GUIDE TO PLANNING YOUR KENYA SAFARI

Going on a safari is many people’s dream and a sort after experience. Safari means journey in Kenya’s Swahili dialect, hence safari holidays is synonymous with the East Africa region and particularly Kenya. Whenever safari is mentioned, it conjures images of the African bush and wildlife watching and experiencing the hospitality of the Kenyan people. A safari is meant to leave a memorable and lasting experience hence planning a Kenya safari is a very important undertaking.
This article, “guide to planning your Kenya Safari” will attempt to guide on steps to take when planning for a holiday in Kenya. It is not a complete guide but I hope it will be helpful. It has been designed using my several years of experience as a tour operator based in Kenya.

Why visit Kenya. (Guide to Planning your Kenya safari)

Kenya is an African icon when it comes to holiday and safari destination. It has some of the magnificent attractions in the world, which include the African savannah teaming with wildlife, some of the best beaches in Africa, cultural and heritage tourism, great hospitality from its people among many others.

Among its game parks, Masai Mara has awarded many times by World Travel Awards (WTA) as Africa’s leading game park. It is also home to the world’s renowned wildebeest migration often claimed to be the 8th wonder of the world. Diani beach has been named many time as the leading beach by WTA. We also have the annual whale migration with the humpback whales migrating from Antarctica and swimming 4000km to the Kenya’s Watamu protected area. The wildlife in Kenya exist in their natural habitat. All the actions in the parks are natural and not stage managed. The country also has a conducive weather ideal for holiday. There are so many reasons to choose Kenya as your holiday destination. Once you visit Kenya, you will always have the urge to come back.

Deciding the best month to be on safari

When is the best time for Kenya safari. This is the question that usually comes to the mind of anybody planning to come to Kenya on a safari or holiday. There is no simple answer to this question.

The following information may help you choose which to month to travel:

The tourism seasons in Kenya is roughly divided into 3 categories.

  • Shoulder season

This is the period between November to March. There are usually short rains between November to December. January to March is usually rainless with hot weather.

In this period, there is less crowding in hotels and parks. This allows for an authentic safari experience as you view wildlife with fewer distractions from a crowded park. You will also have a personal connection with the local people. The grass is also low which allows for easy viewing of wildlife. Newborns and migratory birds can be seen in this period. Wildlife are also likely to be found around pools of water making them easy to see. Due to reduced demand from visitors, hotels and other services usually reduce costs. This can result in savings between 20% to 30% of the safari cost compared to the peak season. People who have been on safari several times often argue that this is the best time to be on safari. I personally vouch for this period.

  • Low season

This is the period between April to June. Around this time there is heavy rainfall ending in the early June. It is common for rivers to over flow in the parks during the heavy rains and wash away bridges and accommodation establishments located near rivers. Don’t be surprised to be offered an alternative accommodation to the one booked because it is flooded. You need a good 4X4 vehicle in the park otherwise there is the risk of getting stuck in the mud.

The grass is overgrown and it can pose challenges in sporting wildlife. In spite of the challenges this period has its good side. Predators avoid the wet grass and can be encountered on the vehicle tracks. The rain usually subsides in June. You can be lucky to encounter wildebeest migration in the Month if it starts early. I have had groups encountering the migration and witnessing a river crossing in the last week of the month. Another advantage is that the safari cost is at its lowest. From my personal observation, this period is for the dare devils and not for the faint hearted.

  •  Peak season

This is the period between July to October. It is the time just after the long rains and it coincides with the Great Migration of wildebeest attracted by the green grass. It is a period of sunshine. The grass is not very long so it is easier to spot wildlife. Predators are attracted by huge numbers of wildlife and there is a lot of action in the Masai Mara. From the crocodiles preying on the migrating animals crossing the Mara River, to predators hunting the wildebeest. The migration and the conducive weather plays a big role in attracting a huge number of tourists to the Kenya in this season. It is advisable if you are planning to travel in this period, you book early or you will be looked out.  The cost of the safari is at its highest.

Weather through the year

The guide to planning your Kenya safari explains the weather in Kenya month by month so that you can choose the suitable month for your safari. Kenya is an all year round tourist destination.

January: The sky is clear; the days are hot and nights warm making this month a popular time for safaris and good for diving and snorkeling.

February: Continuation of the long dry season , less grass  and wildlife gathering close to water points, this is still a good time for a safari and staying in hotels near water point comes with advantage.

March: Hot and Humid weather, good diving and snorkeling conditions at the start of the month, onset of rains.

April: Lower temperature, heavy rains. Advisable to use 4×4 a jeep for safari. Predators avoid wet grass and are regularly seen on the tracks.

May: There is a lot of vegetation around making it ideal for photography. Predators hide on the long grass and grazers scatter in the vast parks and reserves

June: Rains cease and give way to cloudy, cooler weather, making for very comfortable conditions, especially in the highlands. Sometimes wildebeest migration starts towards the end of this month.

