When you arrive in Nairobi, Kenya, you will land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (airport code NBO).
You can obtain your visa at the Immigration desk when you arrive at NBO. You will approach the Immigration desk before you reach the baggage claim. You will need to have two forms in hand, a completed visa application form and the arrivals card you will have received on your flight prior to landing. Additionally, you will need to present a current passport and cash to pay the visa fee (see below). Passports should be at least 6 months prior to the expiration date. You will be photographed and/or fingerprinted at the Immigration desk. Visa fees are as follows:
***Please note if you are paying in USD, bills printed before 2006 will NOT be accepted due to counterfeit concerns. This applies to any place in Kenya that you may wish to exchange your money or pay with USD. You will need to bring bills that are 2006 or newer. We recommend that you bring $100 and $50 bills. While bills of lesser value are accepted, you may not get the best exchange rate.
For more information please visit the Immigration Department website.
You can exchange your money at the Bureau de Exchange located at NBO upon your arrival. You may have other opportunities to exchange money at a Forex Bureau, which can be found at various locations throughout Nairobi. However, it is not always guaranteed that you will have an opportunity to access a Forex Bureau throughout your travels. Therefore, it is recommended that you exchange your currency at Bureau de Exchange at NBO. You will usually get the best exchange rate at this location, as well.
You may also exchange your money at any bank in Nairobi. You will need to present your passport if you wish to exchange at the bank. Also, note that banks tend to be very busy at the end of the month when employees are paid, so expect longer lines and wait time during these times.
Visa Cards may be used at most ATMs to withdraw money. However, please be aware of charges that may be attached to the transaction.
After you collect your luggage at the baggage claim, you will pass through customs and a Mara West representative will be holding a sign with the name of your group and the Mara West logo. You will be transported from NBO by van to your next destination.
Perhaps one of the most unpleasant aspects of Nairobi is the road congestion. Nairobi is a huge city and getting from one side to another can take hours due to traffic. Nairobi traffic is unpredictable, so it is always better to err on the side of expecting and planning for traffic delays. During the rainy season roads can get very muddy and are nearly impassable at times, particularly out in the bush. As a result, travel time can increase considerably when traversing the roads in a vehicle during the wet months.
You will take a local flight through Safarilink from Nairobi to Masai Mara. Safarilink provides twice daily flights from Nairobi-Wilson Airport (WIL) to Masai Mara (for more comprehensive information on the Safarilink flight, please see the Safarilink Information sheet). You will be transported to Nairobi-Wilson Airport via a Mara West van. You will disembark at the Kichwa Tembo airstrip where a Mara West vehicle will pick you up for a short 15-minute drive to Mara West Camp.
The climate in Kenya can vary depending on which region you are visiting. The coast is generally hot and humid. The climate is more temperate further inland. The north and northeast regions of Kenya are very dry. The hottest months are February and March, and the coldest months are July and August. Kenya’s wettest months are April – June and November. During the rainy season, heavy showers frequently occur in the afternoons and evenings. Ideal times to visit are between July and October, during dry season, in order to avoid heavy showers.
Due to the high elevation of Masai Mara and Nairobi, Malaria is very rare in these regions since mosquitoes do not live at those elevations. However, Malaria is prevalent in other regions of Kenya, so it is strongly recommended that you speak with your physician about taking Malaria prophylaxis before traveling.
Although no vaccinations are required to travel to Kenya, it is recommended that you take note of the recommended vaccines and medicines listed on the CDC’s Kenya Health Information website. If your travels are taking you outside of Kenya to neighboring countries, it is particularly important to familiarize yourself with the CDC’s Health Information for each country you are planning to visit. Other countries may have different health concerns and requirements for entry.
Bottled water is recommended for drinking throughout your trip. Avoid drinking tap water or adding ice to your drinks unless you are absolutely sure of its quality and that it has been properly filtered. Bottled water is available at most any café or restaurant you may wish to dine at during your travels throughout Kenya, as well as all of the accommodations where you will be staying during your visit.
It is advisable that you take precaution and wash any raw fruit or vegetables before eating them. This is mostly a concern with produce that you have purchased from street vendors, local markets, or grocery stores. Typically, eating the food that is served at your accommodations throughout your trip will not be an issue. Professional Kenyan chefs prepare the food you will be eating at each of your accommodations. All food is trucked in from Nairobi from high quality distributors and is stored and prepared in a safe manner.
While you are in Nairobi or at your safari accommodations you will only interact with locals accustomed to tourists so feel free to wear any reasonable daily clothes. However, if you venture out into the local villages, you will want to consider your dress. Locals understand western dress in tourists and any reasonably modest clothing is acceptable. As is usually the case, female dress is more sensitive than male dress. General rules are keep shorts long and loose and shirts modest. In Africa legs are the modesty issue. Males and females should try to cover their legs above the knee. For males, pants and any semi-knee length shorts are fine. For females, pants and capris are fine and if you wear shorts or skirts/dresses keep them around knee length or wear a wrap over them. Shirts should be modest and not skin tight, not very low cut, and should cover your abdomen. Normal t-shirts and blouses are fine as well as reasonably modest tank tops.
The national language of Kenya is Swahili. However, English is the official language of the country and all business must be conducted in English. Therefore, English is well spoken in Kenya. Most people in the cities will speak and understand English well. You will likely encounter fewer people who speak English fluently in more rural areas. However, many people of a younger generation may speak English well since English is widely spoken in the classroom.
As a general rule, ask before you take a picture. In Nairobi be careful of openly taking pictures of the airports or police. Ask permission from the locals before you take pictures and consider giving something in exchange for the picture. Kenya is welcoming to tourists so it is generally not an issue if you are respectful.
