General Overview

Kenya lies astride the equator on the east coast of Africa between the 5oS and 40oS parallels, covering a total land area of 582,000 sq. km (which includes 13,600 sq. km of inland lakes). Its western border touches the 34oE longitude. It is bordered in the north by Ethiopia and the Sudan, in the west by Uganda, in the south by Tanzania, and in the east by Somalia and the Indian Ocean. The country rises from sea level at the Coast to altitudes of 5,100m (Mt. Kenya). This explains how one can experience the hot and humid climate of the Coast, the damp moorland climate of the highlands, the bone-chilling snow of Mt. Kenya, and the scorching desert climate of Mandera, all in the same country. The changes in altitude create habitats and ecosystems that support a great diversity of plant and animal life. Tourism is Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earner. Kenya’s wildlife, its pleasant climate, beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, range of water sports, developed hotel infrastructure and hospitable people have made the country one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations.

Kenya has set aside 10 per cent of its landmass for wildlife conservation. It has more than 50 national parks and game reserves, each having its own unique landscape and individual character.

The country is well served by a network of roads and air services; and offers a range of international-standard hotels, game lodges, tree hotels and self catering chalets. Nairobi provides the businessman with every facility; communication, hotels and conference venues; both large and small.

Between 1991 and 1992, the country experienced a decline in the number of tourist arrivals partly due to global recession and adverse publicity in the international media. However, as a result of economic liberalisation, the diversification of tourist generating markets, and the Government’s commitment to providing an enabling environment, tourism promotion and political stability, the industry has recovered from the slump and is growing once again.


Area: 582,000 sq. km

Time:GMT +3

Population:27 million

Growth Rate:3.6%

Per Capita GNP:US$

Currency: Kenya Shilling (KSh)

Exchange Rate: KSh60 = US$1

Capital City: Nairobi

Government: Multi-party parliament

Head of State: President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi

The People of Kenya

Archaeological evidence suggests that some two million years ago man’s ancestors roamed the area in northern of Kenya, near Lake Turkana. Hominid fossil finds dating back to that period have earned Kenya the sobriquet, ‘The Cradle of Mankind’. However, today’s Kenyans are almost entirely immigrants whose ancestors reached the country less than 10,000 years ago. Oral and linguistic evidence indicates that Kenya has been the focus of three major migrations. The Cushites from the north and north east – of what is now Ethiopia – came perhaps some 9,000 years ago. The Cushites, divided into southern and eastern groups, occupied the northern half of the country until a movement of Nilotes entering Kenya, west of Lake Turkana, began a period of interplacement of the southern Cushites to what is now Tanzania. The development of these mixed societies led to the Nilotic immigrants being divided into two groups the Plains Nilotes and the Highland Nilotes. A later immigration (around 500 years ago) of lake Nilotes, from the direction of what is now Uganda, led to a further Nilotic settlement around Lake Victoria.

Around 1,000 AD, there was a considerable movement into Kenya of the Bantu from the south and west. This movement, which began in the Cameroon area of West Africa, spread far and wide eventually occupying much of eastern and most of central and southern Africa. The last of the immigrations which has contributed towards the cocktail of cultures now represented in Kenya is that of Arabs who arrived as traders and became settlers from as early as the third century AD. However, the majority arrived in the last 400 years.

Today, Bantu speakers are the majority in Kenya – around 60 per cent. The Kikuyu (sometimes Gikuyu), with their close kin, the Embu and the Meru, are the most numerous totalling some six and a half million out of Kenya’s total population of about 25 million. The next largest group among the Bantu are Luhya who occupy the three western districts of Busia, Bungoma and Kakamega and who number around three million. Then, still in numerical order, are the Akamba some two and a half million whose wood-carving skills are recognised worldwide. Others are the Gusii from the rich highlands just east of Lake Victoria and the Miji Kenda from the Coast. The population of each of these two groups number about 1.5 million. The rural Bantu are agriculturalists growing much of their rich coffee for which Kenya is famous and all are noted for their diligence and industry.

The Lake Nilotes are represented by the Luo who occupy three districts bordering Lake Victoria. The Luo are farmers (and fishermen) in circumstances which are far from easy. Their country is perhaps most suitable for cattle and formerly they were owners of huge herds but their growth in numbers has now made this impossible. In a region where rainfall is often either abundant or inadequate, Luo farmers have developed an attitude characterised by stoicism. The Luo traditional dress is arguably the best decorated in Kenya. Body ornamentation together with colourful feathers, hippo tusks and metal embellishments make Luo dancing and festivals eye catching. Music, too, is an important cultural characteristic. Its traditional instruments are the Orutu, a one stringed lyre and the thum, an eight stringed instrument producing haunting melodies.

