NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK SAFARI GUIDE
The most striking thing about Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s oldest national park (1946), is the very fact that it exists at all. This sliver of unspoiled Africa wilderness survives on the edge of a city of more than four million people. Where else can you get a photo of animals in their natural habitat with the city’s skyline backdrop?
Nairobi National Park sprawls right on the southern border of the capital city, which gives it its name, creating a unique milieu of wildlife and modern culture found nowhere else in the world. Imagine wild beats like buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, zebra, wildebeest, and cheetah living in a wilderness a few jumps outside the city separated by only a steel wire fence. The imagination breaks your knowledge of what modern cities should be: but this is the African wilderness where wild beasts and humans coexist in harmony.
Nairobi National Park is tiny compared with Kenya’s other safari game parks and reserves; it covers only 117 square km (44 square miles). It’s characterized by open plains that slope gently from west to east and rocky ridges covered with rich vegetation. Seasonal streams run southeast into the Mbagathi River, which is lined with yellow-color fever and acacia trees.
Despite the urban pressures, the park contains a good variety of wildlife, even during the dry season, as there’s always a permanent water source. It’s home to four of the Big Five; elephants are absent as the area isn’t big enough to support them.
Zebra, impala, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, warthog, and ostrich are common on the open plains. Good populations of lion and cheetah roam the grasslands, Masai giraffes browse in the woodlands, black rhinos sometimes are visible around the forest area, and more than 400 species of permanent and migratory birds are recorded in the park.
Nairobi National Park has charming picnic sites, a boardwalk to see a hippo pool, and a monument to Kenya’s famous ivory-burning site. Both the Kenya Wildlife Service’s Nairobi Safari Walk and the Animal Orphanage are near the KWS headquarters at the park’s main gate. Each gate has a separate entry fee and offers an opportunity to walk around for about an hour and get close to many Kenya safari animals kept in spacious natural enclosures.
If you want to see baby elephants, visit the orphanage at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust close to the park’s main entrance. The famous Giraffe Manor and Karen Blixton Museum are less than 20 minutes drive east of the park’s main entrance.
- Closest safari game park in Kenya, 20 minutes outside Nairobi city, allowing self-drive tours.
- Good wildlife viewing with most safari animals present. Also, four of the Big Five are present: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino.
- Incredible wildlife photography against the city backdrop
- Safari boardwalk with unusual animals, including bongo antelope, has animal orphanages and a high density of black rhino
Getting There And Around
A 20-minute drive from downtown Nairobi (7 km/4 miles), you can negotiate the park’s network of paved and all-weather dirt roads by regular cars; junctions are signposted and marked on the official park map, which you can pick up at the gate. Most local safari outfitters will arrange a half-day trip; otherwise, hire a taxi for a few hours. Rangers keep a careful note of the movements of the larger animals, so it’s worth asking at the gate where to look for lions or rhino.
When To Go
Nairobi National Park is good all year round, but the dry seasons—May to September and January to February—tend to offer the best game viewing since wildlife congregates around the waterholes and creeks and the clear air offers particularly spectacular views of the capital city.
Tailored Kenya Safaris
WHERE TO STAY
Price from $965
Surrounded by 12 acres of private land, within 140 acres of indigenous forest, the iconic Giraffe Manor is famous for its resident herd of Rothschild giraffes that casually wanders around the spectacular grounds. This idyllic property in the Nairobi suburb of Langata gives guests the chance to interact with the rare and beautiful Rothschild’s giraffe. A peaceful spot in the fast-expanding Kenyan capital, At Giraffe Manor, breakfasts are a fun-filled affair.
The Emakoko Lodge
Price from $815
Located a 45-minute drive from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Emakoko is a luxurious paradise bush lodge in a seemingly remote and hidden valley. Dinners by the pool are a starlit experience. Log fires in the rooms turn cooler nights into sheer romance. However, windows and doors might have to be closed because of cheeky monkeys, and you’ll have to climb steep steps to reach the upper-level rooms. The access road to the lodge is steep and tricky for drivers.
Nairobi Tented Camp
Price from $120
Insulated by a hidden glade—home to leopard, lion, and hyena—Nairobi Tented Camp is in a secluded part of Nairobi National Park, providing an authentic bush experience within a few miles of the city center. Hammocks are strung in the trees for afternoon siestas. However, the Nairobi National Park entrance and camping fees are extra, the access road is bumpy with the last 200 meters on foot, and the tents are pretty close to each other.
