With a spectacular landscape that includes the Maasai Mara reserve, Rift Valley, Kikuyu moorlands and Mount Kenya (the second largest mountain in Africa) natural habitats have arisen to suit all types of wildlife. Kenya is the number one destination for big game.
From safari lodges throughout the country, tourists head off to spot elephants, lions, giraffe, buffalo and monkeys, baboons, cheetahs… the list is almost endless.
Naturalists book Kenya flights to explore its varied terrain: forests, moors, mountains and huge expanses of plains, across which the famous migration of wildebeest takes place once a year.
Kenya’s rainy season lasts from April to June and October to early December. It’s hot and humid on the coast all year round, but onshore breezes make it more comfortable. It’s hot and dry in the lowlands while the highlands are more temperate and cooler at night.
When to fly to Kenya
The annual migration of wildebeest and other animals across the plains of the Maasai Mara takes place between June and September. Consequently, this is the peak season for safaris and prices rise drastically across the country.
The rainy seasons are the main off-peak seasons, though still a good time to visit. Prices can be cheaper and there are better deals to be found. Though you will miss the migration, there are still plenty of big game to be spotted, as well as the other attractions of mountains, diving on the coast and the ancient tribe of the Maasai.
October-January, though still off-peak, is the best time to visit for snorkelling as the seas are at their clearest. January and February are the hottest and driest months, however, it can be easy to spot wildlife congregating around water holes.
Getting around Kenya
There are many scheduled flights available from Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi to domestic destinations such as Mombasa, Lamu or the game reserves of the Maasai Mara. In total, Kenya has around 250 airports and internal flights are cheap, so it can be the most efficient way to travel both for time and cost.
Trains are available, though generally slow and not very reliable. Railways have been allowed to deteriorate a lot over recent years.
Shared taxis and minibuses, called matutas,are the most popular means of transportation for short distances and between cities. They used to be very dangerous, but a recent government crack-down on safety has improved the services somewhat. It is often recommended not to use matatus at night.
Rental cars are available from main cities. Remember that road conditions will be poor if you’re considering travelling any way off the beaten track (anywhere off the main roads that connect major urban centres). Hiring a four-wheel-drive vehicle is advisable.
Kenya insider information
- The Maasai Mara reserve, on the border with Tanzania, is in the southwest of the country. It’s one of the most popular game parks because a huge amount of animals are concentrated into a relatively small space. The “Big Five” all live here: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. This can be extended to a “Big Nine” if you include zebra, giraffe, cheetah and hippo. To spot the animals, and for something a bit different than the usual jeeps, it’s possible to take a balloon safari over the plains, which gives a fantastic view of the great plains beneath.
- Don’t miss the Karen Blixen Museum in Nairobi. The house where the Danish author Blixen lived has been turned into a museum. Ever since her famous book Out of Africa (written under the name Isak Dinesen) was made into a Hollywood film, the area has made the most of the house. It is situated on “Karen Estates” on “Karen Street”. The museum itself is a recreation of the house as it was when Blixen lived in it and a peaceful place to spend half a day.
- Kenya’s second-largest city, Mombasa is a good starting point from which to visit the coast. A popular local beach is the white sand Coral Palm Beach, parts of which are private and parts public. If you’re feeling hassled by the many touts and vendors in the public section, head for the private parts, owned by the two big hotels. This section is guarded by hotel security and locals are fined if they come in here.
- North of Mombasa, also on the coast, is the town of Malindi, particularly popular with Italian vacationers. There is a lot to see, both in town, with mosques, markets and museums and along the coastline. When the tide is out, you can spy the coral reef. Or head to the point where Vasco da Gama landed – after being refused entry to Mombasa. There is a plinth marking the spot where the Portuguese explorer first came ashore.