REMEMBER THE MOTTO - BE PREPARED!
WE HOPE THAT THIS BRIEFING WILL ADEQUATELY PREPARE YOU FOR YOUR TRIP TO AFRICA AND WILL REDUCE THE NUMBER OF GENERAL ENQUIRIES WE HAVE BEEN RECEIVING BY E-MAIL. THIS WILL ALLOW US TO SPEND MORE TIME ANSWERING YOUR MORE DETAILED SAFARI ENQUIRIES AND REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES US TO REPLY TO YOUR MORE IMPORTANT E-MAILS.
TRAVEL BRIEFING FOR KENYA AND EAST AFRICA
Kenya and its East African neighbours are lands steeped in a rich and diverse collection of cultures, landscapes and wildlife, to be found nowhere else on earth.
A visit to the region can be an educational experience as well as an idyllic holiday. Within the one region, you can find semi deserts, rainforests, savannah, , vast and powerful rivers offering white water rafting, alkaline lakes, large freshwater lakes such as lake Victoria and of course the most fascinating wildlife in the world. In addition, there are mountain ranges whose beauty is second to none, like Mt Kenya. Although not the highest mountain in Africa, Mt Kenya, locally known as “Kirinyaga”, meaning home of the Gods”, is without a doubt the most rewarding mountain to trek, with its diverse landscapes and wildlife.
There are worldwide critics who denounce East Africa and particularly Kenya, as unsafe venues for tourists and of course they do have troubled times, but this can be expected in an area where there are extremes of wealth and poverty and of tribal differences. The people are however, generally conscious of the fact that much of their income is tourist related and therefore any incidents that have happened in the past have rarely involved tourists and have occurred in communities and areas rarely seen by tourists.
In the main, common sense is the way to stay safe, not only in Kenya, but anywhere else in the world, even London and New York. Seek local advice on any “no go” areas and avoid them. Do not flaunt wealth or position and respect the local ways. Do not make the inhabitants feel dissatisfied by shoving how good you have it at home down their throats and criticising their standards of living.
What to Expect on an African Trip.
If you have never been to Africa before, be aware that you need an open mind and a tolerance of pressure selling from touts at stations, airports and on the beach. Never purchase from these outlets, as quite frequently, you will not see either them or your money again.
Remember that you are embarking on an African adventure, which can sometimes be physically challenging and with conditions that are basic, so when on treks or safaris, please be tolerant with the crew, as they have a difficult job to do, delivering a service in an environment that can be harsh on them, on the vehicles and equipment and on the clients.
WESTERN INTOLERANCE AND IGNORANCE OF WHAT TO EXPECT IS THE BIGGEST SINGLE CAUSE OF A DISSAPPOINTING TRIP TO AFRICA, NOT BECAUSE THINGS GO WRONG, BUT BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AS YOU ARE USED TO!
If you intend trekking Mt Kenya or Kilimanjaro, consider doing some physical exercise in preparation, as although the normal trips are not technical climbing, the going can be very tiring, as the air is thin at 5000 metres!
Respect the privacy of the wildlife, this is their habitat.
Beware of the animals, they are wild and can be unpredictable.
Don't crowd the animals or make sudden noises or movements.
Don't feed the animals, it upsets their diet and leads to human dependence.
Keep quiet, noise disturbs the wildlife and may antagonize your fellow visitors.
Stay in your vehicle at all times, except at designated picnic or walking areas.
Keep below the maximum speed limit (40 kph/25 mph).
Never drive off the designated tracks, or persuade your driver to do so. This severely damages the habitat and can result in unseen wildlife and nests being run over in the long grass. It also destroys the plant life, which is the food to sustain the large herds.
When viewing wildlife, keep to a minimum distance of 20 meters and pull to the side of the road so as to allow others to pass.
Leave no litter and never leave fires unattended or discard burning objects.
Stay overnight in designated camps, or leave before dusk. Visitors must vacate the Park between 6.30 p.m. - 6.30 a.m. unless they are camping overnight. Night game driving is not allowed.
Cultural Respect and Security
Respect the cultural heritage of Kenya. Never take pictures of the local people or their habitat without asking their permission. Respect the cultural traditions of Kenya and always dress with decorum. The coastal regions are predominantly of the Muslim faith, due to its history of Arab trading over the centuries. Beaches are public property by law and nudity/topless sunbathing is forbidden by law.
