A hearty welcome from Masai Mara tribes draped in scarlet shukas. Lion sightings, newborn Rothschild giraffes, Pink flamingos, and chubby baby elephants play in mud baths. All this perfected with crimson African sunsets and scrumptious campfire food. Kenya is bewitching and captivating. It puts all who wander here under its spell.

Brief Introduction to Kenya

Kenya is an East African country that sits on the equator, with a mix of distinct zones from rainforests, wetlands, moorlands, savannah and semi-dessert. Habitat to over 25000 species of animals, 1000 species of birds and 7000 species of plants and trees, Kenya gives you a complete taste for a safari. The country is also known for the Big Five, which includes lions, leopards, elephants, Black rhinos and Cape buffalo. Kenyans are friendly and welcoming people. Greet people with “Jambo,” which is a friendly way of saying hi in the official Kiswahili language. When interacting with younger generations, they may find it cool if you get them with a “mambo” or “niaje.”

Kenya is known for the Big Five.

Get Your Visa on Time

Kenya requires that you apply for your visa at least 30 days in advance before your trip. The application is completed online and is detailed. You will be required to provide the addresses, websites and phone numbers for your accommodation. You will also need to provide proof of a return air ticket, a travel itinerary and a recent color photograph. Once issued, the visa will be valid for the next three months. Once you are in Kenya, remember to always carry your passport. The police, especially in the cities can occasionally stop you and expect you to present it.

Plan Your Vaccination and Carry Anti-Malaria Pills

Check with your healthcare provider before departure to Kenya. The provider will recommend several vaccinations based on your age and destination. Among the vaccinations specific to Kenya include yellow fever, typhoid fever and meningitis. Since some regions in Kenya are prone to malaria, you may need a prescription for anti-malaria pills. Usually, you will need to start taking the pills a day before entering the country and this may continue for two weeks after leaving.

Nairobi Elephant Orphanage

Don’t Carry Single-Use Plastics

In its environmental conservation efforts, Kenya is a leader in the ban on single-use plastics. Some of the prohibited items include plastic bags. When you arrive at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, your bags are screened and you can be fined if you are found carrying single-use plastics. Consider purchasing convenient reusable mesh bags, which are widely used in Kenya for packing and carrying luggage.

Be Aware of Safety Issues

During our time in Kenya, we always felt safe. While out in the national parks we had no reason to worry. When stopping for coffee or groceries in a shopping centre we always felt secure.
Kenya’s authorities have dealt with terror threats and there is strict security at airports and security and police at supermarkets, outdoor markets and public gatherings. Most travel advisories relate to the non-touristy areas in the border areas between Kenya and the borders of Ethiopia and Sudan.

Masai Mara sunrise

Like any country with extreme poverty, there is petty crime. Be cautious and minimise yourself as a target.

  • Don’t carry large sums of cash
  • Keep money out of view
  • Watch your bags in crowded areas
  • Don’t wear expensive jewellery
  • Don’t walk alone at night

Occasionally, especially during election years, ethnic tensions can be common in Kenya. Although you may not be a target of ethnic hostility, it may be a good idea to avoid visiting Kenya during the electioneering period. Generally, Kenya is a safe country to travel all year round. In fact, thousands of tourists visit Kenya’s wildlife parks every year without incident or worry.
Our accommodation in Nairobi was the Wildebeest Eco Camp. It is safe and secure and only a short drive from the airport and the Elephant Orphanage. The tents with ensuite are cute, clean and good value. Breakfast is included and the buffet meal served at night is nice.

playful zebras
Playful zebras at the Masai Mara

Know the Kenyan Climate

Kenya is on the equator and has a tropical climate, though due to the altitude the temperatures can vary considerably. Kenya’s daytime temperature averages about 20°C to 30°C

Dry Season
June to November
Daytime temperatures average about 23°C at higher altitudes and 30°C at lower altitudes.
At higher altitudes such as Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru, it can get cold especially during June, July and August. Temperatures can drop below 10°C at night.

