Preparing for Travel
As well as conventional guide books, there are many travelogues, novels and websites that give compelling accounts of adventures and personal experiences in Africa. They convey more inspiring impressions than mere facts and statistics can ever offer, and we recommend that you seek out and compare for yourself those that will appeal to your own interested and match the level of research you wish to undertake before you travel.
As an introduction, we suggest you look at the following titles – although this list should by no means be considered exhaustive or exclusive!
- Out of Africa – Karen Blixen (Isak Dineson)
- The Flame Trees of Thika – Elspeth Huxley
- North of South – Shiva Naipaul
- Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux
- Gogo Mama – Sally Sara
- Long Way Down – Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
Please bring more than enough memory cards from home for your safari. Cameras may be recharged in hotels, but we recommend bringing spare batteries as well to avoid disappointment.
You will also need:
- Mosquito spray (with active DEET ingredient)
- Your own personal first aid kit
- Small daypack for your day-to-day needs
- Antibacterial wipes
- Photocopy of your passport data pages
- Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate
- Travel insurance policy details
- Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
- Warm clothing – raincoat, warm hat, socks etc as across Africa wet/dry and hot/cool climatic periods change invariably
Due to potential difficulties in accessing funds whilst travelling, we recommend that you bring as much cash as you feel comfortable carrying, and have the remainder available by credit card.
Foreign currency is easily exchanged in hotels, banks and money changing offices. The US dollar is the most recognised and accepted of all foreign currencies. It is important that you obtain USD notes in good condition (not torn or too worn, with no stamps, ink or other marks) and issued after 2006 as older or damaged USD notes are not accepted.
Travellers’ Cheques are generally not accepted at most banks, hotels or exchange offices. We do not recommend using Travellers’ Cheques.
Visa and MasterCard are usually accepted for purchases in large hotels and shops in major cities, but are generally not accepted in smaller towns. Cash advances can be obtained from most banks and ATMs in major cities using Visa and MasterCard, to withdraw local currency. Please contact your card issuer for information regarding using your credit card in East Africa.
You should be in good health to fully enjoy your tour. We recommend that you have a general medical and dental check-up before departure and that you consider the rigours of your safari, your personal ability and comfort levels.
Medication and other items are widely available in larger cities. However, as the quality may not be the same as products from home, it may be useful to bring a supply of basic items with you including malaria prophylaxis.
A Yellow Fever Certificate is required to enter Zanzibar and often required in your home country on return from Africa. OTA recommends that you contact your doctor or a recognised travel health specialist for up-to-date advice on travel vaccinations.
You must ensure that you are in possession of a passport with at least six months validity from the date you complete your tour.
For most nationalities, before entering Kenya, you will need to apply for an e-visa online through the E-Citizen web portal. We will give you step-step-instructions on how to do this when you book your safari.
Please ensure that you have at least two blank pages in your passport, plus an additional blank page for each visa/African country you are visiting.
Any visa information provided by OTA is for general guidance purposes only; visa requirements and fees are subject to change. It is essential that you check current entry requirements with each relevant embassy/consulate prior to departure. Visa procurement is the responsibility of the traveler and not of OTA.
Kenya has Yellow Fever and travellers are required to have a certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever – more often to return to their home country after being in Kenya.
Although you can find information about gaps in Malaria’s reach in Kenya and it can be argued that the risk is seasonal, as a general rule we advise travellers to take prophylaxis regardless – it is better to be safe. There is normally little risk in Nairobi city and the central highlands (areas about 2500m), so if you prefer not to take prophylaxis, then we suggest an itinerary that limits your travel to those area.
This is no substitute for professional medical advice and it is important you consult your doctor about additional vaccinations (eg. polio, typhoid and hepatitis are also usually suggested).
Kenya is a year-round destination, except for April and May which can be quite wet. Much of Kenya is at a high altitude, making the weather fairly mild despite the equator cutting through the middle of the country. It is advisable to bring a sweater or jacket at all times of the year as evenings can get cool.
Visit the Kenya Climate Guide for average temperatures and rainfall throughout the year in the areas of Kenya you want to travel.
Travelling in the short rainy season is not bad. It buckets down for about half an hour, usually in the early morning or evening, leaving the rest of the day dry if not a little overcast. Your photos won’t have a brilliant blue sky, but PhotoShop/Instagram can fix that. An umbrella is a necessary accessory for this time of year, but wildlife viewing is still OK.
It is cheaper certainly, but not better. Guesthouses in Kenyan towns are generally geared towards local drivers who need something dirt cheap and are not fussy about the quality. Local women looking to make some extra money tend to frequent such guest houses, and while the beer is cheap, the company is not always welcome. If you are on a shoestring budget you may consider it, but if you can afford to, our advice is to get closer to the parks.
There are campsites on the outskirts of most of the parks in Kenya, where you can pitch a tent for about the same price as a room in town. The security tends to be tighter and the general ambience a bit more relaxing. If camping is really not your thing, then some campsites do have reasonably priced bandas (huts) or permanent tents, some with and some without en suites.
If you really want to be amongst the action (wildlife that is!), accommodation inside the parks are the best bet. The prices are commensurate with location of course, so be prepared to pay for the pleasure of being in the thick of it. But the service, food, facilities and rooms are often worth the splurge.
Transport is often what keeps travellers in ordinary guesthouses in the towns. Our suggestion is to bite the bullet and find a reputable tour operator who will find you decent accommodation, take you into the parks and bring you back in one piece. Leaving things to chance to find someone to take you into the park from the backwater town you have landed in, is too risky – there are many sham operators, with dodgy vehicles, who are out of sight from the rest of the industry and the authorities. Of course there are also legitimate operators there too, so it is imperative you do your research and ask plenty of questions before sending any money.
