Equator and the Great Rift Valley
Kenya straddles the equator on the eastern coast of Africa; covering an area of about 586,600km sq. of which 10,700km sq. consists of water bodies. It lies on the Equator and is bisected lengthwise by the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Jordan in the north to Mozambique in the south.
Kenya shares borders with five other nations. It is bordered by Somalia and Ethiopia to the north the Indian Ocean to the east, Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south. It has a 550km long coastline.
Mountains, Rivers and Lakes
Kenya is home to Mount Kenya (5,199) the second largest peak in the African continent, and it is traversed by a number of rivers, notably Tana and Athi rivers, and the Galana River and the notorious Mara River, which run through the Maasai Mara Reserve.
Kenya also houses some incredible lakes such as the wild Lake Turkana (home of the cradle of humankind), Lake Turkana (home of more than 1 million flamingoes) and the Lake Baringo/Naivasha (home to the notorious “happy valley set”) to mention only a few.
The country is mostly known for its flat, vast and wild savannah country, but its terrain ranges wildly from deserts in the north, to bush land in the South, coastal areas in the east, and the fertile lands west, while central Kenya houses luscious highlands.
Kenya’s natural vegetation is equally diverse.
Afro – alpine moorland
Afro-alpine moorland occurs above c. 3,000 m, on Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon, the Cherangani and the Aberdares Mountains. Highland grassland occurs above c.2, 400 m on either side of the central Rift Valley. Highland moist forests are found between c.1, 500 m and 3,000m in areas that receive rainfall of more than 1,200 mm per year.
Relicts of Guineo-Congolian rain forest that once extended across equatorial Africa occur in western Kenya, in and around Kakamega Forest. Typical tree species include Celtis, Aningeria, croton, Fagara and Manikara. The North and South Nandi Forests are transitional between the Guinea-Congolian and Montane forest types.
Bush land and woodland
Coastal evergreen bushland also occurs, in a mosaic with cultivated land. Coastal palmstands, often in tall grassland, are a rare vegetation type covering less than 3.1% of the land area. Thorn bushland and woodland are the most extensive vegetation types in Kenya, running from Amboseli in the south through the Tsavo parks to north-east and north-west Kenya. Characteristic tree species are Acacia, Commiphora ssp., while grasses include species of Hyparrhenia, Digitaria and Themeda.
Papyrus swamps, consisting largely of stands of cyperus papyrus, are found patchily around the shores of Lake Victoria, mainly along river inflows.
On sandy shorelines are often beds of sea grass (some twelve species are recorded), beyond the littoral zone or in deeper channels within it. Coral reefs and islands make up some 59,000 ha, or 0.1% of the land area. Human-modified habitats, created at the expense of the natural vegetation, occur throughout the country but especially in the highlands. These include cultivated land under a wide variety of crops, plantations of exotic trees, secondary thicket and scrub, eroded and de-vegetated woodland and bush land, and overgrazed pastureland.
The variations in altitude and terrain in Kenya create sharp contrasts in climate. The coast (Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu) is hot and often humid.
Mornings and evening in the central highlands (around Mount Kenya) can be cool, verging on cold, during Kenya’s winter (July – August), while in the north and northeast (close to the Sudanese border) the days are dry and very hot.
As it is on the equator, day and night are almost equal in Kenya the whole year around; sunrise is 6 – 6.30 a.m. and sun downs 6.30 – 7 pm. Even though the climate is beginning during the day, it is wise to use a pullover in the evenings since temperatures drop considerably at night.
Over most of the country there are two major rainy seasons. The short rains normally occur from late October to November and the long rains from the late March to early June. July and August are the coolest months; November to February are the hottest.
PEOPLE AND LANGUAGES
Kenya has a melting pot of different nationalities, tribes and ethnic groups, making it tolerant, accepting and colourful country. It currently has a population of 38 million people (based on 2009 Census count), which include over 40 tribal groups.