Wet Season
November to May
Daytime temperatures average about 24°C to 27°C at higher altitudes and 30°C at lower altitudes

High Season
June to October and January to February
Best weather – June to October
The days are beautiful and sunny with clear blue skies.
Some of the parks and campgrounds can get very crowded during these times.

Low Season
March to May
Very high rainfall
Some lodges and camps close due to the wet and road closures.

Lake Nakuru Rothschild Giraffes
Rothschild Giraffe sightings at Lake Nakuru are a highlight for us.

Best Time to Go

If you are going to Kenya for safaris, the best time for game viewing is during the dry winter months between June and August, and the warm months between September and mid-November.

During the dry season, the wildlife is easier to spot as the landscape is dry and the bushes and grass are not too high. The wildlife goes to water and rivers, making the sightings more regular. The wildebeest migration arrives at the Masai Mara in July and returns to Tanzania in October.

During the wet season, it is beautiful and green, and there is still plenty of wildlife but it is harder to spot. Some migrant birds return and newborn animals including thousands of baby antelopes arrive around November and December. It is also a good time to see the Lions.

Except for March, April and May the rains are short and only in the afternoon and night, and rarely spoil a safari. November and December are great times because you will often have the parks and the sightings all to yourself at a lower price!

We were there in early July which is the beginning of the dry, high season which goes until October. The Great Migration happened during this time and we were at the very start of it.

lion sighting in the masai mara
One of many lion sightings in the Masai Mara

Money (Kenyan Currency)

The currency is the Kenyan Shilling.

ATMs are readily available, but many won’t disperse the cash. We found Absa (previously Barclays) and Standard & Chartered the most reliable. Many ATMs in Kenya still have the old magnetic strip technology, which can cause problems with your bank. We’re told they will upgrade to the new chip technology by the end of the year. We brought the required US Dollars with us and withdrew the majority of our Kenyan Shillings at the airport ATM on our arrival. Although the Kenyan shilling is the official currency in the country, it is best to bring some US dollars as well. Some prices are sometimes quoted in USD, and it may be more economical to pay this way.

A Variety of Food Options

Being a vegetarian in Kenya is easy and the food is scrumptious. The locals cook with a lot of couscous, rice, pasta and make use of any fresh produce in the area. Following are some of their local vegetarian dishes which we had a lot of while camping.

Sukuma wiki – Spinach, tomato and onions fried with salt.
Vegetable stew – Served at most local restaurants and often accompanied with rice.
Ndengu – Bean stew made from mung beans, tomato, and onion and deliciously seasoned.
Chapati – Round flat pan-grilled bread that is the perfect accompaniment to the vegetable and bean stews. It’s often sold with fried eggs rolled into the chapati.
Roasted Corn on the cob – A tasty snack with lime and chilli

Our vegetarian bean stew and chapati bread while camping.

Before going on safari remind the company or guide in advance if vegetarian, vegan or other food is required.

Most hotels serve a Western breakfast of cereal, toast, eggs and fruit.

In the cities, there is a good choice of Kenyan, western and international restaurants that serve vegetarian.

Abyssinia Restaurant serves authentic African and Ethiopian food and has vegetarian on their menu. The juice is always freshly squeezed and the coffee is divine.

Clay Oven Restaurant is an Indian restaurant that specialises in North Indian cuisine that even makes cauliflower taste scrumptious!

camp site in the masai mara
Sue, Sammy, Ray and Martin at Ndovu camp in the Masai Mara

Plan Your Safari Itinerary

With so many places to visit, you will need a carefully planned itinerary. The four main parks, including Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Aberdare and Amboseli will take you on about a 6-day safari drive. You may take 6-8 hours to drive from one park to the next. So, a clear plan will help you cover all grounds and have enough rest.

If you want to cover more places, you may use readily available budget airlines. Several budget airlines operate in Kenya, and they are safe, efficient, and cheap. For instance, a common journey in Kenya is from Nairobi to Mombasa (coastal) region, which will cost as low as $40 USD with airlines like Fly540 or Jambojet.