The comfort of the journey is another consideration. You’ve found a great local operator who will take you into the park and he’s based in the nearby town, but now he wants to charge you much more than a local bus would to get from Nairobi to the town. So you opt for the local bus…. and spend the next 6 hours with your heavy pack on your lap, banging your head with every bump in the road, music blaring, pressed up against the window as they pack more people into the bus. Hmmm…. is it worth it? For some it is – getting the real local experience is what travel is all about. But for others, hiring private transport is a very sound investment. No judgement, just be sure you know what sort of traveller you REALLY are, before making rash decisions about comfort versus budget.
If you want to travel overland to the coast, then Amboseli National Park followed by Tsavo or Lumo Sanctuary make two nice stops between Nairobi and Mombasa. From Amboseli you can get stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro – this is where you get that quintessential photo of elephants crossing the plain in front of the majestic mountain. Tsavo East and West National Parks together make up the biggest park in Kenya. Next door is Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary where animals can roam freely between all the parks. At Lumo, a community project works closely with the local community trying to tackle the human-wildlife conflict. Visitors can get involved at the school, going on patrol to check for animal snares, or simply visiting the village and talking to people.
If you prefer to fly from Nairobi to the coast, then Maasai Mara, Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru are the typical trio for a week-long safari. For something a bit different you could head north to Samburu, passing Mt Kenya on the way and also stopping at Ol Pejeta where Kenya’s only chimp sanctuary is located. From Samburu, travel west to Thomson’s Falls and Lake Baringo, before heading south to Lake Nakuru National Park and then finish in Nairobi.
Volunteering is rarely free. Most organisations rely on funding from external donors and every penny is put into their projects. To get funding for a volunteer who wants to spend a couple of weeks with no specific skills is difficult. If you do have skills that are needed for the organisation to develop you might have a better chance and indeed they may be prepared to use some of their funding to support you so you can train them with skills they need. But this is rare and at the very least volunteers would be expected to cover the cost of the food and accommodation. This cost varies depending on your preferred level of comfort. Home stays are the cheapest, but also the most primitive with little or no privacy. Many families live in one or two rooms, so you would probably be expected to share a room with the children. If this does not appeal and you prefer your own room, then you can pay any amount of money for various types of accommodation.
SE7EN is a website that specialises in low cost volunteering opportunities. Idealist.com mostly has opportunities for people with specific skills. Or you can contact the organisations directly to find out from them – this should be cheaper than going through a volunteer agency, but also riskier because you do not have a guarantee that the organisation is genuine or not. OTA has connections to several community-based organisations (who we have checked out) to which we can connect volunteers directly.
Many travellers combine Kenya and Tanzania for the ultimate safari experience, but deciding where to go first depends on a few factors. Of course the logistics of where your flights arrive and depart make an impact. Nairobi is the main international hub so the chances are you will fly in and out of there. This makes a loop quite a logical answer – start in Kenya, travel either east (to Amboseli) or west (to Maasai Mara) from Nairobi, then cross into Tanzania, traverse the Serengeti and enter Kenya on the other side returning via a park or two to Nairobi. That’s a wonderful itinerary of about two weeks.
If you are flying into one country and departing from the other then you might like to consider how you want to finish. Many people like to finish with some time on the coast, which is usually Zanzibar in Tanzania (although Kenya’s coast is also popular). The time of year also determines which country to visit first. Going first to the Maasai Mara while the Migration is there might present an anti-climax in subsequent parks. The best idea is to chat with your tour operator about your priorities and goals of your trip and work together to make the best itinerary according to all these factors.
Travelling in Kenya
Dining at a local restaurant in Kenya is commonly referred to as “going for nyama choma”, which literally translates as “meat barbecue”. The meat tends to be goat or beef and is ordered by the kilogram. It is always served well done, regardless of what you say. It is cut into bite-size chunks which you dip in salt. It is typically accompanied with ugali, a porridge made of maize meal. Other side dishes include githeri (beans and maize), kienyeji (mashed potato with maize) and sikuma (sautéed kale and tomato). A cold Tusker (Kenyan beer) is a usually the beverage of choice with nyama choma. $10 tends to feed two people.
The selection and variety of foods in major cities is reasonable, but outside the cities the type of restaurants tend to be local nyama choma places. If you opt to stay in lodges on full-board, the quality and variety of food will be line with western standards.
Observing simple precautions such as peeling fruit, avoiding uncooked or reheated food and using only bottled or boiled water will minimize stomach upsets. Bottled water is widely available and recommended for drinking and also brushing teeth.
Internet access is available in major cities and towns at internet cafes. Wireless is less prevalent, but it is growing and many up-market accommodations provide it. Cheap sim cards are available in many shops and supermarkets.
It is improving. Many footpaths and roads in Nairobi are rickety and may present a rough ride for those in a wheelchair. But once at a mall it is smooth sailing. Likewise, out in the bush the paths are often rough. However, an increasing number of lodges in the parks are developing wheelchair accessible facilities. There are not as many taxis that are equipped for wheelchairs in Kenya as in Western countries and public transport is definitely out of the question. But if you talk to your tour operator about your accessibility requirements, the magic of Kenya is that anything is possible
Traditionally, Nairobi has had the nickname “Nai-robbery”, but this may not be so fair these days. Many Kenyan’s do live in poverty and there are reports of muggings from time to time. But these are opportunistic attacks on people clearly displaying wealth and making it easy for someone to grab. It can be argued that this is the case anywhere around the world – you must always keep your wits about you wherever you are. Violent crime is much rarer, especially against tourists. Kenyans recognise that tourists bring money to their country, and attacks on foreigners are punished severely if they occur at all.