Kenya travel guide
Lions and leopards are just part of the landscape in Kenya, East Africa’s favourite safari destination. More than 40 national parks and nature reserves are scattered between Lake Victoria and the India Ocean, covering every imaginable landscape and featuring just about every animal in Africa: from aardvarks to zebras.
As you might expect, wildlife safaris are the lifeblood of Kenyan tourism, and the infrastructure for travellers is impressive. Jeeps, buses and light aircraft fan out daily across the country to safari lodges and tented camps, some simple and rustic, others lavish and opulent. Refreshingly, you can enjoy close encounters with nature even on a budget, with walking safaris run by tribal guides and economic tented camps that scrimp on creature comforts, but not on creatures.
Most people start the journey in Nairobi, but few linger when there are more attractive cities strung out along the sun-kissed Kenyan coast and dotted around the Great Rift Valley. Whether you pick the interior or the coast, with its beach resorts and Islamic ruins, you can be sure to find a national park or reserve close at hand – Nairobi even has a national park within the city limits, with zebras and giraffes just a stone’s throw from the suburbs.
Kenya is also a great place for cultural encounters, with more than 40 different tribal groups, each following its own unique way of life. The semi-nomadic Maasai, with their rainbow-coloured, bead-covered adornments, are perhaps the most obvious group, but visiting any tribal village is a fascinating experience.
On appearances, Kenya would seem like the perfect holiday destination, but tourism has had its ups and downs in recent years, with political upheaval during elections and a string of high-profile militant attacks in Nairobi and along the coast.
These set-backs have made a noticeable dent in Kenya’s tourist industry, yet travellers still flock to the teeming plains of the Maasai Mara and trek the slopes of Mount Kenya, and the biggest decision for most is not whether to go to Kenya, but instead, which wild animal to search for first.
580,367 sq km (224,000 sq miles).
47,251,449 (UN estimate 2016).
79.1 per sq km.
President Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013.
President Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013.
220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Bag snatching is common in transport hubs like bus stations, railway stations and airports. Mugging, kidnapping, car-jacking and armed robbery occur regularly, particularly in Nairobi, Mombasa and other large cities. Foreigners are not generally targeted, but incidents of violent crime have resulted in the death of several British nationals in recent years. Crime rates are higher in slum areas of Nairobi, the Old Town of Mombasa and on and around the Likoni Ferry (which links Mombasa and the southern resorts).
You should be vigilant at all times and follow any security advice given by your employer or your hosts. If you’re attacked, don’t resist. Avoid walking around after dark, especially in isolated areas like empty beaches. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and don’t wear expensive watches, jewellery or items of sentimental value. You must carry a form of ID with you at all times. A copy of your passport is normally acceptable, but recently some police officers have been insisting on the original document.
Beware of thieves posing as police officers or private Security Guards. Always ask to see identification. Don’t accept food or drink from strangers as it may be drugged.
Only stay in tourist camps with good perimeter security. If in any doubt, seek advice from your tour operator or the Kenya Tourism Federation (telephone: + 254 20 800100).
If you’re involved in any security incident, insist that the British High Commission is informed straight away.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to within 60km of the Kenya-Somali border; to Garissa County; to the Eastleigh area of Nairobi; to Lamu County (excluding Lamu Island and Manda Island); to areas of Tana River County north of the Tana river itself and to within 15km of the coast from the Tana river down to the Galana (Athi-Galana-Sabaki) river.
The following areas aren’t covered by the FCO’s advice against all but essential travel: national parks, reserves and wildlife conservancies; including the Aberdare National Park, Amboseli, Laikipia, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara, Meru, Mount Kenya, Samburu, Shimba Hills, Tsavo, as well as the beach resorts of Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, Watamu, Diani, Lamu Island and Manda Island. Mombasa airport (Moi International Airport), Malindi airport and Manda airport aren’t included in the area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel.
For travel between Jomo Kenyatta Airport (JKIA) and Nairobi city you should use the Mombasa road. There is a higher risk of car-jacking on the old airport road (Airport South Road) and Jogoo Road.
