Roughly equivalent to Texas in size, Kenya’s eastern shores meet the mighty Indian Ocean, while its western border extends to the beautiful Lake Victoria. The equator runs through its centre, with the snow-capped Mount Kenya extending its epic peaks astride the invisible line. This is a place where blanched beaches give way to dense forests, and parched deserts match cerulean lakes. And this melting pot of terrains creates the perfect environment for life to thrive in all its various forms.
Kenya's geographic regions are as diverse as its people and wildlife. Two-thirds (mainly in the north and east) are arid semi-desert composed of acacia and commiphora bush, while the south and south-west is predominantly tree-dotted savannah. In the east, a narrow fertile strip of land is bordered by the Indian Ocean. Lake Victoria, the world's second largest freshwater lake, lies to the west.
Cutting through the country in a north-south direction is the Great Rift Valley, with a string of lakes and a number of mostly dormant volcanoes. In the centre of Kenya are the highlands, dominated by Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Mountain range.
The People, The Culture and The Language
There are about 37 ethnic groups in Kenya and its primary indigenous peoples are the Bantu and the Nilotic. The arrival of Islamic traders around the 9th century profoundly influenced its peoples and culture, ultimately resulting in the birth of the coastally-based Swahili clan.
Other notable peoples include pastoralist communities in the north, and several different communities in the central and western regions. Due to tourism, the Maasai have gained prominence despite comprising a minor percentage of the population. They are known for their beautiful jewellery and upper-body ornamentation.
Music is integral to Kenyan culture, and various folk traditions have sprung up from over 40 regional languages. Most music has complex guitar rhythms with lyrics in Swahili or Lingala.
Though diverse, most Kenyan dishes are affordable and meant to satisfy hunger, usually including corn, maize, potatoes and beans. Be sure to try the two national dishes – ugali is a thick maize porridge that’s often accompanied by meat or stews, and sukumu wiki (meaning ‘stretch the week’ – so food that’s made to last!) is chopped spinach or kale with onions, tomatoes, green pepper, and meat when available. Eat ugali by pinching off a piece of dough, fashioning it into a spoon, then dipping it into the sauce. Another favourite is nyama choma which is roasted or grilled meat, often served with mashed veg. The Maasai eat mostly beef (as they’re cattle herders), and the Kikuyu and Gikuyu make irio, which is corn, beans, potatoes and greens rolled into balls and dipped in stew. By Lake Victoria, fish stews become more popular, served with rice and vegetables.
Kenya’s variety of habitats and wildlife is unsurpassed anywhere in Africa. In the northeast arid lands of the Samburu, one may find the endangered Grevy's zebra, the long-necked gerenuk, beisa oryx and the striking reticulated giraffe. In the south-west, there is the world-famous Masai Mara National Reserve, well-known for its abundance of wildlife and the Great Wildebeest and Zebra Migration which occurs between July and September.
As most of Kenya is high-plateau country it enjoys a pleasant climate: warm days and cool nights are the norm for most of the year. Around the coast it can become very hot and humid. The rains occur between March and May and between October and December. The most popular time for safaris is July to September, when the migration takes place and the schools in Europe and America are closed for summer holidays.
Vaccinations and Malaria
Malaria is prevalent in all areas except Nairobi. We recommend that any travellers to Kenya take anti-malarial medication. You should consult your physician before travel. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever vaccinations are also recommended prior to travel.
Visa requirements are constantly changing and so you should refer to the Embassy Website or speak to one of our expert consultants for the latest requirements.