How to organize a safari in Kenya

    Imagine waking up to the sound of hippos bathing in the nearby river. Or watch lions roam the plains in search of their next meal. Giraffes, zebras and wildebeests moving comfortably with each other, with Kilimanjaro as a backdrop, that’s what we dream of. Where can you find all of this? In Kenya. Here’s how to organize a safari in Kenya!

    Kenya has varied terrain that is home to a wide variety of animals, making it one of the most popular safari destinations in the world. And now is the best time to go. Kenya Airways now offers a direct flight from new York (JFK) in Nairobi. What used to be a 22-hour trip (including a stopover in Europe) is now a direct 14-hour flight. (If you need help staying sane on long-haul flights, look here.) Kenya is a great place to try and spot the big five: African elephant, water buffalo, Cape, leopard, lion and rhinoceros. Unfortunately we didn’t see a leopard, but we were able to see a cheetah up close! Be sure to check out my easy tips for photographing wildlife to get the perfect shot.

    In northern Kenya, there is Mount Kenya, dense scrub and thick forests. In the southwest is the Masai Mara, home to the great migration and vast open spaces. To the southeast is Amboseli, with Mount Kilimanjaro and herds of hundreds of elephants. Our safari in Kenya took in all aspects of the country, which is what a good safari is all about. The variety of habitats increases the chances of seeing diverse wildlife. Depending on the time you have, you can also do amazing treks in Kenya.

    A typical day on safari in Kenya

    Each camp and lodge has its own routine but most follow a similar guideline.

    Generally, the alarm clock is early – between 5 and 5:30 a.m. for a sunrise game drive. A friendly knock on the door followed by “Jambo” is the best wake-up call. Jambo means hello in Swahili. They bring your favorite wake-up drink (for me it’s tea) and some nibbles to keep you going until breakfast.

    Then it’s time for the first of two safaris (the second will take place at sunset). Animals are most active at these times as they are the coolest times of the day. Game drives last between three and four hours each, depending on the animals. Usually there is a stop to eat, refresh and stretch your legs. I recommend that you relieve yourself during this stop as well. Didn’t make it for one stop and we ended up following a pride of lions for about an hour that night!

    Between game drives you can have free time. Take a nap, read or chat with other customers. In one camp there were two filmmakers and they had much better cameras than me, so I was able to enjoy some of their footage! One of the places we stayed had a pool with a view of Kilimanjaro – I could have stayed there for at least a month.

    Safari trips

    While game viewing is the main purpose of a safari in Kenya, many companies offer other excursions and activities. Some of these are included in your stay – such as a bush walk to experience the different foliage. Others are chargeable – like a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. Ask your guide for information and prices regarding their excursions.

    We were able to add to our safari a visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Trust cares for baby elephants who have been orphaned and will be released back into the wild when they are big enough. They also have a number of other animals, including rhinos, but we couldn’t see them.

    Another common excursion is to visit a local Maasai camp. On the one hand, it’s kind of weird (for me) to see people in their house – imagine someone taking a picture of you at home. On the other hand, it allows people to see how others live and appreciate the differences (and similarities). The Maasai are used to seeing people in their homes and will introduce you to their practices and their culture! I think if you do your research and are respectful of the locals (including asking to take photos) it can be very beneficial. We loved our visit to the Maasai and bought some of their handicrafts!

    Safety on safari

    I have never felt unsafe on safari – either by people or animals. Tourism is an integral part of the Kenyan economy – so tourists are welcomed and looked after.
    On arrival at camp there will be an introductory talk which will cover the program and safety precautions.

    In the camps you are allowed to roam freely, but you will see many guards posted. At night there are more guards and they will escort you around the camp. If you protest, they will ignore you. They are there to protect you from animals that may have ventured there. At Camp Mara Bush, there were hippos nearby – so I happily greeted the rangers every time I walked by. Never get between a hippopotamus and the water!

    On a safari, do not get out of the vehicle unless the guide gives you permission to do so. Never interact with animals – no petting or feeding. Although many animals are comfortable with safari vehicles, they are wild animals and should not associate cars with food.

    When to go to Kenya

    July – mid-October – Season of the great migration. In my opinion the best time to go. It is also the dry season. Since there is no set schedule for the migration, August and September are the safest months.

    November December is the shoulder season, which means that it is generally cheaper to travel during this period, without the risks of the rainy season.

    January March dry season again

    April May : rainy season

    The most popular time to visit the country is during the great migration, which means prices will be higher. However, apart from the large herds of wildebeest, the animals are there all year round.

    During the rainy season you will probably save money on flights and accommodation – however, there is an increase in rain and therefore an increase in mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, such as malaria.

    Important information for traveling to Kenya

    A passport is required. It must be valid for six months BEFORE your arrival and not expire until six months after your departure. You also need two blank pages for the stamps.

    safari lingo
    Learning the language of the place I visit is one of my favorite hobbies. It also helps me to look forward to my visit. Although everyone on our safari spoke English, there was some jargon that was unfamiliar to me. Make sure you learn safari terms and phrases before you go!

    For visitors from the USA: you can get a visa on arrival in Kenya, but I recommend applying for a visa before you go anywhere – it’s one less thing to worry about and one less thing which could go wrong. You can apply for the $50 visa at

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