Most people primarily know Kenya as one of the most beautiful places to see the Big Five during a safari in one of its many national parks, including the Masai Mara. Tourists also love to visit the many resorts at Diani Beach. But the country has a lot more to offer. Do you really want to get to know the country? Then you should leave the beaten paths and explore rural Kenya, or visit different types of neighborhoods in the cities, including the less prosperous neighborhoods, and slums.
On safari in Kenya; an absolute must
One of the top things on most travellerʼs must-do lists in Kenya is spotting at least one lion, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo and leopard. These five animals are known as “the big five”. The term comes from the big game hunters that used to be active in Africa. The “big five” were the hardest to kill. These days, the term “big five” refers to the animals people want to see the most in Kenya, although many tourists are equally impressed by the many giraffes, zebras, gnus, monkeys, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, hyenas and cheetahs. Like the big five, these are all found in the Masai Mara; all the more reason why this is the most visited natural reserve in Kenya. Camels are not frequently found in these reserves, but they can be found on the side of the road; especially in the north of the country.
Spotting lions on safari in the Masai Mara, in the southwest of Kenya
Which national parks are most interesting?
For many tourists, it can be difficult to decide on what will be a fun and varied program. Is one park enough, or should you visit all of them? And how many days should you spend per park? Of course, this is a personal choice. Still, experience has shown that the majority of tourists love going on safari for a few days, but have had their fill after a day or four. To get a proper view of a park, it is recommended to spend at least an entire day within its gates. Because you also have to keep in mind the travel time to the park and the fact that most tourists only have a few days at their disposal, most tourists choose to have a good look at 2 to 3 national parks at most.
Most popular for a reason: the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru
Most tourists travelling to Kenya start their holiday with a safari to the Masai Mara. After all, virtually all animals can be found there, the area is exceptionally beautiful, and you can find safari tours for just about any budget. The rhinoceros and the leopard can sometimes be difficult to find. For the leopard, this applies to just about every reserve. To still get a chance to see large numbers of rhinos, a visit can be made to Lake Nakuru. This makes the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru the most visited parks in Kenya.
A Rothschild giraffe at Lake Nakuru, east of Nairobi.
Cost of a safari in Kenya
The cost of a safari consist of three parts; the entry ticket, the transportation and a place to stay.
Firstly, the entry ticket. For any national park in Kenya, a ticket needs to be purchased. The prices vary between 30 and 50 pounds per person per day. The ticket can be purchased at the gate. Did you book your safari in advance? Closely check whether it includes the entry ticket, or if it needs to be paid for on location.
Next, transportation. All national parks allow you to drive through the park in your own (rental) vehicle, except in the Masai Mara. Regardless, many tourists use a safari tour operator that will arrange a van or an SUV with a chauffeur that also functions as a guide. The cheaper tour operators generally use seven-person vans, the more expensive ones use SUVs that can fit six people. In both cases, the exact same roads are traversed and the exact same sights and animals are viewed. All tour operators make use of vans or SUVs that have roofs that can be opened up. This makes it possible to stand in the car and get face to face with the animals. All chauffeurs are also constantly in contact with each other. If one chauffeur sees a lion or a rhino, it will be passed on and jeeps and vans will line up in front of the animals in no time. In other words: whether you choose for a budget safari or a luxury safari, you will get to view the same things. Exclusive entry tickets can be booked for 150 pounds per person for a fantastic three-day safari in the Masai Mara, including transportation to and through the park, a guide, excellent meals and two overnight stays in luxury tent camps.
The third part of the cost for a safari in Kenya consists of the accommodation. Of course, this is optional; in case you are driving yourself, you can report at the park in the morning and leave in the evening. In a number of parks, it is possible to spend the night within the borders of the park. Because entry tickets in parks are issued per 24 hours, it can be cheaper to book a more expensive accommodation within the park borders. For example, if you are making an evening safari and a morning safari in the same park, by spending the night in the park you won’t need to pay the entry ticket twice. Aside from the cost aspect, it is also of course simply very fun to sleep inside a park, between the wild animals. Many accommodations in and around the natural parks in Kenya consist of tent camps. These generally concern large tents with luxurious beds and their own bathrooms.