If you want to experience the journey at a cheaper option, using the train will be ideal. Booking the train is online through the Madaraka Express website, with prices ranging from $10 and $30 USD. However, you will need to register for M-Pesa (local mobile payment service), which is the main mode of payment for the train and most services in the country.

a pregnant cheetah in the masai mara
A pregnant cheetah in the Masai Mara

All About a Kenya Safari

Do your research for reviews and recommendations on companies and guides before booking with them. We watched group tours and guides that had a checklist to complete. It was a mad rush to see as much as possible in a short time. It didn’t matter if it was only the backside of a lion; as long as it’s seen, it’s ticked off the list. Ask questions – find out what sort of safari vehicle, how many guests will be in the vehicle, where your campsite or lodge is in relation to the park, is there a time restriction at wildlife sightings and what time will you be in and out of the park?

Our guide Martin hired an extended Toyota Landcruiser Troopcarrier. It was huge but ideal for the trip. Martin took out the middle seat so it had heaps of room for camping equipment and photographing on game drives. There was no shoving for the best position on this trip!

Our Landcruiser

The Landcruiser has a pop-top that provides shade, a must for game drives. We spent most of the time standing and photographing so shade and rain protection was essential. Wildlife can be missed while a person is sitting down inside. A lot of other vehicles had the open-top but no shade roofs, so everyone was sitting down inside to avoid the heat.

A smaller 4WD can be hired to cut the price down.

lion in the masai mara
Martin our guide takes us back to the lion sightings in the late afternoon.

Consider if you want to go as part of a group or privately. Group safaris are often less expensive and can attract like-minded people and you can form lifelong friendships. A private safari is usually more expensive but a lot more flexible.

Going private and having our own guide was worth the extra money to us. The ultimate was having our own vehicle as we were in full control of where we went and how long we spent at sightings. It was up to us and not in the hands of a group of strangers to make decisions for us.

Our campsite in the Masai Mara was Ndovu. It is on the Oloololo gate side, away from the crowds of the busy and more commercial areas of the Masai Mara. This allowed us to have some of the lions and other sightings to ourselves, rather than sharing them with up to 30 plus vehicles fighting for positions in the busier areas.

Most locals don’t mind having their photograph taken if you ask their permission beforehand. Be generous enough to show the photo you have taken. However, do not take photos of any military or government buildings while in Kenya. Your camera can be confiscated, or you could be detained and questioned about the photos.

masai mara ladies
Masai Mara ladies

While the actual sightings of the lions were many, the felines are usually sleeping and obstructed by the grass. Sometimes it requires patience and a good guide to wait until they move. Sometimes we would continue game driving and come back to the location. Usually, the lions would move around 6-6.30 pm. Camping inside the park was a bonus as we could stay late, whereas other vehicles had to leave well before the park closed at 7 pm to get back to their accommodation. The same at sunrise – we had the park to ourselves.

Our 400mm lens was adequate for photographing most of the wildlife. A 600mm lens would have been perfect for the flamingos though!

We suggest a lens hood as the wildlife is often in harsh light or the side of the sun.

mum and baby elephant after playing in the mud
Mum and baby elephant after playing in the mud

A small and collapsible tripod or a small bean bag tripod is a practical choice for travelling and on safari. Rooftop camera mounts are another option for the more serious photographer.

A set of a good pair of binoculars is a must-have.

For birdwatchers don’t forget a field guide for bird identification.

Don’t ask how far somewhere is in kilometres as it can be misleading due to the road conditions. Ask how far in hours or minutes.

We advise that you pack at least one set of light warm layers. It should be something you can easily take off when it warms up later in the morning.

The cold and wind combined can make it freezing on the game drives, especially if you start early in the morning. The wind can dry out lips and skin, so bring plenty of lip balm and moisturiser. A hoodie is also a good idea.

Bands or clips come in handy to tie back long hair as the dust and the wind on safari drives can cause chaos with it.

