Chania Hemsley-Smith, one of our East Africa team, answers questions about travel in her beloved Kenya. Our Frequently Asked Questions sections are intended to help you decide if a particular destination is what you are looking for. You can also ring Chania or email her if you’d like to chat one-to-one.
Why travel to Kenya?
To me Kenya really is the home of safari – it all started here and the annual migration in the Masai Mara is the image everyone has when they think about a safari. The television show Big Cat Diary really put the Mara on the map and you can see all the Big-Five here too, elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. I love the range of different habitats that you find in Kenya - the Rift valley cuts right through the country creating everything from deserts to glacial peaks, lush rainforests to open plains and of course Kenya has a long Indian Ocean coastline with great beaches. There are tons of other things to do here as well…. everything from camel trekking, hot-air ballooning to horse riding, kite-surfing and diving. Stop me as I could go on and on!
See our selection of Kenya Holidays and Tours.
How do we get there?
Kenya Airways fly a daily overnight service into and out of Nairobi with a huge network of onward flights to the Kenyan coast, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and further afield to the Seychelles. British Airways fly a daily day service and overnight flight back to London. In addition to a number of services from the rest of UK via Europe and the Middle East.
How do people get around the country?
Whilst on safari you'll get around by four-wheel drive vehicle with the sides open allowing for all-round game watching and giving you the best chance to get great photos. An excellent network of smaller planes can transport you to and from all the main national parks.
If there was one thing I shouldn’t miss, what would you recommend?
Safari in the Masai Mara definitely, and if you have the budget, a balloon flight over the Mara would top my list as its a fabulous way to see the animals and get a better view of the topography of the whole area. It’s the best geography lesson I’ve ever had! If you’re on honeymoon in the Mara, put this on your Honeymiles gift list… you won’t regret it.
Is Kenya a safe destination?
We always follow Foreign Office advice and currently don’t advise travel in the far north but the main game reserves and southern beaches are hundreds of kilometres south of Kenya's northern border. As with travel in most countries, don’t leave your valuables unattended or on show. On safari always listen carefully to your guide and follow instructions. Whilst you are on holiday we’ll look after all the transfers to and from your hotel or lodge and our expert team on the ground are fabulous hosts who know the country well, so you’ll feel well looked after.
Can I drink the tap water?
No I wouldn’t recommend drinking the tap water. Whilst on safari I suggest people drink the bottled water that will be available in your tent or lodge and if you need extra at any point you’ll be able to purchase it.
Is English widely spoken?
Kenyans who work in tourism do speak good English, but the main language is KiwSwahli and if you do learn a few words you will make plenty of friends!
Should I expect very basic facilities in all Kenya hotels and lodges?
We use lodges that offer a high standard of comfort and all have en suite facilities but the properties range from basic camping to über luxury, depending on budget. We always concentrate on the quality of your experience though so you will have incredible game-viewing even on a camping safari, but there wont be anywhere to plug in a hair dryer, so it depends on what matters to you!
What is the local food like?
Most of the time you’ll eat in your lodge as you’ll be miles from anywhere, and here western cuisine is served with the occasional Africa dish. In Nairobi there are many restaurants to choose from and on the coast the seafood is excellent. If you have a specific dietary requirement, make sure you let us know well ahead of time to ensure there’s a choice of food available to you when you arrive.
How much of a culture shock is travelling to Kenya?
Kenya is a very poor country and I would say be prepared to see people who have very little in terms of material possessions. I've travelled extensively around Kenya and I've always felt really welcome. People want to talk with you and this is one of the most enjoyable parts of any holiday.
How can I contribute to the local economy and conservation programmes?
If you stay at a camp that borders the Mara you will be paying a conservation fee that goes to the local Masai people, as the land is in fact rented from them. Throughout Kenya many lodges are closely involved with the local community and you can choose a lodge that not only employs its staff from the immediate locality but is also owned by the community. Whilst staying at many of the camps country-wide you can visit a local village or school and they are always delighted to receive books, pens and footballs. Ask us during the planning stage of your holiday and we can give you more specific advice.
Do I need to get any vaccinations ahead of travel and/or malaria tablets?
Yes you will. The best thing to do is to visit your doctor at least six weeks in advance of travel as they can give you the most up to date advice. Kenya is malarial though so you will need to take appropriate precautions.
I am pregnant, can I travel to Kenya?
We wouldn’t recommend travel to a malarial country in these circumstances, but always consultant your doctor.