Resting in a resort at the coast
Finished your safari? Then it’s now time to rest! Many tourists combine a safari in Kenya with a wonderful stay in a resort at the coast. The most popular place for this is Diani Beach, south of Mombasa. The beaches are white and feature plenty of palm trees. The food there is delicious and a welcome relief for travellers that sometimes primarily had to subside on local dishes that featured a lot of rice. There are resorts with their own private beaches and resorts that are situated at the other side of the main road. Most resorts also allow tourists that aren’t spending the night there, provided they purchase food or drinks there. In most cases, an entry price (up to 30 pounds) is charged. Various resorts at the Kenyan coast offer activities such as scuba diving, kite surfing and jet skiing.
Watch out in the dark
The resorts in Kenya are guarded by security personnel 24 hours a day. However, do not leave the resort after sundown. For the dirt-poor inhabitants of the slums and nearby Mombasa, the temptation can sometimes be too much to rob rich tourists in the dark. In Diana Beach, this means that after sundown there isn’t much to do; life primarily takes place between sunrise and sundown (from seven to seven) and within the walls of the resort.
The resorts at Diani Beach, a lovely place to rest after a few days of safari in the wilds.
Slums and poverty in Kenya
Many tourists struggle with being confronted with the bitter poverty many people in Kenya live in. Some comfort can be taken in the thought that the income levels per inhabitant, as well as the healthcare and life expectancy has been steadily growing for years, but not every Kenyan benefits from this. Instead of looking the other way, some travellers choose to look up the poverty. This can be done by making a slum tour. There are organisations that busy themselves with creating a better living environment in the slums; both international help organisations, as well as local projects. These sometimes also offer tours of the slums, with which the price of the tour is entirely for the benefit of the project, such as a school, water supply or sanitary features.
It is not safe to wander through the slums on your own. Still, travellers that travel with a guide will notice that most Kenyans are very friendly. Often times, they are happy to see (western) tourists. Children will yell “mzungu, mzungu” (foreigner, foreigner) and “how are you”? But adult Kenyans also frequently show their appreciation. This is because most people with a western appearance go to the slums to help; as volunteers, to give a donation or out of genuine interest.
Giving a helping hand in Kenya is not hard for tourists. While it may seem pushy at times, during a tour through a slum you will almost exclusively be shown dismal scenes, during which you will hear how these can be fixed for a small fee. For example, a family that doesn’t have a bed and sleeps on the floor; for a few dozen euros, a mattress can be bought. Be prepared for this, this often happens with the best intentions. Are you planning to give a significant amount to help? Ask for proof to be sent afterwards. For example, a picture of the same house with the mattress in it. This is not seen as suspicious, but as a genuine hope that a gift is well-spent.
Most airlines flying to Kenya (such as Kenya Airways) allow each passenger to check-in 2 pieces of luggage with a total weight of 20 kilograms. For many tourists, this is more than enough. Are you planning to visit a slum or to travel through Kenya with your own rental car? Then you can consider filling the remaining space in your suitcase with useful things for the very poor. Things that are greatly appreciated are for example school supplies, such as writing equipment. But also things that the poorest Kenyans can’t spend money on but will still give them joy; such as a football, or (used) toys.
One of the most beautiful ways to discover Kenya: behind the wheel, in a rental car.
Exploring Kenya with a rental car
You can choose to travel exclusively by plane while in Kenya, but if you want to get a good picture of your holiday destination, it is a good idea to consider a rental car. Adventurous tourists can drive these themselves. More often, a guide is purchased that will also act as a chauffeur. Many highlights in Kenya are hard to reach if you don’t possess your own car. Driving through Kenya also provides a better general view of the country. You will see the new Chinese roads and rail tracks, and the rising industry. But you’ll also see plenty of little villages along the main roads, life on the streets, and huts in which a number of tribes still live. And not to forget; the breathtaking landscapes, which are different throughout Kenya. For more information on renting a car in Kenya, read the page with general travel information about Kenya.
An active holiday in Kenya
Feel like getting on your feet after several days in a safari jeep or lying around on Diani Beach? Get some physical action underway and climb Mount Kenya. The highest mountain of Kenya can be climbed from various places (always under guidance). Depending on the experience, equipment and chosen route, a return ticket can take three to six days. Don’t like climbing, but you’d rather go biking? Rent a bike at the entrance of Hell’s Gate. This is the only park which you can cross by bike. Take out at least five to six hours for this, and make sure you pick a bike where all the gears work; Hell’s Gate has large elevation differences.