Ololo Safari Lodge
Price from $250
Ololo was initially built as a traditional family farmhouse but has been beautifully converted into a lodge that showcases classic African style and warmth and exudes homey hospitality. It seamlessly combines classic safari living with the complete service and comfort of a luxury hotel. You have easy access to Nairobi National Park via the lodge’s private footbridge over the Mbagathi River or on afternoon and morning game drives. Meals prepared with fresh ingredients from its own ‘shambas’ (vegetable gardens).
Price from $385
Overlooking the Ngong Hills in Nairobi’s tranquil and upscale neighborhood of Karen, Hemingways Nairobi hotel’s spacious, high-ceilinged rooms are elegantly furnished in contemporary-chic décor, echoing the classic charm of East Africa’s 1920s safari era. Award-winning cuisine from the resident Michelin-starred chef is standard here, while a personalized butler service caters to your luxury Kenya safari niceties.
Price from $178
Set in the garden suburb of Langata to the southwest of Nairobi in central Kenya, Karen Gables is a privately owned Cape Dutch-style building, with rounded gables and white-washed walls., with guest accommodation in 7 rooms and providing access to a good range of activities in the area, notably including the baby elephant sanctuary.
Kenya Travel Essentials
Kenya is a relatively safe country, but occasional crime incidents are a reality for residents and tourists alike; follow these basic precautions for a safe trip.
Mugging, purse snatching, and pickpocketing can occur in big towns. Leave good jewelry and watches at home, and unless you’re on safari, keep cameras, camcorders, and binoculars out of sight. Always lock valuables in the hotel or lodge safe. If you must carry valuables, use a money belt under your clothes; keep some cash handy, so you don’t reveal your money belt in public. Don’t leave belongings out on balconies or terraces or show them in a vehicle. If you’re unfortunate to be a robbery victim, you will need a police report to make an insurance claim. Please bring copies of all your essential documents and stash them away from the originals. Carry extra passport photos in case you need new documents fast.
Always take a taxi after dark, and never take food or drinks from strangers—it could be drugged. Be on the lookout for street scams like hard-luck stories or appeals to finance a scholarship. If you’re driving, be polite but firm if you’re stopped by police officers charging you with an “instant fine” for a minor infraction. If you ask to go to the police station, the charges are often dismissed.
The best of Kenya safari attractions are nowhere near the terrorist zones in the northern and northeastern borders that have been for a long time restricted to tourists. Exercise increased caution in the terrorist strongholds on the northern border due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. These incidents occur very far from the premier tourism attractions. You’re much safer on a game drive in a Masai Mara than driving your car on a multi-lane turnpike.
The Kenyan Government deals with the international terror threat in much the same way as other modern countries. You’ll find strict security at airports and visible policing in places like shopping malls and outdoor markets, ensuring it is safe to visit Kenya.
In some instances, you’ll fly out of Nairobi immediately after landing, heading to the Samburu, Masai Mara, Amboseli, or any other attraction. Our staff traveling to Kenya regularly, staying in both Nairobi and the Masai Mara with travelers, have reported high airport security levels. Some hotels in the capital city have instituted security measures for additional peace of mind and ensure it is safe to visit Nairobi.
Before you travel, please be informed of the likelihood of catching CORONAVIRUS if you don’t follow operating procedures put in place to protect you and others. For update local information, visit travelbans.org/africa/kenya/ or the government website www.health.go.ke. Otherwise, Kenya is open for tourism, and for entry, you’ll need a negative PCR COVID test certificate issued 92 hours before.
The majority of inbound travelers are not subject to quarantine upon arrival at any of our ports of entry, take advantage of the relaxation of overall protocols and take that much-needed holiday. All the suppliers and partners we work with are compliant because your safety comes first!
COVID-19 ENTRY RESTRICTIONS
- Passengers entering or transiting through Kenya must have a medical certificate with a negative Coronavirus (COVID-19) PCR test result. The test must have been taken at most 96 hours before arrival. The certificate must be in English.
- Passengers whose medical certificates have expired due to the transit time will be subject to a test for Covid-19 at their own cost upon arrival at a recognized facility.
- Passengers are required to fill in a Passenger Locator Form during their flights to Kenya.
