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Visit Kenya: Read the most complete Kenya travel guide

by Catherine Carey | September 8, 2023
Visit Kenya and the zebras

Are you going to visit Kenya? Then you have made the right decision. Renowned for its world-class safaris, where you can witness the "Big Five" and the annual wildebeest migration, Kenya will let you experience its rich biodiversity and get to know different various ethnic groups and cities in Kenya

Here is your guide on what you must know before your trip to Kenya. Flag, geography, history, culture, gastronomy and more information to travel to Kenya in this Kenya travel guide.

Kenya Flag

Kenya flag

The Kenya flag became official the day Kenya became independent from Britain on the 12th of December in 1963. Its colors are important since they represent specific meanings: 

  • Black stands for the indigenous population.
  • Red stands for the struggle for freedom and independence.
  • White represents unity and peace. 
  • Green symbolizes the fertile land.
  • The weapons symbolize the struggle for future self-government. Patterned after those carried by the Maasai people.

Geography of Kenya

Kenya is in East Africa and it has borders with Tanzania, Somalia, Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Kenya has a total area of  580,367 square kilometers and Kenya's population is about 48,397,527. 

We can divide Kenya into the regions of the Lake Victoria basin, the Rift Valley and associated highlands, the eastern plateau forelands, the semiarid and arid areas of the north and south, and the coast. Therefore, Kenia has a wide diverse geography.

You will find savannahs, deserts, swamps, mountains, forests and a beautiful coastline along the Indian Ocean. Some of the most popular sights to see in Kenya are Mount Kenya, the tallest mountain in Kenya and the second tallest in Africa, and some of its 50 reserves. 

Kenya’s geographical diversity contributes to its rich biodiversity and makes Kenya a popular destination for wildlife observation, tourism, and recreational activities such as hiking and safaris. In Kenya you can find elephants, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, hippos, rhinos, and more. 

Its geographical location places Kenya in the Eastern African Time (EAT) zone: UTC+3. There are no Daylight Saving Time clock changes.

map of Kenya

History and heritage in Kenya

It is believed that Kenya and Tanzania were the birthplace of humanity. The bones of one of the earliest human ancestors ever found were discovered in Kenya's Turkana Basin.

Indigenous African people who migrated from other parts of Africa were the first ones to stay in the territory that would later become Kenia. Then, Portuguese, Arabic, Romans, Indians and Greeks also arrived in Kenya and some stayed, settled and intermarried with the local population. The first Europeans to majorly arrive in Kenya were the Portuguese in the 15th century who wanted to control the Indian Ocean Trade. Nevertheless, they were kicked out of the coastal towns.

It is worth mentioning that slavery was very present in Kenya. During the 1600s and 1700s, many Kenyans were kidnapped and taken as slaves by Arabs, Europeans, and Americans. 

The British were the true conquerors of Kenia. In 1884, during the Berlin Conference, Britain acquired Kenya. The land that is now Kenya, went under control of the Imperial British East Africa Company, and it became the British East Africa Protectorate. From 1895 until the 12th of December of 1963, Kenya was under British colonial rule. The first president of Independent Kenya was Jomo Kenyatta.

Culture and traditions in Kenya 

Culture in Kenya revolves around hospitality and sharing. Specially remarkable is the huge role of family. Not only immediate family is part of everyday life, but uncles, cousins and others are also part of daily life. 

Religion in Kenya is varied. The majority of Kenya is Christian with 82.1% of the population, 11.2% identify as Muslim, 1.7% identify as traditionalists and 1.6% identify as ‘other'.

Mainly stemming from the Nilotic, Cushite, and Bantu language families, every tribal or ethnic community possesses unique customs, cultural practices, and traditions that distinguish them. These encompass their native tongues, culinary traditions, attire, traditional celebrations, and more.

Another surprising fact is that in Kenya there are more than 60 languages spoken and there are more than 40 ethnic groups. Swahili is the national language, while the official language is English. Nevertheless, mostly everyone speaks English or Swahili.

When it comes to clothes, although westernized clothes have take over, there are still tribes like the Maasai and Samburu still wear ‘shukas’ (shawls made of beautiful and bright colors) and colorful necklaces and headgear.

Some key festivities in Kenya are:

  • Eid Ul Fitr: celebrated in May or June,it marks the end of the Ramadan, the fast of Muslims.
  • Mashujaa Day, also known as Heroes’ Day, is observed on October 20. It is a national holiday in Kenya in honor of everyone who helped gain its independence and all other heroes of the nation. 
  • Jamhuri day honors the creation of the republic in 1964. 
  • Mombasa Carnival takes place in November and honors Kenyan with parades showcasing various tribal identities.
  • Kenya's Independence Day on December 12. Kenya celebrates its independence from British colonial rule.
  • Turkana Lake Festival: An annual cultural festival held in the Turkana Lake region, known for its scenic beauty and archaeological significance.