July This is the coldest month in Kenya. Wildebeest starts arriving in from Serengeti. This is a very busy month in terms of tourism. Most of the hotels in Masai Mara are fully booked.

August The temperature is pleasant and mostly dry. The wildebeest and Zebra have filled Masai Mara providing lots of action. Still a very busy time and getting accommodation in Hotels becomes a challenge.

September; This is the start of, dry weather with little chance of rain. The game viewing action continues in the Mara, and it is still excellent throughout Kenya for wildlife.

October: There are some light rains. It’s a lovely time to travel if you want to avoid the crowds but still have excellent game viewing opportunities. The migratory herds are leaving the Masai Mara, but excellent resident populations remain. All other Kenya destinations are great at this time of year. It’s also good for diving and snorkeling.

November: The short rains are starting and the temperature is hotter. There is still good game viewing under the heavier skies and activities continue. Crowds are fewer and you can get good deals on this month.

December: The end of the year can be hot and potentially wet. It is still great time to view wildlife with high number of birds present in places like Lake Nakuru.

Choosing flights

After deciding on the dates that you want to be on safari, you now look at the available flights. It is now easy to book any flights online. Safaris usually start in the morning at 7AM. If you can get a flight arriving at least 1 hour before 7AM in the morning, then you will be able to drive straight to the park and avoid a night in the city. Arriving later than that can mean a sleep over in Nairobi. International flights to Kenya normally land at the Jomo Kenyatta National Airport in Nairobi. You can get a connecting flight to other towns. It is advisable to book flights as early as you can because it will be cheaper. You will also avoid non availability. During the peak season, it can be a challenge getting flights to Kenya unless booked early.

 

Choosing a tour operator to organize your safari

Tour operators play a very key role in tourism. They assemble all the components from suppliers which include accommodation, transportation, attractions, amenities and promote  them as one package. It is advisable to organize your safari with tour operators as they get discounted prices from the suppliers as opposed to sourcing for the components yourself. The safari will be cheaper if organized by tour operators. They will also take away from you the hassle of organizing the trip and give you peace of mind as you plan other things.

There are many tour operators in Kenya. It is advisable to organize your safari with reputable tour operators who are licensed by (TRA) Kenya Tourism regulatory Authority and also who are members of KATO ( Kenya Association of Tour Operators. You can verify the legitimacy of a tour operator by checking the data base of these organizations. You can also check for reviews from independent sites like the tripadvisor. Kichaka Tours and Travel is duly licensed by TRA and also a member of KATO among other organizations. It also has stellar reviews on trip advisor.

You will give a tour operator the travel dates and the number of people who will be on safari. The tour operator will look at the availability of accommodation and advise you on details of the safari. They will also provide a quotation. You can choose from the many safari options available on our website. You can also give us your tour plan and we will design a safari package for you.

Choosing between group tours and private Tours

Group tours involves travelling in large groups of travelers who are not related, while private tours are organized for small groups and mostly family members or friends travelling together. The trend in Kenya is that most people travel together as small groups and prefer private tours. Private tours involves using the tour vehicle exclusively for the group. No sharing with other tourist who are not part of the group. This is an advantage because you are able to travel at your own pace and enhance the safari experience. 

The main challenge of a group tour is that it is not easy to satisfy the varied interest of the members. Single traveler also usually join group tours although sometimes it is a challenge to get group departing on the date indicated by the single traveler. Another challenge with group joining tours is that you can have travelers staying in different hotels according to individual budget and a lot of time is spend picking or dropping the tourists to hotels which could be distance apart.

Private tours provide the best experience and usually it is not costly. The more people in a tour, the cheaper it is since you will be sharing the cost. You can invite friends to join you in you private safari.

Choosing between a 4×4 land cruiser and a safari van

The ideal safari vehicle is a 4×4 safari land cruiser. This vehicle is a four wheel drive and has a higher ground clearance. The features allow it to tackle the African bush with ease. It also has an advantage when it rains as it can handle the muddy terrain. It costs a bit higher hence some tourists would opt for a safari van. Safari van has a low ground clearance and can pose challenges with some of the off road terrain. In dry season the safari van can perform almost at par with the land cruiser. Some of the safari vans have 4 wheel option which can become handy in the rainy season. Your budget will help determine which vehicle to use.

Choosing which destinations to visit on your Kenya safari

There are many game parks and animal reserve in Kenya. It might not be possible to visit all of them all in one go. It is important to decide which parks you would wish to visit. The most popular game reserve in Kenya and a premier park in Africa is Masai Mara game reserve. It is a must visit park. Most safaris revolve around this game reserve. Other popular  parks include Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, TsavoWest and Tsavo East. Parks that attract less crowd but still very attractive include Samburu National reserve, Mt Kenya NationalPark, Aberdare National park, Ol pejeta conservancy and Kakamega forest. Many more attractions are available to choose from. It is usual ideal to have a minimum of two nights in Masai Mara. With the other parks, a minimum of one night is sufficient if have a limited number of days. Routing will also be important because some of the parks could be far apart. In case you are visiting multi parks, it can be a good idea for the safari to end in Masai Mara as it is the climax of the safari. If you are a return visitor, it might be a good idea to visit the other parks that you have not visited. I still see people prefer to visit Masai Mara again. You can never have enough of Masai Mara.

