Lions and leopards are just part of the landscape in Kenya, East Africa’s favourite safari destination. More than 40 national parks and nature reserves are scattered between Lake Victoria and the India Ocean, covering every imaginable landscape and featuring just about every animal in Africa: from aardvarks to zebras.
As you might expect, wildlife safaris are the lifeblood of Kenyan tourism, and the infrastructure for travellers is impressive. Jeeps, buses and light aircraft fan out daily across the country to safari lodges and tented camps, some simple and rustic, others lavish and opulent. Refreshingly, you can enjoy close encounters with nature even on a budget, with walking safaris run by tribal guides and economic tented camps that scrimp on creature comforts, but not on creatures.
Most people start the journey in Nairobi, but few linger when there are more attractive cities strung out along the sun-kissed Kenyan coast and dotted around the Great Rift Valley. Whether you pick the interior or the coast, with its beach resorts and Islamic ruins, you can be sure to find a national park or reserve close at hand – Nairobi even has a national park within the city limits, with zebras and giraffes just a stone’s throw from the suburbs.
Kenya is also a great place for cultural encounters, with more than 40 different tribal groups, each following its own unique way of life. The semi-nomadic Maasai, with their rainbow-coloured, bead-covered adornments, are perhaps the most obvious group, but visiting any tribal village is a fascinating experience.
A reputation for political instability and the looming shadow of Idi Amin have long – and unfairly – blighted Uganda’s fledgling tourism sector. Now, though, things are looking up for the central African nation once described as “the pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill.
And a brief look around is enough to show you why. From the second you step off the plane, the overwhelming impression of Uganda is one of rich natural diversity, friendly locals and a burgeoning cultural scene that is currently producing some of the most exciting artists in Africa.
Culturally, much of the action happens in the capital, Kampala, an urban sprawl ringed by farmland and perched on the muddy banks of Lake Victoria. While most foreign travellers confine themselves to the city centre or the diplomatic quarter, Kololo, its worth venturing into the bustling bars and clubs of Kabalagala, where expats and locals meet for a slug of the local Nile beer and a friendly game of pool.
Away from the capital, Uganda’s towns and cities have little in the way of diversions (although Jinja’s location on the banks of the River Nile has made it a favourite with thrill-seeking rafters). Instead, head west towards the Congo border where, along with the fascinating pygmy people of Fort Portal, Uganda’s natural wonders reveal themselves.
The star attraction is the iconic mountain gorilla, which can be found further south in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. While you’re down there it’s also worth taking a detour to Lake Bunyonyi, a mountain retreat famed for its stunning vistas and freshwater crayfish.
More natural wonders await in northern Uganda, home to the magnificent Murchison Falls, and in the east, where visitors will find the outstanding desert crags and ossified anthills of Kidepo.
Regardless of where you go in Uganda, when it comes to leaving, it will be with a heavy heart.
Kenya has a tropical climate moderated by altitude. It's hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland, and very dry in the north and northeast parts.
Kenya receives a great deal of sunshine all the year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning. Also, because Nairobi is at a high altitude, it can be quite cold even during the day between June and August.
The long rain season occurs from April to June. The short rain season occurs from October to December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is from February to March and the coldest from July to August.
Uganda. Although generally equatorial, the climate is not uniform as the altitude modifies the climate. Southern Uganda is wetter with rain generally spread throughout the year. At Entebbe on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, most rain falls from March to June and the November/December period. Further to the north a dry season gradually emerges; at Gulu about 120 km from the South Sudanese border, November to February is much drier than the rest of the year.
The northeastern region has the driest climate and is prone to droughts in some years. Rwenzori in the southwest on the border with DR Congo receives heavy rain all year round. The south of the country is heavily influenced by one of the world's biggest lakes, Lake Victoria, which contains many islands. It prevents temperatures from varying significantly and increases cloudiness and rainfall.
Visas for Kenya are required and you can obtain your visa on entry; passport photos are not required. If you require a multiple-entry visa, you're advised to obtain this in advance. Travellers who are also visiting Rwanda and Uganda may find it more useful to apply for an East Africa cross-border joint visa which allows entry into all three countries on a single visa.Kenya has an agreement with Tanzania and Uganda to waiver visa re-entry fees if travelling between the three countries as long as single-entry visas remain valid for each country. This means multiple-entry visas are not required if going from Kenya to Tanzania or Uganda and back to Kenya. The same applies for travel from Uganda and Tanzania. East Africa visas cab be obtained online.
In Kenya and Uganda the standard voltage is 240 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. The power sockets that are used are the same as those used in the UK.
The currency is the Kenyan shilling (KES), which can be divided into 100 cents. ATM's accept VISA and Mastercard debit cards throughout the country. It is not possible to buy Kenyan shillings outside Kenya.
The national currency is the Ugandan shilling, code UGX, sometimes written as Ush.
ATMs accept debit and credit cards throughout the country. VISA-branded cards are accepted by all ATMs, while MasterCard/Maestro/Cirrus cards are accepted at KCB, ECOBank Stanbic Bank, Barclays Bank, Equity bank, ATMs. Different ATMs allow for different maximum withdrawals of between Shs400,000 and Shs2,000,000, though the usual amount is Shs700,000. some ATMs are located at Entebbe Airport; given that it is impossible to buy Ugandan shillings outside of Uganda and in countries bordering Uganda, withdrawing shillings from the airport ATMs is the easiest option.
Safety & Security
Many people think of Africa and are concerned about safety and security. Travelling in any foreign country always has inherent risks and Kenya and Uganda are no different. Here's are just some of the steps we take to maximise the safety of our clients:
- Our local operator RAW Africa has a team of staff based in Kenya who are well connected with local communities. They know the country well and the head guide is a Maasai
- We do not visit areas which are regarded as "risky hotspots" such as coastal Mombasa or areas near the border of Somalia or South Sudan
- We choose accommodation which is in well regarded and secure locations
- While on tour, the team is in constant contact with local communities and law enforcement. Any heightened risk can be quickly considered and our itinerary modified to ensure we can continue safely
- RAW Africa guides and support staff along with local Rangers are with the group at all times.
Ebola is not an issue
The most recent outbreak of Ebola occurred in the western African countries of Sierri Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The outbreak peaked earlier this year and a concerted effort has dramatically slowed the disease in western Africa. In fact as at 7th November 2015, the World Health Organisation declared Sierra Leone Ebola-free.
Having said that, the areas where we operate our tour are on the opposite side of the African continent - in fact Liberia/Sierra Leone/Guinea are closer in distance to London and Madrid than they are to Kenya. Plus Kenya has not reported any cases of Ebola and Kenyan authorities advise that the country is ebola free. Ditto for Uganda. For your own peace of mind, please refer to the World Health Organisation report to review the information in detail.