Although it is not a cultural fact per se, you must know that Kenya’s plug type is G.

Kenya Gastronomy

If you travel to Kenya, you will notice how homy is meal time and the diversity in dishes depending on region and community. Food staples universally eaten in Kenya are ugali (maize), sukuma wiki (vegetables), and nyama choma (roasted beef). The most common meat used in nyama choma is goat,, but beef, chicken and zebra or antelope are used in different regions. 

Other plates include Irio which is mashed potatoes with vegetables with corn, peas and bean, Githeri (Beans and Corn), Kenyan Pilau (Spiced Rice), Wali wa Nazi (Coconut Rice) and Sukuma Wiki (Collard Greens/ Kale).

When it comes to drinks, the national drink of Kenya is chai. Chai is a variety of tea that is boiled in milk and flavored with abundant sugar. Next to a great chai it is delicious to eat a Manzadi, the "African donut" or fried bread.

Visit Kenya and eat nyama choma

Weather and climate in Kenya 

Before you visit Kenya, you must know the general climate in Kenya. Generally, temperatures in Kenya remain between 20°C (68°F) and 28°C (82°F) throughout the year.

Kenya has two main seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. If you're planning a safari or a visit to the beautiful beaches of Mombasa, the best time to travel is from June to August. This is also the time of the Great Wildebeest Migration, making it ideal for safaris. The dry season extends from mid-May to the end of October and is perfect for beach vacations.

The rainy season begins in late October and continues until March. This is the best time in Kenya for those who appreciate lush green landscapes and want to hike Mount Kenya. The rainiest months are January, February, and November.

During the rainy season, rainfall typically occurs in the late afternoon or evening and does not significantly impact your visit to the country.

Kenya currency

The official Kenya currency is the Kenyan shilling (KES). Each shilling has 100 cents. There are banknotes worth 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 and coins worth 1, 5, 10 and 20 Ksh and 40 and 50 cents.

As Kenyan currency is closed,  you won’t be able to order any in your home country. However, this won’t be a problem as there are plenty of ATMs available all around Kenya, so withdrawing money shouldn’t be a problem. You can also exchange USD, EURO or GBP once you’re in the country in banks or exchange offices, or at the airport.

It is advisable always to take some local currency because use of foreign currency like USD or credit cards are not always possible outside of the major cities. Credit cards are still not widely accepted.

Things to do in Kenya

Kenya is a wonderful fun country ready to be discovered by you. Before you visit Kenya, you must learn about some of the things to do in Kenya

Going on a safari

To go on a Kenya safari is one of the best activities to do in Kenya. It is one of the best places in Africa to go on a safari. Explore national parks and reserves like Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, and Samburu to see the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) and other incredible wildlife.

Exploring the Great Rift Valley

The Great Rift Valley is a geological wonder with stunning landscapes, lakes, and unique wildlife. Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha are two popular destinations in this region.

Talking to the Masai in Kenya

This centennial tribe is one of the most popular in the world. They continue to live in mud huts, among sacred herds of cows and with authenticity. Surely you'll end up jumping with them!

Climbing Mount Kenya

There are multiple trekking routes and levels to climb in Mount Kenya. The Lenana peak is accessible to a less skilled public, although not for everyone. If you decide to spend the night here, take advantage of one of the shelters equipped with bunk beds.

Visit Kenya and Mount Kenya

Going to the Beach

There are multiple dreaming beaches in Kenya. You can relax along the Kenyan coast like Mombasa, Diani Beach, and Watamu. You can also practice water sports, diving, and snorkeling in the Indian Ocean.

Visiting the capital Nairobi

Visit Kenya and its Capital, Nairobi. In Nairobi you can see the Nairobi National Park, Giraffe Centre, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (elephant orphanage), and the Karen Blixen Museum.

Is Kenya safe?

Is Kenya safe? You can visit Kenya securely with careful planning and some security measures. With basic precaution, you will be able to travel to Kenya and do incredible things in Kenya. 

Even though there are certain areas in the big cities in Kenya that should be avoided, all the main tourist attractions are not included in any of these restricted areas, so you will not miss anything important. Just make sure you stay in a safe neighborhood and be cautious.

You can read more on some kenya safety tips in our guide Kenya tips.

Do I need a visa for Kenya?

To travel to Kenya you must fulfill some Kenya entry requirements. One of the most important ones is to have a Kenya eVisa. The online visitor visa can be used to enter Kenya once and is valid for up to 3 months. You can also find more information about visas for Kenya in our guide how to get a visa for Kenya.