The variations in altitude and terrain in Kenya create sharp contrasts in climate. The coast (Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu) is hot and often humid.
Mornings and evening in the central highlands (around Mount Kenya) can be cool, verging on cold, during Kenya’s winter (July – August), while in the north and northeast (close to the Sudanese border) the days are dry and very hot.
As it is on the equator, day and night are almost equal in Kenya the whole year around; sunrise is 6 – 6.30 a.m. and sun downs 6.30 – 7 pm. Even though the climate is beginning during the day, it is wise to use a pullover in the evenings since temperatures drop considerably at night.
Over most of the country there are two major rainy seasons. The short rains normally occur from late October to November and the long rains from the late March to early June. July and August are the coolest months; November to February are the hottest.
The climate is tropical. The coastal areas are hot and humid with an average day temperature of 30 degrees centigrade. The central plateau is dry and arid with hot days and cool nights. In the northwest highlands around Arusha and Ngorongoro, the climate is temperate and cooler between June and September. The long rains are from March to May and the short rains fall between October and December. The hottest months are between October and February.
In Kenya both Swahili (Kiswahili) and English are official languages, but the lingua franca is Swahili. In Tanzania the official language is Swahili, but English is widely spoken. Please see our Swahili Language Reference for popular words and phrases.
Sense of Humour
The English speaking East Africans have a great sense of humour, very much like the British sense of humour, so remember to chat and have a laugh with the locals, as it’s good for them and good for you, and you’ll get much more out of your visit.
Shopping for Souvenirs and Bartering
Everyone shops for souvenirs and it is a large part of the economies in East Africa. The problem that some people have is where to shop and how to shop.
If you drive between game reserves, you often stop off at souvenir shops, as they usually only have the only toilets available, which are usually through the shop. These places and people there can appear to be a little intimidating, but there is nothing to be afraid of, as they are just trying to make a living, and many of the people there are paid on commission only and it is their sole income. There are a few simple rules; don’t be pushed into buying something, try not to have a basket with several items in it and pay for the whole, as they may tell you it will be cheaper, but often it’s not. Barter for the item(s) you like and only pay what the item(s) are worth to you, remembering that the true price is likely to be around 25 to 30% of the amount they originally ask for. If you think the cost is too high, politely walk away. If you don’t like bartering, try not to show interest in any of the items on display and simply walk back out of the shop. Being rude with anyone never pays, so always be polite.
When you drive into or out of a game reserve, your driver always has to stop and either pay or check out. At these stops, you are often confronted by a number of Maasai (or other tribe) women, who are trying to sell you their trinkets and souvenirs. Effectively the same rules apply here, but remember, there are no state benefits, so the only money they get is what they earn by selling to you and others like you!
Most lodges and hotels will have a souvenir shop, but here the prices are clearly marked and the is no bartering. However, the items are normally priced sensibly and the items can be cheaper here than elsewhere, particularly the airports, where the price is often double what you would pay at a lodge. The lodge/hotel shop will also carry a wide variety of other items, including toiletries, over the counter medicines, film, memory cards, batteries, clothing, sweets, snacks etc.
Tipping is the norm in East Africa and there are tipping guides in our Kenya and Tanzania Visitor Information Pages, but it’s important to remember that many of the people you come across, whether they be a waiter, housekeeper or your driver/guide, may not be on a wage or salary and their only income is from the tips they receive, either from part of the service charge the lodge/hotel may charge, or directly from visitors, so if you’ve had good service and enjoyed yourself, please give generously!
When visiting remote areas or national parks and reserves, the roads will be dusty, rough and bumpy. Occasionally you will travel ‘off road’, where it is possible that injuries may occur, if for example a hidden pothole is struck. Most main roads are tarred, but not those in the national parks or on some of their approaches. Ladies, always wear a sports bra during the day!
If you stand up whilst the vehicle in motion in parks and reserves, please keep an eye on what’s ahead and your surroundings, as although your driver will do his best to avoid bumps, holes and overhanging branches, it is still your responsibility to ensure your safety! If your driver tells you to sit down, do so immediately and without thought or question! Also whilst standing watch out for approaching or overtaking vehicles if the road is dusty, as you could get covered in dust and get some in your eyes, so sit down before the dust hits and close the windows.
All of our driver/guides have been fully trained and specially licensed, so trust him implicitly and listen to him. Do not question his judgement, as he has a huge amount of experience and knowledge and is there for your safety as much as anything.
Your driver/guide may not be chatty, but please involve him in what you are doing or want to do, as he will feed off the mood of his passengers, so if you are enjoying yourself he will too! If you are enjoying the game viewing, he will go that ‘extra mile’ to give you more. If you are bored, miserable or don’t take notice, particularly after he has found something special for you, he is unlikely to do it again. In a sense, you get out what you put in, so have fun and enjoy yourself!
Most service people you meet, such as waiters and porters are instructed not to say no to your requests, however extensive, demeaning or ridiculous, so please do not abuse the privilege and be sensible what you ask for and expect. Having someone gladly help you is much better than them thinking they have a grudging chore. Often bad service can be down to the person wanting the service rather than the person providing the service, so don’t be rude or offensive, be polite and have a joke or laugh instead.