The Plains Nilotes are represented by the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana all of whom are primarily pastoralists famed for their fighting prowess. The Turkana inhabit an arid sun-scorched and almost inhospitable land. Their large district (67,000 sq km) lies to the west, and is bordered by Lake Turkana. Their basic social unit is the family and their simple homesteads reflect the ever present need for mobility. The camel is the principal source of wealth and well being for the Turkana. Their material culture is highly developed and aesthetic. It is displayed in remarkable personal adornment and crafts skills. In the first category are the splendid hairstyles for men often so elaborate that they require that the wearer uses a neck stool while sleeping. They use leather, seeds, shells, horns, bones and stones in their crafts.

The Maasai, speakers of the Maa language, despite not being numerically strong (about 770,000) are nevertheless Kenya’s best known ethnic group. They have always been a formidable force, even in pre-colonial days. The Maasai have a deep involvement with cattle. May your cattle flourish is a typical Maasai greeting. Cattle represent wealth but they also mean food – milk, blood and meat. They also provide leather for sandals and beds and they are a currency for marriage, fines and sacrifices. Life for a Maasai is a series of ceremonies and celebrations. These start from initiation to junior to senior warrior, and junior to senior elder. Closely related to the Maasai are the Samburu who live in a large district north of the equator. They herd cattle but recently they have taken up wheat-farming on the cool, windswept plateau called Leroghi where the rainfall is twice the district average. A part from more lavish ornamentation, a Samburu can be distinguish from a Maasai because he speaks much faster. In fact theMaa, spoken by a Samburu, appears to be one enormously long word!

The Highland Nilotes are almost all part of a group now called the Kalenjin. This group numbering about 2.3 million is made up of the Kipsigis, the Nandi, the Tugen, the Marakwet, the Keiyo and the Pokot. Somewhat removed from the main community is another Kalenjin group, the Sabaot who live on the slopes of Mount Elgon near the Uganda border. The Kalenjin are disciplined farmers, now mainly agrarian but where space permits you find cattle manifesting an ancestral love of these animals. Most of Kenya’s tea is grown in Kipsigis and Nandi country. Many of Kenya’s world class athletes come from among the Kalenjin.

The Cushites’ descendants occupy a huge area of land from the east of Lake Turkana all the way to the Indian Ocean. They are represented today by the Somali, the Rendile and the Oromo. All of these people are cattle, goat and camel herders as almost their entire country is unsuitable for agriculture.

Kenyans are proud of their country and many now consider the nation to be more important than their ethnic origins. That is not to say that tradition and cultural identity die easily. Each of these many groups have their own language; some 45 languages (not dialects) are spoken in Kenya and for most Kenyans their mother tongue is their ethnic language. Swahili (or more precisely Ki-Swahili), a language originating on the East African Coast is the national language spoken as a second language by almost all Kenyans. English, the official language, is widely spoken and taught in all schools and is the medium of instruction in all the universities.

What you need to know

Air Arrivals

International flights land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, 16 km from the city centre, and at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, 12 km from the town centre. A new international airport has been constructed at Eldoret in western Kenya. Taxis, car hire firms, public and shuttle bus services serve the airports. Banks, duty free shops and other essential services are available.

The main port of entry by sea is Mombasa.

Entry Requirements

All visitors must have valid passports. Visa requirements vary from time to time and are depedent on the visitor’s nationality. Citizens of Commonwealth countries (excluding Australia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, India, Canada and British passport holders of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin) do not require visas, neither do citizens of Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Finland, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Uruguay and Italy. Visitor’s Passes valid for a stay of up to three months, but can be extended to six months on request are issued to those not required to get visas. Those with proper travel documents and onward or return tickets may obtain a Visitors’ Pass on arrival at any Kenyan port of entry, free of charge. Those without an onward ticket may be asked to purchase one, or a refundable deposit may be demanded, before obtaining the pass.

Though visas can be obtained on arrival at any Kenyan port of entry, they have in certain cases been known to take up to six months to issue, so to be on a safe side it is advisable to get your visa well in advance. Please check with your nearest Kenyan Diplomatic Mission, or Tourist Office for details. Where there is no Kenyan Embassy or High Commission, visas can be obtained from a British Mission.