The main tribal groups are the Bantu, Cushites and Nilotes and the main ethnic composition of the tribes of Kenya is formed from these groups:
The Bantu Group
The Bantu-group include the Kikuyu, Meru, Gusii, Embu, Akamba, Luhya (or Luyia) and Mijikenda.
The Nilote Group
The Nilote group include the Maasai, Luo, Turkana, Teso, Samburu and Kalenjin people
The Cushite Group
The Cushite group include the Borana, Somali, Orma and Rendile
Each group has its own language and some 45 languages (not dialects) are spoken in Kenya. Most Kenyans speak three languages: their tribal language, also called their mother tongue, Kiswahili (national language) and English (official language).
As Kenya has a large Asian population, descendants of workers who arrived to build the railway from Mombasa to Kampala, various Indian languages are still spoken. Nevertheless, they are not considered official languages as they are only spoken within the Indian community.
Sheng is the language of Kenyan youth and is a mix of Swahili and English – be sure that you and many Kenyan elders, will be unlikely to understand it.
Considering the mix of people, histories and ethnic groups, it is no wonder that there is a great variety of religion in Kenya. As a result there is a very open and non biased society, which is rare in today’s intolerant world.
The British brought with them the monotheistic religion, which they imposed onto the Kenyan peoples, sending increased numbers of missionaries. Today Christianity is the main religion in Kenya and is very much present in the everyday life of Kenyans. A large percentage of them are Catholic, but other Christian creeds (Anglican, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelical and so on) are also prominent. A number of Christian sects are deeply rooted in Kenya – it is not an uncommon sight to see groups of newborn Christian rapt in singing on Sundays either on the streets or in public parks.
The Arab influence is mostly felt on the coastline, where mosques can be seen almost on every corner and most women wear veils, but in a more relaxed manner than in any strictly Islamic country. Islam was brought by Arab traders, and firmly established, thanks to the strong influence of the sultanate of Oman and Zanzibar. The Sunni branch of Islam is the predominant one in Kenya.
The Indians brought to Kenya by the British to construct the Mombasa – Uganda railroad have become a prominent community in the country. Together with their traditions they have also brought their own millenary cults. There are a number of beautiful traditional Hindu temples in the main urban area of the country.
Started as a spin – off of Hinduism, Sikhism celebrated the 300th anniversary of its creation in 1999. Together with the Hindus, a number of Sikhs came to Kenya at the turn of the century to help construct the railroad. There are fewer Sikhs than Hindus, but their economic importance is considerable.
Judaism is not very prominent in Kenya, but there are a few synagogues in Nairobi, the Israeli embassy deals with religious holidays and festivities.
Arrivals & Departures
Kenya is readily accessed by air from Europe, the USA, Southern America, the Middle East and Australasia to two main ports of entry by air.
Jomo Kenyatta international airport – Nairobi. Located 16 km from the city center.
Moi International Airport – Mombasa. Located 12 km from the town center.
Our own National carrier; Kenya Airways, is highly regarded international carrier, with a modern fleet of aircraft. Mombasa is the main port of entry by sea.
Airport Departure Tax
International Airport departure tax equivalent to US$ 40 per person is payable on departure from the International airports. A local airport service charge is also payable on departure for domestic flights. As this varies from country to country, please check with us on the prevailing amounts payable prior to your flight departure.
Visa & Immigration
Tourist visas are required by some nationals. Please contact your nearest Kenyan Embassy or High Commission for further details.
Since rules concerning disease prevention change from time to time, a check should be made with the nearest Kenyan High Commission, Kenya Tourist Office or any airline flying scheduled services into Kenya. Malaria is endemic to most parts of Kenya and intending visitors should start taking anti-malarial tablets before departure and continue taking them for the prescribed time after their return. Insect repellants should be made use of after dusk and suitable cover up clothes should be worn in the evenings.
