Safiri Salama-The Kenya story – Introduction-Part 2

Safiri Salama-The Kenya Story-Introduction-Part 2

*All information valid on the date of writing. Please check for the latest with other sources*

Continued from

Safiri Salama-The Kenya Story-Introduction-Part 1

Some relevant information about Kenya, in a nutshell – partially sourced from the internet –

The people’s Republic of Kenya (Jamhuri ya Kenya) is located in East Africa and is a leading travel destination in the world, due to its scenery, spectacular wildlife and pleasant year round climate. We were informed that Safaris actually first began in Kenya. There are several National parks and Game reserves, to a large extent in their pristine, undisturbed state, of which the Masai Mara game reserve is the most well known of them locally and worldwide. The rolling grassland Savannah landscape is dotted with shrubs and Acacia trees and hence gets its name, Mara meaning mottled or dotted in the language of the Masai tribe, the inhabitants of the area.

It is 1500 sq km in area and is an extension of the Serengeti of adjoining Tanzania.

It is here that one can get to see the famous annual wildebeest migration across the Mara river from the Serengeti, as they leave behind a seasonal drought in their quest for water and fresh grass.


Kenya is bordered by Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia and has a coast line along the Indian Ocean.

Kenya political map

Map credit from –  Find the map here

Best time to visit –

The most frequent question I was asked was whether I was visiting Kenya at the right time.

June is definitely not the peak season but like we were told, there are always animals to see at any time of the year … just far less than during the peak season. But that was the only time at my disposal  and that is what I had to settle for and I did have my fill of the animals, visually of course 🙂

However, if one possesses the luxury of flexible dates,  the best time to visit the Masai Mara would be the migration season  for that is when one can get to see the amazing exodus of the Wildebeest (also known as Gnus). For those who asked about the schedule, I have linked this website Migration chart which gives a very clear picture of the cycle.

For those who are very particular about being there at the correct time, there are sites that predict the current years migration schedule, though it does eventually depend on the rains . And they do not give you guarantees, just best estimates.

In short, late July to mid October would be a good season to visit.

Weather –

After withering and wilting  in Bangalore during April and most of May, I was very keen to head to cooler climes. I was assured that the weather in Kenya in June would be between 10 – 20 deg c and so it was. Warm clothing is necessary, at least 1 coat each.

Kenya is on the equator or the equator is on Kenya, you decide !!! The weather is moderate all year round and tropical climate is experienced only on the coasts. The safari circuit enjoys pleasant weather through the year. Coolest months are July and August, warmest being December and January at a mere 27 deg c. It is a good idea to carry at least 1 piece of warm clothing at any time though.

Time Zone GMT + 3 hrs.

2.5 hrs behind India.

Language –

The official language is Swahili (known locally as Kiswahili), though English is also widely spoken and that makes it perfect for tourists from India or any English speaking country to be able communicate locally.

Swahili is said to have a large part derived from Arabic, though it  has incorporated Persian, German, Portuguese, English and French words into its vocabulary through contact during the last five centuries. It is written in the Latin script, the Arabic script having been used until the 19th century. Knowledge of English is quite sufficient but it helps to know a few common words of Swahili. A ‘jambo’ here and an ‘asante’ there (a hello and a thank you respectively), pleases the friendly locals and helps in building rapport. Also ‘Karibu’ is welcome and ‘Kwahiri’ means goodbye.

Here is a ready reckoner Swahili Guide.

Visa details.

The visa for Indians is on arrival and costs $25 for all adults above the age of 16. A visa can also be availed of, prior to the journey at the Kenyan embassy. Check out Visa Information   but Visa on arrival is what we opted for, being convenient.

None of the documents in the website were asked for other than the passport of course with a 6 month validity from date of entry. Though we had carried our photographs with the required specifications, they were not used and our pictures were clicked on arrival during the visa stamping procedure at the airport visa counter. However it is a generally a good practice to carry photographs during any travel, in case of any need.


The currency is the Kenyan shilling or Ksh … INR 1 = Ksh 1.7 ( 1 Ksh = Re 0.60 ) & USD 1 approx = Ksh 79 (June 2010)

USD is only acceptable in series 2000 and above. Some places accept USD but it is better to convert a small amount to Ksh for minor shopping etc.

The airport is a good place to change currency, though most hotels and lodges also have the facility, albeit at a poorer rate.

