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YOUR questions ANSWERED

As with every destination you choose to visit, you’ll start the process with a head full of queries. So we asked guide book writer and East African travel specialist Richard Trillo to address some of the questions most asked by potential visitors.

WHY VISIT?

Quite simply because it’s one of the most diverse and rewarding countries in the world. Rolling savannahs thundering with wildlife contrast with rugged highlands swathed in tea and coffee plantations. A string of jewel-like lakes dot the yawning fault line of the Great Rift Valley, while away to the north stretches a vast domain of rocky desert, pricked by ‘sky islands’ (mountainous, green oases). And down on the coast is a sultry land of palmy beaches, bathed by the Indian Ocean and imbued with a thousand years of Swahili history.

Kenya’s population of 50 million comprises more than 40 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language, traditions and regional identity. Stay in a hotel in Lamu and you might be served by a woman whose roots go back to Oman and a man whose grandfather immigrated from the Punjab to build the Mombasa railway. Fly to the Maasai Mara and the pilots may be female Nairobians with six languages between them. Set out to track rare black rhinos in the arid Sera Conservancy and your guide, expertly operating sophisticated radio telemetry equipment, will likely be a local Samburu man who grew up protecting his goats from lions and making fire with sticks.

Kenya’s wildlife, of course, is outstanding: all the African megafauna are here, from giraffes and hippos to the million-strong migratory wildebeest herd. Hunting was banned more than 40 years ago and there are many private or community-owned wildlife conservancies, as well as the network of national parks and reserves. Most animals are habituated to humans and can be approached closely in vehicles, while bush walks and horse riding are also popular in many areas. Kenya has wonderful elephants and is also the stronghold of East Africa’s growing black rhino population, while the country’s lions, leopards and cheetahs can be seen in many areas, from the outskirts of Nairobi to the remote northern desert fringes.

IS IT SAFE?

For many years, Kenya has been fighting Al-Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia, whose border lies 300km from the nearest safari areas. As a consequence, there have been sporadic terrorist attacks aimed at Kenyan civil society rather than tourists. In context, the country feels no more threatened than the UK or France. Most urban hotels have airport-style security barriers, while ‘bush telegraph’ provides protection for safari camps and lodges, where strangers, and any vehicle the locals don’t recognise, arouse instant suspicion. The last terrorist attack on a tourist target was on an Israeli-owned hotel in 2003.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO?

Kenya has unpredictable weather patterns, but it usually features two rainy seasons: the ‘long rains’ (roughly late March to early June) and the ‘short rains’ (November to mid- December). The climate on the coast follows these seasons more sharply and predictably. The highland interior sees some rainfall most months, while the northern half of the country is largely arid and the Great Rift Valley generally also gets lower rainfall.

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About Travel Africa

Our love for lions - why are they so captivating? • Reza Pakravan, crossing the Sahel • Lower Zambezi Valley accommodation guide • Planning the ultimate self-drive trip around Namibia • Route 62, in praise of Padstalle • Plus Botswana behind the pics; Family safaris; Tipping; Chimps in Tanzania; Zakouma; Uganda adrenaline and much more!