Baggage space on safari is restricted to one medium suitcase or holdall per person, plus hand baggage (private safaris where there are less than 7 persons in the vehicle are not subject to this restriction). Small duffel bags are however comfortable to travel with. Visitors to Treetops and the Ark are asked to take overnight bags only; suitcases can be left at the base hotel.
Hotels will normally store baggage at no extra cost. Baggage can also be stored at Safaris in Style offices. A baggage weight restriction of 15 kg per person applies on air safaris. Where very small aircraft are used this may be reduced to 10kg.
The official currency is the Kenya Shilling. Visitors to Kenya should change foreign currency at banks, bureau de change or authorized hotels. US Dollars and Sterling Pounds are most acceptable and will cause the least delay. Traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, and many hotels, travel agencies, safari companies and restaurants accept visa and master credit cards. As a norm, always ask what commission and charges will be deducted first and prior to transaction.
Banks are open from 0900hrs to 1500hrs Monday to Friday. Some branches open on Saturdays from 0900hrs to 1100hrs. Many banks are now equipped with 24 hour ATM machines. The bank branches at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport (Mombasa) both run 24 hour Forex services.
VISA and MASTERCARD are widely accepted for tourist services. There’s usually a 5% mark-up on top of the price as establishments are charged a fixed percentage of their transactions.
Hotels & Accommodation
All over the country, we have accommodation that can cater for any possible budget, taste, interest or preference. Hotels, hostels, luxury tented camps, guesthouses, resorts, campsites, backpacker lodges, village home-stays and more can be found in Kenya.
Kenya has a single time zone which is GMT +3.
Kiswahili is the lingua franca while English is the official language. In addition, most Kenyan tribes have their own language.
Kenya has a good postal service for both local and international post. Many shops in tourist lodges and hotels sell stamps
Kenya has a good network of telephone. Cellular and satellite connections. Most hotels and lodges offer international telephone and fax services. In larger towns, private telecommunication centres also offer international services. If you have a mobile phone with roaming connection, then you make use of Kenya’s excellent cellular networks which cover most larger towns and tourist areas. When dialing Kenya, the international code is 254 + local area code.
Kenya has good internet service providers. Many hotels and lodges offer email and internet services. In most towns, there are plenty of private business centres and cyber-cafes offering email and internet access.
The electricity supply in Kenya is 220/240 v 50hz. Plugs are 3 point square. If you are planning to bring a video camera charger or any other electrical device, please bring voltage and plug adaptors where appropriate. Most large hotels and some game lodges provide shaving points with
Flying Doctors Society
Membership of the Flying Doctors Society is strongly recommended. In event of accident or sickness while on safari, the society will fly patients by air ambulance to Nairobi for admittance to hospital.
Drinking water from the tap must be considered risky. Hotels and lodges usually furnish safe water in a thermos flask in guest rooms. Bottled mineral water is available in every hotel and supermarkets.
The multicultural nature of the population is reflected in the international cuisine and any dietary needs are easily accommodated.
Normal precautions as in any other destination worldwide should be taken. Visitors are advised not to leave cash and valuables in their hotel rooms but to make use of safe deposit boxes and safes. One should never carry large sums in cash and women should keep a tight grip on handbags in crowds or busy streets. Jewelry snatching is quite common in city streets.
As in all major cities walking alone or in small groups at night should be considered a hazard and avoided. Reliable taxis are available at all the principal hotels. Taking photographs at airports, near military installations, of policeman, the president, the national flag, the State House, state lodges, soldiers, prisons and prisoners etc., is prohibited. Before photographing local people, permission should be obtained and a fixed price agreed. Seek the assistance of your driver/guide in this matter.
Opening hours and Shopping
Major stores, tourist services, offices and museums open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm in large towns though offices often break for lunch. In rural areas and out in the bush small shops can be open at almost any hour. Souvenirs to take back home can include wood and soap stone sculptures and carvings, ciondos (sisal baskets), beadwork and tribal regalia, masks, textiles and gemstones set in unique jewellery pieces.