By Indian standards, many things are expensive and though we have to divide rather than multiply to convert ( which is the ideal way to shop :-), we do pay a higher price for most items than we would in India.


Tipping is the norm and we were advised to carry 50Ksh notes to tip the luggage handlers in the hotels etc. The guide is normally tipped on a daily basis or at the end of the safari and an acceptable amount is usually $5 per person per day.

Health advisory

Yellow fever vaccine is a must, prior to travel to these countries including Kenya. It is available only in certain cities in India.

As of now, this website has not been updated to include Bangalore as one of the centers. I have linked the address and details here.

The vaccination becomes valid after 10 days of receiving it and continues to be so for the next 10 years.

The yellow card is to be carried during travel and will be asked for on the return. Inability to provide it will result in 6 days of quarantine, though that should not be the main reason to be taking the vaccine. Yellow fever can be fatal.

Kenya also falls in the Malarial area and we were advised to carry mosquito repellant cream/mats though most hotels provide electric mats/nets/repellant wipes etc. One can also take prophylactic medication but we did not.

I received no mosquito bites however and honestly apart from 1 place, I found more mosquitoes in Bangalore and got bitten too, soon (with or without the comma) after my return 🙂

Drinking water – is a big deal 🙂

Hotels and restaurants do not serve you even a drop for free.  At most they have a half liter bottle in the room, sometimes not even that. You have to buy your mineral water at all times  and it can go upto Ksh 300 per bottle (of course far less in super markets).

My Indian self would rather die thirsty 🙂

Ironically fresh fruit juices of several kinds (and sometimes champagne) are served during breakfast.

On the safari though, we are given 1 L per head per day and that is more than sufficient.


The shopping was to diiiiiieeee for!!!

From curios to beadwork to baskets to dried ornamental gourds to soapstone carvings to wooden carvings to Kikois (the colorful woven shawls), there is enough to drive a normally sedate person completely berserk. You can imagine what it did to me 🙂

Bargaining is a must and one is advised to quote prices that bear no relationship to the original and could get the item hurled at you in certain other lands 🙂

Seems scary at first but the Kenyan seller is a gentle one and amiably coaxes you to quote prices that are more to his/her liking. Like one of them said to me with gestures ‘I go down and you come up and then we meet ok ? ‘ I sincerely hope he was still on the topic of prices 🙂

If one is well versed with  the routine or if one shops with a knowledgeable companion, one could ‘meet’ at a very satisfactory place indeed. I was lucky to have Usha  who got me the best deals and the best items.

However, prices are fixed in certain upscale shops and all gift shops that are a part of the hotels. Prices are also higher in the several gift shops on the safari route where we stop for the washroom and leg stretch. So if you have a chance to shop in Nairobi, that would work out the best, though some of the gift shops en route do have a few items unique to that locality.

Also very good bargains can be had at the gates of the Masai Mara Reserve where the guide stops to pay the entrance fee. Here the Masai ladies swarm around the car  thrusting their wares through all the open windows and greatly bewildering the clueless (read husband & kids).

The Masai market in Nairobi is held on Tuesdays and Fridays where the local sellers gather in one location and spread their wares and here one can get the best prices since the competition is fierce. I would advise travellers to make sure that they are in Nairobi at least on one of these days to enable them to attend this shopping fest. I unfortunately could not, since I had not planned accordingly, due to an unforgivable ignorance of the facts.

There also are several malls with a wide range of shops and supermarkets.

Nakumatt and Uchumi are the more popular supermarkets with locations throughout the city and one can get all their groceries etc here.

A shopaholic can spend a good while in Nairobi, doing what he/she loves best.

Now before someone notices what an inordinate amount of time and space I have devoted to this sub section, let me move on to other matters.

And for those who are going ‘awwww’ here, fret not. I promise you more of what you yearn to hear, under the guise of ‘what I did on day 1’ (and 2 and 3 and 4 and …  you get the picture)


Voltage is 220 V but sockets differ from the Indian ones. Some hotels provide adaptors but it is best to carry a couple of your own, especially for charging camera batteries or cell phones and using electric mosquito repellents.

Airline – Kenya Airways is the national flag carrier airline, coded KQ as the carrier logo displays.

Now there is far more to know about this wonderful country but I have placed here only what I found relevant in the context of my holiday.

Next up – Safiri Salama-The Kenya story – Introduction-Part 3

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A food and travel enthusiast who plays with words
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