Tipping is common practice in Kenya. Most laborers make between 5-7 dollars a day, slightly higher in Nairobi. Tip accordingly but over tipping never hurts in a third world country. Generally, in Kenya a 10% tip is reasonable for services rendered.
Bartering is expected at all markets. How good a deal you get depends on how well you barter. No matter what story they give you, the shop owners will not sell to you at a price where they lose money. They will push as hard as they can to get as much as they can, so do not be afraid to push back. Also, do no be afraid to walk away from a deal. It is not offensive to stop and walk away even if you have started bartering. As long as you are friendly and respectful, it is all part of the game.
Non-violent crime of opportunity is the problem in Kenya. As with any kind of traveling, be aware of your surroundings. While in Nairobi, be careful of what you leave in your hotel room. Just because the door locks does not mean your valuables are safe inside the room. Try to be back to your hotel by dark and during the day keep an eye on possessions while you are out. Be careful about distractions! If there seems to be an attempt to distract you, there probably is an attempt to take something. If you are not paying attention someone very likely will try to grab something and run.
Use extra precaution when using the ATMs and banks. Tourists are often assumed to be wealthy and can be a target. When approaching and leaving an ATM, be aware of your surroundings. Stow your money in a secure and discreet location. Prevention is the rule in Africa. With those considerations you should have no problem in Kenya. Kenya depends on the revenue from the millions of tourists that visit annually, so Kenya is very hospitable. The locals are warm and friendly to tourists. Although looking to make their living off of you, they are also genuinely interested in being friends and welcoming you to Kenya. Be friendly and your stay in Kenya will be enjoyable.
The Maasai are traditionally nomadic herders who have lived in harmony with the wildlife. They subside off their cattle and goats and, although fierce warriors, hunted game meat rarely. However, as fierce warriors they have strongly protected their tribal lands from other tribes, and as a result while almost every other part of Africa has been hunted bare of wildlife, unless forced into protective game park status, the Maasai lands flourish with wildlife even in unprotected regions. It is because of this unintended cultural conservatism that Maasai Mara and the lands around it abound in wild African game and is such a draw for tourists. So you can plan on having one of the best safari experiences possible.
Mara West Camp is located in the heart of Maasai land. The Maasai are one of the few tribes left in Africa that still practice a very traditional culture. Only within the last 20 years or so have western influences been allowed in. While the tribe is very traditional the location has forced a tolerance to western culture in the surrounding area. Masai Mara is one of the most popular game parks in Africa and receives several million visitors a year from all over the world. As a result, cultural considerations are not as sensitive in the Mara West area as it would be in other parts of Maasai land. However, it is always good to be considerate of local culture.
While you are at Mara West Camp or out on safari you will only interact with locals accustomed to tourists so feel free to wear any reasonable daily clothes. However, if you leave the camp to venture out into the local villages, you will want to consider your dress. Locals understand western dress in tourists and any reasonably modest clothing is acceptable. As is usually the case, female dress is more sensitive than male dress. General rules are keep shorts long and loose and shirts modest. In Africa legs are the modesty issue. Males and females should try to cover their legs above the knee. For males, pants and any semi-knee length shorts are fine. For females, pants and capris are fine and if you wear shorts or skirts/dresses keep them around knee length or wear a wrap over them. Shirts should be modest and not skin tight, not very low cut, and should cover your abdomen. Normal t-shirts and blouses are fine as well as reasonably modest tank tops.
As a general rule, ask before you take a picture. Ask permission from the locals before you take pictures and consider giving something in exchange for the picture. Kenya is welcoming to tourists so it is generally not an issue if you are respectful.
As you interact with the Maasai around Mara West Camp, be considerate of gifts you attempt to give or items you with which you try to barter. The Maasai will appreciate any useable gifts you give them and will gladly barter for things other than money. However, if it is clothing, please make sure it is useable clothing. Worn out, immodest, or completely impractical clothing can be offensive. Make sure any books or magazines are clean. Sports equipment, electronics, and other items should be the same considerations. However, do not underestimate their ability to repair and utilize items you would throw away. Just ask if there is a doubt.
Masai Mara is around 6,000 ft. elevation. Although only a few hundred miles south of the equator, the temperature is generally milder (and damper) than similar regions. December and January are the warmest months, and June and July are the coldest. Maximum temperatures average 30C/85F, and temperatures may reach as low as 13C/55F in the evenings during the cooler months.
Masai Mara’s wettest months are April – May and November. During these rainy seasons roads may get very muddy and are nearly impassable at times. Ideal times to visit are between July and October, during dry season, in order to avoid heavy showers.
Bottled water is recommended for drinking and will be available at Mara West Camp. All tap water at Mara West Camp is run through an extensive filtration system. It has been tested and tests close to bottled water purity. However, to ensure a pleasant trip, it is recommended that visitors drink bottled water that is known to be safe. For all cooking, showering, teeth brushing, etc. the Mara West Camp water is perfectly safe.
At Mara West Camp, professional Kenyan chefs prepare food in a typical American and European fashion. All food is trucked in from Nairobi from high quality distributors and is stored and prepared in a safe manner.
Mara West subscribes to a medivac company that is capable of emergency lifting people directly from camp to a hospital in Nairobi. The Mara West location has been inspected and mapped by the company. A medivac flight can be landed, day or night, if necessary.
Yes, Mara West Camp does accept USD.
Due to the high elevation of Masai Mara, Malaria is very rare since mosquitoes do not live at those elevations. However, although Malaria is sparse in this region, it does exist. It is strongly advised that you speak with your physician about taking Malaria prophylaxis before traveling.
At Mara West Camp a common practice is to put into a tip pool at the end of the stay. The pool will be divided evenly among all the employees. That way the back of camp workers who have limited interaction with guests, but are just as instrumental in facilitating your stay, receive a fair share of the tip. Feel free to tip individually also.