- Passengers must complete the “Travelers Health Surveillance Form” online at https://ears.health.go.ke/airline_registration/ and must hold a QR code showing they have completed the form.
- Passengers are subject to medical screening and quarantine. A list of quarantine exemptions can be found at https://www.kcaa.or.ke/quarantine-exempted-states.
- There is no quarantine for inbound travelers unless you show the virus symptoms on observation.
Before you go to Kenya, make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. The risk of malaria is low during Green Season and very low during peak season. It is higher if you are going into rural areas and villages outside the parks and reserves. If you are going scuba diving afterward, be sure to let them know to ensure they prescribe the correct prophylactic. Check with your travel doctor if you need vaccinations, and be sure to get them timeously.
Yellow fever (before 2013)
The country requirement at entry: a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers aged one year or over arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission.
WHO vaccination recommendation: yes
We recommend for all travelers aged nine months or over, except as mentioned below and generally not recommended for travelers whose itineraries are limited to the following areas: the entire North Eastern Province; the states of Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Malindi, and Tanariver in Coastal Province; and the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa.
Malaria (before 2018)
Malaria risk due predominantly to P. falciparum exists throughout the year in the entire country. Usually, there is little risk in Nairobi and the highlands (above 2500 m) of Central, Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western provinces.
WHO recommended prevention: C
Always use sunscreen and bug repellent with DEET. The HIV infection rate is high, so exercise caution. Malaria is an issue in certain areas (not in Nairobi but definitely on the coast and low-lying game reserves). Consult your health provider well in advance about the best malaria prophylactics to take, as most medication needs to start before arrival in Kenya.
You’ll need full medical travel insurance that includes repatriation in the event of a medical emergency. If you plan to dive, trek, or climb, make sure your insurance covers active pursuits. Medical bills are often paid upfront in Kenya, so keep all paperwork to make an insurance claim.
The AMREF Flying Doctors service provides air evacuation and transportation between health-care facilities for medical emergencies in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, or anywhere within a 1,000 km (621 miles) radius of Nairobi. The planes fly out of Nairobi’s Wilson Airport 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Local landline and mobile calls are pretty cheap, but hotels add hefty surcharges to phone calls. The need for public telephones in Kenya has fallen away, given that the majority of people carry a mobile phone, so most have been decommissioned or removed. If you don’t want to use your mobile phone because of expensive international roaming fees, buy a Kenyan pay-as-you-go SIM card (from one of the service-provider stores or street vendors—there’s no shortage of them) and add airtime as you need it. The local providers are Airtel, Safaricom, and Telkom. Coverage is good throughout most of the country but can be patchy in remote places—don’t expect to get a signal at an out-of-the-way safari lodge or camp.
Calling Within Kenya
City codes are (020) for Nairobi, (041) for Mombasa, (040) for Diani Beach, and (012) for Lamu; include the first 0 when you dial within the country. When making a phone call in Kenya, always use the full 10-digit number, including the area code, even if you’re in the same area.
Calling Outside Kenya: When dialing out from Kenya, dial 000 before the international code. So, for example, you would dial 000 (0001) for the United States. Other country codes are 00044 for the U.K and 00027 for South Africa.
Internet is widely available in Kenya. Free Wi-Fi is available in many public places in Nairobi and Mombasa such as restaurants and coffee shops and at almost all hotels—although again, in remote places you won’t be able to connect. You can top up your own phone with data on a Kenyan pay-as-you-go SIM card.
Kenya prides itself on game meat and seafood, organically grown vegetables, and excellent tropical fruits (such as passion fruit, papaya, and mangoes). When you’re near the coast, sample traditional Indian and Arabic food and look for Kenyan-grown tea and coffee and Tusker beer, a local brew.
“Swahili tea” is very similar to chai in India. You’ll find most cuisines, from Chinese to French to Ethiopian, in restaurants in Nairobi.
Kenya’s main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), located 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA), located 9km/6mi west of Mombasa, but aside from flights to Zanzibar, this is mainly used for domestic and charter flights. From Nairobi or Mombasa, one can fly or drive between reserves or opt to do a bit of both. Most domestic flights out of Nairobi depart from Wilson Airport (WIL), 6km/4mi south of Nairobi.
In Kenya, several domestic and regional airlines fly from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport in Nairobi, and Moi International Airport in Mombasa. Several major towns have airports, and Kenya also has a vast network of well-maintained airstrips at the safari destinations. One airstrip will service an entire park or reserve, or in some parks like the famous Masai Mara, there are several airstrips that each serve a group of safari lodges and camps.
