Q: When is the best time to go to Kenya?
A: Kenya is on the equator and is known as a “year round destination” which can be visited anytime. The hottest months are late January to March while the coolest are July and August. There are two rainy seasons, known as “the long rains”, a ten week period between April and early June and the “short rains” a six week period during November and early December. Global weather patterns are changing and sometimes the rains fail completely in some parts of Kenya and there is a period of drought or there may be heavy rains outside the normal rainy season. However when it rains it tends to be mainly at night or in the early morning which means there can still be sunny days in between. Many safari camps close during May when the long rains are at their height, as the tracks and roads get muddy and it may not be possible for the camp vehicles to take visitors on game drives.
During the hot months of January to March conditions can often be dry and dusty and the animals may congregate near water-holes so that there is excellent wildlife viewing. Just after the rainy seasons, in June or again in December, many of the animals have their young to co-incide with the better grazing from new grass following the rains. The wildebeest migration moves into the Mara between July and September and this is when many visitors come to Kenya and the parks can get more crowded with tourist vehicles.
To sum up – January to March: usually hot and dry and great for wildlife viewing, April-May: can be wet and muddy, June: green and lush after the rains, Jul-August: cooler but good for the migration in the Mara, September-October: good weather and good wildlife viewing, November-December: the short rains.
Ensure you bring some additional warm clothing for chilly early morning or evening game drives (fleece, sweater). Although Kenya is on the equator, you may be surprised at how VERY cold it can get at night and in the early morning, especially in the higher locations!
Q: What is the accommodation like on safari?
A: Safari lodges have guest rooms similar to a hotel with en suite bathrooms. They are comfortably furnished with all the facilities normally associated with a 3 star hotel. Tented lodges have rooms which are tents on a platform and with a roof and also have en suite facilities with showers, flush toilets and hot and cold running water, like a hotel bathroom.
The safari lodges and bigger tented lodges can be more “touristy” and being larger establishments they can be a bit impersonal if you are travelling alone or as a couple. They suit those who prefer to have the infrastructure and facilities of a hotel and most have swimming pools and extensive grounds and gardens.
The boutique lodges and camps can be very stylish and smart in terms of design and decor, often with very spacious rooms and even going so far in some cases as having plunge pools for each room.
Eco-camps and smaller tented camps have insect-proof tents with en suite facilities including safari shower and flush toilets. They give a more authentic safari experience but the tents are comfortably furnished with proper beds and you don’t need to bring your own sleeping bag! The emphasis is usually on having excellent guides and great wildlife viewing away from the crowds. Guests often eat together and people travelling alone usually say that they found the atmosphere friendly and enjoyed meeting other like-minded travellers round the camp fire in the evening or at dinner. For a 360 degree visual tour of of Porini Lion Camp click here
Q: What is a safari shower / “bucket” shower?
A: Safari / bucket showers are common in mobile or tented camps where there is no permanent plumbing. They are an effective yet environmentally friendly way to shower where water is at a premium and provide plenty of hot water to wash comfortably.
Generally there is an en suite private shower stall within your tent with a “rainfall” style shower head at which you can control the water flow. Outside the tent there is a large waterproof bag or bucket which is filled with about 10 to 15 litres (5 US gallons) of hot water before being raised with a pully / rope system to either connect to the shower pipe or fill a cistern. The water is delivered at the ideal temperature so it is best to use it as soon as it arrives. Staff typically fill the showers at a pre-arranged time of day, or you simply need to give them a few minutes’ notice so they can get it ready.
Q: Which are the best parks and reserves to visit?
A: There are many varied parks and reserves from which to choose – each has its own unique reasons for visiting, be it a special topography or rare wildlife species. Where possible we recommend combining two, three or more parks in order to see a broad range of landscapes and animals. Some private reserves / conservancies are able to offer night game drives and walking safaris.
Q: What animals can I expect to see?
A: In most parks / conservancies you can normally guarantee that you will see the more common grazing animals such as buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, eland, giraffe, gazelles, impala and waterbuck. In addition lions, leopards and cheetahs are present in most parks, but are most easily seen in the Mara and the Mara Conservancies. Elephants are best seen in Selenkay / Amboseli and Rhino are often sighted in Nairobi National Park, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Lake Nakuru Park.
Q: Are we better off staying inside the Mara Reserve and will we see animals if our camp is outside the Reserve?
