Boasting amazing landscapes and superb safaris including over 40 wildlife parks and four marine parks, Kenya is one of the best safari destinations in Africa. If it’s your first time planning a holiday here, you might find all the information online overwhelming.
Here’s a no-nonsense guide to planning a safari trip to Kenya.
How to Get Here
If you’re coming from North America, you can take a direct flight to Nairobi — the capital of Kenya.
From Nairobi, you can take small flights to any park with an airstrip. These flights typically take 1 hour or less. Some tourists take the flights as an adventure in itself, since the planes fly low, allowing passengers to see the landscapes below. Kenya Airlines is a trusted airline that flies from Nairobi to different safari locations.
Another option is to drive with a professional guide. This is cheaper and can save you hundreds of dollars for the whole trip, but you will need to spend long periods of time on the road. It can also be dusty and uncomfortable, not to mention that you may have to go through bad roads in some areas.
Where to Go
Masai Mara is the most popular safari in Kenya and it’s one that you do not want to miss. Spanning over 1500 square kilometers, this safari is home to the Big Five — the lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos. Here marine mammals also abound, including hippos and crocodiles.
It’s also known for the Great Migration where over 2 million zebras, wildebeest, and other herbivores traverse from southern Serengeti to the lush green fields of Masai Mara. This natural phenomenon is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and happens from June to October, which is also the best time to visit Masai Mara.
Situated in the northern part of Kenya, Laikipia is one of the lesser-visited regions in the country. This haven stretches from the base of Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Valley and features vast open plains. It’s home to endemic wildlife unique to the region — including the wild dog, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, and sitatunga antelope. It’s also the best place to spot black rhinos, as half its local population in the whole of Kenya resides here.
Aside from the wildlife areas, you can also visit private conservancies such as Lewa Wilderness and Borana. Laikipia is also a great base for exploring the great lakes of Kenya.
Nairobi is a great city with lots of fun things to do and great restaurants to try. It also has safaris located in the metropolis itself and compared to other safaris in Kenya, it’s relatively cheap and convenient. It’s also one of the best places for seeing rhinos in East Africa, along with other wildlife such as lions, cheetahs, and hyenas. Other must-see spots include Giraffe Centre where you can get up close and personal with giraffes and the Elephant Nursery where you can interact with rescued elephants.
Located right next to Tanzania, Amboseli is one of the most unique safaris in Kenya. Its scenery includes Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, and it’s home to packs of elephants who roam free in the savannah.
Where to Book Camp Lodges
There are different camp locations all over Kenya. The most important thing you should consider is the location. Most locations are seasonal, so you need to make sure you are staying in the right spot. For instance, it’s great to visit Mara Bushtops from June to mid-October when the migration of the wildebeest happens, but there is less to see in other months.
You should also book a camp that suits your budget and style-wise. Some camps are very basic, while mid- to luxury camps offer more comfort including en suite bathroom and toilet, internet connection, and more. As above, the best way to choose a lodge is by reading reviews. Some lodgings are built inside parks, while some are on the edge outside — neither is necessarily better or worse, so it’s important to choose wisely.
What to Wear
It’s important to wear appropriate clothing when visiting safaris. The weather can be extremely hot during the day and chilly at night. As such, it’s important that you plan your wardrobe for layering. Prepare a padded jacket for use at night. Other useful items that you should bring include sunscreen, a pair of good sunglasses, and a hat.
Contrary to popular belief, neutral colors are not necessary unless you’re exploring a park on foot. The only color design that you should avoid is camo print, which is used by the military throughout Africa.
It’s important to check your airline for luggage requirements. Many small planes only allow duffel bags for carry-on, so you might want to consider that when preparing your wardrobe.
Choosing a Kenya safari tour operator
The best way to explore safaris in Kenya is by traveling with a tour operator who can set up safari visits, lodgings, and flights in between.
There are hundreds of tour operators in Kenya, so the best way to choose one is to read reviews. Make sure that your chosen tour company is accredited with a TALA license and can design your trip for you, instead of them. Many tour companies also have specialties — whether it’s budget, mid-range, or luxury lodgings, as well as excursions to remote safaris or conservation projects.
The guide going with you should be knowledgeable about wildlife and birds, able to follow park rules and regulations, and can accommodate your needs — whether it’s asking for information or even not wanting to chat, asking for a pit stop, etc.
That concludes our guide to planning your first safari trip to Kenya! Do you have other suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below!
Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).