Visa extensions are carried out during normal office hours in Nairobi at the Immigration Office on the ground floor of Nyayo House, on the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway, or at the immigration office in Mombasa. A three-month single entry visa costs US$10 and a 12-month multiple-entry visa US$50, paid in hard currency. No onward tickets or the possession of “sufficient funds” are demanded.

So long as your visa remains valid, no re-entry permits are required if you visit either Uganda or Tanzania.

Since Nairobi is a common gateway to East and Central Africa, it is advisable to pick up visas to other countries on your intenirary here.

Visitors are not allowed to take up work or residence in Kenya without the authorisation of the Principal Immigration Officer.

Visitors coming from the Far East, Central America, South, Central and West Africa may be required to have valid vaccination certificates against cholera and yellow fever.


Used personal effects, unexposed film, are allowed in free. A duty free allowance is effected on a one litre bottle of alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes 50 cigars, half a litre of perfume, still and video cameras and their accessories (except cine and slide projectors). Cameras, video equipment and accessories intended for commercial use require a Customs Bond or a cash deposit equivalent to their value for the period items are in the country. It is, therefore, advisable to consult the nearest Kenyan Tourist Office, Embassy or High Commission for details. Refundable deposits may be required for the temporary import of radios, tape recorders and similar equipment, including musical instruments.

Firearms may only be imported with a permit issued by the Central Firearms Bureau, Nairobi Area Police Offices, Ngong Road, P. O. Box 30263, Nairobi, Kenya.

The importation of agricultural or horticultural produce, or domestic pets, is not allowed except by special permit.


Summer clothes are worn throughout the year. At times a jacket and a light rain coat come in handy. Good sunglasses and suntan lotion are essential on safari. Cool mornings and evenings warrant a sweater. Some exclusive restaurants insist on a jacket and tie. Gentlemen may wear a jacket and tie at dinner in the more exclusive restaurants since many Kenyans and foreign residents will be so dressed.

As the Coast has a predominantly muslim population, courtesy demands that women, outside their hotels, should dress rather modestly. Topless sunbathing on the beaches is not acceptable.

Safaris call for practical clothes: a hat, sunglasses, comfortable shoes, a bathing suit and lightweight clothes (preferably cotton) that are easy to wash. A safari suit is the ideal dress for both sexes while on safari and these can be obtained in Kenya quite inexpensively and easily. Hats and scarves are useful protection against the sun. A light sweater may be useful in the mornings and evenings, especially in the highland areas where it can be quite cold at such times. A warm sweater is also useful for early morning game drives. Those going to a tree hotel will need a windcheater or something similar besides a sweater. Campers are advised to carry warm sleeping bags. Track suits are appropriate for sleeping in. Jeans too are come in handy on safari. In towns and for business meetings, a lightweight suit is the mode of dress.

Most lodges and hotels have swimming pools so pool wear is worth bringing along.


It is an offence to photograph Kenya’s Head of State, airports or strategic buildings, including military and power installations, policemen in uniform, etc. Photographs should not be taken of people (especially the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana) without their consent. Commercial photographers should seek a permit from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Nairobi. Common sizes and brands of film are available at most game lodges, even in remote areas, but stocks are usually small. Most types of film (including 64, 100, 200, and 400 ASA slide film) are readily available in Nairobi and Mombasa at competitive prices. It is recommended that visitors requiring specific types such as 800 ASA and 1600 ASA bring plenty with them. For game and bird photography, a telephoto lens of 200-300mm is strongly recommended. Larger lenses which require a tripod are generally impractical for game photography from vehicles, as are double lens reflex cameras.


As in most tourist centres worldwide, visitors are advised not to leave cash or valuables in their hotel rooms but to make use of safe deposit boxes or safes. Avoid carrying large sums of money around. Women should keep a tight grip on handbags in crowds or busy streets. Necklace-snatching in city streets is quite common. Necklaces (and other jewellery) should, therefore, be left at home or kept with other valuables in hotel custody. Walking the city streets at night alone or in small groups is dangerous and should be avoided. Reliable taxis are available at all major hotels. Kenya’s police force is reliable, and most hotels have experienced security personnel.

Airport Departures

A US$ 20 departure tax is charged on all passengers departing on international flights. There is a Kshs 100 tax charged for internal flights. There are duty free shops at international airports. Purchases must be made in convertible currencies. Customs may require the inspection of outgoing baggage. All baggage is subjected to x-ray inspection before being loaded. All baggage is weighed and the system where two pieces of luggage of any weight are accepted is not in use in Kenya.


