Quick Guide to Kenya: Visa-free travel for South Africans

2018-06-28 16:56 - Saara Mowlana
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kenya map

Plan your trip to Kenya with this Quick Guide. (Photo: iStock)

Kenya is renowned around the world for two incredible reasons: its Arabica coffee beans and its flourishing national wildlife reserves. 

The equatorial country that snugly overlies the East African Drift along the Eastern coastal region of Africa. It covers a diverse and expansive terrain that extends roughly from Lake Victoria to Lake Turkana and further south-east to the Indian Ocean.

Its warm and tropical climate blends with its vast open lands of savannah that is teeming with thriving wildlife and natural beauty, Kenya is undoubtedly pretty to look at and rich in culture. 

From its iconic wildlife reserve famous for a large flamingo population to its population of strong and inspiring Maasai people and warriors, Kenya has so much to offer visitors regarding entertainment and knowledge.

Maybe you'll find yourself uncovering the culture dense streets of the region or exploring the plethora of wildlife in its bushes - either way, Kenya is definitely worth a visit.

Fill your heart, mind, soul and #gram with the many wonders and beauty the location has in store.

SEE PICS: Wow! Eight adult cheetahs spotted frolicking together in Kenya

Here's what you need to know if you go:

  • Visas: No visa is required for South Africans for up to 90 days - granted you have a valid passport.
  • Population: About 50 692 514 +/- presently
  • Useful app to download: Kenya Airways app to book and manage your flights
  • Capital City: Nairobi
  • Flight Route Access: Kenya has direct flight route options between SA and Kenya offered through South African Airlines (SAA) and Kenya Airways from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
  • Flight time: About 4 hours 7 minutes for direct flight between Johannesburg and Nairobi and about 8 to 12 hours for a connecting flight between the rest of SA and Nairobi.

READ: #AfriTravel: SA access to Kenya set to increase

  • Currency: Kenyan Shilling (KES: /-) Current Exchange Rate: R1 = /- 8.36 (KES)
  • Medical and health: To avoid illness and dampening your trip experience, be sure to heed the warnings and get the appropriate vaccinations beforehand. Required: Yellow Fever. All Travellers: Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Poliomyelitis. Trekking: Hepatitis B, Rabies. Rural: Diphtheria, Meningococcal Meningitis, Tuberculosis.
  • Religion: The vast majority of the population practice Christianity. Islam is also a major religion in the region and there are a few Kenyans who follow Hinduism and Sikhism.
  • Country code: +254
  • Emergencies: Dial 999 - for more emergency numbers: click here and here.
  • Public Transport: Kenya has about 100 000 Matatus (minibuses), which constitute the bulk of the country's public transport system. Its cost starts at around /- 40 (KES) and may reach /- 100 (KES) for longer routes in Nairobi. You can also travel by boat, shared taxis, Tuk-Tuks, regular busses, Boda-Bodas (bicycle or motorcycle taxis) and regular taxis. For more public transportation info and tips: click here.
  • Climate: Kenya’s humid tropical climate is dominated by onshore monsoon winds. The winds also dictate the country’s two rainy seasons:
    - March to June is the long rainy season
    - November to December sees the short rainy season
  • Best time to go: Taking into consideration of the climate and rainy seasons, the best time to go is between June - October and January - February. Since Kenya is renowned for their many national wildlife reserves, the best wildlife viewing months in Kenya are during the dry season - late June to October. The wildebeest migration usually reaches the Maasai Mara in July and stays until October when they move back to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing is a good year-round activity, but this can differ for some parks.
  • Language: Swahili is the official language spoken in Kenya. Other languages include: English, Kikuyu, Luhya, Dholuo and Sheng.

CHECK OUT: #AfriTravel: Kenya bans the use of plastic bags

Useful phrases to know: 

In the main tourist centres Swahili is widely spoken. However some towns speak in languages relative to the dominant tribe culture in the area. Learn a few key phrases in Swahili to make your stay more enjoyable.

Useful app to download - Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun. 