In most cases, transfers are provided from the airstrip to your accommodations. Schedules for the Kenya safari airlines often work in circuits and drop off and pick up at several destinations and may often return on the same route.
Search within Kenya Airways (the national carrier), Virgin Atlantic, or British Airways for direct affordable flights to Kenya.
There are plenty of efficient domestic airlines offering daily flights. Kenya Airways flies between Nairobi JKIA and Eldoret, Kisumu, Malindi and Mombasa, and several regional destinations, including Entebbe in Uganda, Kigali in Rwanda, and Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. Kenya Airway’s no-frills airline, Jambojet, flies between Nairobi JKIA and Diani Beach (Ukunda), Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Malindi, and Mombasa. Fly540 flies from Nairobi JKIA to Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Lodwar, Malindi, Mombasa, Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. From Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, Airkenya flies to Amboseli, Diani Beach (Ukunda), Lamu, Lewa Downs, Loisaba, Malindi, the Masai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki, and Samburu, and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Mombasa Air Safari has its hub at Moi International Airport. It flies in circuits from Mombasa, Diani Beach (Ukunda), and Malindi on the coast to Amboseli, the Masai Mara, and Tsavo West. Also from Wilson Airport, Safarilink flies to Amboseli, Diani Beach (Ukunda), Lamu, Lewa Downs, Lodwar, Loisaba, the Masai Mara, Naivasha, Nanyuki, Tsavo West, Samburu, and Kilimanjaro, and from the Masai Mara to Migori, which links travelers from the Mara to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
Suppose you want to arrange your timetable to the safari destinations or coast. In that case, there are several air charter companies based at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, such as East African Air Charters and Reliance Air Charters. Small planes like Cessnas are utilized, which can seat 5–13 passengers. Although more expensive than scheduled flights, charters are convenient and are an option for families and groups.
All domestic, regional, and charter flights can be booked directly with the airlines. Alternatively, ask your travel agent, or local accommodation, or a Kenyan tour operator to book as part of your package. Airport departure tax is included in all scheduled flight tickets but maybe additional on charter flights.
Be aware that the baggage allowance is usually 15 kg (33 pounds) per person on the small planes to the airstrips in the parks, including hand luggage and camera equipment, and bags should be soft-sided. If you are carrying more than this, most hotels in Nairobi will store extra luggage or ask your airline if they have facilities.
Whichever mode one chooses for travel, in most cases, our local driver or guide will pick you up at the airport and all further transportation as part of the Kenya safari package.
Self-drive Kenya safaris are an option; however, poor road conditions in many places mean there’s often a big difference between distance on a map and driving time. For example, it takes about five hours to drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, a 150-mile/240-km journey. Several car rental companies specialize in 4x4s, and most will also offer the services of a driver. Expect to pay $110 a day to hire a 4×4 and $20 a day for a driver.
All arriving passengers into Kenya now must apply and get their Visas online; this is a much easier method which saves you time from embassy visitations or long ques that use to be for those who opted to get these on arrival at our airports.
- Your passport must have at least two blank pages and be valid for a minimum of six months after your date of entry into Kenya. Most nationalities require a visa, including citizens of the United States.
- Single-entry visas are available online. Multiple-entry visas must be applied for prior to traveling to Kenya. Single-entry visas (US$50) are valid for three months and allow reentry to Kenya after going to Tanzania and Uganda. Children under 16 years accompanying their parent(s) do not require visas.
- Obtain the latest information on visas, as well as any additional details regarding entry requirements, from the Embassy of Kenya, 2249 R Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 387-6101, or the Kenyan Consulates General in Los Angeles and New York City.
- You should have proof of yellow fever immunizations, or you may be denied entry.
When is the best time for a Kenya safari holiday?
Generally, a Kenya safari is an all-year-round holiday. Traveler base on many options to tell when the best time is for a safari in Kenya. A traveler can consider how much they’re willing to spend, which places they’ll be visiting and how much time you have on your calendar fixed for the trip.
Most Kenya Safari attractions are showcasing their best during wildlife drama and action between January through March. During this time, the climate is friendly, mostly no rains, and wildlife viewing is climaxing. The dry season is the peak season for a safari in Kenya. Everyone else also considers this the best time for a Kenya Safari trip.