Fly in safaris

Due to the distance between tourism destinations, some people would opt to use flights to get there. This used to be common when the road to Masai Mara was not tarmacked. During those days, it was quite experience to get to Masai Mara. But this days, the road is tarmacked. Most Kenyan roads meet international standards and it is easier to drive between destinations.

Driving between different parks and reserves can take an average 5 hrs. Some people would opt to take flights between the parks and reserves in case they are visiting multi destinations. Most of the popular national parks and reserves have airstrips where smaller planes can land and take off. In case you decide to use a flight to travel to the parks, please be aware that because of the size of the planes, most have luggage limitations and dot not accept hard sided suitcases. It is also possible to charter planes locally to the safari destination.

Kenyan Train

There are two types of railway lines in Kenya. The old railway line and the new standard gauge railway line. The old railway line is not completely functional. The standard gauge railway line is new. It currently connects the capital city of Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa. It passes through some of the popular parks in Kenya. Travelling by the Kenya train is beautiful and a sort after experience. It is a safari by itself. As you leave Nairobi it will not be long be you start encountering Kenya wildlife as you by some of the most popular parks in Kenya. The train ride also brings you to the sight of Africa’s tallest Mountain, Kilimanjaro. The train ride provides a unforgettable vista.

If your safari ends in Nairobi with a beach extension at the coast, you can use a train to get to Mombasa. It is also possible to board the train along the way in case your safari ends in Amboseli National Park or Tsavo National Park.

 

Choosing accommodations in Kenya

One major determinant in a safari cost is the class of accommodation. Hotels in Kenya are usually classified as budget, midrange and luxury. In the game parks and animal reserves, the accommodation are further divided into tented camps which are made of canvas materials and permanent structures which are made of wood or bricks . The tented camps offer amenities found in a conventional hotel including a bathroom and can be very luxurious.

Budget conscious travelers would often choose budget option of accommodation and always say that they need just a nice place to sleep and good food. They will add that most of the time is spend out on game drives. For midrange option, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between them and luxury class. They are comfortable facilities offering a high level of luxury and have extras like swimming pools and well constructed structures. For luxury option, it is opulence and the cost is higher.

 

Kenya Tourist Visa 

As a Tourists, You  should have a valid visa and passport before gaining entry into Kenya. Your passport should be valid at least six months after arrival into the country.

The new E-Visa introduced by the government of Kenya will  soon replace the manual application process at the airport. Hence all guests are advised to obtain their visas online by logging on towww.evisa.go.keto apply for an electronic visa. Payments is through credit cards not cash.

Once you successfully apply, you will get the visa approximately five days after the day that you request for it.

Vaccination (Guide to Planning your Kenya safari)

Guide to planning your Kenya safari also touches about Vaccination requirements. Yellow fever vaccination is mandatory to travelers arriving from Yellow fever endemic countries. This condition also applies to travelers subjected to long flight connection (transit) in an airport of a Yellow fever endemic country for twelve hours (12hrs) or more

Yellow Fever vaccination is not compulsory for visitors arriving directly into Kenya from NON-endemic countries like Europe, the USA and Japan. Kenya according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a low risk country for Yellow fever (WHO 2015 update). However, the presence of Yellow fever vector poses potential risk for Yellow fever if the virus is introduced into the country.

All visitor from Endemic Yellow Fever zone(s), and those visitors whom on their way to Kenya and have passed through Endemic Yellow Fever zone(s) and got out of that country’s airport, will be required to show their yellow fever certificates on their arrival into Kenya or receive vaccination at the entry point on their arrival at a fee.

Packing for safari 

Guide to planning your Kenya safari will help you in choosing accommodations wisely. What you pack on the trip will depend on the duration and purpose of the trip. On safari you will need cloths that are loose and comfortable. The weather will also determine the type of clothes that you carry. Laundry service can be expensive in most of the hotel so it is advisable to carry enough clothes. Local flights have limitations to the maximum weight of luggage they carry so you should consider that factor when packing.

For footwear, have comfortable shoes. The terrain can be rocky, thorny  and uneven. It is ideal to have boots if you intend to explore the bush on foot. Light weight sandals are ideal for the bush.

We don not encourage topless bathing at the beaches of Kenya and you will need to carry appropriate swimwear. Also pack in a few semi-formal apparel such as trouser pants so you can enjoy the romantic dinner.

I hope the guide to planning your Kenya safari article was helpful. If you are planning to visit Kenya on a safari , do not hesitate to contact us. We will help you design your dream safari.

Stephen Odongo

Kichaka Tours and Travel