Use a sunhat with an adjustable drawstring to prevent losing it to the wind.

hyena in the masai mara
This hyena pup wasn’t allowed back in the den while we watched.

A dust-proof bag is essential for all photographic and electronic equipment while travelling.

Don’t forget the insect repellent. Wear long pants and long sleeves for protection against mosquitoes.

Blackouts are common in Kenya and you may go for hours without electricity. A portable power source will ensure that your equipment remains operational. Packing a power bank will also ensure that your smartphone and other devices remain active during your tour.

View from out campsite in the Masai Mara
View from our campsite in the Masai Mara. Our trip was in early July which is the very start of the migration.

HerdTracker is a real-time Google map that tracks the migrating wildebeest’s exact location in the Masai Mara and Serengeti. We never had this but it sounds awesome.

No one can predict exactly when the wildebeest migration will start and finish.

Usually, they arrive in the Masai Mara in July and depart in October.

September is often a good time as the migration is in full mode and wildebeest are seen as far as the eye can see.

flamingos at lake nakuru
The flamingos at Lake Bogoria are an enchanting sight.

The location of the flamingos can no longer be guaranteed. Because of climate change and flooding, they have fragmented and can move daily. The afternoon before our visit, our guide Martin made a phone call to confirm they were at Lake Bogoria.

When visiting the flamingos at Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria or any of the other lakes try and get there early, but not too early, as they can be spooked in the dark and fly off! Get there immediately after sunrise and be the first to arrive because the flamingos can be startled by crowds and fly off or move from the shoreline. If you arrive later, there is a possibility of missing them.

flamingos in flight
It’s magical to see the flamingos in flight.

The park fees in Kenya are expensive, but you have to pay them no matter where you stay. They are sometimes not included in the advertised price of accommodation, so make sure you check this. If the fees are what it takes for Kenya to protect their wildlife, we consider it a small price to pay.

If you’re not that keen on camping, there are many accommodation options in and outside the park, from backpacker accommodation, Airbnb hosting, local apartments and 5-star luxury lodges. You can stay at any of these and still have the private services of a guide for guiding, game drives and transport.

rhinos at lake nakuru
These rhinos came right up to our vehicle at Lake Nakuru

What we Packed for our Camping Safari

When going on a camping safari, you need to pack light. If not on a private trip the safari vehicle may have another four or more passengers, with little space for luggage. For our safari, we packed:
Cargo long pants
Light long-sleeved shirt
Stretch long pants for relaxing around the fire at night
Shorts
T-Shirt
A Fleece/Hoodie
Walking boots/shoes
Socks
Flip Flops/Thongs
Broad Brimmed Hat
Our cameras and equipment packed in camera bags covered in a dust proof bag
Small change for markets/locals
Toiletries including heaps of moisturiser, lip balm, sunscreen and wipes
Binoculars
Torch

Masai mara lion
A beautiful lion from the bachelor group in the Masai Mara
  • The Kenyan power supply is 220 Volt 50Hz and Type G plug.
  • Water is NOT drinkable. Drink only bottled or treated water.
  • WiFi is scarce. We bought a local sim card for our smartphone and used it as a hotspot for internet. We paid $10 for 3GB of Data.
  • DON’T FORGET YOUR YELLOW FEVER VACCINATION & CERTIFICATE because you are not allowed out of the country without it!
  • EXTRA TIP: Keep embassy and consulate details on hand. You may take a photo of your passport, visa, vaccination proof and other documents. Save them in an email for easy access.
Masa Mara elephant
Elephant in the Masai Mara

Travelling to Kenya is an amazing experience you will never forget. You will meet some of the friendliest people, experience world-leading safaris, incredible wildlife and taste some amazing African cuisine.

