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Kenya is the 'Land of the Lion King' and sits at the centre of the African safari experience, with an outstanding variety of wild animals and Big Five viewing opportunities. Although safaris are its greatest attraction, it is a country of great diversity with much more to offer than splendid wildlife. Essentially it is a place for outdoor living - the coast offers beaches and water-based activities, the mountains present a challenge to hikers and climbers, and the rolling savannahs are a game-viewers paradise.
The country sits astride the equator and offers fabulous scenery and a variety of tribal cultures. From its central location, the sacred peaks of Mt Kenya reign over a landscape primarily covered by grasslands and thorn trees, much of it enclosed within its many parks and reserves. To the west the spectacular Great Rift Valley is sprinkled with lakes teeming with a variety of birdlife, whose shores and surrounds are traversed by agricultural farmlands. To the east lies the promise of an idyllic beach holiday with the requisite white palm-fringed beaches and pristine coral reefs. Inhabiting the highlands and Rift Valley are two of the most well known of the numerous tribal cultures, the Kikuyu farmers and the tall, red-clad Masai cattle herders. The coast is home to ancient Swahili civilisations and old port towns that are rich in a history of exotic spice trading and fighting.
Kenya has a sophisticated tourism infrastructure, with two major cities controlling the majority of the tourism trade. Nairobi, the capital, is the safari and hiking hub, situated in the cool Central Highlands, while on the east coast the hot and humid trading port of Mombasa functions as the gateway to the resorts and pristine beaches of the area. Sadly the heavy influence of tourism has meant excessive prices for safaris, souvenirs and most activities of interest to foreigners, as well as the constant hassle by touts, guides and sellers to part with as much money as they can dupe the guilty traveller into spending.
Despite this, the people are friendly and visitors can choose to do as little or as much as they like, and the combination of wildlife, together with its beaches and mountains, make Kenya a fantastic holiday destination.
There is an abundance of things to see and do in Kenya, among them Africa's finest attractions. Game viewing in the 'Land of the Lion King' is a must, with quintessential destinations near Nairobi, like the Masai Mara National Reserve (where Out of Africawas filmed), while Hell's Gate National Park is located in the Great Rift Valley. Visit Elsamere Conservation Centre, where Joy Adamson of Born Freelived, and take in the natural splendour of Lake Naivasha. Kenya has pleasant weather throughout the year, making this a great holiday destination.
Business in Kenya tends to be conducted formally and conservatively, with the appropriate formal attire of a jacket and tie. Punctuality is important. Business cards are exchanged and handshakes are standard. English is the principal language of business. Business hours are usually from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday.
The best time to visit Kenya is probably during the dry season from January to March, and July to October. The rainy seasons in Kenya are April to June and October to early December. The dry season is the best time for safaris in Kenya when it is easier to see the animals as the grass is shorter and they congregate around the water holes. The annual migration in the Masai Mara is best seen from July to October although the precise timing of this natural phenomenon varies each year.
The weather on the coast is pleasant year round but generally hot and humid conditions prevail, tempered by strong onshore breezes. The best time to holiday on the coast is from December to March, while April to May are the wettest months; there is also a short rainy season from October to November.
The lowlands are hot and dry and the highlands (including Nairobi) are more temperate and cool at night.
The international access code for Kenya is +254. The outgoing code is 000 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00027 for South Africa), unless dialling Tanzania or Uganda when the outgoing codes are 007 or 006 respectively. City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)41 for Mombasa and (0)20 for Nairobi. International Direct Dial is available throughout most of the country, but the service is expensive and inefficient. Hotels usually add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills; it is less expensive to either call from one of the international phone services, which are available in larger towns or buy a pre-paid calling card for use in the public telephone booths. For international operator-assisted calls call 0196. All major urban areas are covered by the mobile network; the local mobile phone operators use GSM networks that have roaming agreements with most international mobile phone operators. Internet cafes are widely available in most towns and tourist areas.
The taking of photographs of official buildings and embassies is not advised and could lead to detention. It is illegal to destroy Kenyan currency. The coastal towns are predominantly Muslim and religious customs and sensitivities should be respected, particularly during Ramadan; dress should be conservative away from the beaches and resorts, particularly for women. Homosexuality is against the law. Smoking in public places is illegal, other than in designated smoking areas, and violators will be fined or imprisoned.
Travellers to Kenya over 16 years do not have to pay duty on 227g tobacco or 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars; 1 bottle of alcohol; and 473ml perfume. Prohibited items include fruit, imitation firearms, and children's toys pistols. No plants may be brought into the country without a Plant Import Permit (PIP).
240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style square three-pin plugs are used.
Travellers should get the latest medical advice on inoculations and malaria prevention at least three weeks prior to departure. A malaria risk exists all year round, but more around Mombasa and the lower coastal areas than in Nairobi and on the high central plateau. Immunisation against yellow fever, polio and typhoid are usually recommended. A yellow fever certificate is required by anyone arriving from an infected area. Other risks include diarrhoeal diseases. Protection against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes and tsetse flies is the best prevention against malaria and dengue fever, as well as other insect-borne diseases, including Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chikungunya fever. AIDS is a serious problem in Kenya and the necessary precautions should be taken. Water is of variable quality and visitors are advised to drink bottled water. Cholera outbreaks occur frequently, and travellers should take care not to drink contaminated water and be cautious of food prepared by unlicensed roadside vendors. There are good medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa but health insurance is essential.
English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with 42 ethnic languages spoken.
The unit of currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KES), divided into 100 cents. It is not advisable to take Kenyan Shillings out of the country, as they are difficult to exchange elsewhere. Travellers cheques in Sterling or US Dollars are recommended for your trip to Kenya. US Dollars in particular have become commonly used in many of the country's main hotels and safari lodges. Foreign currency can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and hotels; easiest to exchange are US dollars, pounds sterling or Euros. Street exchange merchants should be avoided as they are operating illegally. Banks open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and on the first and last Saturday of the month. Banks and bureaux de change at the international airport stay open 24 hours. Credit Cards (American Express, Visa and MasterCard) are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, and some camps and lodges. ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and the major towns.
All foreign passengers to Kenya must hold proof of sufficient funds (at least USD 500) to cover their stay in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Most foreign nationals require a visa, which can be obtained on arrival in Kenya, provided that (i) their passport is in good condition, and (ii) they have at least one blank page in their passport for the visa endorsement. The visa fee is USD 50, which is also payable in GBP or EUR. On-arrival visas are valid for three months. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Kenya, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
* In October 2011 specific threats against Kenyan tourism facilities have been made by Somali Islamist rebel group al-Shabaab. Visitors to Kenya are advised to seek updated security information close to their departure dates. Nairobi is notorious for robberies and muggings and visitors should be alert at all times, but particularly at night. There is a serious threat of banditry in the northern areas and travel is only advisable with an armed escort; recent armed attacks in resort areas of northern Kenya near the border of Somalia (especially Lamu Island) have occurred and visitors should be cautious. Visitors should also be vigilant in Mombasa. There have been a number of recent knife attacks on tourists in the main south coast tourist areas of Diani and Ukunda. Visitors should take sensible precautions when driving; in particular, landmines have been used in attacks around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the border at this point should stay on the A2. There is a high threat from global terrorism in Kenya and visitors should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites.
Tipping is not customary in Kenya, however a 10% service charge may be added to bill in more upmarket restaurants. Otherwise small change in local currency may be offered to taxi drivers, porters and waiters. On safari, however, drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips to get by, but these are discretionary.