due to regional instability and kidnapping. Most also issued warnings for some areas in Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as a high terrorism threat which targets the Kenyan government.
Baringo County in central Kenya has been experiencing elevated levels of banditry in early 2017; while there have been armed incursions on private conservation areas in neighboring Laikipia by disgruntled herders. The Kenyan government has been quick to respond, sending in security forces to the affected areas. Nevertheless, we recommend avoiding this region if possible, until things settle down. Independent travelers should at least seek the latest advice before heading into Baringo County or Laikipia, while tourists who have planned to visit this region on an organized safari should consult with their tour operator.
Fortunately, these risk-zones are easily avoided without compromising your safari. When taking normal safety precautions, Kenya is considered safe as a safari destination and for most tourism in general.
More than a million tourists visit Kenya every year, and most visits are trouble-free. By avoiding the areas listed in the travel alert above, Kenya, in our opinion, can be considered a safe travel destination, even more so if the purpose is an organized safari. Nairobi has had a bad reputation for a long time, so walking the city unaccompanied isn’t recommended. An overnight stay at a reputable hotel or an organized visit to one of the many attractions in or around the city is generally safe.