East Africa as a whole has extremes of lifestyles and tribal traditions. You can often feel as if you are travelling in a time machine, rather than a vehicle, as in the morning, you may be driving through areas with homes that would make most westerners envious and by afternoon be amongst people living in dire poverty and in homes made of cow dung, in a way of life which hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. There is a tendency for tourists to treat these people as if they were part of the tourist attraction put there for their amusement. There are shows at tourist destinations where tribal history is re-enacted, but in the bush, these encounters are with real people, so respect their rights and their privacy.
There are many huge slums in East Africa, of which Kibera in Nairobi is the largest. There is a strong desire within some of these communities to better their lives, mostly driven by young people working in a cooperative style to provide facilities and opportunities for better living. There are however, elements that strongly resent the authorities and anyone flaunting wealth. Under no circumstances should one wander into the slums uninvited and unescorted. In particular, do not accept offers to drive into these areas in tour vans. If you have an interest in the community projects being run in the areas, there are schemes being operated in conjunction with some of the Backpacking hostels, where members of the area community committees will escort a small number of interested visitors to the schemes and into their homes, but in a low profile and only to safe areas.
Of course, Kenya and the rest of East Africa has organized crime, no different to western cities, but the majority of occurrences of theft are opportunist thieves, who are living on the poverty line and if an opportunity arises, they will steal. With this in mind, do not leave your items unattended. Do not carry all your valuables in the same place or in full vision. Try to avoid carrying hand bags, but if you do, make sure they are not easily snatched. Particular care should be taken in places like internet cafes. The loss of bags that have been placed on the floor in these places is prevalent.
Use the same common sense here that you would use anywhere else in the world when in an unknown environment!”
Marine Wildlife Code
Check local weather and sea conditions before entering the marine parks.
Some marine life is dangerous; do not touch anything under water.
Do not damage or remove corals. They are living organisms which take many years to form and are host to many rare and endangered species.
Do not remove shells, starfish or any other sea – flora or fauna. Removal is illegal and seriously disrupts the eco system. The areas outside the parks and reserves are threatened by excessive shell collection. Empty shells provide homes for hermit crabs and some fish.
Do not buy shells and other marine animal products as souvenirs as this encourages further plundering of the reefs and beaches.
Never dispose of litter on the beach or in the sea. It is illegal and environmentally unfriendly. Marine turtles can confuse clear plastic waste with jelly fish and will die if they eat it.
Hand–feeding of fish is discouraged. It disrupts normal feeding patterns.
Hook and line fishing is allowed in the Marine Reserves but prohibited in Marine Parks. Spear guns are not permitted for use in either.
Environmentally friendly activities such as snorkelling and diving are encouraged, under the supervision of the Kenya Wildlife Service wardens, who work closely with tour operators and hoteliers to ensure strict adherence to this code of practice.
Avoid restaurants that serve undersized crabs and lobsters as this contributes to their rapid demise.
Support traditional coastal livelihoods but do not give money to children on the beach, as this can encourage them to stay away from school.
WEATHER AND SEASONS
East Africa does not have Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. It has 2 dry seasons and 2 wet seasons. In the past, we could advise guests on what weather to expect at different times of year, but now the effects of world climate change have hit Kenya. The seasons as we knew them seem to have gone totally crazy and we can no longer predict when the rains are going to come. Normally, there are two rainy seasons. The short rains occur from late October through November and the long rains from late March through to early June. Rain usually falls in the late afternoon. Dry periods occur during the rainy seasons and sunny spells are often experienced even on rainy days, but be prepared regardless of the time of year, because when it does rain, it is as if a dam has burst. This particularly applies on the mountains.
The variation in altitude and terrain creates contrasts in climate. The coast is hot and often humid. Nights in the central Highlands can be very cold and mornings can be cool while in the North and North East, the days are dry and very hot. Due to Kenya’s location on the equator, there are almost equal nights and days all year around. The sun rises between 5.45-6.15 a.m and sets at 6.30-7.00 p.m.
From November till April, the sun can be very hot, especially at the coast, where the temperature can average between 30 and 40 degrees C. Avoid the noonday sun to prevent serious sunburns! Drink as much as you can but you should take a minimum of 2 litres of non alcoholic liquid per day.
July and August are the coolest months and the days are often overcast, especially in the mornings.
Visas for all East African countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda can be obtained at the relative borders and airports upon arrival. The East African Union, as these countries are known, has an agreement that allows movement between these countries with a single entry visa only, for example you can come to Kenya, go to Uganda, then back to Kenya, back to Uganda and back again to Kenya, with just a single entry visa for Kenya and a single entry visa for Uganda.