If you travel to Lamu Island or Manda Island, you should do so by air to Manda airport and not by road.
The Mombasa road to JKIA can get very busy during rush hours, and check in can take several hours; you should allow plenty of time to get to the airport. A new vehicle security check outside JKIA has also added to journey times.
There were a number of violent incidents that resulted in fatalities in Coast Province in 2013. Although these were mainly against Kenyan police targets, you should take extra care in the coast area and be vigilant, particularly in public places.
Most visits to game reserves and other tourist areas are trouble-free. If you visit reserves, use reputable tour operators and arrive at your destination in daylight hours. Don’t buy safari tours from touts. Always follow park regulations and wardens’ advice.
There are risks associated with viewing wildlife, particularly on foot or at close range. Bathing in rivers and lakes is forbidden in National Parks and is best avoided elsewhere due to the dangers from both wildlife and water-borne disease.
Rural areas, particularly in the north and north eastern parts of Kenya, experience cattle rustling, banditry and ethnic clashes. Foreigners are not usually the target of localised violence and banditry, but you should take great care in the north and north east. Following an extended period of drought, there’s been an increase in armed incursions by herders on to private farms and wildlife conservation areas in the county of Laikipia in central Kenya and lodges in some conservation areas have been cancelling bookings made by clients. On 5 March a British national was murdered on his Laikipia ranch as he went to investigate damage caused by invaders. Monitor local media and take care in all remote areas. Seek local police advice before you set off and travel in convoy of at least 2 vehicles.
Although the border with Somalia has officially been closed since 2007, crossings take place frequently. Landmines have been used in attacks around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the Kenya-Ethiopia border at this point should stay on the A2. Avoid staying at the rest house at Sololo – travel directly to Marsabit Town before breaking the journey.
As a result of previous armed clashes in the area of Mount Elgon in western Kenya next to the Ugandan border, a large security presence remains and further incidents are possible. Seek local advice before you set off.
A Safety and Communication Centre operated by the Kenya Tourism Federation gives up to the minute tourist advice as well as providing help in an emergency. You can contact the Centre on +254 20 800100 or by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can drive for up to 3 months using a UK driving licence. For longer stays, you’ll need to get a Kenyan driving licence.
Only hire vehicles from reputable companies.
Road conditions and driving standards are often poor. Drive with windows closed and doors locked. When driving outside cities and in remote areas consider driving in convoy. Avoid driving at night wherever possible.
There have been a number of serious accidents involving long-distance buses. Vehicles are often poorly maintained and driven at excessive speed. Check the bus operator’s safety standards.
Though very cheap to use, matatus (minibuses) are notorious for being poorly maintained, badly driven and uninsured. There are frequent reports of matatus being hijacked and passengers being robbed.
On the spot fines are common, but not legal. If stopped by a police officer you should ask for the due process to be followed. The officer should issue you with a ‘receipt for cash bond’, a piece of paper telling you when and where you need to attend court to answer the charge against you.
Passenger trains run between Nairobi and Kisumu and between Nairobi and Mombasa. Doors can only be locked from the inside. Take care of your belongings while on the train and at railway stations. If you leave your compartment, take your valuables with you.
There are some concerns about the lack of security arrangements in place at Wilson airport in Nairobi. The airport is mainly used for domestic flights, including charters. Be vigilant at all times when transiting airports.
If you plan to charter a private aircraft, check with the company’s Safety Pilot about the condition of the aircraft and runways to be used. If the company has no Safety Pilot, find another company that does.
Local rules and regulations prohibit photography at airports. You could be fined or imprisoned.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.
Registration with the British High Commission
The LOCATE system is no longer used for registering details of British nationals. You can keep up to date with this travel advice by subscribing to email alerts.
You can also subscribe to a new SMS alert system which the British High Commission use to alert British nationals to real-time incidents relating to safety and security. To subscribe for SMS alerts text ‘regv’ (for visitors) or ‘regp’ (for permanent residents) to +44 7537 404 755.
Read the FCO’s How to deal with a crisis overseas page for further information and advice.