A: The Mara eco-system and its wildlife extends far beyond the boundaries of the official Masai Mara National Reserve. Other game-filled wildlife reserves (known as Conservancies) have been established in the Mara on tracts of wilderness adjacent to the Reserve. Guests staying in the small camps in the Conservancies find that on game drives the animal sightings and photo opportunities tend to have few other vehicles present. The conservancies offer a more private, exclusive wilderness experience (away from crowds of tourists) and they allow night game drives and walking safaris.
Q: In what type of vehicle will I have game drives?
A: If you are booking a fly-in (air) safari your safari game drives will be operated by your chosen camp / lodge. Various types of vehicles are used for game drives, so do check with your sales consultant which type your chosen accommodation uses. These drives may be shared with other guests – typically maximum 6 per vehicle – and there may be the option to upgrade to a private vehicle.
If you are booking a road safari in Kenya you can choose between a 6 seater safari minivan or a closed-sided 4×4 vehicle – both have pop-up roofs giving passengers great photo opportunities. We always recommend a 4×4 safari vehicle in preference to the vans – it is worth the extra cost.
Q: How safe are we from wild animals if we sleep in a tent or go out in open-sided vehicles?
A: Attacks on tourist visitors by wild animals in Africa are extremely rare and almost unheard of when on safari with a reputable company and experienced guide. Most animals are wary of the sight and smell of humans and will flee rather than attack but you should never attempt to approach animals yourself unless you are being escorted by a professional guide. While on game drives you will be taken out by expert guides who are highly trained in assessing situations and avoiding danger. They will avoid causing stress to wild animals and can read the signs. Wildlife can wander close to camps and lodges and pass through the camp after dark since they are typically unfenced, but every measure is in place to ensure guest safety. For example, in unfenced camps guests should be escorted around camp after dark by staff who are famiiliar with the behaviour of wildlife. Sleeping under canvas in a tent in the wilds of Africa, surrounded by the sounds of the African bush is a memorable experience!
Q: Will there be lots of bugs and creepy-crawlies? Do we need to bring mosquito nets? And what about snakes?
A: Many visitors are surprised to find that on safari there are often not as many bugs as there are in their home countries in summer and frequently they tell us that they did not even see a mosquito on safari! However this is Africa and there are certainly many tropical insects in the country but most are quite harmless to humans and some of them are actually very interesting! During the rainy season there are often more insects in evidence especially after a shower of rain. The lodges normally provide mosquito nets in the guest rooms but in the tented camps these are not needed if the tent is insect-proof with zipping doors and sewn in groundsheets. The important thing is to leave the lights switched off when you are out of the tent and always keep the doors zipped shut. Most people on safari do not even see an insect in their lodge room or in their tent. If you notice a gecko (small lizard) in your lodge room, these are common and absolutely harmless so they can just be ignored, especially as they eat mosquitoes and bugs. As for snakes, there are many species of snakes in East Africa, most of which are harmless to humans. Snakes are not often seen as they avoid being in the open where people are walking about and will almost always try to get away and to hide if they sense human footsteps approaching. Your guide may spot a snake and point it out from the safety of your vehicle when on a game drive but they are rarely seen in the grounds of the lodges or camps. If you do see a snake, do not approach it – simply tell your guide or a member of staff at the camp. If left alone at a safe distance, snakes do not pose a danger.
Q: What is a typical day on safari?
A: Each camp and lodge varies with its exact schedule, but generally safaris follow a typical pattern with two main activities each day. Activities are mainly game drives and guided walks, but in some locations can include game viewing from a river.
The morning may begin with a hot drink and light snack before the first drive / activity which starts at or just after sunrise. There are great opportunities to see wildlife at this time since it is still fairly cool and animals are most active. The morning activity usually ends by late morning with guests returning to the camp / lodge for breakfast / brunch.
Guests generally relax at the camp / lodge for the middle of the day. This is because the animals are quite inactive during the heat of the day – seeking shelter in the shade. Guests have lunch and enjoy the camp or lodge facilities (lounge / hammocks / swimming pool etc) or some properties offer short walks or visits to a hide.
The second main activity will follow afternoon tea (drink / snacks, etc) in the late afternoon and perhaps end at a scenic point to view the sunset. Some camps offer night drives after this. Guests later return to the camp / lodge for drinks and dinner.
Q: Can we drink the water?
A: The water in many cities and small towns is purified and safe to drink, but we recommend drinking bottled water / drinks which are readily available at hotels, camps and lodges.
Q: What type of food will we have on safari?
A: The food available at most camps and lodges is of good quality and with an international style. Breakfasts include cereals, fruit, cold meats, eggs, bacon, sausages etc and fresh bread. Lunches and dinners may include soups, salads, cold meats, pasta, meat & fish dishes and fresh fruits and vegetables. Larger lodges tend to offer a buffet selection. Smaller camps have a more personal service with guests dining together communally. Some properties can offer bush breakfasts, picnic lunches and dinners for an experience of dining in the wild.