The shilling, divided into 100 cents, is the national currency. Notes are issued in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000. Coins are denominated in 5, 10 and 50 cents, and one and five shillings. It is a stable currency floated against the US dollar and is fully convertible. It is illegal to import/export the currency. Visitors may bring in as much foreign currency as they wish and take it out again when they leave. Foreign currency may be changed at banks (some charge 1% commission), forex bureaux and hotels. Visitors are strongly advised to avoid street money changers for obvious reasons. Credit cards are accepted by top hotels, but not in the outlying areas. PTA travellers’ cheques, or those in Sterling pounds, US dollars or rand are recommended. Kenyan currency may be used to pay aiport departure tax by non-Kenyans but not for purchases in airport duty free shops.

It is illegal to destroy or deface Kenyan currency. The offence carries a fine and a prison sentence.


Nairobi, Mombasa and most other principal towns have banks with bureau de change. Sometimes these open longer than than the normal banking hours. Banks and forex bureaux are also available at airports.

Banking hours:
Monday – Friday 0900 – 1500
First and last Saturdays of every month: 0900 – 1100

You can get US dollars if you make a withdrawal against your home account using a Visa Card through Barclays Bank. Banks at international airports are open 24hrs daily. Some banks in Malindi and Mombasa stay open until 4.30 or 5pm Monday to Saturday. To transfer funds to Kenya takes only a few days generally. The money can be collected entirely in US dollars traveller’s cheques.


Learn to enjoy bargaining, particularly useful in markets and curio shops. This is very much part of Kenyan culture, as developing a good rapport between shopkeeper and customer takes precedence over the actual sale.

Time & Electricity

Local time is GMT + 3. Electricity supply for domestic use is generally 220 volts, 50 cycles AC. Most large hotels and some game lodges provide shaving points with 110v 50 cycles. All installations are British standard. Sockets are normally three pin and of the ‘square’ variety so an adaptor to suit this format may be necessary if one intends to use personal electrical apparatus or to charge video camera batteries.


Though English is the official language, Kiswahili (a phonetic language) is the national language (the lingua franca). Both are taught in schools throughout Kenya, and are widely spoken. In addition there are many indigenous languages, of which the main ones are Kikuyu, Luhyia, Luo, and Kamba.


While doctors and dentists are available in many parts of the country, it is the main towns that have good medical care while Nairobi and Mombasa have good specialist medical facilities. For a small fee, visitors can enjoy temporary membership of the Flying Doctors’ Society, which entitles an injured or seriously ill person to free emergency evacuation by air from any part of Kenya to Nairobi. Though pharmaceutical facilities are adequate, with well stocked chemist shops (drug stores) in all major towns, it is recommended that visitors bring sufficient supplies of any special drugs they need regularly, and carry medical insurance.

Sun burns: The equitorial sun is deceptive and can inflict severe burns even on overcast days. Precautions against over-exposure to the sun are advisable particularly at the Coast where reflections from water and the white sand increase the sun’s intensity. Sun burns also occur on Kenya’s mountain ranges above 3,200 m. (At very high altitudes, climbers should be made aware of pulmonary oedema.) A good sun cream and lip balm, with high sun protection factors, are highly recommended.

Malaria is endemic in many parts ( especially the hot humid areas around Mombasa (Coast) and the Lake Victoria region). Precautions should be taken before travelling, and both when visitors are in Kenya, and for several weeks after departure. It is, therefore, necessary to take prophilactics, avoid being bitten by insects by using repellants and by wearing suitable cover-up clothes in the eveninig. It is also advisable to be vaccinated against typhoid fever, tetanus, tuberclosis, and similar communicable diseases.

Certificates of innoculation against yellow fever and cholera are advisable though not mandatory, except in some instances as, for example, for arrivals from the Far East (cholera), and Central America, South Central and West Africa (yellow fever). Since rules concerning disease prevention change from time to time, check with the nearest Kenyan Diplomatic Mission, or Tourist Office.

HIV/AIDS occurs worldwide but is not transmitted through casual contact, the ingestion of food or water, by insects or by animals. Infection is through sexual intercourse with infected individuals, use of infected blood or blood products, or use of unsterilised contaminated instruments (e.g. syringes and needles) to inject materials or pierce the skin.