Tipping and Porterage
Although hotels and lodges include a service charge, it is customary to tip porters, waiters, taxi drivers and safari drivers/guides.
January 01 (New Year)
April (Good Friday and Easter Monday)
May 01 (Labour Day)
June 01 (Madaraka Day)
October 10 (Moi Day)
October 20 (Kenyatta Day)
December 12 (Independence Day)
December 25 (Christmas Day)
December 26 (Boxing Day)
Idd ul Fitr (The Muslim festival)
Common Swahili Phrases
A Few Words and Phrases in Swahili
Swahili is a language that may have originated thousands of years ago as a traders’ language to promote international commerce. The correct word to describe the language is actually Kiswahili. Swahili is basically a mixture of Bantu and Arabic but there are also words in Swahili that have been derived from English, German and Portuguese. Although it is the most widely spoken language in East Africa and along with English, an official language of Kenya, Swahili is not a first language for most people. In addition to Swahili and English, most also speak one or more tribal languages.
Swahili is a relatively easy language to learn. Every letter in a word is pronounced, and the accent is always on the second-to-the-last syllable. For example, asante (thank you) is pronounced “ah-SAN-tay.” Several Swahili words begin with the letter N followed by a consonant. The N is pronounced briefly, not as “Na,” but more like an abbreviated “in.” Try saying “No” very slowly and stop before saying the whole word. Notice the “n” sound you make, and that is the pronunciation in Swahili. For example, “yes” in Swahili is ndiyo, pronounced “n-DEE-o.” Here are some common words and phrases in Swahili:
Hello? – Hujambo?
How are you? – Habari?
I am well (good, fine) – Mzuri?
Very much – Sana
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Hotel – Hoteli
Room – Chumba
Bed – Kitanda
Food – Chakula
Coffee – Kahawa
Beer – Pombe
Cold – Baridi
Warm – Moto
Hot – Moto sana
Tea – Chai
Water – Maji
Meat – Nyama
Fish – Samaki
Bread – Mkate
Bad – Mbaya
Today – Leo
Tomorrow – Kesho
Now – Sawa
Quickly – Upesi
Slowly – Polepole
Hospital – Hospitali
Police – Polisi
Street/road – Barabara
Airport – Uwanja wa ndege
Shop – Duka
Money – Pesa
Mister – Bwana
Mrs. – Bibi
Miss – Bi
I – Mimi
You – Wewe
He, She – Yeye
We – Sisi
They – Wao
What? – Nini?
Who? – Nani?
Where? (place) – Mahali gani?
Where? (direction) – Wapi?
When? – Lini?
How? – Namna gani?
Why? – Kwa nini?
Which? – Ipi?
Yes – Ndio
No – Hapana
To eat – Kula
To drink – Kunywa
To go – Kwenda
To stop – Kusimama
One – Moja
Two – Mbili
Three – Tatu
Four – Nne
Five – Tano
Six – Sita
Seven – Saba
Eigh – Nane
Nine – Tisa
Ten – Kumi
Phrases commonly used
Where is the hotel? – Hoteli iko wapi?
Good morning? – Habari ya asubuhi?
Good afternoon? – Habari ya mchana?
Good evening? – Habari ya jioni?
You’re welcome – Karibu, Una karibishwa
Where do you come from? – Umetoka wapi?
I come from… – Nimetoka…
What is your name? – Jina lako ni?
My name is… – Jina langu ni…
Can you speak Swahili? – Unaweza kuongea Kiswahili?
Only a little – Kidogo tu
Where are you going? – Unakwenda wapi?
I am going – Nakwenda
How much? – Pesa ngapi?
Wait a minute – Ngoja kidogo
Excuse me – Samahani
Where is the toilet? – Choo kiko wapi?
Where can I get a drink? – Naweza kupata kinywaji wapi?
One cup of… – Kikombe kimoja cha…