However, mid-March’s downpour through June and October through December, the rainy season, is mostly avoided by travelers. But we would urge you to travel during this time if you want to avoid the crowds and take advantage of off-season discounts.
When is the best time for the great migration in Mara, Kenya?
The best time for viewing the great migration in Masai Mara on a Kenya safari is between mid-August and late October when the wildebeest and zebra herds cross the border from Serengeti National Park. It’s not easy to accurately tell when the migrating animals will be crossing the Mara river, but it’s sometime between August and October. There’s no wildebeest movement from January through to June in Masai Mara. So that should help you narrow down your calendar options.
When is the best time to visit Kenya’s coastal beaches?
The best time to visit Kenya beach destinations is a moot point: Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast is hot and humid all year round, and rain can fall at any time. However, we would recommend avoiding the Kenyan coast during the mid-March to late May season when temperatures and rainfall are highest.
The official currency is the Kenya shilling (KSH). Available notes are 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 shillings. Available coins are 1, 5, 10, and 20 shillings.
Most things are priced and paid for in KSH. However, many businesses in the tourist industry like hotels, safari companies, and airlines may quote in U.S. dollars and shillings. If you pay with dollars, check that you’re getting a fair exchange rate.
If you exchange U.S. dollars at a bank or bureau de change, bring new notes; any old, worn, or damaged bills will not be accepted.
ATMs and Banks
Banks open at 8:30 on weekdays and close at 4; on Saturday, they open at nine and close at noon. Banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Most ATMs are open 24 hours.
Many banks can perform foreign exchange services or international electronic transfers. Try to avoid banks at their busiest times—at nine and from noon to 2 on Friday, and at month’s end—unless you’re willing to arrive early and line up with the locals. Major banks are Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), which has the largest branch network in the country, and Barclays, National Bank of Kenya, and Standard Chartered.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but for small amounts like restaurants, shopping, taxi fares, fuel, and tips, it’s easiest to withdraw shillings from an ATM once you’re in the country. Most ATMs dispense large denomination notes; try and break these when you can as taxi drivers and souvenir vendors often don’t have change for large bills.
Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted at Kenyan banks and by ATMs. Most ATMs accept Cirrus, Plus, Maestro, Visa Electron, Visa, and MasterCard; the best place to withdraw cash is at an indoor ATM, preferably at the airport, in a shopping mall, or guarded by a security officer.
Tipping in Kenya isn’t mandatory, but porters do expect something, and 10% is customary in restaurants. Some hotels and most safari lodges and tented camps have a gratuity box for you to put a tip for all of the staff at the end of your stay. Tip your safari driver and guide approximately US$10–US$15 per person, per day. It’s not necessary to tip taxi drivers as the fare is determined before you set off.
Kenya has a broad choice of safari accommodations ranging from intimate tented camps and luxurious boutique hotels to mid-range safari lodges and beach resorts as well as local lodgings and campsites. Hotel rates in Nairobi and other towns tend to stay the same throughout the year (although there could be midweek specials), but all room prices in the wildlife and coastal areas are seasonal. It’s essential to book in advance in the high season and look out for specials during the low season, while during rainy months.
There’s a bewildering choice of safari lodges and tented camps in the national parks, game reserves, and wildlife conservancies. Lodges tend to be large solid structures with hotel-like rooms and restaurants. Most are family-friendly, and many have extra facilities like a swimming pool. Smaller tented camps have spacious and often luxuriously appointed walk-in tents with bathrooms, meals are taken communally in a dining tent or outside, and most are unfenced, allowing for greater connection with the wildlife (as such, children aren’t always permitted).
Prices at lodges are almost always all-inclusive, which includes accommodations, meals, and activities such as game drives and walks; find out in advance if park fees (US$40 to US$100 per day) are included. Campsites in the wildlife areas have few or no facilities and aren’t an option for visitors with time restrictions or first-timers. Still, there is the option of going on a camping safari with a tour operator.
Nairobi has hundreds of hotels, and many international chains are represented, but there are also charming independent hotels and some older establishments with colonial ambiance. All kinds of accommodations can be found on the coast, from luxurious honeymoon hideaways to all-inclusive family beach resorts. On Lamu, some beautifully restored historic Arabic houses have opened as hotels. Standard prices usually include a full English breakfast, and other meals are available in the hotel’s restaurant. Hotel reviews have been shortened.