Q: Do mobile / cell phones work on safari?
A: Mobile / cell phone coverage across Africa is generally quite good and even some of the main safari areas have a service. Your phone company will be able to tell you what service is provided in the countries you are visiting. If you use your phone during your safari please respect other guests and do not use the phone during game drives or speak loudly on your phone while in camp.
Q: Do the camps and lodges have Wi-Fi or internet access?
A: A few safari camps have Wi-Fi / internet available for guests and this is being introduced by more and more camps nowadays although slow download speeds may be frustrating. Some camps may have a cell phone signal through which you could access the internet (depending on your phone plan / provider) though this may be expensive. Most major hotels in Nairobi and on the coast have internet.
Q: Is there power to charge a camera / video camera / laptop / iPad / phone?
A: Yes, the camps and lodges have power – perhaps as solar lighting and / or a generator. The power may be switched off for part of the day. At small camps and lodges you may not be able to use a hairdryer or electric shaver but batteries can be charged either in your tent / room or in a communal area. The required adaptor for Kenya is plug type G (the British-style 3 rectangular pin plug).
Q: What happens if there is a medical emergency on safari?
A: In the unlikely event of illness or injury our driver-guides and most camp / lodge staff are trained in first aid procedures. Medical travel insurance is a necessity and we recommend that you purchase a policy with a supplemental benefit for emergency medical evacuation. In the event of a medical emergency an aircraft can be dispatched to lodges or camps. There are good quality medical facilities in the larger towns and cities should you require medical attention while on your trip.
Q: How can my family contact me if there is an emergency at home?
A: Most of the properties we offer have telephones and email so can be easily reached. Smaller (mobile) camps may use radio. We recommend that you leave the 24 hour contact details of our office with your friends and family so that we can assist should they need to contact you in an emergency.
Q: How do we book?
A: First contact our team of travel experts who will help you plan your trip and will provide a quotation. You can use our simple online Booking Enquiry form or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you choose to proceed with a booking we will check availability at the hotels, camps and lodges and hold provisional bookings where possible. Reservations are confirmed on receipt of a 25% deposit, and final payment is due 30 days prior to the start of your arrangements. Payments can be made by debit / credit card (MasterCard, Visa) via our secure online payment system. Alternatively payments may be made by bank transfer.
Q: Which airlines fly to Kenya?
A: Many of the major world airlines including Kenya Airways, British Airways, Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and Swissair fly several times a week from Europe into Jomo Kenyatta International airport, Nairobi. From North America, airlines including American Airlines and Delta offer services that connect via Europe. Other airlines include Emirates, Qatar, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines and Air India. Use our simple Online Flight Search facility to quickly find the latest availability and prices.
Q: Are we expected to give tips to lodge staff and the driver-guides and is there any advice on the normal amounts?
A: Tipping at the safari camps is entirely at your discretion but as a guideline if you wish to give a gratuity then most guests give a tip on the last day in each camp equating to around US$5 to $10 per guest per full day to the Driver-Guide plus around US$5 to $10 per guest per night into the staff tip box for the rest of the staff. It may be difficult to obtain change or to exchange foreign currency at the smaller camps so it is best to plan ahead and have Kenya Shillings for tips before starting a safari.
Q: Will I need to take US dollars in cash and how do I obtain local currency?
A: Some safari lodges and camps or rural hotels may not all accept credit cards and where they do they may add a surcharge, or for payment in US$ cash they may give an unfavorable exchange rate. So it is recommended that you obtain whatever local currency you may need on safari in advance by drawing cash from an ATM at the bank at the airport on arrival in Nairobi using an international VISA card with a PIN. ATM cash machines are also available in most major towns for cash to be obtained in local currency. If you take US dollar bills with you then please note that older bank notes dated before 2009 may not be accepted.
Q: What type of baggage / luggage should we take?
A: Luggage should be kept to a minimum, especially if you will be travelling via light aircraft. In East Africa the limit is typically 15 kg per person, and in southern Africa it is 20kg per person. This should be in soft bags as opposed to hard suit cases in order to fit in the baggage compartment on small aircraft. On road safaris the weight and size allowance is not as important but you should still try to bring as little as possible. A complimentary laundry service is offered at many camps and lodges. For game viewing it is best to wear grey, brown, khaki or green coloured clothing so the wildlife is not alerted to your presence. Camouflage clothing is not permitted in some countries.