  • Greeting – Jambo (hello), Habari ya asubuhi (good morning), Habari ya mchana (good afternoon), Habari ya jioni (good evening) and Usiku mwema (good night)
  • Yes - ndiyo
  • No - hapana
  • How much is this? - Shillingi ngapi? 
  • Please - Tafadhali 
  • Thank you - Asante 
  • Sorry - Pole 
  • You are welcome - Karibu 
  • No problem! - Hakuna matata! 
  • My name is... - Ninaitwa / Jina langu ni... 
  • What is your name? - Unaitwa nani?
  • I come from... - Ninatoka... 
  • Where do you come from? - Unatoka wapi?
  • Do you speak English? - Unajua kizungu? 
  • What? - Nini?
  • Why? - Kwa nini?
  • Where? - Wapi?
  • Who? - Nani? 
  • When? - Lini? 
  • Where is the toilet? - Choo kiko wapi?
  • Beautiful - nzuri
  • Delicious - Ladha
  • Oh my goodness - Mungu wangu
  • Excuse me, where's… - Nisamehe, wapi...
  • Can I please have... - Tafadhali nipatie...
  • Ice cream - Ice cream
  • Wine menu, please - Orodha ya mvinyo, tafadhali

Practical Tips

When travelling to Kenya, make sure you have the following on your packing list:

  • A valid passport, arrival ticket, return ticket, adequate funds;
  • a camera;
  • basic essentials;
  • comfortable, lightweight, and casual clothes (if you are on a safari, neutral is best, bright and bold is not);
  • comfortable and strong shoes or boots;
  • a brimmed hat;
  • sunscreen;
  • insect repellent;
  • formal / occasional wear (depending on your reason for travel);
  • basic toiletries;
  • prescription medication;
  • sunglasses (and a spare pair);
  • a medical kit (for exploration);
  • Swiss Army Knife (for exploration);
  • a flashlight (for exploration);
  • video camera and accessories;
  • binoculars (especially for safaris);
  • vaccination certificates;
  • insurance documents;
  • your credit / debit cards;
  • sandals or flipflops;
  • Kenya maps - city / town maps and travel guides;
  • a notebook, tablet or smartphone.

Other

  • As much as the urge to take as many pictures of the beautiful country as possible is strong, be sure to ask permission before you begin to snap pictures of houses or people. In some cases, you may be required to offer a tip for those pictures.
  • Watch your money - Make sure that, when changing currency you do so in a reputable hotel, foreign exchange bureau or bank.
  • If you are going on a safari, watch your clothing choices. Bright colours (such as whites and blues) attract wild animals as well as insects. Camouflage clothing, is in some cases, illegal to wear.
  • Check out the Great Migration - when thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelle travel to and from the Serengeti, from July through October.
  • Never approach a wild animal, even if they appear harmless.
  • Drinking water - it is safer to drink bottled or mineral water.
  • Tipping is okay, although it is not mandatory in most places. A tip of /- 501.74 (KES) (or about R63 or equivalent) is acceptable for most services.

Top attractions in Kenya

Kenya is renowned for its world class coffee bean production. It is known for its consistently rich flavour along with a deep, wine-like acidity and pleasant aroma. Kenyan coffee beans, produced from cherries, have a distinctly bright taste with complex tones of fruit and berry. 

Visit this wildlife corridor at the border between Kenya and Tanzania. It's named after the statuesque, red-cloaked Maasai people who live in the park and in their language, Mara means "mottled". The park is famous for the Great Migration when thousands of herd animals travel to and from the Serengeti. 

Stop by one of Kenya's most popular tourist parks. "Amboseli" comes from a Maasai word meaning "salty dust", an apt description for the park's parched conditions. View herds of elephants up close and explore 5 different habitats at Amboseli. 

Get your beach chill on the north of Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Malindi has a rich trading history, making it a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. It is part historic old town and part modern tourist hub. Sights include: Jami Mosque, two pillar tombs from the 14th century, and the Church of St Francis Xavier.

This park is famous for its huge flocks of pink flamingos. The birds throng on Lake Nakuru itself - one of the Rift Valley soda lakes that comprises about a third of the park's area. The park was established in 1961 and over 450 bird species reside here alongside a rich diversity of other wildlife.