Our driver and guide is Martin Maina from Nairobi Specialist
More Information on Kenya’s National Parks Kenya Wildlife Service
Campsite Information

Read More of our Kenya Blogs

Masai Mara: Our Ultimate Camping Safari
Nairobi Elephant Orphanage
Elephants of Ithumba
Lake Nakuru National Park
The Perfect 14 Day Kenya Itinerary

13 Responses to “Practical Tips for Visiting Kenya: Guide for First-time Visitors”

  1. This is such an informative blog. You’ve done right by the animals, the country and the tourist industry. Not to mention your followers! Once again I enjoyed the ride on your word images AND the photos! You took me there. And at no small effort on your own behalves. The blog is so jam packed with the variety of animals and changing scenes, it is easy to see it was a ‘working holiday’ for you. And that you loved every bit of it. Not that the comfort wasn’t available, you just didn’t opt to get out of the wind or rain if it meant missing the magic! You have the gift of seeing what many miss. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    • Thank you Gypsy.Kenya is a beautiful country. The wildlife and people are amazing.
      We will definitely be going back if we ever have the opportunity!

      Reply
  2. Ray & Sue,
    My wife and I were fortunate enough to go to Kenya in 2002. We were also fortunate that we were the only two people on the safari and thus had the whole vehicle(8 seater bus), the guide and the cook all to ourselves for the 10 days of the safari. We camped in the national parks and that was probably the best part of the trip because you are out there 24/7 and see and hear everything that happens, including having lions around the tent during the night. If you have to go to the toilet at night, that can be interesting. The best part of being the only clients was that we could stay and watch a leopard sleeping as long as we wanted, or simply watch giraffe browsing without consulting anyone else about their preferences. Our favourite park was Samburu where we got to see Kaminyak the lioness who tried to adopt several Oryx calves. Sadly she disappeared just after we left. I am so looking forward to going back soon. By the way,our visit to the elephant orphanage was wonderful.

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Hi Ian. Thanks for your comment. Lucky you to get the safari all to yourself! We would never do it any other way. The guide to ourselves, the cook & not to mention all the wildlife! Yes, going to the toilet at night is interesting but all part of the adventure! It would have been a great experience to see Kaminyak and it is so sad she has disappeared. We never made it to Samburu but that is definitely on our list for our next visit to Kenya. It is too much of a beautiful country not to go back.

      Reply
  3. Christine Highams

    Do you have more photographs of the camping? We are adding on a trip to Amboselli and Masai Mara to our other activities in Kenya and like bush camping. Was the toilet away from your tent or attached to it, short drop type thing? not so worried about the shower. Also going to Ithumba and Umani Springs, August 2017

    Reply
    • Hi Christine. Thanks for your comment. The toilet was away from the tent and was bush style with a hole dug in the ground. This is what a lot of bush camping in Africa involves and this was by no means a luxurious camp. Depending on your budget you can go more upmarket if you want. If you go on a private camping safari, it is up to you what camping equipment you hire. No matter what way you choose to go Kenya is a magical destination!

      Reply
  4. Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld

    Great article! Kenya is one of the places that I want to visit the most in Africa. I’m sure that this information can be very useful for me when I’m finally starting planning a trip to Kenya. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Hi Bilyana. We hope our information can be helpful. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch. Thanks!

      Reply
  5. Good Evening! I have stumbled upon your website as I prepare for my trip to volunteer in Kenya in June-July. We’re going on game drive and I am looking to upgrade my camera. What camera did you use for these photos? They’re beautiful!

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Hi Taylor! Thanks for your comment and visiting our site. I (Sue) have a Nikon D7100 and Ray has a Nikon D800. Any other questions, please don’t hesitation to contact us again.

      Reply
      • Taylor Poczobut

        Thank you so much for the reply, Sue! Is there a camera you would recommend more than the other? Anything you dislike about either of the cameras? I have a Nikon D3000 right now and it just doesn’t take the best quality photos. I was in Korea in September and the photos I took just weren’t as sharp as I would have liked them to be.

        Reply
        • Ray & Sue

          To be honest Taylor, the only difference that I see in the images is the D800 file size is a lot bigger. By just looking at the images I cannot tell which camera they were taken from. The D7100 also makes an excellent video camera and is highly rated for this. Hope this helps!

          Reply
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