MALARIA AND YELLOW FEVER, MEDICAL FACILITIES
Malaria is still present in most of the lower regions of Kenya, especially the coast, so preventative medication is adviseable for those staying less than 3 months. The most common tablets are malarone, lariam and doxicyclin.
Malarone is the best and with less side effects, but is the most expensive. It is however available in Nairobi without prescription and is cheaper than in Europe.
Lariam is ok, but several people complain of unpleasant side effects, particularly bad dreams.
Doxicyclin reduces people’s ability to withstand the sun, so particular care with sunscreen is needed by people taking this tablet.
Yellow fever certificates are very rarely checked these days, but it is still adviseable to have an up to date vaccination and card.
State run medical facilities are very poor in East Africa. Private clinics and hospitals exist, but treatment can be expensive, so ensure that you take out medical insurance from home, before travelling.
There are Automatic Teller Machines, (ATM) in most larger towns in East Africa, which issue local currency from most international bank cards that are affiliated to VISA, Mastercard and Delta debit or credit cards, but American Express and Diners are not widely accepted. This is the cheapest way of getting local currency, but they have a daily maximum, which is currently 40,000 Kenya shilling, but your personal daily maximum from your bank is also considered if less than the ATM maximum.
Foreign Exchange bureaus tend to be better value than banks for changing foreign currency and some will even negotiate better rates for larger amounts.
Airports generally have Forex counters, but do not usually offer favourable rates. It is better to use the ATMs at the airport to obtain a little local currency on arrival.
Travellers cheques are not a good way to travel in East Africa. They offer poor exchange rates and very long and tedious transactions to exchange them, which requires passport and the purchasing agreement.
It is adviseable however to have a travellers cheque emergency fund, as they can be replaced if stolen.
US Dollar Notes. Most places, even banks in East Africa will not accept US$ notes that were issued before the year 2000. Check your notes when drawing them from your bank at home.
Several foreign exchange bureaus have a higher exchange rate for US$100 and US$50 bills, than for the smaller notes.
Never carry too much cash around and never put it all in the same place. Spread it around and do not under any circumstances carry it in a bag or waste belt that is worn outside your clothing.
Whenever possible, take advantage of secure lockups in hotels and hostels and always carry a photocopy of your passport.
THE USE OR CARRIAGE OF DRUGS IS FORBIDDEN IN EAST AFRICA. DO NOT GET CAUGHT USING MARIJUANA, OR ANYTHING ELSE, AS THIS WILL UNDOUBTEDLY RESULT IN BEING TAKEN INTO CUSTODY IN AN AFRICAN JAIL. NOT AN EXPERIENCE THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO HAVE. TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!!!!!!!!!
TIPS ON WHAT TO BRING
SLEEPING BAG (3 season unless you are doing Kilimanjaro or Mt Kenya, then 4 season).
Nowadays, more and more people are turning to digital photography, but there are several points to consider when using one. Firstly, most of the time in the bush, you may not find mains electricity, so if the camera is re-chargeable, consider bringing a charger that works on 12 volts, from the vehicle.
The compact digital cameras are very convenient, but limited when it comes to taking distance shots of the wildlife, because of their very small zoom. The SLR digitals are expensive but excellent for safaris. If you have a compact digital and still have your old 35 mm, bring it as well, with a zoom lense, preferably up to 300mm. Film is readily available.
BINOCULARS - Remember, the animals are not in a zoo. They may be close, or they may be 200 metres away and driving off the tracks is not permitted, otherwise the game parks would be destroyed.
TORCH - A torch of some description is essential and the most useful is the type worn on the head.
CELLPHONE - Simcards for the local networks are very cheap here, so if your telephone is not blocked for one service, bring it and use the local network.
CLOTHING - Although the climate here can be hot, the evenings can be quite cool, plus if you wish to climb a mountain, temperatures are often below zero, so bring something warm, plus waterproof jacket and trousers. Good boots are also an essential for Africa. Many mountain routes can be loose scree and steep, so climbing sticks can be an advantage. If you are doing lots of travel and don't want to carry too much, outdoor and climbing supplies can be bought or hired here.
Other useful items - Sunscreen, after sun, water purification tablets, insect repellent, antihystemine cream and tablets, sunglasses, sun hat and water shoes, (many of the coastal areas have an abundance of sea urchins, which give a nasty sting if you stand on them). Batteries, (they are expensive here)..
Hopefully, armed with this information, you will have an enjoyable and rewarding visit.
Safiri Salaama (Safe Travels)