My first visit to Kenya was truly life-changing: meeting our conservancy partners and photographing beautiful animals was an experience that I am fortunate to be re-living this month. As Chad and I journey through Kenya and Tanzania (more on that later), I’m reminded just how much preparation goes into a trip like this. Read on for necessary steps to make sure your own Kenyan adventure is successful.
There’s nothing worse than planning an adventure only to spend your trip sitting in your hotel waiting for a monsoon to pass or shivering because you didn’t pack the right clothes. Fortunately, Kenya has a fairly moderate temperature all year long, so it’s a fantastic destination for year-round adventures. The dry season (January through February or late June through October) is ideal if you are hoping to take part in a safari, though you can expect more tourists during this time. Keep in mind that viewing excursions are typically available year-round, with lower prices and greener scenery during the wet season.
Once you have solidified your travel dates, you are ready to request a visa, which you should do well in advance of your travel date to ensure you receive it on time. Most Kenyan visitors need a visa and a passport valid for at least six months past their departure date. There are some nuanced rules around Kenyan visas (like using only bills issued after 2006 if paying in cash upon arrival in Nairobi), but, fortunately, you can apply online and even purchase upon arrival (a program which the government may be ending soon). To be safe and certain, I highly advise knowing your visa requirements well in advance of your travel to make sure there are so surprises in your way.
Once you’ve applied for your visa, be sure to research the relevant medical advice. For instance, most professionals recommend travelers to Kenya take anti-malaria medication, even when traveling to low-risk zones. Additionally, there are some required and suggested vaccines that you should obtain before traveling. For instance, yellow fever vaccination is required to travel to and around Africa (and I recommend bringing the certificate with you as many countries require proof of vaccination). Fortunately, the yellow fever vaccine is effective for 10 years, so it’s probably worth it to get the vaccine when you start planning your travels. And don’t forget to pack any prescription medications you will need while traveling as some areas do not have easy access to pharmacies or urgent care.
Though cash is still king in Kenya, they do use an African money transfer system known as M-PESA, a mobile phone payment service anyone can access via a Safaricom SIM card. I would advise getting a Safaricom SIM card immediately upon arrival, registering for M-PESA, as well as bringing plenty of cash with you as you may prefer it for trips and more rural vendors. Exchange most of your US Dollars for the local currency (Kenyan shilling) at your earliest opportunity, but keep some US Dollars on hand just in case. Also, you may need to have some money on hand when departing Nairobi International Airport to pay the ‘airport departure tax’, which is sometimes included in the cost of your international airfare (check with your airline or ticketing agency).
Your Kenyan adventure is sure to be life-changing and awe-inspiring and over much more quickly than you’d imagine. Be sure to bring with you some ways to capture the experience. While nothing can replicate the feeling you get when you see a tranquil elephant nuzzle its newborn calf in the middle of the savannah, capturing photographs and keeping journal entries can help commemorate these inexplicable feelings and provide a portal each time you hope to re-visit. Whether its mementos or movies, make sure to find the best way for you to capture these once-in-a-lifetime moments.
As French novelist Marcel Proust so eloquently stated, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” My trips to Kenya have been full of beauty: the landscape, the people, the animals. But, most significant, is the beauty I have found in myself and in the world, simply by opening my eyes to this new place and experience. I urge each of you to visit this country, and many others, to find the beauty awaiting you.