Tap water is mostly safe. As a precaution boil or sterilise drinking water. Most hotels and lodges provide flasks of filtered drinking water in guest rooms. Bottled mineral water, both local and imported, can be purchased in hotel shops, supermarkets and at other kiosks. Swimming or bathing in rivers, ponds, or dams should be done with local advice as they may be infected with bilharzia, which is present in many rivers and lakes.


The variations in altitude and terrain create contrasts in in climate. The Coast is hot and often humid, mornings in the central highlands can be cold, whilst in the north and northeast the days are dry and very hot. In the areas most frequented by visitors, the weather is little short of perfect, it is neither hot nor cold with long sunny days. Days and nights are of almost the same lenght throughout the year, with the sun rising between 6.00 and 6.30 am, and setting between 6.30 and 7.00pm.

Over most the country their are two rainny seasons. The “short rains” normally occur from late October through November, and the “long rains” from late March through to early June.

July and August are the coolest months. The days are often overcast, especially in the mornings.

Kenya is an all weather tourist destination. Visitors need not be deterred from a Safari during the rains. Very few, if any, tourist roads become impassable. The parks are fresh and green, and there are fewer people and vehicles visiting them. Accommodation is often much cheaper during the low season which coincides with the long rains.

Posts & Telecommunications

Kenya’s postal system is very reliable for both domestic and ineternational services. Poste restante services are available in all towns. Postal addresses for American Express Clients Mail are: Express Kenya Ltd., P.O Box 40433, Nairobi; and Express Mombasa, P.O. Box 90631, Mombasa.

Modern telephone, telex and fax services are available in all towns. Microwave relays provide direct dialling countrywide. It is easy to make international phone calls from major centres, and increasingly from remote places such as game lodges. The International IDD code for Kenya is +254.


Vehicles keep to the left. An international driving licence or your own national driving licence (endorsed by the Kenya Road Transport Office) is required of all foreign drivers. Vehicles must have adequate third-party insurance. The maximum permitted speed on Kenyan roads is 100 kph, and 50 kph in built up areas.


Kenya has more than 30 monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly magazines and journals. There are three English dailies, one Kiswahili daily, and several English and Swahili weeklies. A large selection of foreign newspapers and magazines can also be obtained. Radio broadcasts are in English, Swahili and several vernacular languages. There are four television stations, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), Cable Television Network (CTN), Kenya Television Network (KTN) which links up with CNN International, and Stellavision TV linked to Sky TV.

Kenya hosts an International Press Centre serving more than 150 foreign journalists.


Meals and drinks taken in restaurants are subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) which is currently five per cent. Telephone calls incur an 18 per cent VAT. Shops do not charge VAT on most retail sales although a VAT is payable on certain luxury goods such as radios and TV equipment. A 2 per cent Catering Training Levy (which supports the national hotel and tourism college), is added to all accommodation and food bills but is included in the prices charged in bars.

Public Holidays

January 1st: New Year’s Day

Good Friday*

Easter Monday*

Id el Fitr*

May 1st: Labour Day

June 10th: Madaraka Day

October 10th: Moi Day

October 20th: Kenyatta Day

December 12th: Jamhuri Day

December 25th: Christmas Day

December 26th: Boxing Day

* dates depend on the lunar calendar and vary annually.

For holidays falling on a Sunday, the following Monday is observed as a public holiday.

Traditional Courtesies

A recognition of traditional courtesies is important when visiting another country. While Kenyans are well aware of the norm in other countries, they tend to be conservative at home. A handshake greeting is normal. Clothing such as brief shorts or swimwear is not acceptable in towns and villages away from resorts. Some high class hotels and restaurants may insist on smart casual evening wear, with ties for men. Hence, Jeans (though very useful on safari), and sports wear, shorts and sandals may not be acceptable.


Most hotels, game lodges, and permanent tented camps include a service charge in their tariff as do most restaurants. In such cases, tipping is not necessary unless exceptional service inspires a desire to express extra appreciation. Nevertheless, it is customary to tip for bar service where this is paid for separately from a meal. Ten per cent of the bill would then be appropriate, as it would be in a restaurant which does not charge service. Twenty shillings per suitcase would be an adequate tip for porters. It is also customary to tip safari driver guides.

How To Get There From Around the World

Nairobi, the main gateway to East Africa, is serviced by airlines from all over the world, but mainly from Europe, Asia and the rest of Africa.